By Mark Wallace
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As reported by Guido, a range of think tanks and campaign groups have this afternoon written to the Government expressing concerns about the impact of the Lobbying Bill on their work:
We wish to highlight our grave concern about the Government’s Lobbying Bill, a piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to legitimate campaigning freedom of speech, political activism and informed public debate.
Part II of the bill threatens the ability of charities, research and campaigning organisations to inform the public debate, fulfil their missions and raise awareness of important issues. The current drafting would capture a huge number of organisations who would not presently be considered as relevant to electoral law and who do not receive any state funding. It also threatens to dramatically expand the range of activity regulated far beyond any common sense understanding of commercial lobbying.
We do not regard the Cabinet Office’s assurances as sufficient given the widespread legal doubts expressed from across the political spectrum. It cannot be a prudent approach to legislate on the basis of assurances that enforcement will not be to the full extent of the law. The exceptions offered are unclear and unconvincing.
The lack of clarity in the legislation further exacerbates its complexity, while granting a remarkably broad discretion to the Electoral Commission. The potential tidal wave of bureaucracy could cripple even well-established organisations, while forcing groups to reconsider activity if there is a perceived risk of falling foul of the law. This self-censorship is an inevitable consequence of the bill as it stands.
We urge the Government to reconsider its approach and to urgently address the fundamental failings in this legislation.
Mark Littlewood, Director General, Institute for Economic Affairs, Simon Richards, Director, The Freedom Association, Tim Knox, Director, Centre for Policy Studies, Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive, Taxpayers’ Alliance, Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN, Emma Carr, Deputy Director, Big Brother Watch, Eamonn Butler, Director, the Adam Smith Institute
By Matthew Barrett
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Following the Queen's Speech this morning, several think tanks have reacted to the legislation announced (full details of which can be found here). I've collected them below.
8pm update: Open Europe have given their reaction to the proposed European Union Bill:
"The UK government is likely to sell the measure as a guarantee that it will never again be forced to indirectly contribute to eurozone bailout funds - a few papers have already run with that story. At the same December summit, Britain won a political declaration and an EU decision that the article that forced it to contribute to the EU-wide bailout funds, the EFSM, won't be used again (Article 122 - for background, see here and here). However, the legal status of this guarantee is uncertain. It is not part of the treaty change itself, and MPs may argue that a guarantee that isn't anchored in the Treaties could well prove ineffective. After all, the UK has received guarantees before which proved to be pretty worthless (clue: Charter of Fundamental Rights, Working Time Directive). If MPs wake up to the legal ambiguity underpinning the 'guarantee' they may ask for something firmer in return for ratifying the treaty change."
7.15pm update: Nick Pickles, the Director of Big Brother Watch, has commented on the surveillance aspects of the Queen's Speech:
"So there we have it – the Communication Capabilities Development Programme will have it’s day in Parliament. We don’t know what the draft clauses will be or when we will see them, but the Government remains intent on pursuing legislation in the coming session of Parliament. If someone is suspected of plotting an attack the powers already exist to tap their phone, read their email and follow them on the street. Instead of scaremongering the Home Office should come forward and engage with the debate about how we improve public safety, rather than pursue a policy that will indiscriminately spy on everyone online while the real threats are driven underground and escape surveillance."
2.45pm update: The Centre for Policy Studies' Head of Economic Research, Ryan Bourne has commented:
"What’s needed now is for the Government to use the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to get serious about deregulation and repealing unnecessary legislation, especially for small businesses. This should include reform of employment legislation and the recommendations of the Beecroft report. Unfortunately, the emphasis on being family-friendly will, in some areas, directly contradict this liberalisation. Flexible parental leave, for example, is unlikely to be popular with many employers. In other areas, such as tax reform, planning, infrastructure and energy policy, it’s a case of wait and hope. Though there wasn’t anywhere near enough in the way of growth bills, it was welcoming to see the Government highlight the need to see through pensions reform. Finalising the creation of the single tier pension is a sensible step. This should be undertaken as soon as possible to put the Government in a better bargaining position with the public sector trade unions on pensioner poverty. The decision to continue with the 10 year period of protection for public sector employees approaching retirement will, however, eliminate much in the way of any early cash savings from public sector pensions reform."
