Gagging law: public meeting with John Leech MP

On Saturday night, 38 Degrees members and local people in Manchester packed out Chorlton Central Church to talk to their MP, John Leech, about the gagging law. It was standing room only and over 100 people were eager to hear what their MP had to say about the controversial Bill.

They had come to ask him why the government has put forward a gagging law that will severely restrict both local and national campaigning by charities, not-for-profit organisations and other third parties in the year leading up to an election.

Throughout the evening many people got the chance to stand up and question their MP on the gagging law. It was a great opportunity to take part in local democracy and meet other people in the area with similar concerns.

John Leech MP listened to the concerns of the audience, in particular their worries that the bill would create burdensome bureaucracy for local charities with limited capacity. Although he did disagree with a lot of the audience members’ reading of the bill, and the legal advice provided by Ros Baston, Helen Mountfield QC and BWB Legal.

38 Degrees members in Manchester wanted to know why the government hadn’t consulted with the Electoral Commission, who are the regulators of election spending, or the NCVO, which represents over 10,000 charities in the UK before putting forward the gagging law. Surely, they said, it makes sense to consult on whether there is a problem in the first place?

But John Leech maintained that the bill would not have any effect on charities. Despite a representative from Oxfam in the audience referring to Oxfam’s lawyers who expressed it would.

For many people in the audience this was the first time they had met their MP, John Leech, in person. It was an interesting affair, but afterwards people did express disappointment that their MP hadn’t taken their concerns seriously, and had ignored or denied the significant evidence they brought forward showing the gagging law to be a real threat to freedom of speech in the UK.

A huge thank you goes out to all the 38 Degrees members and people in Manchester who came along and turned up the heat on their MP. Thanks also to Friends of the Earth Manchester, Unlock Democracy, MACC, and Hope Not Hate for their involvement in organising the event and getting a great turnout. If we can get our MPs to speak out and pile pressure on the Lords, and persuade them to not obstruct positive changes, then together we can stop this law.

What do you think? Were you at the meeting? What do you think are the best questions to ask our MPs? What else should 38 Degrees members do to stop the gagging law? Post your comments below.