5.35 pm

Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, I start with two general observations about the Bill. The first concerns process and the second concerns construction.

The Bill is the product of the “something must be done” response to a particular problem. There is a problem, not least in terms of public perception of illicit or unethical lobbying of policy-makers, but that problem requires a considered response, one that both addresses the problem and is seen to do so. This Bill, as I shall argue, fails on both grounds. My principal point here, following other noble Lords, is that the measure has been rushed. I share the concerns expressed by the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House in its report on the Bill. As it noted, the Government had announced that there would be a White Paper and a draft Bill. There has been neither. As has been said, this places a particular responsibility on your Lordships’ House in scrutinising the measure.

In terms of construction, this is a Christmas tree Bill. The previous Labour Government brought in Bills that were essentially two Bills in one and sometimes three Bills in one. This Government have continued the practice. The title of the Bill is something of a giveaway. The relationship between the three parts is tenuous, to say the least. This practice places particular strains on the other place in terms of detailed examination in Committee. This House can adapt its examination to the discrete parts of the Bill somewhat more effectively, but it is none the less a practice to be deprecated.

I turn to the substance of the Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Lang, I shall focus on Part 1. Much that I say will reinforce the points that he made. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, said, there is general acceptance that there should be more transparency in lobbying. This Bill, though, is too narrowly drawn to correct the mischief that has motivated its introduction. The Bill is concerned to identify those who engage in lobbying on a commercial basis, and do so as free-standing entities. I am not sure what that adds to our knowledge. The more one reads the exclusions in the Bill, the more one recognises the limitations of the exercise. It excludes small-scale commercial lobbyists, those for whom lobbying is not the principal purpose of their business and in-house lobbyists. Some companies have sizable lobbying teams. One suspects that their activities may at times be as much a concern to the public as are the activities of dedicated lobbying firms. Will the Minister tell us why the Government differentiate between lobbying of Ministers on, say, the duty on cigarettes by in-house lobbyists of tobacco companies and lobbying by commercial lobbyists bought in by tobacco companies for the purpose of lobbying Ministers? From the perspective of the exercise of lobbying, and how it is perceived by the public, what is the salient distinction?

That brings me to another crucial limitation of the Bill. The focus is one of status and, as I have explained, a rather narrow one. It is not directed at the actual activity, other than indirectly. It seeks to influence behaviour through making public who engages in

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commercial lobbying. There is no statutory code of conduct and no stipulation of principles that should govern the behaviour. In so far as the Bill influences behaviour, it may be to encourage lobbyists to avoid making representations in a way that brings them within the scope of the Bill but, as most are not presently caught within the ambit of the Bill, it will not make that much difference anyway. All that the Bill does is to introduce a new layer of regulation for no obvious public benefit. It tells us, at some cost, what is largely already known.

The Bill, in short, is fundamentally flawed. The point has been well made in the other place by Members on both sides that it is based on a lack of understanding of how lobbying actually works. It was expressed especially well by a former student of mine, Tracey Crouch, who spent several years as a lobbyist. As she pointed out, the lobbying industry today provides a very different service and is a very different industry from what it was 10 or 15 years ago. Consultant lobbyists are more likely to advise clients on how to undertake lobbying of government rather than undertake it themselves, and if they do undertake it, they are not likely to be lobbying Permanent Secretaries. The Government appear not to understand the industry as it now is, most of which will not be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

The Bill is neither one thing nor the other. Either it should go the whole way and introduce a comprehensive register of lobbyists or it should be abandoned and the Government should instead address the problem from a very different, and I believe more effective, perspective. The case for a comprehensive register has been made by others. I am not persuaded of the need for a register, comprehensive or otherwise; it may prove counterproductive with lobbyists using registration as a seal of approval. More importantly, I do not believe that it would assuage public concerns about the lobbying of government.

The other approach, which I commend to the House, is to shift the emphasis entirely and build on existing practice. In opening the debate, my noble friend Lord Younger made the point that there is now more transparency about policy-making meetings, with a quarterly publication on those meetings. My noble friend Lord Lang also referred to that. Why not build on that? When Select Committees produce reports, they publish the names of those who have given evidence, that is, who made representations to them. It is normal practice to publish the material submitted to them. Why not require Ministers, when making policy announcements or publishing Bills or draft Bills, to list the names of all those who have made representations to the department on the issue? Listing all those who have lobbied on the subject would be transparent and comprehensive. It would not matter whether it was an in-house lobbyist, a paid or unpaid lobbyist, or simply individuals writing in. It avoids the need to define lobbying, and we would know who had made representations.

There may be a case, building on existing practice, for publishing the notes of meetings and written representations, similar to the evidence volumes published by Select Committees. If this was routine practice,

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drawing material together on a particular measure, it would properly address the problem. There may also be a case for extending it to non-decision-making: that is, when a Minister decides not to pursue a particular policy under consideration. I appreciate that there may be, indeed no doubt are, flaws in this alternative proposal, but I have yet to find any that render it a less desirable approach than that embodied in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister can explain why my proposal is not to be preferred over that advanced by the Government. If he cannot, the Government may wish to reflect on the wisdom of continuing with a flawed Bill.

5.43 pm

Lord Hart of Chilton (Lab): My Lords, there will be many echoes and repetitions this afternoon and evening, and I make no excuse for joining in because the issues are so important. As has been mentioned, I am a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Constitution, whose report was published last Friday. On the same day, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published its report and prior to that on 5 September the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee published its report. All are cross-party committees and all are agreed on their conclusions and recommendations. All are highly critical of the Bill.

Three common issues emerge. First, once again, the Government have introduced a Bill without adequate consultation and scrutiny, not least without pre-legislative scrutiny. As my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington pointed out, the Constitution Committee has repeatedly stressed the importance of proper scrutiny and consultation. That is important for the reputation of Parliament and the quality of legislation itself. Any failure to do so undermines public confidence, particularly in the case of Bills of constitutional importance. This is such a Bill because it directly affects the ability of people and organisations who wish to engage with the Government and participate in political and electoral campaigning to do so. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are rights which lie at the very heart of our constitution. Any threat to these would not only infringe Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights but be contrary to fundamental common law. Some say that this Bill does just that, and I have seen a leading counsel’s opinion which states that there are grounds for a legal challenge on grounds of incompatibility.

A second but connected theme emerging from the reports is that throughout the Bill there are problems of definition, both individually and collectively, which have caused great uncertainty and could lead to unforetold consequences. For example, broadening the scope of controlled expenditure and at the same time lowering its cap, the definition of consultant lobbying and the scope of the Bill have all raised fears and concerns which the lack of proper scrutiny and the speed with which this legislation is being catapulted forward have made worse.

A third theme, which has already been mentioned, is whether, in the absence of a clear rationale, Part 2 is necessary at all, and that what is being proposed is quite disproportionate. The Joint Committee on Human

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Rights states at paragraph 60 of its report, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, drew attention:

“We are concerned that the lack of understanding and clarity about the practical effects of the Bill has led to widespread concern that third parties may be dissuaded from participating in campaigns with a potential ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and freedom of association of third party campaigners”.

Judging by the letters and e-mails that I have received, I believe that it is quite right. For example, legal aid, access to justice, human rights and examples of unjust law are all likely to be election issues. Under current definitions, a third-party campaigner on any of these issues is exposed to the risk that his or her campaigning activities could be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success for a party or candidate even though it is accepted that he or she had no such subjective intention to do so or that he or she did not name any party or candidate or that he or she was engaging in the campaign for its own sake. Such a result cannot be intended, but that is an example of the uncertainty which has been caused.

The Constitution Committee also drew attention to Clause 35 extending the regulatory duties of the Electoral Commission, which has expressed concerns about the rationale for it and whether it has the resources to fulfil the extended obligations effectively.

As to my personal view, I regret to say that I believe this Bill, and the way it has been processed, is a rather shoddy piece of work which has caused in its slipstream much concern and uncertainty. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, seems to think that it is a giant torch shining light on dark cupboards. To me it brings dark clouds and obscurity. I believe that it requires far more scrutiny than the speed of its planned parliamentary timetable will permit. Accordingly, I agree with the Joint Committee when it suggests that the Bill should be paused and submitted for more extensive scrutiny and greater consultation. Alternatively, of course, Part 2 could be dropped altogether. There is a need for a Bill, but this is not it.

5.49 pm

Lord Aberdare (CB): My Lords, I will try to outline my thoughts on the Bill without going into too much detail since most of the points I wish to make have been made already and may well be made again. I will address Parts 1 and 2. I have no problem with the principles of the Bill. I believe that a register of lobbyists is important to ensure the openness and transparency of lobbying activity, and I also support the aim of Part 2 to take the big money out of politics, as we have heard it described. However, I have two broad concerns about the Bill as drafted. Does it risk going too far and actually taking the politics out of politics and will it achieve its laudable aims in a workable, effective and not too burdensome manner?

On Part 1, I start from the principle that lobbying is a vital part of our democratic system. I worked in IBM’s government relations departments in both the UK and the USA and was then a partner in a public affairs consultancy, so at times I engaged in lobbying myself. However, I, and perhaps other noble Lords, might not be able to contribute to debate on this Bill in an informed way if it were not for the lobbying

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efforts of numerous organisations interested in or concerned by it. It is important that lobbying should be open, transparent and above board. The system to achieve that should be clear, fair, workable, reasonably straightforward and comprehensive, so I have considerable questions about how the proposed register is to be set up.

First, why are only consultant lobbyists covered? What about in-house lobbyists, other corporate advisers such as management consultants, law firms and accountants, trade associations and other such representative bodies? Consultant lobbyists represent a very small proportion of total lobbying, perhaps not much more than 10%. In my experience they generally accompany their clients in lobbying situations, if they take part in them at all, and it is the client who has the most direct interaction with the person being lobbied. It is hard to see how the omission of the bulk of lobbyists and their activities from the register will achieve the aims of increasing transparency and public confidence.

Secondly, why does the Bill extend only to lobbying of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries? A huge amount of lobbying takes place at lower levels, including with special advisers, for example, both before and after any direct contacts with Ministers or Permanent Secretaries. Moreover, as we have heard, Ministers and Permanent Secretaries are already supposed to publish details of their meetings with external organisations. If the public need to know who those organisations represent, why could this information not just be added to those reports? After all, if Ministers or Permanent Secretaries do not know who the lobbyists they meet are representing, the lobbying effort seems unlikely to be effective. In this context, I was quite attracted by the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, about turning the whole thing around and looking at it from the point of view of the people being lobbied.

Although I welcome the evident desire of the Government to adopt a minimalist approach, I wonder if there is not a danger of ending up—and here I echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said about Part 2—with an overlarge sledgehammer to crack a small, though admittedly irritating, nut. If we are to have a register and a registrar should they not be a little more comprehensive in their coverage without, of course, imposing undue burdens on lobbyists or their employers? Perhaps something can be learnt from existing systems elsewhere. For example, I have heard the European Union system described, with some approval, as a “coerced voluntary register”.

Finally, should there not be some encouragement for lobbyists to sign up, preferably on a voluntary basis, to codes of conduct such as that of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, which has been in existence for some 20 years? Could the system not make some sort of allowance for lobbyists who show that they adhere to a recognised code of conduct, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler?

I find myself in a similar situation with Part 2. The aim may be worthy, but its implementation falls far short of being as clear, workable and proportionate as it should be. I have been very struck by the number of

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significant and reputable representative organisations expressing concern about this part of the Bill. To pick just a few, there are: the NCVO, with some 10,000 members; its Welsh equivalent, the WCVA, with more than 3,000 members; Bond, which represents 400 international development bodies; 13 faith groups; and the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, which was formed by some 50 very diverse third-sector organisations specifically in response to concerns about this Bill. Numerous bodies have added their voices to these concerns such as the CBI, Citizens Advice, the Countryside Alliance, the National Trust, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and the Royal British Legion, to mention just a few. No doubt briefings are still coming in from further organisations as we speak. Then there is the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in another place, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, your Lordships’ own Constitution Committee and even the Electoral Commission itself. Such a breadth of concern, with little or no countervailing opinion, should surely raise serious pause for thought.

The definition of “controlled expenditure”, even after the amendments made in another place to bring it more in line with the previously existing situation, remains complicated and unclear. One thing that is clear is that Clause 26, combined with Schedule 3, considerably extends the range of expenses covered, for example to include staff costs, if not even volunteer time, although I was reassured by what the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said on that matter. While the scope of controlled expenditure is widened, the thresholds for registration to be necessary are significantly lowered in the Bill, by half in England, and more than half in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The limits on the maximum amounts that can be spent are also reduced, again by more than half. I have seen no rationale or justification for these reductions. Several organisations have said that the previous regime under PPERA was tolerable only because the thresholds and spending limits were sufficiently high not to affect the great majority of campaigns.

The reduced thresholds and limits are likely to bear down particularly hard on third-party organisations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For example, no allowance is made for the fact that in Wales much of the material now classified as election material has to be produced in two languages, with significant extra costs. Nearly all organisations commenting on the Bill, including the Electoral Commission, believe that the Government’s estimates of the number of bodies likely to be affected are unrealistically low.

The rules on coalition campaigns, where each member of a coalition has to include the full amount of coalition expenditure as part of its own controllable expenses, seem likely to have a strongly discouraging effect on campaigns of this nature, although in most other respects they seem positively desirable, as well as effective. Given that charities are already regulated by the Charity Commission under charity law, which prohibits them campaigning on party-political issues, I can understand why the question of whether they should not be specifically excluded from coverage under this new system has been raised.

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I will not go into questions of why the Bill was not subject to greater pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation, as it surely should have been—and indeed should still be—or why there is such an unseemly rush to get Part 2 in place before the next general election, so that all the third-party organisations newly brought within its scope will have to have their future campaigning plans in place as soon as next May, despite all the issues raised in today’s debate.

