The government’s plan to clamp down on what charities and campaigning groups and ordinary people can speak out about at elections, backed by local MPs Eric Ollerenshaw and David Morris, is now almost UK law.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill (PDF Link), labelled the "Gagging Bill" by those horrified by its proposals, went through the House of
Commons once, and through the House of Lords once, and then bounced back and forth between MPs and Lords in a process known as ‘ping pong’.
|Eric Ollerenshaw MP backed the|
For draft laws to become part of the UK’s statute book, MPs and Lords have to agree. Over the last few months, Lords have made substantial and important changes to the gagging law – fixing lots of the worst bits. Last Tuesday (21st January), the Lords sent an improved version of the gagging law back to MPs. But on Wednesday 22nd, MPs overturned their two most critical decisions (on how much staff costs would count towards reduced spending limits, and on what kind of activity could be regulated in individual constituencies).
The Lords were given the chance to decide whether or not to overturn MPs and put their improvements back in, and various campaign groups worked hard to try to ensure the Lords vote again went against the government, placing full pages advertisements in several national newspapers to try and secure a No vote.
"Personally I feel pretty devastated about this," commented David Babbs from 38 Degrees, one of the campaign organisations under threat from the Law, which was supposed to clamp down on lobbying but has ended up doing more to prevent free speech than stop lobbyists.
"I'm worried about what it means for the future of 38 Degrees. More importantly, I'm worried about what it means for the future of democracy, and what it tells us about the state of British politics.
|David Morris MP|
Gagging Bill backer
"But I also feel proud of everything 38 Degrees members did together to fight this."
Despite the Lords vote, 38 Degrees says it will fight on against the government.
"There will be a lot of thinking and discussion to be done in the coming days," says David. "38 Degrees members will need to pull together to think about how to fight this terrible law. And we'll need to work out how we can keep standing up for all we believe in - despite the restrictions the government is trying to impose.
"But right now, I feel sure of one thing. We won't give up."
Published the day before MPs went on holiday in the summer, then reintroduced today two days after their return, the timing of the Gagging Bill always looked
suspiciously like the Government wanted to avoid MPs giving it proper scrutiny, which is certainly how both pressure groups, lawyers and charities see it.
"It's a complex piece of legislation but its repercussions for us are quite simple," notes Gary Shrubsole from Friends of the Earth." if it had been passed 10 years ago, it would very likely have curtailed much of Friends of the Earth's work on our most important campaigns."
The law 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 Law 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.
• 38 Degrees members are discussing the outcome on Facebook. You can join in at https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange
• To find out more about the ping pong process, click here
• 6th September 2013: Local Tory MPs back "Gagging Bill", Third Reading next week, protest tomorrow in Lancaster
• 13th September 2013: Gagging Bill backed by local MPs passes to 'Report Stage'
• 26th October 2013: Gagging Law backed by local MPs reaches House of Lords