Please have YOUR say on the Lobbying Bill

I’m sure most of you will have seen the negative press surrounding the Government’s misguided Transparency of Lobbying Bill – or the “gagging bill” as it has come to be referred as. If enacted in its current form, this legislation will limit the entirely legitimate activities of many charities and campaigners to influence policy development in the year before a General Election, something which is critical to the Trust at least in providing a voice for woods and trees in Parliament and across the devolved administrations.

Whilst it’s difficult to argue with the broad aim of achieving greater transparency in the lobbying industry, the Bill unfortunately has unintended consequences which will be felt across the breadth of the voluntary and charitable sector.

As drafted, it will reduce our ability to help shape policy/legislation and to legitimately challenge the executive. It will also impact on our ability to fight to protect ancient woodland, given that this inevitably means challenging the Government of the day when it gets a decision badly wrong as with Oaken Wood earlier this year.  In a nutshell, it will seriously damage the public life of the nation.

Government had pledged to amend the Bill at Report Stage to address these concerns. However, legal advice commissioned by NCVO, the champion for civil society and the voluntary sector, on those amendments notes that theses changes make little difference to the underlying problems with the legislation.

Remember when the Voluntary Sector was seen as the solution, rather than in need of gagging?

Remember when the Voluntary Sector was seen as the solution, rather than in need of gagging?

What’s the big problem?

The ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14’ is draft legislation currently being debated in Parliament. Part 2 of the Bill aims to further regulate those campaigning ahead of elections but not standing for election or registered as political parties. If introduced in its current form it will place new restrictions on the activities of voluntary organisations and other parts of civil society in the run up to elections including:

  1. Reducing the spending threshold for registering with the Electoral Commission to campaign by 50% – meaning many more and smaller campaigning organisations and community groups will need to register, and bear the costs of registration and yearly fees.
  2. Reducing the limits on what can be spent in the year running up to a General Election by 60% (more in Scotland, NI and Wales).
  3. Introducing new very tight spending limits in constituencies – significantly limiting legitimate activity. This will also make for disjointed work on holding the Government of the day to account since the run in to an election often sees legislation pushed through quite rapidly and new policy developed.
  4. Widening the range of activities that are regulated. This makes the cuts in thresholds and spending limits even more severe than the bold percentage suggests – especially as staff costs are included (they are excluded for political party spending).
  5. Introducing new burdensome reporting requirements – including weekly reporting in the short period before elections.

How will the Woodland Trust be affected?

The new spending caps combined with a wider range of activities caught (especially full staffing costs) and the problematic definition of what constitutes ‘non-party campaigning’ would radically reduce the scale of campaigning activity possible.

For example:

Influencing Manifestos – Before the 2010 election we ran a campaign asking our supporters around the UK to urge all prospective candidates to make commitments and pledges on woodland creation and protection of ancient woodland. Many MPs that made a pledge used this as publicity in constituency media, a pledge to ‘double native woodland cover’ also appeared in the Liberal  Democrat manifesto and in all the manifestos of parties standing in Northern Ireland. As more activities involved in this campaign would count towards ‘controlled expenditure’ and the thresholds are lower, it is likely that under the new proposals the same campaign would be subject to regulation and we would need to drastically scale back on this activity, reducing its impact.

Campaigning to protect Ancient Woodland – A core activity which could be negatively affected is our WoodWatch programme, where, along with local community and political support/or opposition, we fight to save woodland under threat from development. A very current example is our campaign to save Smithy Wood, where we are working closely with the local MP Angela Smith and others to save an ancient woodland much cherished by the local community.  This would not only be hit by a reduction in constituency-level spend limits but we would also be required to register with the Commission if we wanted to host a public meeting, liaise with the local media, or conduct polling to gauge local opinion on the issue.

Large scale and often politicised national campaigns like the hugely contentious High Speed Two debate would also be affected. This is particularly likely as UKIP has already pledged to fight the Conservatives directly on this issue along the route of the scheme. Whilst we operate within Charity Commission guidelines and do not undertake political campaigning which supports any individual Party or Candidate, the ambiguity surrounding the definition of what constitutes “support” may mean that our activities to fight ancient woodland loss could be seen to enhance one candidate/party over another, so could contravene the regulations.

Capacity and reactiveness – Our capacity to engage and react would also be reduced. We estimate that we would need to drastically wind down our national campaigning team for the year ahead of a General Election – with fewer than one member of staff able to campaign on geographically focused issues such as local woodland threats in key constituencies.

How can you help?

We have been working closely with a broad range of civil society partners to challenge the viability of the Bill at every stage of the legislative process, we would now like to ask for your help.

A series of public meetings have now been set up around the country so that voters can make their concerns known directly to their MPs.  Although the Lobbying Bill is now passing through the Lords, MPs will ultimately have the final say on the Bill.

