Gagging Bill is threat to democracy

Houses of Parliament in Westminster
Houses of Parliament in Westminster

Further to correspondence on the transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, nicknamed the Gagging Bill, I would like to highlight the threat to democracy contained in Part 2 of the Bill, Non-Party Campaigning.

At the 2nd Reading Committee Stage of the Bill before the House of Commons on September 10th, the Government (Conservatives and Lib-Dems) voted down any amendments which would have protected the rights of groups to campaign within a year of a General Election without being silenced, criminalised and found guilty of breaking the law.

Mr Davis, a Conservative MP, said: “The whole bill is confused and contradictory, but part two is woeful.”

Many diverse members of charity and campaigning groups have lobbied their MPs to introduce measures which would safeguard the basic right of free speech enshrined in a democracy and protected under Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Even a sensible amendment under a new Clause 4: “Nothing in Part 2 of this Act shall limit the capacity of a charity or non-party campaigning organisation to comment on public policy in so far as it does not seek to influence the outcome of an election in so doing” was rejected.

During the debate Mr Brake, speaking for the Government, assured the house the government was planning to meet campaign groups affected by the legislation and the wording of the bill would be tightened before it is finalised.

Others pleaded the House should not wait until the Report stage of the Bill but tackle changes needed now as there would be no guarantee the interests of campaigners would be protected.

David Penney