UN urges UK government to reform Lobbying Act

Un-building

High level intervention could force UK government into rethink

16th June 2017 by Robert Armour 1 Comment

A senior United Nations (UN) official has expressed concerns about the highly controversial Lobbying Act, urging the UK government to reform it.

In a report presented at the UN Human Rights Council, experts criticised the act for its "chilling effect" on civil society and its unequal treatment of charities compared to businesses.

The high-profile intervention by the UN will pile more pressure on ministers to look again at a law widely blamed for silencing civil society organisations at both the 2015 and 2017 elections.

Greenpeace has branded the Lobbying Act an "international embarrassment" and called on ministers to use the Queen’s Speech to signal a reform or repeal of this failed legislation.

A coalition of more than 50 campaign groups has called on party leaders to change the law following reports that charities had chosen not to speak out on Theresa May's dementia tax for fears of legal repercussions.

Commenting on the UN report, Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven said: “The Lobbying Act is now a source of international embarrassment. Britain is renowned for its vibrant civil society and its respect for free speech, and this failed legislation is threatening both.

"The act has done nothing to curb the influence of corporate lobbies over our political system, but has frightened charities supported by millions of people into silence. Ministers should listen to the UN and to their own experts and use the Queen’s Speech to repeal or reform this charity-gagging law. Last week’s election should be the last to be held under the chilling influence of the Lobbying Act.”

Summing up evidence gathered during last year’s visit to the UK, the UN rapporteur highlights the "chilling effect" of the Lobbying Act on charity campaigning during the election period, "with many [charities] opting for silence on issues they work on".

The report also criticises the "disproportionate impact" the act has on civil society and trade unions compared to businesses. It points out that the register of lobbyists established by the act failed to capture the many in-house lobbyists working in Westminster and that civil society is unevenly affected. 

The UN special rapporteur supports the conclusion of the government-commissioned review led by Lord Hodgson which called for the sweeping definition of "regulated activity" to be restricted to work clearly intended to influence the outcome of a vote.

The Electoral Reform Commission has been contacted for comment.

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