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House of Commons

Friday 1 February 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Commercial Lobbyists (Registration and Code of Conduct) Bill

Second Reading

9.34 am

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I would like to begin by thanking the Clerks for their assistance in drafting the Bill. I know that you are a fan of our Clerks, Mr Speaker, and it is important to place on the record my thanks to Kate Emms and Simon Patrick for their help in drafting this Bill—and one or two others on today’s Order Paper. I am also grateful to the Minister for taking the time to meet me to discuss this issue. Without wishing to damage her career, I want to say it was a productive and useful conversation; I hope the Whips were not paying too much attention to that comment!

I shall address each clause in turn, and will be happy to hear any observations or questions from colleagues. I would observe, however, that a number of other Bills are on the Order Paper, so I hope that we can have a productive and focused discussion, bearing in mind the serious issues to be dealt with later.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): The Bill became available in the Vote Office only a couple of days ago, as the hon. Gentleman will know, and when I asked about it, I was told that there were no explanatory notes. I hope that he will bear that in mind as he goes through the Bill.

Thomas Docherty: The Bill is simple enough, but I commend to the hon. Gentleman both the Public Administration Committee report and the Library note.

On the question of what a lobbyist is, I think we sometimes get things back to front. We have tended to try to define what a lobbyist is, rather than lobbying. For the purposes of the Bill, the groups of people and organisations we are trying to capture are those that are paid or receive financial recompense for carrying out this activity.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman drawn any distinction between a small business that would naturally go to its local MP with any issue and a company, perhaps a multinational, with no links at all to that constituency?

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. If he will bear with me for a couple of moments, I will explain exactly how the Bill makes the distinction, and again I would commend to him the PASC report, which talks about that very issue.

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A high-profile Bill on equal marriage is coming before the House next Tuesday. Like many Members on both sides of the House, I have received a number of letters from constituents and organisations about it. I will take one example. If my local parish priest were to write to me, either as a constituent or on behalf of his congregation, expressing a view either way, he would not be captured by this definition, because he would not be getting paid to undertake that activity. It would be in addition to his remunerated post. If, however, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church or any other Church were to employ a public affairs officer to draft a letter or organise meetings, he or she would clearly be getting paid to organise, either directly or as an adviser, that lobbying activity.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con) rose

Philip Davies rose

Thomas Docherty: I have a delightful choice. I will give way to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) first.

Mr Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to explain the distinction. I will give him another example. The noble Lord Mandelson is in receipt of a European Union pension and as a former commissioner is under an obligation to campaign for the EU. He has recently started a lobbying campaign against the UK leaving the EU. Is that commercial lobbying? It is certainly driven by the noble Lord’s financial interest as a former EU commissioner. Should that be registered as well?

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that example. He will see that we talk about peers in later clauses. With his indulgence, I would like to return later to the issue of peers undertaking lobbying activities later. On the principle, however, if we were to leave the European Union, the pension of the Deputy Prime Minister, for example, as a former euro civil servant, would not be affected. In the same way, that consideration would probably not apply in the case that the hon. Gentleman raises.

Philip Davies: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the fact that EU pensions are forfeitable, unlike most other pensions. However, let me return to the point I raised initially. Where a managing director of a small business, perhaps in my constituency, took on a number of roles because of the nature of that business and one of them was explaining to the local Member of Parliament exactly what was necessary for the livelihood of his business, would that constitute lobbying for financial gain—it would clearly be in the financial interests of the company—and would it thereby be captured by the Bill?

Thomas Docherty: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. Perhaps I could present two separate examples and then he can tell me whether I have answered his question fully. If a local business person is the chairman or chairwoman of a local chamber of commerce that meets regularly on behalf of its members to lobby on issues of concern, they would not be covered by the Bill, nor should they be. However, if a

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Member of this House voluntarily or, as occasionally happens, involuntarily loses their seat and sets themselves up as a sole trader or limited company for the express purpose of being a lobbyist—like, I am sure, many Members, I have had the opportunity to meet former Members who are engaged in that profession—they would be covered by the Bill. The Association of Professional Political Consultants is the largest trade body for third-party lobbyists. A large number of its members are small businesses that are sole traders or perhaps employ only two or three people.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of former Members having to comply with “any code”. Why did he exempt former Members from the passholder requirements? Clause 3(3) says: “Any code shall provide”, and so on—it basically constrains the number of people with passes to this place who can lobby—but exempts former Members of either House of Parliament. That seems unfair.

Thomas Docherty: The Commission is examining that matter, through the Administration Committee, and I did not wish to cut across the work of the Commission, for which I have the highest regard. My personal view—I think I am on record as having said this to the Administration Committee—is that former Members should not be allowed to have passes. I hope we can examine that in the Committee stage of this Bill. I would certainly be receptive to the idea of making alterations to remove the reference to former passholders, but I am mindful that this issue is on the Administration Committee’s agenda and I did not wish to prejudge anything. I hope that has provided some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, because he has led me on nicely—perhaps he read my mind—to the registration of lobbyists, which is dealt with in clause 1. As set out in the Bill, those who undertake this activity—I hope we have had a good discussion and have now established what the definition is—

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con) rose

Thomas Docherty: I see I have roused the hon. Gentleman.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I am not entirely sure that we have clarified the definition. I would like to return to his example of the priest who lobbies on behalf of his religion. For proselytising religions, surely lobbying is part of the function for which they receive remuneration, even if, in the case of a Catholic priest, it is only a modest income to allow them subsistence.

Thomas Docherty: I have an incredible amount of respect for the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have the privilege of serving on the Procedure Committee, but I do not share his analysis of the role of a Catholic priest or, indeed, any other person of the cloth. It is not in their job description to be lobbying on public policy issues. I am sure that on another day the hon. Gentleman

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might be tempted to start the debate about the Reformation and the limitations placed on the Church of England to prevent interference in the monarch’s role in legislating, but I know that he is saving that for another day.

James Duddridge: I thank the hon. Gentleman for amending his Bill in relation to former Members of Parliament, but I must agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). The definition of “lobbying” is totally inadequate. Not only that, but the word “commercial” has been bunged into the long title without any definition whatever. One can make assumptions about that, but where do trade unions or voluntary organisations with commercial arms fit into this? The hon. Gentleman might have an idea of what “commercial” means, but he does not define it in the Bill or leave it open to the Government to define, subsequent to the Bill becoming an Act.

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations. I would say gently to him that this is not the definition that I drew up; it is the definition from the Public Affairs Council’s website and its evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee, and it was accepted by the Committee as a reasonable definition. However, he may wish to take the matter up with the Public Affairs Council, which represents all lobbyists.

James Duddridge: Did it use the term “commercial” or define it?

Thomas Docherty: The term “commercial” has been used to distinguish those concerned from those working in a voluntary capacity. I return to the example raised by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). This is not about an individual constituent, such as the chair of the local chamber of commerce or the chair of a residents’ association, who will understandably wish to lobby their Member of Parliament or local councillor about issues that affect them, but in respect of which they receive no remuneration.

It sounds as though the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is keen to serve on the Bill Committee. He could probably be accommodated, because he might bring an interesting perspective to some of our forthcoming discussions on the Bill. Indeed, some of the issues he raises could be dealt with in Committee.

James Duddridge: I am more than happy to serve on the Committee. However, I have listened to the hon. Gentleman and, from my initial parsing of the Bill, I think that despite its being drafted by a very excellent Clerk of the House, Kate Emms, it is fundamentally flawed.

Thomas Docherty: I am sure that as this day goes on, my arguments and those of other colleagues will persuade the hon. Gentleman to change his mind. In fact, we might even be lobbying him later.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am more sympathetic to the Bill than my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is, but there is a grey area that has not been satisfactorily defined. That involves people who, within their paid work, end up doing a bit of lobbying. It would be hard to explain that they were

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being paid to work 39 hours a week and that for one hour a week they were volunteers. I do not see how we could make a legal definition along those lines.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman has made a significant point. I served as a lobbyist, both in-house and as a third-party consultant, for a number of years. He is right to suggest that someone could undertake what most people would define as lobbying activity on a part-time basis. For three years, I worked in the nuclear industry, for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. My official title was press and public affairs officer, and, in effect ran BNFL’s operation in Scotland. I was responsible for working with the local community on a range of stakeholder issues, I drafted the press releases for the Chapelcross and Hunterston sites, and I looked after Sellafield’s inquiries in Scotland, which involved going to the Scottish Parliament. I also recall spending two or three wonderful days in the Western Isles making a presentation to the council on technetium discharges into the Irish sea.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that someone can undertake lobbying activities without that being their sole purpose. Any relatively reasonable individual—I can think of no better description for the hon. Gentleman—who looked at a job description and saw lobbying activities among the core functions, or the outcome of lobbying as a measure related to pay, would draw a reasonable assumption from that.

I must remind the House that the definition I have used is the one used by the UK Public Affairs Council in its submission to the PASC inquiry on this subject. I have met representatives of a wide range of organisations, including the Association of Professional Political Consultants and Unlock Democracy, and they have been satisfied that the definition is suitably robust. The Bill tries to strike the right balance by using a definition that goes as widely as is reasonable without inadvertently drawing in the kind of individuals that Conservative Members have mentioned, such as members of the local chamber of commerce or people who come along to make representations to their Member of Parliament or local authority.

I will make some progress now, as I am conscious that other Members wish to speak in the debate. A registration process exists at the moment. The largest single organisation is the Association of Professional Political Consultants, which has been in existence for about 18 years. It is made up of most of the well-known lobbying and public affairs companies and many small companies, as well as political consultants—that is, third-party lobbyists. The association has a membership of about 50 companies and individuals who work as sole traders. They all sign up to the association’s register, and they have to abide by its code of conduct. They also have to publish on a quarterly basis a list of their clients, including those for whom they are doing paid work and those for whom they are working pro bono. It is interesting to note that a number of companies undertake pro bono work. They do so for various reasons, and I dare say that some of them do it to get some good PR for themselves.

In 2009, when the then Cabinet Office Ministers were considering their response to the previous PASC report on this issue, a number of the leading players in public relations got together. They included not only APPC members but representatives of the law firms that have public relations arms and of the Chartered Institute of

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Public Relations. They decided that they had a choice, and that a statutory body would be set up if they took no further steps and failed to recognise the significant problems that the PASC report had identified, which Ministers were considering. That was one of the clear outcomes of the PASC report. They therefore set up the body known as UKPAC—the United Kingdom Public Affairs Council.

I was the secretary of the Scottish branch of the APPC for a while, and I attended one of the meetings in the summer of 2009 at which the APPC board discussed UKPAC. I remember counselling the board that a voluntary system would not work, and in the two and a half years since it was set up, it has not worked. I will explain more about that later. It is interesting to note that there was agreement on this issue among those in the industry. It is important to remember that it is an important, multi-billion pound industry.

Lobbying is a healthy part of our democracy. We have already heard some examples of the roles that it can play, and no one has criticised them. We have heard about local businesses or religious organisations being involved, as well as companies being employed by individuals. In a parliamentary democracy such as ours, it is every citizen’s right to lobby their Member of Parliament, and I believe that it is their right either to lobby their MP themselves or, if they feel that they do not have the time or the skills to do that, to employ someone else either individually or collectively to do it for them. That is not to say that those who are so employed and who make a financial gain from lobbying should be allowed to do so unchecked, without any rules whatever. Registration is an important step in the right direction.

