Code of practice covering charity campaigns during elections set to be introduced

The Electoral Commission will be asked to draw up a code of practice covering spending on activities that could be seen as influencing elections, under legislation set to be approved by peers.

The Elections Bill, which has already completed its passage through the House of Commons, will be debated in the House of Lords today.

Among the amendments for consideration is one drawn up by the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts that would require the Electoral Commission to publish a code of practice on the operation of Part 6 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which deals with controlled expenditure of third parties.

The amendment, which will not apply to elections to the Scottish or Welsh parliaments, has the government’s backing, so is expected to be accepted.

In 2016, Hodgson completed his government-commissioned review of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, commonly known as the lobbying act.

He recommended that the scope of the act be reduced to include only activity intended to influence how the public votes, and for the period during which the rules apply to be reduced.

The legislation updated reporting requirements around campaigning activities that could “reasonably be regarded as intended to procure electoral success”, which has been perceived to have had a “chilling effect” on charities’ lobbying work.

Hodgson has been arguing that a clearer framework was needed to define what could be regarded as intended to influence elections.

His amendment says the proposed code of practice, which will be consulted on publicly and approved by the relevant minister, must provide guidance on the kind of expenses that would fall within the scope of the lobbying legislation.

It is expected to provide examples of the activities they will be able to undertake during pre-election periods.

“We really want to get a framework that gives third-party campaigners a degree of understanding and reassurance about what they're doing,” Hodgson told Third Sector.

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