The Bill in its current form seems likely to represent a significant burden on organisations, many of them small, which could by no stretch of the imagination be regarded as the sort of big money that could realistically distort elections, and to drive a coach and horses through this Government’s claim to be committed to deregulation and the big society. Even worse than that, it could risk causing significant collateral damage to the workings of our civil society as a whole. I hope the Bill will emerge from your Lordships’ House with significant improvements so that it fulfils its worthwhile aims without such undesirable side effects.

5.57 pm

Lord Rooker (Lab Ind): My Lords, the note handed out by the Minister on 10 October stated:

“The Bill takes forward the Coalition Government’s agreement to enhance transparency around the interaction of certain ‘third parties’ with our political system”.

I did a search of the coalition agreement and no such thing is in there. The best I could find was in Chapter 16, “Government Transparency”, which states:

“We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency”.

Elsewhere in the coalition agreement, I found lots about social action and,

“the creation and expansion of mutuals, co-operatives, charities and social enterprises”,

and about encouraging involvement in social action. The coalition agreement also boldly claimed that,

“our political system is broken”.

In fixing the broken system, the coalition now seeks to fix the system in a way that Putin in Russia would be proud of, by fixing the date of the general election and then snuffing out civil society in the year before it. That is the reality. It is quite clever: make the law imprecise so that civil society has no certainty, and give the policing of the law to a commission, which said of the Bill when it was first published in the Commons:

“We do not think it is appropriate for us to have the sort of wide discretion over the meaning and scope of the regulatory regime that the Bill as drafted appears to provide”.

The replacement wording now needs very rigorous testing in your Lordships’ House because new activities are covered for the first time.

As part of the government “fix” of civil society, the Bill introduces a major change in the Electoral Commission’s regulatory remit. This was not forewarned to the commission. No consultation took place with the board or the accounting officer and no rationale has been given. The House will need to test this when we debate Clause 35.

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I say to the House that the same group of Ministers in charge of this Bill in the other place changed part of the remit of another regulator, the Food Standards Agency, in 2010—overnight and without warning—as regards food adulteration. Since then, we have had the horsemeat adulteration scandal, and in recent weeks the 2010 changes have been condemned by both the National Audit Office and the Defra Select Committee. We have been warned.

Of course, this worried Government believe that the Bill will not curtail freedom of expression by campaign organisations. That was in the note from the Minister, but those affected by the Bill must have another version of it. The Bill was not just rammed through the supine House of Commons by the coalition Government; it was printed and published the day before the Summer Recess. There was no consultation prior to publication and it was slipped into Commons Committee in the black hole of the two-week September sitting. The Government exercised bad faith by promising government amendments a week before Report but delivering them only two days beforehand.

The bodies affected by Part 2 of the Bill, which is all I am speaking about, will in the main be registered charities. This means, as has been said, that they are already regulated regarding all activities that they undertake, including during the election period. They claim that the Bill will place extremely tight restraints on their work 12 months before the election. It is also a direct threat to some of the most valued democratic principles, such as freedom of expression, and it undermines democratic participation by restricting civil society involvement in debates. Even now, we do not know whether charity or community volunteers’ time will be costed and included in the new time limits. There is still doubt about that. Assurances given by Ministers in the Commons regarding the ability to support specific policies have not been met.

The Bill rigs the financial limits by effectively counting twice the money spent if organisations are in coalition. This is a massive deterrent to, say, a charity for the homeless working in conjunction with an environmental charity to seek a new housing development—or it might stop two or more charities working together and joining their back-office functions to save money. Furthermore, the Government broke the national compact regarding consultation on matters affecting the third sector, and they cannot deny it. As has been said, the Bill creates a chilling effect on campaigning activity.

The Commons was treated with contempt, says the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. At paragraph 3 of its report, it says:

“This is an object lesson in how not to produce legislation”.

It is the case that any and every organisation that seeks to influence public opinion, whether through campaigning or advocacy, in the 12 months before a general election, either directly or as a consequence of its actions, is now going to be covered. What a gift to those who conduct sham democracies around the world. Christian Aid cannot run its Make Poverty History campaign again in a general election year; the Royal British Legion’s Time To Do Your Bit campaign in 2010 cannot be repeated; and the Countryside

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Alliance will likely not be able to function at all in the 12 months before a general election. We are informed by NAVCA, the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action, whose members support 160,000 local charities and community groups, that the campaign it ran, Real Powers for Communities, could also not be run. That campaign, believe it or not, was designed to highlight the support that the coalition Government’s Localism Act could give to charities and groups. Is this all a mistake? Actually, I do not think so.

The Bill makes virtually no change regarding commercial lobbyists but punishes charities and other civil society groups. As has been said, we need to be mindful that those belonging to charities and civil society groups far outnumber those belonging to political parties. I wonder why that is.

For all the rhetoric, many members of the coalition have little or no regard or respect for civil society. The big society is okay when it is running a park or volunteering for the Olympics but not when it wants to speak up. That is the reality. If our political system is broken, this is not the way to mend it.

I suspect, and certainly hope, that this unelected House has more concern about freedom, plurality, good governance and, indeed, the rule of law than the Commons at the present time. Given the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny, the inadequate scrutiny that the Commons gave and the concerns of the regulator, if this House does not now do a decent job, we might as well ask Clegg to come back and abolish us, as he was planning to do in the first place.

It appears that the new constituency controls may be completely unenforceable, as we have heard, because of the combination of the lower registration threshold and spending limits, new constituency limits and the wider scope of regulated activity. Far more allegations of breaches of the rules will come forward in the heat of an election, as has happened in the past, yet the Government have still to explain how they think the Electoral Commission will enforce these new constituency controls. That was not even debated in the Commons.

I realise, of course—and I am not trying to win friends and influence people in the coalition at the moment—that the coalition has rigged this place to create a government majority for the first time, but it is not too late to make this a better Bill. We have not yet been given a list of issues from the previous general election, where there was concern regarding civil society, to justify this draconian measure. In fact, 33 non-campaign groups registered at the previous election. In total, they spent £3 million in the year before the election. The three main political parties spent £31 million in that year. Where is the problem? I repeat: £3 million was spent in the year before by those non-campaigning groups that registered. Indeed, the only issue that caused me concern at the previous general election was when I obtained a copy of the Conservative manifesto and saw on page 14 a full-page portrait of a named charity chief executive, who extolled the policies set out on the following pages.

In fact, at the last election I was, as is known, working for the Government as chair of a non-ministerial department, the Food Standards Agency. I was not on

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the Labour Whip and, as such, I did not undertake canvassing or any public speaking. So when I saw the Tory manifesto at that time, I was actually shocked. It was certainly a major lapse in the acceptable standards of conduct that one would expect from a registered charity. The person who signed off that manifesto also fell below the required standards. Frankly, I am not prepared to take any lectures about the moral high ground of non-party campaigning from this governing coalition when it pulled a stunt like that at the previous election.

Part 2 will have to come out or be substantially modified. From my three years’ experience of the coalition and of the way that we have been treated over some Bills, I am not going to trust any offer until I see it on the Order Paper.

6.07 pm

Lord Hardie (CB): My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests as president of Capability Scotland. I will not repeat the concerns about the effect of the Bill upon the voluntary sector, which were so ably expressed by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and other noble Lords. I agree with those concerns.

I support the intention behind the provisions in Part 1 about the transparency required from lobbyists, but I fear that they do not go far enough to restore public confidence in our political system. Like many noble Lords, I consider that the provisions confine themselves to the registration of consultant lobbyists and their dealings with Ministers and civil servants at the highest level, and they fail to address in-house lobbyists. Are the public not also entitled to know of these possible influences in the formulation of policy? The duty on Ministers to disclose, on a regular basis, meetings that they have with individuals and the subjects discussed is no answer to that omission. Should that disclosure not be contained within a central database of all activity and be available to the public for inspection? In that regard, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. However, what sanctions exist for the failure of Ministers and civil servants to comply with such obligations?

The provisions are also inadequate in another respect. The obligation of disclosure is confined to lobbying of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, Second Permanent Secretaries or persons serving in the offices listed in Part 3 of Schedule 1. As has been observed by other noble Lords, the reality is that lobbyists will also have dealings with civil servants of a lower grade as well as political advisers to Ministers. Can the Minister tell the House why the need for transparency has not been extended to people in those positions?

I share the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Lang of Monkton, and other noble Lords about the lack of any consultation about this part of the Bill before its introduction in the other place.

Part 2 includes various provisions restricting the involvement of third parties in elections by altering the definition of controlled expenditure and by reducing

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the level of such expenditure contained within the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. I accept that, where non-party campaigning takes place on a scale that could have a significant effect upon elections, it is important that it is transparent and controlled. However, we must guard against imposing arbitrary limits that will have the unintended consequence of discouraging electors from engaging in the democratic process. Any controls on third parties must be reasonable and a proportionate interference with the right to freedom of political expression. The Bill expands the definition of controlled expenditure in the manner already mentioned by noble Lords and I will not repeat that. At the same time, it reduces the limit on controlled expenditure from £10,000 in England, or £5,000 in each of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to £5,000 and £2,000 respectively, at which point registration is mandatory, with all the regulatory and administrative burdens that that entails, not to mention the risk of criminal sanctions.

I, too, wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Horam, on his maiden speech. I share his concern about these reduced financial limits. Will the Minister tell the House the evidential basis for reducing the limits set in 2000, given that it is now proposed that the scope of the activities to be controlled is extended? I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that the passage of time and the expanded definition of controlled activities suggest that an increase in the limits would be more appropriate.

I have similar concerns about the substantial reduction in the national limits of controlled expenditure. Since 2000 those have been £793,500 for England, £108,000 for Scotland, £60,000 for Wales and £27,000 for Northern Ireland. Clause 26(2) reduces those to £319,800, £35,400, £24,000 and £10,800 respectively. Has any assessment been undertaken on whether the revised figures would permit a reasonable opportunity to non-recognised third parties to campaign on issues that they consider to be of national importance? I question whether those limits would permit a national rally, for instance, if groups wish to campaign against government action, such as occurred in relation to the Iraq war or might occur in relation to climate change or other environmental issues.

The Minister sought to give us reassurance on that and emphasised that expenditure would not be controlled expenditure unless it could reasonably be regarded as promoting or procuring electoral success for one or more parties. The Minister is correct, of course—that is what Clause 26 says—but what is the practical implication of that? Let us suppose that a local action group has formed to oppose the closure of a local hospital in the constituency or to support or oppose HS2 or fracking. Expenditure on relevant activities, such as advocating the views of the group, would be controlled expenditure if those views were opposed by one candidate but supported by another. Is that consequence not an unacceptable interference in the democratic process which is disproportionate and which crosses the line of legitimate control?

There is another difficulty with this part. There are inconsistencies in the statutory regime that risk confusing third-party campaigners. I refer to Scotland, where the proposed limit of £35,400 includes expenditure

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during the year before the general election. In contrast, the spending limit for a Scottish parliamentary election, which has been fixed by this Parliament, is £75,800 for similar activities, but the relevant period is four months. The current proposal in the Bill before the Scottish Parliament for the referendum in Scotland is that there will be a spending limit of £150,000 for similar activities during the four-month period before the referendum. Such variations will confuse third parties in that jurisdiction who wish to engage in these campaigns. Will the Minister tell the House how he can justify the inconsistencies that exist in affording the electorate the opportunity of expressing their views?

Finally, the changes to the scope and financial limits of controlled expenditure will have an effect upon the enforcement regime operated by the Electoral Commission. Will the Minister confirm that the Government expect the commission’s regulatory regime to continue to focus primarily upon retrospective action and that its use of stop notices will be confined to cases where there is a significant risk of seriously damaging public confidence in the statutory controls? What assessment has been made of the likely increase in actions of judicial review against the commission as a result of the Bill? Will the Minister also advise the House whether additional resources are to be provided to the commission to enable it to meet its obligations?

Like other noble Lords, I urge the Minister to withdraw the restrictions that Part 2 imposes upon the freedom to participate in elections that has existed since at least the 2000 Act.

6.18 pm

Baroness Donaghy (Lab): My Lords, I have three reasons for wishing to speak in this debate. First, I am a former member and acting chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, and the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, referred to the work of that committee, which spent considerable amounts of time looking at the well-being issue. There is no doubt of the importance of that area. I remember chairing a meeting in which a number of professional associations connected with lobbying were proposing a voluntary code of conduct. The real problem is to identify what constitutes lobbying or a lobbying group. During the meeting it became clear that those who abused the process would never volunteer to sign up. We were talking to the good guys. I do not underestimate the problems that the Government have in establishing clear criteria and an effective registration system: it is not easy. However, this Bill will not stop the big players or catch the bad players. It needs a major rewrite and a cross-party approach.

My second reason for speaking is as a former chair of ACAS. The certification office, which is referred to in Part 3 and has not had very much attention up to now, was part of the ACAS family. I know the excellent work that it does and I regretted that it was listed in the bonfire of the quangos. Was that only one or was it two years ago? I fully accept that it was a merger of two tiny organisations with the loss of one photocopier and that it was done for PR reasons so that the Government could claim that they were cutting red tape. The certification officer was and is required to

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submit an annual report to the chair of ACAS and to the Secretary of State at BIS. Just as I received them when I was chair, the new chair of ACAS will similarly receive those reports. I wish Sir Brendan Barber a very successful tenure as the new chair of ACAS.

Having claimed to scale down the certification office, the Government are now going to increase its role substantially. I understand that Ministers are setting aside £160,000 for this, so at least they recognise the increase in administration. Whatever the Government decide to require of the certification office, I am confident that it will deal with it in its usual competent way. However, I have to ask for an assurance from the Minister on a number of points. Nothing in the Bill will give the certification officer extra powers to stop industrial action or to issue injunctions. I am assuming that this will continue to be dealt with by the courts and is not an extra role for the certification office. I want a categorical assurance that trade union members in sensitive occupations such as prison officers will not be at risk of their home addresses being exposed, particularly those prison officers who work in Northern Ireland.

