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Charities fear they will be gagged by lobbying bill
CHARITIES and unions in Southampton could have their voices “gagged” by new Government plans, a Hampshire MP has claimed.
But Conservative ministers in Westminster say the proposed legislation will not impact on charities and other organisations’ abilities to campaign on policy issues, and will allow for better regulation of lobbying.
If approved by Parliament, the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill would set a £390,000 cap on the amount any organisation – except political parties – could spend across the UK during elections.
Mr Cameron hopes to introduce the legislation to end lobbying scandals by introducing tighter regulation.
But despite progressing to the second reading stage in the House of Commons, it has proven highly controversial with figures from across the political spectrum.
Mr Whitehead said: “This bill would discourage and restrict those who are already working hard to improve their communities.
“David Cameron came into Government claiming to be passionate about building the ‘big society’ but the truth is that this bill would help destroy what the Prime Minister claims to want to encourage.
“This bill amounts to a gag on charities and campaigners and is a desperate attempt by the Government to prevent their record and policies from being criticised and scrutinised at a local level.”
The bill has led to some concerns among charities and unions in Hampshire.
Clive Chatters, head of policy and evidence at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “Although we understand it is not the intent of the lobbying bill to restrict charities such as the wildlife trusts engaging in public policy debate, we are concerned that this will be the effect of the bill as currently drafted.
“We therefore urge that additional time is given to provide more scope for Parliament to scrutinise this bill.”
And Christina Stone, president of the Solent Students’ Union, said: “Whilst the lobbying bill doesn’t directly affect any plans that Solent Students’ Union has, we find it concerning that a bill of this nature could affect the actions of other charities and unions across the country, therefore we stand with them in defending their right to campaign.”
But Leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley has insisted the legislation was “'perfectly rational” and charities and other voluntary organisations need not be “alarmed”.
He said: “Let me give this assurance – we are very clear that we are in no sense seeking to change the boundary between campaigning on policies and issues which charities do and third parties do to a substantial extent.
“Charities, think-tanks, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) should not be alarmed that this in any sense impacts on their ability to campaign on policy issues.”
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