‘Gag’ on money talking

September 12, 2013

Your article “Lib Dems accused of ‘gagging’ NUS” (4 September) contains criticisms made by Labour MPs of the transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill, which are wide of the mark.

First, the bill does not limit anyone’s capacity to comment on public policy per se, so a campaign of the kind run by the National Union of Students at the 2010 general election, which was non-partisan, would not be affected. Second, even if the NUS wished to stray into more partisan campaigning – against Liberal Democrat MPs, perhaps, or Labour or Tory representatives who also support tuition fees – it would not be “gagged” at all.

Just as under existing legislation, campaigners will be subject to limits not on what they say but on what they spend. This is an important principle of electoral law and has been for more than a century. If the bill becomes law, it would no more “gag” non-party campaigners than the 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act “gagged” candidates by limiting their election expenditure. The principle is that it is the power of an argument, not the size of a bank balance, that should determine electoral outcomes. The limit on election-related spending would be £390,000 per non-party campaign group, a quite substantial sum and one that I should imagine the NUS can only dream of spending anyway.

Lord Tyler
House of Lords

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