Friday, 17 January 2014

Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill rejected by Lords

Following on from 
Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill vote in the Lords

The government’s controversial lobbying bill was defeated in the House of Lords on Wednesday, as peers voted in favour of amendments relaxing some of the restrictions that charities say could effectively gag them.
Peers from all parties backed a move, tabled by Lord Harries, to stop some staff costs from counting towards spending limitations. There were 237 votes for and 194 votes against.
The transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill, which is now reaching the end of the parliamentary process, was put forward to restrict the lobbying of government ministers and senior civil servants.
The government was forced to alter the bill after charities protested that it would have effectively gagged them, and severely restricted their abilities to campaign on social issues in election years.
Critics had originally said that the bill’s vague wording made it “entirely unworkable“, and warned that its implementation would be “harmful to democracy.
However, even after ministers made concessions to relax the bill, the House of Lords deemed that more needed to be done.
A petition of over 130 charities and campaigning groups and 160,000 people supported Lord Harries amendments.
Lords ask government to rethink lobbying bill - Blue and Green Tomorrow

38 Degrees Logo
Great news. Last night the government was defeated in a crucial House of Lords vote on the gagging law. [1] A key change which took out one of the worst parts of the bill was voted through. There’s more to do, but this is a huge step forward.

Over 160,000 people signed the last-minute petition to ask Lords to back these important changes. [2] It helped tip the balance and people power worked. The petition was integral in winning the vote and persuading Lords to protect freedom of speech.

Just before the big vote, Lord Harries - who proposed the changes - was handed the massive petition, and he referred to it several times during the debate.

The proposed changes were backed by Lords from across the political spectrum. Lord Tyler, an influential Lib Dem peer, joined with Baroness Mallalieu (Labour) and Lord Cormack (Conservative), to support the amendment. [3] The government were defeated by 237 votes to 194.

Lord Harries receiving the petition
Lord Harries receiving the petition in the House of Lords just before the debate.

Lord Harries said:
“Thank you to everyone who added their name to the petition. It was amazingly powerful that I was able to tell fellow Lords during the debate, that I had with me a petition with the names of over 130 NGOs who had signed up to the petition and a staggering 160,000+ signatures of people who have spoken out about this dangerous law.

This was an impressive achievement which will not have been lost on their lordships. As a result, I am pleased to say that we defeated the Government on some of the worst parts of their proposals.“

The campaign is working and together we’ve got the government on the back foot. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Next week, on the 21st January, the Lords will hold their final vote on changes to the law.

And if we manage to push through further changes, there’s a chance that the government may try to undo our hard work by calling a fresh vote in the House of Commons. So we’ll each need to keep an eye on our MPs.

“Thanks so much to everyone who’s taken action against the gagging law so far. It’s been amazing to see people power in action. We’ve made great strides in protecting democracy, but the fight’s not over yet”
Liz Hutchins - Friends of the Earth

It’s been an amazing campaign so far, with 38 Degrees members up and down the country throwing the kitchen sink at the gagging law. [4] This isn’t the first time that 38 Degrees members have caused a stir on a big vote in Parliament. Together we’ve won votes on protecting our forests, stopping Rupert Murdoch and the privatisation of the NHS.

But this is about more than just political point scoring. Some of our core values are around protecting democracy and fairness. 38 Degrees members have shown again that we will stand up together for what we believe in - and that when we do, it makes a real difference.

Thanks for everything you do,

Robin, David, Belinda and the 38 Degrees team

Here's a little more detail on what happened in the Lords last night:

Lord Harries’ amendment (amendment 45) centred on staff costs for charities and campaign groups. [5]

The government wanted the gagging law to place heavy restrictions on how much campaigning work staff at charities or campaigning groups could do. That could have meant, for example, limits on how many public meetings about the NHS 38 Degrees staff could help organise.

Amendment 45 removed most of these restrictions on staff.

You can see the wording of the amendment, and a full list of who voted for it, here: http://www.parliament.uk/Templates/LordsDivisions/Pages/LordsDivisions.aspx?id=51023&epslanguage=en&date=2014-Jan-15&itemId=1&session=2013-May-08

There are still other big problems with the gagging law - such as restrictions on campaigning in individual constituencies, and restrictions which hinder charities and campaign groups working together in coalitions. Votes on these issues were postponed until next week - so there'll be more to do to make sure they go the right way.

[1] The Guardian: Peers vote to exclude some staff costs from charity spending limits: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/15/peers-vote-exclude-staff-charity-spending
[2] The petition: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/fix-the-gagging-law#petition
[3] Hansard transcript of the debate: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0050/amend/ml50-R-II-rev.htm
[4] Gagging law public meetings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlGKzTuDp60
[5] Lord Harries’ amendments in full: http://civilsocietycommission.info/lord-harries-of-pentregarths-amendments/

38 Degrees is funded entirely by donations from thousands of members across the UK.

38 Degrees | people. power. change.

No comments: