Monday, 13 January 2014

Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill vote in the Lords

This Wednesday, there will be a crucial vote in the Lords about the Lobbying Bill, following a 'pause':
Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill to return to Lords

The government has been trying to allay concerns:
BBC News - Lobbying Bill: Ministers offer concessions after criticism from charities

Some consider these concessions enough:
The lobbying bill is no 'gagging law'. Caroline Lucas is misguided | Paul Tyler and Shirley Williams | Comment is free | theguardian.com

Others do not:

Government seeks to restrict charity campaigning

Added: 10th January 2014
We are facing a very serious threat to freedom of speech, and the work of charities like The Wildlife Trusts.  On Wednesday next week the House of Lords will vote on the Lobbying Bill.  If you haven’t heard about this Bill before, that’s because the government attempted to get it through parliament without consulting the public! 

The Lobbying Bill was introduced to bring about some much needed controls on political lobbying generally, but recent changes are threatening to place major restrictions on charity campaigning.  Hundreds of charities, from Oxfam to the Salvation Army, have joined forces to stop this bill from preventing legitimate campaigning.

In its current form, the Bill’s most serious impact would be in the year running up to a general election.  Much of the wildlife protection law that we rely so much on, such as the laws to protect threatened species and habitats, beautiful places and marine wildlife, have been secured through careful lobbying in the run up to elections, and then holding political parties to their promises.  And this isn’t just an environmental issue.  If you are concerned about homelessness, disability, vulnerable children, caring for the elderly or a host of other causes, the proposed restrictions on charities' work in the Lobbying Bill could be just as damaging.

Thanks to concerted action by a coalition of charities (of which The Wildlife Trusts is a member) some changes to the Bill have already been agreed.  But they are nowhere near enough.  A further set of changes is being discussed in the House of Lords next Wednesday.  We need to make as much noise as we can prior to that to help ensure the changes are agreed.  
NB the Wildlife Trusts are not trying to stop the Bill, or the more sensible controls it introduces.  We are just trying to stop elements that would prevent perfectly reasonable campaigning by charities.

This could be our last chance to influence the Lobbying Bill.  Please help us by signing the e-petition:http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/
Thank you
Harry Barton, Chief Executive 
Devon Wildlife Trust | view-news
This week’s snippets | Sidmouth Independent News

This message has been going out today from the campaign group 38 degrees:

38 Degrees Logo

Great news, the petition asking the House of Lords to protect freedom of speech has already got 100,000 signatures. In less than 48 hours an influential Lord and former bishop, Lord Harries, will carry all the names into the House of Lords.

The total number of signatures will be announced just before the key votes. Please can you sign now, and make sure your name is there to be counted too?

This Wednesday's vote could be one of our last chances to fix this controversial gagging law. It’s a law that could drastically reduce what charities and campaign groups can do. The campaign against it is working, and the government have started to backtrack on the severity of the law. But there are still big problems for us to fix.

Lord Harries has now proposed a series of changes that could protect our freedom to campaign on the issues that are important to us all. But we need to persuade other peers to vote for these changes this Wednesday.

Can you sign the petition and help push it to over 150,000 signatures before the big vote?

Robin, Blanche, David and the 38 Degrees team.

Here’s the email from last week:


Finally we’re getting somewhere. Yesterday the government announced plans to water down key parts of their gagging law. [1] It’s not enough, but it is progress. If we keep the pressure up now, there’s a real chance we can get further big changes.

Lords gather for one of their last debates to vote on the gagging law on Wednesday. Lord Harries – one of the key Lords trying to stop this threat to democracy – is tabling amendments which would help protect freedom of speech. [2] We need to help him win those votes.

A big petition will help Lord Harries win. He will carry it into the debating chamber - and announce the total signatures - right before the debate starts. Our signatures will prove to wavering peers that the public is against this threat to democracy.

The vote is on Wednesday, so please sign now:

Yesterday’s breakthrough shows that it’s worth us keeping on campaigning. People-powered pressure, together with the actions in parliament of some sympathetic Lords, are forcing the government to back down bit by bit. [3]

The risk is that the government will use these partial changes to avoid making bigger improvements. But that's a risk we can see off. If enough of us sign the petition we can prove to the Lords that we still expect them to vote to protect democracy.

Over 50 charities and campaigning groups, including Hope Not Hate, Friends of the Earth, The Countryside Alliance and Oxfam have already signed up in support of this petition. [4]

Please now help it grow further by adding your signature too:

Thanks ,

Robin, Blanche, Maddy and the 38 Degrees Team

PS: Here's a bit more detail on the concessions made by the government yesterday. They announced that:

  • Certain campaign costs, including translation and accessibility for the deaf or blind people, won’t be restricted.
  • The time period which the gagging law would apply for the 2015 election will be reduced from 12 months to 7.5 months
  • Some really small campaign groups who don’t spend much money will be exempted.
  • The government will have to carry out a review of the law after the 2015 election.
But while these are important there are still some much bigger problems:
  • The amount of time that staff working for charities or campaigning groups will be allowed to spend campaigning will still be severely limited.
  • There are still big new restrictions on what campaigners can do in a single constituency.
  • The rules could prevent different charities and campaign groups from working together in coalition, threatening initiatives like Make Poverty History and Stop Climate Chaos.
Make sure your name is on the petition when it's presented to the Lords on Wednesday - add your name now:

[1] BBC News - Lobbying Bill: Ministers offer concessions after criticism from charities http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25671064
The government amendments http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0050/amend/ml050-R-I.htm
NCVO - Lobbying bill – significant steps forward http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2014/01/09/lobbying-bill-significant-steps-forward/
[2] NACVA Government makes Lobbying Bill concessions http://www.navca.org.uk/news/view-article/government-makes-lobbying-bill-concessions
[3] Most notably the efforts of cross-bencher Lord Harries and the Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, concerned Lib Dems such as Lord Tyler, and opposition parties including Labour.
[4] The Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement - Petition http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/

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38 Degrees | The Gagging Law

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