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Announcement

The Commission is extremely sad to announce the death of Clare Hammacott, the Commission’s manager from 2013 – 2016.

Clare was a passionate advocate for charities and campaign groups to be able to speak out on contentious issues. Close to her heart were the issues of the badger cull and climate change.

She was an impressive manager of operations and the Commission would not have had the impact it achieved without her.

Clare will be deeply missed by colleagues and friends.

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24.1.73 – 28.12.16

 

Harries Commission calls for Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to be implemented

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, chaired by Lord Harries, is calling on the Government to implement the changes to the Lobbying Act recommended by Lord Hodgson. It is important for the changes to be made urgently, and well ahead of the next General Election to enable charities and campaign groups to comply with the new rules.

Lord Hodgson’s inquiry into the impact of the Lobbying Act reported in March 2016 and made far-reaching recommendations for changes to the law and to guidance.

In commenting on the balance between the freedom of non-party actors to speak out on contentious issues, and the risk of undue influence over elections, Lord Hodgson concluded that ”I do not believe the right balance has been struck in the rules as presently drafted.”

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement is calling for Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to be implemented, many of which echo recommendations in the Commission’s fourth report.

Recommendations by Lord Hodgson include:

- Cutting the regulated period from 12 months to 4 months.

- Improving definition of regulated activity: the test proposed is whether a campaign group ‘intends’ to influence people’s voting choices, not whether a reasonable person might think they intend to do so.

- Improving ‘working together’ rules which no longer make campaign groups accountable for each other’s spending.

- Improving Electoral Commission guidance.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth, chair of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement said:

 ”Lord Hodgson has proposed some sensible changes to the Lobbying Act following overwhelming evidence that it was having a deeply damaging impact on the engagement of charities and campaign groups in democratic debate.

 ”The shorter period of regulation, combined with changes to regulated activity, and changes to rules that restrict groups’ ability to campaign together will reduce the red-tape that has confounded legitimate campaigning.

 ”Charities and campaign groups have an important role in speaking out on sometimes contentious and sensitive issues of public interest. It is important that their voices are heard in a democratic society alongside those of politicians and businesses.

There are some recommendations by Lord Hodgson that the Commission does not think are needed, but are unlikely to be a major hindrance to civil society engagement. These include:

- Exempting members and not ‘committed supporters’ from regulated activity.

- Adding a requirement to register with the Electoral Commission on spending £5,000 in a single constituency. Evidence to this Commission showed that constituency limits are one of the most impractical parts of the law.

Notwithstanding these reservations, Lord Harries said:

“I urge Ministers to accept Lord Hodgson’s recommendations and to make the changes in law swiftly so that the Electoral Commission, charities and voluntary organisations can prepare for the next regulated period.

“It is important that the impact of the amended law is monitored so that Ministers can know whether further changes will be needed.”

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