I got the following press release this morning and thought it useful enough to share in full:
The Christian political think-tank Ekklesia has endorsed a new report calling for substantial changes to the government's Lobbying Bill, which in its present form would severely restrict the free speech of civic groups a year before an election.
The second report of the independent Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (CCSDE), chaired by Lord Harries, the former Anglican Bishop of Oxford, has cross-party support as well as endorsement from a hundred NGOs - including both faith groups and secular bodies.
"In its current form the government's Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is inappropriate and unjust. It constitutes a significant and unacceptable violation of democratic freedoms and civil rights in the UK," said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.
"Part Two of the Bill would have the effect of silencing and intimidating charities, campaign groups, faith and research organisations representing the concerns of some of the most vulnerable people in the country in the run-up to an election.
"Despite being challenged to do so, the government has not been able to produce any specific examples of allegedly unacceptable campaigning it is intending to catch using the new law, while also failing to amend the legislation to address a huge raft of well-documented concerns.
"The Bill also seeks to tie up trade unions in red tape, while doing little to address the serious abuses of corporate power which is was supposed to tackle.
"The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, of which Ekklesia is a supporter, has taken evidence on Part Two of this Bill from across the political spectrum, as well as listening to voluntary organisations and public opinion.
"The Commission's consensus proposals for amendment represent a definite improvement, but serious doubts remain as to whether the Lobbying Bill can be rendered fit for purpose in time for the 2015 election. It will be open to significant legal challenge and may leave legitimate campaign groups with little option but to challenge an unjust law," warned Barrow.
As well as major national charities, church and belief organisations are prominent in asking for reform of the Lobbying Bill.
In addition to Ekklesia, supporters of CCSDE include such diverse organisations as Christian Aid, Christian Aid Wales, the British Humanist Association, Canon Collins Trust, the Christian Institute, Micah Challenge, the Muslim Council of Britain, the National Secular Society, Catholic agency Progressio, Quakers in Britain, the Salvation Army, and Tearfund.
Notes to Editors
1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from a Christian perspective in dialogue with others. It is an independent, ecumenical think-tank which is not aligned to any particular denomination, but draws inspiration from Anabaptist and Peace Church traditions. More information here
2. The second full report on the Lobbying Bill from the independent Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (CCSDE) will be made available for reading and downloading on Ekklesia's website here on 10th December 2013.
3. The first report, 'Non-party campaigning ahead of elections' (29 October 2013) is availablehere
4. Full information about the independent Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement can be found here
5. The content and procedure of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 is detailed here