3.51 pm

John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) and for St Albans (Mrs Main). I do not necessarily agree with everything they said, but at least they have been thoughtful and have a good idea of what they are talking about. A number of my Opposition colleagues have also made very good speeches.

We have to agree that not all lobbyists are bad. As Members of Parliament, we get a lot of information from lobbyists that we use to our benefit. There is no

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way that I, as a member of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, could see every person who wants a meeting with me, but I try to meet those who will shed a light on whatever idea the Committee is talking about at the time. We use that information when we talk to Ministers and that is how it should be.

I do not believe that the Bill gives us transparency. It is very narrow and I think that an idea was formed somewhere along the line about how it could be used. Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) that it is a bad Bill, I also think that there must be a reason why these things are being done. These people are not idiots—they know what they are doing and there must be a reason behind it. Although the Bill is a bad Bill, I believe that its purpose is to stop my party winning the next election. If last week’s vote on Syria had gone a different way—I am glad to say that it did not—would that have been because third parties had lobbied us to support the Government in what they were trying to do?

We suffered as a party in the 2005 election when the coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, picked up a lot of votes on the back of an anti-war vote. Their support slackened off, as we saw when we got to the 2010 election. I believe that the Bill would have stopped the third parties in 2005 saying, “Don’t vote for a Government who go to war.” I think that worked against us. The Government are not that stupid, and avoiding that is one reason why we have the Bill. We have talked about the rail network and its effect, and the same applies here. The Bill could be used against anything that is anti-Government.

What are we doing? We are talking about registers of interests. Only 1% of those who lobby will be put on a register and the rest would not be on it. Why would that be? Who are we highlighting—the small groups, the individuals and the third-party wee groups who get together occasionally? Why would we want to do that? There must be a reason. Therefore, why are we doing that when we are not tackling the big lobbyists whom we met regularly? Why are they exempt? I ask these questions—I hope that the Minister can answer them—because I have not for the life of me worked out why the Government would want to do this.

James Duddridge: For many years, this House has not done enough to tackle lobbying. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) produced a massive Bill that was perhaps more along the lines that the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) requires, but it was too difficult; it bit off too much to chew to be good legislation. One might argue that this Bill is narrow in the wrong places, but is there not an advantage in having a narrow and focused Bill?

John Robertson: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I believe that he believes what he says. I actually believe that, if we are going to do this, everyone should be included. No one should be exempt, or everyone should be exempt. There is no point in putting a small group on to a register when everyone else can do as they will. If we are going to do it, let us do it right and put everyone on the list, so that we can see who is lobbying and that they meet the criteria.

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Previous speakers have said that Ministers will be the only ones who will be covered by this. It is funny that although Members of Parliament were exposed on television for doing something, every time that a Minister was exposed there were always rules governing the fact that they could get away with it. I mentioned that Deloitte has been paying for a member of a Minister’s staff—the Minister is not in his place at the moment—for a number of years, yet Deloitte gets billions of pounds-worth of business from this Government. That has got to be wrong, yet according to all the rules of Parliament, no rule was broken. There is something wrong with that.

The Prime Minister employs someone in No. 10 who is obviously having an effect, but he says, “I have not talked to him on this subject.” Well, he has to talk about something, and I dare say that, whatever was important in Parliament, he was getting advice from that person on it. Whether that person should be allowed to give him that advice and whether he should have been allowed through the doors of No. 10 is another matter—and we need not go back to the matter of the gentleman who was supposedly a journalist who did his bit to try to help the Government to get into power and has now ended up facing court charges.

These things have happened, but people keep getting away with it, and I want to know why. If we are going to have transparency in lobbying, transparency in campaigning and transparency on the trade unions, we must do it right. We should not go off half-cocked and try to attack people whom we do not like politically or whom we particularly disagree with. We should include everyone in a proper manner. We should have proper scrutiny. We should talk to the relevant Select Committees to help us with that scrutiny, and we should not ignore them. Unfortunately, what we see is a Government who want to ignore everything unless it suits them, so the question is why.

Another example is that Volker Beckers, who is the former chief executive officer of npower, has become the chairman of the scrutiny committee of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. During his time as the CEO of npower, it did not pay a penny in tax. How can this happen? Is there no scrutiny of these people? Is no one observing what is happening?

Why has this been allowed to happen? Lack of transparency and lack of knowing what is going on are the cause, and the Leader of the House—unfortunately, he is not in his place—must take responsibility for that. He is the man in charge. If he is not following up these things, they are his fault. He is the man who should fall on his sword, and we should get someone who is willing to do what is required.

We have a voluntary register at the moment. I have never been happy with anything voluntary that is to do with business. I have always believed that the register should be mandatory. Unless we make it mandatory and the process is done in a proper manner that we are happy with as a Parliament, we will end up with the same problems that we have today, and we will still have the same arguments.

Let me register an interest as a member of Unite, although I have not received any money off it for some time—certainly not in this Parliament. That might be because I am not doing a good job—who knows? I like to think I have always been a good trade unionist. I believe in trade unionism. I believe in what trade unions

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do. I believe that trade unions fight for those who do not have the power to fight for themselves, and I do not believe that unions should be attacked any more than anybody else. It is amazing that we have a register for them. We have members lists but why do we not have a register of members of the Minister’s party? Should we therefore take on the Conservative party and disband it because it does not meet the rules? If we had a mandatory register, that would be the case, and I would be all for it.

4 pm

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson). We agree on the need for the reform of lobbying, but disagree on quite a lot of the detail and the basic principle that I believe in—that taking some action now on a narrow range of issues is better than waiting a very long time to find a piece of perfect legislation that covers and encompasses all the problems that we face on lobbying. We had a Bill before the House that encompassed all those issues, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), and that was rejected in large part because it was too big.

The hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned that he no longer receives funding from Unite. Had the union been listening to this speech, I would have said that it was much remiss. Later I will discuss third-party funding. Unite spent £16.9 million in the last general election year. I suggest that some should come the hon. Gentleman’s way next time round.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): To equate a trade union, which is fighting for workers’ rights, minimum wage and rights in the workplace, with big companies that are influencing Government is surely the wrong approach.

James Duddridge: I was not linking the two. I was talking about third-party funding and the unions, but I will come back to third-party funding in more detail.

Let me take the Bill chronologically, starting with part 1 on the register of lobbyists. It is an interesting start. I was disappointed that the long title was not written to encapsulate further inclusion of other bodies if there was consensus in the House. On issues of time scale, I deeply regret that the previous Government did not introduce a Bill. I deeply regret that, although it was in the coalition document, we did not have the foresight to start this process earlier, which would have allowed a greater degree of pre-legislative scrutiny, but it is perhaps because the subject is tricky that it has taken the Government so long, rather than their trying to hide something.

Sheila Gilmore: Can the hon. Gentleman explain why we are constantly told that there has not been time, when we are three years and some months past the general election? Not just that, but the consultation paper on lobbying was ready well over a year ago. The Select Committee held a substantial investigation into it. It was clear that the proposals did not suit anybody and did not win approval on either side of the argument. It has been a whole year and a bit since the Select Committee reported.

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James Duddridge: I gently say to the hon. Lady, 13 years and nothing done, three years and we are doing something, and the Opposition in large part are saying, “We don’t want to do it now,” or “It’s the wrong thing.” It is contradictory. I am not saying that the Bill is perfect, but it is a contradictory position that the Opposition are putting forward.

The second part of the Bill deals with third-party funding. The Leader of the House skirted around the subject a little. I referred to it in an earlier intervention as the elephant in the room—the trade union movement. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West is right to ask why the Government are doing this. Clearly, I have a slightly more benign impression of the Government than do Opposition Members. One can think that natural, but looking at the facts and going through the House of Commons Library research paper, I wanted to know who these third parties were. I shall list some of them.

Unison spent £671 million in the year running up to the general election in 2010. The National Union of Teachers spent £121 million—sorry, £122 million if one rounds up the £100,000. The Public and Commercial Services Union spent £84 million. Unite, which receives a bad press, was not spending very much money at all compared with some of the big guns, at £16 million. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers spent just under £5 million and Wales TUC £4.3 million. That list is not absolutely in order. There are about 20 names and I am less familiar with a number of them, such as Vote for a Change Ltd. I mention it because, under the proposed threshold of £388,000, only it and Unison would have been unable to do what they were already doing, so it is not a major issue.

I also note that 38 Degrees is on the list. It spent either £10.8 million or £10.9 million—I do not know which because of my poor eyesight, but it was a sizable amount. I reflect on the e-mails that I have received about the Bill. The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) said that it was not just the unions that had written to him, but other constituents more generally. The vast majority of the people who have written to me about the Bill have been from one of the third-party funders: 38 Degrees. It was said earlier that the Wikipedia entry had changed and that the organisation was set up by Labour supporters and members. There is nothing wrong with that, but I think we need transparency.

Dr Whitehead: The hon. Gentleman might like to take a couple of noughts off his calculations, bearing in mind that the total expenditure by third parties at the last general election was £2.8 million.

James Duddridge: The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct; I was getting carried away—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has asked me to start my speech again. I can list the unions again with the correct figures. For Unison the figure was £671,000, rather than £671 million. For the National Union of Teachers the figure was £121,000. For the Public and Commercial Services Union the figure was £84,000. Those are still enormous amounts of money that, if targeted in individual areas, could have a massive impact.

There is a case for having no limits, but if we have that for charities and unions, perhaps the first organisations that should have no limits are political parties. The House has taken the view, and legislated on it, that we should

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limit public expenditure. Anyone who has been a student of American politics can very much see why. Colleagues in Congress, when they hear how much we spend in individual constituencies, are dumbfounded at how little money is involved. What we do not want to see in the United Kingdom are political action committees or things of that ilk rising up and campaigning on behalf of or against Governments in the run-up to elections as a proxy service.

Opposition Members disagree about Labour history, so I shall talk about it in trepidation, with great generality. The Labour party is the product of a union movement, and quite rightly that movement recognised that workers needed representation in Parliament because they were not getting a fair crack of the whip or fair representation here, but I gently say that things have moved on. The unions cannot have it both ways: they cannot give birth to an organisation that we accept in this place, and has limits on its expenditure at elections, and then spend large amounts of money themselves on those elections. That strikes me as entirely ridiculous.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I will be asking my hon. Friend to write me a cheque later, given his propensity to add zeros to numbers. Leaving that aside, he is making a very good point. Things have moved on. Is not the Bill, and specifically part 3, just about creating a level playing field? If we care about democracy, is it not right that on neither side of the House and nowhere in this country should big money be able to buy political influence?

James Duddridge: My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. Under no circumstances should politicians on either side of the House prostitute themselves to big money. Time and again that has happened. I shall not be partisan and list 13 years of Ecclestone and so on. Let us take a larger chunk of time. Over the past 100 years all political parties have been guilty, and that demeans this House. A number of colleagues have said that lobbying is an important function. It is, but we need to draw the line between open, transparent lobbying and closed, dirty lobbying that involves buying influence and lots of money.

When I read through part 3, I was quite surprised, given the history of union negotiations and strikes and the importance of numbers and votes, that this basic information is not already available. [Hon. Members: “It is.”] If, as Labour Members say, the information is already available, there is no additional burden so I am sure they will support part 3.

4.10 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): It is high time that the House examined the issue of lobbying. Our motives should be guided by two main aims that we should use to judge the provisions in the Bill, in addition to the stated aim of transparency.

