Committee urges Government to withdraw flawed lobbying Bill

05 September 2013

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee today publishes a report on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, ahead of the Bill’s Committee stage on 9 to 11 September.  The report:

  • Supports the aims of increasing transparency in lobbying and effectively and fairly regulating third-party campaigning, but states that the Government’s bill is “seriously flawed”, because of inadequate consultation and a lack of pre-legislative scrutiny.
  • Concludes that the definition of “consultant lobbying” is so narrow that not only would it exclude in-house lobbyists, which was the Government’s intention, it would also exclude the vast majority of third-party lobbyists and particularly the larger organisations. 
  • Notes that many companies undertake lobbying as part of a wider communications and public relations business, and they spend very little of their time meeting directly with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, meaning they could argue they were exempt from registering.
  • Urges the Government to expand the register to include in-house lobbyists, and to cover the provision of advice on lobbying, as well as direct contact with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries.
  • Recommends that Special Advisers and Senior Civil Servants be included in the list of people with whom contact counts as lobbying.
  • Concludes that Part 2 of the Bill, on non-party campaigning, and particularly the definition of spending “for electoral purposes” is confusing, and criticises the Government for leaving the interpretation of this phrase largely to the Electoral Commission.
  • Concludes that the Government has not provided a satisfactory account of the basis on which the new levels for registration and limits on expenditure for third parties have been set.
  • Urges the Government temporarily to withdraw the Bill and support a motion in the House to set up a special Committee to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny, using the text of the existing Bill as a draft.  The Committee should be charged with producing an improved Bill within six months.  The Bill should then be re-introduced to the House and complete its passage onto the statute book as soon as possible.

The Chair of the Committee, Graham Allen MP, said: “This Bill is an object lesson in how not to produce legislation.  There was little or no consultation with those affected.  There was no pre-legislative scrutiny.   And the Bill is now being rushed through the House in a way that indicates a lack of respect for Parliament.  We can all agree on the need for transparency about lobbying and effective regulation of third-party spending.  But this Bill contains serious flaws. Above all, none of the measures will address the scandals that caused comment by the Prime Minister, the Coalition parties and above all the public, who will feel let down by this partial Government response. I recalled my Select Committee in the recess to fill the scrutiny gap as best we could and we have hurriedly produced this Report. One of our recommendations is that pre-legislative scrutiny should be put into Parliament’s Standing Orders as a mandatory part of the law making process so this shoddy treatment of Parliament and citizens cannot be repeated.

“The definition of “consultant lobbyist” in Part 1 of the Bill is so narrow that very few, if any, lobbyists will have to register.  The definition of third party spending “for electoral purposes” in Part 2 is currently unclear and will cause significant problems for the Electoral Commission in trying to interpret it.  The new levels for registration with the Electoral Commission and the new limits on expenditure do not appear to be based on any evidence.  For these reasons, the Government must withdraw the Bill and allow a Committee of the House to carry out proper scrutiny, with the aim of producing a better Bill for reintroduction within six months.”

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