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Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am not sure that I can add much to what I said earlier, other than that this is about providing an order-making power to a Minister to enable the inclusion of special advisers in the terms of the third-party register at some point in the future, which could be the day after Royal Assent, if that was desired. We should streamline public services, not impose additional burdens on them.

Mr Allen: On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I hope that it is a point of order, rather than a point of frustration.

Mr Allen: It is a point of order. In view of the response from the Deputy Leader of the House, I shall probably not press my amendment to a vote, so that the House can vote on the issue of special advisers. It is not satisfactory not to regulate that in some shape or form.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, but my initial suspicion was nevertheless valid. It was a point of great interest and it is on the record, but it was not a point of order. Never mind—he has made it.

Tom Brake: I need to make some progress, as we do not have much time for the debate.

We should streamline public services, not impose additional burdens on them. We should provide the public with relevant and useful information, not overwhelm them with huge volumes of unhelpful and extraneous data. The House accepted these arguments in our debates on part 1, and did not seek to extend the scope of the measure in the manner proposed by hon. Members. We should respond to the Lords amendments constructively by proposing an amendment in lieu in respect of the proposed extension to capture special advisers, but we should not seek further to extend the scope in a manner that the Lords have specifically rejected.

Briefly, Lords amendments 2 and 3 deal with recipients of communications. They are minor amendments and improve drafting to clarify and provide greater consistency in the terminology used in relation both to the recipients of the lobbying communications and to the communications themselves. Lords amendment 4 is a minor amendment that clarifies the fact that the term, “Minister of the Crown” does not, in the context of the Bill, capture the two bodies of persons, the Defence Council and the Board of Trade. As clause 2 makes clear, the communications that the register is intended to capture are those that are

“made personally to a Minister of the Crown or permanent secretary”.

The definition in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975 includes the Defence Council and the Board of Trade. Both those entities, however, are bodies of persons with which it is not possible to make personal communications. As such, the Lords amendments remove those bodies from the definition, and in doing so provide further clarity regarding the communications that fall within the scope of consultant lobbying.

Lords amendments 5, 6 and 7 deal with the code of conduct. In Committee in both Houses, the Opposition tabled amendments that required lobbyists to sign up to a statutory code of conduct and face sanctions for any

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breaches. As we exposed during the debates in both Houses, the Opposition’s amendments were based on a miscomprehension of the role of codes, both statutory and voluntary, in the regulation of lobbying. While the Opposition suggested that such codes are in existence and operate successfully in other jurisdictions, we have not been able to identify any international precedent for the type of code that has been proposed. Furthermore, the Opposition could propose just one provision for inclusion in that code: a prohibition on inappropriate financial relationships between lobbyists and parliamentarians, which is unnecessary, given the fact that there are parliamentary codes, as well as laws, on bribery and corruption. Once the shortcomings of the Opposition’s amendments were demonstrated, both Houses were able confidently to reject them.

My Lords—not my Lords—the objective of the part 1 provisions is to enhance transparency.

Mr Speaker: The Deputy Leader of the House knows something that we do not.

Tom Brake: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do not anticipate a sudden transformation of the House into the other place.

The objective of the part 1 provisions is to enhance transparency and scrutiny. We are not seeking to regulate behaviour. During the debates, however, the Government heard calls from both Houses on the importance of ensuring that the statutory register complemented the existing self-regulatory regime. That reiterated the message of inquiries by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The self-regulatory regime is the mechanism by which the industry promotes the ethical behaviour that is essential to the integrity and reputation of the lobbying industry. We are grateful to Members in both Houses for their thoughtful suggestions as to how we can best ensure that the register complements the regime and, after careful consideration and discussion with the industry and transparency groups, we have concluded that the most effective option is to provide for a statutory link between the statutory register and the industry-hosted voluntary codes of conduct.

1.45 pm

As such, we made amendments in the House of Lords that would require consultant lobbyists to state in their register entries whether they subscribe to a publicly available code of conduct in relation to their lobbying activity and, if so, where a copy of the code could be accessed. The House of Lords welcomed the amendments, recognising that such a provision would enhance the transparency and scrutiny of registered lobbyists. Indeed, the Opposition withdrew their amendments on the matter, persuaded that they were unnecessary.

I was therefore surprised to see that the Opposition in this House have tabled amendment (a) to Lords amendment 7. Amendment (a) is very similar to the amendment that was withdrawn by the Opposition’s colleagues in the Lords. First, I should point out that amendment (a) in lieu of lords amendment 7 is defective and internally inconsistent, and that its effect in uncertain. It would completely undermine amendments that we have made in this regard. Those amendments are supported by the Political and Constitutional Reform

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Committee and have been approved by the House of Lords. I imagine that the Opposition’s intention in tabling amendment (a) is to require everyone undertaking the business of consultant lobbying to subscribe to a voluntary code of conduct. We have previously explained why such a provision is unnecessary and inappropriate, but I will do so again. Requiring lobbyists to declare whether they subscribe to a code will expose those who do not abide by the ethical principles that are essential to the integrity of the industry. It is not the Government’s intention, however, to introduce a high-regulation, burdensome regime whereby the registrar is responsible for monitoring and enforcing subscription to, and compliance with, codes of conduct.

The Government are confident that the requirement on lobbyists to declare whether they subscribe to a code will increase transparency, enhance scrutiny, and drive up standards. The Government amendments made in the Lords ensure that that is the case; the Opposition amendments in this House would undermine it.

Lords amendments 8,10 and 11 deal with notices. They are minor amendments and improve drafting to ensure consistency in the language used in the provisions relating to the cancellation of an information notice or the variation or cancellation of a penalty notice. Lords amendments 8 and 10 increase the procedural protection for recipients of information or penalty notices by requiring the registrar to serve in accordance with clause 25(2) any notice to vary and/or cancel such notices on the person on whom the original notice was served. By ensuring consistency of terminology, these amendments will further clarify the detail of the provisions relating to the cancellation and/or variation of the notices and ensure consistency with approaches to such matters in other legislation.

Lords amendment 9 is a minor amendment that clarifies the fact that any individual, not just employees, can commit the offence of carrying on the business of consultant lobbying while unregistered if their organisation is unregistered. The amendment removes any ambiguity as to whether the provisions apply to individuals who undertake consultant lobbying in the course of a separate business, but are not employees of that consultant lobbying business—for example, contractors. It therefore ensures that the application of the provisions in that respect are absolutely clear.

Lords amendment 12 is a minor amendment that clarifies and ensures consistency in the language used in the provision in clause 21 allowing the registrar both to revise and to replace the guidance that he or she has published, including replacement guidance.

Lords amendment 13 is minor amendment that clarifies the fact that the charges associated with registration will be set to ensure that the sums received offset the total costs of the registrar’s activities. Treasury guidance requires that if a charging regime recoups costs other than those directly associated with the service provided—in this instance, the keeping of the register—the position should be made explicitly clear to Parliament. This amendment reiterates that the charges provided for in clause 22 will be set to recover the total cost of the registrar’s activities, including those that are not directly connected with the keeping of the register, such as enforcement activity.

Amendment 14 is a minor amendment that removes provisions in clause 22 in relation to the netting-off of moneys from the Consolidated Fund for the funding of

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the registrar. Such funding will instead be arranged administratively between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury.

Amendment 15 relates to regulation-making powers and is tabled by the Government to fulfil their commitment to implement the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in relation to part 1. The Government are grateful to the Committee for its thoughtful consideration of the delegated powers in part 1 and have accepted the Committee's recommendations in relation to this part in their entirety. The amendment therefore alters the part to require that regulations under clauses 4(5) or 5(4), the first regulations to be made under clauses 11(3) and 17(3), and any regulation that amends or modifies the provisions of the Bill must be made by the affirmative procedure. By doing so, Parliament will be provided with the opportunity to undertake detailed scrutiny of any regulations made under the powers in those clauses. I reiterate the Government's thanks to the Committee for its detailed report on this part.

Amendments 101 and 102 are minor amendments that clarify the position in relation to employees who make lobbying communications as part of their employment. Specifically, amendment 101 provides that employees will not be considered as carrying on the “business of consultant lobbying” if they make lobbying communications as an employee in the course of a business carried on by their employer. The amendment therefore clarifies that in-house lobbyists are not captured by the part 1 provisions and that it is the consultant lobbying firm, rather than its employees, that is required to register in respect of any lobbying activity carried out by it or its employees. As Ministers have made clear throughout the Bill’s passage, the register is designed to address the problem that it is not always clear whose interests are represented by consultant lobbyists. Conversely, it is always clear whose interests are being represented by in-house lobbyists—those of their employer.

Amendment 102 provides, first, that where an individual makes a communication in the course of the business of another, both the individual and that other business or person make that communication. As such, the amendment ensures that the client on whose behalf consultant lobbying communications are made is always declared on the register, even if that communication is undertaken by a sub-contractor that the consultant lobbying firm has engaged. The amendment also provides that if the individual happens to be an employee—as opposed to a contractor, for example—the employee is not to be regarded as making the communication on behalf of their employer, but rather only on behalf of their employer's client, reflecting the fact that in-house lobbyists and employees of consultant lobbying firms are not required to register.

Amendment 103 is a minor amendment intended to remove any ambiguity as to the maximum period of a re-appointment term of the registrar, which is three years. An individual may be re-appointed twice, and the maximum period for each of those terms is three years.

I look forward to the discussion on these amendments. The Government are confident that our proposed response to Lord Tyler's amendment is sensible and constructive and will facilitate agreement between the two Houses. Equally, we are confident that the Government amendments

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agreed in the Lords will further enhance the part 1 provisions and ensure the delivery of a robust registration system that will enhance the transparency of consultant lobbying.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): The Opposition share the astonishment of charities, lobbyists, campaigners and members of the public at the way in which the Bill has been handled. Until this morning, we had been led to understand that the Government were intent on reversing the progress that had been made in the other place. This morning, when the list of amendments was published, we thought that they had conceded on special advisers. In fact, they appeared to have got themselves into a position where they were disagreeing with themselves. After listening to the Deputy Leader of the House for 47 minutes of the two hours that we have been given to debate this important part of the Bill, I, like the Chair of the Select Committee, am none the wiser as to what the Government propose. From the interventions of Members on both sides of the House, it appears that the Minister himself is not entirely sure what he is proposing either.

