The Government's Lobbying Bill (Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill) passed Second Reading in the House of Commons on 3rd September by 309-247 votes. The Opposition’s amendment to the Bill which proposed a “universal register of all professional lobbyists backed by a code of conduct and sanctions” was defeated by 243-313. The Bill moves forward to Committee stage (of the whole House) scheduled to commence on 9th September.
Selected highlights of the debate on Part 1 of the Bill concerning a statutory register of lobbyists:
Andrew Lansley MP: Let me be clear, first, that lobbying is a necessary—indeed an inevitable and often welcome—part of policy making and the parliamentary process. We should not seek to prevent lobbying, but to make it transparent who is lobbying whom and for what.
Barry Sheerman MP: On that very point, let me assure the Leader of the House that many Opposition Members, particularly myself, believe that lobbying is at the very heart of our democracy. We should have it, but it should be regulated and should be transparent.
Responding to Thomas Docherty MP, Andrew Lansley MP said: I know that the Hon. Gentleman presented a Private Member’s Bill. The point is, however, that we are not aiming for the creation of the bureaucratic monster that would result from action of that kind. We are aiming for transparency rather than the control of lobbying, the result of which would be the registration of thousands of lobbyists and a requirement for a draconian system of reporting and enforcement.
Andrew Lansley MP: We have heard repeated calls from the Opposition and others saying that the register should be expanded to include so-called “in-house” lobbyists, but what is not clear is what problem such an expansion would solve. As I said…when a lobbyist from Shell or the WWF, to give typical examples, comes to meet Ministers it is quite clear whose interest they are representing, and these meetings are already publicly disclosed—the public can see that they happen.
Chris Bryant MP: [Andrew Lansley] says this is all about transparency, but if I have got it right every single member of the public affairs team in-house at BSkyB will be able to visit as many Ministers as they want and every single lawyer employed by BSkyB to advance its case will be able to do so without any need to register. The only person who would have to register would be an independent consultant in a company that solely lobbies. How does that possibly afford greater transparency?
Andrew Lansley MP: It promotes transparency because if a representative of Sky visits a Minister in order to discuss that business, it is transparent that they are doing so in order to represent the interests of Sky. However, if somebody from “XYZ Corporation”, a consultant lobbying firm, visits a Minister in order to discuss somebody else’s business but it is not transparent through the ministerial diary publication who they are representing, that is not transparent. We propose to remedy that by making it transparent.
Graham Allen MP: A series of scandals led the Prime Minister to say that lobbying would be the next big crisis for the British political system and to the inclusion in the coalition agreement of a provision to regulate lobbying. Would this Bill attack any of those cases? Is it in any way relevant to the public concern about lobbying?
Angela Eagle MP: I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add: “this House affirms its belief in the need for greater transparency in the lobbying industry and in British politics, and considers that there should be a universal register of all professional lobbyists backed by a code of conduct and sanctions, clear rules on third party campaigning, and real reform to get the big money out of politics; but declines to give a Second Reading to the Transparency of Lobbying, Third Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill because the proposals on lobbying cover only a tiny minority of the industry and will make lobbying less transparent, and the proposals on third party campaigning amount to a gag on charities and campaigners who have a democratic right to participate in important debates in the run up to elections; and strongly believes that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny and consultation with affected parties.
Angela Eagle MP: This is one of the worst Bills that I have seen any Government produce in a very long time...The Bill can best be summed up as furious displacement activity by a Government who hope that the public will not notice their problems with lobbying...one of the things that the Bill needs is more time for pre-legislative scrutiny and a closer look, so that we can get it right...the Bill touches on none of the lobbying scandals that seemingly forced the Prime Minister’s hand before he suddenly decided to come up with the Bill at the end of June.
Caroline Lucas MP: [Angela Eagle] spoke about transparency. Does she agree that that should include financial transparency so that we can see a genuine, good-faith estimate of how much money has been spent on lobbying activities and thus compare what the large multinational corporations are spending versus non-profit organisations?