Thursday, 26 September 2013

A listening exercise?

Today we are supporting the launch of a coalition of civil society organisations that have launched a Commission to reform the Government’s Lobbying Bill.

A diverse coalition of prominent charities, campaign groups, academics, think tanks and online networks has launched an independent commission in response to the Government’s Lobbying Bill. The commission will investigate the impact of the proposed legislation on civil society, following widespread concerns that it will have a chilling effect on charities and campaigning organisations speaking out on issues of public concern ahead of general elections.

The Commission on Civil Society and Democracy includes experts drawn from across civil society. These are:
  • Our Chair, Lesley-Anne Alexander
  • Baroness Mallalieu QC, President, Countryside Alliance
  • Justine Roberts, Chief Executive, Mumsnet
  • Toni Pearce, President, NUS
  • Andrew Chadwick, Professor of Political Science, Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nick Pickles, Chief Executive, Big Brother Watch
  • Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust
  • Georgette Mulheir, Chief Executive, Lumos

The commission is supported by a broad range of 37 organisations including the Royal British Legion, the Women's Institute and Christian Aid.

See for more details.

The commission will take evidence from a cross-section of civil society and citizens to ensure the widest range of views are heard. It will seek to ensure the Bill does not threaten democratic debate in the UK, and develop an alternative framework for regulating the activities of civil society organisations in elections. It will make recommendations to Parliament in time for the Committee Stage of the Lobbying Bill in the House of Lords, in late October.

And this afternoon my Chair, Lesley-Anne and I will go to see the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Commons (Andrew Lansley MP and Tom Brake MP) to urge them to take a pause and listen to the views of civil society on the Bill.

There is a close precedent for this. When the government found major opposition to the Health Bill it took a brave and very sensible decision to pause the Bill and launch the listening exercise.  Both Andrew and I have strong memories of this. It helped improve the Bill and allowed the amended version to pass through Parliament.

Obviously Government have a timetable in terms of getting this sorted in time for the May 2015 election but there is time. Our Commission should be given a chance to undertake those consultations and to feed them into the Lords discussions, when the Government can then decide how best to make the necessary changes to ensure the voice of civil society is protected. There are cross party concerns about this Bill. So let's listen to them.

A listening exercise will demonstrate strength by the government. I hope I can persuade Andrew of that.

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