The allotted day of Committee stage debate on the introduction of a Statutory Register, part 1 of the Lobbying Bill, on 9 September saw the rejection of an amendment which would have broadened the scope to include “professional lobbying” from “consultant lobbying”. Jon Trickett MP said that the proposed Bill “completely excludes 99% of lobbying activity” and that “For a register to bring meaningful transparency to the lobbying industry and to allow public scrutiny of lobbying, it must surely include, at the very least, all of those who are doing lobbying”.
Selected highlights from the Committee of the whole House debate:
Jon Trickett MP: The Government’s decision to limit the register to consultant lobbyists will lead to a narrowing of the register, because it excludes nearly all the lobbyists who are working professionally in our country today. Indeed, it would deepen the shadows that many people believe fall wherever the industry practises. Our amendments will seek to make the register universal and transparent and make what the lobbyists are doing transparent, by bringing the whole of the professional industry into daylight....We should remember that in previous debates many Members have reiterated the view that there is nothing wrong in principle with lobbying. In fact, lobbying brings life to our democracy and we, as Members of Parliament, frequently gain important information from being lobbied. Therefore, nothing I or any of my colleagues say today will suggest that there is anything wrong in principle with lobbying. That activity should, however, take place in the full light of day, not in the shadows.
Bernard Jenkin MP: As Members of Parliament, we expect to be lobbied by people who are lobbying in their own interests. In that respect, a company is a person. In legal terms it is just another person. We expect to be lobbied by our constituents and by other people who are not constituents in respect of matters of national interest. Can [Jon Trickett MP] explain why such lobbying is corrupt? …. What would be corrupt is Members of Parliament receiving payment or being influenced by anything other than argument. Otherwise, I cannot see why he wants to capture so many people in a lobbying register.
Jon Trickett MP: We recognise that lobbying also includes advising others and facilitating meetings. Yet the Government have failed to include such activity in the Bill—perhaps because they have no idea what lobbying consists of, having failed to conduct a proper consultation.
Paul Flynn MP: Could [Anne Main MP] prevail on her Front-Bench colleagues, who have been garlanded with this albatross, to follow the advice of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, withdraw the Bill and introduce a sensible one? Otherwise this legislative atrocity may well go through the House and the Government will find this to be the signature Bill of the Tory “ineptocracy” that they are creating.
Anne Main MP: I do not have a problem with having a full, fair and transparent register of lobbying activities. I do not believe that charities will feel themselves constrained from lobbying. I am concerned that the Bill’s loopholes, which do not catch personal, behind-the-scenes and subtle lobbying, could lead to more lobbying being driven underground by the craft’s practitioners. The charities have nothing to fear by being transparent about making powerful cases. My concern is about decisions that have been influenced subtly and policies that have been driven by a particular narrative behind the scenes that we as Members of Parliament find hard to track down.
Chris Bryant MP: [Anne Main MP’s] proposed new clause has a lot to recommend it, but most lobbyists would disagree profoundly with some of the language she has used about them. They do not want to be devious or skulking in corridors. They are happy to do their business because they know it is an essential part of the democratic process to get across a strong view to those who are legislating on behalf of the whole of society. They are calling for these kinds of changes as well, so may I urge the hon. Lady to be a bit nicer about lobbyists? Ultimately, I think she is calling for what they want.
Graham Allen MP: This Bill does not do what it should say on the can—I do not know whether the Trade Descriptions Act applies in the House of Commons, but if it did there would be a strong case for putting somebody at least in front of a magistrate. This is not the lobbying Bill, it is the 1% lobbying Bill. Most of the problems that have been identified across the House, in the media and elsewhere, will not be affected or tackled by the Bill.
Peter Luff MP: As a former lobbyist and an honorary fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations…. Unless the Government accept amendment 52, which would make it necessary for management consultancies, lawyers and accountant to register, lobbying will become much less transparent as a direct result of the Bill.
Tracey Crouch MP: I want to bring some of my own experience to the Chamber. Fundamentally, what is wrong with this part of the Bill is that it does not reflect any kind of understanding of the lobbying industry, of which I am a proud ex-member. The lobbying industry has changed dramatically since I first joined it in 1998. I worked for a consultancy that, if it existed today, would be caught by the Bill’s provisions because it was a dedicated Government relations lobbying agency. However, the industry has changed and most public affairs firms are now part of wider communications groups, on which the Bill will have no impact… It is therefore quite clear that this part of the Bill needs to be taken off the table and looked at again, particularly in respect of expanding the definitions.
Dr Thérèse Coffey MP: I understand [Tracey Crouch MP’s] point, but does she agree that the transparency shown by publishing ministerial diaries, including the companies that Ministers meet and the purpose of the meetings, fulfils that role, and that trying to extend the law is effectively using a sledgehammer to crack a small nut, which concerns the PR industry in particular?
Tracey Crouch MP: I do not wish to be rude, but I think that that shows a real lack of understanding about the lobbying industry. A significant proportion of what lobbyists do does not relate to Ministers or permanent secretaries. In the entire 10 years for which I worked in the industry, I do not think that I once either arranged or attended a meeting with a permanent secretary. With great respect to current and former Ministers, that was very much the end process of whatever we were seeking to do. We would quite often meet civil servants to discuss incredibly technical issues that, by the time they reached the Minister’s desk, were probably already signed and agreed through the interactive relationships developed with those particular civil servants.
Chi Onwurah MP: It is testimony to the ineptitude of the Government that, after months of delay, they have introduced a lobbying Bill that covers just 1% of lobbyists and still manages to be full of loopholes.
Caroline Lucas MP: Ironically, the Prime Minister brought forward the Bill saying that he wanted to avoid the next scandal. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that the way in which we are being forced to handle this debate is in itself a scandal.