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There is definitely a strong hint of déjà-vu with the Lobbying Bill. This is turning out to be quite an unpopular piece of legislation, unclear in its purpose and hastily pushed through – the comparisons with the Health and Social Care Bill can't be missed.
When the Lobbying Bill was released in the Commons just before the summer recess, the limited plans to register lobbyists caused a loud stir but this has been something of a smokescreen. Other proposals in the Bill to change the law on what non-party political organisations, such as the BMA, can and can't do in the run up to a general election have slowly caused alarm.
Many organisations, including charities and voluntary organisations and other trade unions share massive apprehension that the bill could severely limit everyday activities through new rules on election-related spending limits and over the top regulation. Such is the worry about the potential impact on freedom of speech that some have even called it the ‘Gagging Bill’.
MPs gradually woke up to the voices of criticism coming, not just from these ‘third party groups’, but also the Electoral Commission, which raised concerns that the Bill would be difficult to implement.
The government changed the Bill during its latter stages in the Commons in response to some concerns but there are fears that these do not go far enough as it still appears to lack clarity, is exceedingly bureaucratic and could restrict free speech.
Now in the Lords, the much derided Bill begins what promises to be a rough passage there. Already, the signs aren’t looking good for it. In an eerie echo of the controversial Health and Social Care Bill, the speed the Lobbying Bill is being pushed through has been questioned and there are calls for it to be paused for adequate consultation.
Both the Lords Constitution Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights published very critical reports on the content of the Bill and the Government's handling of the process ahead of the Bill’s first key debate in the Lords. This is already on top of a similarly critical report in the Commons from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.
The Lords have a real chance to press the government to rethink the Bill – and that is what we are calling for in our new briefing to the Lords ahead of their debate. It’s clear that the stage has been set for a battle but the government should not ignore the chorus of criticism from influential select committees, charities, the voluntary sector and other non-party political organisations like the BMA.
A key lesson from the Health and Social Care Bill was the need to take time to listen and consult, even if it meant that legislation had to be paused – here is an opportunity for the government to learn from the past.
Robert Okunnu is BMA head of public affairs
I am aware of the serious repercussions if the nagging bill is passed. I guess that, if the government need the Bill, it is running scared
I have encouraged the Leicestershire and Rutland Division to sign the 38 degree petition.
The EU/US Trade Agreement Bill is a further worry. I wish I knew how much we could count on Lord Green's promise to Mark Porter
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