Lobbying act review recommends shorter regulated period, narrower definition of campaigning

Lord Hodgson has recommended changing rules around third party campaigning, to strike a better balance between protecting against undue influence of elections and preserving the right to participate in public discourse.

Stopping short of recommending repeal of the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, Lord Hodgson recommends narrowing the definition of electoral campaigning to prevent legitimate advocacy work being captured by the law.

In a report following his review of the legislation, Lord Hodgson also calls for the regulatory period to be shortened from 12 to four months before a general election.

“Effective regulation which maintains public trust in our electoral system is in the interest of us all,” Lord Hodgson wrote in his report, “it should not prohibit third parties from participating in public discourse at election time but it must ensure that the elections cannot be ‘bought’.”

The Third Party Campaigning Review was asked to assess how the regulatory system for third parties at elections works in practice, by observing the situation at the 2015 general election.

Lord Hodgson engaged with more than 200 interested parties to complete the review, seeking to “separate the real from the perceived effects of the legislation”.

The resulting report delivers almost 30 recommendations to improve the operation of the legislation around campaigning at general elections.

The review recommends narrowing the definition of “procuring electoral success” in the legislation to cover only activity that is clearly intended to influence voters’ choices.

Lord Hodgson did not recommend changes to the national spending limits or the activities included in regulated spending. However, the review does recommend providing clarity about the exclusion of incidental staff costs or those below a de minimis threshold.

“Given the rapidly changing nature of campaigning this clarity is probably best provided in Electoral Commission guidance,” the report said.

The review also highlights the role of social media in modern campaigning, a factor that was relatively insignificant when the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act was passed in 2000.

Lord Hodgson suggests changing the Electoral Commission’s concept of what constitutes ‘the public’, as concepts of ‘membership’ have become much more informal with the rise of online mass communication.

“The use of social media as a campaigning tool will only increase and the methods and platforms used can be expected to evolve constantly,” the report said. “The Government and the regulator need to be vigilant as to emerging trends in campaigning methodologies so as to ensure that the regulatory framework continues to strike the right balance.”

Minister for Constitutional Reform John Penrose said the Government is grateful to Lord Hodgson for the “comprehensive and balanced” report.

“We will now carefully consider the package of proposals. Some involve changes to the existing regulatory regime, some changes to primary legislation and some are recommendations to the Electoral Commission,” Penrose said.

Access the report here.

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