Speaking at an event hosted by the pressure group, 38 Degrees, Simon Wright MP defended the Transparency of Lobbying Bill currently under deliberation in the House of Lords.
To a hostile audience Mr Wright asserted that the Lobbying Bill’s effect on the ability of organisations to affect elections will produce a ‘level playing field’. He also stressed that the Bill had to come into law before the next general election in 2015. Despite his defence of the Bill, The Liberal Democrat MP reiterated that he went to the event ‘with an open mind’.
In the question and answer session that followed speeches from panellists, the Norwich South MP received a barrage of criticism from local people who held deep concerns about the Bill. At this point Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the 2015 general election, Clive Lewis, claimed the Bill was aimed at silencing the Trade Unions. Mr Lewis identified that Mr Wright was anxious for the Bill to come into effect before the general election in order to prevent the National Union of Students from campaigning in his constituency.
Panellist Andrew Taylor from People and Planet spoke against the Bill before commenting that Mr Wright ‘sounded like a Conservative’. Taylor also accused Mr Wright of repeating a briefing.
Speaking at the event, The Union of UEA Students communications officer, Rosie Rawle, said: “The gagging bill is an infringement on democracy and a barrier to political engagement, particularly for young people. It is entirely removed from how students relate to politics, which is mainly through single-issue campaigns, and mass organisations or coalitions”.
There was no prior consultation with charities or the Electoral Commission before the Bill entered parliament. The House of Commons and Lords constitution committees alongside the chair of the equality and human rights commission believe the Bill has been rushed through.
In its current form the Bill only applies to consultant lobbyists, exempting 80% of the industry.