Last night the House of Lords voted again on the Lobbying Bill. And the results were very disappointing.
The Lobbying Bill, now passed into law, threatens our freedom of speech by placing a number of restrictions on our ability to campaign in the run up to an election. The House of Lords had previously introduced a number of amendments which would lessen the impact of this law, such as excluding staff costs from the spending restrictions and removing some constituency based regulations. But last week the House of Commons rejected these changes, sending the legislation back to the Lords, who narrowly lost a vote to stand by these amendments.
Lord Harries, who led the battle for amendments in the House of Lords, commented:
“I am deeply disappointed that the Government did not accept the amendments put forward on behalf of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement.
In trying to ward off a hypothetical abuse of the electoral system they are inflicting unnecessary and unenforceable regulation on campaigning groups, who now play such a key role in keeping our democracy alive.
The fact that the vote on background staff costs was tied indicates how unconvinced members of the House of Lords were by the Governments arguments, and this should be born in mind by the government as they reflect on the future of this poor legislation.”
There were some very minor victories as a result of your campaigning such as excluding Welsh translation and disability access from the restricted costs, and lessening the regulatory period ahead of the 2015 election from 1 year to 7.5 months. And we know that the fact that the votes were on the knife edge is a direct result of our campaigning: a majority of peers were supportive of our arguments but Government’s pressure has proven too strong.
The law is still potentially devastating. A lot of matters of how the law will be put in to practice will be worked out by the Electoral Commission, who have said they want to hear from NGOs on this issue. So we’ll be sure to make sure that our concerns are heard as these discussions progress.
It’s not the result that any of us wanted but we want to thank you so much for all of your support as we fought for important changes.
We will continue to explore the impact that this will have for our campaigning together and we’ll let you know as and when we know more.