It is important that we understand how we arrived at this state of extreme confusion. Clause 2—indeed part 1 of the Bill—was drawn so narrowly that none of the lobbying scandals that gave rise to the Bill would have been caught by it. The Bill was massacred in the other place, and rightly so. The decision to include special advisers was made by a decent margin, and prompted 30 Liberal Democrat peers to vote against their own Government. There have been three defeats in the other place on fundamental aspects of the Bill, and it is important that Ministers and the House ask why. This is a lesson in how not to introduce legislation. There was a lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, and no expert witnesses were allowed to be called. After three years of silence on this issue, proposals landed out of the blue just two days before the summer recess. We had a two-paragraph response from the Government to a well-considered Select Committee report. We had the spectacle of a Government refusing the request from across civil society to pause the Bill for long enough to make what was branded “a dog’s breakfast” by the Chair of an influential Select Committee into a workable and effective piece of legislation. The speed is frankly ridiculous.

The Government were still suffering defeat in the other place yesterday evening. In its report written last night and published this morning, the Select Committee said:

“The timetable that the Government has imposed for this Bill indicates a contempt for Parliament and a lack of belief in…parliamentary scrutiny.”

Baroness Williams said that the gap between the Bill leaving the other place and arriving here was “frankly ludicrous”. Of the two hours that we have to debate this important part of the Bill, the Minister took 47 minutes, and we are none the wiser. Like hundreds of constituents who have e-mailed me over recent weeks, I have reached the conclusion that this is a Government who have very little commitment to democracy and are not willing to be challenged.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Why does my hon. Friend think that the Government are so determined to push this through at this ridiculous pace?

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Lisa Nandy: That is a good question. Those of us who listened to the Minister earlier are still grappling with how on earth the Government could have got themselves into this position.

Unlike the Minister, we have been consistent in our support for extending the definition of lobbying to include special advisers. Throughout this shambolic process, Ministers have been unable to find a single good reason why that should not take place.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): We can understand why the Government are in a muddle, because there is no public support for the Bill. However, there is public support for something to be done about lobbyists, rather than attacking trade unions all the time.

Lisa Nandy: Absolutely. I would simply add to my hon. Friend’s comments the voice of many charities, which quite simply cannot understand why they, as well as trade unions and grass-roots campaigners, are the target for this Bill, when it lets off the hook powerful vested interests.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Does the hon. Lady accept that in the other place Liberal Democrat peers sought to exclude and exempt from the Bill all charities, yet that move was resisted by her colleagues in the other place?

Lisa Nandy: And by a majority of the charitable sector as well. The reason for that is that the Bill, as the Chair of the Select Committee has said, is a dog’s breakfast, which is so fundamentally flawed that it should be put on hold, with sufficient time for it to be thoroughly revised. If we had had pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation in the first place, we would not be in this situation.

Ministers suggested that it would be practically too difficult to extend these provisions to special advisers. But as the Deputy Leader of the House just said in his long contribution, the Government already publish information about special advisers. They publish details of gifts and hospitality received, and details of meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors’ editors and senior executives on a quarterly basis. There is no obvious reason why this could not be extended further. The truth is that there is no political will to make this happen. Ministers have consistently been told by many of us that this really matters. Many of the scandals that this Government have been caught up in have involved Government advisers, not the Minister or the permanent secretary, whom the Deputy Leader of the House is so keen that the Bill should cover. Let us take the example of Fred Michel, an in-house lobbyist for News Corp who was exchanging written communications with Adam Smith, then special adviser to the then Culture Secretary. In e-mails and text messages exposed by Lord Justice Leveson, it became clear that that was entirely inappropriate, yet the Government have gone to great lengths to ensure that no transparency requirements will be extended to such advisers or to such in-house lobbyists.

2 pm

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Many of us have been struck by how upset and concerned small charities and campaigning organisations are that the Bill targets them but not the powerful and influential.

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Lisa Nandy: My hon. Friend, who has long been a champion of that sector, is absolutely correct. She shares my bewilderment at the Government’s target in the Bill.

As Lord Tyler made clear when the Bill was considered in another place,

“two of the big lobbying scandals in this Parliament… would probably never have got to this stage had encounters between close ministerial advisers and outside groups been a matter of public record.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. 29.]

There are 98 special advisers across Whitehall but, as we have learnt through the dialogue with the Deputy Leader of the House today, there are many others who are considered to be advisers and are, like special advisers, the first, if not the only, port of call for lobbyists. As was said earlier, the process of arriving at decision making matters as much as the decision itself.

Tom Brake: The hon. Lady is obviously a strong advocate of transparency. One of the things that the Government have asked the Opposition to do, in the interests of transparency, is make available information on meetings that shadow Ministers have. Is that something they will do?

Lisa Nandy: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that question, because it gives me an opportunity to say that, unlike the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives when they were in opposition, we publish details of meetings on a regular basis. In fact, we are the most transparent Opposition ever. I find it absolutely astonishing that, three and a half years after the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, made a commitment to shine a spotlight on the shadowy world of lobbying, the Government have climbed down on all the measures that we have been urging them to accept and the only thing that they can do is challenge us on our shadow ministerial diaries. The Deputy Leader of the House’s own argument was that the Government are responsible for making decisions. My point to him is that the Government are responsible for making decisions, and for the process by which they are made. We would like the measures that we have proposed to be put into the Bill. We can still see no good reason why the Government are resisting those calls.

The issue of special advisers is so important to the House because of the decision that we are being asked to make in less than an hour. I would like to ask the Deputy Leader of the House a series of questions that I have come up with in the last two hours, since the Government decided to table their somewhat bizarre and obscure amendments. First—I echo my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith)—what is the difference between what they have tabled and the amendment proposed in the other place? The answer to my hon. Friend appeared to be that the Government are simply kicking it into the long grass. Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm that that is the case? Is this a guarantee that it will happen? The Government amendment states that the Government “may amend regulations”. Why use “may”?

The Deputy Leader of the House said that there was a need to reach consensus. I can tell him, because, unlike the Government, I have been listening to the clamour outside this place, that there is consensus. In fact, the only people who do not appear to have reached

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consensus on the issue are sitting on the Government Front Bench. If he looks behind him, I think he will find that many Government Members are as concerned as we are. Are Ministers planning to introduce the proposed measure in regulation? Do they have a time frame for doing so? Why is it not being introduced now? What are the Government worried about? We urgently need to clear up the lack of understanding about the definition of special adviser.

The Government’s amendments refer to the definition in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. I asked the Deputy Leader of the House whether Lynton Crosby would be covered by that. Would it cover Adam Smith, Adam Werritty or any other Government adviser who has been involved in the plethora of scandals in recent years? [Interruption.] The Leader of the House is shaking his head and muttering under his breath. I can tell him that this matters not only to Members of the House, but to people outside this place. He will know that because he will have received hundreds of e-mails about the Bill from constituents, as we all have.

My reading of the amendment is that Lynton Crosby would not be covered, because he does not adhere to the special advisers code of conduct. If that is correct, it is a disgrace. The Deputy Leader of the House, in answer to an earlier question, did not seem at all clear about who was covered by his own amendment. I am not surprised, because it was made available to us only at 11 o’clock this morning, and he expects us to vote on it shortly.

The Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee asked about senior civil servants. If Ministers are conceding—I am still not sure if they are—that the requirements in the clause can be extended to special advisers, they can also be extended to senior civil servants. It is fairly obvious that permanent secretaries are rarely lobbied, whereas senior civil servants and special advisers are. Ministers do not have to believe me; they can listen to the deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, Iain Anderson, who said:

“The vast majority of lobbying is not about meeting Ministers or permanent secretaries”.

The TUC, Spinwatch and other lobbyist groups have made the same point. The truth is that there is no reason at all not to support the sensible amendment tabled by the Chair of the Select Committee.

The Prime Minister used to be fond of quoting US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Perhaps he ought to reflect on something else Mr Justice Brandeis said:

“People who feel uncomfortable under the bright light of scrutiny and criticism often have something to hide.”

Are the Government afraid of challenge? Let us consider the evidence: the right to challenge cut back through legal aid restrictions, employment tribunal fees and restrictions on migrant appeal rights; an Education Secretary who is fighting the Information Commissioner tooth and nail to block information from the public domain; and a scandal involving the use of private e-mail accounts at the heart of the Department for Education. Only this week Downing street refused to reveal how many guests were hosted at Chequers. The Prime Minister released a partial list that excluded special advisers, officials and, it seems, Conservative party donors. Without the amendment tabled by the

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Chair of the Select Committee and the important change on special advisers made in the other place, the Bill will do absolutely nothing to increase the transparency of lobbying.

During the 47 minutes of the Deputy Leader of the House’s speech, the only reason that I could understand for why he objects to that sensible measure is his claim that it would impose additional costs and bureaucracy. I simply do not understand how the Government have the nerve to talk about costs and bureaucracy when they are placing unnecessarily restrictive, expensive and onerous burdens on charities, grass-roots campaigners and trade unions, who are the lifeblood of democratic debate in this country.

Paul Flynn: That matter was investigated thoroughly in the previous Parliament by the Public Administration Committee. There might be a burden if records and diaries were still kept by clerks working at high desks and writing on parchment with quill pens. We know now, as was made clear in the Committee’s report, that transferring the information is simple, could be done electronically and would cost nothing.

Lisa Nandy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as ever, for his wise words. I absolutely concur. I do not see why it should be difficult in this day and age to put such information on a website.

Before the general election the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, said that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen. It did happen, repeatedly, and to him. After three years of scandals, we believe that it is shameful that the Bill does absolutely nothing to raise standards in lobbying. As Lord Norton has said,

“the Bill does not enhance transparency and it is not actually about lobbying. It is about lobbyists; it is about status, not about activity.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. 13.]

We believe that it should be. That is why the amendment standing in my name and those of my hon. Friends would make it a requirement that registered lobbyists have to abide by a code of conduct.