I also want an assurance that it is not the Government’s intention to politicise the post of certification officer. It enjoys a good deal of trust and confidence, which, once lost, would be difficult to regain. I remind the House that the certification office registers employers’ associations as well. It does not have a political fund, just like the majority of trade unions do not have a political fund. Political funds are clearly the focus of this Government’s attention. For example, if you are an employer in the nuclear power industry and you succeed in having a full-time secondment to BIS, as has happened and probably will continue to happen, who needs a political fund? In fact, who needs to lobby at all?

It is not my intention to spend time on the legal aspects of Part 2. Others are far better qualified than me to cover this. However, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, as has been said, in its comments on the Bill has said that it is “seriously flawed”. It calls for the Bill’s withdrawal and for a special committee to be charged with improving the Bill within six months,

“because it is in all our interests … to produce an Act that works”.

I certainly support that recommendation.

I am also grateful to Citizens UK for its briefing on Part 2. It is a civil society organisation bringing together faith groups, community and educational institutions, trade unions and other membership-based organisations to campaign on issues such as social care, the living wage, street safety or the civil status of immigrants. It seeks to achieve change by dialogue and consensus, rather than by confrontation. Citizens UK has written that,

“the Bill represents a severe curtailment of democracy and the right to campaign”.

If peaceful, official organisations are silenced in the year running up to elections, that may well lead to a spate of spontaneous or unorganised activity, to which the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has already referred. That could be highly effective but possibly unsafe.

If Part 2 were to prevent the National Union of Students, for instance, and individual student unions from campaigning on higher education fees, what is to

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stop individual students from driving around university towns with a large van with a screen on top showing a DVD on a continuous loop of Nick Clegg saying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m very, very, very sorry” for the change of policy on fees? We may see some interesting initiatives.

My third and final reason for contributing is as a former president of NALGO, now UNISON, and a former president of the TUC. I was a lay activist and not a full-time official. I was in a trade union which did not affiliate to the Labour Party or have a political fund. It was only when NALGO was prevented by the courts from campaigning for public services that we decided we should have a political fund. The vote in favour was overwhelming. The general political fund, as it was called, gave money to various causes and political parties and groupings, and continues to do so. It produces an annual report which is summarised in the union journal so that 1.3 million members can read it.

Only when the merger between NALGO, NUPE and COHSE took place did we have to come up with a solution about party political affiliation as the other two unions were affiliated to the Labour Party. The solution was elegant. Members could choose to join the general political fund, the Labour Party affiliated fund, both funds or neither. There were four choices. If noble Lords will excuse the pun, I am labouring this point because every union has a varied history and traditions. Some 166 unions send returns to the certification officer and only 15 unions are affiliated to the Labour Party. Part 3 will affect all those unions if they have more than 10,000 members. Those with below 10,000 members constitute a mere 2.7% of the total. This fishing net—fishing was referred to earlier—has such a small gauge it would probably be banned by the EU.

The Minister in the House of Commons acknowledged that maintaining an accurate register of members is already difficult. Workers move from building site to building site—that is, if they have not been blacklisted by some hidden lobby group. Workers drive around the country or their town. They do shifts and hot-desking. They are volunteers and they do a substantial amount of the work in their union. Adding to their burden could be seen as anti-trade union. The Government should be very careful not to focus all their attention on a few trade union full-time officials. The effect on lay members will be the test. It will not undermine confidence in the union. It will be seen as part of the package of pay freezes, changes in pensions and loss of job security.

In many cases, employees and their trade union rely on the employer for up-to-date membership lists. Apart from giving more work to the employer, the proposed legislation could see a situation where the employer provides a list and then complains to the certification officer about its accuracy. Part 3 is an unnecessary and irritating diversion from the real issue of lobbying, which is where the power really lies and who abuses that power.

6.28 pm

Baroness Hanham (Con): My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in this Bill, even from one row back, and to have had the opportunity of hearing

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the excellent maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Horam. As has been said, the experience he brings from the other House will be invaluable, and I know and hope that we will hear from him frequently.

As the Minister said when he introduced the Bill, it has been a prime concern of the Government to ensure that as much of their activities as possible should be open and transparent. This Bill, with its emphasis on openness, is intended to complement the current moves towards transparency where Ministers and Permanent Secretaries must publish on the web details of those they meet on a regular basis. However, they can do that only if they know to whom they are talking and on whose behalf those people are speaking. Therefore, it seems eminently sensible that where this is not immediately obvious there should be ways of ensuring that those companies are known about.

Mention has been made of in-house lobbying and there was a general emphasis on companies like British Gas. This is not relevant because a company like British Gas will come to see a Minister on the basis of being British Gas, unless it is going to go for a big public relations company, in which case it will then have to be registered. So that is not a problem and there has been no intention in this Bill to deal with what someone called management consultants.

So the Government work on the basis that the electorate have the right to know what has been done in its name by whom and for whom. The aim of the measures in this Bill is to do just that. The requirement that those large organisations whose business it is to lobby senior members of the Government and Civil Service on behalf of their clients should have to be registered and declare the names of those on whose behalf they have made, or are making, representations is long overdue. Whether, as has been suggested, this should go further down the pay scale will be discussed during the passage of the Bill.

That those working on their own or others’ behalf to influence candidates or parties at elections should be regulated, and thus transparent, could be seen as providing more openness to such influence, as also ensuring that trade union members’ records are up to date. So the three elements of the Bill are all directed towards the same outcome—that any influence, or attempted influence on the democratic process should be out in the open.

The other side of the coin is that legislation should also be transparent to those who are affected by it, or believe themselves to be so, so that people can understand not only what is intended but that the legislation is being made to work. Often this has to be left to secondary legislation or guidance. However, from all the briefing we have received and from today’s contributions, it is clear that despite amendments made in the other place there is still a perceived if not an actual lack of clarity about whom the provisions in Part 2 will affect and how. There is concern on the part of charities in particular and the voluntary sector about the interpretation and implementation of the regulation of third parties’ activities during the purdah year prior to elections. The Government specifically tried to satisfy concerns in this area by the amendments

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and reassurances they gave in the other place but it is obvious from the contributions that we have heard today that it is still an issue.

At least because of the fixed-term Parliament it is obvious where the year starts, which is not the case under the current provisions in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. It may be that one of the things we should address is the length of this purdah. I remember well the passing of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. There was a great deal of consternation about the fact that there was a year, particularly relating to constituency associations, in which everything had to be declared and there could be virtually no political activity within that year. I think that, as the noble Lord has said, we might need to look at whether this year the whole year is too long or whether that should be curtailed. Nobody has briefed me on this; I suggest it entirely by myself as it appeared just as a thought as we were going along.

I have been briefed, as have other noble Lords, by various bodies and organisations, including the Electoral Commission and also by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. As a percentage of that is now made up by Volunteering England, I should declare my former presidency of that organisation because I have read its brief very carefully and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and I have shared in the work of that excellent organisation.

NCVO is particularly alarmed at the changes being made to the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act which it feels make it more or less impossible for charities and other interest groups to campaign, even on non-political issues—I know this is not the point of the Bill and I am sure that the Minister will make that clear—during the election purdah for fear of breaching the proposed provisions in the Bill on their interrelation with political parties or candidates and the reduction in allowable expenditure, the wider regulation of what has to be included in that expenditure and the interpretation of what could be considered electioneering or trying to influence a particular outcome by projecting their policies.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Tyler, who is not in his place, that it is essential that we tease out the relationship between this Bill and the charities law to ensure that they are compliant. Charities and similar organisations have already been excluded from the provisions in Part 1 of having to register as lobbyists, so they are not affected by that aspect of the Bill. I have also noted the long briefing from the Electoral Commission, which in effect supports many of the concerns which have been made by other bodies as well as how it is to operate in its new extended remit. It has indicated in the Appendix A to its brief how it would interpret the likely regulations and provisions but it does consider that some if not all of the concerns being raised are justified.

In principle, I support the aims of the Bill. Greater transparency is something for which we should all aspire but there is more work to be done to ensure that there are as few ambiguities, unintended consequences and unclear provisions as possible because the more of those that remain the more this Bill can be misrepresented.

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So I hope that we will be able to clear those up as we go along. I am sure that there will be amendments laid to try to deal with these, most of which are essentially practical, as noble Lords have said, but which can be open to misinterpretation. I believe that the Electoral Commission is still having discussions with the Government and I look forward to the report being compiled by the new commission of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries.

I am sure that many of these issues can be ironed out while the Bill is in this House. I know, too, that even in the short time left between now and further stages, representatives of the organisations which will become non-political third parties would want to put their anxieties directly to Ministers. I know from having dealt with previous legislation that it is amazing how quickly this House can move. So I do not think that it will be at all necessary for the Bill to be delayed and we can work within this timetable.

In conclusion, at least some of the concerns that have been raised seem to be justified and I hope that through further discussions, reassurance from the Ministers or government amendments we will manage to allay some of them. Knowing the Ministers leading the Bill, as I do, I am certain that they will be doing just that. At the end, while all organisations may not be happy, they may at least feel that their issues are understood, that many have been dealt with and that they have been listened to.

6.38 pm

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I join the chorus of critics of this blunderbuss of a Bill. It is quite a big chorus, who expect to be heard with their many concerns and, although it is a very diverse one, stretching across many organisations whose views have been reported by other speakers, there is a remarkable degree of harmony in its view of this Bill.

Critics of Parts 1 and 2 abound, but I shall speak mainly about Part 3. I remind all noble Lords about what the three committees in the other place have thought about the process adopted so far. They have been extremely and uncharacteristically critical—and united across all parties in their criticisms of the way the Government appear to be making it up as they go along at different stages on different issues. In those circumstances, there is a heavy responsibility on the House of Lords, and I hope that we will accept it. I hope that we will do our duty as a revising Chamber that seeks to express its wisdom on the way that legislation is made. On this Bill, more than on many others, we have a duty to do so.

As I mentioned, others have dwelt on the weaknesses of Parts 1 and 2. I will not repeat their points because I shall move on to Part 3, the trade union bit of the Bill. I think it was Joseph Heller who wrote in Catch 22 that:

“Just because you're paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”.

In the trade union ranks, we feel that somebody is certainly after us. That sums up the mood of many people in the movement. We are to be enveloped in new and expensive red tape, and we are being singled out for a kind of special treatment that no one else is

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being singled out for. Is there some supporting evidence of what we have done wrong in this area? Do we have some flaw that needs public intervention? Is there any evidence that our membership records are dodgy?

Unions will be required to employ a new, independent assurer—that is a new word for me in this circumstance—and those with more than 10,000 members will have to submit a membership audit certificate prepared by the assurer. In addition, the certification officer will be able to make copies of membership records. Let us remember that: a public official will be able to make copies of union membership records. That is a feature of societies that are a lot more repressive than ours. It is an intervention in the internal affairs of a union. I think that what is developing in this country will alarm people in the International Labour Organisation. It is not a small point, it is a big one.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord King, is not in his place at the moment, because he knows well the range of existing requirements that unions have to meet in terms of their administration. They must make an annual return to the certification officer and they must have an independent scrutineer on secret ballots, which we very much accept. Anyone can complain about maladministration in the union. It is not easy to keep union records in areas like construction, retail, hotels and catering, which have rapid staff turnover.

What is the situation? Between 2000 and 2004, the certification officer received six complaints. Five of them were thrown out and in the sixth case, the declaration that was sought was not issued. Since 2004 no complaints have been made to the certification officer. Where is the evidence to justify a major legislative intrusion into union administration? There is no evidence for it. People talk about the need for transparency, but transparency for whom? Who wants this information and who is going to get it? As the basis for a new law, it really is ridiculous.

We have these existing obligations and we want to make sure that the way in which we carry them out is for the benefit of union members and is exemplary in terms of our administration. We do not want to open a door so that our records may become available to those who blacklist union activists. We have seen recent evidence of that in the construction industry. Once individual membership records are distributed more widely, where will they end up? If transparency is such a brilliant idea in this area, why do we do not do it for political parties? That would be quite interesting to a lot of people. Why not put them in the glare of the sun? We would then know for sure what the true membership figures are. Surely we have not reached the stage where we have to legislate to remedy an assumed problem for which there is absolutely no evidence. This is red tape gone mad.

The cost to the unions of the assurer and all the rest of it has been estimated, according to the Government’s own figures, at a minimum of around £460,000 a year, while the Government will be required to fork out another £130,000 to £150,000. I will just say this: going down this route is a waste of union members’ money and a waste of taxpayers’ money. If the Government have evidence, they should bring it forward. If they have not, I suggest that they should at least pause and think again about this provision.

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Are there darker motives behind these provisions that are not being revealed? Is it a way of opening up union membership records so that employers can check industrial action ballots? I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that tonight. Is it simply to put a tribal spanner in the union works so that we have something else to wrestle with and waste our money on, rather than tackling the kind of agenda referred to by my noble friend Lady Donaghy: the living wage, job security and all the other things that we will want to talk about in the run-up to any general election? This is a bad part of a not very impressive Bill and I hope that the House as a whole recognises that Part 3 is a waste of time, a waste of effort and a waste of money. Those are good reasons for a pause.

6.46 pm

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, I need not detain your Lordships for long because so much that needs to be said has already been said, and I shall try not to repeat it. The reports of the various committees have been adequately quoted and they are now on the record. I would simply say that I, too, want to stand by the thrust of them all. Observations have been drawn from the Bill itself, especially around the key points set out in Part 2. They have been repeated so, once again, I need not address the ambiguities and the lack of clarity in some of the phrases at the very heart of the proposals. The question that has been asked more than once is one that I will repeat without addressing it: what is the problem to which Part 2 is supposed to be an answer? In repeating the question, I hope that the Minister who is to reply from the Dispatch Box will do his best to see if he can provide an answer, since it has been raised several times.

