On 27 April, the Review of Third Party Campaigning headed by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con) issued 3 surveys to obtain evidence about how third parties operate during elections. These surveys are seeking evidence directly from the following three groups, and this exercise will close on 7 June 2015:
The Review Group
The group undertaking the Review of Third Party Campaigning is headed by Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con), whose appointment was announced in January, Commons Hansard 28 Jan 2015, Vol 591(101) Col 24WS and its Terms of Reference published on 21 April. Lord Hodgson is supported by two staff seconded from the Cabinet Office, and the broad aim of the group is to “[look] at the 2015 general election to see how well the regulatory system for third party campaigning works.”
The review is independent of government; sponsored by the Cabinet Office; and was established under s39 Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. Lord Hodgson has said he will be guided by the following principles:
- Independence: the review is independent of government, political parties and any interest group,
- strategic context: to understand and recognize the important and complex role third parties play in our electoral system, and
- engagement: to make contact with as wide a range of stakeholders as possible at the various stages of the review,
in the task of “consulting and engaging throughout the run-up to the 2015 general election and afterwards.” Round-table events have taken place in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, and more are planned. In addition to a section on the GOV.UK web site, its activities may be followed on Twitter at @Review3rdParty.
The Act requires publication of the official independent review of the effect of Part 2 by November 2016, although Lord Hodgson has said this will be towards the end of 2015
“Third parties” and “Non-party campaigners”
The review group describes “third parties” as
“organisations or individuals that are not standing for election themselves, but are spending money on certain election-related activities or material, seeking to influence the outcome of the election. This could be for or against particular candidates or political parties, or campaigning on particular issues,”
i.e. “third parties” engaged in “non-party campaigning” under the provisions of Part 2 of the Act. The Electoral Commission has clarified the use of these two terms:
“We [the Electoral Commission] call these individuals and organisations non-party campaigners. In electoral law they are called third parties”.
Unfortunately, the questionnaire intended for third parties and others is very limited in scope. Frank tried to answer it in his capacity as Secretary of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service, which had a serious interest in the issue on behalf of member Churches that might have to register under the Act. However, the “third parties and others” survey is only relevant to those charities that actually campaign: it is not very much use to charities that merely wish to express a view on the utility or otherwise of third party provisions of the Act. Following the General Election, however, Lord Hodgson will issue a call for evidence and hold a series of roundtable discussions with interested parties. The discussions will explore wider issues around third party campaigning and give respondents a chance to share their views on what the regulations should cover.