Big victory for the Lobbying Bill but the fight isn’t over

Richard Pyle's picture
Richard Pyle Interim Tax Justice Campaign Manager

On Wednesday the government faced an embarrassing defeat in the House of Lords as the Lobbying Bill was heavily amended by Peers.

Lobbying Bill campaign Day of Action
Campaigners outside Parliament calling for changes to the Lobbying Bill
Photo: Andrew Aitchison/ActionAid

The Bill, also known as the Gagging Bill poses a huge threat to our ability to campaign together in the run up to an election. Despite overwhelming opposition to the Bill, the government chose not to follow the advice of the Commission on Civil Society and accept various amendments.

Over 150 charities and organisations from across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the impact of the Bill on our freedom of speech and ability to raise important issues like global poverty with politicians. In the last week alone over 167,000 people have signed a petition calling on the House of Lords to pass vital amendments to lessen the impact on legitimate charitable campaigning.

So it was a big relief when Peers heard your call and overwhelmingly voted through a significant amendment that would stop the government from restricting how much charities like ActionAid could spend on certain staff salaries in an election year. This makes it much easier for us to keep campaigning together with our amazing supporters to keep development high on the political agenda.

This was a major victory and wouldn’t have been possible without the power of our supporters. But the fight is far from over. We will have a final opportunity to call for changes at Third Reading. You can do your bit to keep pressure on politicians by signing the petition and sharing it with your friends and family.

Barclays tax justice campaign goes global

Natasha Adams's picture
Natasha Adams Activism Officer

Our Clean Up Barclays campaign now has support from activists in Zambia and Cameroon. With this global support, we're continuing to put pressure on the bank to review its promotion of tax havens to businesses in Africa.

Alfred Nangeri from Cameroon with his card for Barclays Chief Exec Antony Jenkins
Alfred Nangeri from Cameroon with his card to Barclays Chief Exec Antony Jenkins
Photo: Alfred Nageri / ActionAid

Coming back to the office after Christmas on a bleak January morning, updates from campaigners in Zambia and Cameroon really helped to cheer me up and get me excited about being back at work. African campaigners from both these countries have joined in with our Christmas card action, taken by Community Campaigners and other supporters across the UK.

Activistas from our Zambia office delivered cards to Barclays Head Office in Lusaka and to three local branches - you can see pictures on their Facebook page. The Zambian team are committed to working on tax justice and its great they've been able to get involved in asking Barclays to clean up its act on tax havens.

Alfred Nangeri (pictured) is Project Manager at Nnanpalle Foundation. Based in Kumba, Cameroon, he works to provide health services to his community. ActionAid doesn't work in Cameroon - Alfred found our Clean Up Barclays campaign online and decided to get involved. He ordered a card to send to Antony Jenkins and posted it with a personal letter. Here's some of what Alfred wrote:

"You said you wanted Barclays to be a good bank this year... But by encouraging big companies to use tax havens like Mauritius you are helping to drain vitally needed funds, that can be used for health care and education in some poorest of the poorest African countries, out of Africa."

Barclays staff have started to talk to us but its not yet showing any sign of stopping promoting tax havens in Africa to its clients. Since developing countries like Zambia and Cameroon lose three times more to tax havens than they recieve in aid, we need campaigners all over the world to keep up the pressure for Barclays to clean up their act.

More than 11,000 people have emailed Chief Exec Antony so far - please join them and take action if you haven't emailed already. If you've already taken action, watch this space for next steps - we'll have more you can do to get involved very soon.

Government still failing to listen to civil society on the Lobbying Bill

Lucy Hurn's picture
Lucy Hurn Biofuels Campaign Manager

This week saw the latest stage in our campaign to make drastic changes to the Lobbying Bill as it moved through to the Committee Stage debate in the Lords.

But despite the government having agreed to a pause in the passage of the Bill back in November, in effect admitting that it needed to be looked at in more detail, they failed to launch any formal consultation over the last 6 weeks or take on board almost any of the amendments tabled at Committee Stage.