First, we must tackle the corrupting influence of big money and take it out of politics. I recently visited the United States on an exchange visit to Congress arranged by the British-American all-party group. I was amazed to learn that Congressmen spend a large amount of their time raising funds to fight the next election rather than legislating. As the old saying goes, “He who pays

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the piper calls the tune.” We should be avoiding, at all costs, pursuing the US route, but sadly the costs of politics in the UK are increasing. Therefore, the key to ensuring that our politics is not dominated by vested interests is to reduce the costs of politics.

Secondly, legislation on lobbying, political campaigning and party funding should enhance the plurality of our politics, not undermine it. It is therefore a great shame that this Bill on lobbying fails to tackle the matter and would be virtually useless in dealing with any of the lobbying scandals of recent times—donations for dinners, cash for honours, cash for questions, and the ministerial “cab for hire” scandal of the previous Labour Administration. The key question is which one of these deplorable scandals would be stopped by the Bill.

I have a background in public affairs, having worked for Citizens Advice Cymru before entering this place. The main effort of lobbying is focused on the Executive—Ministers, civil servants and special advisers in the Government—and not on the legislature, whether Parliament or the National Assembly. After all, it is within the Executive that key decisions are made. There is a strong need to regulate lobbying of the Executive and to deal with aspects such as the revolving door whereby figures in Government—civil servants, SpAds and Ministers—go on to take up positions in companies that have benefited as a direct result of the decisions they made while in Government.

During the aforementioned visit to the States we had a meeting at the Pentagon, which was a very strange place for a Plaid Cymru politician to find himself. We learned that officials responsible for procurement or issuing contracts had to make an official annual declaration of their financial holdings for independent assessment, to ensure that their decisions were not being influenced by personal financial considerations. The civil service code in the UK does not make it a mandatory requirement for those in commissioning positions to publish such statements. If we are to have a cleaner politics Bill, surely that is the sort of measure we should be considering.

There is no need to rush through legislation as this Bill seeks to do. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) is highly sensible. We must get agreement among all the political parties that operate within the British state, not have something partisan being pushed forward by the Government of the day. This Bill should be dropped and a special Committee of the House be convened to recommend rules on lobbying that should then be implemented. Anything partisan is bound to fail.

As others have noted, part 2 will impede the ability of third parties such as charities, think-tanks and other groups to campaign in the year prior to a Westminster election. I would like to highlight the potential for chaos among civil society groups operating in Wales and the negative impact on Welsh democracy. We live in a state of near-permanent elections—local, European and Westminster elections, and, of course, those for the devolved legislatures. Yet, again, we have a Westminster Government proposing legislation that does nothing to consider its impact on Wales.

My previous employer is an England and Wales body, and in that post I would have been responsible for simultaneous UK-wide and Welsh campaigns, which often crossed over each other. How can organisations

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possibly dissect what aspects of campaigning work come under the provisions of the Bill, and how can the Electoral Commission regulate campaigning activity?

The rules would be far more wide-ranging than reducing the annual expenditure. Regulations would cover a wide range of activities carried out for election purposes, such as controls on spending on events, media work, polling, transport, policy documents, discussing party policies, election material distributed to the public, and staff costs. The only things missing are staples and Blu Tack. Welsh democracy could suffer as a result, as charity and campaign groups may have their campaigning activities restricted all because of a Westminster election, while the same rules will not apply during an Assembly election year.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that part 2 applies not just to Westminster elections, but to elections for devolved institutions as well?

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. There has been little consultation in Wales, as reflected by the very strong correspondence we have received from bodies in our country.

Charities and campaign groups working in Wales could have their ability to interact with and make representations to the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales curtailed, which could affect the quality of legislation designed in Wales. Critically, plurality in Welsh political life could be undermined. We have a very weak civil society as it is and many of the bodies in Wales are UK-wide or England and Wales bodies.

A large bureaucratic job is being imposed on and expected from the Electoral Commission, and it is ironic that this is coming form the small-state Conservative party, with Lib Dem backing. The Electoral Commission did not call for the changes, nor was it consulted. What extra resources will it be given to achieve the new responsibilities that the Leader of the House is placing on it?

Finally, on part 3, I am the son of a former trade union shop steward so it will be of little surprise to the Leader of the House and the Government that I have concerns and consider the provisions to be a thinly veiled attempt to restrict and constrict trade unions and trade union activity. The British state already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the western world. Far from hindering trade union activity further, we should be incorporating the unions into the economy as Germany has historically done, with unions playing a key part in industrial strategy and workers’ representatives on company boards.

In conclusion, party funding is closely linked to the issues thrown up by the Bill. Plaid Cymru stresses the need for recognition that the politics of the British state is now undoubtedly a multi-party affair. Party funding rules should receive full consultation and agreement, and not be a stitch-up by the London parties. This Bill fails in the aim of removing big money from politics and undermines plurality. We will therefore vote against it this evening.

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4.17 pm

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): It gives me great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), who reminded us of an important principle that differentiates this country from America. Following his recent visit he noted that we do not have unlimited amounts of money at general elections. It is really important to us to create a level playing field, as far as possible. Those who write the largest cheques do not get to influence policy, and that important principle finds itself in this Bill.

I also welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who is right to urge his own Front Benchers to recognise the significant steps being taken by this Government to address a complicated issue. Those Front Benchers did not take action when they were in government and they are not doing so now. They should pay heed to the work of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and the service it has done the whole House over the recess, not only in reminding the general public that our work does not end when Parliament goes into recess and that we work throughout the year, but in highlighting the very important role that Select Committees can perform in scrutinising proposed legislation. I urge Labour Front Benchers to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said and hope that every Member will use the next few days to examine the evidence that will be shared with us—it is the result of the hard work of colleagues from all parties over the recess—in order to reach a consensus, rather than this constant prevarication on what is undoubtedly a very difficult issue. It is important that we make progress on this issue.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sarah Newton: I will give way in a moment when I have finished my point.

This issue is important to my constituents and to constituents around the country. We are all concerned about powerful vested interests and their influence on politics and government. The Government are right to grapple with those concerns and to open up the process of how policy is influenced and made in our country.

Like many Members, before I came to this House in 2010, I was very concerned about the centralisation of power in the hands of an over-mighty Executive. The Bill is part of what the Government are doing in a wide range of policy areas to transfer policy and power to the many, and not keep them concentrated with the few. I very much welcome those steps and know that they will be welcomed by people up and down the country.

Lobbying is a vital part of my job and the job of everybody in Parliament. We are the champions for our constituents. It is our passion and dedication that ensure that the voices of our constituents are heard loud and clear, and that they get the changes that they want to see in their communities and across the nation. Lobbying is an important part of what we do, so it is important that it is properly understood and that there is greater transparency about how the process works.

Sheila Gilmore: Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Sarah Newton: Actually, there are only a few minutes left and I want to make some progress.

In the remaining time available to me, I will focus on part 2 of the Bill because I am appalled by the shameless scaremongering about the impact on charities. Like some other hon. Members, I spent a considerable part of my career in the voluntary sector. For most of my career, I worked as a campaigner for a national charity, Age Concern, which is now Age UK. After that, I worked for an independent, non-political think-tank. I therefore have considerable experience of what it is like to work in a charity that is seeking to influence policy. I do not accept the arguments about the gagging of charities that have been made by Members today and by 38 Degrees in its campaign.

Charities have always been heavily regulated. They understand their responsibilities during general elections. Whatever the good cause—whether it is Citizens Advice or a cancer charity—charities know that their funds come from the voluntary contributions of a wide range of people across the country who support all political parties. They certainly do not want to upset their donors by trying to get particular Members of Parliament elected in particular constituencies.

Charities make a hugely important contribution during election campaigns by campaigning for policy changes and highlighting certain issues at a crucial time when the nation is focused on whom it will choose to represent it here and which parties it will elect into power. Charities ensure that the candidates are fully apprised of the views of the people they seek to serve. That includes the people for whom the charities seek to improve the quality of life and those who give the charities money and support their campaigns. That is something that charities have always done and, I am sure, will continue to do. I am concerned because owing to what I feel has been hysterical scaremongering by 38 Degrees, people are now worried that they will be gagged and that there will be a dumbing-down effect.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sarah Newton: I have just a few seconds left. I hope that as the Bill goes through the House, the clarity that is needed about the role of charities and their ability to campaign, hold meetings and influence us will continue. I believe that charities and third sector organisations have a vital part to play in a vibrant democracy—in fact they will have an even greater role in the future, as we have seen when organisations such as Fish Fight come together. People’s concerns to have proper, legal clarification of the Bill will be enormously helpful. We will then have an important Bill and a good step forward to create a level playing field at the next general election.

4.25 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): To be frank, I find this whole debate deeply worrying and depressing. We must remind ourselves that only a few years ago the House was brought into contempt in the eyes of the general public because of the expenses scandal. Even those of us who were completely clean were cast in the same light. For most of us, being elected was one of the proudest moments of our lives, but after the expenses scandal we almost had to apologise for

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being an MP. Then we legislated, we had an election, large numbers of new people came into the House, and we thought we had put the issue behind us. However, the Prime Minister was right to say that the next scandal would be about lobbying, which is why I welcomed the introduction of this Bill.

It was most depressing and angry-making—I was furious—when I saw the films of Members of Parliament offering their services to lobbyists for money, so when the Government said they were going to introduce legislation, I did not mind so much about the speed as I wanted it done quickly but effectively. It is, however, acutely depressing that this Bill does nothing of the sort. By excluding the vast proportion of lobbyists—the in-house lobbyists—we are making ourselves a laughing stock.

Let me follow on from what the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) said. I have experience of in-house lobbyists. In my constituency, the third runway campaign, BAA, did not use external lobbyists; it used generally in-house lobbyists who not only lobbied but had passes to the Department for Transport. They were not bothered about meeting Ministers; they wanted to meet junior civil servants who wrote the projections of growth in passenger traffic and so on. That is how effective they were. When he was the Minister responsible for aviation, Chris Mullin asked how many BAA staff were in the Department for Transport on a daily basis. On the day he left, he was told that dozens of people had passes to come to the Department to influence people. I think that is corruption in any other terms, and the sort of thing we want to tackle.

The hon. Member for St Albans gave a brilliant speech and some examples of what goes on. Bizarrely, however, the Bill does not tackle that level of corruption but gags the very people from whom we want to hear. It even gags them during the general election period when they can be most influential. I find the proposed legislation not only contradictory but shameful, and it is important to listen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said. We should stand back for the next period, listen and take evidence from organisations and individuals with experience in this field, and come to some agreement about the way forward.

If we cannot reach cross-party agreement on this issue, the Bill will not stand up in the long term. Once again the House will be brought into disrepute because we will be on the side of protecting lobbyists while trying to gag those who, as representatives of civil society, want their voice properly heard. I urge the Government to think again. Let us bring the parties together outside this Chamber and have another discussion about a proper way forward and a realistic timetable.

We can still meet a timetable that enacts legislation before the next general election, but we need the next couple of months for careful consideration and the proper involvement of all those who will be affected. The only people who seem to be involved at the moment are professional lobbying associations, not those I think actually deserve to be heard. If the Bill is passed in its current form, it will go down as a Bill drafted by a lobbyist for certain types of lobbyists, and they will be those lobbyists who try to maximise their profit.

Paul Flynn: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech and am grateful to him for giving way. He expresses the anger felt on both sides of the House about the potentially

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corrupting activity of lobbyists over many years. Can he think of any demand from anyone who believes that the next scandal in the country will involve Oxfam, the British Legion and Save the Children?

