The Government's lobbying bill: follow-up - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

1  Introduction

1. This is our second report on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Our original report was published on 5 September 2013, just before the Bill's Committee Stage in the House of Commons, and was intended to inform Members of both Houses who were scrutinising the Bill as it made its rapid progress through Parliament. In our original report, we deplored the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation, and the unnecessarily rushed way in which the Bill was being pushed through Parliament. We recommended that the Government withdraw the Bill and support a motion to set up a special Committee to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny and produce an improved Bill within six months. We also proposed several amendments to Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, which we believed would improve it.

2. We are returning to the Bill now to update Members on the changes that have been made during its passage and to aid them in their scrutiny of the Lords amendments to the Bill. Third Reading in the House of Lords took place on 21 January 2014 and the Commons will consider Lords amendments the next day, on 22 January. 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. Had there been more of a pause between Third Reading in the Lords and Commons consideration of Lords amendments, as would usually be the case, we would have had more time to scrutinise the changes made in the Lords and report back in detail. 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.

3. In the immediate aftermath of the publication of our original report, parliamentary consideration of the Bill continued at a frenetic pace. There was, however, to be a brief respite. On 5 November 2013, during the first day of the Bill's Committee Stage in the Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the Cabinet Office spokesperson in the Lords, told the House that the Government would pause consideration of the Bill for nearly six weeks "so that there can be wide consultation...and so that the Government can try to address the concerns of those involved and interested in Part 2."[1] This followed Lord Ramsbotham's decision to table a motion calling for a three-month pause in order to commit Part 2 to a Select Committee.

4. When the Lords Committee Stage resumed on 16 December 2013, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, who was standing in for Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said: "There have been meetings with nearly 50 organisations [during the pause] to discuss how the Bill might affect them, and there has been correspondence with many more."[2] The Government did not table any amendments to Part 2 during the Committee Stage. Lord Wallace of Tankerness indicated that the Government would table amendments on Report, which it duly did. He assured the House that "while the Government are absolutely committed to the increased transparency that Part 2 will bring, we have been listening and will continue to listen to those who have strong views on this legislation."[3]

5. The Electoral Commission told us that they had had opportunities to make their views known to Ministers and officials during the pause in the Bill's consideration.[4] Karl Wilding, the Director of Public Policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said that they had had contact with Ministers and officials, but commented that the pause had felt more like "a rebuttal exercise" than a listening exercise. He said:

    The feedback from our members is that every meeting that they have had with someone from Government begins with "This is not a problem. NCVO and other organisations are whipping you up into a hysterical state, and you really do not need to worry."[5]

6. Georgette Mulheir, a member of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and Chief Executive of the charity Lumos, said that the Commission had had meetings with Ministers but added: "it has been quite a dry process where essentially we talk about the problems and our suggested solutions, but we are getting no real responses." She commented:

    The only response that we have that we are worrying about something that we should not be worrying about, that someone has whipped it up into a frenzy, that we have not quite understood the Bill, and that really there is nothing to worry about.[6]

She said: "six weeks is nowhere near long solve the problem."[7]

7. The six-week pause announced by the Government fell far short of the six-month pause for which we called in our original report and it related only to Part 2, not to the whole Bill, as we suggested. It is also clear that some of those who participated in the consultation that took place during the pause would have appreciated much more of a dialogue with Government. Nonetheless, we are pleased that the Government decided to have the pause. Six weeks was not long enough to solve all the problems with the Bill, but it was at least an indication that the Government recognised that there were problems and it was better than nothing.

1   HL Deb, 5 November 2013, cols 109-110 Back

2   HL Deb, 16 December 2013, col 1040 Back

3   HL Deb, 16 December 2013, col 1041 Back

4   Qq2-3 Back

5   Q39 Back

6   Q60 Back

7   Q59 Back

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Prepared 24 January 2014