Lobbying Act reform: debate required, say charities

Three organisations representing thousands of charities have asked the Electoral Commission to explain its opposition to reform of the Lobbying Act, which contributed to the government dropping plans to make any changes.

In a letter sent earlier today to Claire Bassett, the chief executive of the commission, NCVO, ACEVO, and Bond have asked for a detailed explanation of why the Commission opposed reform.

The proposed changes were contained in Lord Hodgson’s 2016 report into reform of the non-party campaigning rules in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Act. The Conservative peer had been appointed by government to lead an independent review of the legislation.

Hodgson’s proposed reforms, which the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities subsequently recommended should be fully adopted, included a reduction in the regulated campaign period to four months before an election, changes to the rules on joint campaigning and a reduction in the scope of the Act to include only activity intended to influence how members of the public vote. These would reduce the burden of regulation for charities while still preserving integrity in elections.

The government was still considering the Hodgson recommendations when, in the lead-up to the general election in June, many charities complained that a lack of clarity about the rules on campaigning meant that they felt unable to raise issues.

However, despite the mounting calls to implement the Hodgson recommendations, the government announced in September that it would not enact them. It cited a lack of space in the legislative programme to pass the necessary law and that the Electoral Commission was not content with some technical aspects of the proposed changes.

NCVO, which has 13,000 charities as members, ACEVO, which represents chief executives of charities, and Bond, which represents voluntary organisations working in international development, want the commission to clarify which proposed changes to the rules it objects to and on what grounds.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

We are extremely disappointed by the commission’s position. What’s needed is an open conversation about how the rules on non-party campaigning can be changed so they meet their objective of ensuring fair elections.

There is consistent evidence that the law has a detrimental impact on the ability and willingness of the voluntary sector to speak out. We need prompt answers from the Electoral Commission so that we can get that discussion underway.

Vicky Browning, chief executive of ACEVO, said:

The concerns raised by the Electoral Commission were a key factor in the Cabinet Office’s decision to reject Lord Hodgson’s reforms of the Lobbying Act. But it is not evident what these concerns are. The cross-party Lords Select Committee on Charities is clear on why it supports the reforms. We need to know why the Commission does not.

Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, said:

The Lobbying Act has silenced the charity sector and the impact of this cannot be solved by the Electoral Commission simply attempting to clarify the rules.

The rules are not only confusing, they are unworkable. The only way to address this deplorable situation is to allow charities to be able to continue the important campaigning work they do on issues that affect the most vulnerable and marginalised people in society, both here and globally.

This means implementing Lord Hodgson’s recommendations.

-ENDS-

Notes

For further information, contact Stephanie Clark, senior external relations officer at NCVO: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 020 7520 2460.

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