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What's still wrong with the Government's Lobbying Bill?

Posted by Nick Bryer Head of UK Policy, Programmes and Campaigns

15th Oct 2013

The Houses of Parliament

It's a critical time for the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill - or the Gagging Law, as campaigners have come to call it.

The Bill has been termed the Gagging Law because it threatens to stifle public debate on policies that affect people's lives in the year of an election. This is because the Bill includes a very wide definition of campaigning for "electoral purposes". It means that, in the year before an election, if Oxfam campaigned on a policy that impacted on the lives of poor people - on the impacts of climate change, or on tax avoidance - and one political party supported our policies but another didn't we could be seen as campaigning "for electoral purposes" and be breaking the law.  This is despite the fact that Oxfam's campaigning is never party political or seeks to promote one candidate over another in the lead up to an election.

Despite serious concerns being raised by charities, think tanks, unions, civil society organisations and the Electoral Commission, the Bill has passed through the House of Commons and is moving to the House of Lords next week without changes Oxfam sees as critical in allowing us to run campaigns on crucial policies in election years.

Lots of the problems with this Bill arise because the Government undertook very little consultation with charities or other groups. The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic engagement has been set up to consult fully with a diverse coalition of prominent charities, campaign groups, academics, think tanks and online networks. Their evidence will be reported to MPs and members of the House of Lords.

What's next?

The Bill now passes to the House of Lords to be debated and scrutinised. Oxfam will be working to help Peers understand the problems with the Bill, and working with the Commission for Civil Society to help develop some solutions that could help lessen its impact.

What can you do?

Even though this Bill is now being debated in the House of Lords it continues to make all the difference that MPs hear about concern from their constituents.  They can lobby their party leaders, and can be prepared to vote in the right way if we manage to get a better draft of the Bill sent back from the House of Lords. Can you write to your MP to express your opposition to the Bill?

Blog post written by Nick Bryer

Head of UK Policy, Programmes and Campaigns

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Nick Bryer