At the outset of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, declared that this Bill was a most misunderstood piece of legislation to which he sought to bring clarity. Pretty much all the speeches that have followed have shown just how misunderstood the Bill is, so he is to be congratulated on his prescience in getting the mood of the House right. I would like simply to piggyback on some of the methodological ways in which the cases have been built. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, drew on his extensive experience in the criminal justice system to explain how he felt that the proposals in this Bill will impact on organisations working for rehabilitation and restoration within that system. We then heard magisterial speeches from my noble friends Lady Pitkeathley and Lady Donaghy on their respective cases, once again drawing on a wealth of experience and suggesting what might well be, at least prima facie on looking at the Bill, its impact on the activities that they have spent their lives addressing. We heard the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, talk about how the committee that he chairs is drawing its own uneasy conclusions from the legislation as proposed thus far: its haste, its ill judged nature, the way it has been put together so thoughtlessly with no pre-legislative attention, and so on.

I have been thinking about the year-long exclusion zone when all these bodies, agencies and the rest of it are not supposed to indulge in overt political activity. I remember being the victim of just such an exclusion zone myself. I used to do the “Thought for the Day”

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piece on Radio 4. Since I was at the time the vice-president of the Christian Socialist movement, as soon as an election of any kind drew near, I was withdrawn from the list of contributors because it was obvious to everybody that those two and three-quarter minutes between a quarter to eight and ten to eight in the morning could constitute a real undermining of the political process in this country. I just wish that I could have had the opportunity, if it was acknowledged that I had that power.

It is ridiculous for bodies that are set up to achieve certain objectives to be denied the opportunity to campaign and advocate for the realisation of those objectives. That is their raison d’être. I pick up on the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in an earlier speech. There is a contradiction between charity law which requires a charity to do all it can to maximise income to address the objectives for which it is set up as against the way some of the provisions in this Bill just might work out.

I draw a couple of things from personal experience, after which I promise your Lordships I will sit down. For many years, as some of you know, I was living in Haiti. While there, we did everything we had to do to address the dire poverty. We sank wells, we organised co-operatives, we arranged microfinance, primary healthcare, education, literacy and we planted trees. We did everything, and my little outfit looked for collaborators and people of good will with whom to work. We found them in the NGOs and agencies from Britain and from other places around the world.

When I came back from Haiti to live in England, I was burning with the desire to continue with this work. I knew, although we had barely slept some nights because of the work there was and the depth of the poverty we were addressing, that all we had done was dip a toe into the waters. I came back wanting to advocate, wanting to campaign, wanting to get British public opinion onside for what remained to be done. We formed coalitions of interest; we campaigned on the streets; I put together a support group for Haiti; and so it went on.

It becomes natural when the fire burns deep inside the soul for people with common interests to put their energies together in order to knock on the door of government—in order to knock down the door of government, if necessary—so that it can be seen that something needs to be done and that the complacency with which people in countries such as ours live is not to be tolerated.

When I was working as the president of the Methodist Conference and touring the country, I made homelessness the charity that I wanted to support. I was briefed at every point by Shelter. I had been the director of a housing association, also working closely with Shelter. When Occupy did its stuff in the graveyard of St Paul’s Cathedral a couple of years ago, it had quite a lot of my sympathy—as well, at the end, a little bit of my frustration. If housing charities, whose work it is to try to alleviate homelessness or to draw attention in the public domain to the evil nature of the homelessness and the suffering going on because of an inadequacy of supply and an incapacity to meet the rental charges that young people and others are facing, do not take

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to the streets, knock on the doors and stir up public opinion in the year before an election, I will be very disappointed. If this Bill does anything to stop that, I will be very angry indeed. I wish it were withdrawn. I would like to hear what the Minister says about that.

6.53 pm

Baroness Hollins (CB): My Lords, despite government attempts to allay fears about this Bill, as we have been hearing today and as our mailboxes confirm, there are still grave worries from charities, voluntary organisations and other third-party organisations—worries that their everyday activities will be seriously affected by the excessive bureaucracy required by the legislation. I believe that all non-party political organisations should be allowed to continue their usual work in raising and campaigning on issues relevant to their aims and objectives—even in an election year.

We have been told that the Government do not intend the Bill to prevent non-party political organisations supporting, engaging or influencing public policy, and that the new amendments were intended to address misunderstandings about its intentions with respect to third-party campaigning. But despite these amendments, anxieties about what third-party campaigners can and cannot do are unabated. I will give a couple of examples in a moment.

There is considerable uncertainty and ambiguity in the wording of the Bill. It is still unclear whether third-party campaign groups will fall foul of the rules if they support specific policies that might also be advocated by one or another political party. For example, in healthcare, would organisations concerned about alcohol, tobacco or mental health issues be able to debate, comment and campaign on these matters without being so restricted by this regulation that they are prevented from carrying out these core activities? These are the questions that people are asking.

There are other questions too. It is currently not clear which expenditure limits amount to “controlled expenditure” and thus fall within the applicable limit. For example, the Government amended the Bill to exempt the costs of annual conferences, but the costs of public rallies, meetings or other events are still included. I therefore have a question for the Minister. Which category would apply for a membership organisation that organises a conference for its members, but which also has a public element with non-member observers and with an invited media presence?

The summary of all this uncertainty is that many organisations share massive apprehension that the Bill could severely limit their day-to-day activities by introducing what some see as an over-the-top regulation. It is not just charities and voluntary organisations that have concerns about the changes; politically non-affiliated trade unions, such as the BMA and the RCN, are concerned that the new amendments do not go far enough. An excellent briefing from the Royal College of Nursing explains that during the general election campaign of 2010, it campaigned on behalf of its members on healthcare issues, such as maintaining investment in services, improving care for older people and a focus on public health. Candidates from all parties were asked to support these priorities and their

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responses were shared online. Campaigns such as these, aimed at raising standards of care in the NHS, would not be possible if this Bill becomes law. In the eyes of the RCN, the reduction of spending limits and the bureaucratic burden imposed would render this type of activity impossible.

In the other place, the Government offered assurances to charities and voluntary organisations, but I would welcome assurances that they have fully considered the impact of the legislation on other types of third-party groups, such as politically non-affiliated trade unions like the BMA and the RCN. These are trade unions which play key roles in campaigning on issues in the public interest. I declare an interest as the chair of the BMA Board of Science, which raises awareness of public health matters.

The legislation feels rushed. The lack of adequate pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation with those affected is likely to result in a disproportionate and unworkable regulatory regime with damaging consequences.

I add my voice to those calling for Part 2 to be removed from the Bill, or at the very least for a pause for the Government to reconsider. I am sure it is not the Government's aim to limit debate and freedom of expression in this way. I hope the Minister will fully address the concerns that have been raised during this debate.

6.58 pm

Lord Haskel (Lab): My Lords, as the Minister has said, we would all like to know who is buying power and influence and, yes, we would all like to see the light of transparency shining into this murky world. The trouble is that this Bill does not do this, as many noble Lords have demonstrated. Let me briefly say why.

Part 1 calls for a register of lobbyists. In order to deliver transparency, surely a register must include all those who are lobbying and who is employing them. At present, there is a voluntary register that tells you this about some organisations—those that register. The register in the Bill, however, is so narrow and so full of loopholes that it frustrates responsible firms while encouraging irresponsible firms to profit from the loopholes. It muddies the voluntary code. The acting chair of the UK Public Affairs Council, speaking about the register, said:

“People will be able to construct their business never to be on it”—

so much for those who say that a full register is unnecessary.

What are these loopholes? As my noble friend Lady Hayter, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and many noble Lords have pointed out, only political consultants are required to register, but we are told that 99% of the contact between Ministers and Permanent Secretaries is not by political consultants but by representatives of corporations or special interest groups, and they are not on the register; nor are those who advise on how to lobby, a major activity of modern lobbying. This can be an individual or a small organisation, but small organisations are to be excluded. “Small organisations” means those not registered for VAT. The Minister does not need me to spell out the loopholes in that.

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The Bill requires transparency only when you lobby a Minister, a Permanent Secretary or other senior staff. But, like all of us who have worked in government, the Minister knows that most briefing comes from lower down, usually from experts in a particular field. Moreover, this is not the level where most public concerns lie and where much public money is spent. The NHS, local enterprise partnerships and public services provided by the private sector inevitably involve more junior public servants—again, often experts in their fields—but it is here that many members of the public would like to see the shining light of transparency. Also, what about special advisers? As we have heard, their influence has even brought down a Minister.

Part 1 of the Bill does little to support the public interest. Property developers and planning, banks and regulation, education and free schools are all areas where lobbying affects the public interest, yet most will fall outside the scope of the Bill. Instead of giving people confidence in our political system, Part 1 just provides loopholes. We all know that loopholes attract the irresponsible; they lower standards and the public interest suffers. Talking about standards, are the Government satisfied that Part 1 of the Bill will deal with unethical behaviour by lobbyists? The voluntary register has a code of conduct. Surely the Government’s register should also have a code of conduct; otherwise, there will be little pressure to raise standards.

Part 1 of the Bill is not only poor legislation, it is unfair. If a small organisation wishes to campaign against tobacco packaging or alcohol pricing, its consultant lobbyist would be far more tightly regulated than the in-house lobbyists of the drinks or tobacco companies. This applies in many spheres—for example, in health, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, has just told us. All this does is protect vested interests and make it more difficult for the weak to stand up to the strong.

How can we put this right? First, by defining lobbying properly. We should respect the existing lobbying registers and give them more force. If there is to be a Bill, everybody involved in lobbying will have to be drawn into the net. Figures given in another place estimate that some 350 companies will be caught by the Bill. The UK Public Affairs Council estimates that 100 would be caught—from about 15,000 people and firms that operate as lobbyists. That is why Part 1 of the Bill is pointless.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, this is a difficult area for lawmaking, partly because lobbying is difficult to define, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang, explained. I will give your Lordships one more example. It has been known for lobbyists to work as researchers for noble Lords and to provide a secretarial service to all-party groups. Some firms second staff for particular projects to Ministers and government departments, and to the Opposition. Are they lobbyists?

It is hard to separate lobbying from campaigning. However, I agree with the Minister and most noble Lords that lobbying is valuable. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, explained how it informs debate because we are all influenced by logical argument and genuine knowledge. Getting this into the Bill is difficult. Yet, as your Lordships’ Constitution Committee tells us, the Bill is being rushed through without pre-legislative

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scrutiny and with little debate in another place. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee in another place unanimously described it as skimpily scrutinised and deeply flawed—so much for the Minister’s assurances in his opening remarks. That is why it is bad legislation.

Our duty is either to improve the Bill by amendment or to reject it. We will try to amend it to more closely define lobbying. We will try to draw the net much more widely. We will try to remove the loopholes. We will try to respect the standards of the industry set by the voluntary code. Otherwise, it is our duty to reject the Bill and ask the Government to think again.

7.06 pm

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, like many noble Lords who have spoken, I regard Part 1 of this Bill as being probably well intentioned but very perverse in its effect. Part 2 may or may not be well intentioned but is certainly pernicious in its effect. Part 3 is just pernicious. I have some critical points to make on all parts of this Bill. Many of them have been made already, but that will not prevent me from repeating some of them; there are some things that I wish to underline in all three parts of the Bill.

I also want to say something to Ministers and noble Lords opposite, particularly those of a more liberal disposition in either of the coalition parties. I think that there is a feeling in government that the objections to this Bill of the committees of both Houses, of all the organisations in civic society that have been cited and of noble Lords today is due to oversensitivity, suspicion or even paranoia. But, frankly, the Government have done little to overcome that paranoia. They hope that during consideration of this Bill they will manage to do so, but I doubt it because it is part of a wider problem for this Government.

Looking at the wider issue, when the Westminster Foundation or other human rights bodies promoting democracy in Africa or the former Soviet Union visit these emerging democracies, one of the key elements that they wish to develop is the voice of intermediate democratic representative bodies—local government, trade unions, faith bodies, co-operatives, charities—all the kinds of bodies that will be hit by one or other of the provisions of this Bill.

Let us think about this Government’s record. In the third week of this Government, an instruction went from the Cabinet Office to all quangos and arm’s-length bodies that they were no longer allowed to campaign or to try to influence legislators. Then we had the instruction from DCLG to local government that it had to drop or cut dramatically its campaigning activity. Then we had the various restrictions on access to justice, to tribunals and courts, and the cuts in legal aid. Ministers can defend every single one of these moves individually, but the totality adds up to an attack on or at least an undermining of essential elements of our civic democracy. Democracy is not all Westminster or the big issues; it is what goes on in civic society down the line and how people express themselves collectively and individually through those intermediate organisations. The Government need to reflect on that. I particularly ask the noble Lord, Lord

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Wallace of Saltaire, to do so, for I know him to be a liberal person of great democratic credentials. I am not saying anything different about the other Minister sitting on the Front Bench, but I say that today, because it is worrying.

Most of my points on the Bill have been spoken to. On Part 1, we need greater transparency in lobbying, but, as my noble friend Lord Haskel and others said, we are attacking the wrong target at both ends. The only register and requirements are for consultant lobbyists. Consultant lobbyists are a relatively new operation in our democracy. Some of my best friends are now consultant lobbyists, partly because it has been a bit of a job creation scheme for the wannabe, has-been and never-were politicos of various sorts, but, as my noble friend said, they are not the major part of the lobbying industry—far from it. Some organisations see a need to use consultant lobbyists; some do not really need to. The really big, effective lobbyists do not need to. Rupert Murdoch does not need a consultant lobbyist; EDF and the Chinese Government do not need consultant lobbyists; pharmaceutical companies and defence contractors do not need them. Some of them use them occasionally, but they do not need them because they have the power to address Ministers and senior civil servants directly.

