Hodgson recommendations show how flawed the Lobbying Act is

The Government’s inquiry, chaired by Lord Hodgson, into the impact of the Lobbying Act has reported with some important recommendations for major changes to the Act.

The case for a review was accepted by Government in 2013 following a recommendation by this Commission.

Several of the recommendations of this Commission’s fourth report have been accepted. We wish to thank everyone who contributed evidence about the impact of the Lobbying Act on campaigning ahead of the 2015 General Election.

The 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.”

 

Hodgson recommendations show how flawed the Lobbying Act is

The Government’s inquiry, chaired by Lord Hodgson, into the impact of the Lobbying Act has reported with some important recommendations for major changes to the Act.

The case for a review was accepted by Government in 2013 following a recommendation by this Commission.

Several of the recommendations of this Commission’s fourth report have been accepted. We wish to thank everyone who contributed evidence about the impact of the Lobbying Act on campaigning ahead of the 2015 General Election.

The 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.

 ”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.”

 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, the Commission is calling on Government to impliment the full package of Lord Hodgson’s recommendations.

 

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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Lord Richard Harries and the other Commissioners are available for comment.

The Commission is also able to put journalists in touch with NGOs likely to be affected by the new legislation. Case studies of how the Bill will affect a range of NGOs are in the Commission’s second report here.

For media requests for the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement please contact simon.tiller@civilsocietycommission.info

Commission launches second round of consultation

The Commission is launching a second round of consultation during the week beginning November 25th, in order to inform and shape its second report in advance of the Bill’s return to Committee stage in the Lords.

The Commission would like to to invite you or a representative of your organisation to give evidence.

Details of all four events are below.


Belfast – Monday 25th November

Time: 12pm ’til 2pm
Location: Room B, Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action
61 Duncairn Gardens
Belfast
BT15 2GB

Commissioner: Georgette Mulheir

London – Monday 25th November

Time: 12pm ’til 2pm
Location: Seminar Room
Amnesty International
25 New Inn Yard
London
EC2A 3EA

Commissioner: Lord Richard Harries

Edinburgh – Tuesday 26th November

Time: 2:30pm ’til 4:30pm
Location: Edinburgh Training and Conference Venue
16 St Marys Street
Edinburgh
EH1 1SU

Commissioner: Professor Andrew Chadwick

Cardiff – Wednesday 27th November

Time: 2pm ’til 4pm
Location: Harbour Room, Wales Council for Voluntary Action
Baltic House
Mount Stuart Square
Cardiff
CF10 5FH

Commissioner: Toni Pearce, National Union of Students President


Alternatively, to submit evidence in writing, please use the following form. Please submit by close of business on Thursday 28th November, to allow time to incorporate your evidence into the report.


Thank you very much to those organisations who submitted written or verbal evidence during the last round of consultation.

The Commission would like to encourage repeat attendance, and also would like to invite organisations who have so far not inputted their views to help shape its second report.

RSVP at your earliest convenience to Bryony Walker: bryony.walker@civilsocietycommission.info; 07865495440