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The Lobbying Bill’s problems – and an interesting development

Written by Robert Barrington on Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Government’s Lobbying Bill has come in for intensive criticism in recent days. TI’s own briefing paper on it is here. We think it is an unusually poor piece of draft legislation. As the week draws to a close here are some reflections on the Lobbying Bill’s problems – and news of an interesting development.

The Government’s Lobbying Bill has come in for intensive criticism in recent days. TI’s own briefing paper on it is here. We think it is an unusually poor piece of draft legislation. As the week draws to a close, here are some reflections on the Lobbying Bill’s problems – and news of an interesting development.

In TI’s view the Bill has three fundamental flaws:

1. Its declared purpose of regulating lobbying through creating a register will not work. There is near-universal agreement, including from the lobbying industry, that the current proposals for a register will be entirely ineffective.

2. It would have further consequences – whether intended or unintended – that go far beyond regulating lobbying into controlling the normal activities of unions and non-governmental organisations. The Electoral Commission is clearly uncomfortable about this.  Most charities that have thought about it – including the charity trade body NCVO which sought a legal opinion from a leading QC – see it as a grave threat to their freedom of expression.

3. There is little point in regulating lobbying as a stand-alone activity. What needs to be regulated is the ability of – usually rich – special interest groups to manipulate politics to suit their own ends. We need to regulate, and have full transparency over, those who seek to engender decision-making by governments, law-makers and regulators in their own interests and not the public interest. That means regulating the revolving door, dealing with party funding and addressing the honours system as well – ambitions that go way beyond what is in this lobbying bill, but that don’t seem to be on the government’s horizon.

This last point is important, because it suggests that the focus on a register of lobbying, and the chilling effect on charities, actually miss the point. However, as the debate over this Bill has heated up, there has been a new development that suggests some people, at least, understand the underlying nature of the problem.

The Bill is badly in need of amendments to improve it. But the best thing that can happen is that it is scratched altogether. The government should wait for the report from Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is examining this issue right now, and then introduce a new bill that is fit for purpose.



Read 19062 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Robert Barrington

Robert is TI-UK's Executive Director. You can view his full bio here, and tweet him @TIukED.

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