A journalist from a relatively august newspaper—not quite The Times; it was an almost august newspaper— phoned me yesterday to ask me how many people worked in lobbying and public affairs. I have taken a close interest in this issue, both before I entered the House and since, but I did not know how many people were working in that field. I think it was the Library briefing note that estimated that only 1% of those working in public affairs were third-party lobbyists—that is, consultants—and that 99% worked in-house. It is therefore vital that registration should cover not only third-party lobbyists but all those who undertake commercial, paid lobbying. Both PASC reports have acknowledged that, as have the industry players and Unlock Democracy—not, perhaps, a natural ally of the lobbying industry. Indeed, everyone—bar one important group of people—believes that any register or code of conduct should cover all those who undertake commercial lobbying.

To use a made-up example, it would be ridiculous if “Landmines R Us” were not required to register its multi-million pound public affairs operation because that operation was in-house, while those whom it employed as third-party consultants were required to be registered even though they accounted for only a tiny proportion of the time and money the company spent in that area.

A Member asked me a question this morning in the Tea Room. I am always loth to give away Tea Room secrets—[Interruption.] To be fair, as I recall it, he was heading out of the door, so I take that into account. He asked me why the Bill did not deal only with third-party lobbyists, and the answer is that they are such a small

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percentage. It would be strange if it dealt only with the third-party lobbyists and not those who work in-house. We need a level playing field. That was the conclusion of PASC and Unlock Democracy, and it was the conclusion reached by the industry itself. I am not sure that the Cabinet Office is there yet, but I know the Minister is considering the matter carefully. Perhaps she will be in a position to comment either today or in the near future.

Philip Davies: I am just wondering how great a revelation it will be for the general public to find out that the public affairs manager for Asda is registered as doing lobbying on behalf of Asda.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the point of registration. The point is not simply to put people’s names on to a register, which is why the code of conduct is so important. The PASC report said that having a register that is not backed up by a code of conduct is, in itself, pointless. The hon. Gentleman is therefore entirely correct to suggest that a having a register for its own sake does not do anything. If no offences can be charged against the people on the register and there are no rules of behaviour, the register will be pointless. I do not know whether what I am going to say will be worse for his career or for mine—

Philip Davies: You can’t do any more harm to my career!

Thomas Docherty: I am sure the hon. Gentleman has a bright future and is good stalking-horse material. Anyway, I entirely agree with him that a register by itself would be a waste of everyone’s time and money.

James Duddridge: Will the hon. Gentleman explain what exactly is being registered? Will it be a company or an individual? In the example mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), the head of public relations or public affairs for Asda will clearly be involved in lobbying, but surely we would also expect the finance director to be involved in lobbying in some shape or form. Would they have to register separately, or would a kind of group registration apply? I am also concerned about the fact that individuals come and go in organisations, as there will be a heavy bureaucratic cost in registering every individual if it is not the group that is registered as a whole.

Thomas Docherty: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I would like to put a question back to him. Can he explain why he thinks the finance director would have to be on the register of lobbyists?

James Duddridge: Because I think the finance director of any organisation should take a strong interest in the taxation arrangements and in the regulatory burdens imposed by the state on the individual company. All that is a broader aspect of being on a company board. On this basis, one would expect the full board to register individually. Quite frankly, if it is not trying to influence the Government, it is not doing its job.

Thomas Docherty: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his clarification. I see where he has gone with that point, and I apologise if I have not articulated the position clearly enough. Let me try to explain it again. The finance director, in and of himself, would not be—and

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is not at the moment—a lobbyist according to anyone’s definition. If a company secretary or executive officer has a job description that includes a reference to being a director of internal communications or to company relations, for example, that individual would need to be on the register. The hon. Gentleman is right about that. On the other hand, an individual who has an interest in those areas in the course of carrying out their normal duties, but whose job description does not refer to lobbying activity as part of their paid role, would not need to be on the register. He is entirely right to raise these questions, but I refer him to the two Select Committee reports produced in this Parliament and the previous one, as well as to the Cabinet Office discussions on this matter under this Government and the previous one. I also refer him to the discussions with the industry and with champions of more transparent behaviour, none of which said there was a problem. I hope that that provides some reassurance.

James Duddridge: I hope to make my own speech later, so perhaps I can drill down in more detail then. The hon. Gentleman has been clear about people more senior than a public affairs director, but what about more junior posts? A director of public affairs and a senior manager will, as the hon. Gentleman has explained, need to register, but what about other people within those teams? How low down in the organisation does it go? Could this prove to be a disincentive to be employed as a secretary in the public affairs team rather than the finance team?

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I would like to answer it before responding to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

There are three different organisations at UK level that keep various registers, and there is an organisation in Scotland called ASPA—the Association for Scottish Public Affairs. Let me give a further example to explain the position. My wife, who is currently on maternity leave, works for Age Scotland. Age Scotland has a public affairs or public relations operation and is a member of ASPA. It declares to ASPA the people who in the public affairs or public relations team; indeed, its head of public relations is this year’s convener; for those who have not had the benefit of a Scottish education, a convener is a Scottish version of a chairman or chairwoman. Because my wife has no direct link to the comms operation, she is not registered. The fact that a relatively small charity such as Age Scotland is able to comply with those requirements shows that this is not an unreasonable burden.

As Conservative Members may know, I am something of a free marketeer and I do not always agree that regulation is the best way forward. What this Bill seeks to do is place a reasonable burden on those organisations for which there is a financial reward from the activity of lobbying. As I say, this goes no further than the Association of Professional Political Consultants already requires its members to do—members that are as large as Weber Shandwick and Bell Pottinger, and as small as some sole traders.

Philip Davies: I am getting more and more confused, which you might say is not difficult, Mr Speaker. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend

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East (James Duddridge) could be on to something with his examples of the finance director and board members. The hon. Gentleman’s own definition of lobbying does not seem to match what he thinks should be covered. The Bill defines lobbying as

“any activity carried out in the course of a business or employment which are undertaken for financial gain and are designed to influence the Government of the United Kingdom.”

That seems absolutely to meet the criteria set out by my hon. Friend when he talked about the role of the finance director, for example.

Thomas Docherty: I am always happy to engage in a lively debate, and this has been quite an informative one. As I say, there is a danger of trying to second-guess two Select Committees, UKPAC, the APPC and Unlock Democracy, all of which have concurred on what is an acceptable definition of lobbying. Nevertheless, there was a genuine question—I apologise for not yet addressing it—about who within an organisation would be expected to be registered. That brings me back to the proposals of the last Minister for the Cabinet Office. We do not know yet what revised proposals may emerge.

The question posed by the APPC for the purpose of its register is “Do you have a public-facing role in which you articulate a policy on behalf of the client?” That applies to companies large and small. When I was an account director and wanted to lobby a Member of Parliament, it would not always be me who telephoned the Member’s office or drafted a letter to the Member, although it would be me who signed the letter. It might be an account manager or an account executive who did the chasing up or issued the request for a meeting, as is the case in many organisations, and because that person would be dealing directly with the Member’s office, according to the APPC’s own definition he or she ought to be registered. The person who came in to clean the office in the morning, or the security officer, would not be performing a public-facing role or trying to influence public policy. I see one or two puzzled faces—

Mr Nuttall: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Thomas Docherty: I am always happy to give way, but let me finish my point first.

As I was saying, I see one or two puzzled faces, but everyone who works in the industry, either in a third-party role or in-house, considers the definition that I have given to be reasonable. I would never suggest that Opposition Members know less than those who work in the industry, but I am myself slightly puzzled about why some of them, who I know are phenomenally intelligent, cannot get their heads around that fact.

Mr Nuttall: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; he is being very generous. I am not sure whether I heard him correctly. Was he suggesting that someone who rings up a Member of Parliament to make an appointment needs to be registered?

Thomas Docherty: That is the current requirement. The Minister may be able to say more when she responds to the debate, but I think that it is what the Government are proposing as well.

Philip Davies: Just because it is the Government’s proposal does not make it a good one.

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Thomas Docherty: That’s the hon. Gentleman’s career over, then.

I am going no further than the Government in this regard. I am arguing—and I suspect that the Minister agrees, although I must wait to hear what she says—that introducing a statutory register that simply replicates the voluntary register that already exists will involve no cost to the taxpayer other than the initial costs of the Bill’s publication and a small amount of Cabinet Office time. Now that the House of Lords proposal has been defeated, the Cabinet Office has a lot more time on its hands. There will be no cost to the taxpayer, because all the fees associated with the running and maintaining of the register and the council will be met by those who work in the industry, as happens at present.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I think that there is always a cost to the taxpayer in these cases, one way or another, but may I return the hon. Gentleman to the issue of the definition? He has talked about industry standards, the way in which lobbying is defined by existing lobbying groups and so forth, but we are talking about the definition in clause 4, which is the definition that will go into the black letter of the law. It seems to me that the black letter of the law is very wide in this context, and that it would include the finance director and the chief executive. I believe that the definition needs to be tightened up in legislative terms, although it may be more appropriate to deal with that in Committee.

Thomas Docherty: I know that the hon. Gentleman has always been a passionate supporter of debates on the clause 4s of this land. As he suggested, the issue that he has raised could be considered in Committee—and I think that I am seeing a volunteer for the Committee, if he can fit us in with his various other important roles in the House.

Even if we accept that there will be a marginal cost to the taxpayer in connection with the work of the Cabinet Office, surely the benefits of a transparent and cleaned-up lobbying industry will far outweigh it.

Let me now say a little about the composition of the lobbying registration council.

Mr Nuttall: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Thomas Docherty: I have started, so I will finish. I have always wanted to say that.

Organisations such as Unlock Democracy have argued that the council’s membership should consist entirely of people who do not work in the industry. That is a reasonable argument, but others advance the counter-argument that the council needs people with a professional understanding of the industry, as is the case with ASPA. At the risk of sounding like a Liberal Democrat—or perhaps more like Tony Blair—I seek a middle way. I believe that there should be a mix, just as there is on the General Medical Council, whose membership includes both people with a background in medicine and people with no association with the profession. Before becoming Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) served for many years on the GMC’s disciplinary committee in the latter capacity. Getting that balance right is a long-established convention in the professions.

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I do not wish to prescribe the precise composition of the council. I therefore propose that Parliament should have an absolute right to determine its composition, but that the Minister should introduce delegated legislation in the form of an order to establish it. I hope that the House will look favourably on that proposal.

Let me now reply to another question. Again, I apologise for not answering it earlier: so many lively questions have been thrown at me today. I was asked what interests companies and individuals would be required to declare. I consider it vital for not just companies but individuals to be registered, for a very simple reason. It is a relatively rare occurrence, but, at present, if an individual who is not registered breaks the code of conduct, that individual can simply move to another company, in which case—if I may use a colloquialism—there will be no comeback. That is why I think that not just companies but the individuals within them should be registered.

Mr Nuttall: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Thomas Docherty: Of course I will.

Mr Nuttall: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, although this is not the point that I was going to raise when I tried to intervene earlier. The Bill does not actually contain even a draft code of conduct. Could the hon. Gentleman give at least some flavour of the provisions that he would expect the code of conduct to contain?

