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


Conclusions and recommendations


Introduction

1.  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. (Paragraph 7)

Part 1: Registration of consultant lobbyists

2.   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. (Paragraph 11)

3.  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. (Paragraph 12)

4.  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: (Paragraph 13)

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"

5.  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. (Paragraph 14)

6.  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. (Paragraph 16)

Part 2: Non-party campaigning

7.  We are pleased that the Government has decided not to exempt charities from Part 2 of the Bill. We do not support such an exemption. (Paragraph 23)

8.  We support exempting security-related expenditure from Part 2 of the Bill and therefore support the Government amendment to this effect which was made at Report Stage in the House of Lords. (Paragraph 29)

9.  We support the Government new clause, agreed at Report Stage in the Lords, to reduce the regulatory burden on minor campaigners that campaign in coalition with other third parties. (Paragraph 32)

10.  We are pleased that the Government has agreed to shorten the regulated period for the next general election, so that it begins on 19 September 2014 rather than 23 May 2014. This will give third parties time to understand the new guidance and to plan their activities accordingly. We therefore support the Government amendment to this effect that was made at Report Stage in the House of Lords. (Paragraph 37)

11.  The Bill has been rushed through Parliament without proper consultation or pre-legislative scrutiny. It has been improved slightly during its consideration by both Houses, but in the time available it has not been possible to solve all the problems that have emerged. It is vital that the Bill is reviewed after the next general election. For this reason, we are pleased that the Government tabled a new clause at Report Stage in the House of Lords to provide for a post-election review. We support the new clause. We emphasise to the Government that evidence gathering for the review will need to begin during the regulated period. (Paragraph 41)

12.  We are pleased that the Government listened to the concerns we and many others expressed about the definition of controlled expenditure in clause 26. Reverting to the existing definition under PPERA is not an ideal solution, because the existing definition is itself problematic, but it is the best solution that could be achieved in the time available. We recommend that the person who conducts the review of the legislation after the next general election should be charged with producing an improved definition of controlled expenditure. (Paragraph 49)

13.  In principle, we think that staffing costs should be regulated for both third party campaigners and political parties. However, we note that the Electoral Commission would support exempting staffing costs for the 2015 general election alone, on practical grounds. We support the non-Government amendment, which was made at Report Stage in the House of Lords, to exempt certain background staffing costs, on the grounds of reducing bureaucracy. We recommend that the person charged with conducting the review of the legislation should be tasked with devising a workable proposal for including staffing costs within controlled expenditure after the 2015 general election. (Paragraph 54)

14.  In our first report on the lobbying Bill we called for clause 27(1) to be deleted so that registration thresholds could be restored to their current levels. The Government has amended clause 27(1), at Report Stage in the House of Lords, so that registration thresholds are not simply restored to their current level, but increased. We very much welcome this change and are pleased that the Government listened to us and others. (Paragraph 59)

15.  At Report Stage in the House of Lords, the Government made an amendment to raise the maximum expenditure limits in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from those originally proposed in the Bill. In the case of Scotland and Wales, the new limits still fall short of the current limits, as they do in England. The changes are an improvement on what was originally proposed. However, we are still not clear about the rationale for altering the current limits. We therefore recommend the following amendment to the amendment: (Paragraph 64)

  Agree with Lords Amendment Page 15, line 3, leave out from "substitute" to end of line 5 and insert "—

  (a) in relation to England, 2% of the maximum campaign expenditure limit in England;

  (b) in relation to Scotland, £20,000 plus 2% of the maximum campaign expenditure limit in Scotland;

  (c) in relation to Wales, £20,000 plus 2% of the maximum campaign expenditure limit in Wales;

  (d) in relation to Northern Ireland, £20,000 plus 2% of the maximum campaign expenditure limit in Northern Ireland.";"

  As an Amendment to the Lords Amendment -

  Leave out from "England" to end and insert -

  "£793,500;

  (b) in relation to Scotland, £108,000;

  (c) in relation to Wales, £60,000;

  (d) in relation to Northern Ireland, £20,000 plus 2% of the maximum campaign expenditure limit in Northern Ireland.";"

16.  We welcome the Government amendments made at Report Stage in the House of Lords to remove the sub-limit on constituency spending for the period after the dissolution of Parliament. They go some way towards simplifying the new regime. (Paragraph 65)

