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.