Monday, 2 September 2013

Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 4

Echoing the themes outlined in earlier blogs, here is a letter recently sent by the chair of the Futures Forum to the local MP, the Rt Hon Hugo Swire, together with a response:

Dear Mr Swire, 

Political lobbying is a pernicious canker in our democracy that needs to be reined in and regulated. The Daily Telegraph has exposed its damaging effects here in East Devon, where the resulting Feniton by-election result showed a massive popular vote of no confidence in the ruling Party. Now there is bewildered indignation locally at the decision of East Devon District Council officers to suspend sine die the councillors' independent forum to investigate the apparent corruption over several years in the publicly funded lobby group the East Devon Business Forum. 

This sort of thing undermines the whole stability of our political system. There is something rotten in the state that I know Parliament is aiming to set right in the coming week.

However there are concerns that part 2 of the proposed "Lobbying Bill" threatens a vital part of British democracy. Many well respected campaign groups, charities and community groups are warning that they'd be gagged for the entire year before a general election. 

I hope you can reassure me that this is scare-mongering or that there has been an error in the drafting of the Bill that will be corrected easily. 

Please can you raise these concerns at second reading on Tuesday? Please assure me that you will support amendments which genuinely address these concerns, and that if the plans aren't changed you will call for them to be scrapped.

You can read more about the problems with the plans here:

NCVO briefing:

Electoral Commission briefing:

The view of an electoral law specialist:

Robert Crick

On 31 August 2013 23:27, SWIRE, Hugo <hugo.swire.mp@parliament.uk> wrote:

                 The Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP

Member of Parliament for East Devon
House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA
Tel: 0207 219 8173  Fax: 0207 219 1895
Hugo Swire | Member of Parliament for East Devon

Thank you for your email, which has been safely received, and will be dealt with as soon as possible.  If you are a constituent of East Devon, please ensure you have included your full address, postcode and telephone number in all correspondence.

Whilst individual constituency enquiries will continue to be answered by email or letter, due to the vast increase in the volume of campaign emails now being generated I can no longer guarantee replying to these individually and will therefore post my response on my website.

For clarity, as a Government Minister I am precluded, by convention, from signing any Early Day Motions as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility.

This message is generated for all emails addressed to  

2nd September 2013

Dear Mr Swire, 

Thanks for your message. I recognise how busy you are and how your role on the front bench constrains your freedom to act independently. But I want to take this opportunity to clarify that there are two separate issues that I believe need your urgent attention.

The first is the growing scandal about Lobbying in East Devon District where the local paper reports that an unnamed officer has cancelled the scrutiny meeting scheduled for tonight and has again vetoed the topic for investigation which was agreed by the Councillors (our elected representatives) a year ago. This scrutiny group was set up following the widespread outrage in early 2012 at secretive and potentially corrupt practices by the local lobbying group, the EDBF. Nearly four thousand East Devon residents took to the streets about this in November, the Daily Telegraph splashed an expose in March, there were massive votes of no confidence in local Conservative Party candidates in the May elections, and still there is secrecy and a suppression of democratic accountability at the higher levels of local government. This must be a concern for our MP, if only because the May 2015 General Election is approaching.

The other issue is a widespread fear that the poor drafting of the Bill intended to rein in such lobbyists, which is before Parliament tomorrow 3rd Sept, means that non-commercial campaigning groups such as Amnesty, Sustrans, CPRE, the BMA, etc. even including our own Sid Vale Association, will potentially be gagged for a full twelve months before any general election. I am sure this is not what you would have intended but if it goes through as worded and has such an effect there will be further outrage across the political spectrum from your constituents.

I trust you will report back to the community on your contribution to tomorrow's debate at the earliest opportunity.

Robert Crick

Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning
Futures Forum: Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 1
Futures Forum: Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 2
Futures Forum: Concerns about transparency and lobbying continue in East Devon: pt 3

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