The Government have conceded that registered lobbyists should record whether they are signed up to the code of conduct in the register, and we welcome that. However, the risk remains that the register will be used by lobbyists and by the public as a means of granting legitimacy to a company and its activities. It is surely no stretch of the imagination to imagine lobbyists using the term “registered” to grant themselves some kind of legitimacy that the public may not understand. Even with the changes made so far, there is nothing to stop lobbyists of any kind getting on to the register—even those who have been convicted of illegal activities. Without the amendment, there is also no mechanism to strike lobbyists off the register.

These views are shared by many in the industry. Gavin Devine, the chief executive of MHP Communications, said in a submission to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee:

“There is a real danger that a register by itself may make the situation worse, since it is likely those on the register will describe themselves as a ‘registered’ or ‘approved’ lobbyists, without having

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to meet at least some minimum standards. In short, there is a risk that the register will give a kitemark or endorsement to some who do not deserve it”.

We agree with the lobbying industry, campaigners, charities and transparency activists that our proposal would help to set the standard of behaviour. The voluntary code that already governs part of the industry has sanctions for those who breach its provisions. As such, the measure proposed by the Government is a backward step—a register that could legitimise lobbyists without any standards or sanctions whatsoever for bad behaviour. This is a £2 billion industry that has been beset by scandal, to the dismay of many of us, those in wider society, and reputable lobbyists in the industry.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Is the hon. Lady saying that she does not want part 1 of the Bill and does not want a register of lobbyists?

Lisa Nandy: Absolutely not. This is another aspect of the confusion that exists among Government Members. I say that with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful for his question. We have consistently called for higher standards, and that is the purpose of our amendment. Indeed, we would have liked to table it earlier so that there was much more opportunity to discuss it with Members in all parts of the House, but unfortunately the unseemly haste with which the Government have pushed this shambolic Bill through meant that we were unable to do so. We want to make sure that all the lobbyists who are registered on the Government’s register adhere to a code of conduct, with proper sanctions for poor behaviour and the ability to strike them off for it.

This Bill was the Government’s opportunity to begin to restore trust in politics, and we would have fully supported them in that mission. When the Bill was published, leading figures from the charity sector wrote to the then Minister, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), saying that they stood ready to work constructively with the Government to try to improve a piece of legislation about which they had genuine concerns. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said that the pause that was agreed in the House of Lords felt more like “a rebuttal exercise” than a listening exercise. In our view, the Government have shown civil society almost total disdain throughout this process, and in doing so they have shown, yet again, that they are not listening to a voice that they have a duty to hear.

We are unlikely to press our amendment to a vote, for one reason and one only—the severe time constraints that this shambolic process has placed us under. We are deeply concerned about what the Government are now proposing on special advisers and we believe that there is an urgent need to address the many chilling measures that are still in the remaining parts of the Bill, which we have only a couple of hours to debate after we finish debating this part. Ministers should be in no doubt whatsoever that we share the view of the Select Committee that this part of the Bill is unsatisfactory and inadequate and will stifle democratic debate.

On Second Reading, the Leader of the House said,

“we have sought to be the most transparent Government in history.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 169.]

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What a joke that now appears. The Government have proved throughout this process that they will not stand up to the wealthy and powerful but prefer instead to target charities, trade unions and grass-roots campaigners. This Bill lies in tatters; it is a shambles. The Government should be ashamed to have introduced something like this to us today. Ministers seem determined not to hear the roar of noise coming from outside this place, but we remain determined that they will hear it.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. May I inform the House that we have just 30 minutes left for this part of a timed debate? A lot of Members are indicating that they would like to speak. May I ask each of you to help each other out so that we can try to get everybody in before the 30 minutes are up?

2.15 pm

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): I appreciate the work that the Select Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) has done. He knows, because I said so on Second Reading, that I agree with his points about pre-legislative scrutiny. I, too, regret the haste with which the Bill has progressed. However, we are where we are, and I will not debate that but crack on as you have asked me to, Madam Deputy Speaker.

On Second Reading, I said that I supported the principles of the Bill but had severe concerns about some areas of detail. In Committee, I tabled amendments, some of which the Government listened to and took on board and others they have looked at again in the other place. During the Bill’s passage through the other place, I have met on numerous occasions and worked closely with my noble Friend Lord Tyler, who has done a power of good to the Bill and improved many of the most unsatisfactory elements by a considerable degree. He has also done an outstanding job in terms of the level of his engagement with the charitable and third sectors. He has worked tirelessly to talk to them, to understand their concerns, and to try to move things forward. When we come to debate the next group of amendments, I will mention many of the things that he has achieved. My noble Friends Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Wallace of Saltaire have also worked extremely hard to take on board people’s concerns.

As a result of the amendments that their lordships made and that the Government are accepting, this Bill has been transformed from the difficult Bill that we considered on Second Reading to what we now have before us. I thank my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House for the work he has done and for meeting me, colleagues and representatives of the charitable and third sectors several times. Underlying all this is the principle to which I still adhere—that we need much more transparency in lobbying and in the activities of third parties. The Bill is achieving that.

I tabled an amendment in this place covering special advisers though I did not press it. Lord Tyler has put through an excellent amendment. It is no secret that there is a divergence of opinion, if I can put like that, between the two coalition partners. My hon. Friends are very keen to include the amendment, while our partners perceive considerable dangers in doing so and wish to proceed at a rather slower pace. I fully expected

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the Government to reject my noble Friend’s amendment, but instead they have proposed a compromise that I am willing to accept. As has been evinced by Labour Members, the amendment uses the word “may”. They criticised that, but if we do not put such an enabling clause into a Bill, we cannot take action at a later stage. The amendment admits a concept and a principle that it is important to place in the Bill and it is a considerable step forward.

What does this mean in practice? There are two potential outcomes: first, the coalition partners discuss the measure, decide to implement it, and it is implemented this side of an election—an outcome devoutly to be hoped for but one for which I will not necessarily hold my breath. Secondly, at the next election I have an opportunity to go to the electorate and campaign for it, as would, I believe, all my hon. Friends.

Mark Durkan rose

Mr Allen rose

John Thurso: I will quickly take two interventions and then no more because I am going to conclude.

Mark Durkan: Given that the Deputy Leader of the House was so vehemently dismissive of the case for including special advisers today, what gives the hon. Gentleman any reason to hope that he might be persuaded to do so in future?

John Thurso: I have always seen my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House as a very reasonable and persuadable gentleman. I have had many conversations with him, and I believe that he is moving in absolutely the right direction at good speed.

Mr Allen: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if he substituted the three-letter word “may” with the four-letter word “will”, he would achieve consensus across the House?

John Thurso: I am very aware that “shall”—that is probably the word I would look for—would achieve consensus across the House, but not on the Government Benches. I would rather stick with the consensus I have and that will go through than die in a ditch for something that will not.

That is my argument in a nutshell. I urge my hon. Friends to accept the very considerable concession from the Government, which takes us much closer to the objective that I seek to achieve.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I participate in this debate with great sadness, because within the last hour the funeral has taken place of Terry Butkeraitis, a miners’ leader and community organiser, and a legendary figure at the Glastonbury festival. Terry dedicated his life to the collective organisation of working people and proved that coal miners are as innovative, entrepreneurial and business-savvy as anyone else in society. Without question, Terry would have wanted me and his other friends to be in the Chamber to vote against further attacks on the unions, British values and our democracy.

When the Deputy Leader of the House listed what he claimed were the achievements of the Government’s openness, I thought I heard Terry heckling from that public gallery on high—demanding to know, if this

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Government are to show openness, where the documents relating to the miners’ strike are. We are still awaiting those documents.

Listening to the Deputy Leader of the House, I wondered whether his inability to explain the Bill in his 47 minutes was because he does not have a special adviser to tell him what it is all about. For some reason, I have never been a special adviser—I cannot understand why I have never been invited to apply for such a position; I do not know where they are advertised—but I have had opportunities over the years to have words with them. Frankly, the idea that any Member believes that special advisers and civil servants around Ministers do not have excessive influence over legislation is nonsense.

I will spare his blushes, because he did it for the right reasons, but one of the ministerial colleagues of the Deputy Leader of the House came up to me just last week and asked me to assist in tabling parliamentary questions to influence his civil servants and doubtless his special advisers to ensure that the legislation came forward more promptly.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): What did you say?

John Mann: Hansard will prove whether or not I did, and it may even identify the Minister.

Such things are almost incongruous to us in this House; perhaps it is less clear to people outside the Chamber that that is how business operates here. If someone says to me, “I’ve got a great idea to amend legislation. How do I get it through?”, particularly if my party was in power and I therefore knew and could track down the special advisers, the first thing I would say is, “Here’s the list of the people with influence. You’ve got to get to them, because Ministers’ time is so dictated by civil servants—it is deliberately jam-packed—that if you want any serious dialogue, you’ve got to get in first.”

Ministers of course ratify decisions and good ones ensure that their decisions go through, but, frankly, I can think of numerous examples where that has not been the case. Going to special advisers and civil servants, although usually with general ministerial consent—perhaps not from the particular Minister, but from No. 10 Downing street or the Minister’s boss—is precisely how someone can get changes made.

Anyone who has participated in a Public Bill Committee knows that. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) will remember that we sat on the Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill for what seemed like a year. I tabled an amendment about endangered species and wildlife. External bodies wanted it, and the Minister and colleagues from both sides of the Committee were very supportive of it, but the Minister’s response was, “Well, we need to check the details.” The only reason we got the amendment accepted was that we sat down with a special adviser with access to civil servants, and with the civil servants themselves, to clear every dot and comma so that when I got up in Committee, with support from all sides, the Minister said that the Government accepted the principle and would come back with their own wording—strangely, it was identical

22 Jan 2014 : Column 334

to mine—and it was later presented as their amendment. That is how it works here. If we are to control these lobbyists, of course the special advisers and civil servants—whoever is in power—have to be included.