John McDonnell: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Leader of the House would win the respect of the House if he took time to bring those organisations in to hear from them. He argues that gagging is not within the legislation. The impact of the legislation per se will not gag those organisations, but self-gagging will take place, because, as other hon. Members have said, people will not want to risk their charity’s or organisation’s funds on lawyers to advise them or to defend them when things go wrong. I therefore ask the Government to stand back, pause and consult, and introduce adequate legislation on which we can reach consensus. I am sure we can do it.

Part 3 of the Bill is about trade unions. The reality is that, since Mrs Thatcher’s day, the Conservatives have wanted to introduce legislation that bans trade unions, but have realised they could not get it through the House. They have therefore successively introduced legislation to ensure that they impede the activities of trade unions as best they can. That is why we have had extensive discussions on the technicalities of balloting, registrations and so on.

The measure is yet another way in which the Conservatives are trying to encumber trade unions with unnecessary bureaucracy to impede them in representing their members. Unions already have membership lists, which they must regularly update, because if they ballot for industrial action or on consultations, they must ensure the list are accurate—otherwise, they will be in court yet again, because employers can take legal action against them to prevent industrial action or any other form of action before strike action.

The legislation is therefore unnecessary, but I find it offensive because it applies only to trade unions. Why just trade unions? The Leader of the House’s argument is that trade unions influence public policy, but so does the CBI, the Institute of Directors and a large number of organisations that are not encompassed by the legislation. That betrays the real agenda: the measure is an attack on trade unions—yet again—by the Government.

I hope the Government see sense on that measure. All they will do is introduce another mechanism that sours the industrial relations climate in this country—another opportunity for litigation, meaning more time spent in the courts. That does not enhance the relationship between workers and employers, or the development of industrial, manufacturing or other economic policy by bringing people together; it simply increases antagonism. I believe it will therefore be counter-productive. I urge the Government to think again on the measure. It is petty, and they are introducing it now simply for short-term party advantage following debates before the summer recess. The measure will do nothing for the Government’s standing or for the relationship between trade unions and employers.

Finally, this is no way to legislate. I fully agree with much of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House on that. This is no way to introduce a major constitutional reform. At the end of the day, if it

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is forced through by the Government, we will be back to amend it. However, while it is in place, it will undermine democratic engagement in this country across the piece.

4.33 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who is always interesting, although I am afraid I fundamentally disagree with him on this occasion.

In fact, this is an excellent, measured and balanced Bill. It is the right Bill to introduce at this time. Every aspect of it makes me admire the Lord Privy Seal more than I have ever done before. He is right, in part 1, to have come to this approach for regulating lobbyists, because lobbying is an important part of our constitutional settlement. It is a right of individuals to come here to lobby us. Indeed, the petitioning of the Crown is a specific right in the Bill of Rights. It is why Parliament was assembled in the first place: people were able to petition for redress of grievance. Anything done to regulate or control lobbying has to be done with exceptional care and thoughtfulness, and to be as minimalist as possible while maintaining the proprieties we seek to achieve.

Paul Flynn: One of the most reliable and enthusiastic lobbyists in the country has had 53 meetings with Ministers in this Parliament, including 35 meetings with members of the Cabinet, to lobby for some sensible causes, some eccentric causes and some barmy causes. Should we not put this most influential lobbyist, Prince Charles, into the orbit of the Bill?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: We are so fortunate to have a Prince of Wales who is able to train properly for the job he will have as our sovereign in due course, and to have access to Ministers. Of course, that should be confidential. Compared to some princes of Wales we have had in the past, how fortunate—how blessed—is this nation to have one who does his duty so diligently? I am glad that he does, and I think we can admire His Royal Highness for that—almost as much as we admire the Lord Privy Seal.

Chris Bryant: I am slightly worried that the hon. Gentleman’s respect for the Lord Privy Seal is based on a fundamental misconception. I do not think he has read the Bill, because it does not say anything about regulating lobbying Parliament, only about lobbying Government. That is one of the Bill’s flaws.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Oh dear, the hon. Gentleman gets so over-excited on these occasions that he intervenes far too early. What I was going to come on to say is that the matter of what happens in Parliament is, rightly, not covered in the Bill. It is the duty of Parliament and the House of Commons itself to regulate its own affairs. If the Bill interfered in the procedures of this House I would oppose it. We have an absolute right, under the Bill of Rights, to freedom of speech in this House, and members of the public have the right of access to Members of Parliament. That absolute right must be defended. Members of the public must be free, whether individually or collectively, to express their views to Members of Parliament. If MPs fall foul of the high

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standards that are expected of them, then that is a matter for the Privileges Committee to deal with. We have powers not only to expel Members if necessary, but to imprison them, and they have no right of appeal to any court in the land.

That is how we should proceed in terms of Parliament. Government is another matter and that is why it is right that part 1 deals with the lobbying of Ministers of the Crown and of civil servants. That is a matter rightly confined to legislation.

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but he just mentioned civil servants. In fact, the Bill does not cover civil servants, just permanent secretaries. Is that not a failing and an oversight of the Bill?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I do not think it is. It is important to deal with the senior figures who will be important in decision making, and the Bill is right to do that.

The Bill is also absolutely right to confine itself to professional lobbyists. It is surely reasonable that when a public company—for example, Coca-Cola or Shell—has a meeting with Ministers, we know and understand that they will be promoting their own business. However, when an obscure lobbyist wanders into Downing street, we want to know who that obscure lobbyist is promoting. [Interruption.] Bing Crosby? I do not think he has been going to Downing street recently. As far as I am aware he is no longer alive. It is right that regulation should be at ministerial level. Crucially, the Bill defends the liberty of people to lobby, so it has got that difficult balance right. There has been talk about the long gestation period of the Bill. That has been because it has not been easy for the balance, between the protections of freedom of speech and the need to regulate lobbying, to be correctly aligned. The Government, in their wisdom, have succeeded magnificently in doing that.

Part 2 is even better—it is the highlight of the Bill. It is so sensible that we should regulate third parties in the same way as political parties. The idea that a third party in a general election should be subject to less regulation than a political party that is openly fighting an election is the height of absurdity. The panic that we have had from the Opposition Benches and some in the charities section is glorious to behold. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) said that there was a firestorm—a literal firestorm—in Hampstead. I was hoping that London’s noble fire brigade was not going to go out and be disappointed—that it would not react as when it was summoned by Matilda, as you will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker: it came out in all its glory and, of course, there was no fire, because Matilda called the fire brigade when there was not a fire to be seen. Eventually, there was, and she burnt to death. That is the danger of saying that there are firestorms, when in fact this is a perfectly sound Bill.

Lady Hermon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is so enthusiastic about this Bill. May I invite him to come to Northern Ireland, where I am sure everyone listens to every word he utters and takes it seriously? This Government are passing legislation in Northern Ireland to continue giving anonymity of political donations to political parties, yet we have wonderful charities in Northern Ireland that will be criminalised

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under this Bill if they happen to organise a rally or campaign in the run-up to an election. How can he square those two things?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Lady has been taken in by the scare story and this absurd idea of firestorms. That is not what is happening. Charities are not allowed to campaign in general elections, and quite rightly so. Political parties fight hard to raise their money, whether it comes from unions, business or individuals. Why should they not have charitable status, when charities may intervene in elections using the tax they have reclaimed—the extra funds and the status they have as charities—but without standing for election fully? And they cannot: the law does not allow charities to be directly involved in general elections.

That is quite correct, and it will be maintained by this Bill. There is no change in the status of charities: they are not allowed to promote particular candidates in elections. That is surely right, and it is why this Bill has caused a storm that is quite unnecessary, because charities will be able, as they are now, to put forward the views they hold dear, but not to back individual candidates. With all the tax and fundraising advantages that charities have, they should not be involved in the election process. That is the standard of the Charity Commission as it is today; it should remain so. The controls that are in place are not being changed.

What is being changed is the position on third parties—those organisations that lack the courage to stand for election, but wish to intervene in the election process by spending money up and down the country. They should be subject to the same requirements as political parties. If we are to have a cap on total spending for political parties that openly stand for election, a lower cap should be applied to third parties that do not have the courage to put their names forward to stand. If we do not have that, the alternative is to go down the American route, for which I have some sympathy, of completely unlimited spending—people can spend as much as they can raise. Opposition Members would not like that, because I can tell them that we on the Conservative side would raise a good deal more money on that basis than they do. We would outspend them a great deal, so they should be pleased about the caps, which are given by benign Conservatives to level the playing field with our socialist friends. That is a good way of ensuring that the democratic process is fair and is not skewed by money.

A lot of campaigning organisations, including the NCVO—the National Council for Voluntary Organisations —receive a lot of money directly from the Government, and they are now spending that Government money lobbying the Government. That seems a terrible waste of public funds. I hope that the Bill will be amended in Committee to make it even more perfect than perfect—to gild the lily—and prevent that wastage of public money.

4.44 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): It is always a joy to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), although it is sometimes a bit frightening as well. On this occasion, I am probably on stronger ground than at other times. It is not hard to knock down any arguments that the Bill is “excellent”, “balanced”, “sensible” or demonstrating “care and thoughtfulness”. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that

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lobbying is an important part of our democracy, but we must be sure that it is transparent and open to scrutiny. However, the Bill excludes most lobbying activities. As a former Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, I know that it would have been daft if any lobbyist’s first port of call had been my office or that of the permanent secretary. They went first to the officials who were writing reports for me. Any Bill that excludes that aspect of lobbying is not excellent, not balanced and not sensible.

Let us look at who the Bill covers. It must cover the main lobbying activity, even though there are many ways of disguising that. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) pointed out, if anyone wants to get round the rules, they need only turn to schedule 1 of the Bill, because the way to get round them is to ensure that they get their man on the inside. The lobbying organisation simply needs to ensure that their lobbyist becomes an official and an employee. The Bill is not balanced, and it certainly does not address some of the issues that we are concerned about.

I tend to agree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset—and to disagree with some Opposition Members—about third-party organisations. Of course they should be covered by the legislation, because many of them involve themselves quite openly in political activity. I suspect that many of the organisations that have lobbied me on this issue do not share my views on a whole range of subjects, but they nevertheless play an important part in the debate in our democracy. However, if we are to have rules and regulations covering third-party organisations, there needs to be certainty in that regard. The organisations need to know what the rules are, and what is expected of them.

The hon. Member for North East Somerset said that this part of the Bill was sensible, but let us just look at the hurdles those organisations will have to overcome. Any expenditure that they undertake that is deemed to be controlled expenditure will not be able to be used for “election purposes” or in connection with

“promoting or procuring electoral success at any relevant election for…one or more particular registered parties”.

How is that to be measured? Who will measure it? We carry out assessments within our own parties after elections to determine what worked and what did not, and half the time even we cannot quantify which have been the important elements in the election campaign and which have been irrelevant. We find it difficult to determine what counted, what brought votes in and what did not. And it is even worse than that, because such controlled expenditure will also not be able to be used for

“otherwise enhancing the standing…of any such party or parties”

not only in the next election but in “future relevant elections”.

That being the case, how will a third-party organisation be able to determine whether the expenditure has had an impact and ought therefore to be registered and declared? Of course, it gets worse because there are implications for the parties. The Bill goes on to set out that, if such expenditure has enhanced the standing of an individual or a party, or helped to procure their election, the relevant party will have to declare that. If it

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does not, it is a criminal offence. Let me ask the Leader of the House a genuine question: how are third-party organisations meant to measure that? How are parties themselves meant to make that assessment? If the Bill is as ambiguous and unclear as that, it is not good legislation; it is not sensible legislation; it is not carefully thought out legislation. That is one reason why we shall vote against it tonight.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I think that the momentum of my hon. Friend’s comments is absolutely spot on, but does he agree with me on this? Whenever lobby groups approach us, we assume that they have already spoken to all of our colleagues and all of our competitors—sometimes, by the way, that might be the same person! The lobbyists, we assume, have already spoken to all of those other people in the round anyway, so there is no big secret about what they are telling us. Is it not just that they are giving us their spin on a particular subject?

