Lobbying bill passes first hurdle amid widespread derision

The Government's controversial lobbying bill has been slammed by the PR industry, opposition MPs and the third sector after making it through the second reading.

Parliament: Set to scrutinise the bill next week
Parliament: Set to scrutinise the bill next week

The bill passed its second reading by 62 votes yesterday evening, overcoming its first parliamentary hurdle.

However proposals to both create a register for lobbyists and limit the money charities and trade unions can spend on funding election candidates have come under fire.

The fact that the proposed register will only include consultants and not in-house lobbyists has prompted widespread criticism from the PR industry.

Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, called it 'a bastard of a bill – it has no family supporting it'.

Ingham said: ‘This is a bad bill. We will be proposing amendments to make it workable so any register covers everyone who lobbies regardless of who they work for.’

CIPR CEO Jane Wilson said she was ‘thoroughly disappointed’ with the bill making it through the second stage, calling it 'fundamentally flawed'.

‘We hope that members of Parliament will now engage with the representatives of the lobbying industry as this bill moves forward,’ she added.

The vote, which was whipped, passed the second reading by 309 votes to 247. It drew opposition from five Conservatives - Douglas Carswell, Philip Davies, David Davis, Zac Goldsmith and David Nuttall.

The Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley, told MPs that lobbying was a ‘very often welcome part of policy making’ and said the moves were not to ‘prevent lobbying but to make it transparent about who is lobbying whom and for what’.

On proposals to cap the spending of charities and trade unions on funding election candidates at £390,000 he added they 'should not be alarmed that this in any sense impacts on their ability to campaign on policy issues'.

However, shadow Commons leader Angela Eagle called the bill ‘one of the worst pieces of legislation I've seen any government produce in a very long time’.

She added: ‘The bill is hurried, badly drafted, an agglomeration of the inadequate and sinister and partisan.’

The proposed spending cap would replace the current limit of £988,000 and kick in a year before the general election.

Critics highlighted fears that the cap could have wider implications for fundraising and campaigning.

Chloe Stables, parliamentary and media manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), countered Government reassurances the bill would not have wide impact on charity work, stating that legal advice given to the NCVO implied otherwise.

While broadly welcoming the drive to increase transparency, she explained: ‘We continue to have a number of concerns as the definition defining electoral purposes is too broad and threatens to catch a lot of charitable activity.

‘The provisions are very broad in scope, giving substantial discretion to the Electoral Commission, introducing excess reporting requirements and stringent spending limits.’

The bill is now set to go to a committee of the whole house, meaning it can be discussed by all MPs.

The three-day process will begin next week, with the lobbying register proposals discussed first.

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