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Gagging Law – it’s time for our MPs to vote No

news release

The Government introduced a Lobbying Bill (earlier this year) that was supposed to help expose corporate lobbyists. Instead it could end up gagging charities and campaign groups like Friends of the Earth and 38 Degrees for 12 months before general elections. [1]   On Saturday 26th October, Manchester Friends of the Earth and 38 Degrees   are inviting people to a public meeting with John Leech MP  to find out more about what’s in the Bill, what it means in practice, and how it can be made fit for purpose [2]. 

Speakers include:

  • John Leech MP (Manchester Withington)
  • Ian Palmer (38 Degrees)
  • Beth Plant (Macc – voluntary & community sector support organisation for Manchester).

This bill poses a huge threat to Friends of the Earth’s campaigning: if the Bill passes unchanged it could shut down many of our activities in the run up to general elections.  The new Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill includes the following new constraints which would:

  • Make it virtually impossible for organisations like Friends of the Earth to work in coalition with other groups, because spending by each member of a coalition would be aggregated and count towards a single cap.
  • Mean that Friends of the Earth would need to register with the Electoral Commission if our spending was more than £5k in England and £2k in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – on these  activities in the year prior to a UK general election. If these spending limits were exceeded, it will be a criminal offence not to register.
  • Introduce new limits on spending focused in particular constituencies – if Friends of the Earth wanted to campaign in all 632 constituencies in Great Britain (excluding NI), our spend  would be just £617 per MP during the whole year prior to an election. [3]

The powers in this Bill if enacted would have prevented Friends of the Earth running the Bee Cause campaign – and the Government would not have made a commitment to a Bee Action Plan to save Britain’s wonderful bees. We would not have been able to run the Big Ask campaign which brought about the Climate Change Act. Or the campaign to bring in doorstep recycling.

Charity lawyers Bates Wells Braithwaites have stated: “We are concerned that the bill could severely restrict civil society campaigning activity and may even be in breach of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.” [4]

Colette Humphrey, Manchester Friends of the Earth’s co-ordinator said:

“If passed in its current form, this Bill could effectively shut down Friends of the Earth’s work for a year from May next year. This ban could then be repeated in the run up to future general elections. We are calling on all Greater Manchester MPs to oppose this ill-considered legislation.“

ENDS

CONTACTS FOR COMMENTS

Colette Humphrey, Manchester Friends of the Earth co-ordinator. Mobile: 07754 042716

Pete Abel, Manchester Friends of the Earth co-ordinator. Mobile: 07951 642858
Notes to Editors:

[1]  What is the Gagging Law. A short film explaining what the government’s gagging law is all about and why it’s bad for democracy. Featuring 38 Degrees, Guido Fawkes, Friend of the Earth, Baston Legal & HOPE not hate.

[2]  Saturday 26th October, 7pm-9pm, at Chorlton Central Church, Barlow Moor Road, Chorlton, Manchester, M21 8BF.

[3] Stop the Gagging Bill. How  the Government’s new Lobbying Bill  could  silence  charities  and campaigners. Friends of the Earth Briefing, September 2013.

[4] Non-party campaigning briefing.

[5] Manchester Friends of the Earth is an award-winning environmental campaign group, raising awareness and lobbying for policy changes at a local, regional, national and international level. The group consists entirely of volunteers, and its campaigns are funded by membership fees and individual donations. Up-to-date information is available on the group’s website.   Manchester Friends of the Earth is a Licensed Local Group of Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
[6] Manchester Friends of the Earth has endorsed Manchester: A Certain Future, an action plan for the city of Manchester to cut its carbon emissions by at least 41% by 2020. For more information, visit www.manchesterclimate.com

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