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


2  Part 1: Registration of consultant lobbyists

Scope of Part 1

8. Our original report noted that the Government's purpose in Part 1 of the Bill was extremely limited. Part 1 would introduce a statutory register to make it clear whom third party lobbyists—or "consultant lobbyists" to use the Government's term—represent when they meet Ministers or Permanent Secretaries. Lobbyists and transparency campaigners alike were united in telling us that this was not the problem that they thought the Government should be addressing.

9. We argued that if the Government wanted only to make it clear whom third party lobbyists represent when they meet Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, it did not need a statutory lobbying register to achieve this, because such details could be included with the current information that is published about these meetings. The Government's response was: "Without such a statutory requirement to disclose client names—and associated sanctions for non-compliance—it would not be possible to guarantee the accuracy and veracity of such information."[8] We do not consider this a convincing argument: the Government appears to be suggesting that a third party lobbyist might not provide accurate information about the client it is representing when it meets Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. If the Government had reason to believe that a third party lobbyist was not providing accurate information about its client, or if the third party lobbyist refused to provide such information, the Government would already have a sanction: it could refuse to meet that lobbyist in future.

10. Our original report expressed concern that not only did the Government's definition of "consultant lobbying" exclude in-house lobbyists, which was the Government's intention, but as originally drafted it would also have excluded the vast majority of third party lobbyists, and particularly the larger organisations. This was because many companies undertake lobbying as part of a wider communications and public relations business, and in addition they spend very little of their time meeting directly with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, meaning that they could argue that they were exempt from registering under the exclusion in Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1. The Government's response to our report stated:

    We recognise...that the Committee and others had concerns regarding the breadth of the exemption provided at paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 (as introduced). The Government therefore refined that exemption by amendment at Committee stage in the House of Commons and clarified that the exemption (now provided by paragraph 1 of Schedule 1) will exclude only those organisations that are mainly non-lobbying and that lobby in a manner that is incidental to that non-lobbying activity. That exemption will not be enjoyed by large and/or multi-disciplinary firms that run consultant lobbying operations, and that lobby in a manner which is not incidental to their other non-lobbying activity - even if consultant lobbying is not their primary activity. As such, they will be required to register if they meet the other criteria outlined in the definition of consultant lobbying.[9]

We welcome these changes in so far as they tighten the exemptions that would have enabled many third party lobbyists to argue that they were not required to register.

11. One further welcome change was made by the Government during Report Stage in the House of Lords. Our original report stated that there would be merit in requiring lobbyists on the register to sign up to a code of practice and recommended as a starting point that, under the information required on the register, registered lobbyists should have to list any codes of practice to which they subscribe. A Government amendment that was made at Report Stage in the House of Lords changes the Bill so that registered lobbyists will have to record whether they have signed up to a relevant code of conduct. We support this amendment.

12. We continue to believe, however, that the focus solely on third party lobbyists is too narrow. Our original report proposed a series of other amendments to broaden the scope of Part 1. None of these was accepted, nor were any other amendments to the same effect, with the result that the Bill that returns from the Lords to the Commons continues, overall, to be an unsatisfactory and inadequate vehicle for increasing transparency about lobbying. We still maintain that in order genuinely to enhance transparency, a lobbying register would have to cover all those who lobby professionally and all those who offer professional advice on lobbying, whether they are third party or in-house lobbyists, including those working for law firms, trade associations and think tanks. We also believe that the information that the register requires to be listed should be expanded to include the subject matter and purpose of the lobbying, when this is not already clear from the company's name.

13. In addition, we continue to argue that the list of people with whom communication, or advising on communication, counts as lobbying should include Senior Civil Servants and special advisers, as well as Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. Lord Tyler tabled an amendment at Report Stage in the House of Lords to add special advisers to the list of people with whom communication counts as lobbying. This amendment was made. We support the amendment as it goes some way towards widening the scope of the Bill. We recommend that this Lords amendment be amended to include Senior Civil Servants. We have tabled the following amendment to achieve this:

Agree with Lords Amendment "Page 2, line 7, after "secretary" insert "or special adviser"

As an Amendment to the Lords Amendment -

Line 1, after "or" insert ", senior civil servant or"

14. Much of the attention in recent months has been on Part 2 of the Bill. Part 2 is certainly problematic, but we wish to emphasise that we continue to have serious concerns about the very narrow scope of Part 1. Without the changes that we recommended in our original report to broaden the register, Part 1 of the Bill will do little to increase transparency about who is lobbying whom and for what purpose.

Members of Parliament

15. In our original report, we stated that we were concerned that, by attempting to be particularly clear that Members of Parliament were excluded from the need to register as consultant lobbyists, the Government had in fact achieved the opposite effect. The Bill as originally drafted would have exempted from registration an MP's lobbying activities only when they were on behalf of persons who were eligible to vote in the MP's constituency. This raised the possibility of two unintended consequences. Firstly, an MP contacting a Minister or Permanent Secretary on behalf of someone who was not eligible to vote in their constituency (e.g. a child) but whom they nonetheless legitimately represented could have been required to register as a consultant lobbyist. Secondly, it could have been argued that the Bill made it permissible for an MP to accept money in return for making communications to Ministers or Permanent Secretaries, as long as it was on behalf of someone who was eligible to vote in their constituency.

16. We argued that if the Government wanted to exclude Members of Parliament from the Bill, on the basis that paid advocacy is already banned by the House of Commons Code of Conduct for Members, it should delete paragraph 2 of schedule 1 and instead include a provision stating that a Member of Parliament's salary from IPSA does not count as payment under clause 2(1)(a) of the Bill. The Government accepted an amendment to this effect during the Bill's Committee Stage in the Commons, on 9 September 2013. We are pleased that the Government accepted our suggested amendment to make it clear that Members of Parliament are exempt from the need to register as consultant lobbyists under Part 1 of the Bill.


8   Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Second Special Report 2013-14, The Government's lobbying Bill: Government Response to the Committee's Seventh Report of Session 2013-14, HC 801, para 11 Back

9   Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, The Government's lobbying Bill: Government response, para 17 Back


 
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