Crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham wants to refer part of bill on regulating charities and thinktanks to special committee
An audacious attempt is to be made to delay the lobbying bill for three months in the Lords by putting its controversial plans for limiting the campaigning activities of charities into a special committee for detailed consideration.
The call for a pause is being made by an alliance of charities, thinktanks, faith groups and unions.
It is being argued that a pause would allow the government to get the bill right, and to hold the consultation it failed to hold before the bill was published.
Ministers argue that they have already made substantial concessions in the Commons to meet the fears of charities and pressure groups, who say the bill will have a chilling effect on their campaigning ahead of the general election.
Simon Barrow, the co-director the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, has warned the bill is too weak in bringing corporate lobbyists to account but unjustifiably limits the freedom of expression on charities, civil society organisations and thinktanks – restrictions that amount to gagging orders.
The House of Lords constitution committee warned “effective parliamentary scrutiny matters in relation to every bill but it is of manifest importance where legislation is of constitutional significance. The present bill directly affects the ability of people and organisations to engage with the government and to participate in political and electoral campaigning.”
The committee asked whether part two was necessary.
Lord Wallace under pressure to delay bill, allowing fresh scrutiny, amid concerns over gagging of charities at election times
The coalition government started to offer concessions on the lobbying bill ahead of a vote on Tuesday afternoon that might lead to proposals for a three-month pause in the bill’s scrutiny and reference of the regulation of charities at election times to a special select committee.
Lord Wallace, the minister handling the bill, has written to coalition peers saying he is willing to raise the threshold substantially to ensure smaller charities are not covered by the bill’s provisions that restrict the campaigning activity of charities during an election period.
Ministers have also proposed that scrutiny of the section of the bill addressing charity campaigning could be deferred as long as six weeks, so long as the rest of the bill continued as normal.
Lord Ramsbotham, the cross bench peer pushing for a full three month delay, does not appear likely to be accept the compromise, and will push for delay to allow a fresh scrutiny of the bill.
Lord Ramsbotham’s plan, with Labour backing, would mean the referral of part two of the bill to a special select committee, which would also delay consideration of other aspects of the bill.