Throughout the development of UK and Scottish lobbying rules, there has been disquiet about the potential effect on charities and the campaigning and influencing they undertake to further their purposes. Comments have included:
"Charities should not be gagged, and they won't be." Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo
"The Lobbying Act could have an absolutely chilling effect on debate and legitimate criticism." Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO
"We've had clear evidence that a number of campaigning groups have already decided not to campaign or not to join with other bodies to campaign on an issue because they are frightened of running foul of the act." Lord Harries
There has been a UK-wide Lobbying Act since September 2014. We have updated charities about this before.
In addition, we now have the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016. This relates to Scotland and has a different focus from the UK-wide Lobbying Act. It also has different requirements. The Scottish rules create the Lobbying Register. What is to happen under the new rules is being currently trailed in a 'familiarisation' period before becoming fully in force from Monday 12 March 2018.
Charities and third sector bodies are NOT exempt: adopt a policy
Charities are not exempt from the register's requirements and must take action to understand the requirements.
Charity trustees and senior management teams should consider what their policy is in relation to the register. The charity needs to appreciate the scope of the legislation. This for is two key reasons. First, to ensure compliance with the new lobbying rules and that regulated matters are not withheld (inadvertently) from the register. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, to ensure that the policy recognises the importance of the campaigning and influencing undertaken by a charity to further its purposes. In other words, a policy being written down that helps avoid the notion of a lobbying register, as opposed to the realities of the actual requirements, becoming the 'gag'.
A lobbying policy will also need to consider the interaction with any other regulatory requirements of the charity as well as having regard to any regulatory or professional obligations and duties affecting individual charity trustees.
What do charities need to report?
Charities must consider what activity falls within the definition of "regulated lobbying". Any activity which falls within regulated lobbying must then be registered online with the Lobbying Register within 30 days and the charity would then need to submit update returns every 6 months thereafter. The details required include, the identity of the registrant and person lobbied, the date, location, circumstances, purpose, the name of the person lobbying and on whose behalf.
Systems and policies will need to be put in place to become and remain compliant as there are criminal offences for non-compliance. However the associated reputational effect of non-compliance is perhaps the greatest risk.
Our full Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 update can be found here.
The introduction of the new Lobbying Register will particularly affect charities that campaign and influence and interact with government and politicians. To help guide on the new requirements and inform your policies, please do get in touch and we would be happy to discuss in more detail with you.