Lobbying act must be repealed or reformed, sector leaders tell government

A letter to Cabinet Office minister Damian Green from a number of sector bodies says the legislation is ‘confusing and burdensome’

The lobbying act is a “confusing and burdensome piece of legislation that ultimately harms our democracy” and should be urgently reformed, charity sector leaders have told the government.

In a letter to Damian Green, the Cabinet Office minister, organisations including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the charity chief executives body Acevo call for Lord Hodgson’s reforms to the lobbying act to be implemented urgently.

The lobbying act sets spending limits and makes it a legal necessity for all organisations that spend more that £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Wales on regulated campaigning in the year prior to an election to register with the Electoral Commission.

Lord Hodgson’s review of the lobbying act, which was commissioned by the government and published last year, called for a number of reforms, including reducing the regulated campaign period to four months before an election and changes to the rules on joint campaigning.

But the government has yet to implement Lord Hodgson’s recommendations, and the letter calls for a meeting to discuss how the lobbying act’s “unintended consequences can be minimised”.

The letter says: “While we recognise that regulation is necessary to ensure that no one individual or organisation can exert undue influence at an election, the lobbying act has had a disproportionate impact on charity campaigning.

“This is despite the fact that, unlike organisations from many other sectors, charities are already subject to strict limitations on their political activity under charity law.

“The excessive and unreasonable red tape the lobbying act places on charities made it harder for them to campaign at the 2017 general election. Charities also find many of the non-party campaigning rules ambiguous.

“We are concerned that this caused many charities not to engage, resulting in some important voices being lost from public debate.”

More than 50 charities have recently called for the lobbying act to be repealed, citing the “enormous administrative and financial burden” it places on the sector.

There have also been warnings that the risk of another snap election after the 8 June election failed to provide any party with an outright majority means the next period of regulated campaigning might have already begun.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said: “There is clear cross-party and sector support for the changes Lord Hodgson suggested. Adoption of them will be an important first step for the new government to show it is listening to charities, which are crucial to building a stronger economy and society.”

Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “Charity leaders have told me that compliance with this ambiguous legislation has significant costs attached, particularly in terms of time, labour and money, which distracts and detracts from their activities.

“It is important that the new government now enacts the recommendations of its own review of the act.”

The Charities Aid Foundation, the infrastructure body Navca, the Small Charities Coalition and the international development network Bond also signed the letter.

The letter comes after a report from the UN Human Rights Council that was released two days before the general election. It criticised the lobbying act’s “chilling effect” on the charity sector and claimed it had a disproportionate impact on charities in comparison with the private sector.

Greenpeace, which was fined £30,000 by the Electoral Commission earlier this year for contravening the lobbying act prior to the 2015 general election, said the UN’s comments showed the act was an “international embarrassment” and should be either repealed or reformed.

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