Will the Lobbying Bill gag legitimate debate by charities?
The past week has seen a flurry of attention on what is being referred to as the ‘Lobbying Bill’. Media reports and a lively Commons debate have highlighted the concerns that charities and NGOs have with this legislation. The ‘Transparency, Non – Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’, had its Second Reading on 3 September and is being rushed to Committee next week.
So what’s the problem with this Bill, why have we joined such a wide range of organisations calling for it to be amended?
The major problem is that we all feel that it’s a poorly drafted piece of legislation and that it requires significant amendments in order to alleviate our concerns.
It includes a very wide definition of campaigning for "electoral purposes" - a definition we’re concerned will impact on legitimate public debate and the activities of Amnesty International and other organisations. The Bill seriously risks inhibiting the work of charities and NGOs during election and referendum campaigns as they may fear their work being interpreted as being for “electoral purposes”.
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations have taken legal advice from a lawyer who has advised that the "uncertainty about what the law requires is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression." And it’s not just charities that are concerned. The Electoral Commission (who would have to implement the new law) have stated that the Bill creates “significant uncertainty”.
Next week the Bill will be debated in a Committee of the whole House of Commons. With such a fast timetable, we need you to act right now. We’ve already contacted hundreds of MPs directly but we need your help.
Please contact your MP and let them know that you are seriously concerned that the Bill could stop charities campaigning during elections. Please ask them to attend next week’s debate on Tuesday, and support amendments that address our concerns.
We don’t have much time. Email your MP and get your friends to do the same. Let’s make sure public debate isn’t stifled at our next elections.
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.