I do not know what the solution is to that huge area of lobbying. As the noble Lord, Lord Lang, said, it is very difficult to have a single definition of lobbying. As I remarked the other day, sadly, anybody who wants to talk to a politician is not really there to enjoy their sparkling conversation, their erudition and wisdom, still less their erotic allure; people are there because they want something. In one sense, almost every encounter that a politician has with a member of the public or a representative of an organisation could be defined as lobbying. We have to pin it down—I understand that—but the fact is that Part 1 does not tackle that problem. We are hobbling the minnows while we let the sharks swim free.

It is also about the other end of the process. We all know from being in or anywhere near government that it is very difficult to get the ear of the Secretary of State or the Permanent Secretary, but it is much easier to buy lunch for the person who has their ear—the spad, the private secretary, the assistant secretary or the grade 5 who is actually drafting the legislation or assessing the contracts. They are completely excluded from the Bill, so the Government have got it wrong at both ends of how we are to introduce transparency in the lobbying sector.

On Part 2, a lot of points have been made both in the House and outside, in the literature that we have all received. It is right that there should be restrictions on third parties in electoral situations. It is right that we should be worried about an American-style super-PAC development here. That is why the Labour Government introduced PPERA in the first place 13 years ago, but Part 2 restricts the activities of third parties beyond the degree that is necessary to protect democracy. It reduces the threshold, so that very small organisations have huge burdens placed on them; it widens the definition of what is to be electorally relevant or regulated expenditure; and it cuts significantly the

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amount of money that third parties can pay over a period of 12 months before an election, not just the four or five weeks of the election campaign itself.

Obviously, third parties’ campaigning activities can be said to be aligned with one party or another, or with one candidate or another, either locally or nationally. The cutting of expenditure and the widening of the activities that are covered by it will have a drastic effect on many local campaigns—and very soon, if the Bill goes through. We are only 18 months off the general election; we know when it will be these days. Within six months or so, the £5,000 limit on a constituency basis—we need a limit at that basis—will prevent a number of local campaigns against the closure of hospitals, for or against wind farms, for or against particular developments, or campaigns against HS2. All of those local campaigns could fall foul of the constituency limit.

At a national level, several major political events over the past few years could not occur in future in the 12 months before an election, because they would be too expensive. In that, it is not just one organisation’s limit that must be taken into account. If several organisations are in coalition for an event, it is the aggregated cost that is controlled, which includes such things as staff costs of the organisation. In those circumstances, for example, at no time in the 12 months before an election could the TUC organise another March for Jobs. It is highly probable that the BMA would find it difficult to organise a campaign about health service reforms. I see my noble friend Lady Mallalieu here. It would be very difficult for the Countryside Alliance to organise a march of previous proportions against a foxhunting ban. God forbid, if we were engaged in some new military intervention, it would be very difficult for a coalition against the war to organise a march against it. All such events would come up against a limit for 12 months. That is a serious limitation on our democracy and something that this House should not allow through without serious objection. That is not a healthy democracy.

Part 3 has trade unionists specifically in its sights. My noble friends Lord Monks and Lady Donaghy have already pointed out the absurdity of that and others have queried why we are doing it at all. Of course, in my paranoid mood, I think that there are two or three potential reasons. One is that it might make strike ballots even more challengeable in the courts than they already are. Another would simply be to impose additional costs on trade unions, limiting their activities. A third is that it is primarily directed at the political funds of trade unions and therefore has an effect on the finances of the major opposition party.

To intervene in this way 18 months before a general election in some emerging democracies would rightly provoke serious condemnation around the democratic world. I will return to Part 3 at later stages. I ask the Government to stop demonising trade unions and to stop the other interventions that this Bill represents, which seriously limit our democracy and the involvement of a whole range of different sorts of organisations in democracy. Ministers may think that our reaction is an exaggeration, but part of the duty of this House is to be vigilant. We must be exceptionally vigilant about this Bill.

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7.18 pm

Baroness Kidron (CB): My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, in his evocative speech, described the voluntary and charity sector as a source of political energy. I will address my remarks to the subject of political energy.

I know that I am not alone in your Lordships’ House in my concern that young people are increasingly unmotivated to participate in the conversations and campaigns of public life. The Bill exacerbates their disengagement. As we have heard repeatedly, Part 2 simultaneously extends the scope of what is considered electoral campaigning and lowers the threshold of spending, at the same time as introducing double accounting for the spends of organisations that work in coalition. The cumulative effect of that creates the possibility of silencing the voices of campaigners and of charitable organisations.

Many of us know that a commitment to a single issue or principle is the start of a broader political understanding: a broader political journey. To curtail the voice of the third sector, which has from all quarters expressed its fear of falling foul of the Bill, is to curtail one of the most important places in which young people traditionally find their voice.

The National Union of Students is just one of many organisations that fear that the Bill will curtail the important job of introducing young people to the world of public debate and political discourse. It is concerned that the Bill’s lack of clarity and need for legal opinion will price many of its poorer branches out of politics altogether—particularly further education colleges, which noble Lords will know have a high number of students from backgrounds not adequately represented in elite sections of society. Conrad Grant, president of Goldsmiths Students’ Union, is worried about how the legislation will impact on its voter registration drives that are linked to affordable housing and a living wage for part-time work. These are two issues of increasing concern to students, particularly those faced with the London rental market.

What better way can we find to engage young people than a national debate about lowering the voting age to 16, and who better to propel that debate than the NUS? Yet NUS President Toni Pearce says that she worries greatly that the entirely legitimate and important work that student unions undertake in engaging students in politics will no longer be possible if Part 2 passes in anything like its current form. Noble Lords should bear in mind that the NUS, in complying with child protection laws, has to provide staff supervision for the under-18s, the costs of which under the new legislation would be attributable to their election spend.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, referred to the issue of student fees, and the NUS believes that its 2010 Votes for Students campaign against raising student fees would fall foul of the new legislation, were it to happen at the next election. I hope that I am not alone in feeling that it is the democratic right of students—possibly their responsibility—to take a view on legislation that has such a profound effect on their education and then on the remainder of their adult lives. In this instance, the election of individual MPs was not their primary purpose, but it could in retrospect be argued

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that it could reasonably be regarded as looking to influence electoral outcomes, since the campaign helped to secure the election of a number of MPs who signed the pledge not to raise fees. Is it not legitimate in the ecology of our democratic processes that students take into the next election the lessons of the last?

In the new year we will see the introduction of individual electoral registration. This legislation will disproportionately affect young people as they move to educational institutions or to new towns and cities in search of work. To whom shall we turn for a campaign to put the young on the electoral roll? Perhaps to a coalition of youth-facing organisations, each of which—under the terms of this Bill—will find themselves having to account for the spend of the whole. Is it not the case that creating any barrier for organisations who work to engage young people in politics, and who encourage them to participate in our democratic processes, is doubly concerning in the context of IER? If we truly want an engaged electorate, as I believe we all do, if we want to encourage young people to feel that the political class is not disinterested, if we want a new generation to come to the table with their concerns and needs, we must drop as many barriers as possible—not reduce the ways and circumstances in which they can engage and pull up the drawbridge behind us.

Like others, I have been overwhelmed by representations revealing the anxieties of the third sector, including from a number of trade unions, mostly unaffiliated to the Labour party, which feel that the Bill creates punitive administrative burdens on ordinary working people. Noble Lords have spoken in detail about the provisions of the Bill that will curtail legitimate campaigns from charities and NGOs. As well as the practical aspects, there is the message of this Bill, which is that politics is owned by politicians—and that does untold damage to the public engagement of young people.

The purpose of the Bill, as described by the Government, is missing on the page, and I ask that they take the advice of the multiple committees whose concerned opinion we have heard this afternoon, pause the Bill, and, in doing so, take the opportunity to make more equitable the burdens on the third sector, trade unions and business. Above all, I hope that Ministers will agree that it will be a bad day for politics in its broadest sense if, instead of harnessing the political energy of the young, the Bill that they propose denies the voice of the young.

7.26 pm

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as a retired member of Unite.

The briefing circulated about Part 3 says that it is simply intended to change,

“the legal requirements in relation to trade unions’ obligations to keep their list of members up to date”.

In fact, as we have already heard today, the Bill introduces additional requirements to the existing duty placed on—and long accepted by—the trade unions to maintain an accurate and up-to-date register of members. Union membership is already regulated by

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the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, and Section 24(1) puts a duty on unions to maintain a register of members’ names and addresses, so far as is reasonably practicable, that is accurate and up to date.

We are not aware of any calls having been made to the Government to extend this provision. I understand that BIS, the certification officer and ACAS have all confirmed under FoI requests that they have received no representations to introduce such a measure. No one has campaigned publicly for such a change. They will not be able to in future. The proposed legislation will place on unions onerous and unjustified additional administrative burdens that often duplicate existing regulations. The legislation also appears to violate fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of association which are safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Like many other noble Lords, we are unable to work out exactly what problem the Government are trying to remedy. Unions already have a legal duty to keep accurate membership records, and it is in their interests to do so. Not only do good membership records increase income and minimise expense, any union involved in an industrial action ballot knows that an employer is likely to legally challenge the ballot if there is a suspicion of inaccurate records. Unions also need accurate membership records in order to carry out their internal democratic processes, such as elections. Most people would probably agree that people should not have to reveal whether they are members of a political party to members of the Government. Yet this is what the Bill proposes for trade union membership.

If this Bill is passed, each large union’s assurer, the certification officer appointed by government and an investigator appointed by the certification officer will have access to private membership data. As my noble friend Lord Monks said, at a time of growing revelations about blacklisting of trade union members, obviously we need to be concerned about how this might breach members’ privacy.

The TUC believes that if this change to the law is to be made there ought to be similar specific requirements in the legislation for employers to give unions the most recent data on those employed, those on sick leave, et cetera. Unions otherwise have no way of knowing to the necessary degree of accuracy who is currently working in the firm or business. I would be interested in the Minister’s reaction to this rather ingenious suggestion for symmetry.

The basic role of trade unions is overwhelmingly supported by voters. According to a recent MORI poll, 78% of people support the statement that trade unions are essential to protect workers’ interests. However, this extra red tape can only hinder unions carrying out their proper role. The new regulations will significantly increase their workload and costs for the certification officer, but it is far from clear what benefits the increased regulation will yield for the wider public—including businesses—and how the increased cost to the taxpayer can be justified.

At Second Reading in the other place, the Leader of the House of Commons said of these clauses:

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“It will require trade unions visibly to demonstrate that they know who their members are and can contact them. The principle that unions must be able to contact their members is well established in legislation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/9/13; col. 184.]

Well, he is right; it is well established in law already. The facts bear this out. The certification officer’s annual report for 2012-13 says that 166 trade unions submitted annual returns recording a total of 7,197,415 members. The annual return has to include a copy of the auditor’s report in the accounts, allowing the certification officer to compare revenue from dues with the numbers reported, so the information is already available in the public domain for anybody to dig into. I would have thought that any reasonably independent person looking at these publicly available reports would agree that the Government already have quite extensive information-gathering powers on the finances and membership of trade unions.

The trade unions have complied with the current legislation every single year since it was introduced and the published figures are, as I said, available to the public. We must wonder whether the certification officer needs any of these powers, given the extremely low level of activity which others have reported. Indeed, people will be asking themselves whether the powers being proposed are unnecessary and disproportionate. The answer is clearly yes, so we on this side of the House are opposed to the proposals in Part 3.

In his reply, perhaps the Minister can answer some questions about the detail here. Has the certification officer asked for additional powers or approached the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to say that these powers are necessary and that he would like the Government to legislate to ensure that they are introduced? Has the department consulted the certification officer, trade unions and other relevant organisations on whether the powers are required and, if so, can he make available to us what evidence they relied on? Have the Government any proposals for regulations that will be removed to alleviate the additional burden of regulations they wish to place on trade unions? I thought that we were in favour of one in, one out. Lastly, I assume that an estimate has been made of the additional resources which will be needed by the certification officer. Can the Minister set out what the spending commitment is in this area?

We believe in the right of working people to organise and to stand up to unfair treatment in the workplace. Free trade unions are part of a vibrant democratic society and the partisan use of the law in an attempt to disrupt their efficient administration is as wrong as it is unwelcome. This is a bad Bill. At Second Reading in the other place, the shadow Leader of the House of Commons said:

“It is a Bill that the Government should be ashamed of. It is incompetent. It is rushed. It has been developed in a high-level meeting between the Prime Minister and his deputy, but with no other consultation”,

in crucial areas.

“It is a sop to vested interests, an illiberal attack on democratic debate and involvement, and a cheap, partisan and cynical misuse of the legislative process for the Government’s own ends”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 3/9/13; col. 199.]

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister forget that the people they attack are the people who deliver the mail, serve in the shops, teach our children, care

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for the sick, look after the elderly, clean our streets, assemble our cars and build our bridges. They deserve better than to be subjected to yet another piece of the Tory ideological jigsaw.

7.32 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, the Bill takes us back to the insulting doctrine that trade unions are the enemy within. When I first saw it, I was rather shocked—but then I thought that it must be some sort of spoof written by the provisional wing of the Committee on Public Safety. The first point which I ask the Minister to comment on is that it is very asymmetrical so far as trade unions and employers are concerned. How can he say that all these requirements should be placed on trade unions, at vast cost, without parallel requirements being placed on employers?

In the published material that one finds, with difficulty, in the Printed Paper Office as the Part 3 financial assessment, we have a fascinating set of paragraphs on pages 3 and 4. It is headed:

“Evidence Base … Problem under consideration”,

and it is worth reading. It says:

“An increase in an individual union’s membership diversity and membership turnover is a key reason why managing a large database of members is complex. It means that the information held in the unions’ registers will decay rapidly. In addition, the information held on the registers will decay for other reasons: changes of addresses; and deaths, divorces, and marriages … All of these changes may undermine the accuracy of union registers, unless adequate and relatively frequent management procedures are in place to resolve inaccuracies and maintain the register. Some of the reasons for inaccurate data are explored in more detail below”.