I will finish by raising one other issue. I have in my possession documents showing that in recent times a senior, well-known lobbyist has set up a fake company—or a real company, but using a false name and date of birth. How will the Minister deal with that under the Bill? When such a case eventually comes before him and other Ministers, how will they deal with its unethical nature, and how will they respond to the influence of such a lobbyist over the Government? Does he agree that anyone who does that should automatically be prevented from having any access to any Ministers?

Mark Durkan: I rise to support amendment (a) to Lords amendment 1 which was tabled on behalf of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, of which I am a member, and to address the specious Government amendments (b) and (c), as well as to deal with the choices presented by the different amendments.

Let us be clear that amendment (a) builds on the amendment made in the other place so that special advisers are rightly caught within the scope of the part 1 of the Bill. Many of us argued for that during earlier stages of the Bill. Contrary to what the Leader of the House implied, we did so seriously; we did not press it to a Division simply because of time constraints and to allow debate on other matters. Only amendment (a) gives us the opportunity to make sure that senior civil servants and special advisers are within the scope of the Bill.

Amendments (b) and (c) to Lords amendment 1 almost amount to an act of misdirection by the Government. They may allow people to satisfy themselves that special advisers might be brought within the scope of the Bill. They will, however, leave senior civil servants outside its scope, which is exactly their aim. Of course, they may not even bring special advisers within the scope of the Bill. Amendment (b) is a fig leaf for the Leader of the House, who tabled it, and a figment in the minds of its supporters: there is no real risk that it will bring special advisers within the scope of the Bill. Those supporting it have clearly set their face against special advisers. Today and on previous occasions, they have given all the arguments why special advisers should not be included. We are fooling ourselves if we think that they will reconsider that issue in a matter of months between now and the election or some other time. That is absolute nonsense, and we would make real fools of ourselves if we fell for it.

Amendment (b) not only says that regulations “may” amend subsection (3) of clause 2, but is worded carefully to provide that

“communications made personally to a special adviser are within that subsection.”

When I see highly qualified and specific wording such as

“made personally to a special adviser”,

I wonder whether it is done deliberately. Perhaps there are all sorts of other forms of communication that can take place with a special adviser. For example, other parties like donors who do not have a direct interest or

22 Jan 2014 : Column 335

who are not consultant lobbyists, but who are friends of other businesses or interested parties, could communicate with a special adviser.

2.30 pm

We will not address any of the serious issues that have been raised about this part of the Bill by the public or in this House and the other Chamber by nodding along to amendments (b) and (c), which are notionally in lieu of Lords amendment 1. The Deputy Leader of the House could not tell us whether the term “special adviser”—whether in Lords amendment 1 or as defined in amendment (c)—would include the new breed of advisers that the Government are determined to appoint.

Tom Brake: I have received clarification on that point. The new type of adviser to which the hon. Gentleman is referring exists only as a recommendation in a report on civil service reform. Such advisers do not currently exist, so it is impossible definitively to confirm or deny whether they would be covered by the proposals. If the new advisers are employed on the same basis as special advisers and are therefore covered by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, they would be covered. If they are not employed on that basis, but are employed as civil servants, they would not be covered.

Mark Durkan: In what I have read, Government officials have said that the new advisers will not be special advisers—they might be specialist advisers, but they will not be special advisers. They will advise on policy. We are told by the Ministers who back the idea that it is about trying to break the logjam in Government and move policy along decisively. They will therefore have a key role in moving public policy along. It is Ministers, not Opposition Members, who are planning to have this new breed of advisers—this addition to the ecosystem of government and the networks of advice—so if the Government have not worked out what class of beast they will be, they cannot condemn the rest of us for asking and wondering. As legislators, we are meant to think forward to things that are planned and that are likely to happen.

The Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has said that the reason he will not press amendment (a) to a Division is purely to afford the House time to discuss the issues in part 2 of the Bill that need to be discussed. However, I want to stress the merits of amendment (a). I hope that in future Ministers will not abuse the fact that a proposal is not being pressed to a Division out of courtesy to the Chamber because it has other serious concerns to discuss to make out that Members do not care about the issues or that the issues are not serious, as they have done today. These issues are serious. In my view, the Government have deliberately used the audacity of their proposals in part 2 as a human shield to cover the paucity and weakness of their proposals in part 1, which will apply only to those who present themselves in the Yellow Pages under the heading “Consultant Lobbyists”. People can engage in the business of professional lobbying on any other paid basis, whether it is in-house or for any of the big accountancy or legal firms, which provide all sorts of services.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): I tabled amendments earlier in the Bill’s progress because I was very concerned about private lobbying and private lunches with friends,

22 Jan 2014 : Column 336

which can have a great deal of influence through the chains that the hon. Gentleman is describing. That is a weakness with this part of the Bill. I am only sorry that we do not have longer today to listen to the important nuanced arguments that are being made.

Mark Durkan: I recognise the hon. Lady’s concerns, which she specified so well in earlier stages of the Bill’s progress. In the spirit of acknowledging the profound concerns of other Members, I will draw my remarks to a close.

Caroline Lucas: I know how much pressure there is on time, so I will make two short points.

First, I pay tribute to the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and the members of that Committee for all the hard work that they have done under incredibly difficult circumstances. In spite of the odds, they have provided Members with good information for this debate.

Secondly, the Government must be in a parallel universe if they genuinely think that the reassurances that they have pretended to give today will provide any comfort to people in this institution and, more important, those outside this institution. It is deeply insulting to our intelligence to say, “Well, a Minister might be able to change the meaning of this clause some time in the future,” and think that we will all go home thinking that that is fine.

That matters not just because of the importance of the Bill, but because what is happening here today is being watched by people all around the country. People are very dismayed about what a shambles this process is. It undermines our credibility as an institution if we cannot organise ourselves better to do justice to the arguments that have been debated in public meetings up and down the country. I have had more contact and received more letters on this issue than on anything else, other than the reorganisation of the NHS. People care about it deeply. It shows how out of touch the Government are that they think that they can rush the Bill through and get plaudits from people outside for the few amendments that they have introduced at the last moment, which do not go anywhere near far enough.

No matter how many times the Government repeat that there has been consultation or that there is transparency, I am reminded of Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking-Glass”, when he says that words mean whatever he wants them to mean. That is what is happening here. The Government are in a parallel universe. They are deeply out of touch with ordinary people. If more Government Members had listened to the public, they would know that they cannot get away with this.

Wayne David: Does the hon. Lady share my suspicion that perhaps the main reason the Government are rushing this legislation through is that they want to curtail proper debate and scrutiny of their policies immediately before the election?

Caroline Lucas: I think that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. If we had more time, we could speculate further on the motivation for this very sinister Bill. I agree with the motivation that he ascribes to it.

Finally, the Government came to office saying that they would champion the big society, so it has been

22 Jan 2014 : Column 337

deeply disillusioning for everybody to see how they have muzzled it at every turn. I hope that people will remember that when they vote in the election in 18 months’ time.

Mr Allen: In view of the time, rather than have Members wandering around the Lobbies to produce a result that we all know in advance, I will not press amendment (a) to a vote. However, I underline the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan): we in no way accept that the Government’s proposal is good. On the contrary, we believe that senior civil servants should be covered in the Bill, but they are not. I hope that all colleagues in this House and in the other place will realise that the only reason I am withdrawing the amendment is to ensure that there is only one vote and that we do not take up the House’s precious time, which has been so curtailed by the Government’s timetable. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.—(Tom Brake.)

The House divided:

Ayes 311, Noes 258.

Division No. 187]


2.38 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Cameron, rh Mr David

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Claire Perry


Mr Sam Gyimah


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

Davies, Philip

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Main, Mrs Anne

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, Dr Alasdair

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Tellers for the Noes:

Nic Dakin


Tom Blenkinsop

Question accordingly agreed to.

22 Jan 2014 : Column 338

22 Jan 2014 : Column 339

22 Jan 2014 : Column 340

22 Jan 2014 : Column 341

Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.

Government amendments (b) and (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 1.

Lords amendments 2 to 4, 101 to 103 and 5 to 15 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 13 and 14.

Clause 26

Meaning of “controlled expenditure”

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 16.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to take the following:

Lords amendments 17 and 104 to 107.

Lords amendment 108, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 19.

Lords amendment 20, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 21 to 25.

Lords amendment 26, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 27, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendments 28 to 54.

22 Jan 2014 : Column 342

Lords amendment 55, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 56 to 58.

Lords amendment 59, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 60 to 74, 109 to 116 and 18.

Lords amendment 75, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 76 to 98.

Lords amendment 99, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 100.

Mr Lansley: Lords amendments 26, 27 and 108, with which the Government disagree, relate to constituency limits and staff costs. I ask the House not to support amendments tabled by hon. Members to Lords amendments 20, 55, 59, 75 and 99.

After the Bill was last seen by the House, during consideration in the House of Lords, the Government undertook a further six-week consultation with interested parties—on part 2 of the Bill—that built upon the Government’s already considerable engagement with many campaigning groups. During the consultation, which took place between Second Reading and the Committee stage of part 2 of the Bill in the Lords, the Government held detailed, important and exhaustive—and sometimes exhausting—talks with some 50 organisations. Those discussions informed the Government amendments, with which the Lords agreed. As the House will have discerned from my opening remarks, many amendments—100 in total, encompassing 20 substantive issues—to part 2 have returned from their lordships, and we propose to accept all but three of them. The amendments, agreed in consequence of our discussions in the Lords, represent a considerable body of work undertaken in that House, and we are grateful to their lordships for that work.

The changes are designed to address the practical concerns raised by third parties, while preserving the important principles of transparency that underpin part 2. The amendments reduce the burden on smaller third parties who campaign at elections, ease the transition to the new regime and clarify the regulatory rules. That last point is important, because it became clear during the consultation that concerns often stemmed from a lack of awareness of the existing rules in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

As the House will recall, the PPERA established a framework for the regulation of non-party campaigning at elections, and many of the representations derived from an objection not to the Bill, but to how the PPERA rules, in the view of those making the representations, would have worked. This debate has enabled us to introduce amendments that meet many of the concerns raised, to clarify how charities and campaigners can legitimately campaign on policies and issues without falling subject to the election law regulatory regime and, where they may fall to be regulated, to reduce the burdens of compliance and ensure that small-scale campaigns are exempt from that regime.