17.  We continue to be concerned about the enforceability of the constituency level limits on spending by third parties. We see merit in the suggestion of keeping the constituency spending limit, but restricting it to spending on election material that is addressed to or directed to electors or households in a particular constituency, or spending on unsolicited phone calls to electors or households in a particular constituency. This strikes us as a workable solution that could be enforced by the Electoral Commission. (Paragraph 72)

18.  At Report Stage in the House of Lords, the Government made a series of amendments to simplify the reporting and accounting requirements. In particular, third parties that register with the Electoral Commission but do not receive any reportable donations during the reporting period will no longer need to send in a nil return. We support these amendments, as does the Electoral Commission. However, like the Electoral Commission, we believe further changes are necessary. (Paragraph 77)

19.  We recommend the following amendments to the Lords amendments. (Paragraph 79)

Agree with Lords Amendment Page 25, line 43, at end insert—

"( ) A "pre-dissolution period" means a period—

(a) beginning with the first day of a qualifying regulated period, and

(b) ending with the day before the day (or the last day) during that qualifying regulated period on which Parliament is dissolved."

As an Amendment to the Lords Amendment -

At end add -

"() If the final period of less than 3 months referred to in subsection (2)(c) is less than 2 weeks, this final period shall be added on to the preceding 3 month period and only 1 quarterly donation report shall be required for this period."

***************************

Agree with Lords Amendment Page 26, leave out lines 28 to 31

As an Amendment to the Lords Amendment -

At end add -

"and insert '() This section does not require a third party which reports a donation during the regulated period to report the same donation in its post-election spending return.'"

*****************************

Agree with Lords Amendment: Insert the following new Clause—

"Returns as to controlled expenditure

(1) Section 96 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (returns as to controlled expenditure) is amended as follows.

(2) For subsection (1) substitute—

1) Subsection (1A) applies where, during a regulated period, any controlled expenditure is incurred by or on behalf of a recognised third party in a relevant part of the United Kingdom in excess of the limit for that part mentioned in section 94(5).

(1A) The responsible person must prepare a return in respect of the controlled expenditure incurred by or on behalf of the third party during that period in each relevant part of the United Kingdom.

(3) In subsection (7)—

(a) in the opening words, for "(1)(a)" substitute "(1A)";

(b) in paragraph (a), omit "falling within subsection (1)(a)"."

As an Amendment to the Lords Amendment -

[After subsection (1A)], at end insert-

"() A third party must make a declaration to the Electoral Commission in either of the following circumstances—

(a) it does not have to prepare a return because it has spent less than the registration threshold;

(b) it has to send a spending return but is exempt from the statement of account rules."

20.  We are still concerned that the Bill makes a change to the regulatory remit of the Electoral Commission which the Commission itself thinks could lead to uncertainty in the regime. We are disappointed that the Government has not removed clause 35 from the Bill. (Paragraph 82)

Conclusion

21.  We continue to regard the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill as an example of how not to make legislation. It cannot be desirable that Parliament is put in the position of being asked to agree a Bill that is acknowledged to be imperfect, with the promise that it will be reviewed and improved at a later date. The Government and Parliament have a joint responsibility to ensure that legislation is got right the first time. This Bill should serve as a reminder to successive Governments that consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny are not mere formalities that can be dispensed with if the Government chooses, but essential elements of the process of producing good legislation. They need not take undue amounts of time, and they add genuine value. (Paragraph 83)

22.  Significant changes have been made to the Bill during its passage through Parliament. It is far from perfect, but it is undoubtedly better than it was, thanks to the efforts of parliamentarians, Committees of both Houses, the Electoral Commission, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement and many others. We agree with many of the amendments that have been made in the House of Lords. In some instances, we think amendments to these amendments are necessary. In particular, in Part 1 we would like to see the Bill amended to include Senior Civil Servants within the list of people with whom contact counts as lobbying. In Part 2, we would like the maximum expenditure limits to be restored to their current levels in England, Scotland and Wales. We are content with the proposed increase in the limit for Northern Ireland. We would also like the reporting and accounting requirements in Part 2 of the Bill to be made less bureaucratic. We will be tabling amendments to this effect and urge Members to support them. (Paragraph 84)



 
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Prepared 24 January 2014