Sammy Wilson: We have already discussed the importance of lobbying groups in providing the sort of information we require to do our job, but if we are to regulate them, they have to know what they are being regulated for. In closing, let me give a couple of examples.

I can think of many lobbying organisations that, because of the position I previously had in the Northern Ireland Assembly, had to see through many of the expenditure cuts that came as a result of decisions made here. They probably attached a lot of the blame for the consequences to me, and when it comes to the election, I am sure they will make that point. Does that sort of campaigning have to be declared as controlled expenditure, or is it simply what we would generally expect from organisations that have control over welfare changes, capital spending cuts and so forth?

Mr Lansley: Let me intervene to disappoint the hon. Gentleman a little by pointing out that the bit of text he referred to in the Bill relating to what is defined as being for electoral purposes is exactly the same text as currently applies under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. That is what the current law provides, and it is simply being repeated in the context of this new Bill. The hon. Gentleman is thus attacking the Bill for doing something that already exists in law.

Sammy Wilson: It may well already be in law, but there are now additional penalties attached and additional requirements made on the organisations. For that reason, it does make the situation difficult for these groups.

Let me provide another example. One group that is not affected by the Bill but nevertheless contacted me is the Christian Institute in Northern Ireland, which has taken a very strong view on gay marriage. Over the last six months, it has lobbied heavily on the issue, which might well have influenced how people who support the Christian Institute will vote in future elections. Is that organisation, then, to be subject to all the scrutiny of its expenditure and so forth—not just for this election, but for future ones—and to all the uncertainty attached to that?

The Leader of House says that the provisions are already in place, but there are additional requirements for controlled expenditure to be declared and if it is not

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declared, it will count as an offence. If an offence has been committed, the organisations will of course find themselves either having to defend themselves in court or simply accept the allegations made against them. Again, that will have a chilling effect on their activities. If they have to defend themselves in court, it will lead to additional expenditure and it might also mean that the organisation will be tarnished. That is one reason why many of these third-party organisations are saying, “This is bad legislation; this is going to damage us; the legislation should be voted against.”

The Bill does not deal properly with the ordinary lobby organisations: it does not include all their lobbying activities. It does include the activities of third-party organisations. Members may or may not approve of those activities, but the fact is that such organisations can currently engage in them, but will be dissuaded from doing so in the future. For those reasons, we will vote against Second Reading.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I am reducing the speaking limit to six minutes to enable everyone to speak.

4.55 pm

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I shall endeavour not to speak for the full six minutes, so that others can contribute. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), and I agreed with much of what he said.

My principal concerns about the Bill relate to part 2 and the issue of third parties. The rallying cry from Government Back Benchers seems to be, “This is better than doing nothing,” but a large part of the Bill is not better than doing nothing, and the rest of it probably is doing nothing.

Government Members appear to be very worried about charities. According to the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), charities do not do politics. Things are clearly a lot quieter in Ealing during the run-up to an election than they are in Darlington, where organisations such as Stonewall, Shelter, and even the NCT and Age UK devote much time, effort and creativity to trying to persuade candidates to sign up to some cause or pledge. I can understand why the Deputy Prime Minister may be keen on reducing that kind of activity before an election, but it is nevertheless crucial in encouraging vibrancy and participation in our electoral process by people who may be largely sceptical about politics. I think that such campaigning by charities is good for our democracy, because it helps more people to engage in political debate and enlightens candidates as well. I myself knew nothing of badgers—among other issues—before I was lobbied about them, and I found that lobbying immensely helpful.

The Leader of the House seemed to be attempting to inject some ambiguity into the position taken by the voluntary sector, but every piece of correspondence that I have received from charities in the run-up to the debate has expressed deep concern about the implications of the changes that the Bill may introduce. He said that he had met representatives of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations yesterday, and that everything

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was fine, but that is not what those organisations are telling me. For the time being, I remain concerned about the impact of the Bill on charities, which are expressing deep alarm about it.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Like many other Members, I have received hundreds of e-mails about this issue. One of them came from the director of Self Help Nottingham, Sarah Collis, who wrote:

“Self Help Groups are often at the real grass roots of campaigning for better services, treatment of the most vulnerable and for fairer treatment of our society’s voiceless.”

Was she not absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that organisations such as self-help groups may not be able to raise their voices and tell us of their concerns during the year leading up to a general election?

Jenny Chapman: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Moreover, it seems that it will not apply only to the run-up to general elections. Elections currently seem to be taking place nearly all the time: European elections, police and crime commissioner elections and local elections. Will the Bill apply to all those elections? If so, it will surely have a constant chilling effect on the activities of some charities.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): The Bill appears to be a reaction to undercover newspaper reporting alleging rule-breaking at Westminster, but does my hon. Friend agree that it does not address the issue at all? Is it not in reality an opportunistic attack on the ability of groups in civil society, including trade unions, to deliver a message that might be unwelcome to the Government? Is it not also deeply disappointing that Liberal Democrat members of the coalition have signed up to the Bill, given their historic emphasis on civil liberties?

Jenny Chapman: That is a disappointment, but I have to say that it is not surprising that Liberal Democrat Members may wish to avoid the scrutiny to which such groups might want to subject their record come the next election.

I speak as a trustee of a charity and as someone who is deeply careful about the way in which the money is spent. I make sure, as it is a trustee’s job to do, that we do not take decisions that may land the charity in any kind of difficulty. We want to be sure that the money that we have worked hard to raise and that it is our job to look after is not misspent on having to buy legal advice or defend ourselves in court.

I am very concerned about what may happen if there is a charity campaigning on, perhaps, the closure of a hospital and an election candidate decides to support that cause. The charity may not have made the decision to align itself with a political party or candidate, but they somehow become entwined. There will be a loser in that election, as there always is, and what might happen then? Can the other parties who have not been successful in the election mount a challenge? Who would be responsible for paying for the defence of that charity as a result of the outcome of such an election?

There are very great concerns, therefore, and my sense is that the Leader of the House was not properly cognisant of them before leading this debate today. I can only hope that he becomes more alive to them

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during the course of the Committee stage, although I have to say that I am a bit doubtful of that based on my experience of serving on Committees.

It would have been far preferable to have had some form of pre-legislative scrutiny, but that is not where we are. I must commend my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) on, in effect, creating a process for trying to inject further scrutiny of this Bill.

There are very real concerns—they are not invented concerns—and I look forward to hearing the Minister trying to deal with some of them when he sums up.

5.1 pm

Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Members will know that I chair the Standards Committee, and this morning we agreed a report on this Bill and how it might affect us in our role as Members of Parliament. It was published just half an hour ago at 4.30 pm and I assume it is now in the Vote Office if anyone wants to look at it, but I want to give a brief overview of what we found.

Shortly after the publication of the Bill, Members received an e-mail from the director of Justice in Financial Services, Joe Egerton. He was concerned about the effect the Bill would have on us. I was contacted by several Members from both sides of the House about this matter, and last week I gave evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on its investigation into the matter.

Members will know that there have been concerns about lobbying for many years. As early as 1695 the House resolved that:

“The Offer of any Money, or other Advantage, to any Member of Parliament, for the promoting of any Matter whatsoever, depending, or to be transacted, in Parliament, is a high Crime and Misdemeanour, and tends to the Subversion of the Constitution.”

Successive resolutions have restricted what Members are permitted to do. The current code of conduct states that no Member shall

“act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House”.

Indeed, the guide to the rules relating to the conduct of Members makes it clear that the prohibition on advocacy is not limited to proceedings in the House or approaches to Ministers, but extends to approaches to colleagues and to any servants of the Crown. Consultant lobbying as it is normally understood consists of the acceptance of money in direct return for lobbying activity. As the code of conduct is currently written, this would almost certainly be a breach of the advocacy rule.

We also note that the requirements for registration of Members’ financial interests are far more detailed than the Bill’s requirements for entries on the register of consultant lobbyists. Although Members are permitted to have outside interests, a Member who carried out “consultant lobbying” would be breaking the current rules of conduct of the House. While we recognise that that might change, we think it is important that problems do not arise.

As Chair of the Standards Committee, I wrote to the Leader of the House and he responded on 30 August, saying,

“I know that there has been some misunderstanding about whether the normal activities of Members of Parliament would

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be captured under the definition of consultant lobbying as set out in the Bill. I would therefore like to be quite clear that it is absolutely not the intention of the Bill to do so.”

Although we welcome that assurance, we still have some reservations about the Bill as drafted. People will know the exemptions it contains, one of which is to protect our use of privilege in this place. That is set out in schedule 1(1), which, in effect, protects the provisions intended to assert the continuing force of article 9 of the Bill of Rights. Although some question remains about whether or not that could change in the future, we have no problem with it in the context of this Bill.

The problem lies where schedule 1 deals with Members’ communications on behalf of their constituents, as the provisions are restrictive. We believe that the main mischief in the Bill’s current drafting is in paragraph 2 of schedule 1, which contains the other exception for Members in Parliament. It states:

“A Member of Parliament who makes communications within section 2(3) on behalf of a person or persons resident in his or her constituency does not, by reason of those communications, carry on the business of consultant lobbying.”

The paragraph goes on to state that

“‘resident’ has the meaning which it has for the purposes of section 4 of the Representation of the People Act 1983”.

Simply put, we believe that the Bill, as drafted, would stop us going beyond representing a constituent who has contacted us about a matter; it would severely restrict me, as a Member of Parliament, in communicating with Ministers on public health matters and on many other things. My Committee’s report recommends that we remove paragraph (2) of schedule 1 altogether and that we add a sub-paragraph to paragraph 6, stating that a reference to payment does not include a reference to the salary of a Member of Parliament.

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): We are greatly concerned about this particular issue. As the House will know, there are five constituencies in Northern Ireland for which no Member takes his or her seat in this House. People living in those constituencies often want parliamentary representation and so come to other Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies in order to gain it. That matter needs to be given consideration.

Mr Barron: I am grateful for that intervention, and I entirely agree; my Committee thinks that we are in a dangerous area in respect of doing our job as Members of Parliament and being a voice for our constituents or a voice for wider issues in society. Simply put, if things were restricted in the way that the Bill now envisages, I would be getting my information from the Executive rather than from organisations that can come here to lobby me as a legislator and give me wider knowledge than perhaps the Executive would, on occasion, want me to have when we are legislating. I believe it is important that we address that.

The registrar of consultant lobbyists is given sweeping powers under this Bill. It is perfectly possible that the courts and the registrar will clarify that the definition does not extend so far, to us, but primary legislation should be unambiguous about such matters—this Bill is exactly the opposite. The letter from the Leader of the House contained an offer in relation to sorting out this problem, and I hope that this will be taken seriously.

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The Committee would like to see it done while the Bill is being considered by the House of Commons, if we agree, in the next week or so.

5.8 pm

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): When I first looked at the Bill, I initially thought that it was badly drafted. As has been mentioned on several occasions, it has been described as a dog’s breakfast, and I initially thought it was even less nutritionally useful than that. I have now come to a different view. I think it is a well-drafted Bill, because it serves several specific purposes, none of which actually is the purpose that we think the Bill should serve in terms of cleaning up lobbying, sorting out third-party funding and regulating the way in which the political process works for elections and parties.