We would like as many Woodland Trust supporters and friends as possible to go along and say your piece, as this will have a great impact on what your MP does as the Bill continues its way through parliament.

To find your nearest event please see the list below.

Details of Public Meetings

Cambridge – Thursday 17th October
Where: Wolfson Hall, Churchill College, Storey’s Way, Cambridge, CB3 0DS
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge
RSVP Here

Bristol West – Thursday 17th October
Where: Saint Stephen’s Church, 21 St Stephen’s Avenue, Bristol, BS1 1EQ.
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West
RSVP Here

St Ives  – Friday 18th October
Where: St John’s Hall, Alverton Street, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 2QR
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Andrew George, MP for St Ives
RSVP Here

Wells – Friday 18th October
Where: Swan Hotel, Sadler St, Wells, Somerset BA5 2RX
When: 6pm – 7.30pm
Who: Tessa Munt, MP for Wells
RSVP Here

Chippenham – Friday 18th October
Where: Chippenham Town Hall, High Street, Chippenham, Wiltshire, SN15 3ER
When: 7:30pm – 9.30pm
Who: Duncan Hames, MP for Chippenham
RSVP Here

Brent Central  – Friday 18th October
Where: Function Room, The Royal Oak, 95 High Street, Harlesden, London, NW10 4TS
When: 12:30pm – 1.30pm
Who: Sarah Teather, MP for Brent Central

Solihull – Thursday 24th October
Where: The Bridge, 234 Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull, B90 3AG
When: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Who: Meeting for constituents Lorely Burt, MP for Solihull (invited).

Torquay  – Friday 25th October
Where: Grace Murrell Suite, Riviera International Conference Centre, Chestnut Avenue, Torquay, Devon TQ2 5LZ
When: 8pm – 9:30pm
Who: Meeting for constituents of Adrian Sanders, MP for Torbay (invited).
RSVP Here

St Austell and Newquay – Friday 25th October
Where: Treviglas Community College, Bradley Road, Newquay, TR7 3JA
When: 8pm – 9:30pm
Who: Stephen Gilbert, MP for St Austell and Newquay
RSVP Here

Sutton and Cheam  – Friday 25th October
Where: Cheam High School, Chatsworth Road, Cheam, SM3 8PW
When: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Who: Paul Burstow, MP for Sutton and Cheam
RSVP Here

Norwich South –  Friday 25th October
Where: Norwich Friends Meeting House, Upper Goat Lane, Norwich, NR2 1EW.
When: 7pm – 9pm
Who: Simon Wright, MP for Norwich South
RSVP Here

Manchester Withington – Saturday 26th October
Where: Chorlton Central Church, Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M21 8BF.
When: 7pm – 9pm
Who: Meeting for constituents of John Leech, MP for Manchester Withington (invited).

No public meeting near you? Ask your MP if they will set one up!? And, NCVO have produced a briefing for MPs on each stage of the Bill – why not send this latest one to your MP? We will let you know via the blog about progress on this issues, please also keep an eye out for more news and advice via the NCVO website.

About Steve Mulligan

Government Affairs Officer, Woodland Trust
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14 Responses to Please have YOUR say on the Lobbying Bill

  1. Farenheit 451 says:

    “(3) In determining whether material can reasonably be regarded as intended
    to promote or procure electoral success as mentioned in subsection (1), it
    is immaterial that it can reasonably be regarded as intended to achieve
    any other purpose as well.”

    I quote the above from Andrew Lansley’s amendment to his own Bill – it is from the Report Stage Proceedings for 9th October, part of Clause 26, page 13. If you care to take a look at the Report Proceedings you will see the only amendments that have been “agreed to” (ie accepted as changes to this heinous Bill) are those proposed by …. Andrew Lansley.
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2013-2014/0108/pro1080910p.245-251.html

    Don’t be taken in by anyone who tells you this is not a gagging law. It is called the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill”. If they’d called it the “Transparency of Lobbying BY Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Unions” they’d have been a bit nearer the mark.

    This bill does not gag the real lobbyists – the Lynton C’s of this world are not affected at all. The ‘real’ lobbyists themselves have said this. It is only designed to silence the voices of us, the ‘little people’, who care about random stuff like destruction of ancient woodland and the hundreds of thousands of people who are being forced to turn to foodbanks in this country.

    Matt Derrington’s comment above is sadly so true. We are entering a new Dark Age.
    RIP Democracy.
    … and next year, as this Bill becomes law, we will be expected to “celebrate” the First World War … 1914-2014 … it makes my blood run cold. The “freedom” that they died for … what is happening to it?

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Farenheit, many thanks for your contribution – I totally agree with your central concern – the Bill fails to catch those who’s behavior weakens our democracy, whilst silencing those who strengthen it.

