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Free speech fears over lobby Bill
Lobbying reforms will curb fundamental rights to free speech while failing to restore public confidence in the political system, a parliamentary report has warned.
Legislation to impose tighter controls on the industry is also unlikely to increase transparency, according to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.
Peers criticised the Government for trying to push through the proposals with "undue haste", claiming the way it had handled the process was a "matter of significant concern".
Their report warned that the changes could also have " significant consequences" for groups in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Despite applying only to matters dealt with by the Westminster government, local campaigns dealing with crossover issues could be hit, it said.
The new Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill introduces a register of lobbyists and their clients and imposes a limit on the amount organisations other than political parties or candidates can spend on campaigning during parliamentary elections.
A statutory register of lobbyists would also be introduced to identify whose interests were being represented by consultant lobbyists and those who were paid to lobby on behalf of a third party and new requirements on unions to provide accurate membership lists will be introduced.
The Bill was published in July following allegations about the influence of lobbyists on Government decision-making as well as the involvement of peers and MPs with lobbying groups.
Ministers were forced to later make changes to the proposals clarifying rules on third party political spending to make clear that public rallies rather than member-only meetings are to be regulated and spell out that campaigners who respond to policy questions by the media are not captured by the Bill.
But charities still insist the changes will impact on their activities by limiting their spending on campaigning activities in election years.
Committee chairman Baroness Jay said: "The committee is concerned about the restrictions on the right to freedom of political expression that will result from the proposal to limit third-party expenditure at general elections. We think this constitutional right should only be interfered with where there is clear justification for doing so.
"We are also concerned that the lobbying bill will not achieve its objectives of increasing transparency and restoring public confidence. We have therefore recommended that the House of Lords considers whether the limited definition of lobbying in the bill, which excludes in-house public affairs work and covers only communication with ministers and permanent secretaries, will provide adequate transparency.
"We are critical of the hurried way in which this legislation has proceeded, which has resulted in a lack of consultation. Bills of constitutional importance such as this should not be rushed through Parliament."