Thomas Docherty: As ever, the hon. Gentleman has anticipated what I am about to say. The question of the code of conduct goes to the heart of the issue. At present there is, dare I say, some divergence between my starting point and that of the Minister, but she is an entirely reasonable Minister, and I know that she is reflecting on the matter.

The code of conduct is crucial, because without a code of conduct a council registration is entirely pointless. If we do not define an acceptable activity, what is the point of spending time on maintaining a register? Let me say a little about what the code of conduct should include and what it may include, and, perhaps, give the House an example of appalling behaviour on the part of someone who has repeatedly failed to sign up to such a code.

For the same reasons that I articulated about the composition of the council, I have tried today to avoid prescribing the full terms of the code of conduct. Some of it will be self-evident; we all know what is and is not acceptable behaviour. I have referred, however, to the specific example of parliamentary passes, which the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East touched on earlier. I believe it is entirely legitimate for an individual to own shares in a company. I am glad we have a free market, as I believe in the capitalist system—I am probably doing my cause with my party no good at all by saying such things.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: But the hon. Gentleman is making himself much more popular with the voters of Somerset by doing so.

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Thomas Docherty: Oh good; I have always thought that the residents of Somerset are sound people, and their cream is pretty good as well.

I have no problem at all with an individual making a comfortable living by any reasonable means, and the fact that someone holds public office should not prevent them from holding shares in companies. At present there are specific rules about how Ministers must conduct their financial affairs. I recall a meeting I had with a Conservative Minister—regrettably, he has now left the Government. I had not heard of him before, so before meeting him I looked up his register of interests. He was appointed by the current Prime Minister to the House of Lords, and he had a vast number of interests, some of which were fascinating. For example, he was director of “Wisden”, which is a very sound organisation. Although he had a long list of interests, however, we all had confidence that he had placed his shares into a trust. It is entirely appropriate that Members of either House should be able to own shares in any company, provided they have no direct influence on it.

However, I do not think it is acceptable—and I think the public agree on this—for serving Members of either House, in addition to their remuneration for their work at Parliament, to be paid by outside organisations to lobby. There were some very regrettable incidents in the last Parliament and in previous Parliaments. A very small number of Members—I will not say hon. Members, because they clearly were not that—undertook activities of which the House and the country greatly disapproved.

There is currently a significant loophole in the other place, as Members there can receive significant remuneration from outside organisations for lobbying—under the definition of that term as set out, and which is accepted by everyone. I will not name the individuals concerned, but I have given the Minister a couple of examples that have caused some controversy. Under the Bill, serving peers—indeed, any passholder—would not be able to receive remuneration from outside organisations for seeking, for financial gain and in addition to their parliamentary activities, to influence public policy.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I am concerned that there may be a pedantic loophole in clause 3. A Member of Parliament who is married to another Member of either House might be exempt from the requirement set down. Is that the case, or is there to be a hierarchy of passes?

Thomas Docherty: I think we all agree that the hon. Gentleman comes at the top of any hierarchy in this House, and I bow to no one in my admiration for his ability to find pedantic loopholes, but I do not think he has done so on this occasion. I am happy to talk again to the Clerks who drafted the Bill, however—and it is again clear that the hon. Gentleman wants to serve on the Committee. To answer his question, the other person will not have received their pass because they are a spouse; they will have their pass because they are a Member in their own right. I hope that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: It does. It is clear that there is a hierarchy of passes. Someone might be entitled to a pass as a spouse, but having a pass as a Member of Parliament trumps that. I am grateful for the clarification.

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Thomas Docherty: I shall return to the broader point on the code of conduct. For the same reasons that I have not prescribed the membership of the council, I have tried today to avoid prescribing the full terms of the code of conduct. Other than stating some of the broad principles, I think it is for the Cabinet Office, following a full consultation, to draw up the contents of such a code. However, I would draw the House’s attention to the codes of conduct that do exist in various forms. Some of them are a bit motherhood and apple pie, but they give an indication of the type of behaviour to be covered.

James Duddridge: If this Bill does not complete its stages but the Government introduce a Bill on lobbying, will the hon. Gentleman encourage them to publish the code of conduct alongside the draft Bill and publish the details of the lobbying registration council, so at least we have some idea of the detail? This discussion feels more like a general debate on lobbying than a Second Reading debate, largely because we are not addressing the details, and the devil is in the detail. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to give us some further information.

Thomas Docherty: I am surprised that Ministers are reluctant to have a code of conduct, and I hope the Minister responding to this debate will set out why they are reluctant. The hon. Gentleman is right that it would be helpful to have a code of conduct. If it helps provide reassurance, perhaps I should give a guarantee that I would bring forward a draft code of conduct prior to any Committee stage of this Bill.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on introducing this Bill. Does any other country have the kind of lobbying code of conduct that he wants to see implemented here?

Thomas Docherty: Is the hon. Gentleman asking about codes on a statutory, rather than a voluntary, footing?

Jonathan Edwards indicated assent.

Thomas Docherty: There is already a voluntary code for the Association of Professional Political Consultants and for the UK Public Affairs Council, and I understand that a number of countries around the world have codes of conduct. Perhaps it will be helpful if I write to the hon. Gentleman after this short debate, sending him a full list. He raises the valid point that this is not a ground-breaking revolutionary idea.

Mr Chope: How would the provisions of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill apply to lobbying organisations based outside the United Kingdom?

Thomas Docherty: That is a valid question. I am nervous about answering, however, because I fear we might end up in a cul-de-sac. Under the current European rules, the employees of companies who operate in the UK would be open to sanctions, even if the company is not based in the UK. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not getting drawn further into that cul-de-sac today, however.

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One of the reasons why I am so passionate about the need for statutory regulation is that voluntary regulation has not worked. Let me give an example of poor behaviour, which I hope will illustrate why it has not worked. One could see it coming a mile off. The vast majority of individuals and organisations involved in public policy lobbying, particularly of Parliament, are credible and honourable, have strongly held views and enjoy the political process. It would be better if there were more people who were interested in the political process.

Let me take as an example the Bill before the House next Tuesday—the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. There has been a good and lively debate, with representations overwhelmingly made by individuals and organisations in sensible and moderate terms. I know that many colleagues would agree that the language in that debate has been much more appropriate than many of us feared it would be, and the people lobbying on both sides of the debate have conducted themselves in the way that I think we would all want to see. There are, however, some individuals who do not conduct themselves in an appropriate way. I want to talk about one individual and one company of whom I have some knowledge—a company called Invicta Public Affairs and an individual called Mr Mark Cummings.

I first knew Mr Cummings because he was head of the office of the public affairs company where I started working in 2007, so he was technically the chap who hired me to come and work at that company. Mr Cummings left the company about five weeks later under rather a large cloud, partly because it was discovered that he was trying to set up his own business, which is a perfectly legitimate thing for someone to do, and partly because it was becoming apparent that he believed that lobbying should be conducted in a way that perhaps was not appropriate for a company with a long-standing ethos, such as the company I worked for. Let me give the House a couple of examples.

James Duddridge: Out of curiosity, is the hon. Gentleman using his privilege here to say something in the House that he is not able to say outside, or are these comments that he would be equally happy to share outside? I genuinely do not know the case.

Thomas Docherty: Some of the comments are a matter of public record. On some I have kept my council until an appropriate opportunity. Of course, it is always a privilege to speak in the House.

Mr Cummings specialises in planning applications. Anyone who reads Private Eye—which I know many members of the Government are caught reading furtively on the tube on their iPads—will be familiar with the section “Rotten Boroughs”. I was talking to an hon. Friend of mine about the Bill a couple of weeks ago. He recounted that when he was a councillor, he once had a meeting with a developer about a planning application and at the end of the meeting the developer said, “Oh, by the way, here’s something for you to read,” and left an envelope on the desk. Some Members can see where this is going. When the developer had left the room, the councillor turned to his officials, packed the meeting up and opened the envelope to find a number of sheets of paper, each with a common theme of £20.

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That would probably be covered by the Bribery Act, although the Minister may wish to clarify that when she responds. That was an isolated case involving a developer, but the problem is still too widespread. I know that many hon. Members have served in local authorities and know that a small number of developers and practitioners of lobbying think such behaviour is acceptable. I want to talk about one such type of behaviour.

Mr Cummings specialises largely but not exclusively in planning and has worked for a number of companies. It is interesting that on his website, invictapa, he does not list who his clients are. This goes back to the lively debate we had earlier on registration. It is important that people are able to see who public affairs lobbyists are working for, and I will come to that in more detail later.

There is a good debate to be had about what happens if someone phones and purports to represent, say, Taylor Wimpey, and you agree to meet them because you are, for example—because he happened to catch my eye—the hon. Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson). If someone phones and says, “My boss works for Taylor Wimpey. He would like to have a meeting with your boss regarding a possible development on the outskirts of Carlisle,” and the researcher says to the hon. Member for Carlisle, “I think it would be interesting to meet this person,” we would all expect that when the hon. Gentleman meets that individual, he is clear whether the person works for Taylor Wimpey directly and therefore can answer questions about Taylor Wimpey more widely, or whether the person is employed as a third-party lobbyist specifically on that project. That is not unreasonable.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con) rose

Thomas Docherty: Of course I give way to the hon. Gentleman, having mentioned him.

John Stevenson: What, then, does one do with people who are, say, planning specialists? That is their profession and they are employed by a business to act on its behalf in connection with planning matters.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. Let me segue slightly into that. For the benefit of hon. Members, “segway” is a type of transport that is currently fashionable with many younger people who work outside the House. More and more planning companies are setting up public affairs arms to lobby on planning applications. That is particularly true in Scotland under the new Scottish planning policy, where for a development over a certain size—say, 50 houses—a public consultation must be undertaken.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if a planning consultancy is directly undertaking the lobbying to influence and shape the policy of the councillors, it should be covered, but if a planner attends a meeting to provide technical answers, that is factual, in the same way as architects and transport consultants would provide technical answers. To return to my example of retailers, if Sainsbury’s brings its head of sourcing along to answer technical questions, nobody outside the House believes that they should be captured by the legislation. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.

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Let me return to the example of Mr Cummings. There is an assumption that a person who is going to meet someone should be transparent about their status and the purpose of the meeting. So the hon. Member for Carlisle has agreed to meet someone because they purport to be an employee of a company that he would trust. Trust is an important factor. I know that many hon. Members have a principled view that they will not meet third-party lobbyists. I respect that viewpoint; they are entitled to it. It is vital that both in-house and third-party lobbyists are registered, so that others can go on to the company’s website, type in such-and-such a name and see if they work for Taylor Wimpey, in this example, or if they work for a third party. The hon. Gentleman may not have agreed to the meeting if the person was a third-party lobbyist.

Once the hon. Gentleman has agreed to a meeting about a particular planning application—he might serve on a Select Committee and be approached in that role, or he might be a Front Bencher with a particular policy responsibility and a company might approach him and say, “That is within our bivouac. I am keen to meet to make our points to you,”—it is crucial that the hon. Gentleman is comfortable that he knows who that individual actually works for. What should not happen is for the first 45 minutes of the meeting to be spent on the subject matter on which he has agreed to meet, but then he is ambushed for the last 15 minutes because the person says, “By the way, I also happen to represent another completely different company—“Landmines R Us” in my made-up example—and while I’ve got you here, I just want to say a few words about it.”