The House will recall that before the Bill was sent to the Lords, we made significant changes to it here. In particular, we returned to the definition of “controlled expenditure” in the PPERA—in other words, expenditure

“reasonably regarded as intended to…promote or procure the electoral success”

22 Jan 2014 : Column 343

of a party or candidate—but narrowed it slightly so as not to include the additional limb about enhancing the standing of parties or candidates. We had, therefore, already made some clarifications to the Bill before we sent it to their lordships.

Of those changes, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, one of the largest and most prominent umbrella bodies representing charities and the voluntary sector, said:

“The government’s commitment to abandon the change to the test of what constitutes non-party campaigning is a significant step in the right direction.”

Pete Wishart: The Leader of the House knows, because we have told him often enough, that on these issues we actively encourage the participation of the third sector in Scotland. In the light of that, why have the Scottish Government not received one reply from this Government regarding the Bill, particularly concerning its effect on our referendum and on Scottish charities?

Mr Lansley: The Bill, of course, will have no effect on the referendum in September. I do not recall receiving a letter from Ministers in the Scottish Government, although I do recall receiving letters from the First Minister of Wales, which I replied to. If Ministers have received any such letters, I shall gladly take advice on what the reply has been.

3 pm

On the amendments to part 2 that their lordships have returned to us today, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said:

“Much of the risk to charities from this legislation has now been averted. We are grateful that the government has listened to the concerns charities have raised in recent months. Charities, by law, may not campaign in a party political manner…The bill now provides a much more sensible balance than it did to begin with between creating accountability and transparency in elections while still allowing for charities and others to speak up on issues of concern.”

One need not fully embrace what NCVO said about the character of the Bill in the first place to recognise that we have arrived at what I hope continues to meet the principles of transparency in election campaigning while continuing to enable charities and voluntary organisations fully to exercise free speech on policies and issues.

Mr Redwood: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that charities have never been able to use tax-privileged money to campaign for parties and individuals in elections, which is what he wishes to continue to be the case?

Mr Lansley: That is absolutely right. I am sure my right hon. Friend will recall—it has been interesting to have these conversations—that if charities comply with the guidance, called CC9, issued by the Charity Commission, we can be pretty confident, except in very limited circumstances, that they will not fall to be regulated under election law. It could happen if, for example, a charity pursued its purpose in a run-up to an election, received various pledges from various candidates or parties in relation to its objectives and then chose to issue details to the public. That could be held to be seeking to influence electoral outcomes. Frankly, however, our discussions have increasingly demonstrated a mature approach on the part of the charities, many of which

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have recognised that the Bill was not really about exempting charities and that only in very limited circumstances would charities fall to be regulated. Many charities completely understood and agreed that it was right for those who wished to influence election outcomes to do so openly and transparently. That is what the Bill is all about.

Andrew George: The Leader of the House implies that, in accepting all but three of the amendments to part 2, the Government are being generous, yet many of the amendments are, of course, Government amendments. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that, as well as the charitable sector demonstrating its maturity, the Government might have learned some lessons from this particular process? What are those lessons, and does he not accept that he could have done things better?

Mr Lansley: I am sorry, but I think that, in this respect, my hon. Friend has not understood how these issues have often worked. I shall not go through all the amendments in detail, but many of those that he says are coming back to us as Government amendments were tabled as Government amendments on Report in recognition of the character of the preceding debate and consultation in Committee. Members of the House of Lords often raised issues in Committee. My noble Friends Lord Wallace of Tankerness, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Gardiner did magnificent work in determining where it was appropriate for the Government to make amendments in recognition of the concerns expressed. [Interruption.] I do not think that Opposition Members should sneer at the idea of the Government tabling amendments in the other place in order to bring them back here to meet the concerns, which is nothing other than a proper process of scrutiny.

There are a lot of amendments in the group, so let me set out the Government view of the main ones, starting with those with which we disagree. It is important for Members to understand where the burden of the debate lies.

Lords amendment 108 seeks to exclude staff costs associated with any member of staff of a third party from the calculation of controlled expenditure for transport, press conferences, organised media events, public rallies and public events. When Parliament passed the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, it believed that the inclusion of staff costs was an important element of ensuring a transparent regulatory regime. As Labour Members will recall from their time in government, that Act included staff costs in the calculation of controlled expenditure for non-party campaigners. The decision was taken on the basis that where a third party undertakes other activities besides political campaigning and enters into political campaigning, its spending for those purposes should be fully transparent.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): My understanding is that our election agents would count as part of our costs when we stand for election, as would hiring a phone bank, so why should there not be full transparency in connection with the staffing costs in this case?

Mr Lansley: There is a distinction between the handling of staff costs for political parties and their handling for non-party campaigning. That was the point I was making: in so far as political parties have permanent staffing costs, they are not necessarily included, but it was

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determined in the 2000 Act that we should aim to identify the additional costs.


They are included in individual constituency calculations, but not in the total spending limits for political parties, as applied under PPERA on a national basis. Otherwise, if a political party had more staff, it would automatically have less money available to spend at the time of the election. It is essentially about parity of arms. Where third parties are concerned, except in relation to the election period, almost by definition they do not have permanent expenditure on party political campaigning, so what they spend at election time needs to be calculated.

Mr Allen rose—

Mr Lansley: I will give way, but I must make some progress; otherwise the Opposition Front-Bench team will start chuntering again, complaining that I have taken up all the time.

Mr Allen: I shall avoid drawing the parallel that the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) drew between political parties on the one hand and charities and voluntary organisations on the other, which rather gave the game away. Let me refer more helpfully to the fact that my Select Committee supports the view that staffing costs should be included. However, we also support the second Chamber in its view that, for practical reasons, that should not apply this time round. The Electoral Commission and their lordships argued on practical grounds that because of the extra bureaucracy and the shortness of time, staffing costs should be exempt on this occasion, whereas they should normally be included.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying that point at this stage. He was a member of the Government who included staff costs for non-party campaigning in the 2000 Act, and I think it would have been consistent for him to have stayed with that position.

On the concerns of third parties about the difficulties associated with calculating staff time, that is an existing element of the regulatory regime. Its operation in the last two general elections, alongside Electoral Commission guidance, shows that such costs can be accounted for without it being overly burdensome. In its current guidance, the Electoral Commission takes a proportionate approach to the calculation of controlled expenditure, including staff costs, by stating that third parties should make an honest assessment of the costs, which need to be reported.

It should also be noted—Lords amendment 19 is relevant—that with the proposed increases in the registration threshold, smaller organisations, whether they be charities or other campaigning organisations, will not be subject to any regulation. The need to calculate staff costs will not apply in that case, and it is the same for any larger organisation that spends only relatively small sums. Volunteer costs will, of course, continue to be excluded from the calculation of controlled expenditure.

As such, the Government believe that the inclusion of staff costs is an important element of the regime. We have none the less agreed to a review of the operation of the Bill during the 2015 general election. The inclusion of staffing costs will be an aspect of that review. Lords amendment 108 would, however, create a

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significant gap in the operation of an effective regulatory regime at the next general election, so I ask the House to reject it.

The next Lords amendments with which the Government disagree are Lords amendments 26 and 27—adding up to the total of three. These amendments provide that only limited activities should be considered as part of controlled expenditure for constituency limit purposes. The amendments would require that only the costs of election materials—whether they are addressed to households or otherwise distributed—and unsolicited telephone calls to households should count towards those constituency limits. They therefore fail to take into account the principle that lay behind the introduction of constituency limits, namely the principle of transparency. It is essential for members of the public to know when third parties are campaigning in the constituencies in which they live, and to know how much money they are spending in doing so if it rises above any significant level.

As Members know very well, campaigning does not revolve around leafleting and cold calls. There are events such as press conferences and rallies; there is transport to bus supporters to an area, and there are the payments made to campaigners. All those are significant aspects of campaigning, and excluding the costs of such activities would undermine the effectiveness of the constituency limits. The constituency limits applying to third parties were introduced to prevent candidates and political parties—they are, of course, the main actors in any election, and rightly so—from being outspent and overwhelmed by the activities of third parties, so that parties do not put their own candidates forward in an election. The Bill does not prevent third parties from campaigning, but it does require them to be open and up front about their spending, and not to overwhelm and outspend the candidates and parties.

Caroline Lucas: I wonder whether the Leader of the House has listened to all the non-governmental organisations that have tried to explain to him that, by and large, they do not organise on a constituency basis, and that trying to allocate the costs in that way is incredibly complex and time consuming. Is he ignoring those organisations because he does not understand how they work, or because he does understand how they work and wants to shut them down?

Mr Lansley: I have listened very carefully to what has been said to me. I think that campaigning organisations often object to constituency limits because they erroneously assume that when they are undertaking a national activity there will be disaggregation to individual constituency limits, because of, as it were, the coincidence of where that activity takes place. It will form part of a constituency activity in circumstances in which there is a significant effect in that constituency; otherwise, it will form part of a national activity. [Interruption.] The guidance will make clear that a constituency limit will apply when there is a significant effect in a specific geographical area or individual constituency, but that when the activity concerned forms part of a national activity, national limits will apply.

We need constituency limits. I do not know whether the hon. Lady is proposing that we should not have them, but when we sent the Bill to the House of Lords,

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a clear decision made by Members of the House of Commons expressed their belief that it was right to have them. Without them, the national limit could all be spent in individual constituencies: it could be targeted on a small number of constituencies in a way that would completely distort elections that are meant to be between political parties. That is the basis on which the Bill is structured.

Wayne David: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Lansley: No. I need to make progress now.

Amendment (a) to Lords amendment 20, tabled by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), would return the spending limits to a higher level than that for which the Bill provides—effectively, to the current level in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. It proposes a spending limit of £793,000 for England, £108,000 for Scotland and £60,000 for Wales. The limit for Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Bill, would continue to be £30,800.

