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Clause 27 — Changes to existing limits

Part of Access to Mental Health Services – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 10th September 2013.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 6:30 pm, 10th September 2013

I want to say a few words about the contributions from the hon. Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), and I am glad to follow Mark Durkan because he made such an eloquent case. In a way, we should be oddly grateful for the contributions from the hon. Members for North East Somerset and for Dover, because they showed the nasty agenda behind this Bill. There is a real risk that someone might be taken in by the sanitised version that we hear from the Minister, who tells us that there is nothing to worry about. However, when we hear the kinds of ideas that those hon. Gentlemen have about the activities of charities and other organisations, we are right to be worried about the Bill.

I want to challenge the overall presumption of what amendment 101 is about. I disagree with the essential premise that just because someone receives public funds, they should be neutered for a whole year in what they can say. I worked for a development organisation for 10 years, and we did a lot of advocacy on trade, aid and debt. Our advocacy was based on our experience in the field, working alongside people living in poverty. Yes, we received Government money towards that programme in the field, but if that were somehow to mean we that were not able to speak out about what we saw and the conclusions of our experience, that would be a travesty of the public debate for which this country used to be famous.

I am deeply worried. The hon. Gentlemen confuse engaging in public debate during an election period, which amendment 101 states is a whole year, with electioneering. There is a big difference between the two. The idea that we cannot tell the difference is foolish, and in any case, laws govern involvement in electioneering, so we do not need the amendment.

I shall spend just two minutes on the clause 27 stand part debate, so Jim Shannon can make a speech. I agree entirely with Mr Allen. Again and again, Opposition Members and some Government Members have challenged the Government and asked, “What problem are you trying to fix?” but we never hear an answer. The hon. Member for Dover eventually came up with one charity but, I must say, gave no evidence—he cited Shelter with no evidence. We cannot make policy on the basis of prejudice, which the hon. Gentleman appears to want to do. We should make policy on the basis of evidence, which is what I sought to do in a previous amendment.

If we get rid of clause 27, we can start again and think about what we want the Bill to do. I do not think we want the Bill to shut down legitimate public and policy debate and engagement in such debates from the wider public. Other people would not expect hon. Members to do that, which is why I join the hon. Member for Nottingham North in saying that we need to get rid of clause 27.