Part 1, as several hon. Members have suggested, ought to be the subject of further discussion and broadening out. The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) made an excellent speech in which she set out the extent to which lobbying seems to have made a substantial difference in her constituency on a particular issue close to her heart. Of course, such lobbying not only cannot be included under the definitions in the Bill but has been designed out of it. The title of the Bill includes the phrase “transparency of lobbying”, which will mean that people think the Government are doing something to sort it out, but the long title shows that it is only about “consultant lobbying”, excluding 97% of the real lobbying that goes on in and around this place.

The Liberal Democrats said in their election manifesto that they would:

“Curb the improper influence of lobbyists by introducing a statutory register of lobbyists, changing the Ministerial Code so that ministers and officials are forbidden from meeting MPs on issues where the MP is paid to lobby”,

but I am sorry to say that they have ended up as a human shield for a Bill that is trying to minimise the changes that can be made. It is a damage limitation Bill, not a change to lobbying overall. Those hon. Members who think that they will take part in a process over the next couple of weeks whereby we have a dialogue for change have already lost. The Bill seeks to limit the process by which lobbying can be changed, which is what the public expect this House to be dealing with. It does so to such an extent that it is mendacious about its real effect on lobbying.

Part 2, unlike part 1, was not long in gestation. Indeed, it turned up out of a bright blue sky two days before the House went into the summer recess. Its effect comes from the opposite form of drafting. The drafting of the regulations and amendments is so loose and vague that third-party lobbyists, campaigners and organisations will, as hon. Members have said, probably self-police to ensure that they do not inadvertently get caught by it.

Do not get me wrong—I think that it is important that we take further action on lobbying of Parliament by third-party groups. Hearing some of the discussions this afternoon, one might think that the process had only started with this Bill, but such groups are subject to considerable regulation under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Bill states that people can be caught retrospectively for undertaking

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action, particularly at a local level, in the year before an election and can be judged for so doing by the Electoral Commission. Believe me, the last thing the commission wants to do is to get involved in political judgments about who has been doing what at a local level and in local elections. Those people will be subject to all sorts of registration penalties which they never thought they would have to undertake.

My view, on balance, is that the drafting is deliberately vague to ensure that pesky groups do not come along to constituencies during an election period and start campaigning on the doorstep about parties that might have a few worries about their approach to the election.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. The Bill attacks the most important parts of civil society: charities, non-governmental organisations, pressure groups and trade unions. It might well be unlawful under articles 8 and 11 in schedule 1 the Human Rights Act 1998; but of course, the Government would like to get rid of the Human Rights Act as well. This is a fundamental attack on civil society.

Dr Whitehead: I am tending towards that view. As has been said, the Bill should be a matter of careful thought. Indeed, over a long period there has been substantial and careful thought about third-party campaigning. Nevertheless, the Bill has been the subject of no consultation, not even with the Electoral Commission on how it would carry out this rag-bag of proposals without putting itself in an impossible position. Turning up without consultation or warning is just not the way to organise and regulate third-party campaigning at elections.

Part 3 seeks further to regulate trade unions to count their membership in a way that they already do. I wonder what that is about. That seems to be dog-whistle politics that says, “We are putting further impediments in the way of trade unions, which are already doing what they are supposed to do, but we are taking action as though they weren’t.”

Overall, this is a shocking Bill, which goes 100% away from what we should be doing to regulate lobbying and about the process of third-party campaigning and civil society. We really need to take the Bill away and think again. I hope that we will vote to do that today, to get a Bill that we are in favour of—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

5.16 pm

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I want to read out something that the Leader of the House said about introducing legislation on lobbying in an Opposition day debate in June:

“The other way forward is to be clear about the standards expected, based on the Nolan principles, and to ensure that all those who exercise responsibilities—and all those who seek to influence them—are subject to the necessary transparency in their actions and contacts, and held accountable for their actions, so that we can see who is doing what, and why. For those who seek to influence the political system without the necessary transparency, there will be clear sanctions available.”—[Official Report, 25 June 2013; Vol. 565, c. 175.]

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That is beautifully put, but it is not what the Bill does. If it were what the Bill did, most hon. Members would support it.

On lobbying, we all agree that transparency is absolutely important, but so is the need to raise standards in the lobbying industry and to make those rules apply equally and fairly to everyone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) just pointed out, 97% of lobbying activity will not be captured by the Bill. The way to improve things would be to ensure that everyone is captured by it and that they abide by an industry code, to make sure that we raise standards and that they apply to absolutely everyone.

The worrying thing is that, instead of doing that, the Bill will limit what civil society organisations do in campaigning on policies in which they have a legitimate interest, because Governments of any persuasion do not like effective campaigns against them. Whether from business, charities or trade unions, the Government find them embarrassing, and they would much rather silence them. Sometimes, as with the Bill, a Government need to be embarrassed into not doing what is wrong.

For instance, we might not like what Guido writes about us on his blog, but we should fight any legislation that would curb his ability to do so. It is salient to think how many people are members of the organisation, 38 Degrees: 1.7 million members subscribe to 38 Degrees. For us as political organisations, we collectively do not add up to that many people. For us to dismiss 38 Degrees as an organisation where people press the send button and something inconveniently pops up in our inbox is to dismiss those people who we represent in our constituencies who are legitimately engaged in political activity at a time when we are complaining about how people are disengaging from the political process.

We need to consider something that Len McCluskey said recently: the combined membership of Unite also adds up to far more than the combined memberships of all registered political parties, and they pay an awful lot more to be members of Unite.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): As I understand it, 38 Degrees was invited to be briefed by the Government on the Bill but did not turn up, which is sad.

Natascha Engel: I do not see the relevance of 38 Degrees not turning up to a briefing, which would almost certainly have been largely pointless as the Bill would gag the activities that 38 Degrees legitimately wants to undertake in the run-up to a general election.

Paul Flynn: Does my hon. Friend think that there might well be a Machiavellian motive in the Government drafting the Bill as they have, which has meant that the great majority of the speeches today have been about the non-existent excesses of charities or trade unions, and that we have neglected the fact that the Bill woefully fails to address the terrible excesses of lobbyists?

Natascha Engel: That is exactly right and it is why the debate today has been a missed opportunity. We would all like to do something quickly about curbing the excesses

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of the wrong kind of lobbying, but the Bill captures the right sort of lobbying—exactly the sort that we as politicians should encourage. We want people to influence the way that we make decisions because it is their democratic right to do so, and those are not the sort of people that we want to criminalise.

It is on trade unions that I have the greatest problems. In the run-up to the 2005 general election I worked as the trade union liaison officer for the Labour party, and straight after the general election I helped to co-ordinate the last round of political fund ballots, so I know from personal experience just how heavily regulated trade union political activity and financial matters are. They are extremely heavily regulated. Membership records are up to date. Trade unions must have up-to-date membership records; otherwise they would be cutting down their own income. When they ballot members for strike action, they need to know who those members are and where they live, and when they want them to participate in internal elections, it is in their own interest that their membership records are up to date. They are also kept up to date by law.

Trade unions are democratic and accountable institutions. The Leader of the House implied that trade unions are somehow unaccountable institutions. That is absolutely not so. Any trade union member has the right to opt out of paying into a political fund. Members may choose not to pay the political levy. Every 10 years they are balloted about whether they want a political fund in their trade union. Also, in those ballots every 10 years—we are going into the fourth one now—more than 90% of members who vote are in favour of keeping their political fund. These are massive figures, which we as political parties can only dream of.

It is important to remember that freedom of affiliation is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. Before we rush into changing the way that these very important institutions work in society, we should reflect more carefully on what the perfectly foreseeable consequences of such legislation could be. The Bill is badly drafted. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) that it may be a deliberate attempt to do something else.

Mr Anderson: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Natascha Engel: I need to finish quickly so that other Members can come in.

The Bill is badly drafted because it is badly motivated. It is a panicked response to corrupt activities that have been taking place and are already against the law. The current law captures everything that has happened in the past, but it was broken. It needs to be better enforced. The Bill will do nothing to change people’s behaviour, but it will stop non-party campaigners speaking out for or against candidates and policies 12 months before a general election. That worries me.

I look forward to voting against the Bill tonight. I hope it goes the way of the boundary review, Lords reform, the alternative vote referendum and all the other pieces of gerrymandering dressed up as constitutional reform, and that it ends up in the bin.

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5.24 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): It is a great shame that the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is no longer in the Chamber, because I think that not only did he let his voters and the House down, but—worst of all—he let himself down. He is the arch- patriot, but lobbying is one of the things that Britain gave the world. The only reason it is called lobbying is because of the lobby outside St Stephen’s chapel, where the House of Commons used to sit. That is why when Paris lost the bid to host the 2012 Olympic games, Bertrand Delanoë complained passionately in French that the British had engaged outrageously in lobbying—“doing the lobby,” as he put it.

A fundamental part of our history, and of the way we have grown up as a democracy, has been the right to turn up at the door of Parliament, or a little further away since this ghastly building was built in the 1850s, and ensure that one’s voice is heard. The age of consent in this country is now 16, but it had been 13 until the late 19th century, because the only thing Josephine Butler could do was come and stand at the door of the House of Commons to lobby, grabbing hold of MPs as they came in to try to persuade them of her point of view, and eventually she won the argument.

It has been that way for centuries. In 1432 the Brewers’ Company wanted a new licence and a new company charter, so they tried to persuade Parliament. They failed, but then they paid the Lord Chancellor £40 and miraculously got their piece of legislation. In 1455 John Whittocksmead was paid a noble to be a friend for another honourable company in parliament. In 1485 the longstanding battle between the canons and the Poor Knights of Windsor was resolved when the Clerk of the House was given a very sumptuous breakfast to persuade him to get a Bill through. The Doorkeeper was given tuppence, the Serjeant at Arms was given a noble, the Speaker was given six pounds, six shillings and eightpence, and the King was given £100.

Quite rightly, as the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee said earlier, we have outlawed receiving money in return for putting forward a case in this House, but that is not the case in the other House. I suggest that many of the problems relating to lobbying and to corruption in our parliamentary system stem from the other end of the Corridor, because many people pursue their commercial interests through how they vote in that Chamber, which I think is inappropriate.

My personal experience is twofold. First, I was the BBC’s lobbyist in Brussels. That must make me the Daily Mail’s arch-hateperson—the BBC, Brussels and lobbying all in one—but I was proud of the fact that, by persuading MEPs and Commission members, we managed to see off Rupert Murdoch’s attempt, ironically enough, to make Brussels determine that the BBC’s licence fee was unfair state aid. Murdoch using Brussels to try to make that case was slightly odd. I am delighted that we won that battle by convincing people through legitimate lobbying.

Paul Farrelly: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill would tilt even further an already unlevel playing field? At the next election the vast majority of the press, including the Daily Mail, will support the Conservative party, yet the Bill will seek to restrain, for example, the National Union of Students and the education unions from reminding the Government of their record on university tuition fees.

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Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If there is already a rake in the political system when it comes to money, the Bill will simply increase it and make it more difficult for ordinary members of the public to have a say in the political life of this country.

Secondly, when the Mental Health Act 2007 was going through Parliament I was a Back-Bench Member on the Government side. I did not just want to be voting fodder in Committee; I wanted to understand the issues as we went through them. They were very complex and I am not a mental health or medical specialist. The fact that all the mental health charities got together and paid someone to organise them, creating an alliance and then coming to members of the Bill Committee to argue their case, informed us and made sure that we could be far more creatively involved in the Committee than would have been the case.

