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

Live Blog: Lobbying Bill Lobby of Parliament

Claire Donner's picture
Claire Donner Digital Campaigner

Today ActionAid is in Westminster with a variety of other organisations calling for vital amendments to the Lobbying Bill to protect our ability to campaign to tackle the causes of global poverty. You can follow the event live in the blog below. Join us in our call for essential amendments to the Bill.

Lobby on the Lobbying Bill!

Lucy Hurn's picture
Lucy Hurn Biofuels Campaign Manager

We are at a crucial stage of the Lobbying Bill campaign to stop a Bill going through parliament that could limit our ability to campaign together and fight poverty around the world. And we need your help again to get the Bill changed - please join us at the Big Lobby! 

ActionAid campaigners call for changes to the Lobbying Bill
ActionAid campaigners demand changes to the Lobbying Bill
Photo: Lucy Hurn

By raising our voices together we succeeded in getting the government to agree to pause the passage of the Bill through Parliament. On the 10th December a new report from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (the body set up to scrutinise the bill because Parliament was rushing it through too quickly) will be released with recommendations on how the Bill needs to change. The Commission is backed by over 60 campaigning organisations, including ActionAid. In order to ensure we can still campaign together in the future we really need MPs and Lords to support these proposed changes to the Bill.

What you can do:
Come to the Big Lobby on the 10th December – join us at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 11.30 to meet with your MP and Lords and make your voice heard.

Can’t make it to the Big Lobby? 
If you use twitter please tweet at your MP asking them to support the recommendations in the report, or email them to let them know your concerns.

What to do if you’re planning to come to the Big Lobby:

1. Let us know you’re planning to come by emailing We will send you out the lobby briefing guide shortly. There will also be a briefing on the day at 11.30.

2. Write to your MP or members of the House of Lords (Peers) and ask for a meeting on the 10th December. See template email below.

  • You can find contact details for your MP here.
  • Lords (or peers) aren’t assigned to particular constituencies so you can write to any Lords you want – you can find their contact details here. Labour Peers are already on side so please focus on meeting Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Cross-Bench or Spiritual Peers (although feel free to thank Labour Peers for their support).  Make sure you don’t just focus on those at the top of the list.  We need lots of Peers to be approached!
  • Ask them to meet you at the Big Lobby event between 1:30 and 2:30 in Committee Room 4 in Parliament. If they can’t make this time, you can still meet at another mutually convenient time after 12.30.

3. Let us know what response you get.

4. Whatever response you get, please come along on the day anyway. We’ll be calling MPs on the day to get them to come down, and there will be plenty of Peers you can meet.

5. Please arrive at 11.30 for a Supporter Briefing on the 10th from 11.30-12.30 in the Wordsworth Room, Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, just opposite Parliament (Broad Sanctuary, London,SW1P 3EE) which will give you the opportunity to hear more about the Bill and the recommendations from the Commission.

We look forwards to seeing you on the 10th, and thanks for your support – it’s vital in helping us ensure we can continue to campaign together and fight poverty around the world

Sample email to your MP/ Peer:

Dear Xxxx (Remember to use the correct way of addressing a Peer)

I am an ActionAid supporter and I am passionate about the work they do.  I am also passionate that, as a campaigner, I should be able to work through civil society organisations such as ActionAid to campaign on the things that matter to me, especially during the important year before an election.

Ahead of amendments being made to the Lobbying Bill in December,  I would like to meet with you to show how important campaigning is to ActionAid’s work to support the world's poorest people. 

I will be in London on 10th December alongside the supporters of many other organisations from across the political spectrum to show our support for civil society and the important role it plays in our democracy.  I would appreciate an opportunity to have a brief meeting with you after 12:30pm on that day. Please let me know if you would be available.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely


ActionAid Supporter