Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts has reiterated his hope that the proposals set out in his government-backed review of the lobbying act will be revived.
Speaking in a House of Lords debate on third-party campaigning yesterday, Hodgson said he was disappointed that government support for his review "ebbed away" despite widespread support for its reforms from the charity sector, the legal profession, the Charity Commission and others.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act, to give it its full name, 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.
Hodgson’s review of the lobbying act, which was commissioned by the government and published its recommendations in 2016, called for a number of reforms, including reducing the regulated campaign period to four months before an election and encompassing only activity intended to influence how members of the public vote.
But the government decided not to implement the reforms, as reported by Third Sector last year, citing a lack of space in the parliamentary timetable.
In yesterday’s debate, Hodgson reiterated his desire to see the electoral system made "fit for the modern age" and said he was pleased his proposals for reform were well received, including initially by the government.
He said: "I have been disappointed that government support has subsequently gradually ebbed away."
Hodgson also called for a Law Commission review of general electoral law that outlined "a good many deficiencies, inconsistencies and confusions that needed remedying", to be enacted.
"In an increasingly cynical age, it must be more than ever important that our fellow citizens have confidence and trust in all aspects of our electoral system," he told the house.
"I therefore still treasure the hope that the government will, in due course, find time to pull both these reviews together and so give the country an electoral system fit for the modern age."
Other lords backed the implementation of Hodgson’s reforms, with the crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham pleading for the government to listen to charities and enact reforms to the lobbying act.
"I suspect that the authors of the act did not fully realise the implications of what they were doing to the voluntary sector, but they can no longer claim such ignorance," he said.
The Labour peer Lord Kennedy of Southwark said that, despite the government’s claims that the parliamentary timetable was too full to pass Hodgson’s reforms, "it would actually be a very positive experience for us all to have the opportunity to get away from Brexit and talk about something else".
Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the crossbench peer who tabled the debate, said that Christian Aid had previously highlighted the "red-tape nightmare" and the "chilling effect" that the lobbying act had had on its Christian Aid Week campaign last year, which coincided with the snap general election.
Claire Godfrey, head of policy and campaigns at Bond, said: "The fact remains that 68 per cent of charities have had to change their campaigning as a result of the lobbying act and 51 per cent say it has affected their ability to achieve their mission.
"These numbers cannot be taken lightly. The only way the government can show it is serious about helping ‘civil society regain its confidence to speak out in public life’ would be if they took forward Lord Hodgson’s amendments. It’s a travesty that the voices of the vulnerable and marginalised people that charities work with and support are being silenced."