Revealed: the first group to be charged under the government’s hated Lobbying Act
The campaigning group failed to register with the Electoral Commission
Greenpeace has become the first organisation to be fined under the UK government’s hugely controversial Lobbying Act.
The environmental group said it had been fined £30,000 for refusing to register as a “third-party campaigning organisation” in the run-up to the 2015 election.
The Cameron government passed the legislation – known as the “gagging order” – in the wake of high-profile corporate lobbying scandals.
It requires civil society organisations to register with the Electoral Commission if they plan to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK on so-called regulated activities.
Greenpeace said that in the run-up to the 2015 election it visited coastal communities around the UK to campaign for sustainable fishing policies to be included in the parties’ manifestos, holding events supported by MPs and candidates of all parties from Ukip to the Green party.
Greenpeace said it was happy to tell the Electoral Commission how much it had spent on that campaign – as well as another on fracking – but was fined after it refused to register.
In response to the fine Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Sometimes legislation is just wrong and you have to stand up and say so. That’s why we decided to oppose this illiberal law in an act of civil disobedience.
“The Lobbying Act is a democratic car crash, it weakens democracy and curtails free speech. Now Britain is going into a second general election regulated by a law that does little to stop powerful companies exerting secret influence in the corridors of power while gagging charities and campaign groups with millions of members.
“If the last election is anything to go by it will have a chilling effect on groups trying to raise important issues. Whoever wins on 8 June should heed the advice of Lord Hodgson and amend it.”
The Act skews politics in favour of corporations operating in the shadows - John Sauven
Another part of the same legislation has also been criticised by anti-corruption campaigners for failing to rein in corporate lobbyists.
The government’s lobbying register, one of the new provisions in the act, has been branded useless by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency for capturing just a fraction of the hundreds of professional lobbyists working in Westminster.
John Sauven added: “If you’re a corporate lobbyist paid by a tobacco company to fight anti-smoking legislation you’ve got little to worry about, the Lobbying Act does hardly anything to restrict you.
“But if you’re a mass membership campaign group trying to get political parties to make strong commitments on the environment or human rights then watch out, the state can now regulate your campaign, tying you in bureaucratic knots and preventing voters from hearing about the issues that matter.
“That’s why many charities decided the safest thing was to sit out the last election and may do the same this time.
“The Lobbying Act skews politics in favour of corporations operating in the shadows.”
The legislation has been condemned by a coalition of 160 charities, including the Royal British Legion, Save the Children and the Salvation Army, as well as a cross-party coalition of politicians.