In its current form, the Bill has been criticised for its potential both to prevent ordinary people from becoming involved with the democratic process in the build-up to elections, and to gag third sector organisations with red tape.
Christian Aid’s senior UK political adviser Barry Johnston welcomed the brief halt in proceedings. ‘The government has finally shown it is prepared to listen,’ he said. ‘In its current form, the Bill remains totally unacceptable and needs further, major amendments if it is not to damage legitimate campaigning in the UK.’
The Bill as it stands would reduce the threshold that a charity is allowed to spend in the run-up to the election without needing to register with the Electoral Commission from £10,000 to £5,000 in England. This could make it difficult for organisations to hold marches or events.
‘There are clauses in the Lobbying Bill which are of real concern,’ Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE, told Christianity. ‘Christians have a long and rich tradition of engaging in the democratic process and it would be a tragedy if they were prevented from holding hustings events because of the restrictions of this new law.’
Lady Hayter, the shadow cabinet office minister, warned that the legislation would threaten free speech and freedom of assembly: ‘What we need is much more of a commitment from the government not just to listen and engage ? welcome as that is ? but to act on what is heard. The third sector is not just looking for reassurance, it is looking for change.’