The Electoral Commission , Britain's elections watchdog, has concluded that government plans to censor political campaigning
before a general election are flawed and in part unworkable.
In a private briefing sent to interested parties, the commission says that it has significant concerns about the coalition's lobbying bill, that some parts of it may be unenforceable and that it is not at all clear how the new restrictions
affecting charities will work.
When the transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill 2013-14 was published in July, the day before MPs broke up for their summer recess, it emerged that, as well as long-expected plans for a statutory
register of lobbyists, the bill includes proposals that would drastically censor campaign groups from speaking on political issues in the 12 months before a general election.
In its letter, the commission says the proposed rules about spending at constituency level may be unenforceable , partly because it will often be hard for campaigners to identify with a reasonable level of confidence when an activity has
'no significant effects' in a given constituency .
More broadly, it says the proposed rules about what constitutes election-related activity are not sufficiently clear. The briefing says:
In our view, it is not at all clear how that test will apply in practice to the activities of the many third parties that have other purposes beyond political campaigning. For instance, it seems arguable that the new test could apply to many of
the activities of charities, voluntary organisations, blogs, thinktanks and other organisations that engage in debate on public policy.
John Sauven, executive director at Greenpeace , one of more than 100 charity organisations that have expressed concerns about the bill, said the legislation was the most pernicious assault on campaign groups in living memory .
A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said it had significant concerns about the bill and would be explaining them in detail to a select committee in September. The bill's second reading is on 3 September, with its three-day committee
stage a week later.