That is inappropriate behaviour. Under the APPC code, which to an extent is motherhood and apple pie, but none the less is a step in the right direction, that is not allowed. When a meeting is requested, it must be clear whether a consultant works for the company that they purport to represent or is employed as a third party on its behalf, and the meeting should be on the agreed subject matter only. If an hon. Member wishes to raise a further matter, that is for them, but Members should not be ambushed.

When Mr. Cummings is pitching to clients or has a client, he will often play off his contacts. To use a legal analogy, we would expect that in advocating a case the success of those who are fortunate enough to be lawyers—I use my brief loosely—would be based on the strength of the argument, not on whether they know the judge. If a lawyer told a constituent that he should hire him because he knows the judge and has another case in front of the same judge and so can have a bit of a word with him, I think the Minister would probably agree that that would not be acceptable. It is unethical and immoral to both clients falsely to purport to have a level of influence or access to a Member of Parliament or councillor on one case and to use it for another case. Having spoken to colleagues on both sides of the House, it is probably fair to say that if they were aware that people such as Mr Cummings were using their access to raise other issues, they would be horrified.

Some colleagues will recall that the Cabinet Office introduced a Bill earlier in this Session to reform the House of Lords. For a reason that I never fully understood the Government dropped that, regrettably. I spoke in

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the debate and said that I thought that the Lords Temporal should be removed in a reformed House of Lords.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Lords Spiritual.

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful, as ever. Lords Spiritual. The following day, on the chair in my office was a brochure from the National Secular Society. I thought it had come in the post and did not think much about it. It went into the round filing cabinet shortly afterwards. Later my researcher asked if I had seen it and told me that it had been on the desk when he came into work. I should probably confess to the Serjeant at Arms that I had not locked my door overnight. A lobbyist employed by the NSS had been given a pass to the House of Lords by a peer, whom I shall not name. It turns out that he was using his pass to walk up and down the corridors of the House of Commons, dropping off materials to Members. He knocked on my office door two or three times, just dropped by, without any invitation at all, looking to have a word with me because I had spoken in the debate. I think you would probably agree, Mr Speaker, that that is unacceptable. Here was somebody with privileged access to the House in a way that other individuals did not have, and used it to obtain undue influence. I hope that you will look carefully at this issue of peers providing passes to lobbyists outside. I know that you have established a commission of inquiry under my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), and you will be aware that APPG passes are being considered by the Administration Committee.

There is a broader issue here about Members of the House of Lords handing out passes, ostensibly for research purposes, to outside organisations who then use that access to come down to the House of Commons to hand out materials and try to catch Members of Parliament without appointments.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I felt slightly guilty when the hon. Gentleman used that example, because it occurred to me that many of us may have done something similar when canvassing, trying to get into blocks of flats that were locked. Perhaps people in glass houses should not throw too many stones.

Thomas Docherty: My house is made of bricks and mortar. Perhaps it is not as fancy as those of other hon. Members. I am not sure how many tenements there are in North East Somerset; probably slightly fewer than there are in central Fife, where the hon. Gentleman was not quite so successful when he stood for election. However, there is an important difference in that any member of the public can buzz on the tenement trade services door—I suspect that the hon. Gentleman does not often do so, although he might for canvassing purposes—but any member of the public cannot simply have access to the corridors of Portcullis House, Star Chamber Court or the Upper Committee Corridor.

Jacob Rees-Mogg indicated assent.

Thomas Docherty: I think the hon. Gentleman agrees. The House authorities should discuss that matter with the House of Lords. I hope that satisfies the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East on why passholders should not undertake paid lobbying.

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To return to the example I was describing, it is not just a matter of the unethical behaviour of purporting to represent one client and seeking a meeting with another. We would frown on that and it needs to be stamped out, but in itself it is not Mr Cummings’s worst offence. The House will be aware that particularly in local government there are rules about what councillors can say publicly and privately during a planning application. That is true throughout the United Kingdom and there are good reasons for it, but there are also reasons why a Member on a Select Committee or considering a matter before the House may wish to keep their counsel on a particular matter. From time to time, we receive phone calls from journalists seeking our views—some more than others, I suspect. It is not unnatural to be happy to provide some background briefing to journalists on a non-attributable basis in order to be helpful, and I know that all hon. Members are always helpful to the media.

Mr Cummings employs someone to phone up politicians or councillors, including Members of the Scottish Parliament, because he operates largely in Scotland, and that person claims to be a freelance journalist interested in retail development in Fife. The caller asks for 10 minutes, off the record, to get people’s thoughts on the provision available and whether there are too many Tescos in the area. The politicians do not know that that is a complete pile of cobblers. This is an employee of a lobbying firm who is trying to establish the views of politicians, either during or before the lodging of planning applications for a major supermarket, for some housing developers. The problem is that it is not a crime to impersonate a journalist. I am not sure why someone would want to impersonate a journalist in particular, but that is the kind of behaviour that the House would regard as completely unacceptable. Many developers are not aware that Mr Cummings is using that tactic, but it needs to be brought to the public’s attention. I hope that the Minister will accept that that is why a code of conduct is so important.

Mr Cummings also seems to revel in bullying. He likes to intimidate people who disagree with his clients’ views. He believes that it is perfectly acceptable to plant employees in public meetings, to support his projects. He does the same if there is a rival project. If two supermarkets or house builders are going for the same development in a town, for example, and the council has only a limited allocation to grant, he will put plants into meetings to heckle those who oppose his clients’ schemes or to whip up opposition to other people’s schemes, often on unfounded grounds.

Mr Cummings also has the interesting habit of putting up candidates for community council elections. For the benefit of those who do not have the privilege of living in Scotland, I should say that a community council is a body of statutory consultation that, unlike town and parish councils, has no levying powers, although it will often get small amounts of money from local authorities to spend on flower beds and clean-up-the-village campaigns. It is a statutory consultee on any planning application. Mr Cummings will find supporters early in the planning process and at the next community council election, which is often uncontested, will stand four or five people to get them the jobs of chair, secretary and planning secretary, to make sure that his clients receive favour.

Such behaviour is utterly unacceptable; no one in the House would regard it as appropriate. It needs to be

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stamped out, which is why a code of conduct to underpin the register is so important. Without that, Mr Cummings would simply register and then carry on with his utterly reprehensible behaviour.

James Duddridge: I hope not to cause the hon. Gentleman too much trouble, but I advise him gently to take a look at the Invicta website and circulate his speech more widely to some of his colleagues, so that they can consider their relationships with the organisation.

Thomas Docherty: That is helpful. I might well take that opportunity and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for suggesting it. One or two members of the Press Gallery might look at the Official Report as well. I keep my website updated with copies of speeches, and after today I hope to place at least a couple of Second Reading speeches on it. The hon. Gentleman has been helpful, and I will take up his suggestion.

I have detained the House for quite a while.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: No!

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman is, as ever, courteous and kind, although perhaps mischievous on this occasion.

There has been a genuine discussion about the principles of lobbying—what we think is acceptable and unacceptable. Let me close with an anecdote about something that affected me personally. As a parliamentary candidate, I opposed one of Mr Cummings’s planning applications for 2,000 new houses in my constituency, in the north of Dunfermline. I supported the local residents near that wonderful greenfield site, which was open for recreation and well used. I should say that Mr Cummings’s client had every right to bring forward an application, and I will not mention their name; I think they were innocent in this matter.

Two things happened that the Minister might want to reflect on. Mr Cummings was organising workshops for the local residents. He portrayed them as an opportunity for an independent mediator to listen to the residents’ concerns. He said that that would allow him and his client to listen constructively to those concerns and to go away and adjust the plans. He did not tell the residents who turned up for the meeting that the so-called independent facilitator was his live-in girlfriend, who was being paid by Invicta to conduct the so-called independent facilitating meetings that were supposed to allow proper feedback.

Any reasonable person would think that a live-in lover who was being paid to hold the meeting would be unlikely to be entirely independent. That is why a register of every employee involved in lobbying is important.

Mr Nuttall: There is a difference between someone who is paid as a one-off and someone who has a contract of employment. Would someone have to register if they were holding a one-off event?

Thomas Docherty: That goes back to the quarterly register. For the quarter during which the person had been employed, they would be on the register. That is why the register must be updated regularly. It is reasonable for a member of the public who goes to a policy or

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planning workshop to want to see the employees of the company in question and to expect the relevant website to be updated regularly.

Mr Nuttall: If the register were updated retrospectively, how would that benefit the member of the public? Two months later would be too late.

Thomas Docherty: The issue is about reasonable balance. Most planning and public policy processes take several months. If the register were updated every quarter, people could see the information in retrospect and say to the developer, non-governmental organisation or commercial company, “Hang on a second—you told me this person was an independent facilitator. It turns out they are an employee of the company.”

Let me be clear. What I have described was not a one-off event, but what Mr Cummings was doing with all his controversial proposals; he would bring in the so-called independent facilitator who supposedly had no links to him or his business. He portrayed her as an academic who specialised in bringing together opposing parties. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised a valid point.

Let me give the final part of my example, because I have detained the House for far longer than I had envisaged. With the local community council, I was mounting a campaign against the size of the development. I have worked in property and believe we need more houses, but the sheer size of this development was the issue. My campaign, in July, about nine months before the general election, was quite effective; the local council was coming under pressure to mitigate, at least, the size of the development. One Saturday evening at about half-past 6, I received a text message. I had known Mr Cummings so I had his name in my phone. I am aware that I am not allowed under “Erskine May” to use unparliamentary language even in quotations, so I will not push my luck on this. Those who are vaguely familiar with sectarianism will know of a thing called the “Famine Song”, which is sung by the more illiterate of those who claim to support Rangers football club and says some fairly nasty things about Catholics, suggesting in particular that they may wish to “go home”. I cannot go into the content of the lyrics of the song without breaching “Erskine May”, but it is hugely offensive.

Mr Speaker: Order. May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that a charitable person would say that this anecdote is tangentially related to the Bill and an uncharitable person would say that its relationship to the Bill is non-existent? In his presenting this anecdote, I am inclined to err on the side of charity, and I feel sure that he will do so most pithily.

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful, Mr Speaker. You are, of course, one of the most charitable people one has the privilege of serving with. My apologies for having forgotten to wish you a very happy 50th birthday a couple of weeks ago. Last time I was here on a Friday with a private Member’s Bill, it was your birthday, and it was remiss of me not to take the opportunity to place that on the record—I apologise.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that Mr Speaker, like Her Majesty, should have two birthdays so that it can be doubly celebrated.

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Thomas Docherty: I think that every day is a birthday for us when we are in the company of Mr Speaker, but perhaps I will leave it there before I get sidetracked from what is a genuinely serious point.

When I received the text message I was pretty shocked, because it was incredibly offensive. I texted Mr Cummings back and said, “Why have you sent this to me?”, and he said, “Because you are one.” It was clear to me and to others in the community that the only reason I had received this offensive and, frankly, intimidatory text message was that I was opposing a planning application that he was pressing for. I am not alone in receiving intimidatory behaviour from Mr Cummings, who is well known for bullying and becoming aggressive, particularly towards women opponents of schemes. He sends people into meetings to heckle those who oppose him. The police took the text very seriously, and Mr Cummings was questioned. He denied that he had sent the text, claiming that it must have been sent by somebody else, and the police ultimately did not press charges. However, I am certain, as were local residents and the police, that it was the result of my opposing a planning application that he was promoting and being paid to promote.

