SOUTH Down MP Margaret Ritchie has said the Lobbying Bill at Westminster is a Trojan Horse to limit the political impact of civil society.
Ms Ritchie spoke in today’s House of Commons Lobbying Bill debate (Tuesday 3 September) to criticise the British Government’s plan to introduce draconian new regulations governing the activity of charities and civil society organisations.
Speaking from Westminster, Ms Ritchie said: “Very few people disagree on the need for greater transparency in the lobbying industry and that there is a need for a universal register of all professional lobbyists backed by a code of conduct and sanctions. But there is the real fear that this Bill has been hastily introduced and will not go far enough in preventing unscrupulous lobbying activity by commercial interests.
“More worryingly if introduced in its current form it could change the whole nature of third – sector campaigning on important issues such as welfare reform, health, education, international development and foreign policy in the run up to elections.
“It will act to gag and restrict the work of charities, trade unions and civil society organisations that have a democratic right to participate in these important debates in the run up to elections and to inform wider society on their views on social and economic issues.
“This Bill was meant to concentrate on the negative impact of non-transparent commercial lobbying but instead it seems to have become a Trojan horse to introduce a range of measures that will impair the functioning of third sector organisations. Northern Ireland has a proud history of civil society and trade union involvement in our political process and the SDLP will stridently oppose any measures to water down this impact.”