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UK gagging law

August 30th, 2013 by

I’ve just got back from my summer holiday. I read last week’s email, “38 Degrees under threat“, whilst I was away camping.  Not exactly what you want to see when you’re trying to relax!

I must admit I hoped I’d get back in the office and find my colleagues had been guilty of some exaggeration. I’ve spent the last couple of days speaking to lawyers and other experts, to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

I’m afraid it’s really bad. The proposed gagging law would have a chilling effect on British democracy and our right to speak up on issues that matter to us.

The draft law could effectively stop organisations like 38 Degrees from speaking out for the whole year before a general election. From May 2014, we would be banned from holding politicians and political parties to account in ways we do all the time at present.

Community groups, charities and campaigning organisations would all be hit. On the big issues of the day – whether or not to go to war, the future of our NHS, the environment, welfare, immigration, etc – we’d all be gagged.

Why are they proposing this? It’s hard to say for sure. Maybe it’s an unintended consequence of a badly written draft law. Or maybe it’s a deliberate attempt by politicians to silence their critics.

Either way, they’re trying to rush it through. MPs have their first chance to debate it this coming Tuesday, with crunch votes lined up for soon after that.

Please can you help stand up for democracy and send an urgent email to your MP now?

It’s clear that 38 Degrees members have a key role to play in stopping this gagging law. We know how to move fast, and we know that when enough of us act together we can make politicians sit up and take notice. Already, by sending thousands of emails to the minister in charge, Chloe Smith, last week, we’ve started to force the issue into the open. See Tom Brake MP’s rather rude response to us here, and comprehensive rebuttals of his position by a campaigner and a lawyer.

MPs have spent the last few weeks on their summer break, and the last few days focused on Syria. A huge flood of emails right now is critical if we’re going to get this worrying law onto MPs’ radars in time to persuade them to vote against it.

I realise that the idea of the government trying to gag campaigning groups might seem a bit implausible. You might feel like it’s the kind of thing you’re more used to hearing about in far away dictatorships. So don’t just take my word for how bad it is – here’s what some others are saying:

“This legislation is the most pernicious assault on campaigners in living memory”
Greenpeace

“Organisations’ ability to react to important public policy developments…will be severely undermined”
National Council for Voluntary Organisations

“This will have a chilling effect on civic society and its freedom of expression” 
Rosamund McCarthy, Senior lawyer at BWB solicitors, a charity law firm

So let’s come together and stand up for democracy and our right to be heard. Please email your MP urgently and ask them to oppose this terrible new law.

Thank you – together we can stop this.

David
Executive Director, 38 Degrees

 

PS: Please could you meet your MP to talk about the gagging bill next Friday? The staff team can help you arrange a meeting and think about what to say. We’ll also invite other 38 Degrees members from your area. If you’re up for it, please click here.

PPS: Thanks for sharing all your thoughts on Syria. It’s a brilliant discussion. Please continue to share your thoughts on what should happen and look at what other members have said. For now at least we’re still allowed to campaign about issues like this!

 

 

MORE INFORMATION AND FURTHER READING:

News Coverage:

BBC – Lobbying bill could silence us, say charities

Charity lawyer warns new lobbying bill poses ‘existential threat to charity campaigning

The Independent View: Concerns about lobbying bill are not alarmist

Reports from experts:

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) has made a statement on the bill:
Transparency of Lobbying Bill – unintended consequences or Trojan horse?

And here is a full briefing on the bill from the NCVO

The Electoral Commission has said it has “significant concerns” about the bill and that it “may be unenforceable”.

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  • Scott Williams

    I’ve had responses from 3 MP’s, Sheila Gilmore, Ian Murray and Mark Lazarowicz, all of whom are following the Labour position that the bill in its current form cannot be allowed to stand. They are voting in favour of a series of amendments designed to “fix” the anti-trade union and third party campaigning group portions of the bill and to strengthen the lobbying register. If these amendments fail, they will vote against the bill. I am still waiting to hear back from Alistair Darling, my own MP, but I’m fairly confident he’ll also be adopting this position.

    Good luck to everyone else in the campaign, I’ve been genuinely impressed with the work that 38 degrees has done recently, and I hope it can continue long into the future.

  • http://www.downthetubes.net/ John Freeman

    Response from Morecambe MP David Morris: I expect this is pretty much a ‘form response” as some of his other replies are… The idea of the Tory taking “big money” out of politics strikes me a somewhat hilarious… so all Tory-backing press will stop publisihing during the election, then?
    =====

    Thank you for contacting me about the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.

    This Bill is about bringing transparency to the way third parties interact with the political system. Campaign groups play an important role in our political process, helping inform policy making and allowing different views to be heard from across society. The Government is clear that it wants this to continue.

    It is very important to note that these new proposals are only for third party organisations which campaign for the electoral success of a particular political party or candidate. An organisation campaigning only on policy issues would not be included in these changes.

    The Government wants to take the big money out of politics. Limiting campaign spending during an election will help the UK avoid the situation we see in other countries, where unregulated spending by vested interests means that it might not always be the best candidate who wins an election, but the one with the richest supporters.

    The amount an organisation can spend campaigning for electoral success during an election period will be limited to £390,000 across the UK. The Government believes this is still a very substantial sum and is a proportionate figure. Expenditure on these campaigns will be fully recorded and disclosed.

    At present, charities can undertake non-party political activity where the trustees can show that it supports their purposes and would be an effective use of their resources.

    The law prohibits charities from engaging in party politics, party political campaigning, supporting political candidates or undertaking political activity unrelated to the charity’s purpose.

    The Bill does not change this. Charities will still be able to support specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve their charitable purposes.

    The Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Chloe Smith, has written to 38 Degrees, outlining the Government’s position and you can read it online here:

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/232248/Transparency_of_Lobbying_Bill_letter.pdf

    Ministers have been working closely with charities and third party groups to address their concerns. I hope you have been reassured that this Bill will not prevent or prohibit campaigning but will make the system more transparent by bringing these third parties into the spending reporting regime.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

    Yours Sincerely

    David Morris MP
    Morecambe and Lunesdale
    House of Commons
    London
    SW1A 0AA

  • peter

    Richard Ottaway (tory obviously) party line response can be seen here – as you would expect it goes a long way around saying nothing http://www.richardottaway.com/response_detail.asp?RespID=115

  • peter

    Richard Ottaway (Con obviously) sent what appears to be a generic answer that says little. it can be found here http://www.richardottaway.com/response_detail.asp?RespID=115

  • Badger

    Got a generic reply back from “my” MP, Mark Hunter (yellow Tory). He, apparently, doesn’t see a problem with it.

    I used to feel a bit sorry for him when he was a council lot. What, I thought, were his parents thinking? Giving him a name that ended with a hard K with the surname Hunter! Now I just wonder if they could see into the future.

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    [...] Although ostensibly designed to make democracy more transparent and open, groups such as 38 Degrees (which far more credibly represent a ‘new politics’) ran highly effective campaigns against parts of the bill that would do precisely the opposite and have a “chilling effect on democracy”. [...]