Campaign blog

A Disappointing Result for the Lobbying Bill

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

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.

What’s next?

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.

Send your complaint to Barclays

Claire Donner's picture Claire Donner Digital Campaigner

Despite Barclays’ talk of cleaning up its reputation, it’s continuing to promote the use of tax havens in some of the world’s poorest countries. Thanks to your work we've clearly caught the attention of Barclays boss, Antony Jenkins. Over 12,000 of us have contacted him in the last few months to tell him to clean up Barclays' act on tax havens in Africa. He's responding to us but he’s still avoiding the real issues. He's just hoping, now, that we go away. We need your help to show that we can’t be brushed off so easily.

We know that Barclays play close attention to their online complaints form, so it's a great way for us to show that we're unhappy with the way they're behaving.

Submit your complaint

Submit your complaint

Please take 5 minutes to fill in Barclays' online complaints form, you don't need to be a customer to complete it and the message can be as short as you like:

  1. Open up the online form and complete your details. Note: the postcode box doesn't allow spaces
  2. For the drop down boxes please select 'I would like to complain' and 'Savings'. We know that 'savings' isn't a perfect description of your complaint, but they don't have a box for their promotion of tax havens in Africa!
  3. In the text box explain that you would like to see Barclays stop promoting the use of tax havens in Africa because it's unethical and is harming developing countries
  4. You will need to provide your contact details at the bottom of the form, this is so that Barclays can get back to you with their response

 

And that's it.

Please get in touch with us as soon as you hear back from Barclays. So far they've done their best to avoid answering this important request so it's really important that we keep up the pressure.

You can read more about the Clean Up Barclays campaign here, and if you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch at campaign@actionaid.org.

Thanks so much for campaigning with us!

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