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Nov 12th, 2013

Gagging Law: Orkney Update

By Robin Priestley

image of Orkney

38 Degrees members in Orkney held an important meeting about the gagging law with Lord Jim Wallace of Tankerness, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the house of Lords. Here’s what Gill had to say:

Orkney Campaigners score a first

An unusual meeting took place on Saturday 9th Centre – local Members of 38 Degrees who have been campaigning to change the “Anti-Lobbying Bill” (full title The Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill) sat down to discuss their concerns with Lord Jim Wallace of Tankerness.

Despite major issues being raised by a wide and diverse range of charitable and campaigning groups, large and small – from the RSPB and Friends of the Earth to the Countryside Alliance, Save the Children, the Royal British Legion and the Womens’ Institute to MIND Scotland – the Bill completed its first passage through the House of Commons. However, following a highly critical report from former Bishop Richard Harries’s Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, the House of Lords has agreed to delay consideration of Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with restrictions on campaigning by non-party political groups. The government has now promised to consult widely and declared its willingness to look at amendments to the proposed legislation.

There are only a few weeks left for consultation; having already had two meetings with Alistair Carmichael, MP, Orkney campaigners were among the first in the queue, and the only local group so far to have the rare opportunity to meet directly with a Member of the House of Lords. From the outset, Lord Wallace described himself as “in listening mode”, wanting detail of peoples’ concerns, and a lively meeting rehearsed some of the key issues. The Bill’s combination of a loose definition of “political campaigning”, a wide range of restricted activities, tight spending limits and burdensome administration, was said to be likely to prevent many groups from getting on with their normal business. Human Rights and Equalities issues were also raised, and Lord Wallace was interested to hear about the worries about the particular impact in Scotland, where disproportionately low spending limits are proposed and where more frequent election periods may restrict charities’ campaigning much of the time.

Lord Wallace promised to raise these issues with the government sponsors of the Bill, and to keep campaigners informed of progress. Gill Smee, who organised the meeting, said: “People are really alarmed about how this Bill could restrict campaigning by charities and small groups, tying them up in red tape and threatening them with costly legal action. Lots of people have strong political views, and want to be able to influence what happens, but don’t want to join one of the traditional parties. 38 Degrees has brought a surprising number of people in Orkney together to raise these concerns. I was really pleased that we were able to have a constructive meeting with Lord Wallace, and that the government is at last prepared to listen and look at changing this Bill”.

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