Charity fears over lobbying reforms

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LOBBYING reforms are likely to have a “chilling effect” on the ability of charities to speak out on matters of public interest, an election law expert has warned.

Oxfam, the Royal British Legion, and the Salvation Army are among key organisations that fear the Coalition bill being debated in the Commons today is so complex and unclear that it is likely to be “impossible” to follow.

Helen Mountfield QC warned that charities will be in “fear of criminal penalty” after being brought in to assess the impact of the reforms by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which represents the charity and voluntary sector and has more than 10,000 members.

She said: “The restrictions and restraints are so wide and so burdensome as arguably to amount to a disproportionate restraint on freedom of expression.”

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill follows allegations about the influence of lobbyists on government decision making as well as the involvement of peers and MPs with lobbying groups. The Government’s proposals would introduce a statutory register of lobbyists.