Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts has said the government’s decision to not enact his reforms to the lobbying act is "disappointing" and risked allowing problems with the act to reappear at the next general election.
The Conservative peer, who carried out a government-commissioned review of the lobbying act that was published last year, told Third Sector his proposals were received well by both the sector and the government, and warned that not enacting the reforms risked confusion about the act resurfacing in the future.
His comments come after the decision announced by the Cabinet Office earlier today to not enact the reforms, which Third Sector understands related to a lack of space in the legislative programme.
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.
Hodgson’s review of the lobbying act called for a number of reforms, including reducing the regulated campaign period to four months before an election, changes to the rules on joint campaigning and reducing the scope of the lobbying act to include only activity intended to influence how members of the public vote.
Hodgson told Third Sector: "Obviously I’m disappointed because it was well received by the sector and it was well received by the government. There were a number of statements from ministers that they proposed to bring the reforms forward.
"The question is are they going back on their previous belief that the proposals were quite sensible and could provide the basis for some discussions or legislation, or is it because there is not enough time? Is it in the long grass or is it in the pavilion, so to speak?"
Hodgson said he understood that Brexit had taken up a significant amount of the legislative programme, but by not legislating to reform the lobbying act the government was making it likely that problems would reappear at future elections.
"We’re bound to be under a certain amount of Brexit pressure; from now until 2019 there’s bound to be a lot of pressure on the timetable," Hodgson said.
"The question of course is that these things only really come to the fore when we have an election, and in between it is out of sight, out of mind. We are mid-election and nobody cares about this at all that much. But of course it will then come up during election time when there is a problem and it will be too late then to do anything about it."
Hodgson’s comments come after condemnation of the government’s decision by several charity sector representative bodies, including Acevo, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the international development umbrella body Bond and the Charities Aid Foundation.
Once again, clear message from UKG that it is anti-charity, against Third Sector campaigning & voice for most vulnerable in our society. https://t.co/vHFucSE2qm— John Downie (@JohnDs_View) September 15, 2017
The Govt's power grab: Repeal Bill; fixing their maj. on Select Cttees; downgrading Opposition Days & now rejecting reforms to Lobbying Act https://t.co/uFOmqT96ug— Duncan Shrubsole (@duncanshrubsole) September 15, 2017
What a joke. They *asked* Lord H to do the review. Many participated, spent significant resources. Huge amount of work. Now wasted?? https://t.co/qBpQwlObUW— Jay Kennedy (@JKENNEDYDSC) September 15, 2017
Very disappointing to learn that Government is rejecting practical proposals to improve the (unnecessary) Lobbying Act.... https://t.co/PNyuowlP53— Tom Baker (@MrTomBaker) September 15, 2017
Steve Reed, the shadow minister for civil society, said: "It’s shocking that the government is ignoring the Hodgson review’s recommendations. It’s the latest in a long line of decisions that show utter contempt for the sector.
"Yet again this weak government has shown it is afraid to be challenged and fearful of being questioned.
"More than 100 organisations have now publicly called for the government to remove the gag it has placed on charities. A Labour government will listen to them and scrap the lobbying act so charities can once again speak up for the people they work with."
The #LobbyingAct is a flawed piece of legislation and we are outraged that the govt is rejecting Lord Hodgson’s recommendations to reform it— Peter Holbrook (@peteholbrook) September 15, 2017
The governent have revealed what they think of the charity sector in their rejection of Hodgson changes to Lobbying Act. They don't care.— Sir Stephen Bubb (@BubbCeo) September 15, 2017