My worry is that the Bill will mean that those organisations, which created an alliance because none of them had a large lobbying department of its own, would not be on a level playing field with the big pharmaceutical companies that also came to lobby us—it was legitimate that they did so. The small charities will have to declare that they have effectively set themselves up as a lobbying consultant, but the pharmaceutical companies, which have vast arrays of lawyers and in-house operatives, will not have to declare, and that is fundamentally unfair. I hope that is an unintended consequence of the way that the Bill is drafted, but I am not so sure.

An essential part of our democracy in general elections is the business when we get all those irritating e-mails and letters asking, “What is your position on the following issues?” Homosexuality was mentioned earlier by an Irish Member, but there are many others—animal welfare, abortion, euthanasia, or whatever issue people want to take up. They will then say to the public, “Look, this is how people are saying they are intending to vote on these individual issues; we would prefer it if you voted for the following people who have a three-star record on those issues as we see them.” My worry is that, yet again, this Government Bill will prevent that important part of the democratic process in this country, which will mean that we have a poorer political process.

The Bill fails on many counts. It excludes the in-house teams and the lawyers. As far as I can see, schedule 1 excludes nearly everybody apart from the poor organisations that decide to create an alliance and the charities. It will dismantle the voluntary system that we already have because there will be no incentive to keep it going. It will catch the charitable coalitions. It will scare off charities from engaging with political debate. It does nothing about the abuse of parliamentary passes down at the other end of the building. Much of the language is highly nebulous. On the anniversary of Cromwell’s death, it is perhaps ironic that the Government have united the Royal British Legion, every single think-tank in the land, Help the Aged and Guido Fawkes in opposition to the Bill. I agree with them.

5.51 pm

Mr Tom Harris (Glasgow South) (Lab): I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). I felt that I was listening to a trailer for his forthcoming biography of Parliament, and I am now even more enthused about buying my copy.

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Mr Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reference the fact that there are to be two volumes of the said work. He will be making two purchases rather than one.

Mr Harris: As you might say, Mr Speaker, it is now on the record.

I would not want the House to believe that I have spent my whole time during this debate reading tweets, but it would be appropriate to mention at the outset that Iain Martin of The Daily Telegraph recently posted a blog entitled, “How did David ‘Big Society’ Cameron end up sanctioning a bonkers bill that bosses around charities?” I hope that it will become required reading for the Leader of the House, his deputy and all Government Members who plan to vote for this Bill. The Leader of the House has told us that it will not have the effect that many Labour Members have insisted that it will. He has a long way to go if he is still trying to persuade Telegraph journalists.

In the run-up to the 2010 general election, an organisation called Power 2010 took it upon itself to campaign personally against me and five other Members of the House because we had the barefaced cheek to have long records of opposing nonsense like electoral reform. It took out national newspaper advertising and even came to my constituency to launch a specific campaign directed at me, which was very entertaining. We got lots of its leaflets and plastered them all over my campaign office—not my publicly paid-for constituency office. That had the effect of increasing my share of the vote to above 50% for the first time since 2001, and my majority went up to 12,600.

I could therefore welcome the Bill, because if it becomes an Act that kind of campaign specifically targeting individual MPs will be outlawed, but I do not want that to happen. For a start, such a campaign is perfectly democratic. If people want to spend money faffing about and wittering on about nonsense like electoral reform, that is entirely their business and they are welcome to it. It does not have any impact on or relevance to my constituents, but if people want to spend their money on it, that is fine. Secondly, there is the effect that it had on my majority.

One of the many problems with this Bill is that it affects aspects that do not need redress and ignores aspects that do need redress. If the Deputy Leader of the House casts his mind back to last year, he will remember that the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport had a little bit of a kerfuffle regarding his special adviser, Adam Smith. It was clear that News International had lobbied Adam Smith to try to get a change of policy from the Government with regard to its attempt to take over Sky. We all remember the drama that ensued in this House. This Bill would not affect such a situation in the slightest, because only permanent secretaries and Ministers are now affected.

Before I came to this House I used to lobby for an organisation called Strathclyde Passenger Transport. I knew then, and I know even more now, that if I wanted to affect policy I should speak not to the Minister, but to their Parliamentary Private Secretary or SpAd. Those are the people with a direct link to the Minister and the policy-making process. This Bill does absolutely nothing.

The Bill is an obnoxious piece of proposed legislation: it is illiberal, anti-democratic and badly drafted. I am left with the conclusion that it could only have come

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from the Liberal Democrats. I have on my phone—I know you do not like such gimmicks, Mr Deputy Speaker—a photograph of the leader of the Liberal Democrats holding a pledge card during the last general election that reads:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees”.

He is flanked by the then Lib Dem candidate for Cambridge, who has a smile on his face, so I guess it was before he was elected to this place. At that time, the Liberal Democrats presumably had no objection at all to a nationwide campaign by the National Union of Students targeting specific individuals to support its stance on tuition fees, but something tells me that they do not want the NUS to lead a similar campaign next time in response to their decision to do a complete U-turn on their tuition fees policy. That is what this Bill is about. It might as well have been called the “Defend Liberals in Marginal Seats Bill”, because that is what it will do.

Mike Thornton: Will the hon. Gentleman read out a specific part of the Bill that would outlaw the things he is saying it will? It is very interesting that I have not seen any such parts.

Mr Harris: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have only one minute and 57 seconds left, so I am sure he can find that himself.

If exactly the same Bill had been proposed by the previous Labour Government, not a single Lib Dem would have voted for it, and when the next Labour Government move to abolish the legislation—by that time I hope the Lib Dems will have retaken their traditional and rightful place on the Opposition Benches—I suspect that not a single Lib Dem MP will object to its repeal.

On 5 June I challenged the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions. I asked him whether it was when an undercover reporter pretending to be a lobbyist entrapped an MP that he decided that now was the right time to launch an all-out attack on the trade unions. Where is the demand for new curbs and new regulations on trade unions? Why are Conservative and Liberal MPs so frightened of trade unions? I have been a member of a trade union my whole working life and am proud to be a member of Unite. For me that is a matter of pride; for many workers it is a matter of necessity. Why do the Conservatives still see trade unions as the enemy within? This part of the Bill simply does not need to be there. Where has the demand come from? What are they so scared of? Is it now un-British for there to be any kind of fierce political debate during election campaigns?

If the Leader of the House is right and this Bill will not result in the gagging of third parties, what is the Bill for? Either the behaviour of third parties in recent years has been unacceptable and needs to be addressed, or it has been perfectly acceptable and does not need to be addressed, in which case there is no point to this appalling Bill.

5.38 pm

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris). Like him, I welcome lobbying from constituents and organisations, whether they agree with me or not. I thank the hundreds of constituents who-

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have e-mailed me in recent weeks about this issue, Syria, the badger cull and so many other things. It makes life difficult for us, but life should be difficult for us, because the decisions we make in this place can be of the utmost gravity and have an impact on the people of these islands and beyond these shores. Never was that more clear than last week, so I was very pleased to receive so many e-mails scrutinising my thought process and my decision. On gay marriage, too, many organisations and individuals in my constituency told me how disappointed they were that I supported that legislation. However, it meant that when I walked through the Lobby in support of that Bill, I was unshakably certain that I was doing the right thing. That is the healthy and, at times, slightly humbling process that we all go through.

I hope that right now the National Union of Students is calculating how many pairs of flip-flops it can buy before the general election. I hope that animal rights groups and the proponents and opponents of gay marriage are all getting ready to remind our constituents how we have voted. If we have treated the process seriously, we have nothing to fear from that.

I was tempted to quote Owen Jones, who wrote an excellent piece in The Independent yesterday, but I thought I would have a better chance of getting the Government to listen if I used the commentary of the Electoral Commission and many other organisations.

This is a bad Bill, but we should not be surprised about that, given the form of the Leader of the House. This is a man who drives policy through with a finger in both ears, refusing to listen. He should reflect today on the process that he went through with the Health and Social Care Bill. When he finally took his fingers out of his ears and listened, it was a better Bill. I would like to know whether he agrees with that. I want the Lib Dems to think about what puppets they were during the passage of that legislation. They sat on the original Public Bill Committee and voted down Labour amendments, and then found themselves having to support the same amendments in the name of the Government in the Committee of the recommitted Bill. I hope that this time the Lib Dems will do the right thing. When they see amendments that will improve the Bill, I hope they will support them. Let us make this a better Bill, because there is certainly lots of room for improvement.

The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) completely missed the point today. I am always amazed when he rises from a prone position to speak, as if using a secreted system of hydraulics. He has completely missed the point on this Bill. Even the Electoral Commission has said that defining electoral purposes is extremely difficult. If the independent regulator says that it will be difficult to reach a definition, what hope is there for the Bill in its current form? The Electoral Commission also says that the Bill is devoid of policy aims. It is not clear what the Bill is trying to do. In fact, it is so directionless that I am surprised the Deputy Prime Minister has not turned up to close the debate for the Government.

I ask everybody in the House to think about the people who are involved in the voluntary sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and others have spoken about the volunteers who are worried what the Bill will mean for them. For Scotland, the limit for registering will be £2,000 and the limit on expenditure will be £35,000.

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That is the cost of one member of staff—one political communications officer—in a voluntary organisation. What will that do to the quality of debate in Scotland?

The marriage of the Government parties is a rocky one. It is perhaps not surprising that what we have today is the worst kind of shotgun legislation. The Bill has been rushed through at the last minute. I do not know why that is. I do not know whether the Government mean the Bill to be bad or do not know that it is bad. Either possibility is undesirable. We do not have time to debate it or scrutinise it properly in this place. There has been no public consultation. Even worse, there will be no time for voluntary organisations to prepare for the legislation coming into force before the next general election. In Scotland, where there will be a referendum on independence in 2014, the legislation will make many third-party organisations very nervous about speaking out. That is to be regretted. It is not what we need in Scotland and it is not helpful.

I will close by quoting David McColgan of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations:

“It is universally accepted that democracy and public policy right across the United Kingdom is richer when all corners of society participate and feel they are free to do so. This bill deters engagement. It deters dissenters and it deters open reasoned debate.”

The Government have to get their fingers out of their ears and improve this Bill.

5.45 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am glad we have the opportunity to debate the influence of third parties and non-elected actors on our political process, and I think the regulation of such activities needs to be reviewed. So far, however, the Bill is proving a flawed means of doing that, and we all agree that there needs to be much greater transparency of lobbyists. I echo concerns already raised about the missed opportunity to include a code of conduct in that process, and I cannot help but observe and echo observations by other hon. Members that not a single lobbying scandal from recent years would have been in any way affected had this Bill been enacted.

Part 1 of the Bill, wholly inadequate as it is, relates to matters that are largely devolved in Scotland, so in the short time available I will address part 2. The measures in part 2 are particularly deeply flawed, and in spite of all the assurances we have heard from the Leader of the House, they will place undue restrictions on the ability of campaigning organisations to raise legitimate concerns about public policy issues. Although it is not a declarable interest, I feel I ought to put on record my background working in public affairs and campaigning in the voluntary sector, as well as my past directorships of charities, both large and small. I am also a member of the Electoral Commission parliamentary advisory group.

