Growing signs of incompetence

images (76)A small number of our Political Representatives have over claimed public money in the form of their expenses or allowances. There are also rumours of small numbers of people whose behaviour at work and within public buildings has been totally inappropriate to say the least. However despite these cases of abuse and corruption, only small numbers of MPs and Lords appear to have been implicated. What is vital is that our lawmakers are making sound laws.

One of the disturbing elements of the Nigel Evans story is that he and some of his colleagues were so ignorant regarding the impact of the laws they had passed. If Nigel was alone in his ignorance or failure to understand the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, bearing in mind the strain he must have been under in recent months, his desire to revisit these rules might be understandable. However the wide ranging comments by some of his colleagues who are also keen to change this legislation suggests a much bigger problem, one of competence amongst these law makers.

Another law which appears to be showing signs of strain, is one that these lawmakers were warned about extensively. Yet they refused to reconsider it. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 became law earlier this year after many attempts to remove a section known as part 2. I wrote extensively about untitled (77)this, due to my own concerns. To their credit Labour have confirmed that they will repeal this law if elected. However this repeal if it comes will not be sufficient to prevent what appears to be an inevitable problem for many organisations and charities later this year. The principle within part 2 of the Bill is that for the year before any national election, organisations that anticipate campaigning in a way that could “reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or reduce the electoral prospects” of parties or candidates, must register with the Electoral Commission if more than a set amount of money is spent on a range of activities including public rallies, media events and canvassing. There is also a cap on total spending on such activities. Because the Government knew that the first year in which this law would be tested would be the year before the 2015 General Election, and knowing that it would take time for these changes to be understood, they suggested that the period before next years General Election should be reduced to 7 months. This means that relevant organisations will need to register by the 19th September 2014. The Government knew in January 2014 when the Act became law, that there would need to be guidelines produced, and so they instructed the Charity Commission and Electoral Commission to draw these up. These two Government funded organisations have now announced that they anticipate producing these guidelines in early July 2014. About 9 weeks before the deadline for registration.

Assuming that these guidelines are produced in a timely and clear manner, this will be a busy 9 weeks for many organisations that are intended to register or believe that they might need to. Apart from the registration itself, there is the decision making process. Organisations are not obliged to register, they could instead choose not to participate in what the Government has chosen to call lobbying. However for organisations that depend on volunteers to operate, such as charities whose Trustees are not paid staff, and many are retired people, the Summer can be a difficult time to hold meetings. There is an additional risk that the guidance may not be produced on time or indeed that the guidelines are not clear, and require amendments to be made. This could place additional pressure on these organisations to attempt to meet the deadline set by our Parliament.

Whilst the seven month period before the 2015 election established by Parliament may have seemed a prudent length of time to MPs, it now looks a great deal less certain. The problem as in the case of the Legal Aid Bill, is that the lawmakers often find it difficult to understand how changes they are making will impact other people and so they are guided by the Government, whose motivations may not be as pure as some of us would wish. Just in case our Parliamentarians think that the guidelines are unnecessary, the two agencies spoke to more than 120 non-party organisations, of which 64 per cent were charities. Two-thirds are not confident they understand new rules set out in the lobbying act, yet 88% said they were planning some campaigning activities before the 2015 general election, the same number that believe they need more information to know if they should register. The survey found 32% feel “quite confident” they understood the new rules, 55% are “not very confident” and 12% are “not confident at all”. Peter Horne at the Electoral Commission, said: “Respondents told us that they particularly wanted to see how the rules could affect organisations working together to campaign, and also whether social media activity could come under the new rules. We will make sure our guidance, which will be published in early July, explains how the law applies in these areas.”

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
This entry was posted in Charities, Justice Issues, Lobbying Bill, Parliament and Democracy, Policing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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