If for no other reason that is why we need a code of conduct that says, “You cannot intimidate those in public life as you conduct your affairs.” Lobbying is a legitimate and respectable activity that is an acceptable part of our democratic process, but there must be standards of behaviour. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.3 am

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. I was chatting to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) earlier and he asked me to be brief in my comments. I had intended to be so, but I am now not quite sure what “brief” really means following a speech of an hour and half; however, it had very good content.

I support the concept of a register but oppose this Bill. This is a very complicated issue, and, in all candour, the Bill sidesteps all the important aspects and all the controversy by kicking that into the long grass and leaving the Government to do the hard work on the nature of the lobbying registration council and what should go into a code of conduct, if there is one, as that could form part of a broader piece of legislation. The hon. Gentleman gave examples from elsewhere around the world which, laser-like, address some of the issues that this Bill fails to go into. The devil is truly in the detail, and the Government are right to go slowly. It is better to do the right thing very slowly than do the wrong thing, or the flawed thing, in haste. We have seen that far too often here in the Chamber.

Transparency and open data alongside lobbying are at the heart of the Government’s reform agenda. They are committed to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. I welcome that commitment, despite there being opposing ideas from other individuals in the House and in Select Committees. I am pleased that the Government have stated that they will regulate lobbying by introducing a statutory register and ensuring greater transparency. Transparency in lobbying is important

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for building the public’s trust. Where lobbying is not transparent, it can erode public confidence in the political process—a problem we have seen time and again across a range of issues. Politics works better when legislators listen to the opinions not just of constituents but of interested parties such as businesses, charities, and a wide range of other organisations. That is why I intervened on the hon. Gentleman to probe him on the use of the word “commercial”. The world is more complex than a simple division between “commercial” and “non-commercial”, because several organisations fit within neither category.

Thomas Docherty: Perhaps it is my fault for not being clearer. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but the reason for using the word “commercial” rather than “financial” is that there is a very specific group of people who lobby on financial matters around the Treasury. Perhaps “professional” is a word that we could consider in more detail in Committee.

James Duddridge: I am happy to serve on the Bill Committee if we get to that stage. I will follow this process whether it be through this Bill or a Government Bill.

I think Members in all parts of the House feel that there is a need to have legislation on this subject, but also to get it right, because putting the wrong legislation in place that does not do the job could be more damaging than not acting at all. I am not sure that either “commercial” or “financial” is right. Probably, looking at international examples, we need to go into specific detail and potentially exempt organisations rather than define them in relation to the Bill. Sometimes when we go backwards and forwards in debating these issues in the Commons, we intuitively think, “No, those people shouldn’t be included”, but struggle to find a definition that excludes them. Instead of struggling with that problem, perhaps a better way forward is to exempt people, in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests lobbying MPs should be exempted.

Lobbying has a clear function. It allows the concerns of businesses, charities and voluntary organisations to be expressed, and it is perfectly acceptable in a modern democracy. It is not fair to say, as some do, that lobbying benefits only the advantaged. The hon. Gentleman referred to a fictional company, “Landmines R Us”, that we could all rally against. Equally, though, there are powerful lobby groups that represent the disadvantaged, Shelter being an obvious example. There are also charities that represent the third world and developing countries, not only helping them directly but lobbying Government for financial gain—not for themselves but for people in those countries. That is perfectly legitimate, and we would not want to exclude them or to put additional costs on to them as a result of this Bill.

There is much debate about the definition. The hon. Gentleman has prayed in aid the consensus among lobbyists on the definition, but I gently say to him that if we took the consensus of lobbyists on all issues we would not need this Bill. Lobbyists historically have got this issue wrong. They have not behaved well, as the hon. Gentleman’s example has ably demonstrated.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman would be right if it was purely the lobbyists who want this, but, having met earlier this week representatives from Unlock

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Democracy—which has been one of the harshest critics, and rightly so, of lobbyists—I know that they are also satisfied with the definition of lobbying.

James Duddridge: I am not desperately familiar with Unlock Democracy, but I remember the name and having a disagreement with it over policy substance, so I suspect that the organisation does not share my views in totality. I am not sure that it is effective to pray in aid that organisation, among others.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): As a point of interest, I understand that the organisation was born out of the Communist party and that it runs out of its old offices.

James Duddridge: I know that Labour Members have a deep background in socialist as well as Labour history, and I appreciate that some of them also have a deep background in and understanding of communist history, which certainly brings something to the House.

This debate has been well received. I was going to point out, slightly more aggressively, to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife that Labour did not undertake anything to deal with this problem in 13 years of government, but that is unnecessary because we are building a broad consensus. However, those 13 years, as opposed to the timely debate on this Bill and the proposed Government legislation, put in context the time it has taken this Government to come up with some details, particularly considering that we are mindful of wanting to do the right thing slowly, rather than the wrong thing quickly.

I want to outline the background to the situation. I am sure there are many other examples like Invicta, but I do not want to go into them. Members of Parliament need to be very careful when dealing with such organisations. I was particularly interested to hear about Invicta’s manipulation, for want of a better word, of the political process by putting up candidates. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to look at whether Government or Opposition Members contribute to the Invicta magazine and consider whether it is appropriate to share that information.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Public Administration Committee, which produced an interesting report. It was kicked off in 2007 and published in January 2009, and the fact that it took so long is itself an indication that this is a complex subject. That is an exceptional amount of time to take over a report. I am not suggesting that the Committee was in any way tardy, but that this is a complicated subject and that the Committee took appropriate time to consider it.

The Committee identified five principles for the register of lobbying activity. The first is that it should be mandatory, and the report goes on to describe what that would mean. The report also says that

“it should cover all those outside the public sector”,

and defines exempt organisations, but even there we have to be careful. Under the previous Labour Government, commercial lobbyists were employed by quangos to lobby central Government. This Government feel that that is inappropriate for a financial reason. It may well also be inappropriate for reasons of transparency. If

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future Governments were to do as the previous Government did and used lobbyists to lobby other parts of the Government, surely they should be defined as being within rather than outside the public sector, so I disagree with the Committee in that respect, although the principle of defining people outside the public sector is a good one.

The Committee’s idea that the register

“should be managed and enforced by a body independent of both Government and lobbyists”

is also a good one. I reel with discomfort at the idea that the body should involve only lobbyists. It is important for corporate structure and governance to involve a wide range of people. I would encourage the body to include people not only from outside, but from within government, by which I mean from the civil service or, perhaps, the House of Commons, to give their perspective. One of the anecdotes used by the hon. Gentleman was that of someone roaming the corridors with a pass for one thing but lobbying on another. I do not think that anyone outside this place would envisage that type of problem, even if it is not too dissimilar from gaining entry to a tenement block. I think that a Member of Parliament, alongside a policy-related civil servant, would add an awful lot of value. When we set up these rules, we need to think about how a lobbyist or organisation would try to get round them. We have examples of organisations that have tried to get round the current best practices and rules and regulations.

The Committee also suggested that the register should include

“information of genuine potential value to the general public”.

Who should define that? I believe in open government and in the production of as much information as possible. Often, from the open-source viewpoint, the most valuable information produced is that whose value the Government have no idea about. It is for people outside this place and outside lobbying bodies to decide. I would be inclined to make the production of information as large as possible.

Earlier we debated who should be registered—whether it should be the body corporate or individuals. I was not convinced by the argument deployed by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife that things have been sufficiently thought through. The examples of the finance director or board lobbying at a more senior level and a secretary or someone who had non-contact time but who worked in public affairs were not considered adequately. The hon. Gentleman spoke of some Members of Parliament accepting meetings with organisations directly, rather than lobbyists. I must admit, however, that when I go through my invites I am much more inclined to meet someone with a solid business title, such as a chief executive, a finance director or a regional head of a business, than someone whose title relates to public affairs or corporate affairs. Inadvertently, I suppose I am pulling those individuals into the lobbying sphere. I would worry if this Bill progressed and the code of conduct remained as defined by the hon. Gentleman. That would make it less likely for those chief executives and business leaders to be prepared to lobby me, because they would need the protection of having to go on the register, which would be very costly. They could not be fleet of foot. I had a meeting arranged with a chief executive earlier this week to discuss an issue. They wanted to lobby me and I wanted to hear about their industry, but their plane was delayed. They are based

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overseas and, according to the method that has been described, could not have sent someone else if they had not been on the register.

I am also unsure about individual registration—giving a “get out of jail free” card to some of the senior management. If someone lower down the organisation who is not registered inadvertently or purposefully lobbies, who is responsible? Is it the most senior person in the company who is on the register? Is it the company’s chief executive? These are not insurmountable problems; they can be overcome, but there are a few issues with the Bill.

The Public Administration Committee also proposed that certain information would need to be provided by lobbyists and by the target of their lobbying, in order to abide by the principles. The information includes

“the names of the individuals carrying out lobbying activity and of any organisation employing or hiring them”.

When I looked at the job titles at a couple of lobbying organisations, I found them a little confusing. I understand the titles “account director” and “senior manager”, but a lot of organisations are proud to hire “consultants”. I am not sure whether that is because they do not have the critical mass required or because they bring in additional people for certain clients. However, it is essential that we look at the consultants who work through such organisations. That is particularly relevant to the planning example.

I am not convinced that publication every three months is sufficient, because a lot can happen in three months. From my experience of lobbying, although an issue may be long standing for those in the relevant industry, it can crop up quite quickly. For example, the House of Commons can have an Opposition day debate that is announced only 48 hours in advance. We will receive a plethora of publications, some of which are produced not by full-time employees, but by a so-called consultant—somebody on the lobby firm’s books—whom they phone up. Such consultants are often people who are well connected to this place and who could lever that relationship for the most nefarious of purposes.

Thomas Docherty: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman attentively and he is making a lot of valid points. Does he agree that when Members of this House receive e-mails, for example from Mr Joe Bloggs, it would be appropriate for the person who sends them to be absolutely clear about who he is, whom he is representing and which company he works for? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and you, Mr Speaker, have noticed that such details are often misleading at the moment.

James Duddridge: The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is tempting. However, the detail might make it problematic. I would not want to do anything that put barriers between me and my constituents. Most of my constituents are good and proper people who are not trying to lobby me for commercial gain. I would not want to put barriers in their way by setting a higher test in order to guard against the activities of commercial organisations.

Thomas Docherty rose

James Duddridge: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, particularly if he has a good way of overcoming that. Is there a way of giving greater protection, without making it harder for constituents to come to me? They might not want to declare who their employer is.

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Thomas Docherty: Let me explain briefly what I mean. If a member of the APPC sends an e-mail on behalf of one of their clients, they have to put on the e-mail not only the client’s name, but their name, job title and company. Although most of us do not take the time to read the bottom of the e-mail, at least the information is there. It will say something like, “Timothy Bell, Weber Shandwick, Account Director” and give the address. In that way, Members are not confused or misled about whom the correspondence comes from.