We get fantasy piled upon fantasy as we come to that more detailed explanation, which goes into gross and net flows by work status, the high degree of churn in the UK labour market, and the flow estimates of the size of movements between the three main labour market statuses of employment, unemployment and economic activity. So it goes on.

Then the material comes to the “Rationale for intervention”. I wonder how all these people came to be so readily brainwashed, but I have to read it. It says:

“Given the complexity of maintaining up-to-date registers there is a danger that trade union members, employers and the general public will not be confident that unions are complying with their duty to maintain an accurate and up-to-date register. And, as trade union activity has the potential to affect the daily lives of members and non-members, the general public should be confident that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members so that they have the opportunity to participate, even if they choose not to exercise it”.

It then goes on to the division between unions with more than 10,000 members and those below that figure.

As my noble friend Lord Monks pointed out, it says that,

“the Certification Officer will … be given powers enabling him to both act on his own authority to appoint inspectors and require documents to be produced to help investigations. The powers will provide a mechanism by which the general public and employers can ensure that trade unions are complying with their duty to maintain an accurate and up-to-date register”.

After all that, we come to the policy objective. I will read out one more passage. It says:

“The policy objective is to give greater assurance that unions comply with the existing duty to maintain a register of members’ names and addresses. However, we wish to do this in a way which

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minimises the burden on the union in providing this assurance and is not prescriptive … the intended effect of the policy is to ensure that members, the general public and employers are confident”,

et cetera. My reaction is, “You must be kidding”—but then it dawned on me what was going on here. There are two groups of civil servants being instructed by the Secretary of State to provide a case for this. One set of civil servants, job team A, is asked to write one set of arguments. In the next paragraph, job team B is asked to demonstrate the absurdity of the arguments presented by job team A.

Having cracked the code on this, I realised that it is all very logical—right down to the detail of why the sum involved is an extra burden on the trade unions of £420,000. That has been arrived at by using the salaries of trade union officials from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, which says that the basic hourly median pay for officers of non-governmental organisations —that obviously implies voluntary organisations—who are the closest match to a trade union official, is £12.03 an hour. The basis of all this is that union officials doing all this stuff are paid that, on average, but I suppose that the people who have to provide all this stuff in Whitehall have telephones and might ring up any trade union to find out more directly.

I return to the main theme that many of my colleagues have brought out: why are we picking on the trade unions and making them keep their lists up to date for transparency, which we simply do not do for shareholders’ lists, boards of directors or banks? We are now insisting that we have to do even more for the most openly democratic and transparent organisations of any size in the country—the trade unions.

I will use a different word from that used by my noble friend Lord Whitty: I say that this is just party-political vindictiveness. I am very sad to hear that, because over many years of my working life we have had very good working relations with Conservative Governments, such as those of Mr Macmillan and Mr Heath. We had acceptance from them as social partners, and they would not have dreamt of this nonsense. I hope that in Committee we will have time to move away from the idea that a Secretary of State can say to Whitehall, “This is what we want to do; find reasons for it”. They have failed in that, because there are no good reasons—it is absurdity.

As my noble friend Lady Donaghy said, you do not need a lobby if you are chairman of a company in the energy field, whether it is a nuclear power station or anything else; you are probably president of the CBI and talk to the Prime Minister every day of the week anyway. To take another, more practical example: KPMG’s employees are scattered around Whitehall. Does it need a lobby? Of course not.

This is a quite extraordinary development, but I have reached the 10-minute limit so I will leave the issue there. As far as I can see, though, there has to be much deeper consideration by the Government. As things stand, my view is that the Bill should simply be withdrawn as an outrage to democracy. When I go to do work for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Congo or Mozambique, these are some of the practices that we state that you do not do—and we should not do them here.

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7.43 pm

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con): My Lords, I begin with an apology to my noble friend on the Front Bench and to the House for having been unable to be present for the first few minutes of his opening speech. I hope that the House will forgive me if I pray in aid that it is not every day that you introduce your own wife to your Lordships’ House, and that the family photographs in the Robing Room took rather longer than was anticipated. I apologise for any discourtesy to the House.

I turn to the Bill. Like many other noble Lords who have spoken, I share the view that it is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that public trust in our great institutions, particularly our political institutions, has declined in recent years. We can speculate about the reasons for this. Some say that in some cases it is exaggerated by journalistic supposition and not always based on fact. Others say there is an increasing public appetite for conspiracy theories. Last but perhaps not least, there is the increasing unreadiness of people to accept the inevitable unfairnesses in life, seeing them instead as the product of a system that is biased against them. Whatever the causes, the decline is there, and this is the challenge that we now face.

Other noble Lords have used the phrase, “sunshine is the best disinfectant”, and I share that view. A Bill that includes “transparency of lobbying” has my instinctive sympathy and support. Moving on from that very general statement, and changing my metaphor, if I may, we have to ask whether it does what it says on the tin. This is an area where I and a lot of other noble Lords have some questions.

When I have been considering the Bill, I have been applying a series of yardsticks by which I adjudge its efficacy: its comprehensiveness, its comprehensibility, its consistency and its proportionality. First, by “comprehensiveness” I mean: do the provisions of the Bill catch a sufficiency of the target group? If not, we all know how quickly organisations can and will reconfigure themselves to get around statutory provisions. Secondly, the Bill will sweep up a range of organisations hitherto unaffected. By “comprehensibility”, I mean: will such organisations, especially small ones, be able readily to understand what is required of them without devoting a fantastic amount of management time and/or professional fees and advice to their interpretation? Thirdly, a number of bodies will be concerned with enforcing this legislation. They include, obviously, the new registrar of lobbyists, the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission. By “consistency”, I mean: will all the policies of the bodies be joined up? In other words, will they be consistent one with another? Fourthly, by “proportionate”, I mean: can we avoid the creation of yet another huge bureaucratic process-driven machine, so that while boxes are ticked judgment is forgotten?

I need to remind the House that I have undertaken two inquiries into the charity and voluntary sector for the Government, focusing, inter alia, on the regulatory burdens that have affected that sector, and that until about 12 months ago I was president of the NCVO, so it will not surprise your Lordships that most of my comments are focused on Part 2. Before I turn to that part, however, I would like to raise a couple of points

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in relation to Part 1. I note many of the concerns that other noble Lords have raised about the competence of this measure and its inability to catch a sufficiency of the target population, and no doubt we shall explore this in Committee.

I want to raise a point about the position of the registrar. The registrar will surely have an important, indeed key, role to play in this new system. From the legislation it seems to me that he will be its linchpin, and it will be very important that he carries out his task properly if we are to move towards restoring public trust. This may require him from time to time to take actions that are disobliging, certainly to lobbyists but sometimes to the Government of the day, of whatever colour it may be. Indeed, some may argue that if he was not occasionally disobliging, he probably would not be doing his job very well. Yet when you look at Schedule 2, you see that his position is very weak indeed: he may be dismissed by the Minister on the grounds that he is unable, unwilling or unfit. That seems to be a pretty peremptory way to be able to treat this official, particularly when you compare it with the protection that appears to be given to members of the Charity Commission, let alone that afforded to members of the Electoral Commission. I would appreciate a few comments from the Minister on that point.

I turn to Part 2. Early in the proceedings on the Bill in another place, we received some pretty heated comments from charities and voluntary organisations about the impact of Part 2, suggesting, sometimes in terms, that it represents the end of the world as we know it. This is some of the substance that illuminated the background remarks by my noble friend Lord Tyler. Recent comments seem to have been more moderate in tone, and I welcome that because in my view merely to have passed a public benefit test does not excuse an organisation from the need for some level of scrutiny—rather the reverse, since charitable status carries with it many privileges, not least an element of subsidy from the taxpayer through gift aid.

I, for the reason mentioned above—my work with the sector—am a passionate supporter of the charity sector and all that it stands for. However, it needs to keep its credentials burnished bright, particularly in the eyes of the general public. Its reputation remains high among the general public, but we are all aware of how quickly reputations can be lost and of how, once lost, they are extremely hard to recover. The glory of the sector is that it is of all political parties but of none. That must be a distinction that we should try to preserve as we consider the provisions of the Bill.

Having said that, the sector has some very reasonable concerns about aspects of Part 2. Many noble Lords have talked about the confusing nature of Clause 26 on controlled expenditure. Noble Lords raised the particular issue that the cost of volunteer time is included. My noble friend Lord Phillips got up and said that he would shoot this canard; I am not quite sure if you can shoot one, but he dealt with it very effectively by quoting from the PPER Act. I hope that he is right. He is a very eminent charity lawyer, while I am not a lawyer at all. However, reading Schedule 3 to the Bill, which amends qualifying expenses, in connection with that section of the briefing from the Electoral Commission which is entitled:

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“What the changes mean for campaigners’ plans”,

I feel a scintilla of doubt. I will be delighted to be put right and to be told that I have got it completely wrong, but I seem to feel the ground shifting under me slightly. Therefore, this and other questions raise the issue of the comprehensibility test. We need to spend quite a bit of time in Committee getting the Government to explain in detail the practical implications of what is intended here.

When he comes to wind up, my noble friend may be inclined to say that a great deal of guidance is already available. Of course, that is absolutely for sure. CC9, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to, which is the Charity Commission guidance, Charities, Elections and Referendums, runs to 35 pages, with a three-page addendum published in January 2011. The Electoral Commission’s guidance for non-party campaigners runs to eight pages, with a further eight-page addendum. To put it no higher, there are four documents and if noble Lords read them—and I am sure that many noble Lords have done so—they are not easy to synthesise. At their heart is the problem of differentiating between policy work and campaigning, and the different interpretations put upon those two very important words by the two different bodies, the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission.

That takes me to the point about consistency. We need to find some joined-up thinking between the Government’s lawyers, those of the Electoral Commission and those of the Charity Commission. Perhaps at least a proportion of the steam could be taken out of these issues if some joint guidance could be agreed between the two commissions and published. I do not underestimate the difficulties of getting the two commissions to collaborate—I have been trying for some three years to get Companies House and the Charity Commission to agree a common standard form for charitable companies. To describe my progress as “glacial” would be altogether too rapid a description. However, my noble friend would do a great deal to reassure people if those two bodies could be brought together and made to produce something that made sense and which did not require charities to produce two separate sets of guidance and pull them together.

Finally, I turn briefly to proportionality. I share the view that the reduction of limits is unreasonable, particularly that to £2,000. The £2,000 limit, applied to Wales, is a figure that would exclude almost any activity. The hire of a hall, some staff costs and publicity could go over the limit. In his very interesting remarks, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby talked about the importance of local campaigns. This is where that particular low level will be most keenly felt. I invite my noble friend to reflect on how we would deal with Kidderminster Hospital. That was a single issue, fought in a single constituency; how would it be dealt with under these provisions, and what would be the impact? I am not quite sure what it would be, but I am sure that it would have some important things, and maybe some challenges, for the people of Kidderminster, who passionately want their hospital preserved, and that these regulations might make that much more difficult.

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There is some important work to be done on coalitions of charities working together and the way that they have to report separately. It is incredibly bureaucratic and burdensome for every charity member of a coalition to have to report about all the other members of that coalition, not only every quarter but every week during an election campaign. Can we not find some way to create a coalition leader that could undertake this work on its behalf?

I have overrun my time. To conclude, I do not doubt that there are important issues and challenges here, and the Bill seeks to address them. However, we will have a lot of work to do in Committee and thereafter if we are to avoid the rather dismal outcome predicted in that leader in the Financial Times on 9 September, entitled:

“A rushed bill will deliver bad law”.

7.55 pm

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, like many other noble Lords I have an interest in the Bill through my involvement with a number of organisations that stand to be affected by Part 2. Moreover, I spent the first half of my working life working for the Child Poverty Action Group and am therefore very sympathetic to the concerns raised by myriad voluntary sector organisations. Part 2 is the focus of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, and its report lists my relevant interest. It will also be the main focus of my comments. I will first make some general remarks about process and the overarching aim of enhancing transparency.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee states bluntly that,

“this is an object lesson in how not to produce legislation”,

as it is informed by neither proper consultation with stakeholders nor pre-legislative scrutiny. The JCHR has protested at the,

“unnecessary speed at which the Bill is being taken”,

when there are no grounds for it being treated as emergency or fast-track legislation, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws has already underlined. This has impeded the committee’s ability to fulfil its scrutiny function in a timely manner, an unacceptable trend about which we had already complained in our Legislative Scrutiny Update report earlier this year.

Proper human rights scrutiny is not some optional extra to be fitted in when it suits the Government’s timetable. Indeed, as the committee points out:

“Laws that are passed following proper pre-legislative scrutiny, and after adequate timetabling for scrutiny and debate of the human rights implications of the Bills, are more likely to withstand subsequent judicial scrutiny of their human rights compatibility”.

This is particularly important with regard to the Bill because of its significance for the democratic process. The Government’s human rights memorandum to the committee accepts that Part 2 of the Bill engages the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It acknowledges under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that,

“political expression attracts the highest level of protection because freedom of political debate is at the heart of the creation and development of a democratic society”.

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It also accepts the link with Article 11, for, as the Strasbourg court has said,

“The protection of opinions and the freedom to express them is one of the objectives of the freedom of assembly and association as enshrined in Article 11”.

We therefore now have a particular duty in this House to impress on the Government the importance of getting the Bill right.