  2. I’m not quite sure what the problem is here. Well at least I know what the problem the Bill is trying to solve is. Lobbying is quite an industry in the USA, with certain sectors of society deploying massive funds to lobby in a quite secretive way. We don’t want that here – yet as always, we seem to be moving in the same direction as the USA.

    The Bill is actually called “Transparency of Lobbying …etc.”. Not just “Lobbying”. It aims to make lobbying more transparent. Sounds like a good idea to me – we probably have no idea (unlike targeted MPs) just how pestilential and persuasive the powerful vested interests can be. That is right across the political spectrum – these days, the Unions are not the honest, down-to-earth champions of the working man that they once were.

    As with all laws attempting to right a wrong, there is a “the whole class must be punished” element to it. We must all submit, however small and innocent and transparent we are ourselves, to tighter regulation because of the big bad boys who abuse the lobbying system.

    I think we should all spend most of our time using the Localism Act 2011 and the massive powers it gives us to shape our own neighbourhoods. And making local authorities and national government obey the international laws on the Environment to which they pay lip service, but do not observe in practice. There is little point lobbying a bankrupt outfit anyway – UK government debt is officially 1.4 trillion but in reality at least 5 trillion. A trillion is an incredible amount – I am not sure people realise quite how much it is, and it is best to view it in 3-D, as on this website:

    http://demonocracy.info/infographics/usa/us_debt/us_debt.html

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Many thanks for commenting Edith. I don’t think we would argue with the need to prevent the type of excesses seen in the US or indeed the scandals which have plagued our own political system, however the sad fact is this Bill simply won’t solve those issues. It has been widely reported that the proposed lobby register (in Part one of the Bill) will only cover 1% of all lobbyists. As an unfortunate result, third sector organisations who have a positive contrubution to make in ensuring our democracy remains healthy will be gagged, whilst those who have abused the system can seemingly carry on regardless.

      • I take your point that the Bill only targets the 1 per cent of lobbyists who are paid to do so – i.e. “consultant lobbyists”.

        I suppose the point is that the rich don’t have to pay their lobbyists, they just give them a Jag or something. Whilst the poor have to pay other poor people to lobby because it is hard work and people can’t afford to do it for nothing. It was the same once with MPs and County Councillors – only someone fairly well-off could be one till they got paid properly.

        All the same, I still don’t see the point of lobbying governments to obey Environmental Laws. They HAVE to obey these Laws. If they don’t, take them to court – don’t waste time lobbying them. It will be much cheaper, for a start – and a lot more effective too.

        Of course there are some wonderful “third sector” organisations, especially ones that end in the word “Trust” – but ultimately, all organisations apart from Neighbourhood Forums come between local people and their voice in how their neighbourhood looks and works.

        My point is, that the UN noticed this decades ago, and international lawyers have been trying ever since to give people back their voice – not by involving them more in national government, but by breaking down the power of national government to make decisions that purport to be “democratic” but cannot be because of the size of the nation and its population.

        This is the legal machinery behind the old Friends of the Earth slogan “Think globally, act locally”. Also behind “Small is Beautiful”. These phrases sound a bit airy fairy – but they have nuts and bolts, in Environmental Law. I say nuts and bolts because honestly, you don’t have to be a legal whizz kid to understand these laws. It is just a psychological thing. Like I look under a car bonnet and feel faint and weary, and look around for help. This is daft. I could get to grips with that stuff if I HAD to. I am just lazy.

        The UN knew local people would act locally if they were given the power to do so – but this has only just happened in the Mother of Democracy, Britain – so you can guess what stage it has probably reached elsewhere, if it has not already been strangled at birth.

        Already the Localism Act is being killed off, because Councils and Developers are alleging you cannot reduce the number of houses proposed in the LDF in a Neighbourhood Plan.

        Oh yes you can though, if you cite Environmental Laws because these Laws underpin and govern all LDFs, and LDFs actually say so if you read them carefully.

        Even if your particular LDF does not say so, it is in fact underpinned and governed by massive UN laws safeguarding the Environment from further damage (well, that is the aim). This is because the UK has signed the relevant Conventions. As a result, all national Planning Law is governed by international law (except in North Korea etc.).

        Not one Planning Lawyer I have ever come across will admit this. Because the international laws cut out the middle man – i.e. them.

        • Steve Mulligan says:

          Some very interesting points Edith, about whether National Government remains a relevant/appropriate target for lobbying on environmental concerns. The proof of the pudding is sadly that EU regulations alone simply don’t provide the protection our much loved Natural Environment needs. Currently, there are around 400 ancient woods across the UK threatened by development. Given the unfortunate fact that once lost they cannot be re-created you can never truely compensate for this loss, even if your legal battle is sucessful.

