We support the aims of increasing transparency in lobbying, and effectively and fairly regulating third-party campaigning. However, Parts 1 and 2 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill are seriously flawed. This reflects the fact that the Bill has been introduced without adequate consultation with those it affects and without the proper involvement of Parliament, not least through pre-legislative scrutiny. As proposed, the Bill would do little, if anything, to impact upon the scandals that led to all parties supporting legislation. This will disappoint the public and reduce further their trust in politics. If Parliament is listened to, this unnecessary outcome is avoidable. The creation of good law requires the effective participation of the legislature and the executive, and this has been sadly lacking on lobbying.
If the Government wants only to make it clear whom third-party lobbyists represent when they meet Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, it does not need a statutory lobbying register to achieve this: such details could be included with the current information that is published about these meetings.
The definition of "consultant lobbying" in Part 1 is so narrow that not only would it exclude in-house lobbyists, which was the Government's intention, it would also exclude the vast majority of third-party lobbyists, and particularly the larger organisations. Many companies undertake lobbying as part of a wider communications and public relations business, and they spend very little of their time meeting directly with Minsters and Permanent Secretaries, meaning they could argue they were exempt from registering under the exclusion in Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1. The Government should amend the Bill to:
- expand the definition of a lobbyist to include those who lobby on behalf of an organisation for which they work (in-house lobbyists);
- expand the definition of what constitutes lobbying to include the provision of lobbying advice;
- extend the list of people with whom contact counts as lobbying to include Senior Civil Servants and special advisors. We think that the House should consider carefully the inclusion or exclusion of Members of both Houses in this context, because there are some difficult problems associated with this issue.
The list of information to be provided on the register should be expanded to include the subject matter and purpose of the lobbying, where this is not already clear from a company's name.
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. The definition of spending "for electoral purposes", in particular, is confusing. It is unsatisfactory that its interpretation should be left largely to the Electoral Commissiona state of affairs the Commission itself has criticised. Many charities and other organisations contacted us to express concern about the combined effects of new lower thresholds for registration, new lower limits for expenditure, and a wider, vague definition of what will count as controlled expenditure.
We have suggested some amendments to Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, which we think would improve it, but our main recommendation is that the Government should withdraw the Bill following its Second Reading, and support a motion in the House to set up a special Committee to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny, using the text of the existing Bill as a draft. The Committee should be charged with producing an improved Bill within six months. That Bill should then be re-introduced to the House and complete its passage onto the statute book as soon possible.