Government still failing to listen to civil society on the Lobbying Bill
Campaigners rally outside Parliament to protest about the planned 'gagging bill'
Photo: Lucy Hurn, ActionAid

If the Bill passes in its current form, it would massively restrict our ability to campaign together and fight poverty around the world. Although the original intention of the Bill to make lobbying more transparent would be a positive step, as the Bill currently stands it would not address any of the scandals of access and influence that led to its creation.

And worryingly for our work, the main changes proposed in the Bill would make coalition campaigning virtually impossible during a full year before any election, including elections in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and for the European Parliament.

No real changes at Committee stage

We had hoped to use Committee stage to win the argument for major changes to the Bill. We mobilised supportive Lords to table amendments in line with the recommendations from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement which was formed in opposition to the Bill and has united over 100 charities and campaigning groups.

And there was a good turn-out in the chamber where peers across the House ably set out, yet again, the threats the Lobbying Bill poses to legitimate campaigning.

But Ministers responding in the debate brushed aside the majority of amendments proposed, giving very little indication that they plan to introduce any major changes at Report stage, and certainly nothing like the scale of change we need to avoid being ‘gagged’.

Government not telling the whole story

Worse, we are worried that the government isn’t telling the whole story on the implications of the Bill for our work. They keep repeating that campaigning activities will not be caught by new restrictions unless they “can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success” of a party or candidates.

Whilst this is true, it is only part of the definition - our legal advice says that the full definition is much broader than what was presented to the House of Commons by Ministers in the debate, and if passed in its current form could severely damage democratic engagement it this country.

The next stage in the campaign is the Report Stage in the House of Lords on 13th and 15th January 2014. We’ll be ramping up the pressure ahead of the vote to make sure Peers understand that the government is not telling them the whole story and that we, as civil society, demand that they fix or scrap this Bill.

Twitter: explore blogs and actions at #lobbyingbill and #gagginglaw

Antony Jenkins’ Today Programme Challenge

Chris Jordan's picture
Chris Jordan Tax Justice Campaign Manager

Our campaign to stop Barclays promoting tax havens in Africa has been making a direct appeal to the CEO Antony Jenkins.

After all, he was brought in as the “anti-Bob Diamond” with a mandate to clean up Barclays’ tarnished reputation.

ActionAid UK Barclays Behave campaign action
ActionAid UK campaigners call on Barclays to Behave
Photo: Emma Stoner/ActionAid

Some of the initial signs were looking good, particularly when Mr Jenkins grabbed the headlines and closed down part of the bank that was engaged in tax avoidance.

But when it comes to the ActionAid campaign, Mr Jenkins is arguing that Barclays takes a principled approach to tax - despite the fact that it is flogging tax havens like Mauritius through its Offshore Corporate department.  With tax havens costing developing countries an estimated three times more than they receive in aid each year, we beg to differ.

We’ve just heard that on the 31st December, Mr Jenkins will be guest editing Radio Four’s flagship Today Programme. Apparently he “will examine leadership and the challenges facing leaders to deliver long-term solutions in an environment where the demand is for immediate fixes.”

We think the need for large businesses (with extensive operations in tax havens) to change the way they operate is just the sort of leadership challenge that should be debated properly on the programme.

So here’s a challenge to Antony Jenkins (and the Today Programme).

Let’s have a proper debate about the ethics of tax avoidance and the practical steps that large businesses like Barclays can take to clean up their act and win back public trust.

Will he accept?

Campaigners across the country have taken the message of tax justice to their local Barclays branches... by delivering giant Christmas cards asking the bank to stop promoting tax havens in Africa. It's not too late to take part if you'd like to order a card for your local branch. 

We've had a great response to our Christmas card action, with hundreds of campaigners ordering cards to send in to their local Barclays branches. Many of our Community Campaigners and University groups have been taking the action even further by organsing hand in events, delivering cards to branches in Bexhill, Chiswick, Chester, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leicester, Newcastle and London.

