The Lobbying Bill and the death of free speech

Following a major spat at the Palace of Westminster between the House of Commons and the House of Lords the truly dreadful lobbying Bill is passing into Law.  I almost feel like wearing a black armband.

I am now completely confused given the constant changes back and forth over the last few months and wait to receive guidance from the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission on what as a charity we are now allowed to do.

In the absence of such guidance and well before the next general election I think I am safe in the next few paragraphs.

I emailed Ed Milliband, Leader of the Labour party (prompted by 38 Degrees) to which I received the following reply from Angela Eagle, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons.

Thanks for your email to Ed about the gagging law. He asked me to reply because I’ve been leading on opposition to the gagging bill from the start.

Labour opposed the gagging bill. We voted against the bill all the way through the Commons and Lords, and we believe wholeheartedly in protecting freedom of speech, the right to campaign and fairness in elections.

If we are elected in May 2015, we will find a way to put this wrong right. We are considering exactly how we can best achieve this, so we are taking some time to talk to our MP’s, campaigners, and other experts about the next steps. That’s going to take a little while because we want to get this right — but Ed will be in touch to give you specific answers to the questions you asked.

In the meantime, I want to ask you something. I’ve spoken to so many people who are involved in campaigning on issues of huge importance to their community. They’re so worried about how this law will affect them. I’m interested: why do you feel so strongly about the gagging law? How will it affect you?”

Well Angela it feels to me like having an opinion is now against the law and daring to voice an opinion on behalf of our beneficiaries might get me arrested and prosecuted, particularly if as a charity we have the audacity to do what we are legally constituted to do, campaign on behalf of our beneficiaries at a time when we are likely to be heard.

This may actually not be true but it is how this law has left me and many other charity sector leaders feeling.

If Labour get elected I will hold you to this promise to change this law.

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