A group of concerned protesters gathered to show opposition to the ‘gagging’ clauses in the controversial Lobbying Bill currently before parliament.
A petition with about 8,000 signatures was presented to Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray by Peter Coffey, of The Grove, Ealing, on January 10.
The bill is designed to stop political influence being won by those with the most cash by capping the amount of money which can be spent by non-party organisations in the run up to an election, but charities fear it will restrict their campaigning at a key time.
Mr Coffey urged the MP to back cross-party amendments to the bill, amendments campaigners say are designed to protect the public’s right to debate and discuss issues that matter to everyone in their constituency, regardless of whether an election is imminent.
Fellow protester Niall Leonard, a novelist from the borough, said that the bill, which is opposed by organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Oxfam and The Countryside Alliance, aims to restrict charities and voluntary groups of any political hue from campaigning on controversial issues in the run-up to an election. He said it would effectively ban community groups from speaking out, thus the term ‘gagging’.
Online campaigning group 38 Degrees helped to organise the petition and similar petitions all over the country, in the hope of making fundamental changes to the bill during its passage through the House of Lords.
MP Angie Bray said she was delighted to accept the petition and invited three of the representatives into her surgery to discuss the issue.
She said: “My view is that it is reasonable and fair to limit expenditure on electioneering at election times in the same way that all the declared candidates have to limit theirs.
“The government is very clear that charities and other third-party organisations will continue to be able to campaign on policies and issues. The limit applies when they want to campaign specifically for or against a particular political party or candidate.
“I’m not aware that many, if any, charities do this, so I am not concerned that the vast majority – if not all – will find their work affected.”