This House of Lords Library briefing sets out the legislation that regulates the statutory register of lobbyists, and outlines the rules governing the ability of charities and trade unions to engage in political activity and to campaign in relation to elections. This briefing has been written in preparation for the debate in the House of Lords on 8 September 2016 on the role that charities, trade unions and civil society groupings play in a democracy and the case for regulating lobbying activities.
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Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 established a compulsory statutory register of third party lobbyists, and created the post of registrar to enforce the registration requirements. The legislation has been subject to criticism for not being comprehensive enough to regulate all forms of lobbying, and there have been calls for the scope of the statutory register to be expanded. The Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto did not mention the issue of lobbying. However, the Conservative Government announced in February 2016 that it would be inserting a new clause into all new and renewed grants agreements which would ban organisations from using government grants to lobby government or Parliament.
Political Campaigning and Activity
Charities and trade unions are able to undertake campaigning and political activity under certain restrictions. Charities are able to engage in political activity as long as it is in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes, and if there is a reasonable likelihood of its being effective. However, they must not give support to any one political party. Trade unions may spend money on ‘political objects’ in furtherance of its political objectives, such as contributing funds to a political party or engaging in certain political activities. However, they must establish a separate political fund. Since 2016, new union members cannot contribute to a political fund unless they have opted-in.
Third Party Election Campaigning
Campaigning by third parties at elections is regulated by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and part 2 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. There have been criticisms of the rules governing spending on regulated activity, and suggestions that it has had a negative impact on charities and trade unions because the regulations encompass issue‑focused campaigns. In January 2015, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts was appointed to conduct an independent review of the impact of part 2 of the 2014 Act. He published his report in March 2016 and suggested a package of reforms, including a recommendation for the revision of the statutory definition of regulated activity. The Government is currently reviewing the proposals.