In other news – the Lobbying Act goes live tomorrow!
Part 2 of the Lobbying Act goes live on September 19th. In danger of being entirely swamped out in the media by the referendum result this is in fact extremely important for public, third and indeed private sector organisations who now have to try and comply with a law which seeks to regulate their campaigning activity.
The all important question is what is and what is not a campaign according to the new Act, which was described as both messy and pernicious when it passed through Parliament earlier this year. Connect Communications have produced a full briefing paper – available here – but here is the short version!
First, some things are clear:
- If you are intent on “lobbying or influencing MPs”, and the Government too, then that activity is not in any way affected by the Lobbying Act.
Given that many organisations’ policy goals are likely to be of more interest to specific Parliamentarians than the media or public then this may be a very sensible way forward before the dissolution of Parliament on 30/3/15.
- If however you are seeking to influence voters at anytime from September 19th up to the general election (whether on a specific issue or for/ against a specific party) including canvassing, production of election material such as adverts, leaflets and websites and/or to hold public rallies (or other public events) then you are covered and should register.
There are however exemptions – just to make life complicated! For volunteers (because presumably it would be hard to put a price against these as they give their services for free); for annual conferences of non party campaigners; and for translations into or out of Welsh! And don’t forget if your foray into influencing the public is costing less than £20,000 then none of the above applies. Nor, it should be added, do you need to register if you are organising scrupulously impartial hustings.)
But by and large those organisations seeking to “lobby” have to choose.
- Focus entirely on existing MPs and Minsters (especially those central to drafting the manifestos) and then go on holiday between 30/3/15 and May 7th. In which case no registration required.
- Register with the Electoral Commission and get on with propagating your key messages to PPCs, the public and media. This is absolutely legitimate democratic activity and nothing to be ashamed of. All you need to worry about is not spending more than the allowed limits across the nations of the UK including £319,000 in England.
Connect are here to help you navigate through some of the many legislative grey areas for example regards publishing manifestos, where it may be possible to avoid registration but it may be safer to do so, or when working as part of a campaigning coalition. We would also encourage organisations to give legislators your views on how time consuming and difficult the Act is to comply with including by inputting into: http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/agenda-2015/policy-review/policy-review/part-2-of-the-lobbying-act
At the end of the day the Lobbying Act is at best irritating and unnecessary red tape – it also works against larger membership bodies including the bigger trade unions whose members would probably be quite happy to spend more than the totals allowed. The Lobbying Act should however not stop you getting on with the day job: putting forward your organisation’s views in the nine months before a General Election that is too close to call, as is your right and indeed is a virtue in a plural modern democracy.