Jan 10th, 2014
Gagging law: It’s crunch time
By Robin Priestley
Finally we’re getting somewhere. Yesterday the government announced plans to water down key parts of their gagging law. It’s not enough, but it is progress. If we keep the pressure up now, there’s a real chance we can get further big changes.
Lords gather for one of their last debates to vote on the gagging on Wednesday. Lord Harries – one of the key Lords trying to stop this threat to democracy – is tabling amendments which would help protect freedom of speech. We need to help him win those votes.
A big petition will help Lord Harries win. He will carry it into the debating chamber – and announce the total signatures – right before the debate starts. Our signatures will prove to wavering peers that the public is against this threat to democracy.
Yesterday’s breakthrough shows that it’s worth us keeping on campaigning. People-powered pressure, together with the actions in parliament of some sympathetic Lords, are forcing the government to back down bit by bit. Most notably the efforts of cross-bencher Lord Harries and the Commission for Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, concerned Lib Dems such as Lord Tyler, and opposition parties including Labour.
The risk is that the government will use these partial changes to avoid making bigger improvements. But that’s a risk we can see off. If enough of us sign the petition we can prove to the Lords that we still expect them to vote to protect democracy.
Over 50 charities and campaigning groups, including Hope Not Hate, Friends of the Earth, The Countryside Alliance and Oxfam have already signed up in support of this petition.
Here’s a bit more detail on the concessions made by the government yesterday. They announced that:
-Certain campaign costs, including translation and accessibility for the deaf or blind people, won’t be restricted.
-The time period which the gagging law would apply for the 2015 election will be reduced from 12 months to 7.5 months
-Some really small campaign groups who don’t spend much money will be exempted.
-The government will have to carry out a review of the law after the 2015 election.
But while these are important there are still some much bigger problems:
-The amount of time that staff working for charities or campaigning groups will be allowed to spend campaigning will still be severely limited.
-There are still big new restrictions on what campaigners can do in a single constituency.
-The rules could prevent different charities and campaign groups from working together in coalition, threatening initiatives like Make Poverty History and Stop Climate Chaos.
Make sure your name is on the petition when it’s presented to the Lords on Wednesday – add your name now