Campaigning, the Students' Union & The Law
Creating change through campaigns is an exciting and rewarding experience. The Students Union coordinate and help students to run campaigns on local, national and international issues.
As a Students’ Union we need to ensure that any work that we do fits within the legal frameworks in which we have to operate, as outlined below. We do have a couple of areas that we need to work out if we are able to promote or support this series. As a charity we are not allowed to campaign on areas that are outside of our charitable objects and we we would only be able to use our education and debate function if it we’re an unbiased event/series.
SU Campaigning has to work in the following legislative framework:
- Charities Act 2011 (in England and Wales)
- Education (No. 2) Act 1986 (relevant sections apply across the whole of the UK)
- Education Act 1994 (in England, Wales and Scotland)
- Representation of the People Act 1983 (across the whole of the UK)
- Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (across the whole of the UK)
- Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (across the whole of the UK)
London South Bank Students' Union is a charity, and must act within the confines of the law relating to charities and political campaigning, this includes recent amendments through the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act (2014) hereinafter referred to as the "Lobbying Act 2014".
There are essentially three golden rules that we have to consider prior to undertaking any campaigning activity as a Students’ Union.
- Golden rule one – students’ unions shouldn’t use their resources to campaign on an issue that does not affect “students as students”.
- Golden rule two – students’ unions should maintain neutrality when it comes to political parties
- Golden rule three – students’ unions should not give money or resources to other organisations to do things that they are not allowed to do themselves
What can we campaign on?
It is generally accepted that students’ unions can and should campaign on issues that directly affect students because of their student status or their position as a student in the community. It is also likely to be legitimate to campaign on issues that are likely to affect students in the near future (e.g. graduate unemployment), or on issues that are likely to affect future students as students (e.g. a change of funding policy that takes effect in three years’ time). It is important to remember that, constitutionally, students’ unions will often exist for the benefit of students in a particular university or area. So, campaigning will only be lawful where the issue affects students (or future students) in that university or area. This could include national issues which affect those students or future students.
It is not lawful for a students’ union to commit resources to campaigning on an issue that affects students, only because they are people in the community, like everyone else. To do so would mean the students’ union was acting outside of it's charitable objects.
We have put together some examples of what would usually be permitted and what would usually be restricted campaign issues below:
Example permitted campaign issue
Example restricted campaign issues
Campaigning against Tuition Fees (as applied to their geographic area i.e. England)
Against Academies and Free Schools
Campaigning for improved public transport locally.
Nationalisation of rail
Campaigning on the cost of living & rents (when link to the affordability of students)
Against Military Action in Syria
Crucially, this principle only relates to campaign action. It does not mean that a students’ union cannot facilitate debates on wider issues which do not directly affect students as students; in fact, as an educational charity this debating role is central to the union’s core purposes.
If these debates reach a resolution, the union can take an official position on any issue (including those where it would not be allowed to campaign on the issue). This is sometimes called ‘reaching a corporate conclusion’. So even where an issue does not meet the test of directly affecting students as students, students’ unions can lawfully do any of the following things:
- Host a fair and balanced debate involving students and/or guest speakers on any issue
- Provide fair and balanced information to its members on any issue
- Adopt resolutions on any issue through its formal democratic structures, such as union councils, general meetings and referenda
- Communicate any resolutions decided on by those bodies to its members
- Represent positions taken to the university or college, or to NUS