Human Rights Committee: Government needs to give extra time for consideration of rights to free speech and freedom of association.
Fifth Report - Legislative Scrutiny: Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) today publishes its Report on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. While it accepts that there may be a pressing need to reform non-party campaigning, it calls on the Government to pause the passage of the Bill to allow for further scrutiny and for further consultation with the Electoral Commission, the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and relevant stakeholders. There should in particular be more careful consideration of the potential impact on campaigners’ rights to free speech and freedom of association.
The Committee welcomes the Government improvements made to Part 2 during its passage though the Commons but remains concerned about the following issues in this Part of the Bill:
the lack of clarity about the practical effects of the provision in this Part of the Bill which has led to widespread concern that third parties may be dissuaded from participating in campaigns with a potential “chilling effect” on free speech;
- the increased list of regulated activities, combined with the reduction in maximum spending and lowered registration thresholds, which has created concerns that legitimate campaigning activities could be inhibited;
- the failure of the Government to explain satisfactorily the rationale for the new maximum spending limits and registration threshold in light of the increased number of regulated activities; and
- the need for greater consideration as to whether these reforms are proportionate.
Dr Hywel Francis MP, the Chair of the Committee, said:
“My Committee accepts that measures to protect the electoral process are, in principle, a clear legitimate aim. We welcome the amendments brought forward by the Government at Commons Report stage, insofar as they improve the clarity of the Bill. However, we remain concerned about a number of issues raised by this Bill.
My Committee also finds it unacceptable that it has not been able to report on a Bill that raises significant human rights issues before it has left the first House, on account of the unnecessary speed at which the Bill is being taken. This amounts to an abuse of the Parliamentary legislative and scrutiny process – and this is not the first time that this has happened during this Parliament.
We call on the Government to ‘pause’ this Bill to allow for further scrutiny and consultation, particularly with the Electoral Commission, the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and other stakeholders. If this does not happen, we recommend that the Bill should be amended to remove both the lower thresholds for registration and reduced spending limits, and leave them at their current level pending further detailed work on whether the current limits are appropriate”.