During our debate on the last group of amendments, the hon. Gentleman spent half an hour lecturing us about the procedures of the House. He is the Chair of a Select Committee that, on Report, proposed amendment 102, which would have deleted clause 27 and left the spending limits as they were in PPERA. He argued for that, and the House rejected it by a majority of 51. Now he has presented a report to the House—from a Select Committee of the House—which completely ignores the House’s decision. The House has a view on this matter, but the Committee has ignored that view. The hon. Gentleman is simply re-presenting the same argument to the House, ignoring—on behalf of his Select Committee—the fact that the House has already rejected it. If the Select Committee does nothing else, it should take account of the view of the House before submitting a report to the House.

3.15 pm

Mr Allen: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Lansley: No. Oh, come on then.

Mr Allen: I wanted to intervene so that the right hon. Gentleman could calm down for a moment and stop wagging his finger at Members.

Had my Select Committee—the majority of which consists of coalition Members—had more than two working hours in which to produce a report, we would have done an even better job; and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that if we had had the time that he has had in which to produce a Bill, we would have done a damn sight better job than he has managed to do.

Mr Lansley: I shall not wag my finger at the hon. Gentleman, but he has made a ridiculous point. If the members of his Select Committee wanted to produce an additional report, they should have directed themselves to the Lords amendments. [Interruption.] They have not done that. What they have done is reintroduce, by way of an amendment to a Lords amendment, a subject—[Interruption.] Amendments were agreed in the House of Lords. The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment whose purpose is not to address the Lords amendment, but to reinsert a provision that was previously rejected, and was not even pressed in the House of Lords.

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Both this House and the House of Lords agreed that a reduction in spending limits was sensible. The £450,000 overall spending limit that the Bill now proposes is at a level that few political parties exceed, accounting for the same range of activities. For instance, at the last general election only four political parties—ourselves, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the UK Independence Party—spent more than that.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): You spent a lot more.

Mr Lansley: We have equality of arms under the legislation, although I think I remember that, technically speaking, the Labour party spent more. But we will return to that.

There are about 100 other political parties, campaigning on a national basis, which managed to do so without exceeding that overall spending limit. Surely, if third parties wish to campaign on the basis of involving themselves directly in the influencing of elections, they should be able to do so without spending more than the great majority of the small political parties in the country have chosen to spend.

Mark Durkan: As a member of the Select Committee, I think it a bit rich for us to be lectured on proposing amendments to Lords amendments by someone who is proposing that we reject a number of significant Lords amendments. If the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the Bill, as it broadly stands—with the Government’s suggested response to the Lords amendments—is so perfect, why did the Government table Lords amendment 99. which gives Henry VIII powers to Ministers enabling them to change the very law that he says is so perfect?

Mr Lansley: I shall deal with Lords amendment 99 later. What I will say now is that the amendment that we are discussing would leave the spending limit in Northern Ireland as it is under existing legislation, not least because my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House went to Northern Ireland to meet organisations there and discuss these matters.

The third party spending limit allows for a great deal of activity. That is partly because much electioneering activity can be now conducted by means of new technology at a much lower cost than used to be the case, but in any event a third party could print 40 million leaflets, it could take out a dozen front-page advertisements in a national newspaper, or it could make 780,000 telephone calls from a professional phone bank. That, I think, demonstrates that the limits proposed by Lords amendment 20 are proportionate.

Charlie Elphicke: I note that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) wants to increase the amounts. Given that elections are meant to take place between political parties, why are the limits so extensive, and why have the Government allowed them to be so high?

Mr Lansley: I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is referring to the spending limits for political parties, or—

Charlie Elphicke: My point is this. Should not the third-party interventions be lower, given that elections are meant to take place between political parties?

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Mr Lansley: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. We have set out to strike a balance, and, in Lords amendment 20, we have changed the limits applying to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On the basis of all those arguments, I ask the House to resist amendment (a) if it is pursued by the hon. Member for Nottingham North.

Turning to amendment (a) to Lords amendment 55, the Government have worked closely with the Electoral Commission to ensure reporting requirements are not overly burdensome. The Government removed the need for nil reporting and have also reduced the regulated period. The regulated period for third parties will commence in September this year, not May, and this will allow additional time for the Electoral Commission to provide guidance and for campaigners to be fully aware of the regulatory regime. Owing to the reduced regulated period, this will impact on the quarterly reporting cycles for the 2015 general election, with the final “quarterly cycle” being compacted from September—three months is a short period running up to the general election.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North has tabled an amendment intending to deal with this situation. However, the Government believe that as this is late in the cycle and only reports of donations over £7,500 are required, third parties will have systems in place to cope with this reduced period. As there is no requirement for nil reports, a period—short or otherwise—will require nothing at all unless a large donation is accepted during that period. It should be noted that third parties will have to provide weekly reports after the Dissolution of Parliament, so the compacted final quarterly cycle will not result in an overly burdensome reporting requirement, particularly in the light of the Lords amendments, which we will come on to, relating to reporting requirements.

On the hon. Gentlemen’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 59, third parties will have to submit a donations return to the Electoral Commission only where they have received a reportable donation of £7,500 or more. Where they have not received a donation of this value, no report needs to be submitted. This underpins the aim of part 2, which is to increase transparency without placing overly burdensome reporting requirements upon a third party. As is the current practice, under section 96 of PPERA a third party will have to provide a full report of reportable donations three months after polling day. This return is submitted to the Electoral Commission. The Government believe that the section 96 return provides an important safeguard where a full record of reportable donations is provided and visible. This will allow both the Electoral Commission and the general public to ascertain the amount and source of all reportable donations received by a third party during the regulated period. The Government do not believe that this requirement is overly burdensome, as the information will have already been prepared by the third party. It also allows the opportunity for the third party to declare any reportable donations which it has failed to declare previously. This underpins the regulatory regime. We therefore do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, which requires the same donation to be reported only once as that would risk a lack of transparency through this section 96 return coming after the election.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): Most of the correspondence I have received from concerned members of the public is in support of

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charities, some very small, whose normal activities are not related to the electoral success of a political party or individual. Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to set their minds at rest that this Bill will not be detrimental to them in any way?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I can, for two reasons. First, only expenditure which would reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the success of a party or candidate might fall to be regulated as election expenditure, and it is demonstrable at previous elections under this regulatory regime that large amounts of policy-related campaigning has been undertaken by charities and that has not required to be regulated. The second reassurance, as we will come on to see with other amendments, is that we are proposing to lift the registration threshold up from the current level of £10,000 to £20,000. That will allow small-scale campaigning by organisations not to be part of the regulatory regime.

Turning to the hon. Gentleman’s amendment (a) to Lords amendment 75, a statement of accounts has to be provided only if the third party has incurred controlled expenditure over the registration threshold. In addition, an individual is excluded from the provisions. Those third parties who prepare accounts under another enactment need not prepare additional accounts if the commission is satisfied they include equivalent information. When a third party registers with the Electoral Commission it must state, using a simple tick box, whether it is an individual or one of the bodies that can register as a third party. From this information, the Electoral Commission can ascertain whether the body provides accounts under another enactment. As a result it would add unnecessary additional bureaucracy to ask the third party to submit a subsequent declaration that it is exempt from the provisions, as the amendment requires. I therefore hope the hon. Gentleman will not persist with that.

Turning to amendment (a) to Lords amendment 99 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), the order-making power, to which the hon. Member for Foyle just referred, would allow for the Government only to make consequential amendments. It would not allow the Government to amend the fundamental principles and provisions included in part 2 of the Bill. Any changes to primary legislation would be subject to affirmative resolution in any case. The power is also time limited, so that it could be used only until the date of the next general election. I should emphasise that I hope this power will not be needed, but I consider it prudent to insert it into the Bill, to ensure it is possible to make changes should unforeseen or unintended effects be identified after the Bill receives Royal Assent which could be put right by consequential provision.

The Government have introduced—the Lords is introducing—a number of amendments of significant benefit to campaigners, and we would not want to risk them being ineffective for any technical reason. We agree that it is important to consult the commission and I can assure the House that we will consult it before making an order under this power. The commission in its briefing agrees with this approach. Should the commission make a recommendation to us to use this

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power, we will consider such a recommendation extremely carefully. Because of the limited scope of the power and this assurance, the Government do not believe it is necessary to accept this amendment.

Baroness Thomas, the Chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in the House of Lords, described the power yesterday as

“well precedented and here it is very narrowly drawn. The House need not worry that the Government are in some way exceeding their powers or doing something they should not on this occasion.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. 615.]

Consequently, we cannot support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

Let me turn to the Lords amendments with which we agree. Lords amendments 106 to 107 set out in schedule 8A a consolidated and extensive list of the types of expenses which are excluded from counting as controlled expenditure. Further to the current exclusions provided for in PPERA, the Lords in these amendments extend them to include: expenses related to translating materials from English to Welsh or from Welsh to English; costs associated with providing protection of persons or property in relation to a public rally or event; and reasonable expenses incurred that are reasonably attributable to an individual’s disability. The exclusion of translation costs reflects the position of the Welsh language, which is governed by the Welsh Language Act 1993. Under that Act, the English and Welsh languages have equal status in Wales. This differs from other languages spoken in the UK, where the UK Parliament has not legislated to give them the same status as Welsh.

Lords amendment 19 increases the registration thresholds in the Bill, as I was discussing in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson). Those were set in the Bill at £5,000 for England and £2,000 for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The amendment however raises these amounts substantially, from £5,000 to £20,000 for England and from £2,000 to £10,000 in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This change is in response to the many representations this Government have received from campaigners who spend only small amounts of money and were concerned that the Bill’s transparency provisions, though essential, would in fact impose unduly onerous compliance requirements. It is important to recognise, as many organisations did, that election expenditure should in principle be disclosed and regulated, but there were concerns that smaller organisations would be caught by the provisions. By raising the thresholds to levels that also take into account the extended range of activities proposed by the Bill, small campaigners can be assured that they will not suddenly be subject to administrative controls that they are not resourced or equipped to comply with.

3.30 pm

Bob Stewart: Does the raised amount include staff costs?

Mr Lansley: Yes. The registration threshold is the threshold of expenditure at which one is required to register, and all the limits for the registration threshold and the total spending limits are in relation to the definition of controlled expenditure which includes staffing costs for third parties.

