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Inquiry: Impact of the Lobbying Act on civil society and democratic engagement

Today we publish the third report of the Commission, setting out the first evidence of the impact of the Lobbying Act on charities and campaign groups.

The report draws evidence from 50 charities, faith and campaign groups across the UK representing a wide range of issues.

Our findings are concerning:

Even before the regulated period started, the Lobbying Act has been limiting charities and campaign groups from speaking out on important issues ahead of the general election.

63% of respondents to our survey stated that compliance with the Act will make some or all of their organisational or charitable objectives harder to achieve.

The main impacts of the law so far are:

· Chilling effect: Many NGOs are more cautious about campaigning on politically contentious issues because they fear breaking the law or the reputational risk of vexatious complaints.

· Red tape: The law and associated guidance is consuming disproportionate resources that the public has donated to the causes they believe in.

· Coalition campaigning: The law makes it almost impossible for charities and campaign groups to work together speak out on politically contested issues as they did before the Act.

Recommendation:

  • The Lobbying Act should be repealed immediately, except for the increase in registration thresholds. This would have the effect of temporarily reverting to the previous Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
    A new law should be consulted on, with appropriate pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament, and passed into law within two years of the formation of the next Government.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth said:

“Our inquiry shows that the Act has had a chilling effect on organisations speaking out on issues from climate change to homelessness.

“It is also tying some of our best loved charities and campaign groups in unnecessary red tape.

“In trying to ward off a hypothetical abuse of the electoral system the Government is inflicting unnecessary and unenforceable regulation on campaigning groups, who now play such a key role in keeping our democracy alive.”

 
Ongoing inquiry about the impact of the Lobbying Act on civil society and democratic engagement during the regulated period

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement (the Harries Commission) is continuing to gather evidence about the impacts of the Lobbying Act on democracy and civil society and will report again before the general election.

The Commission is concerned about the potential impacts of the Lobbying Act on civil society and democratic engagement during the regulatory period. We are gathering evidence including:

· The impact of national and constituency spending limits on non-party organisations to deliver their organisational goals.

· The impact of any complaints and any investigations into non-party campaigning under the Lobbying Act.

· The impact of the Lobbying Act on coalition campaigning.

· Whether the Lobbying Act is having a chilling effect on freedom of speech during the regulated period.

· The administrative and resource impact of the Lobbying Act on non-party organisations during the regulated period.

· The overall impact of the Lobbying Act on democratic engagement.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth said:

“The Lobbying Act is widely criticised despite some important changes to the law achieved in Parliament.

”I remain concerned that it could limit freedom of speech and association on politically controversial issues ahead of elections.

”Democracy relies on the electorate hearing a range of views – not just those of politicians.

”Our inquiry will report on evidence about the impact of the new law on charities and on democracy.”

 

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