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.”