RESIDENTS voiced their concerns about the Government’s lobbying Bill at a meeting organised by campaign group 38 Degrees.
About 35 people attended the meeting with Henley MP John Howell at the Christ Church Centre on Saturday and many accused the Government of trying to “gag” charities and other organisations.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was brought forward following claims about the influence of lobbyists on government decision-making and the involvement of peers and MPs with lobbying groups. It was intended to improve transparency and confidence but charities and campaign groups have criticised the plan to reduce the cap on what a third party organisation could spend across the UK in the run-up to and during elections from £961,500 to £390,000.
Marina Taylor, of Valley Road, Henley, said: “This proposal gives the party in power the opportunity to push for controversial legislation without interested parties and the public being able to canvass their views, as they normally do.
“Surely lobbyists have a great value in our democracy? We can’t expect you [the Government] to know everything about everything all the time and surely lobbyists do a very valuable service.”
Peter Woolsey, from Binfield Heath, said: “This Bill was rushed out two weeks after the summer recess. It is so badly phrased that the Government itself has had to make 24 amendments.” He suggested that 38 Degrees should write to Commons leader Andrew Lansley, who is sponsoring the Bill, and leading journalists in order to gain attention.
Mr Howell, who is parliamentary private secretary to Mr Lansley, said the Bill had been misunderstood by the public and suggested that 38 Degrees had “whipped up” the fervour.
He said: “I don’t believe that the Bill does any of the things that 38 Degrees claims that it does. I think they have misunderstood the purpose of the Bill. It is not to stop them doing anything, it is not to gag them. The intention of the Bill is to shed light on the activities which promote a particular party or particular candidate.
“It is not a cut on the amount of money that is spent, it is a cap that is there to regulate the amount that has to be declared. It doesn’t stop a charity from continuing to engage with the Government over a particular issue.”
Mr Howell suggested waiting for the Bill to pass through the House of Lords because it was likely to be changed.