The watchword of the Bill is “transparency”, and the overarching aim of increasing transparency in the democratic process is admirable. However, organisations which have campaigned for a statutory register argue that Part 1 of the Bill risks making lobbying less—not more—transparent. That is because it will cover only a fraction of lobbying and lobbyists and because the register will include no meaningful information on the activities of those it covers. That is about as transparent as mud. The dictionary definition of “transparent” is not just,

“able to be seen through”,

but also,

“easily detected, understood; obvious, evident”—

the very opposite of how the charitable and voluntary sector perceives Part 2. Instead, “uncertainty” and “ambiguity” are the words used to describe it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, made a similar point.

The NCVO goes so far as to warn of,

“unbearable amounts of uncertainty for organisations”.

Indeed, I, too, have had an e-mail from Newcastle CVS expressing just such anxieties about what the Bill will mean for it and the local charities which it supports. As a number of organisations have warned, this uncertainty will have a “chilling effect” on legitimate campaigning at both national and constituency level at the expense of healthy democratic engagement.

Moreover, organisations such as the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations—ACEVO—and the Quakers are fearful that small civil society groups will not be able to comply with the increased reporting requirements, which the Electoral Commission warns constitute an increase in,

“the regulatory burden for registered campaigners”.

As a result, they could be discouraged from democratic involvement in the pre-election period. Is it not odd that a Government who are so obsessed with reducing red tape for small businesses are now happy to tie up small civil society groups in red tape, as my noble friend Lady Hayter has already pointed out?

In so far as the government amendments to the Bill addressed these concerns, they are welcome. However, the widespread view conveyed to us, and based on legal advice, is that they do not go far enough. The NCVO and ACEVO both refer to problems with the existing test of controlled expenditure. These, it would appear, were manageable for many organisations within the context of the other rules that have applied, although even then, according to ACEVO, many smaller and less experienced campaigning organisations,

“were put off from pre-election campaigning activity”.

However, in the new context of the significantly expanded list of activities covered and lower spending thresholds, simply reverting to the test in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 may not be

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enough to remove the feared chilling effect of the Bill. The JCHR has called on the Government to consider these concerns about how the existing definition will interact with key changes in the Bill. I would welcome the Minister’s response to this point.

As the Electoral Commission has advised, it is the “cumulative impact” of Part 2 on non-party campaigners that we need to scrutinise closely. It has told the Government:

“Because the Bill brings some kinds of activity into the regime for the first time … the wording of the amendments needs further consideration and testing”.

The JCHR has pointed in particular to fears about the combined impact of the much expanded list of controlled activities, the reduction in maximum spending limits and lowered registration thresholds. Furthermore, it has criticised the failure of the Government to explain satisfactorily the rationale for the change in spending limits and registration thresholds. It therefore recommends that these should remain at their present level pending further detailed work on the appropriate level, echoing the Electoral Commission’s recommendation on registration thresholds.

Others have raised worries about new constituency-level spending limits, which will add to the regulatory burden on civil society groups, and about how the new provisions could aggravate the already inhibitory effect of the existing rules regulating groups working in coalitions. All these issues need close scrutiny.

When I worked at the CPAG, I recall that the pre-election period was a crucial time for us to try to get poverty on the political agenda. It is a time for holding up to scrutiny a Government’s record on a non-partisan basis. It is a time for trying to wring commitments out of political parties and their candidates with a view to influencing not the election result but the agenda of the incoming Government, whatever their political complexion. If this kind of important work is inhibited by this Bill for fear that it will be wrongly construed as,

“intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate”,

in the context of more stringent financial rules, as civil society fears, our democracy will be the poorer for it.

Some may give the Government the benefit of the doubt and attribute this,

“dog’s breakfast of a Bill”,

as the chair of the PCRC has called it, to cock-up rather than conspiracy. Others believe that it is a conspiracy to gag campaigners. If the Government do not want to give credence to the conspiracy theorists, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, it is time that they face up to the breadth of the opposition and think again. From a human rights perspective, the JCHR concludes that the deeply unsatisfactory legislative process makes it,

“difficult to assess whether the specific measures proposed in Part 2 constitute a necessary and proportionate means of achieving the Government’s aim in order to justify any interference with free speech rights”.

As already noted, our primary recommendation, therefore, is to pause the Bill's legislative process to allow more time for proper consultation. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will heed our

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advice and that of countless others. The rights to freedom of speech and association are too important for our democracy for them to steam ahead regardless.

8.06 pm

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and, indeed, it is today. I speak with slightly less enthusiasm for the Bill than my noble friend Lord Tyler. I agree entirely with the objectives of transparency of lobbying and of the prevention of big money distorting electoral politics. However, asserting that there are problems and dangers in these areas and that something must be done does not necessarily mean that the details of the proposals in the legislation are the way forward. In one respect at least, this is an awful Bill; it is badly written. I often judge new Bills by whether an intelligent person with an interest in the subject, picking it up and reading it, could understand what it is all about. I do not believe that anybody picking this up and reading it could do that. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister explaining lucidly and clearly in Committee the intricacies of Clauses 28 and 29, which seem to be a nightmare.

I declare that I have a lifetime interest in electoral law because I am a lifetime election agent. It is more than 40 years since I started running election campaigns, and I do not suppose that I have finished yet, so I know about election law—and this is election law. We have had a stream of lobbying, ironically, on the Bill from all sorts of people. It seems that the whole of civil society in this country is up in arms. In particular, we have had a focus on the effects that Part 2 might have on charities. However, this Bill is not actually about charities. It is about all the third-party campaigners and campaign bodies. Nevertheless, charities say it will seriously affect them.

The Government’s response is to assert that it will not, but assertion is not enough. When a whole sector is up in arms like that, simply telling it that it is wrong is not good enough. There should be argument and explanation and, I humbly suggest to my noble friends on the government Front Bench, a willingness to look at changing the Bill to clarify it, to amend it and to improve it, is what is required. At the moment we simply have a pantomime argument going on, one side saying, “Oh, yes, it does”, the other side saying, “Oh, no, it doesn’t”, and so it goes on—and as we know from pantomimes, that does not get us very far.

In your Lordships’ House we are often told that our job is to scrutinise, revise and improve legislation. In order to do that, we also need a substantial willingness on the part of the Government to listen and discuss with us around the House how best to revise this legislation—the need for which, it seems to me, is absolutely certain. As I have just said, this is election law, not charities law. What charities can and cannot do is not per se the concern of the Bill. That is defined by charities legislation and regulated by the Charity Commission, as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, discussed in detail. This Bill is about regulation of what all third-party bodies can and cannot do in relation to election campaigning.

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One problem is that it is all part of election law, which is complex, obscure and widely ignored. Those of us who know a lot about it know how to get around it in many cases—not that I would ever do that. But the Bill specifically amends the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, or PPERA. Having gone back and read that part of the Act again in detail, for the first time in a long time, I think that it is poor legislation. I hope that the Labour Party will not get too much on its high horse about this Bill, because one of the real problems with it is that it is based on the structure and system set out in PPERA, which is frankly not fit for purpose. We are lumbered with it and have to do our best with it—but it will be legitimate in these circumstances to look in Committee not just at what the Bill says but at what PPERA says, to see whether a lot of the vagueness, obscurity and the problems in this area do not actually come from the original wording in that Act. We are told by the Government, or by my noble friend Lord Tyler, that over the past 13 years Part 6 of PPERA has been tried and tested—but it has not. It has largely been ignored; it has never been tested in the courts; and I think that we should subject some of that to scrutiny in Committee. It is complex and difficult to understand; it is full of vague expressions, when clarity is needed; it is untested in the courts; and it is subject to unsatisfactory advice by the Electoral Commission over the years. Those comments apply to PPERA, not just the Bill that we now have to amend it.

The whole thing is poor, flawed legislation. Whether we can make anything sensible out of it, we will find out in the next few weeks. This part of PPERA and these issues have really come to prominence only as a result of the present Bill—because the thresholds and spending limits are being reduced and what is defined as controlled expenditure is being substantially increased. That has put considerable fear among the campaigning organisations, whether or not they are charities, and that is what is causing the problems before us today. I suggest to the Labour Party that the Bill has reached Second Reading and, no doubt, it will pass Second Reading—although it is fair enough to make political points in this debate. But all of us—the Opposition, the Cross Benches and the two government parties, as well as anybody else in the House who is interested—need to get together and try to thrash out a way in which to make this legislation a great deal better than it is now.

I want to talk about constituency campaigning, which has a new emphasis in this Bill. It is a very difficult issue in relation to third-party campaigning, because it is within the confines of a particular electoral area, which is obviously considerably smaller than one of the nations of this country. It is considerably easier, if people have a lot of money, to throw money at a particular constituency and seriously affect the election result. This is a serious problem, and it is no good us pretending that it is not. Yet we live in a changing world, in which political and campaigning energies are more and more being directed into single-issue and themed campaigning groups. At the same time, coming from a different direction is the threat of a large amount of money and corporate power being used in this country; it is not necessarily exactly the same as

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the super-PACs that are so distorting politics in the United States of America, but the same kind of problem is occurring. It is not easy to find a way in which to regulate all this, and to fit that into the traditional system of controls and regulation that is based on political parties and candidates being regulated. These are difficult areas at national levels; they are most difficult at the level of individual electoral areas, constituencies or even local government wards.

In the past, the system was much stricter. When charities or local groups called all-party meetings and one candidate dropped out, they usually cancelled the meeting, because it was thought that spending money at all in a way that was in any way partisan was contrary to electoral law and should not take place. That is in the past now—but any of us who have been in politics for a long time have scars from individual contests when third-party campaigning has made a difference. We may not have the scars—we may have the victory medals as a result of it—but in our party we tend to have the scars.

I remember in the Nelson and Colne constituency in February 1974, nearly 40 years ago, there was a very tight contest in which David Waddington, now the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, was defending his seat; he held it by about 135 votes. The candidate who came second was Doug Hoyle, now the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, and the Liberal candidate was myself. That election was considerably affected by two lots of third-party campaigners. There were people from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who managed to divert a lot of Catholic votes away from both of us—certainly from me. The others were the local unions, who used their base in what was then a very strong manufacturing area, with all the local mills and the factories, to make sure that the main opposition to David Waddington was the Labour Party and not me. I am not complaining about it, in retrospect, although at the time I thought that it was pretty underhand. I have changed my mind about these things. I have been out on the streets delivering Hope Not Hate leaflets in Pendle against BNP candidates, and I have contributed funding to those leaflets. So there has to be a balance. Third-party campaigning cannot be done away with or forgotten about. It is here to stay. What we have to do is to get the balance right, and we can do that in Committee.

It is rightly said that this Bill has had a disgraceful lack of scrutiny, and I agree with that. But we are where we are; the Government are not going to withdraw it, and it is not going to stop. So the task before us is to test the Bill rigorously, line by line and clause by clause in Committee. We have to look at workability, which is crucial, as well as proportionality and unintended consequences, and one or two of the principles in it. If we can work together as a House and the Government can work with us, we can make a much better fist of this Bill than we have at the moment.

8.17 pm

Baroness Mallalieu (Lab): My Lords, I shall speak only on Part 2. I must first declare some non-pecuniary interests. I am a member of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, which was set

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up under the chairmanship of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who spoke earlier. We will produce our report next Tuesday in time for the Committee stage of the Bill. I very much hope that all noble Lords will make a little time to have a look at it because during the past few weeks we have listened to a vast amount of evidence, including from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and we have taken, as it were, views from all parts of the United Kingdom.

What I am going to say tonight is a personal view because the report is not yet finalised. However, having listened to and read all the evidence, there have been times when my reaction was very much that of Victor Meldrew in “One Foot in the Grave”: that is, “I don’t believe it!”. How could a Government, any Government, make such a hash of an issue on which we are almost entirely united—that of transparency at election time? None of us wants money to be able to buy votes. We agree that there should be clear limits on spending and the public should be told who spends what. If anything, we should be looking tonight at a short Bill with all-party support, which makes some amendments to the Political Parties Act to improve its clarity. That would have all-party support. Instead, undue haste has produced a quite dreadful piece of legislation which has managed not only to divide the political parties but has united charities and organisations of every kind against it. How do you manage to alienate the Women’s Institute, Mumsnet, the National Trust, Greenpeace, the British Legion, the Countryside Alliance, the nurses, the RSPB and so on against you so that they combine together? You could not do it if you tried, but this coalition has managed it. When listening to the evidence, I did at times wonder whether someone with a sense of humour had slipped Part 2 into this Bill to test whether anyone in this House was awake, but the 40-strong speakers list shows that we are. If there are notably few Back-Bench coalition speakers, I can attribute it only to a number of those who normally stand up for free speech having adopted the maxim, “If you can’t say anything good, then say nothing at all”.

Part 2 is not wholly useless. It could serve a professor of politics very well as an example to his students of how not to legislate. It contains just about every error that a Government could make. There is not time tonight to detail them all, so I will take a selection of the major ones. The first thing you do is legislate in haste. Part 2 seems to have its origins in a meeting between the Prime Minister and his deputy in July, when they realised that unless something was done pretty quickly this autumn, a Bill would not reach the statute book a year before the fixed date of the next general election. There was no real urgency whatever about Part 2. We have been told by Members in the other place that Members of Parliament were not clamouring for it, and neither was anybody else.

Although the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 had its critics, and various improvements could have been made to it, it has worked reasonably well in two general elections. We were told that there has been no raft of complaints about it. There has been no formal investigation or inquiry and no prosecutions. It is not perfect: there is some lack of clarity and the Electoral Commission’s

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review has suggested improvements, but it is workable. Nevertheless, Part 2 was shoved into this Bill and, as we have heard, it was put before the Commons just as the House rose for the Summer Recess—indeed, the very day before.

The second error the Government made was not to consult those directly affected. They did not consult charities or campaigning organisations. Indeed, they did not consult properly those with responsibility for setting up and policing the new legislation. The Electoral Commission were, it seems, told what to do, not asked. Of the 50 recommendations it made in its review, only one was put into the Bill, and that was done in the opposite way to that which it had suggested. The Electoral Commission advised that staff costs should come into the equation, but suggested that if it were done, the limits should be raised. The Government have, indeed, included staff costs but are now trying to lower the limits.