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Lords amendment 20 increases the spending limits—not the registration thresholds—for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by £20,000 each. This is an increase from the levels set in the Bill when it went to the Lords. The new limits will be £55,400 for Scotland, £44,000 for Wales and £30,800 for Northern Ireland. Campaigners have argued that the spending limits for those parts of the United Kingdom were disproportionately low—so low in fact, that they might force campaigners to step aside and not participate in elections. It has never been our intention to prevent third parties from campaigning altogether. They are a key aspect of the democratic process and, to ensure they remain so, the spending limits have been raised to more suitable amounts.

Lords amendment 18 relates to coalitions. It is important to recognise that the Bill did not change the regulatory regime for coalitions, but the debate on the Bill has enabled us to identify a change that will help campaigners that do incur small amounts of expenditure. The Government received many representations on the existing PPERA regime on coalitions. The concern was that the Bill’s provisions would put onerous reporting burdens on them. This fear was particularly pronounced in relation to those who often campaign as part of a coalition.

This new procedure introduces a new framework. A third party may participate in as many coalitions as it wishes. When it takes part in this procedure, it will not have to report for its expenditure, provided it does not incur total spend above the registration threshold—the numbers to which I just referred. The third party would take on the status of a “minor campaigner”. Another third party who agrees to act as a “lead campaigner” in the coalition’s common plan would instead report the expenditure it and the minor campaigner had both incurred. As with the registration thresholds, this provision is also intended to reassure small spending campaigners that new burdens will not be imposed upon them. Indeed, it will reduce the burden compared with the regime in the 2000 Act.

Lords amendment 28 removes the post-dissolution constituency limit of £5,850. Campaigners may now spend the entire constituency limit of £9,750 at any time during the regulated period, or just in the last few weeks before the election if they so wish. That makes it less restrictive and easier to comply with.

Lords amendments 91, 94 and 96 shorten the length of the regulated period for third parties. The regulated period is the time before an election within which only limited expenditure can be incurred, and certain campaigning rules must be observed. Reports must be submitted to the regulator. The regulator, the Electoral Commission and campaigners have argued that they need more time than the Bill would otherwise allow to understand fully the new rules and their responsibilities under them. The Government agree about the need to ensure suitable guidance is in place for campaigners. If the Electoral Commission needs further time to produce this guidance, and ensure it is relevant, clear and useful, the regulated period can be shortened to facilitate that. That is why the regulated period for third parties, for the purposes of the 2015 parliamentary general election only, will be reduced to seven and a half months—starting immediately after the Scottish referendum—instead of the usual twelve months.

Let me stress that the regulated period for political parties is not being similarly reduced.

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The Lords have also introduced amendments to allow royal chartered bodies, charitable incorporated organisations, Scottish charitable incorporated organisations and Scottish partnerships to register as a recognised third party. This reflects the fact that the list of bodies that can register as a third party has not been updated since 2000.

The Lords have made further amendments that seek to reduce unnecessary burdens on recognised third parties. As a result, recognised third parties will have to provide a donations report to the Electoral Commission only when they receive a reportable donation of £7,500 or more. There will no longer be a requirement to provide nil reports. In addition, a recognised third party will no longer have to provide a spending return or statement of accounts if it only incurs controlled expenditure below the necessary registration threshold. When a recognised third party has to provide a statement of accounts, this can be sent to the Electoral Commission in a longer time frame—within nine months of the end of the regulated period, if they do not have to be audited, or 12 months, if they do have to be audited.

On non-party campaigning, in order to ensure that the provisions of this Bill are subject to review, Lords amendment 88 stipulates that the Government must, within twelve months of Royal Assent, appoint a person to review the operation of the PPERA provisions, as amended by this Bill, at the next general election. The findings of that review must be laid before Parliament within 18 months of the next general election—that is, by November 2016. The review will provide a unique real-time opportunity to assess how the new regulatory regime is operating, in good time for the 2020 general election.

Lords amendment 87 is not about non-party campaigning. It introduces a new measure to ensure that candidates’ personal expenses will be excluded from counting towards their election expenses limits at local elections in England and Wales. This change will harmonise those arrangements with the existing situation for parliamentary elections, police and crime commissioner elections and Greater London authority elections, at which personal expenses are already excluded from candidates’ expenses limits.

This change has been brought about principally so that disabled candidates are not unfairly penalised for incurring disability-related costs, which can often be quite high. The need for the change became apparent following the creation of the access to elected office for disabled people fund. The fund was established by this Government to provide grants to disabled people who are, or who go on to become, candidates at elections. The fund provides grants to help candidates to overcome any barriers to elected office that might arise as a result of their disability. However, electoral law considered those grants to be personal expenses and therefore deductable from candidates’ election expenses limits at local elections—the one poll where personal expenses counted towards a candidate’s expenses limit.

Lords amendment 87 therefore brings the treatment of personal expenses at local elections into line with the arrangements for other polls where they are already exempt. It would be particularly unfair to penalise disabled candidates standing at local elections for accepting

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fund grants or even incurring their own disability-related costs. The amendment does not as yet extend to local elections in Northern Ireland or Scotland, as those polls are devolved. However, we will work with the respective Governments to ensure that there is consistency.

Much work has been done in this House, in the Lords and with external stakeholders to ensure that the Bill meets the principle of enhanced transparency for third parties who want to influence the outcome of elections, while preserving the essential freedom to speak out on issues. I should like to thank those who have contributed to the debates, and I reiterate my thanks to my noble Friends in the House of Lords. As has been said many times before, the purpose of the Bill is to bring greater awareness and clarity to campaigning activity. I believe that, through these amendments, that is what we can achieve.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I now have to announce the result of the deferred Division on the question relating to the draft civil legal aid regulations. The Ayes were 304 and the Noes were 231, so the Question was agreed to.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

Stephen Twigg: A total of 1 hour and 50 minutes has been allocated for this important debate on part 2 of the Bill, and the Leader of the House has just spoken for almost three quarters of an hour. That leaves the rest of us just over an hour to address an issue on which Members on both sides of the House have received dozens of items of correspondence in the past few days.

Let us remind ourselves that the Bill started out as a lobbying measure. It was meant to be the Government’s response to what the Prime Minister called

“the next big scandal waiting to happen”.

However, the Bill has been a disaster from the very beginning. It was meant to address the next big scandal; instead, it has turned into an attack on civil society, on campaigners and on trade unions. It was meant to fix our broken politics; instead, it risks stifling free and open democratic debate. It was supposedly about stopping big money coming into our politics; instead, it creates the risk that civil society will face unnecessary and burdensome regulations.

It was noted in our earlier discussions on part 1 that the process by which the Bill has been conducted through Parliament is entirely in line with the draconian nature of the Bill itself. There has been a distinct lack of scrutiny at every stage. It has been a shambles. Deliberations on the Bill in the other place finished yesterday—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. It is very interesting, but I must remind him that this is not a Third Reading debate. His remarks should refer specifically to the amendments before us, and I presume that he was about to speak to them before I interrupted him.

Stephen Twigg: I am grateful to you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will deal with the amendments in a moment, but it is important that we consider the context, because the speed with which the Bill has been considered, particularly in the past few days, has affected the ability of Members in this House to propose amendments in

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lieu of the Lords amendments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) said in the debate on the previous group, Baroness Williams of Crosby said yesterday that the timings, whereby the Lords finished yesterday and the Commons resumed consideration today, are “ludicrous”.

In moving on to deal with the amendments, I wish to praise one of the proponents of the amendments in the Lords, the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries. He has worked diligently to propose sensible amendments on behalf of his Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement in an attempt to improve a deeply flawed Bill. Weeks of engagement, careful drafting of amendments, debate and consultation led to a position where, as has been said, the Government were defeated on three amendments, one in part 1 and two in part 2. As the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) said, there are lessons to be learned by this Government from this process. Some of these issues might not have arisen had the Government published this legislation and enabled pre-legislative scrutiny to take place.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, and all the other members of the Committee. As my hon. Friend reminded us, the Government parties have a majority on the Committee yet it offered a damning indictment of the way in which the Bill has been handled. The Committee stated:

“The haste with which Lords amendments are returning to the Commons is yet another example of the way in which this Bill has been rushed through Parliament. The timetable that the Government has imposed for this Bill indicates a contempt for Parliament and a lack of belief in the value of parliamentary scrutiny.”

I remind the House that last September we asked the Government to think again.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Context we have got, time we have not. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should now move on from the context—we are not on Third Reading—to the specifics. Other hon. Members are waiting to speak.

Stephen Twigg: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and let me move on to address some of the specific Lords amendments. First, may I welcome changes that have been made which respond to concerns that have been raised by civil society, but I urge the Government today, notwithstanding what the Leader of the House has just said, to go further and accept the Lords amendments on staffing costs and on constituency limits? Raising registration thresholds is a sensible move that will stop many small and local campaigners becoming entangled in complicated and burdensome regulations. Allowing large campaigners to provide a single expenditure report on behalf of a coalition of smaller campaigners will incentivise and help collaborative working by organisations of different sizes. Simplifying the reporting regime is also a sensible reform.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): My hon. Friend makes an important point about the burden on third-party organisations. Does he agree with the point made by Lord Harries that it would be almost impossible for the Electoral Commission to police third-party expenditure?

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Stephen Twigg: I absolutely agree. Of course the Electoral Commission made the same point, and I will deal with that when I reach the relevant amendment. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that important point on the record.

The Government are proposing to legislate for a review of part 2 following the general election. A review is a sensible thing to carry out, and we support it. However, is there not an irony in rushing legislation through Parliament without appropriate levels of consultation and only at the end, after the event, to add a Government amendment for a serious and thorough review? Surely that is the wrong way round. For many of those who have been campaigning on this Bill and on the Lords amendments, this amendment is a cruel twist. Having been denied a serious process of consultation with the aim, which is blatantly obvious, of stifling campaigning before the next election, the Government now say that there will be a substantial review, but that it will be undertaken after the general election.

3.45 pm

Wayne David: Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s proposal amounts to a tacit acceptance that there are fundamental defects in what has been proposed? Would it not be far more sensible if they were honest and straight and recognise that and delayed the whole process?

