Nov 19th, 2013
Gagging Law: Reply to Nick Harvey MP
By 38 Degrees team
Nick Harvey, MP for North Devon, has written a response to the letters 38 Degrees members sent to the North Devon Journal with concerns about the gagging law a few weeks ago. David Babbs, Executive Director of 38 Degrees, has written to the paper replying to the points made by Nick Harvey. You can read his response below.
Most 38 Degrees members would agree with Nick Harvey MP (Letters, 14th Nov) that our political system should be more transparent and not be dominated by big money. But the gagging law, which Nick Harvey sadly still seems to be supporting, does nothing to tackle sleaze in politics.
Millionaire political donors, newspaper barons like Rupert Murdoch, and corporate lobbyists, have nothing to fear from the gagging law. But charities and community groups are very worried about it indeed – and Nick Harvey needs to start listening to our concerns.
It’s very patronising of Nick Harvey to suggest charities are concerned because 38 Degrees is “unnecessarily worrying” them. They can make their own minds up! Actually, they are worried because of the legal advice they have seen as to what this law would do.
The Government has so far refused to publish its own legal advice on who will be affected. Has Nick Harvey read the charities’ legal advice? Does he think he’s more of an expert than their lawyers?
The expert legal advice published by the charities explains how the gagging law will attack the freedom of speech of organisations like 38 Degrees, the Countryside Alliance, Friends of the Earth, the Royal British Legion, and Christian Aid. Voluntary groups who get small donations from members of the public will be restricted from speaking up on the big issues of the day.
Smaller and more local campaigning groups are also likely to be hit. The gagging law will impose a complicated reporting regime on any group spending more than £5000 a year. That means some local charities will be swamped with red tape, and others will probably be put off campaigning altogether.
38 Degrees is one of over 60 groups which supported the establishment of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, chaired by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford. The Commission’s report was highly critical of the gagging law, stating that it ‘could undermine the very fabric of democracy’.
The Commission, Electoral Commission, and all the legal advice we have seen, have all warned of the dangers of this bill. Is it really likely that those experts are all wrong? Maybe it is Nick Harvey, not us, who has ‘the wrong end of the stick’!
We need the government – of which Nick Harvey is part – to fix this dangerous, desperately flawed bill. I’m sure lots of North Devon Journal readers will keep a keen eye on Mr Harvey’s next move. Because so far he’s voted to support it!
Executive Director, 38 Degrees
What do you think of David’s reply? What else concerns you about the gagging law? Have you written to your local paper? Post your thoughts below.