In Islington campaigners joined forces with Zambian Activista Andrew Masiye and Santa. They talked to Christmas shoppers about Barclays' promotion of tax havens before delivering a giant Christmas card asking Barclays to be a good bank in Africa this Christmas. The stunt got picked up by the Islington Gazette.

Community Campaigner David Watkinson dressed as Father Christmas for the occasion, and gave out free soap which urged Barclays to clean up on tax havens in Africa. Mr Watkinson said: "I got involved with the campaign because I think it's wholly wrong that Barclays bank is facilitating tax dodging by promoting the use of tax havens by companies in Africa. Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins has said he wants Barclays to be a "force for good" in Africa. If Barclays wants to help companies invest in Africa it should do so responsibly and not by facilitating tax dodging"

It's not just the UK campaigning - ActionAid Zambia have already launched the Clean up Barclays campaign, and they're planning to deliver their own Christmas cards this week. The campaign has the bank's attention - Barclays has already responded, but they're dodging our call to close down their Offshore Corporate division.

The Christmas cards have had a pretty good reception overall - staff in branches have been friendly and we know cards have already made their way to Barclays' head office. But it's important that we keep the pressure on! If you can stick and extra card in the post there's still time to order one for a Barclays branch near you. 

Emma Stoner/ActionAid 

Barclays respond on tax havens… but it dodges the big question

Chris Jordan's picture
Chris Jordan Tax Justice Campaign Manager

Thousands of you have been bombarding Barclays with the challenge to clean up its act on tax havens in Africa since we launched the campaign a couple of weeks ago.

Campaigners challenge Barclays to clean up its act on tax havens in Lusaka, Zambia.
Campaigners challenge Barclays to clean up its act on tax havens in Lusaka, Zambia.
Photo: ActionAid

Until now, Barclays has been pretty quiet. But together we’ve demonstrated that the issue isn’t going to go away and Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins has just released a response. 

You can download a pdf of Barclays' full letter with our point by point response (in the yellow comment boxes - the ActionAid comments don’t show up in Google Chrome, so use a browser like Firefox or Internet Explorer), but here are the main issues... 

The good: 

“Barclays shares ActionAid’s belief that companies and individuals should pay the right amount of tax in the countries in which they generate revenue. We also agree with your statement that global banks have an important role to play as investors in Africa and in enabling other businesses to invest." 

We’re pleased that Barclays acknowledges the importance of paying tax and the role that banks play in Africa. 

The bad: 

“Any tax planning we undertake must comply with our Tax Principles…These state very clearly that our tax planning must support genuine commercial activity and be of a type that the tax authorities would expect.” 

The fact that Barclays published a set of Tax Principles earlier this year is no bad thing. But, by pointing to its Tax Principles, Barclays is dodging the main challenge we’ve put to it:

Why won't Barclays shut down its Offshore Corporate department?

Those principles obviously aren't robust enough to stop Barclays encouraging large businesses and wealthy individuals to set up in tax havens. 

Developing countries lose an estimated three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year. While it continues to promote tax havens and their low tax ‘advantages’ Barclays will remain part of this enormous problem for poor countries. 

The ugly:

“Barclays does not encourage businesses to set up in any particular jurisdiction.” 

We beg to differ. We believe that public statements from Barclays such as: 

"Mauritius is the offshore financial centre of choice for India and the Sub-Saharan region… Mauritius is the experienced and established gateway for investment into Africa and Asia."

and: (In Mauritius) "There are no exchange controls thus allowing free repatriation of profits and capital with no withholding tax. There are no capital gains, death, wealth or gift taxes"

as well as: "Barclays Mauritius - International Banking caters for the banking needs of international non-resident entities and individuals, whose primary economic interests are outside Mauritius"

…all count as fairly obvious encouragement to set up in the tax haven of Mauritius! 

What next for the campaign? 

It’s clear that we need to keep up the pressure so the bank can’t dodge the big questions.

If Barclays really is committed to taking a responsible approach to tax, why won't it close down its Offshore Corporate department?

Photo: @ActionAid