Stephen Twigg: Absolutely, but I will not be tempted too far down that path, because I must address the Lords amendments that are before us today. My hon. Friend, who led for us on this part of the Bill along with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), makes a powerful point.

Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend not surprised at the Government’s attitude to this particular set of amendments? The Prime Minister talks about the big society, yet the way that this legislation has been formulated will stifle that same big society.

Stephen Twigg: My hon. Friend makes her point extremely powerfully. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, a measure that was supposed to address a serious crisis around lobbying—we have addressed that in part 1 earlier this afternoon—has instead turned into something that is at real risk of chilling debate among citizens in the period between now and the next general election. The Bill is being rushed through so that it can take effect and be in place for the general election campaign in 2015. Then there is an offer of a serious review, but only after that election. That is churlish, and it is cheap politics from the Government parties. Let me refer to Steve Bubb, the chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. He said:

“The government is clearly keen to show it is listening to civil society, but these amendments don't prevent the Bill curbing freedom of speech around elections.”

The Select Committee agreed with that, and said:

“We do not believe that the Government has clearly communicated the need for Part 2 of the Bill, or has provided a satisfactory account of the basis on which the new levels for registration and expenditure by third parties have been set.”

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Charlie Elphicke: When it comes to the record of expenditure, does the hon. Gentleman believe that Sir Stephen Bubb is the best example to quote?

Stephen Twigg: There are many other examples that I could quote. I chose to quote Sir Stephen, but I could have quoted many other figures. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am that there is pretty much unanimity among civil society, left to right, on this question. I will come back to that very point in a moment.

In an attempt to improve what we see as a flawed Bill, we support Lords amendment 45. It is an amendment of incredible importance to campaigning groups and charities. It is clear and simple, and calls for the removal of background staffing costs from activities such as press conferences, media events, transport costs and public rallies. We absolutely support the aim of transparency and accountability. The amendment is not designed to take these activities out of the parameters of the regulation. It is about removing the background staff costs from the activities set out in new schedule 8A.

Mr Lansley: It is amendment 108, not 45.

Stephen Twigg: I will take the Leader of the House at his word. Let me say “the relevant amendment”. I believe this relevant amendment is modest. It is primarily about not the costs themselves but the additional bureaucracy that this would involve. For many smaller charities, it would be incredibly difficult to differentiate the amount of time that the staff member spends on these activities from the time they spend on other activities. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) mentioned Lord Harries of Pentregarth. What he said in the other place is worth considering. It is easy to assess the amount of money that one will spend on hiring the hall for a public rally, because there is an invoice. However, there is no invoice for a member of staff or for the 10% of the time spent over four weeks carrying out the work.

Bob Stewart: Small charities will get nowhere near their limits, even if they put in all their staff costs. I suspect that charities will not have any problems with the limits whatsoever.

Stephen Twigg: I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman is correct. I have already said that we welcome some of the changes to the registration and threshold levels, but there is still concern among charities about the impact this change could have and the Lords amendment simply clarifies and improves that element of the Bill.

There is no desire in this House to create a regulatory system that is impossible to abide by. We do not want to stifle charities or the other voluntary and citizens’ organisations that are often the bedrock of our communities with further unnecessary red tape and changes to their accountancy structure. Many such organisations rely on volunteers, but they have to try to cost the time of their volunteers.

I believe that the Lords amendment is a compromise. The Opposition share the preference that the Electoral Commission has expressed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North, the Chair of the Select

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Committee, reminded us earlier, the Electoral Commission said that for the 2015 election it would prefer all staff costs to be removed. The amendment does not go as far as that recommendation, as it would merely count for background staff costs in relation to certain activities that are being brought into regulation.

It is clear that some costs should be accounted for, such as those with an indirect relation to the canvassing of voters. It seems to me that it would not be very difficult to identify those costs, but organising a meeting, travelling to a venue or setting up a press conference might take merely a few minutes and it would be absurd to expect small and medium-sized organisations to have to account for that time, too. We see the amendment as a tidying up exercise that could save valuable time and money for charities and voluntary organisations while maintaining the purpose of transparency and accountability for those activities that relate directly to elections.

When the amendment was considered in the other place, only three peers who were not from the Government Benches voted against it. The Government were defeated, and on that basis I urge them to listen. Lord Tyler, the Liberal Democrat peer and a former long-standing Member of this House, made a powerful case, saying:

“Bluntly, I do not think that anyone cares if a policy officer, whose job for the rest of the year is something completely different, spends a little time booking a room for an election rally, or incurs costs travelling to it…if the regulations go through without us thinking about the implications, they could unnecessarily tie up campaigners in accounting for their time—and, worse still, could deter some from campaigning at all.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. 280.]

Steve McCabe: Surely the problem is not about the amount of money. The danger is that the Government are completely ignoring the fact that small charities believe that the Government are setting out to tie them up in knots and prevent them from expressing opinions that they might find difficult. That is why this is regarded as an attack on freedom. Is that not the problem?

Stephen Twigg: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why throughout our discussion of the Bill we have used the phrase “chilling effect”. There are the direct effects of the legislation, but in a sense the greater concern is the one of which he has reminded us—its broader effect on the ability of civil society and citizens to participate in debates in the run-up to elections.

Let me refer to other contributions in the other place. Lord Cormack—Patrick Cormack, a Conservative Member of this House for 40 years—urged the Government to take this step. He was supported by his Conservative colleague Lord Northbrook. They supported the amendment and argued that it would make life a lot easier for campaigners and would therefore give citizens a voice. I urge the Government to reconsider and, if they will not, I urge the House to stand with the other place on this amendment.

Let me move on to constituency limits. We are supposed to be addressing the issue of big money in politics. Bearing down on third party spending while leaving political party spending unreformed seems to me to be unfair and does not represent the radical reform we are looking for. Just now, the Leader of the House spoke about party spending at the 2010 general election. The biggest third-party spender spent 4% of the amount spent by the Conservative party at the last election—4%.

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If the Government are serious about taking the big money out of politics, they need to confront their reliance on a tiny number of wealthy donors.

Charlie Elphicke: Who was responsible for that 4%, and did they include their staff costs?

Stephen Twigg: We are talking about 4%. I do not have the information to hand—that is the honest answer to that question.

Mr Lansley: The answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) is Unison, which did not include staff costs.

Stephen Twigg: So this is what it is all about. Unison, on behalf of its members, spent 4%. The Conservative party spent 25 times as much as the biggest third-party spender, which suggests that this is a solution in search of a problem.

Andrew Gwynne: The real issue is that at the 2010 general election spending by all the political parties totalled £31 million. In that same election period, third-party organisations spent just £3 million.

Stephen Twigg: My hon. Friend makes the point better than I did, and I thank him for doing so.

Given that both the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee supported the restoration of the third-party limit to the levels in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, we believe that that is the right approach. The Lords have advocated a clear, simplifying amendment, which would ensure that there are new reporting requirements for third parties in relation to telephone calls, literature to households and physical distribution in a defined area. The Government’s wider scope of activity, which would have to be reported, has been described by the Electoral Commission as unworkable and unenforceable. It said that

“it will be challenging to obtain robust evidence to determine and sanction breaches in specific geographical areas, for example, regarding the effects of a leafleting campaign or mobile advertising in different constituencies…it is likely to be difficult to demonstrate that a breach meets the necessarily high test for using a stop notice to intervene to halt campaigning activity.”

Surely there is nothing worse than our passing a new law that is unenforceable and unworkable.

The Electoral Commission states that the Lords amendments would reduce its worries about enforceability, although it still has concerns about this part of the Bill. The Government’s plans risk increasing the administrative burden on charities and campaigning groups. Often, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said, those groups are not organised regionally or locally, let alone by constituency, and they would have to modify their accounting structures and the way in which they monitored their expenditure.

Let us consider the kind of cross-party campaigns that we are talking about: people campaigning on the badger cull; on HS2; on a hospital closure that might affect a region or sub-region; local food banks; and road extensions. There are many such examples, and I do not believe that the Leader of the House, in his response to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, gave sufficient reassurance that the Government have

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addressed that issue. The Opposition support the Lords amendment, and we hope that the Government will have a change of heart.

In the debate in the other place, Lord Cormack said that he welcomed amendments that were trying

“to make a bad Bill better”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. 281.]

He urged the Government to improve the Bill by supporting the Lords amendment. The chief executive of the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action said that the Government have

“turned an awful Bill into what might at best be described as a deeply flawed Bill.”

They have another opportunity to try to mitigate the disaster of the original Bill. Even at this late stage, I urge the Government to accept the amendments that the Lords have proposed after careful and pragmatic consideration. For a party that used to talk a lot about the big society, it seems to me that without the Lords amendments, this is a cruel attempt at making society that bit smaller. The Lords amendments are sensible and modest on staffing costs and constituency limits, and they would help charities and other voluntary and campaigning organisations. If we keep the Lords amendments, they would improve the Bill considerably. I urge the House to accept them.

4 pm

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): It is a real privilege to contribute to this debate. I have contributed to all the debates on the Bill so far. I am quite optimistic about the Bill’s purposes, but today I want to confine my remarks to Lords amendments 108, 26 and 27. The Government reject amendments 26 and 27 because they are keen to take the big money out of politics and to ensure that local charities and organisations can be involved in campaigning. One of the things that has crept into every stage of debate on the Bill is that it is a gagging Bill. It is frightening good people in communities throughout the country.

Wayne David: If the hon. Gentleman wants to take the big money out of politics, is he in favour of putting curbs on the expenditure of political parties, particularly the Conservative party?

Stephen McPartland: The hon. Gentleman makes a very political point and I want to confine my remarks to the amendments.

Earlier, we heard an exchange between the shadow Leader of the House and the Leader of the House regarding Unison and small local charities. The reality is that we need to stop the trend of large third party organisations—in the United States, they are called super PACs, or political action committees—attacking a small number of 90 to 100 constituencies that determine who wins the general election and will form the next Government. That is something that all hon. Members should be in favour of.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman provide some evidence for that assertion, which is the most ludicrous thing I have heard this afternoon?