  3. John Shirley says:

    My local Conservative MP states that the position of charities over this Bill is a misrepresentation of the intent of the Bill-if Action Aid is still as concerned as others who have approached for me for support, then I’m more convinced by them than by her!

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Thanks for your comment John. Whether the impact is intended or not, legal advice obtained by the National Council for Voluntary Organsiations and others certainly indicates that the Bill will have “a chilling effect” on many charities and campaign groups.

  4. Matt Derrington says:

    Hello? Is anyone awake out there? This gagging bill, is exactly what it says. No more pretences about strange notions like democracy. The most amazingly inappropriately named group in history- the ‘illuminati’ (emphasis on ‘ill’), have finally summoned up the nerve to come crawling out of the woodwork and into the what they obviously consider to be a very dim light of day.

    Who? What? Well pardon me if I’m coming across a bit weird. At this rate you won’t need to worry whether I’ve lost it or not- they’ll soon make it unavoidably clear. It doesn’t actually matter that much whether ‘they’ have arranged all this deliberately as part of the most vile, venal and long-running conspiracy in history. Even if ‘they’ are merely a critical and disastrous mass of particularly stupid, greedy, but otherwise ordinary people, the effect is about to be the same.

    Remember all the distopian sci-fi movies you’ve ever watched? You know- the ones where the entire world is run by a tiny minority of faceless scumbags hiding behind reflective sunglasses, limousine and skyscraper windows? The ones where the vast majority of proper human beings are treated like the rest of what remains of Nature, as annoying litter, to be moved around, contained, and hopefully processed in some way for profit?

    Well that’s what ‘they’- either the incredibly stupid and or evil ******s, are about to bring into being. Not that they haven’t got most of it set up already. It’s just that from now on, that’s all there’s going to be. No choice. No alternative. No pretence. No argument. Just do what you’re told, Sheople.

    If this is true, what could be done about it? Well, firstly make sure everyone you know, knows. Then start discussing your preferred methods for removing this menace. In the meantime boycott all ‘illuminati’ tentacles, such as corporate goods and fronts such as journalists and politicians. A resounding 1% turn out at the next general election, will give them a pretty clear idea how much you intend to succumb to their evil plans.

    Then you could simply stare them out. A tiny minority of criminals has only ever succeeded by instilling fear in the masses and relying on being able to split, isolate and eradicate any individuals brave enough to stand up to them. If you determine that should they open fire, you will run- but together and all over them, like Buffalos stampeding Lions (pardon me for the comparison, Lions), then it’ lose, lose, lose for ‘illuminati’ types.

    Even if they’ve got equally evil friends from elsewhere. The Universe is a very large thing. All this is very unlikely to go unnoticed…

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Thanks for your passionate contribution Matt. Given the range of interest groups working together to oppose the Bill (from right across the political spectrum) I remain hopeful that with relentless pressure we can secure a better outcome than the dystopian future you warn of. To achieve that it’s critical that we keep the pressure on as the Bill passes through the Lords and back into the Commons, we must widen our ranks further (by involving our family,friends, colleagues etc.), and we must remain unified. Whilst there is still the chance to challenge we should not give up the fight.

  5. Maureen Hart says:

    The only meeting in my area, East Anglia, is Norwich South so i do hope there will be somewhere i can get to. Difficult due to being a bit disabled but worth the try as we all have to fight this bill.

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Thanks for your comment Maureen and I aplaud your passion to get involved. If you are unable to attend any of these meetings you could always approach your local MP for a face to face meeting – most MPs hold weekend surgeries. We will also update the list – as others meetings are organised.

  6. Ash says:

    There appears to be only one of these meetings in the north of England in Manchester, the rest being in the south & west. Is anything planned for other parts of the country including Wales & Scotland & Northern Ireland? Surely all parts of the UK are served by the Woodland Trust?

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hi Ash. These events are not being organised by the Trust, and we have been as frustrated as you to see so few, although it is at least a positive thing that events to talk to these MPs have been arranged. My only suggestion is to talk to your own MP direct about this – you could even send them this blog post – maybe he or she will organise something similar if you ask them? NCVO have produced a Briefing for MPs (this wasn’t accessible yesterday when we posted this blog but it’s live now so I will update the link), you can get this pdf from the NCVO website here: http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2013/10/07/lobbying-bill-report-stage-what-we-are-asking-mps-to-do/.

      This perspective from an American in the Huffington Post also rings very true: “Most politicians that I know value the contribution that the charity sector, and indeed faith groups, trade associations and trade unions make to political discourse, and policy analysis and development. In my experience, they have typically welcomed such interventions and have commonly invited them.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/john-tizard/lobbying-bill_b_3817150.html)

Sorry, comments are closed as we have moved to a new site: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/

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