The Institute of Directors has commented on a number of the specific measures announced. Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, gave his reaction to the Speech overall:
“The Government is right to place deficit reduction and economic stability at the forefront of their programme. However, we need to see them pursued enthusiastically in practice, not just in principle. To restore business confidence, which is the real key to growth, there must be drastic measures to cut costly regulation and continue to tackle the deficit. Tweaking the edges of the system will not be enough – it’s not the number of Bills that matters, it’s what is in them that really counts.”
During the last general election, the TaxPayers' Alliance published a manifesto, setting out objectives for this Parliament. Today, the TPA published its assessment of the Coalition's progress so far. The new report assigns scores out of five (with five meaning the objective has been satisfied, or there are plans to satisfy it, and zero meaning no progress has been made).
The report finds that in every area, there is progress towards achieving some objectives, but progress is lacking in others:
Matthew Sinclair, Director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said:
"Early on the Government made some excellent progress cutting some wasteful spending and opening up the public sector so taxpayers could see how their money is spent. Since then there has been further progress in some areas like strengthening Freedom of Information. Exciting reforms that will deliver better value from welfare, education and police spending have made progress. But in too many other fields, like tax reform and abolishing useless quangos, the rhetoric hasn’t been matched by the policy delivered. With expensive commitments like increasing international development and the high speed rail white elephant, families will see more of their money wasted. The TaxPayers' Alliance will continue fighting to defend the interests of ordinary taxpayers and campaigning on the priorities we set out before the election."
The full report can be read here (pdf).
The civil liberties campaign group, Big Brother Watch, has also produced an anniversary report, assessing the Coalition's progress on that front. Some key points:
The full report can be read here (pdf).
by Paul Goodman
Big Brother Watch has condemned figures showing that some six million cases council tax and parking fine cases have been passed to bailiffs as "truly shocking". The details are contained in a new report from the organisation called "Who's knocking on your door?" and based on Freedom of Information Requests.
Daniel Hamilton, the Director of Big Brother Watch, said:
“Sending in bailiffs to recover debts should always be the absolute last resort. The fact local councils have passed more than six million cases to bailiffs for matters as trivial as the late payment of council taxes and parking fines is truly shocking.
“In many cases, bailiffs are a law unto themselves; barging their way into people’s homes, intimidating vulnerable members of the public and imposing rip-off charges.
“The Coalition Government must act now to end the culture of bully-boy debt collection which has taken hold in Town Halls across the country”.
New research conducted by Big Brother Watch and released today has revealed that 54 CCTV Smart Cars operated in 31 local councils in Britain caught and fined at least 188,000 motorists, making over £8 million in just 12 months.
The CCTV Smart Car is a relatively new addition to Britain’s streets. If you live outside of London, Kent or the North West you may not have seen this latest extension of the surveillance state. But, given the size of the fines being raked in by the current fleet, the chances are that you will soon.
Drive-by Spies is the first piece of research into this recent innovation; detailing the number of councils that have bought and are using CCTV Smart cars, the cost of the various schemes in the past year and how many people have been caught, fined and the amount these councils have accrued in fines over the past twelve months.
Through Freedom of Information requests sent to the local councils in England known to have invested in CCTV Smart cars, Big Brother Watch has created the first annual audit of the mobile CCTV surveillance menacing drivers in several parts of the country. We will be submitting this report to the relevant Government departments and encourage our supporters to help us fight this invasion of our privacy.
Dylan Sharpe, Campaign Director of Big Brother Watch, said:
"The CCTV Smart car represents a very dangerous escalation in Britain's surveillance society. The vehicles are sent out to catch people and make money, with road safety only an afterthought. £8 million is an eye-watering amount to take in fines in just 25 councils. It is surely only a matter of time before more councils start using these cars. The Coalition Government must act now and prevent that from happening."
To see if your local council has a CCTV Smart car, and the amount it has made in fines - take a look at the full report by clicking here.