The Lobby bill becomes law but we won't be silenced
This week the Lobbying Bill (the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill) reached the end of the parliamentary process, gaining Royal Ascent and becoming law. For us at Amnesty International UK and other organisations worried about the effect the Bill would have on their ability to carry out their work, it was a disappointing outcome to say the least.
There were some positive amendments on spending limits, controlled expenditure, a small reduction in the regulatory period as well as the promise of a review of non-party campaigning rules following the 2015 election. However, there remains a lack of clarity around the impacts on Staff Costs and Constituency Regulation.
The Act imposes “spending limits” on non-party campaigners at a constituency level for the first time. Of course, this appears totally reasonable when you consider that vested interest groups, or wealthy individuals could use their resources to support a particular candidate, so distorting the democratic process. The concern we have is that it’s not clear how this will affect the work of organisations like ours.
We're in a similar conundrum with staff costs under the Act – an issue which was actually tied in the Lords vote, 245–245, but carried as parliamentary convention dictates that in a tie, the vote goes in the government’s favour. Here again, it’s not entirely clear yet how or if that will prevent us from carrying out our work.
We will have to await the Electoral Commissions guidance on the Act which to help us understand full the implications of the new rules. We need clarity, as it is vital that our 250,000 members in the UK are able to lobby their constituency candidates to support a range of human rights.
The universality of human rights means that we often have cross party support for a wide range of issues. This can be seen in parliament through the excellent work of individual MPs from all parties and their collaboration in relevant All Party Parliamentary Groups.
However, there are areas where there may be a variation in the policies and positions of the political parties, and it is here that we need to be clear that our work is not deemed to be promoting the cause of a particular candidate.
So we will await the guidance from the Electoral Commission and will take care to understand what it means for us. However, we will not be silenced, we will continue to raise human rights issues during General Elections!
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.