My key point is that an active, politically engaged, challenging civil society is a hallmark of democracy and the lifeblood of live political culture, every bit as much as a free press or free and fair elections. I have grave concerns that a side effect of the Bill will be to restrict the discursive space where citizens can make a fuss about public policies that affect their lives. In Scotland, as the hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) outlined, there has been considerable concern about how the Bill

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will restrict perfectly legitimate activities. Martin Sime, the chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, has gone so far as to say it is an

“assault on…charities’ right to campaign”.

That is strong language from organisations that are not usually prepared to put their heads above the parapet so quickly.

As legislators and decision makers we are often challenged in the ways that citizens want us to meet their expectations. They share their experiences and views with us in ways that immeasurably enhance the democratic process, and any dilution of their ability to engage with us and hold us to account for our decisions is a wholly retrograde step. Sometimes that can be uncomfortable for us in the Chamber and in Parliaments and council chambers around these islands, but without the ability to raise concerns through collective efforts, our citizens will be deprived of important avenues of engagement in the political process and our democracy will be immeasurably poorer.

It is important to remember that campaigning civil society organisations that are also charities are already highly regulated by the Charity Commission, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. Charitable organisations are already prevented from campaigning in a politically partisan way, and during election periods they are already restricted in the kinds of activities they can undertake. In my experience, charities take those responsibilities extremely seriously and are careful about the public statements and activities they undertake ahead of elections. The proposals, however, go much further. Existing legislation on charities is working well, and we should not be looking to increase the regulatory burden on charities through the Bill. Part 2 of the Bill would do exactly that, and serious concerns have been raised about the unworkability of the proposals and the changes to definitions they would involve. I have listened carefully to those on the Front Benches this afternoon.

Fiona O'Donnell: Does the hon. Lady agree that we also need clarity about coalitions of charities—they may be experts on this—and what happens when individual members in a network engage in political campaigning?

Dr Whiteford: That is an important point and I will return to a concrete example from my experience and highlight the work of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition in Scotland, which I think enabled and facilitated cross-party support for the passage of a world-leading piece of legislation—the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. It is exactly such campaigns that will be in jeopardy and might simply not happen, if we take the Electoral Commission’s evidence seriously.

Another concern is that a much wider range of activities will be regulated, including organisations’ media activities. The explanatory notes state:

“The definition of ‘for election purposes’ does not rely solely on the intent of the third party; the effect of the expenditure must also be considered.”

Such spending can be controlled

“regardless of whether incurring the expenditure”

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“intended…for another purpose.”

That belies the Government’s statement, made to try to assuage hon. Members, that the measure will not have a restrictive effect—it clearly will have such an effect.

The Electoral Commission has raised some of the most serious concerns about the Bill, including the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny. I cannot help but believe that pre-legislative scrutiny would have gone an awfully long way to address problems with the Bill. However, in pointing out the obvious—that campaigning organisations are not like political parties—the commission highlights the difficulties it foresees in the discretion it will have to interpret what activity will be regulated as political campaigning. It has made it clear that it does not believe it is appropriate for it to have such wide-ranging discretion. In any case, it is concerned that the wide definition in the Bill and its explanatory notes of “election purposes” will be open to legal challenge.

I know from my involvement in charities that they are often very risk-averse—other hon. Members with extensive involvement in charities have said the same. They will shy away from anything that might embroil them in difficult legal wrangling and threaten their charitable purposes under their charitable status. The measure will lead to a risk-averse and self-censoring culture among charitable organisations. Also, no hon. Member has so far mentioned the capacity of the Electoral Commission to deal with the new layer of bureaucracy.

It is important for the Government to address the regulation of third-party spending at elections, but they must do so in a coherent way. Part 2 of the Bill goes much further than their stated intentions. I hope they take on board the concerns hon. Members have highlighted in the debate about the duplication and spiralling of regulation.

I have not had time to go into the referendum in Scotland and the regulations that have been agreed. However, I hope the Deputy Leader of the House takes the opportunity when winding-up to address that and other issues, and that he affirms the positive role of an outspoken civil society.

5.52 pm

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford). I echo her comments about the denial on the Government Benches that the Bill will be restrictive. One has only to look at clause 26, and even the explanatory notes by implication identify that the Bill will be restrictive, because the Government are extending and broadening types of expenditure that can be regulated. The most damning comment in the explanatory notes is this one:

“regardless of whether those incurring the expenditure intended it (or also intended it) for another purpose.”

Therefore, a small local charity’s campaign on a local issue could be taken up by a candidate in a general election, but before we can say, “Bob’s your uncle,” the charity finds itself in breach of the legislation.

Like many other hon. Members, I spent a great deal of my working life before I became an MP in the voluntary sector. I was the deputy director Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. With the greatest respect to the Deputy Leader of the House, who will wind up the debate for the Government, the Bill, and

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certainly part 2, is predicated on a misunderstanding of the role of charities in our society. There has hardly been a piece of social legislation in the past 150 years that has not had the involvement of charities or voluntary sector organisations. Some of the pressure and some of the great reforms have come from charities. I fear that the Bill reveals the Government’s tunnel vision about what charities and voluntary sector organisations are about. And we should make the distinction between charities and voluntary organisations, which are not always exactly the same.

The big society seems to be about services, not involvement in public debate. If the Government really believe in a big society, they should be encouraging charities and voluntary organisations to be involved in our public discourse. There is sometimes an arrogance among full-time politicians. They assume that they are the only people who are interested in politics, that somehow politics is our particular preserve. The reality is that civic society has proved, over many years, that it has a significant role to play in our public discourse.

Independence is crucial to the voluntary sector. I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) imply that because the National Council for Voluntary Organisations takes money from Government, it should not be independent and should not be allowed to express the opinions it wants to express.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): May I ask one question about my right hon. Friend’s position, and the position of any Member standing at the next general election? When a charity turns up at a hustings and issues leaflets, that will become illegal. How, in those circumstances, will a candidate get to know about that charity and take forward its work?

Mrs McGuire: The other thing that is even more disturbing is that if my hon. Friend happens to say that he supports a particular charity and something it is promoting, and the charity happens to put that on a leaflet, along with perhaps three of the four or five other candidates, it might find itself in the same position. The alternative to that is that it may well just put out a list of people who support their objectives. It is just a nonsense and a mishmash. I am frankly astonished that the Liberal Democrats, who made and built up their reputation as community activists, are going along with this proposed legislation. [Interruption.] The Deputy Leader of the House can sneer all he likes. This is denying the heritage of the Liberal Democrats, who were forever telling us they were community politicians.

Mike Thornton: I wonder whether the right hon. Lady can tell me this. That is the law at the moment and the law is not changing, so why is she objecting to it? If she objected to it before, why did she not want it changed before?

Mrs McGuire: I have already pointed out that clause 26 broadens the definition, but if it is the law at the moment why are we wasting time and paper on the Bill? That is the question that the Deputy Leader of the House needs to pick up on when he addresses the House.

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I spent a few days at a conference in Sarajevo not long after Bosnia and Herzegovina became independent. Speaking to the embryonic voluntary sector organisations there—harking back to what the hon. Member for North East Somerset said—I explained that one of the great things about the UK voluntary sector was that it was accepted as independent: it could express its views in the way it wanted. We now have an implied threat or demand that organisations that take money from Government should have their independence curtailed.

The Bill gives considerable discretion to the Electoral Commission, which is among the groups most critical of this element of the Bill. I put it to the Minister that that causes its own conflict. The Charity Commission, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland regulate charities and decide whether their objectives are appropriate. Now we are bringing in the Electoral Commission. Under the proposed legislation, if the Charity Commission says that it is perfectly acceptable for an organisation to pursue a particular line of policy and the Electoral Commission says that it is not sure, which body will regulate the charity? Where does the charity go for a definitive statement on the pursuit of its charitable objectives? I hope the Minister has a lot to say when he stands up, as opposed to the chuntering from the Front Bench we have had in the past 10 minutes or so. The Electoral Commission has recognised this conflict, saying:

“we do not think it is appropriate for us to have a wide discretion over what activity is covered by the rules”.

The Electoral Commission, who are the experts, is asking the Government not to put it in the position of having to regulate what activity is appropriate.

I can speak from personal experience. When I was the deputy director of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, we were also involved in all sorts of political campaigning against some of the things we thought were wrong. I was also the candidate against the Conservative Secretary of State, now Lord Forsyth, who funded my organisation. Should my organisation therefore have said, “Hey, wait a minute, Anne—I don’t know whether you can continue in your job”? What would be the position then? Would everything that I did have been misinterpreted by this piece of ludicrous legislation?

As I think one of my colleagues said earlier, the Government have united the most disparate group of people against this Bill—the TUC, LabourList, Conservative Home, the TaxPayers Alliance, Guido Fawkes and Owen Jones. Frankly, they should almost be congratulated on building that alliance against this ludicrous piece of legislation. Why are the Government so frightened of the charitable and voluntary sector in this country? If they are just legislating for things that already happen, why are we all here? This is a piece of arrogance from the Government. They do not understand the independence of the sector and they are trying to curtail its activities.

6 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I feel that we are almost repeating the debate we had in January, when I introduced my private Member’s Bill on lobbyists—I think today’s turnout is slightly higher than it perhaps was on that Friday. I am sorry that the Government have not reflected on that debate or on last

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year’s excellent report by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and have introduced this dreadful Bill.

Owing to time constraints, I will speak about part 1, but, in the interests of transparency, let me put on record the fact that my wife works for a charity in Scotland and is therefore indirectly affected by the proposed legislation.

Fred Michel, Adam Werritty, Fiji-gate, MPs for hire like cabs, peers for questions—all are scandals that have blotted Parliament and politics in the past four years. It is not an unreasonable test to ask the Government which, if any, of those scandals this Bill seeks to prevent from happening again. The harsh reality is that part 1 of the Bill would have avoided none of them, because the Government have drafted it so narrowly—I suspect deliberately—that the only type of activity covered is direct communication with a Minister of the Crown and a permanent secretary. Therefore, if a lobbyist or even a consultant lobbyist communicates with a private secretary—I would suggest that the Prime Minister’s private secretary has a great deal of influence, perhaps more than the Deputy Prime Minister, on certain areas of policy, such as tobacco packaging and other things—that will not be covered. If, as the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) said, a lobbyist speaks to a senior official in the Department for Transport, that is okay, provided it is not the permanent secretary. If a lobbyist speaks to the special adviser, as Fred Michel clearly was in the News International scandal, that would okay. That is a failure of the Bill; it is one that I cannot support this evening.

Mrs Main: For clarification, may I point out that I was referring to a private lunch with the Secretary of State for Transport?

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because I intended to come to the point she made. It is an important point and one that I raised this morning. I had a meeting with the Deputy Leader of the House and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith). It was very civil and I got a cup of coffee out of it, but I do not think we made much progress in agreeing on very much.

The problems with the Bill are so fundamental that even the impact assessment is wrong. The civil servants who drafted the Bill—who, ironically, would not be covered by the lobbying Bill they are seeking to introduce—have failed to understand the lobbying industry. That is not surprising, given that they failed to meet anybody, from either side of the argument, in the last 12 months. They have not met Spinwatch, Unlock Democracy, Charter88, the charities or the Association of Professional Political Consultants—I could go on. Those civil servants have met nobody. They have stuck their fingers in their ears and produced a Bill that no one in the industry or on either side of the argument is prepared to support. That is a shocking state of affairs.

