The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published its report on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill and has raised “significant concerns” about the content and handling of the bill
The report comes ahead of the second reading of the bill in the Lords on 22 October. The report says that effective parliamentary scrutiny is of “manifest importance” for legislation of constitutional significance such as the bill, which regulates lobbying and sets rules on expenditure by persons or bodies other than political parties at elections.
The committee questions whether the significant lowering of the cap on expenditure at general elections by third parties is justified, given the fundamental constitutional right to freedom of political expression. The committee points to the lack of consultation by the Government on the proposals, including with the Electoral Commission, as well as the lack of clarity on how the changes will affect campaigning in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The committee raises questions about the narrow definition of lobbying in the bill, which excludes “in-house” lobbyists and covers only communications between professional consultant lobbyists and ministers or permanent secretaries. The committee encourages the House of Lords to consider whether this definition is appropriate.
Commenting, Baroness Jay of Paddington, chairman of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, said:
“The committee is concerned about the restrictions on the right to freedom of political expression that will result from the proposal to limit third-party expenditure at general elections. We think this constitutional right should only be interfered with where there is clear justification for doing so.
“We are also concerned that the lobbying bill will not achieve its objectives of increasing transparency and restoring public confidence. We have therefore recommended that the House of Lords considers whether the limited definition of lobbying in the bill, which excludes in-house public affairs work and covers only communication with ministers and permanent secretaries, will provide adequate transparency.
“We are critical of the hurried way in which this legislation has proceeded, which has resulted in a lack of consultation. Bills of constitutional importance such as this should not be rushed through Parliament.”