The new Lobbying Bill will criminalise even basic campaigning by Trade Unions

3:04 pm - August 19th 2013

by Nigel Stanley    

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Proposals in a bill slipped out as Parliament broke for the Summer, and due to be debated as soon as MPs return, will gag the TUC, trade unions and every campaign group in the country in what can only be seen as a “chilling attack on free speech”.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill will make organising the 2014 annual TUC Congress or organising a TUC national demonstration in the 12 months before the 2015 General Election into criminal offences.

The Bill does this by making three changes to the regulation of campaigning by non-party organisation in the 12 months before a general election – breaching these will become a criminal offence:

  • Changing the definition of what counts as campaigning – at present only activities designed with the intent of influencing an election result are regulated. The new Bill will instead regulate activity that may affect the result of an election. As any criticism of government policy could affect how people vote, this will severely limit any organisation’s ability to criticise government policies in the run up to an election – not just unions, but charities, NGOs and local campaign groups.
  • Reducing the spending limit for third party campaigners to £390,000 – the amount that third party campaign groups can spend in the year before an election will be reduced by more than half to £390,000.
  • Including staff time and office costs in expenditure limits – currently only the costs of election directed materials, adverts and activities are regulated. The Bill proposes that staff time and other costs should now also be included in the limit. £390,000 may buy a lot of leaflets but any major event involves significant staff time.

The notes on clauses for the Bill have more detail of how it would work.

The 2014 TUC Congress for e.g., or a national demonstration would not just take the TUC over the annual limit but each member union as well. But political parties’ own conferences happening in the same month would be given an exemption in election spending limits.

Organisations that campaign locally face even tougher challenges. Spending has to be allocated under tough limits by constituency. Every penny of spending will have to be tallied and reported – this will severely limit campaigns such as those run by Hope Not Hate against the BNP, or local grass-roots campaigns such as those against hospital closures or road building.

It is an open secret at Westminster that this rushed Bill has nothing to do with cleaning up lobbying or getting big money out of politics. But it has been drawn so widely that its chilling effect will be to shut down dissent for the year before an election.

Even though the restrictions on third party campaigning make the Bill a constitutional measure, there has been no consultation process or cross-party talks.

Today we’re seeking an urgent meeting with Cabinet Office Minister Chloe Smith to protest at the way this damaging Bill is being rushed through without the proper consultation.

Of course not everyone agrees with TUC views and policies, but we expect there is going to be a very wide revulsion at this outrageous attack on freedom of speech.

a longer version of this blogpost is at the Touchstone blog.

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About the author
Nigel Stanley is an occasional contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the TUC’s Head of Campaigns and Communications. He's also at the ToUCstone blog.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Trade Unions

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Reader comments

“Sponsor: Mr Andrew Lansley”

Phew. He’d never allow an unworkable bill to become law.

2. mike cobley

Who wrote this farrago of anti-democratic nonsense? Who are the actual people who put pen to paper? It would be useful to know if any private sector people had a hand in it.

This is terrifying. Unless you were “born to rule.”

Yet again, no outrage from the faux-libertarians?

5. Mike Killingworth

Remember – there’s a majority in the electorate for criminalising trade unions, socialism, redistributive taxation and equality generally.

Just check out the polls.

6. George King

The speed at which the corporations are putting together a police state to crack down on any opposition to their looting of the economy (first via their position as No 1 creditors to the banks and second by their blatant profiteering on the back of their market dominance) shows the extent of the bankruptcy of UKplc. It really is effed up. It’s joined the choir invisible.

7. Terry Craven

This is tantamount to making the UK a police state. It is part of our democratic right to associate and comment. In my opinion this piece of vile legislation breaches the Human Rights Act re the right of association.

8. Mike Killingworth

[7] I forgot to mention scrapping the HRA in my previous post. What is the Coalition’s likely game plan? Suppose a TU mounts a challenge on the lines Terry Craven suggests – and it succeeds.

What odds the Tories and the Lib Dems both include in their election manifestoes a promise to hold a referendum on scrapping the HRA?

9. Mike Killingworth

[7] I expect both Tory and “Liberal Democrat” manifestoes to contain a pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act, probably after a referendum.

10. Rafael Davies

Please change this bill so it supports free speech, and political debate. It appears that corporations and big business have secured great access and influence, for example in the fracking scene, with Cameron, Lord Browne, and many others having close links to corporations involved… The opposition to this need to be able to voice their side as well and challenge wrongdoing.
Regulating lobbying was supposed to reduce the secret influences on government and policy, but it seems instead the current planned legislation reduces the representation of ordinary people.
Besides, running up to an election is exactly when more people SHOULD get involved in political debate!
So look again at what we want to improve, or achieve, and if the current drafts are not doing this they need revising, or starting over!

I have already sent an email to Chloe Smith, telling her of my dissatisfaction of the proposed bill and how it will our civil liberties and all the hardwork that was needed to get someone on our side after the centuries of hardships purportraited on us from the upper classes and rich industrialists, and slipped in by the back door hoping we would me it, they proposed to undo all the hard work that was done for us decades ago. Since when did we become a fascist state.

12. Derek Hattons Tailor

How will this affect the activities of the career arse licking sorry lobbying industry ?

13. Derek Hattons Tailor

@ 5 What do you expect ? The equality industry went way beyond any sane notion of equality years ago (e.g on TV this morning were various women’s groups campaigning against magazines they don’t like being sold in supermarkets)the ists and isms/pressure group industry is totally out of control and many feel it is being rammed down their throats.

14. Paul peter Smith

@11 Marian Standen
‘since when did we become a fascist state..’
Not sure of the exact date but Mussolini defined Fascism as the perfect combination of the State and business and he would know. So whenever New Labour kicked off the PPI thing really.

15. Paul peter Smith

Obviously that should be PFI’s, just been filling some forms in. Sorry.

Wasn’t the first PFI the Skye Road Bridge of 1992? A Major event. (pun intended)
Nothing to do with The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill.

17. Paul peter Smith

But relevant to point raised by several posters, that is the over-arching influence or corporate interests on legislation and government.
Thanks for exact date of government surrender, you cant blame me for confusing conservative policy with new labour’s tho, come on.

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