The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement was set up in October 2013 following concerns expressed by Helen Mountfield QC that the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was likely to have a ‘chilling effect’ on campaigning.
The Commission is chaired by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, former Bishop of Oxford, and has commissioners spanning a range of backgrounds in non-party campaigning.
Following a failure of Government to consult, or bring forward evidence to substantiate the need for changes to the law governing non-party campaigning ahead of elections, the Commission undertook a series of nationwide consultations and evidence gathering sessions and published four influential reports.
Terms of reference
1. To advise Parliament about appropriate regulation of civil society during election periods, including consideration of:
a) Appropriate spending thresholds for activity subject to regulation
b) Activities that should properly be regarded as partisan ‘election activity’ and therefore subject to regulation
c) Appropriate spending limits for ‘election activity’.
d) Whether spending limits are appropriate for individual constituencies, and the level of any such limits.
e) Appropriate definition for types of spending which should count towards such limit
f) Appropriate regulatory period for ‘election activity’.
g) Appropriate regulation in devolved administrations.
2. In formulating this advice, the Commission should consider:
a) How civil society can best contribute to an increase in public engagement in electoral processes, particularly at a time when membership of political parties and party-affiliated organisations is small and declining.
b) How civil society can contribute to increased public awareness and engagement in matters of public policy.
c) How technological and cultural changes such as the development of the internet have altered public engagement in policy debates, and how regulation might need to be updated to reflect these changes.
d) Evidence from a wide range of views, interests and sections of civil society and of political parties.
3. The Commission should make an initial report to Parliament in time for Committee Stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 in the House of Lords.
4. The Commission should analyse the Bill as it progresses through the parliamentary process and advise Parliament about further changes needed to the draft legislation to avert damage to democratic engagement.
5. The Commission should analyse the impact of the law on civil society and democratic engagement before, during and following the 2015 General Election and make recommendations for any changes to law and guidance needed.
6. The Commission should work to make the case to the Government and relevant stakeholders for changes to the law and to guidance needed before the next General Election.
Baron Harries of Pentregarth
Richard Harries was Bishop of Oxford from 1987-2006. On his retirement he was made a life peer (Lord Harries of Pentregarth) and he is active in the House of Lords as an independent cross bench peer, mainly on human rights issues. He has written widely on the interface of Christian faith and wider culture, including politics and ethics. His books include Faith in politics? Rediscovering the Christian Roots of our Political values (DLT). He chaired the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility and has been connected with a range of voluntary organisations.
Baroness Mallalieu QC
President Countryside Alliance
In practice as a criminal barrister from 1970 to 2012. Labour life Peer since 1991. Opposition spokesman on Home and Legal Affairs 1991 to 1997. President of the Countryside Alliance since 1997.Led opposition to the Hunting Act in the House of Lords. Elected Peer of the Year 2004 by the “Spectator” and the “House Magazine”. Active campaigner on a range of countryside issues.
Chief Executive, Lumos
Over the past 19 years, Georgette has worked in 17 countries across Europe and Africa leading large-scale programmes to transform the lives of thousands of vulnerable children and their families. She pioneered a model of deinstitutionalisation now followed in many countries across Central and Eastern Europe, and has advised governments on the reform of their services for children and families. She is the author of four books related to children’s rights, and is currently advising the European Commission on the reform of children’s services across the European Union.
Ros Baston is a political and election law expert. She spent a total of seven years working at the Electoral Commission, and became Lead Adviser (Party and Election Finance). For five years, she worked with parties, candidates, referendum campaigners and non-party campaigners, and helped to develop the Commission’s view of how the original regulatory rules in the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act 2000 should be applied in practice.
Political and campaign strategist
Liz Hutchins is a political and campaign strategist with fifteen years’ experience working for charities and campaign groups. She is currently taking a sabbatical from Friends of the Earth, and is chair of the board of the New Economy Organisers Network.