Friday, 13 September 2013

Gagging Bill backed by local MPs passes to 'Report Stage'

Parliament has given its full backing to the the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill which, in its current form, would effectively gag many charities and pressure groups from promoting some of their work in the 12 month run up to a general election.
Eric Ollerenshaw

Both Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw and Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris gave their backing to the bill during second reading debate on 3 September 2013.

Despite the concerns of some Tory MPs, the Labour Party and a huge number of pressure groups and charities, had its third reading this week.

Although opposed by Labour, just 11 Conservatives tried to get it changed or scrapped, and no Liberal Democrats.

This Bill is now due to have its report stage on 8th and 9th October 2013. Its third reading is also scheduled to take place on 9th October 2013.

As we previously reported, the Bill was published to Parliament on 17th July, the day before MPs went on holiday in the summer, then reintroduced today two days after their return, its timing looks suspiciously like the Government want to avoid MPs giving it proper scrutiny, which is certainly how both pressure groups, lawyers and charities see it. 

If passed it as it is currently written, it could effectively stifle campaigning on subjects such as zero hour contracts, fracking, government corruption, the NHS and much more – all matters for which politicians wanting our vote should be held to account in the run up to a General Election.

Opponents argue the Bill poses a huge threat to pressure groups and to the whole voluntary sector because it vastly extends the definition of what activities are considered to be 'for electoral purposes' in the whole year before an election, and slashes the cap for what charities can legally spend on these activities - both nationally and in every MP's constituency across the country.

"This Bill... is a very serious mistake," argued Tory MP David Davis, as he opposed the Gagging Bill as it was debated in Parliament this week.

In its current form this Bill would still gag charities like the Countryside Alliance, campaign group 38 Degrees, Battersea Dogs' Home, the British Heart Foundation, Christian Aid, Guide Dogs and the National Union of Students - whilst doing almost nothing to hold corporate lobbyists to account.

Pressure from opponents to the Bill has shown MPs that the Bill needs changing, but it's not been enough for Government to rework the Bill other than tweak a few words and make weak promises of future changes.

"We want to see the part of this Bill that gags charities scrapped entirely," say Friends of the Earth "with organisations like Friends of the Earth given a proper say in the laws that apply to us."

As the Bill continues through Parliament. pressure groups and charities will keep up the pressure for changes to be made.

"We're not gagged yet and we won't let the Government win this one," say FOE.

David Morris
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris disputes the claims made by opponents about the bill. "This Bill is about bringing transparency to the way third parties interact with the political system," he argues.

"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."

Read the full Second Reading debate via TheyWorkforYou

• Challenge your MP: www.theyworkforyou.com 

BWB warns new laws on non-party campaigners pose a serious threat 

Rosamund McCarthy warns new bill poses ‘existential threat to charity campaigning’

Greenpeace: How the lobbying bill became the charity gagging bill 

• Read a letter from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations sent a letter to Chloe Smith, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform (PDF Link) explaining their major concerns with the Bill

• Read a Friends of the Earth briefing and FAQs on the Lobbying Bill here (PDF Link)

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