The gunpowder plot, fireworks and the Lobbying Bill
Earlier this week I found myself emailing all Peers to urge them to vote for a pause of Part 2 Lobbying Bill, which was being debated in the Lords on 5 November.
A couple things struck me as I did this. Firstly, I’m usually reluctant to zap off an email to all Peers (or all MPs for that matter) on any issue. I prefer a more strategic approach that identifies potential supporters and sympathisers and follows up with an offer of a face to face meeting. Alas, in this instance I didn’t have the luxury of that approach, so away I zapped.
Why did we send the email? Because I didn’t have much time, and Amnesty agrees with the Commission on Civil Society, the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the many organisations, MPs and Peers who have spoken out to raise their concerns with the Bill. It was important that we offered what support we could at this critical time.
We are particularly concerned about the potential for part 2 of the Bill to undermine our vital campaigning on human rights issues ahead of a General Election.
Amnesty was one of the organisations that gave evidence to the excellent Commission on Civil Society. My colleague, Patrick, explained to the Commission that we work around General Elections in order to raise human rights and ensure that politicians and prospective party candidates are aware of these issues. We will raise international human rights issues, such as Afghanistan and the impact of women’s rights, as well as issues of national concern such as the Human Rights Act.
Whilst both could be considered ‘political’ that latter could potentially be considered quite party-political, because one party may propose to repeal it and the others may pledge to defend it. Does that bring us into partisan political activity because of our stance on the Europe Convention on Human Rights and defending the UK rights framework? As it stands the Bill is vague on this - and that’s part of the problem.
The Bill also proposes new spending limits which we feel could inhibit our work, the work of our activists in their constituencies and our devolved offices in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The second thing that struck me?
As I composed the email I was aware that the debate was on bonfire night, the anniversary of the 1605 gun powder plot to blow up the House of Lords – would this be an explosive debate? Would sparks be flying in the Lords as the Government attempted to quell a rebellion?
Well, being the House of Lords we didn’t witness anything close to a firework display. Just as the tinder was about to be ignited the Government back tracked. When it looked as though they may lose if pushed to a vote they proposed a 5 week postponement and said they would:
- raise the regulatory threshold (although the level is to be determined).
- consider raising the new constituency spending threshold.
- consult widely to address the whole range of concerns that have been raised.
- agreed to produce a report before Committee stage for peers to scrutinise.
So what does this mean? Well it’s not the 3 months pause that we would have liked and which would have enabled proper scrutiny of the Bill, but it does offer us a breather. However, the Bill is still a very real threat to legitimate campaigning and we still need to secure amendments that alleviate our concerns.
We expect the next stage of the Bill to be around 17 December and we will need to persuade the Government to make serious amendments, otherwise like Ebeneezer Scrooge they may face visits from the Ghosts of Christmas, Past, Present and Future!
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.