James Duddridge: I accept that absolutely in relation to pure lobbying firms. However, I have been lobbied by individual constituents, but have been a little suspicious about whether their letters were written by an individual or an organisation because of the level of complexity and technical detail. On some occasions, the same individual has written with a level of detail and complexity on a number of issues. When I have sat down with those constituents, it has turned out that they have been encouraged to write by their employer or their employer’s organisation. We must differentiate between professional lobbyists and such people who represent an organisation and want to lobby us. I would accept the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion if we could do it in a way that did not disadvantage our constituents.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am interested by this line of argument. I wonder whether there should be a general exemption for constituents, because it would be quite hard for a lobbying organisation to find 650 people, one in each constituency, to lobby MPs individually, but nothing should be put in the way of constituents having direct access to their Member of Parliament.

James Duddridge: I thank my hon. Friend. I think that that is the first intervention that I have taken from him and I look forward to many more.

There is a great deal of complexity in this matter. The Royal Society of Chemistry has a great way of lobbying Members of Parliament. It does identify an individual who is on its membership for each Member of Parliament. My constituent came and had tea with me in the Pugin Room and said, “I do not want to lobby you on anything in particular, but hopefully you will be here for a few years—maybe four, maybe longer—so this is the beginning of an ongoing relationship.” That is a kind of hybrid example.

We need to consider these matters in a lot more detail. We have talked about considering the Bill in Committee, but there seems to be an increasing list of things that we must consider in Committee. I wonder whether the Bill has more flaws than can be resolved in Committee.

Philip Davies: As my hon. Friend knows, I agree with him on most issues, but I am in danger of parting company with him on this. I do not see the distinction that he sees between a constituent who works for an organisation and has been asked by it to lobby their local MP, and the public affairs manager for the same organisation who lobbies as many MPs as agree to see them. I do not see the great distinction that we should be so troubled about.

James Duddridge: The fact that this matter has driven my hon. Friend to disagree with me is evidence enough that it is complex. It is a criticism of the Bill as a whole if there is no shared understanding of how we should proceed on these matters.

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The lobbying industry responded to the report of the Public Administration Committee in March 2010. The three main lobbying organisations were involved in that. I shall not repeat their names because the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife has given some background on them. There was an agreement to maintain a register of those engaged in lobbying and of the organisations and clients on whose behalf they lobby.

It is right that there is clarity on who the lobbyists are working for, particularly given the issue of what might happen in the last 15 minutes of the meeting. Lobbyists will sometimes start the meeting on a nice warm and cosy issue, and then hit the Member of Parliament with the landmines issue or, dare I say it, the nuclear issue—a harder subject that the Member of Parliament might be less likely to accept a meeting on when pressed for time.

Mr Nuttall: The promoter of the Bill made that point and my hon. Friend is repeating it. Surely a Member of Parliament is free to say, “I am sorry, but that issue is not the purpose of this meeting and I will end it there because I have other things to get on with.” They can then get up and go.

James Duddridge: My hon. Friend is right. However, he has as much experience of constituency meetings as I have, and will know that quite often, lobbyists come to meetings with constituents. If it is a meeting with somebody who is purely commercial, the Member of Parliament can say, “Sling your hook! We agreed to have a meeting for an hour on this subject and you are going off the subject and abusing the office and the time that I gave you.” However, I have occasionally found myself, perhaps wrongly, allowing an issue to be raised because a constituent is there and is happy for it to be discussed.

Philip Davies: To probe my hon. Friend further, will he tell the House what is the problem with listening to a point of view on a subject other than the agreed subject? It is as if lobbying is a bad thing. Surely lobbying is a good thing if it helps us to understand a point of view a bit better. What is the harm in listening? We do not have to agree or sympathise with a given point of view.

James Duddridge: My hon. Friend makes a good point. However, the promoter of the Bill was referring to systematic abuse. He was not talking about somebody saying, “While I’m here, can we discuss X or Y, rather than arrange a second meeting?” He was talking about the sole purpose of the original meeting being to gain entry into the MP’s office to raise an issue that they had not agreed to discuss.

I prepare quite heavily for meetings with constituents or lobbying organisations, because I do not want to be bamboozled by special interests, but want to be sure that I have an independent view on the subject. If the meeting is hijacked, there is no time for such preparation or to give a good view. When I have meetings, I want to be able to summarise the matter and take a view, rather than saying, “Let me go away and think about it.”

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s courtesy. He and the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) are both courteous individuals, but such courtesy

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is part of the problem and many Members of the House might feel uncomfortable in being as robust as they have suggested that they would be. Some might feel trapped into the last 10 or 15 minutes of a meeting because they would not want to say—to use a colloquialism—“sling your hook!” That is the point; people should not feel trapped or ambushed.

James Duddridge: With the House’s permission, I will accept that comment and move on. This is a broad Bill, and having criticised the House for moving to a general debate, I want to focus specifically on the Bill.

The proposed register does not intend to capture or deter any range of activities essential to a vibrant democracy. I fear, however, that too much bureaucracy will lead people not to come forward to discuss issues with Members of Parliament. In fact, some of the most useful lobbying is very informal. For example, if an issue is raised in the House about the health service, I might be more likely to have a chat to my local GP or those at the local primary health trust, because I know their capabilities and biases and can filter those as appropriate, than to go to a lobby organisation directly. Some of the most effective lobbying will be totally off the register and therefore outside the remit under discussion.

The costs of the consultation have been mentioned and I am deeply concerned about those costs and their impacts. Just because something is of moderate cost to the Cabinet Office, it should not be brushed aside as insignificant. There is a direct cost to the Government that must be funded by the taxpayer, and even more importantly I am concerned about the cost to business. That is not because I am particularly pro-business for the sake of it, but businesses employ people and have consumers. At the end of the day, business cost must be transferred in some way, shape or form, either to shareholders—that is our pension fund and nation’s prosperity—or to consumers. The price of a packet of bourbon biscuits will go up at Asda, however marginally.

We must remember that lobbyists are business people as well. We have said that lobbying is a legitimate activity, but the provisions represent a big barrier to entry. A small business owner who, for argument’s sake, acts in a consultancy in a particular sector, might find that they are increasingly asked for public relations advice by the press. That might not be their core competence, although they might do a bit of it. Where does the barrier between public relations and public affairs end and start? I want people who run small businesses to be able to evolve their business over time. We need some type of de minimis threshold for a business to be allowed to operate within a public affairs arena.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once again. He is absolutely right on this issue. A compulsory levy for an organisation is a hypothecated tax, but a tax none the less, and we are therefore talking about a tax on business. This House should be very wary about increasing the burden of taxation in this country.

James Duddridge: I totally agree with my hon. Friend and I cannot evidence in the Bill any thought or consideration of different sizes of businesses. There is a massive difference between Asda or the might of a FTSE 100 company that might be involved in lobbying,

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and one or two individual businesses. There is no consideration of whether the fee should be fixed for all businesses, fixed per person, or be a threshold to allow businesses to move into the sector without signing up. There is no consideration of corporate structures. Gone are the days where we have one simple limited company or one simple plc. Many companies have subsidiaries, are wholly owned, separately floated or floated in different jurisdictions. There is a whole level of complexity that will make some details of the Bill difficult to iron out.

There are also difficulties in relation to an organisation that is trying to get round some of the proposed rules. People are not always well meaning and will look for holes in the legislation and see whether they can register offshore, have consultants or separate out the lobbying into a subsidiary area. They will see whether they can disguise what they are doing and define their lobbying activity by way of a consultation or public relations, rather than public affairs.

The consultation said that a number of questions had been raised, such as the definition of lobbying and lobbyists. I am concerned about that and about who will be included and excluded in the register. It strikes me, for example, that trade unions should form part of the provisions. One clear role of a trade union is to lobby organisations and the Government for better working conditions, pay and arrangements, and that is quite proper and a healthy part of democracy. Clearly, trade unions are lobbyists, but they are certainly not commercial and nor, on the other end of the scale, are they charities. They do not belong to those two categories and are neither one thing nor the other. We need to define that, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) that we have not done that.

John Stevenson: Does my hon. Friend agree that one fundamental flaw with the Bill is that it contains no specific definition of lobbyist?

James Duddridge: Absolutely, and I would not want to see the Bill go into Committee without such a definition. I would want the Government to define what a lobbyist is—perhaps the way forward is to define a lobbyist by what it is not, rather than by what it is, so that we have absolute certainty that certain organisations will be exempt from the provisions. I am sure that we will have a debate; I am sure Labour Members will want trade unions to be exempt from the register, although I would quite like them to remain on it. We might wish to give preference to and exempt some trade organisations, but we will want others to be very much part of such a register so that we have the transparency sought by the Bill.

I was glad that the consultation received more than 260 responses. Lord Wallace of Saltaire from the other place has eloquently summarised the feedback. At one point, the Government summary of replies to the consultation document states

“in effect, a lot of those consulted regard themselves as a legitimate part of the political process but regard everybody else as lobbyists”.

That is spot on, and quite often people who come to us talk in similar language. Lord Wallace said that although there is need for reform,

“there is a quite remarkable dissensus among respondents”

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I was unfamiliar with the word “dissensus”, but I can work out what he means and I broadly agree with his conclusion.

I look forward to seeing the Government response to the consultation. I believe that some of the inputs to the consultation have been published, but I could not find that, so I assume the Government have not yet responded, given that the consultation was in January 2012—[Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) is kindly passing me a document, but I am unclear whether it is a summary of responses or the Government position. Flipping through, it seems to be the summary of responses, rather than the Government response to those responses.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Miss Chloe Smith) indicated assent.

James Duddridge: My hon. Friend nods and I am grateful to her. I have looked at part of those responses, although not at them all. Perhaps in her concluding remarks she will indicate when the Government will respond to the consultation as that would be helpful for the House. I would certainly find it interesting to read the Government’s response alongside the summary of responses to the Cabinet Office consultation document, “Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists”. The majority of respondents welcomed the Government’s commitment to achieve greater transparency and were supportive of a statutory register of lobby interests. However, there was a definite overlap between the responses on definition and scope; the definition presented a particular issue for many respondents and there was a widespread recognition that arriving at the right definition would be fundamental to the register’s effectiveness. The Bill completely sidesteps that issue, despite making an attempt to define lobbying.

The overarching theme that emerged from the consultation was that the proposed definition was narrow, and a number of respondents stressed that until the definition was clear, it would be difficult to determine other factors raised by the subsequent questions, especially scope. There was also considerable support for consistency in application to ensure equal treatment of all parties. In keeping with the emerging theme on definition, the predominant view expressed under the question of scope was that a wider scope was preferred but that that should not result in disproportionate burdens. That is very difficult to do; I suspect that a balancing act will be needed in relation to scope, and what is in the code and who should be subject to it.

There was general consensus among respondents that it was difficult to address the question of the information to be provided without clarity on definition and scope. The majority of respondents favoured the disclosure of financial information alongside other information. Such an approach is entirely right; it is insufficient simply to say, “You are lobbying on behalf of A, B or C.” Although I said that more information should be available, people can become bogged down by information if we are talking simply about volume over a small number of categories and they might not be able to see the bigger picture. One can imagine lobbyists listing client upon client and our then finding that they are billing some of them only a few thousand pounds, whereas they might

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be charging some of the bigger clients £1 million. Such information allows us to estimate the size of the work that they are doing, which then allows people to track things down. They can ask, “Why are X, Y and Z companies getting £1 million? Why are they on a £1 million retainer for this?” People would be able to examine the marketplace, see what lobbying activity they have said they have done and see press speculation. If there is any gap, people could investigate further, so that information would be very useful.

