Don't gag activists says Amnesty as it urges MPs to oppose Lobby Bill

Part Two of the ‘Transparency, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ known as the ‘Lobbying Bill’, could have devastating consequences for debate and democracy, Amnesty International warned today as MPs prepare to scrutinise the Bill.

The Lobbying Bill has been criticised by a wide range of organisations that fear it could hinder their ability to campaign.  From Monday 9 to Wednesday 11 September the Bill will be debated in a Committee of the whole House of Commons.

Amnesty’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs, Allan Hogarth, said:

“This Bill is a poorly drafted piece of legislation that requires significant amendments in order to alleviate our concerns.

“The threat here, be it malicious or mere mistake, is that this Bill could effectively gag activists.

“That includes ordinary Amnesty members who want to pressure their MPs over issues of importance to them.

“We are urging MPs from all parties who care about freedom of expression and political participation to oppose this Bill in its current flawed form and support amendments that genuinely aim to address these serious concerns.”

Amnesty expressed concern about a number of features in the current Bill, including the wide definition of campaigning for ‘electoral purposes’ and while Amnesty understand the government may be prepared to make some concessions on this it do not feel these go far enough. 

As it stands the Bill could still lower the threshold of spending that Amnesty International UK and other organisations could spend during an election year. This lower threshold could have a serious impact on the work of the organisation and that of our activists and supporters in their constituencies.

These are concerns that have been raised by the Electoral Commission, who would have to implement the new law, and by the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s (NCVO).  The Electoral commission has stated that the Bill creates “significant uncertainty”, and the NCVO has taken legal advice from a human rights lawyer who advised that the "uncertainty about what the law requires is likely to have a chilling effect on freedom of expression".

Amnesty has urged its activists to contact their MP to relay serious concern that the Bill as it stands could undermine the ability of organisations such as Amnesty to carry out its campaigning work during elections and referendums.

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