Campaign blog

It’s ping-pong time - Lobbying Bill goes back to the Lords

Florence de Vesvrotte's picture Florence de Vesvrotte Government Relations Advisor

Last week we celebrated a small but important victory, as the House of Lords voted overwhelmingly to add important amendments to the Lobbying Bill, which threatens our ability to campaign together in the run up to elections. This was important progress, and was thanks to ActionAid supporters among other coalition supporters who wrote to Peers and signed a petition with over 167,000 people. But we knew that the fight wasn’t over.

Lobbying Bill Ads
The newspaper ads to Peers and MPs
Photo: ActionAid

This week, we’re sad to report that as the Bill returned to the House of Commons, our key wins of removing restrictions on staff costs and constituency regulation, were overturned.

The amendments had support in the House of Commons from Labour, other opposition parties and even some Liberal Democrats and Conservative MPs who rebelled against their party line. And we know that pressure from ActionAid campaigners helped this to happen. But sadly it wasn’t enough.

It is really amazing to see how the majority of our elected MPs would decide to turn a deaf ear to the 150+ charities and 167,000 members of the public that oppose the bill, by opposing these amendments. We know this is a deeply flawed piece of legislation which will fundamentally damage the nature of our democracy.

There were a few concessions from the Government though that have been approved by the House of Commons such as shortening the timeframe in which these restrictions will apply from 12 months to 7.5 months before the 2015 general election, but the Bill still poses a real threat to our ability to campaign together to tackle global poverty.

As amendments have been rejected by the House of Commons, the Bill will return to the House of Lords next week for further debate. And once again we need your support to make sure that Peers stick to their guns and continue to support their amendments.

Please write to a member of the House of Lords as soon as possible, as they will expect to hear from you and we know your letters and emails are having an impact!

A huge thanks to all of you for your support so far.

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.

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