stop the gagging law — campaign update

On August 30th, I received a message from the campaign group 38 Degrees about another major government assault on our civil liberties and right to protest. Click here to read more and watch a video about the proposed gagging law.

Since this time the legislation has passed through the House of Commons and reached The Lords. On January 10th, I received an update concerning progress of the bill and the continuing 38 Degrees campaign. The message read as follows:

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 [Jan 15th], so please sign now:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-vote

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:
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-vote

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.

*

NOTES:

[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/

*

Today [Jan 13th] I received the following update from 38 Degrees

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

The total number of signatures will be announced just before the key votes. Please forward this email to your friends and family so they can make sure their names are 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 forward this email and ask your friends to sign the petition and help push it to over 150,000 signatures before the big vote?
https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/gagging-law-vote

*

Update:

On Wednesday 22nd, I received the following message from 38 Degrees:

Here’s a quick update on how it went today, with MPs voting again on the gagging law.

I’m afraid it’s bad news. Most Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs chose to follow party orders. They reversed the main improvements made in the House of Lords.

This means they voted:
— to remove new rules limiting secret lobbying by big business
— to put back in key limits on what campaigners, charities, and voluntary groups can do to speak up on issues of the day [1]

It’s pretty depressing. But it’s not over. The House of Lords will now get another vote – probably next week. They have the option to refuse to back down, and force MPs to vote yet again.

The votes were quite close. A number of government MPs did rebel – thanks in no small part to all the petitions, leaflets, emails and events which 38 Degrees members like you made happen.

If 17 more Conservative or Lib Dem MPs had voted differently, we would have won. Maybe we can get some more to change their minds next time around?

Details of how each MP voted will be posted on the 38 Degrees website, as soon as they are published (probably tomorrow morning).

All of us will need to think quickly about what we do next to stand up for democracy and freedom of speech. Options could include:
– a fresh push to encourage the Lords to hold firm next week

– naming and shaming MPs who voted to make the gagging law worse again today and pushing them to change their minds
– looking at options for legal challenges to the gagging law’s provisions
– thinking through ways we can keep campaigning and speaking up on the issues that matter despite the gagging law

Today, there’s lots to feel fed up about. Yet again we’ve seen MPs push through a law which the public have never voted for, and which has been heavily criticised by everyone from the United Nations to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Women’s Institute to the Royal British Legion. [2]

But there are reasons to feel hopeful too. This campaign has brought together so many different organisations and so many people from all walks of life. [3] Together we’re proving that whilst faith in politicians is at an all time low, passion for real democracy is alive and kicking.

If you have thoughts or suggestions on what we should do together next, or just want to share how you’re feeling, you can join the conversation on the 38 Degrees Facebook page, here:
https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange

Thanks for everything you do,

David
38 Degrees Executive Director

PS: On the subject of MPs wanting to shut us up, here’s the story of the MP who called the police when 38 Degrees members visited him to deliver a petition!
http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/MP-dubbed-bit-cowardly-calling-police-petitioners/story-20467776-detail/story.html

And here’s an MP saying it’s “stupid” to email your MP!
http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/Policy_and_Politics/article/1228234/tory-mp-brands-38-degrees-campaign-stupid/

PPS: MPs let us down today, but it isn’t quite over yet – so please do share your ideas for what we could do next. Either by replying here or by posting on the 38 Degrees Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange

NOTES
[1] There were 3 big votes in the Commons today:
— On the vote to require Ministers’ special advisors to record their meetings with lobbyists 311 MPs voted to reject the change, and 258 voted to accept them.
— On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to how much staff costs count towards total spending limits, amendment 108: 310 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 278 MPs to accept them into the Bill
— On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to the scope of what activity counts towards constituency spending limits, amendments 26 and 27: 314 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 274 MPs to accept them

[2] The Guardian: Lobbying bill will tarnish Britain, says UN official:
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/12/lobbying-bill-tarnish-britain-un-official
National Federation of Women’s Institutes: Briefing page on the Lobbying Bill:
http://www.thewi.org.uk/media-centre/latest-press-releases-and-statements/lobbying-bill
Citizens Advice Bureau: Lobbying Bill briefings:
http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/latest_parliamentary_briefings.htm
The Royal British Legion: Lobbying Bill: Why asking politicians to back our troops could be stopped under this sloppy law:
http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/news-events/news/campaigning/lobbying-bill-why-asking-politicians-to-back-our-troops-could-be-stopped-under-this-sloppy-law

[3] Over 130 NGOs, including 38 Degrees, and over 160,000 people signed a petition against the gagging law: http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/

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