UK gagging law

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”.