NI MPs vote against the lobbying Bill and House of Commons Committee calls for it to be withdrawn

Northern Ireland MPs united in their opposition to the controversial Transparency of Lobbying Bill when it was debated in Westminster on 2 September.

Following the debate the House of Commons committee responsible for scrutinising the bill called it ‘flawed’ and has asked for it be withdraw and improved.

Outlining why his party voted against the Bill the DUP’s Sammy Wilson said “The Bill does not deal properly with the ordinary lobby organisations: it does not include all their lobbying activities. It does include the activities of third-party organisations. Members may or may not approve of those activities, but the fact is that such organisations can currently engage in them, but will be dissuaded from doing so in the future.”

Lady Hermon pointed out that “This Government are passing legislation in Northern Ireland to continue giving anonymity of political donations to political parties, yet we have wonderful charities in Northern Ireland that will be criminalised under this Bill if they happen to organise a rally or campaign in the run-up to an election.”

Following the debate, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee responsible for scrutinising the bill called it ‘flawed’ and has asked for it be withdrawn and improved.

Speaking on their report on the Bill, to which voluntary and community organisations from across Northern Ireland provided evidence, Graham Allen MP Chair of Constitutional Reform Committee said, “This Bill is an object lesson in how not to produce legislation. There was little or no consultation with those affected. There was no pre-legislative scrutiny. And the Bill is now being rushed through the House in a way that indicates a lack of respect for Parliament.”

In its report the Committee agrees with the position of NICVA and our members “that Part 2 of the Bill, on non-party campaigning, and particularly the definition of spending ‘for electoral purposes’ is confusing, and criticises the Government for leaving the interpretation of this phrase largely to the Electoral Commission.” And that “the Government has not provided a satisfactory account of the basis on which the new levels for registration and limits on expenditure for third parties have been set.”

Graham Allen has also tabled a number of amendments to the bill including one which states ‘Nothing in Part 2 of this Act shall limit the capacity of a charity or non-party campaigning organisation to comment on public policy in so far as it does not seek to influence the outcome of an election in so doing.’

For our part NICVA was pleased to see that all of the NI MPs took on board the concerns of voluntary and community organisations and quickly moved to protect our rights to speak out. The report from the Committee and the proposed amendments are important developments and we will now be contacting MP’s again and asking them to support them. We would encourage you to do the same.

 

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