Others have commented on the next error, which is particularly strange coming from a coalition which speaks of making “a bonfire of regulation”: that is, a massive increase in the regulatory burden and, by lowering the limits, an increase in the number of those to whom it applies. We should not forget that criminal sanctions will be applied, which are wholly disproportionate given the sums involved in many cases.

A further error is to try to push through a Bill which is so badly drafted that a specialist lawyer giving evidence to us told us that she could not conceive that it had ever been seen by a parliamentary draftsman. Lack of clarity and the sheer incomprehensibility of its wording mean that any organisation without an in-house specialist will have to seek expensive legal advice simply to understand what it means. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to that issue. I treat your Lordships to a few lines by way of a sample. Clause 28 on constituency limits at page 17, line 5 of the Bill, says:

“Subject to sub-paragraphs (5) to (7), the limit applying to controlled expenditure which is incurred by or on behalf of the recognised third party in the relevant period in any particular parliamentary constituency is the relevant proportion of the limit mentioned in paragraph 3(2A) … For this purpose “the relevant proportion” means— A/B where— A is the number of days in the relevant period; B is the number of days in the period which is the relevant period for the purposes of paragraph 3”.

How is somebody sitting in a small charity to make head or tail of that? The result, of course, is that they will be frightened off—they will be terrified of doing anything that puts them over the limit—

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Does the noble Baroness not realise as a lawyer that this is a goldmine for lawyers?

Baroness Mallalieu: That is the other possibility, which I had not considered. It will undoubtedly increase the work of people who advise charities, such as the noble Lord.

Where are we on the rest of the so called clarification brought about by the amendment to Clause 26 in the Commons? I am the president of the Countryside

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Alliance. We have no idea what we might or might not be able to do as the Bill is currently worded. At the previous election we produced a rural manifesto that outlined our policies. It was widely distributed and not aimed at a particular party. We are told by the Electoral Commission we could not do that. It is clear that we could not organise a march, but could we organise hustings or have pledge cards? What of all the other public events where campaigning organisations put forward their views and express their wishes to their elected representatives? Who can tell? It is not only badly drafted; it is not readily understandable by those who need to know.

Yet another error was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker—putting forward legislation which is bound to increase the number of complaints made to the Electoral Commission during an election period but providing no extra resources to enable the commission to investigate or deal with them. The Electoral Commission has had something to say on that and has asked the question and, as far as I am aware, has not received a satisfactory answer.

I could go on but I will not. I will just turn to the Government’s biggest mistake of all, one which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby mentioned. At a time when there is a deep mistrust of politics and political party membership is falling, trying to scare off the political involvement of the public who in their millions—literally in the case of some charities such as the National Trust and the RSPB—have turned to supporting extra-parliamentary campaigns is an affront to democracy. The voluntary sector’s involvement in public debate is to be encouraged, not stifled. It informs MPs and candidates. It informs the electorate. It enriches debate and very often, and perhaps most importantly of all, it provides a voice for groups that are otherwise powerless. Campaigns can at times, I have no doubt, be irksome to Governments but they are positive for democracy. Freedom of expression should be protected, not gagged.

This is a bad Bill, which I suspect in its present form is incapable of being corrected properly by amendment. We are, of course, giving it a Second Reading tonight. It misses the point. It is a wasted opportunity. It does not even begin to deal with modern ways of campaigning such as Facebook and Twitter, because nobody has consulted the people using those tools now. The Government, or whoever drafted this Bill, have not taken them into account. In common with others who have already asked for it, I hope very much that the Government will see the sense of taking this Bill away, consulting and then returning with a Bill which we could all support. After all, that is the way in which constitutional changes should properly be made. If they do not do so, I hope that Peers from all parts of this House will raise their voices and, if necessary, walk through the Division Lobby to make sure it happens.

8.28 pm

Lord Adebowale (CB): My Lords, to be honest I was going to go home, because I am number 30 on the list and I have listened to all the speeches—well, most of them. I was going to stand up and declare my

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interest as the chief executive of a charity and a social enterprise and the chair of another charity, as well as my membership of many others, and then speak in favour of the Bill to provide some light relief.

I think that what is at stake is really quite serious. I have been involved in the not-for-profit sector, lobbying, for about 30 years and I struggle to understand what the Bill is about. In those 30 years, I have yet to come across a member of the not-for-profit sector who would breach the intent even of this Bill. I would be fascinated to know examples of where that has occurred other than the one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who pointed out that there was a picture of a fellow charity chief executive in the Conservative Party manifesto. So there is a real problem with justifying what the Bill is about.

Part 1 has been referred to as being about transparency. There is an over-hackneyed phrase about sunlight being the best disinfectant. That may be true, but partial light creates shadows, and Part 1 creates too many of them. We all know that if you want to get around this you create in-house lobbies. The fact is that Permanent Secretaries and Ministers can list their meetings—we know how it works. The one thing that I find really quite disturbing and which makes me angry is having my time wasted and seeing people being treated as though they are not intelligent enough to know that. Then I sit here and listen to the speeches, many of which have been absolutely brilliant. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, just about said it all when he mentioned the £3 million versus £30 million. I would love to have the kind of money that I see in the hands of many of the major companies that march through this House lobbying Ministers and civil servants. It is nonsense to argue that we are somehow at risk of tipping up democracy.

More to the point, let us have a look at social history. Do noble Lords really think that the suffragettes, the people who campaigned against slavery or, for that matter, the Tolpuddle Martyrs would have asked themselves, “How much can we spend in Wakefield on lobbying our local Lord”, who then was the only person with the right to vote, “to try to persuade him”—and it was a him—“to take notice of the interests of the poor and the disenfranchised?”. Let us be real. It never happened and it should not happen now. It is ridiculous. Social change occurs because of people outside these Chambers taking up concerns that we do not yet know of and lobbying people such as us and those in the other place precisely when the local and national elections are in the minds of the public and the lobbyists. And so they should. Why? Because they pay for it all.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, gave an example of local interests. It must have been a terrible experience but I sat here and thought, “Tough”. That is democracy; that is how it works. People either are or are not persuaded and, frankly, the amount of money spent by people who wish to persuade candidates in a local area is neither here nor there. I can tell noble Lords that people in middle-class areas do not spend a penny, but they use their elbows and persuade people, and they change what happens in local elections. I knew that the noble Lord would want to say something, so I shall sit down.

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Lord Greaves: It was not a terrible experience at all; it was all part of the fun of local politics and local campaigning.

Lord Adebowale: Spoken like a true democrat.

The point is that the Bill is confusing. People cannot see the point of it. The NCVO, the Countryside Alliance and the National Trust are not organisations prone to hysterical statements about government policy; they are considered organisations that think very carefully about what they are going to say in support or in critique of government policy, and not one of them is for the Bill—not one. My e-mail account is full of people saying that this is wrong. It sends the wrong signal about how we value the opinions of people who do not have the privileges that we have to pontificate about the nature of democracy. It insults those people who gather, with or without money, to influence the people whom they put in the other place and who are paid to sit here. It does not create an understanding of how public policy works and how social change should happen in a civilised country and it does not shed enough light on the true nature of lobbying in this country. That is the truth of it.

Frankly, I think that we should start again. I do not think that it is so much a case of a pause or a chilling effect; it will be a freeze, let us make no mistake about that. There will be people who will be frightened by the contents of the Bill. We may well joke about the cost of lawyers. I happen to run an organisation that employs 3,000 people—some people would call us large and well resourced. I tell you now, with all due respect to noble Lords, that lawyers frighten me, not just because they are expensive, but because they do not always bring clarity. You think twice about whether you are going to campaign when you are faced with the complexity of Part 2. Part 1 will, frankly, provide plenty of loopholes—as has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords—and therefore an industry in advice to industry. We know that.

I do not want to hold up the House any further, other than to say this. My concern is not whether charities or not-for-profit organisations are held back; they have more organisation than the people I am really concerned about. I am not that concerned, even, about whether the Bill will impact on the industry of lobbyists. They will find a way around it—certainly as the Bill is drafted, they will have a field day. My concerns are for the people who do not have access and do not understand how this place or the other place works but who have concerns about how their community and how society work, who want to make a difference and who deserve to be heard. Those are my concerns and they should be the concerns of this House, the Government and society.

8.36 pm

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I declare an interest as a charity lawyer of long standing and founder of the firm Bates Wells and Braithwaite, which does as much charity work as any firm in the country.

I hope that the Minister will not be too dismayed by what I have to say. I do not view this as a partisan Bill; it is a Bill that all sides should, classically, deal with as

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they best think fit, as they are doing. However, the problem of dealing with this as Back-Bench Peers is as intense in relation to this Bill, more or less, as to any that I have come across. It is not so much the length—it is a mere 62 pages—but that it is mostly written by reference to the 2000 Act, and there is no Keeling schedule. How on earth are we Back-Benchers, with no assistance whatever, supposed to get to grips with the fine print of a main Bill of 201 pages and a supplementary and amending Bill of 62 pages? It is outrageous: I wanted to say that. I hope that in Committee the Minister will put in hand a Keeling schedule right away because without it we cannot do our job.

I note also that as we got in this morning there were three documents, totalling another 94 pages. One was the excellent Library note, one was the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the third was the Constitution Committee’s report. They were available only this morning. Again, how on earth are we supposed to do our jobs and take into full account the very careful work done by those various bodies? That merely emphasises the fact that a Bill of this importance should not be dealt with in this helter-skelter way, whether or not it comes out of the wash in time for the 2015 election. In my view, that is of secondary importance to the need to get this Bill as right as we can. It is difficult enough if we do that in the right way.

I happen to agree with much of what has been said in criticism of Part 1, although I want to concentrate on Part 2. I do not want to see Part 2 wholly scrapped, because with regard to non-charitable entities—particularly commercial third parties seeking to influence the outcome of an election by plugging, sometimes with huge resources, a particular line or point of view—we need Part 2 although, again, it should be heavily amended. I am wholly unpersuaded that we need charities in Part 2 at all. They should be exempt from Part 2 and from the 2000 Act. I shall come to that in a little detail in a minute.

A number of Peers have mentioned the importance of the charity sector, but there are one-third of a million charities in this country, 95% of which are run entirely by volunteers. It is no good the Minister saying, “They will not be caught by this Act”. Lots and lots of them jolly well will because we have the provision about coalitions. I am damned if I fully understand the coalition arrangements, but certainly they will catch tens of thousands of small charities in their tentacles because so many of them are part of a national body, albeit that they are independently and separately registered as charities, and we know all the rest.

There has been a good deal of exaggeration and quite a lot of charities, frankly, were not even aware of the 2000 Act where a lot of this stuff resides. None the less, the charity sector as a whole is up in arms about this Bill. Broadly, the charities are absolutely right. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, used the rather nice expression that this is a solution without a problem, which is right. We have no evidence from anywhere or anyone that the last election or the one before was subverted by charities. When have we ever in this House had a Bill like this which deals with a problem that does not exist? It is bonkers. It is not even as if, if

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we take charities out of this Bill, there is nothing that contains and controls them: they have the Charity Commission, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson and others have said.

The Charity Commission is not a pushover. I have grappled with it for the past 45 years. Sometimes, it is pretty tough going. It has a job to do.

Lord Judd: Very few people know more about charities and their activities than the noble Lord, but is he not being a little naive? Even if he can sustain his argument that there is no evidence from previous elections, is not the point that there could be—for example, in Sheffield—in the next?

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I think that the Charity Commission can do the job. Perhaps I may read a couple of passages from CC9, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham and others. It is a long and detailed guidance for charities which has evolved over 40 or 50 years. I have been quite closely involved with it. It gives an absolutely well thought through, pragmatically based series of yardsticks. The summary of campaigning and political activity by charities states that,

“political campaigning, or political activity, as defined in this guidance, must be undertaken by a charity only in the context of supporting the delivery of its charitable purposes”.

There is no equivocation. It can engage only in activities pursuing its “charitable purposes”. It continues:

“However, a charity cannot exist for a political purpose, which is any purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in this country or abroad. In the political arena, a charity must stress its independence and ensure that any involvement it has with political parties is balanced. A charity must not give support or funding to a political party, nor to a candidate or politician”.

That is as clear as clear can be. They are not empty words, and there are a lot more to go with them. The Charity Commission enforces this, and the charity world is remarkably free of any abuse of these guidelines.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, may remember that when he was director of Oxfam we had a major battle with a statutory inquiry instigated by the Charity Commission into Oxfam having had activities outside the range of what was permissible under charity law. Fortunately we ended up convincing it that we had not, but these are not empty words. If the Minister says that they are not quite strong enough then give the Charity Commission more resources. It has had a great deal of its people power taken from it. If we remove it from this Act, it would be a big load off the back of the Electoral Commission. It would be a saving of manpower, not a waste of manpower. It would be an economic measure to give the Charity Commission a little more assistance and not to put the burden on the Electoral Commission.

Others have said it, but the charity world as it is is the jewel in the crown of our culture. More than half the adult population is engaged in charity in one way or another. Charities are the engine of civic engagement at a time when in other respects we are in dead trouble. They exemplify organic life, volunteerism, communalism,

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philanthropy and trust. They are cherished. Can we claim those characteristics for the body politic? I fear not. Can big business claim any of those virtues? I fear not. Yet we are on the brink of putting into force an Act which will damage the sector, particularly the smaller part of it. It will demoralise charities, it will cause bureaucratic overload and it will waste money that is hard obtained and can be used better elsewhere. I do not see that we have anything remotely approaching a justification for shackling the charity sector in the way we are when there is no proven evidence of abuse and when the Charity Commission is there to do a job which it is already doing.