Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts plans to publish his independent review of the lobbying act by the end of the year, nearly 12 months earlier than required.
The Conservative peer was last month appointed as the official reviewer of the operation of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. In line with much legislation, this review was mandated by the act.
Under the new law, charities and other campaigners must register with the Electoral Commission if their spending on particular "regulated activities" in the period ahead of elections exceeds £20,000 in England or £10,000 in the rest of the UK. The first regulated period under the act started in September and lasts until the general election on 7 May.
Hodgson's review will assess whether the new rules were understood and the guidance from the Electoral Commission sufficiently helpful, and if breaches were dealt with appropriately by the commission. The peer officially has until November 2016 to publish it.
Hodgson spoke from the floor at the launch of the fourth and final report of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector in London yesterday. The lobbying act featured heavily in both the report and the discussion at the launch event.
The peer said he was in the process of putting together the team that would work with him on the review. He said a website would be set up and that stakeholders would be allowed to give evidence in a number of ways.
"We want to consult very widely," he said. "I will be independent. I am a Tory peer, but I am a backbencher and I have no aspirations to climb the greasy pole of government, so I will speak truth to power if I can find the evidence."
Hodgson initially told the event that he expected to publish in November of this year, but speaking to Third Sector after the event he revised this deadline to "by the end of this year". He said that one of the issues for timing would be how soon after the election he could obtain the accounts that registered non-party campaigners will submit to the Electoral Commission following the regulated period.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, told the event that Hodgson would have a tough task demonstrating the chilling effect of the act and "what people would have done if it hadn't been in place".
Also speaking at the event, Sir Stephen Bubb, Etherington's counterpart at charity leaders group Acevo, said he hoped the act would be abolished. He told Hodgson: "I'm pleased that it’s you who is reviewing the act, but my aim is to make it very short, because I don't think you review a bad act – you repeal it."