We have already discussed when the register should be updated. The idea of a formal publication quarterly could work, although we could force people to register slightly earlier and put things on the internet. The idea that we should have a quarterly written publication that is produced and pumped out to all interested parties is somewhat old-fashioned. It would be quite possible to have a rolling register on the internet. That may be more appropriate, even if it were to contain only a rolling number of names of individuals and amounts, prior to a formal publication each quarter, if indeed that were needed. In the case of some of the specific examples discussed today, it would be essential—this is more than a preference—for us to have that information on a regular basis.

We have already discussed funding, so I will not detain the House any longer on that. Interestingly, there was support for strong sanctions to apply to those on the register, so we must ask what happens when things go wrong. We have not debated that at great length, but it goes to the heart of the matter. If someone could carry on acting in the same way, there would be little point in the register. This is not a monitoring exercise. We should not feel better about ourselves just because we catch people doing wrong—or what we perceive to be wrong. That is what we legislate for; this should be about improving the quality of democracy. We need to consider the sanctions. We need to consider how we fine people and whether it is purely a matter for the lobbying registration council or whether the state should take a greater view. Are we going to say that in some cases it is a criminal offence to do certain things in respect of lobbying rather than saying that it is an offence against the lobbying registration council that will be punished internally? Are we saying that the law is sufficient at the moment? This matter is crucial and, as on the code of conduct, it will be incumbent on the Government when they publish a draft Bill to give us a copy of the documents that they are proposing, even if some of the detail is not included and even if the documents are only in draft. Without that information it will be very hard to see from the Government Bill whether it is indeed the appropriate way forward. Cross-party support would be encouraged by the publication of as much information as possible, particularly on the issue of sanctions, which has not been touched on during this debate.

I was going to go into more detail on the definition of lobbying, but I do not wish to do that now as we have covered a lot of that territory. However, I would like to caution against accepting the lobby industry’s definition of lobbying. Clearly, if the industry had been operating well, properly and transparently in the interests of

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democracy, we would not be here today. So it is somewhat ludicrous simply to say, “Well it is agreed by the industry” and then move forward.

Clause 4(2) exempts the activities of Members of Parliament from the definition of lobbying, and I very much welcome that. Clause 3(3) deals with the issue of passes, and I was disappointed that the words

“or former member of either House”

found their way into the Bill. I listened to the reasons that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife gave, and I think he disagrees with that provision but left it in the Bill out of courtesy to other Committees of the House that were considering it. It would be wholly inappropriate if the duties we put on a lobbyist—someone trying to lobby this current House—were less for a ex-Member of either House than for a member of the public. Someone is either a Member of Parliament or an ex-Member of Parliament, and I do not think we should blur the lines on lobbying.

I have outlined the case for caution, and I wish to discuss the arrangements in other countries. However, for the sake of the debate, before I do so I shall touch on issues in the United Kingdom. The UK has a specific problem with commercial lobbying in the House of Commons, and it relates to all-party groups. We have not discussed this matter in detail, but we have touched on it tangentially. I am sure that many of us here are members of all-party groups, which provide a strong function for the House of Commons, despite confusion among the public as to what an all-party group does and what a Select Committee does. Sometimes, these groups are sparsely attended by MPs and Lords, but are very professional operations, and sometimes at their heart are industry lobbyists.

I was once surprised in Parliament to bump into an old friend with an interest in politics, because I thought they worked in outside industry. They were not of an age at which I would have expected them to be an intern, and neither were they one of the more senior staff members. I could not see their pass, so I asked, “What brings you here?” They turned it around, and it was a blue pass. I am not sure if you are familiar with blue passes, Mr Speaker, but they are for all-party groups. This individual was paid by an external lobbying organisation and had a House of Commons pass not issued by an MP. I am not sure who issues them.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Is it not astonishing that all-party groups are issued with passes, but our colleagues in the European Parliament are not?

James Duddridge: I will not be tempted down that line, because I suspect I take a different view in relation to MEPs. It would be an interesting but fruitless tangent to this debate.

It is shocking that people can get passes as staff of all-party groups. If I was a chair or senior officer of an all-party group and had a spare pass—we are allocated three or four passes—and, in my name and on my authority, granted it to an individual working for an all-party group, that would be fine. I would be taking personal responsibility for their behaviour on the estate; such people would be representatives of parliamentarians. It is wrong, however, that paid lobbyists have passes not

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signed off by an MP. Our passes are rationed, as we can issue only three or four, so I have to decide, for instance, whether to issue one to my caseworker who occasionally comes up from Southend. As well as rationing, there must be a proper analysis of what passholders are doing here.

On 2 January, The Times published an interesting investigation into the funding of all-party groups that again raised the issue of defining lobbying. In some cases, organisations have good reasons for funding all-party groups; for instance, they might want a genuine debate on their broad subject area. I am sure, however, that we have all felt uncomfortable about the dominance of funding in certain all-party groups or about what the secretariat was doing—who is it representing, is it genuinely representing the Lords and MPs or the people who pay the secretariat?

Having said that, it would be inappropriate to throw out all the secretariats and financial relationships. For instance, I spend a lot of time on African issues, many of which cannot easily be funded by commercial organisations or the countries themselves, and in those cases it is entirely appropriate to have academic institutions funding secretariats. I am less comfortable, however, with big businesses funding such arrangements. The Times thought that at least a dozen all-party groups had received funding or benefits from outside organisations in the past 12 months, with the amounts involved totalling more than £1 million a year.

I think that Members might be sleepwalking towards potential problems. A couple of times, I have been asked to sign up to an all-party group of perhaps tangential interest to me or my constituency. On those occasions, I have lent my name to the group with the intention of attending perhaps only one or two meetings a year, but these groups meet regularly and churn out reports that are perceived to carry the authority of the House of Commons. Quite often in the morning, Radio 4 will mention a report from the House of Commons. Sometimes, it refers to a Select Committee report, but sometimes I think, “That’s a little odd; the Committee wouldn’t have said that,” and it turns out to be an all-party group funded by outside support. Given our limited resources for members of staff, it is often only with outside support that we can produce an extensive paper.

I would therefore like the Bill to take account of all-party groups. I have raised the issue of blue passes and have tabled a few probing written questions about the number of people involved.

Thomas Docherty: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments. May I propose, because he is making some valid observations, that he write to the PAC, which, as I said, will shortly be examining the issue of passes and resources provided by the House to all-party groups?

James Duddridge: I will certainly discuss it with the PAC, but I think it odd when MPs give evidence to other MPs; there are more eloquent ways to do it than through formal evidence. If a written submission would be helpful, however, I would be more than happy to make one.

Thomas Docherty indicated assent.

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James Duddridge: The hon. Gentleman indicates that it would be helpful, so I undertake to do so.

Let me return to the issue of commercial lobbying and the experience from outside the UK. There is a wealth of information about what happens elsewhere. I have looked at the history of how other countries have developed their commercial register and the problems they have encountered. In virtually every case I have come across three or four problems, not only for the implementation of this Bill, but for the broader issue of establishing a register, which is a commitment from the coalition.

Mr Nuttall: Does my hon. Friend agree that the conclusions he has drawn from the experience in other countries support my view that we would be better off not having a register at all?

James Duddridge: I certainly agree that we are better off not having a register than having one on a flawed basis. Just because it is complicated, it does not follow that we should not try; but if we try, yet fail to deal with the complexity, I will certainly support my hon Friend’s view that we should not proceed.

I hope that I do not further agitate my hon. Friends on the Benches behind me by mentioning the European Parliament and the European Commission, which have a transparency register—it is rather like a people’s democratic republic, which will normally do the opposite of what it says on the tin. The transparency register builds on earlier, separate registers from the European Parliament and the Commission, and was launched on 23 June 2011 to register and monitor organisations and self-employed individuals engaged in EU policy making and policy implementation. I am amazed at the number of people of my age who seem to flit backwards and forward from here to Brussels lobbying. These are not people who are interested in politics or specialist EU lawyers; they are people from mainstream organisations and industry specialists who are having to spend more and more time with the European Parliament and the Commission.

Mr Nuttall: It appears from the definition of lobbying in clause 4(1) that a company that was set up in this country for the purposes of lobbying Members of the European Parliament would not need to register. Does my hon. Friend think that is right?

James Duddridge: I am a little confused. I stand to be corrected, but I think that such a company would need to register while we remained part of the European Union. Interestingly, the register there is free, so the European Union is looking at getting the maximum amount of information and funding that from general taxation—our taxation.

Philip Davies: I should point out—I suppose this is an indication of how confusing the issue is—that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) makes a valid point, because the definition of lobbying in clause 4 refers to

“activity carried out in the course of a business or employment which are undertaken for financial gain and are designed to influence the Government of the United Kingdom, Parliament, any local authority in England or any member or employee of any of those bodies in formulating its official policy.”

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Surely it is clear from that definition that what my hon. Friend said about the register not applying to people working with the European Parliament is correct.

James Duddridge: I now understand the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) was making. My hon. Friends are absolutely right: under this Bill, there is nothing to compel an organisation from the United Kingdom—or, indeed, anywhere else—that lobbies the European Parliament. I wonder whether, because of the nature of the European Parliament’s rules, there are any EU regulations about that. Logically, I expect that we would be forced by some directive to push it through by the back door; otherwise, if each country did not have to abide by it, such a register would be pretty meaningless.

Thomas Docherty: I think we are all fascinated by the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, but I suspect that we are in danger of losing track of time. Has he had a chance to look at the Order Paper? If so, has he seen that we might, quite inadvertently, accidentally talk out a subsequent Bill for which there is a great deal of public support?

James Duddridge: I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I can assure him unequivocally that I will not speak for anywhere near as long as he did. It is quite common in this place to have certain individuals—I shall not name them—shamelessly talking Bills out, but never before have I seen an hon. Member trying to talk out his own Bill. I ask him to intervene on me again if I get anywhere close to the length of his speech.

I will try to be brief, but there are a number of countries with really interesting examples. Just before I leave the subject of European Union, I want to point out that it has gone for a wide scope, yet it leaves out certain organisations, one category of which is described as “social partners”. I was not quite sure what social partners were, particularly in the light of the debate that we will have next Tuesday, but it turns out that they include trade unions and trade associations, both of which I would like to see included in the register. So if four or five companies in, say, the concrete industry had their own lobbying organisations, those organisations would have to be on the register, but if they spent the same money employing a trade association to do the same job, that trade association would not have to be on the register. That is absolutely bonkers, but it illustrates how the European Parliament has done what I fear the Bill might do, and what the Government might be tempted to do. I fear that, in the interest of trying to do the right thing, they might actually cause a lot more confusion and complexity. I could go on about the specific information requirements. An annual information update is required, yet I get the feeling that hon. Members think that a quarterly update is insufficient.

Turning to the regulations in the United States, I am amazed by their detail and complexity. They make the EU look almost lightweight in comparison.

Mark Tami: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

James Duddridge: Yes; I look forward to hearing more information about the Communist party.

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Mark Tami: I have nothing more to add on the Communist party at the moment. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the US. Does he agree that its regulations go to ludicrous lengths? I understand, for instance, that people are not allowed to have a sit-down meal with a lobbyist, although they are allowed to eat finger food. They are not, however, allowed to eat that food with a fork, because that would constitute a meal. They also have to wear badges with an L on, to identify them as lobbyists. Does he think that that is going too far?

