Member of Parliament for Hackney South and Shoreditch. Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
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Many of you wrote to me concerning the Lobbying Bill that went through last month, concerned with its impact on charities, campaigning bodies and trade unions.
The Bill was ultimately passed by the House of Commons, by 304 votes to 206. The bill increases the regulation of charities and campaigners and so called third party campaigning in the year before a General Election and to restrict their activities.
Labour supports transparency for third party campaigners. We originally set a cap on third party spending in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. But this isn’t about transparency, it is about gagging charities and campaigners, while doing nothing to address the real ‘big money’ in politics and will have a chilling effect on the quality of our national debate.
I am also concerned that the bill does not tackle the real issues around lobbyists’ access to Parliament and decision makers as it would only capture a tiny minority of the lobbying industry. The proposals only apply to third-party ‘consultant’ lobbyists which it is estimated would account for one per cent of ministerial meetings organised by lobbyists.
The section of the bill relating to trade unions is unnecessary. The bill requires trade unions to supply an annual membership audit certificate to the Certification Officer and unions with more than 10,000 members will be required to appoint an assurer who will provide a certificate stating whether or not the unions meet requirements. The TUC have said that they have no objection to providing membership lists to the Certification Officer but there are real concerns around membership data security and possible blacklisting of members and why these changes should only apply to trade unions and not to political parties. I agree with the TUC who have questioned the Government on their reasons for bringing in these changes. As the TUC state, they are unable to discern the problem that this part of the bill is meant to remedy.
The Government rushed this bill through Parliament to be in time for the next General Election without any formal consultation and any consideration of its impact. I voted against the bill at its second reading and my Labour colleagues and I will continue to call on the Government to rethink this ill thought through piece of legislation. I very much hope that the House of Lords will stop its implementation.