The civil servants who drafted the Bill have also misunderstood how to calculate the number of lobbyists. Their impact assessment claims that there are between 800 and 1,000 lobbying firms, but the evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee shows

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that there are fewer than 100. So the £500,000 that it will cost to set up the register, and the £200,000 a year running costs, will have to be met by 50 or 60 firms. Great free-marketeers and defenders of business such as the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) should join us in the Lobby tonight, because the burden that that will place on the companies caught by the legislation, many of which are small businesses, is ridiculous and disproportionate. The Bill will do nothing to solve that problem.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: If one takes a free-market view, the conclusion is not that we should have more regulation of many more people, as the hon. Gentleman wants to have.

Thomas Docherty: I believe in a level playing field. It should not matter whether someone works in-house or elsewhere, or whether they work for Rio Tinto or Oxfam, for Bell Pottinger or CAFOD. The same set of rules should apply equally to all of them. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not think that the rules should apply to all those who are paid—handsomely in some cases—to carry out this work.

I want to return to the point raised by the hon. Member for St Albans, and to take it slightly further. As I said to Ministers this morning, there was a case recently in which a Minister of the Crown met a third-party consultant—a commercial lobbyist, as I think they are called—to discuss a planning application in their constituency. The Government seem to define that as a private discussion. If that consultant had chosen to raise other issues at the meeting, that activity would not be covered by the Bill because the consultant would say, “I am meeting the Minister not in their role as a Minister of the Crown but in their role as a Member of Parliament. I just happened to raise a general issue of Government policy that might be of interest and over which the Minister might have some influence.” That would be ludicrous.

For that reason, if for no other, the rules should apply to all parliamentarians. Ministers of the Crown—whether in the House of Lords or the House of Commons—are all parliamentarians. Extending the rules would avoid any double standards. Many Members of Parliament are members, and chairs, of influential Select Committees. They have a greater amount of influence in shaping the early stages of Government policy than those who serve as Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State. Anyone who has read Chris Mullin’s excellent book, “A View from the Foothills”, will remember the ceaseless slog of the life of an Under-Secretary. I see a Parliamentary Private Secretary smiling at that suggestion. Select Committee Chairs are hugely influential. Similarly, Members of Parliament who sit on Bill Committees help to shape our legislation. They are the people who should be protected from unscrupulous lobbyists, and if we did that we would provide the public with far greater confidence in the process. The rules have to apply to all those who exert influence.

The rules cannot only be about those who directly communicate with those in a position of power. In all of my eight years as a lobbyist, in the House and in consultancy, I met a Minister on two occasions, at most. I used to advise others on who in the Government, in Parliament and in the Scottish Parliament it was best to

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go and see, on the correct issues on which to press them, and on what their arguments should be. The Bill does not cover any of the people who do that.

The Bill is so narrow that it does not even cover those consultants who sit in the room during meetings, because a person has to actually communicate with a Minister or permanent secretary in order to be covered. The consultant might have done all the preparatory work and the strategy, and we have all taken meetings that have been facilitated by the consultant, but they might not actually be in communication with the Minister or the permanent secretary. For example, if a consultant were to contact the diary secretary of the Leader of the House, that would still not be covered by the Bill.

This is a dreadful Bill. It is not worthy of further progress and I hope that the House will reject it and ask the Government to come back and do their homework correctly.

6.9 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Very few people disagree about the need for greater transparency in the lobbying industry or the need for a universal register of all professional lobbyists backed by a code of conduct and sanctions. There is, however, a real fear that this Bill does not go far enough to prevent unscrupulous lobbying activity by commercial interests yet introduces completely unreasonable restraints on charities and civil society.

First, there must be a concern at the fact that this Bill is being put through Parliament with such speed and haste, when detailed pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation with the affected parties has not yet taken place. Secondly, this Bill was meant to concentrate on the negative impact of non-transparent commercial lobbying, but it seems instead to be being used as a Trojan horse to introduce a range of measures that will impair the functioning of civil society and third-sector organisations. It will change the nature of campaigning on important issues that matter to members of the public in the run-up to elections, whether they be about welfare reform, health, education, community care, international development or foreign policy.

I want to concentrate on part 2 because its provisions may well gag and restrict the work of charities and trade unions that have a democratic right not only to participate in these important debates and issues in the year of the run-up to elections, but to inform wider society and hear and listen to its views on social and economic issues. If this Bill is enacted unamended, I fear it will not only restrict the role of charitable bodies, but have a severe impact on wider civic society, which will be prevented from communicating and engaging directly with politicians and political parties. This could make more members of the public even more disillusioned and isolated from the democratic political process at a time when the number of people not registering their mandate is increasing. The vote is gradually reducing. Do we want that? Do we want to marginalise people from the democratic process? Do we want to marginalise those members of civic society who undertake such an important role for us? After all, the Prime Minister has told us in recent years that he wants to underpin “the big society”. By virtue of this very Bill, however, he will undermine both the big society and civic society, making more members of the public disillusioned. This Bill is, I feel, a blunt tool to silence the important campaigns of charities.

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One has to ask why the Government are seeking to gag charitable and other organisations. Is there a Machiavellian reason? Is it to ensure greater transparency or is it to close down debate on any issues in advance of a general election, ensuring the return of the Government party or parties to continued power and control? To me and my party, that is censorship and is anti-democratic.

Civic society has made an enormous contribution to an emerging democracy in Northern Ireland. Prior to our new democratic structures of government, it was civic society—along with many of us in the political classes—that helped to identify the issues and work with people who felt marginalised, informing the Government and political parties of the issues, whether they were about welfare, community care or wider health and education issues. It was very much the conscience of society. Do the Government want to silence those members of civic society who were so well equipped to deal with those issues?

In a former life, I was the Minister for Social Development in the Northern Ireland Executive. I was responsible for establishing the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland and responsible for the voluntary and community sector. Are we trying to stultify the work of the Charity Commission? We need to think about those issues, which is why we shall vote against Second Reading tonight.

6.14 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): This truly is a rotten Bill with sinister and underhand objectives.

Let me begin by placing on record my past work with a range of charities, coalitions and trade unions in campaigning on domestic and international poverty. I certainly would have described myself as a lobbyist and a campaigner, and I am proud to have worked on those campaigns—in some instances with Members of Parliament in previous roles, such as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford).

I am still in contact with many former colleagues who are deeply concerned about the Bill. Moreover, I can safely say that I have received one of my largest ever postbags since becoming an MP, from constituents of all political persuasions and none. They are deeply critical of the Government’s attempt to muzzle civil society and close down democratic debate while failing to get to the heart of the lack of transparency and undue influence that are present in some parts of the lobbying sector. It is no wonder that #gagginglaw is trending on Twitter today.

At times, the campaigns that we all face can be challenging, frustrating and even, dare I say, irritating, but that is exactly as it should be. The power and vibrancy of civil society, trade unions and other coalitions of interests of ordinary people in this country are one of our greatest strengths.

In 2005 I was a campaigner with World Vision, one of the world’s leading Christian international development and relief organisations. Like so many other organisations, we had played a crucial role in the Make Poverty History campaign, and I truly believe that our work had an impact on the willingness of the United Kingdom Government, and other G8 Governments, to take crucial steps in cancelling debt and increasing our support for

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the world’s poorest countries. Later in 2005, I travelled to Malawi to speak at a gathering of campaigners from countries across southern and central Africa. I shared with them our experiences of that campaign here in the UK, and told them what we had achieved together. I explained that we had been able to secure cross-party support and consensus, given the focus of a general election that was taking place that year.

I recall that many of my colleagues at that conference, from countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and Kenya, were amazed not only by what we had achieved, but by how freely and openly people were able to debate and engage with others in Britain. They were amazed by the fact that ordinary civil society, churches and citizens’ groups had access to the highest levels of Government and Parliament, and by the fact that, while that access and openness might not be funded to the same extent as traditional big interests such as business, energy and defence companies, it was at least on a par with them in principle.

Mr Tom Clarke: I am very interested by what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he agree that the laudable achievement, or near-achievement, of the target of expenditure of 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid would probably never have been possible without the pressure that was exerted by agencies such as Oxfam, which put their views by focusing on every candidate in every constituency?

Stephen Doughty: I entirely agree. That is exactly what happened, and, as I have said, it involved all parties. The campaigners from those other countries who did not benefit from the same open, democratic ways, and from the strengths of civil society, found it particularly striking. They shared with me their experiences of fighting for rights in places such as Zimbabwe. I am sorry to say this, but the Bill has a whiff of Zimbabwe about it. [Interruption.] It appears to be nothing more than a cynical and ill-thought-out attempt to clamp down on the challenge that is presented to all of us when we stand for Parliament.

Mr Lansley: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will answer this question. In 2005, when he conducted his campaign with World Vision, electoral law required any expenditure for electoral purposes to be registered. Was any part of that expenditure registered for electoral purposes, or did he not seek to promote the electoral success of any party or candidate in his campaign, in which case all the expenditure would have remained outwith the regulatory structure?

Stephen Doughty: The real issue is that many charities will observe the lack of clarity in the Bill, and, unable to gain access to the legal advice and expertise that is needed to deal with it, will effectively be muzzled. That is what is really going on: a clampdown on charities and community organisations. At the same time, the Bill does not deal with the likes of Lynton Crosby—the rich and already powerful members of society.

As I have said, the main issue is that the Bill does nothing to clamp down on the activities of the big lobbying industry and make them more transparent.

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In fact, it excludes most of the lobbyists and most of the lobbying, which strikes me as completely pointless. We have all heard how the Bill will capture only 1% of the meetings organised with lobbyists. The idea that the only crucial lobbying that goes on is in meetings with Ministers and permanent secretaries is, frankly, ridiculous. Without wanting to be disrespectful, it is often the least experienced and most junior officials and advisers in Government who are the most susceptible to undue influence, whereas, in contrast, most of the Ministers—of all parties—and most of the permanent secretaries whom I have dealt with have taken a critical-thinking approach to the lobbying and approaches they receive, whether from Oxfam, the CBI or other interest groups.

We have heard that Spinwatch has called the Bill “a sham”, and that the Chartered Institute of Public Relations has said that it

“would not even come close to preventing the alleged breaches of parliamentary standards that have seen this legislation rushed through.”

The Bill does nothing to open up this part of the industry, which is the majority of it, or to make it more transparent. That makes it all the more sinister that the latter parts of the Bill could result in shutting down the type of influence and activity—the raising of voices on behalf of ordinary people and causes lacking in money, power and existing relationships—that is needed to balance out those big influences.

We have heard from many colleagues on both sides of the House of the many organisations and causes that are worried about this Bill. I know from personal experience how seriously charities and campaign coalitions take their existing obligations. I believe they already often err on the side of caution, rather than risk being seen to be operating in any way that could open them up to allegations of partisanship or undue influence. I am therefore very worried on a number of fronts about the ill-thought-out and unclear provisions in part 2.

First, staff costs and overheads could be included in what has to be declared, meaning that larger charities might have to pull back to avoid hitting the lower spending limits set out in the Bill. Secondly, I am deeply concerned about the possible impact on smaller charities, a number of whom have commented during the course of this debate about how they will not be able to cope, from a legal perspective, when they are less well resourced. I was lucky to have the support of an excellent and experienced legal department when such questions arose in Oxfam, making sure that we met our legal objectives. That is simply not available to many smaller charities and community organisations and that will result, essentially, in their muzzling.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman should paint the ridiculous picture that this Bill will somehow make us like Zimbabwe. That is an awful thing to say. I spent some time this weekend with people from Zimbabwe who have really suffered, and it is outrageous of the hon. Gentleman to make that comment.

Stephen Doughty: All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is this: why, therefore, have the NCVO and the 50 charities that signed a letter, and all the others who are speaking out today, made the points that they have? They have been very clear about their views on this.