Thursday, 10 October 2013

Lobbying: now's the chance for a real public debate.

The Lobbying Bill passed Third Reading in the Commons last night, with a majority of 44. I suppose no chance of a Government 'listening exercise' now?

It's a great disappointment that this Bill should have got through the Commons as it is, still ridden with problems whose existence has often simply been denied by the Government, not addressed. Yes, there were also amendments, but they did not meet the objections that ACEVO and NCVO (and our respective lawyers) raised - whatever the government asserted. 

I note here too that the Chair of the Charity Commission claimed yesterday that "the government, in its response to the outcry from the charitable sector about the lobbying bill, has made significant changes which most of the sector, many charities, are happy with." Has he noticed any opinions raised by ACEVO, NCVO and the hundreds of other civil society groups lining up to condemn the Bill? I certainly haven't found anyone who would describe themselves as 'happy'.

One MP commented that in the hurried debate 'Parliament has been abused', and I agree.

But none of this need distract us from the task in hand. ACEVO will work with what we have, and help the Lords to write a Bill that is fit for purpose.

Together with the Commission on Civil Society,  ably chaired by Bishop Richard Harries and with my Chair an active Commissioner, we'll hold the public debate, in the next few weeks, that has so far been denied. I'm hoping ACEVO members will take the opportunity to be part of the discussions. This matters. Note in yesterday's Commons debate how many MPs said they had had unprecedented numbers of notes, emails etc. from constituents on this issue.

The voice of charities and the broader civil society is crucial to a vibrant democracy. At election time it must be heard loud and clear - and our public debate will discuss how best to guarantee this happens fairly. Political parties have nothing to fear from good debate. And our legislation is improved by the voices the sector brings to that debate, much like this Bill will benefit from the help the Commission on Civil Society will give to the Lords.

In a few weeks time this Bill should start to look like what the public want. So ACEVO will be working hard to support the Commission's work and we are already now looking to cross-party support in the Lords. I'm already talking to influential Peers.  

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