“Lobbying” and “ASBO” Bills in the Lords – Update

The line-by-line examination of these two important Bills has made further progress: the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, (the “ASBO Bill”), which commenced its Report stage last week with an important modification to clause 1, here, was debated on Tuesday 14 January; and the Report stage of the equally contentious Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill commenced on Monday 13 January, with the significant addition of “spads” to other potential recipients of lobbying here, and continued on Wednesday 15 January ,when the government suffered a further defeat as a result of Lord Harries amendment to exclude certain “background staff costs” from financial restrictions that would have been placed on charities and other campaigning groups. This marked the 86th defeat of the coalition government[1].

Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Last week consideration was given to the replacement of anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs), with new injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance (IPNAs).  Changes to the existing definition of anti-social behaviour as conduct causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress’, with a new threshold test of ‘nuisance and annoyance’ were regarded as too imprecise and a potential threat to civil liberties. The potential for IPNAs to increase the burden on the criminal justice system was also discussed.  An amendment to reject the proposals and tighten the definition of the threshold test was taken to a vote, with 306 in favour and 178 against.

This week there were three votes on the second day of the Report stage, 15 January, relating to: plans within the bill to make a conviction for rioting anywhere in the UK grounds for eviction; increasing the effectiveness of background checks when issuing firearms licences with specific reference to cases where there is a history of domestic violence or violent content; and the creation of a specific offence of assault on workers in a public-facing role.

None of these amendments was carried, and the Report stage continues on Monday 20 January.  A summary of these and earlier proceedings is available here, with links to the debates, divisions and the Lords Library Note on the Bill.

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

A total of five votes was taken on Monday 15 January: to extend the bill’s proposed registration system to cover consultant lobbyists was unsuccessful; the inclusion of lobbying activities directed at parliamentary private secretaries, civil servants and political advisors in the register; a related amendment, extending the register to specifically cover the lobbying of special advisors, [“spads”]; a proposal requiring government ministers making policy statements to publish details of who had lobbied them on the issue; and an amendment to ensure that the ‘assurer’ charged with checking trade unions’ membership records should be bound by a duty of confidentiality to the union and its members. Only the “spads” amendment was carried, with 213 in favour and 195 against.

On Wednesday the focus was on Part 2 of the Bill, Non-Party Campaigning, for which there has been substantial campaigning/lobbying by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (CCSDE).  Chaired by the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the CCSDE is supported by over 120 NGOs ranging from well-known charities to small community groups, and recently, the National Union of Journalists.  In only a few days its petition in advance of the debates in the Lords had received the support of more than 130 organisations and 163,000 members[2].

Despite a series of concessions last week designed to soften the impact of the Bill[3], Lord Harries’ amendment was agreed by 237 to 194.  In addition, a number of other changes to the Bill proposed by the CCSDE were agreed, here. A second amendment, proposing that taxpayers could reclaim the basic rate of tax on their donations to political parties in the same way as charities can through gift aid, also went to a vote for which there were 28 in favour and 148 against.

The Bill has now completed report stage in the Lords and moves to its The Third Reading in the House of Lords which is scheduled for Tuesday 21 January. Apart from issues that government ministers have agreed to return to, no others can be tabled or re-tabled.  The Bill then proceeds to the ping-pong stage when the Commons votes on amendments from the Lords, and the government ma attempt to overturn some amendments.

A summary of all the proceedings is available here, with links to the debates here and here, and divisions here and here. Also available are the Lords Library note and the Lords Constitution Committee report relating to the Bill.

[1] Government figures record: 48 defeats in Session 2010-2012; 27 defeats, Session 2012-2013; and a further 8 defeats as at 16 January 2014.

[2] c.f. the Age UK petition on the Care Bill, which to date has only attracted 1449 signatories for the retention of clause 48 of the Bill.

[3] i.e. dropping a plan to cut from £10,000 to £5,000 the amount charities in England can spend on campaigning during a regulated period before they have to register with the Electoral Commission. The limit will be raised to £20,000

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