James Duddridge: The hon. Gentleman’s research into this subject is much greater than mine. The arrangements are even more ludicrous than I had thought. Even here in the UK we have some ludicrous examples. One person on the Greater London assembly has told me that, when they are invited out to lunch with someone who might be a friend but who might also be lobbying them, they look down the menu and pick whatever ensures that they stay below the threshold, simply to avoid the administrative hassle, rather than to avoid declaring the relationship. All sorts of odd scenarios come about because of the level of complexity in the regulations.

Gone are the days of companies being in just one jurisdiction. British companies already bear the burdens of EU requirements—I am not quite sure how—and of US regulations. These provisions would be an additional issue for them. They would not be incremental additions; they would create added complexity as all the different requirements were put together.

One area in which the Americans have got it right is setting out details of punishment for people who do not comply with the regulations. The Bill does not touch on that matter, and it has not been discussed today. Turning to neighbouring Canada, its first attempt to regulate lobbying was the Lobbyists Registration Act, which came into force in 1989. It was not the first such attempt in the world; I will come to the Australian example later, if time permits. That 1989 Act provided for the public registration of individuals paid to lobby public office holders. It covered consultant lobbyists, commercial in-house lobbyists and not-for-profit organisations. It is interesting that it included that last category; the Bill does not do so, and I think that that area needs much greater consideration, particularly as not-for-profit organisations sometimes have commercial arms that cross-subsidise their other work. The lines between each type of work are often unclear.

In Australia, the first attempt at regulating the lobbying industry was the lobbyist registration scheme of 1983. The scheme set up two confidential registers: one for lobbyists representing foreign clients and a general one for lobbyists representing domestic clients. It is fascinating to think about how that worked; I cannot really see the need for two registers. The scheme required lobbyists to apply to register each time they took on a client and to give a short description of the task undertaken. Although I like the idea of having ample information, I am concerned that some of it might be commercially sensitive. A lobbying organisation might want to speak to the Government and other people about a new product and how it would fit in within existing legislation, but might not want to give competitors an idea of what exactly is going on.

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The Australian example—we should remember that this is the most long-standing example of a commercial register—becomes very interesting when it comes to the definition of a lobbyist. A lobbyist is defined as

“any person, company or organisation who conducts lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client or whose employees conduct lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client”.

The definition goes on, however, to state what is not included. This is something that I have said this Bill should do—exempt certain organisations from its scope. Priests were mentioned earlier, and religious organisations are exempt in this case, as are charitable organisations. However, there is a confusing reference to

“funds that are endorsed as deductible gift recipients”.

To be frank, I am not entirely sure what the implications are. An example that I had not thought of was

“members of trade delegations visiting Australia”.

If Australian Members of Parliament came to the UK to encourage us to invest more in Australia, would they have to register under the Bill? Clearly, there was an issue with delegations coming in to Australia, and I think we should look at the same point.

Before I conclude, I would like to mention some other organisations that have registers and some of the issues they face, as a way of probing some of the complexity and detail that surrounds any register. The General Dental Council, for example, is governed by the Dentists Act 1984, which provides for a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to £5,000. This Bill, however, which is not self-regulatory, does not state what the fines will be or, indeed, whether there will be a criminal fine at all. Costs to the GDC are about £24 million, but we have had no indication of the cost of the commercial lobbyist register; nobody has provided any information. One of the weaknesses of private Members’ Bills, alongside their many benefits, is that there is no regulatory assessment and no clear statement of the burdens placed on businesses. It is clear in the case of this Bill that there will be significant costs. There are about 38,000 dentists, but no one has identified how many lobbyists there are, and this is particularly worrying given the lack of clarity over whether chief executives, finance directors or secretaries of public affairs departments need to register. The size of the register has not been considered.

Ofsted is another interesting example. A vast number of cases and concerns—whole processes—are at issue, including failing to comply with a register, but we have not probed or even touched on those points in this debate. If we allow this Bill to pass, I wonder whether we will be in Committee for ever.

I promised not to speak as long as the Bill’s promoter, the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, did. I congratulate him on securing the opportunity to debate this Bill today, which has been incredibly useful. I am sure that the Minister and her Department will have listened to the points that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues have raised. Our debate should be informative and contribute to shaping the Government’s response to the more formal consultation. I urge the hon. Gentleman, now that he has listened to the debate, not to press for a vote, to withdraw his Bill and to seek reassurances from the Minister that the Government are taking the issues forward in a proper and timely way.

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12.9 pm

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): It is appropriate for me to follow the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge). In his comprehensive speech, he raised some questions about Labour’s position, which I shall be happy to set out. Let me begin, however, by saying that I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) has given the House an opportunity to debate this important issue—an opportunity that the Government seem strangely reluctant to provide, as we shall see.

I am sure all Members agree that lobbying is an essential part of a democratic system. We have all been lobbied, and, as we have heard, we all lobby, on behalf of our constituents and in favour of causes that we care about. At its best, lobbying gives diverse sections of our diverse democracy—groups and individuals—an opportunity to make their voices heard, and therefore makes for better, and better-informed, Government decisions. I am sure the House agrees that that is in all our interests. However, as the Prime Minister has infamously said, lobbying

“is the next…scandal waiting to happen.”

Foresight is not necessarily a quality that we associate with the Prime Minister. For example, he foresaw the end of the Conservative party’s “banging on” about Europe. On this occasion, however, he was correct, although he did not say whether he foresaw himself being at the centre of those lobbying scandals.

During the past two years, there has been a string of disreputable stories. We have had opaque links with special advisers in certain well-known news organisations, we have had the Adam Werrritty affair, and we have had cosy “kitchen suppers” in Downing street. I am told that a “kitchen supper” is a meal without the servants and the silver; I suppose that, to that extent, I have been having kitchen suppers all my life without knowing it. Stories of that kind fuel a public perception that those who can afford it have access and influence at the very highest levels, whereas ordinary people are left on the outside looking in.

Ours is a divided nation: divided by access to power. On this side of the House, our one nation vision is one in which politics is open to all and transparent to all, in which political lobbying companies and corporate interests do not boast of having special influence in Downing street, and in which Government Departments do not summarise the views of more than 1,000 people who have responded to a consultation—ironically, on lobbying—under a single heading, next to a list of separate summaries of the views of individual corporate respondents. I hope that the Minister can explain how that happened.

Only this week, we heard of big alcohol companies pouring money into lobbying agencies in an attempt to influence the debate on minimum pricing, which is an important health issue. Their tactics were described by Alcohol Concern as similar to those of the tobacco industry, designed to

“mislead, bully and spend their way to a policy change.”

At the same time, health charities on the other side of the debate about minimum pricing have seen their funding cut.

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Politicians in this country have yet to repair the damage done to public confidence by the expenses scandal. Part of the process of doing so must involve a Parliament that represents the interests, and therefore the influence, of the many, not the few.

Let me now deal specifically with the Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife for introducing it. We believe that some issues, several of which have been raised today, would benefit from further parliamentary scrutiny. It is essential that any legislation does not interfere with, or put undue burdens on, the legitimate activities of businesses, charities, consumer organisations or constituents, and some Members have given examples of how that might happen. Consequences, intended and otherwise, especially in respect of local authorities, must be thoroughly examined in Committee.

We support the aims and much of the substance of the Bill, however. The last Labour Government were the most open and transparent Government ever. The Labour party opened up Government by introducing the Freedom of Information Act, created a code of conduct for special advisers, introduced and strengthened the ministerial code, and published the private interests of Members on a six-monthly basis. When we left office in 2010, we had committed to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists, requiring people to register as lobbyists and also to register the identities of their clients. That is not a particularly radical idea; many democracies have similar registers of varying depth and breadth.

We know that a London loophole has developed for the financial industry. I understand that some lobbying organisations choose to lobby from London because of the lack of transparency here. I hope the Minister agrees that we do not want London to become a destination for obfuscation.

James Duddridge: Does the hon. Lady have any relevant examples that she can mention of organisations that have been set up in London rather than another jurisdiction?

Chi Onwurah: I do not feel it is appropriate to mention the names that have been presented to me of organisations set up in London to lobby in the United States—I can give that much information. If the hon. Gentleman is particularly interested, I will take advice and will happily write to him later if doing so does not breach the confidence of the person who shared that information with me.

We wholeheartedly agree that lobbyists play an important role in our democracy. Individuals, charities and business must have open access to Government, and that access should not be impeded by legislation. However, that access should also be transparent, and any register should not impede that.

Lobbying is not, and should not be considered to be, a murky or disreputable business that takes place in the shadows. It is in the interests of the lobbying industry to put that reputation behind it, and a Bill such as this one would help it to do so.

I think all Members on both sides of the House agree on the principles and that a register is necessary.

Philip Davies: No, we don’t.

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Chi Onwurah: With some honourable exceptions, we agree on the principles and that a register is necessary. That was in the coalition agreement and it was in our manifesto. [Interruption.] There may be some disunity as to what is supported in the coalition agreement, but it sets out the original intentions of the coalition, as cemented in the rose garden those many months ago. [Interruption.] Yes, cemented with roses. I apologise for the mixed metaphor.

As we have heard, it is important that we have the right register and the right regime behind it. The Bill goes much of the way to getting us where we need to be. It is important that there is no cost to the taxpayer. A register should therefore be funded by industry and it should comprise all those who lobby, including agencies and in-house lobbyists. Although meetings with third-party lobbyists make up less than 1% of all meetings with Ministers, they allow vested interests to hide their lobbying activity from the public eye. We therefore support the inclusion of a code of conduct. It is necessary if the register is to be enforceable, as my hon. Friend set out, and it is sensible that it be drawn up by an industry council. A model similar to that of the General Medical Council seems appropriate, but these are details to be discussed in Committee.

I am puzzled as to why we have been waiting so long on an issue on which there is relative agreement on the main principles. We are mid-way through this Parliament and we have yet to see any legislation. I read the Government’s own mid-term review with interest. The commitment to a statutory register is there, repeated on page 39, although with no further details about when or what it might look like—a commitment with no action associated with it. The commitment was in the same box as the boundary review. Those of us on the Opposition Benches are beginning to wonder whether the Government’s plans for the register have gone the same way as those for the boundary review. We sincerely hope that is not the case. Whatever the reason, it is unfortunate that here we are, halfway through this Parliament, yet the Government have not introduced their own Bill and continue to drag their feet on doing so.

The 2010 Labour manifesto pledged to bring forward statutory registration. The Conservative manifesto pledged to do so if the lobbying industry failed to regulate itself. The lobbying industry was already, as it were, drinking in the last chance saloon prior to the last election, so even then the Conservatives were a step behind. Conservative Members seem to think the last chance saloon never closes.

I cannot help but draw parallels between the Government’s inaction on lobbying and their inaction on the Leveson inquiry—two industries that are a vital part of the democratic system, two industries that have repeatedly been the sources of scandals that undermine public confidence, two industries untouched by Government action. As with the media, the Government seem to be ordering the lobbying industry yet another round of cocktails in the last chance saloon, only it is our democracy which is paying the bill.

Shortly after the election Sir Philip Mawer, chairman of the UKPAC implementation group, said that lobbyists are fooling themselves if they expect a respite in politicians’ scrutiny of the industry. I pay tribute to Sir Philip and his efforts, but perhaps he reckoned without this Government’s complacency two and a half years later.