Yesterday, MPs debated the Lobbying Bill. Although it passed second reading, there were a good number of Parliamentarians who voiced their concerns about Part II of the Bill. Below we note the National Trust’s concerns and our desire for a thorough rethink of Part II of the Bill as it passes through the next stages in Parliament.
The National Trust supports greater transparency but we believe significant changes are needed to achieve an approach which improves transparency and accountability without undermining the positive role that charities play in enabling informed public policy debate. The Government has given verbal reassurances but these need to be backed by material changes if they are to remove uncertainty.
The National Trust has a long pedigree of involvement in public policy. Earlier in our history we worked in partnership with others in calling for the creation of National Parks. This resulted in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, a piece of legislation that over the years has protected and promoted access to many of the nation’s most loved landscapes. In the 1930s we promoted changes to allow the acceptance of historic assets in lieu of inheritance tax, which enabled the transfer into public ownership of many places of historic interest and architectural beauty for the enduring enjoyment of all.
More recently the National Trust’s Planning for People petition, calling on the government to think again on their reforms of the planning system, garnered more than 200,000 signatures from concerned members of the public. We also supported calls for a rethink on the future of the public forest estate; challenged the government to be braver in designating Marine Conservation Zones; have been involved in recent judicial reviews around the impacts of planning proposals which we believe have unacceptable detrimental impacts for places in our care; and have been working with others within and beyond the charity sector in promoting more opportunities for children to enjoy the benefits of playing outdoors and in nature.
We do all of the above in pursuit of our duty, described under our various Acts of Parliament, for promoting the permanent preservation of places of natural beauty and historic interest, and want to be confident that we are able to continue to do so.
Analysis by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, backed by legal opinion, shows that the Bill’s imprecision creates too many hostages to fortune. The Electoral Commission, which will have greater regulatory responsibilities under the new legislation, has also openly stated concern about how it will be wide open to interpretation and could impact the work of charities.
This is why we are backing calls by the NCVO for a careful rethink on Part II of the Bill.
A spokesman said: “Whilst we entirely support the intent of greater transparency, the Bill before Parliament is perplexing because it is entirely unclear in defining what is, and what is not, political lobbying.
“Significant changes are needed to ensure that we can be confident in a system which promotes transparency without undermining the positive role that organisations like the National Trust play.
“Charities play an important role in engaging citizens and politicians in informed policy debate around the charitable cause for which they stand. The Government has given verbal reassurances that this wont be undermined, but these reassurances need to be backed by material changes if they are to remove uncertainty from the Bill.”