On Tuesday 5th November, the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill commenced Committee stage.
Following claims by Lord Ramsbotham (CB) that he would force a vote to commit Part 2 of the bill, regarding charity campaigning, to a special committee, which would only report in February 2014, Lord Wallace (LD) announced a pause for the second part of the bill until 16 December so that “I and my colleagues in Government responsible for the Bill will consult widely with all the interested parties—Members of the House and the many others outside.” The aim is also to allow for the charity sector to have a proper opportunity to explain to the Government its concerns.”
Many in the public affairs industry have shown disappointment that Part 1 of the Bill, aimed at creating a statutory register of lobbyists, will not be paused, amidst widespread criticism.
The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) Director General Francis Ingham, for instance, said: “The Government should see this as a golden opportunity to widen the pausing of Part Two to the rest of this badly-thought through Bill. The Government should reconsider its plans for the registration of lobbyists outlined in Part One, and introduce something that covers all those that lobby.”
However, in the House of Lords, many Peers such as Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab) already expressed concerns that amendments to the Bill will be limited at “exempt[ing] all smaller charities from the provisions of the Bill.”
Immediately following the Baroness, Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) highlighted the fact that this five-week period of consultation “is a very short period indeed”. He added that “if the Minister finds that this five-week period is not long enough, there is an alternative that would still enable the Bill to get through in time for the 2015 election: namely, to heed the advice of the Electoral Commission.”
The debate about Part 1 of the Bill began with Lord Hardie (CB) advocating to widen the scope of the Bill by quoting the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA): “80% of the industry consists of in-house lobbyists.” Therefore, “a statutory register will impact upon those choosing to be part of the existing voluntary registers, which provide more information than will be captured on the statutory register. The voluntary registers include a register of consultant lobbyists which lists the clients of each consultancy. They also include a register of organisations that employ lobbyists whose names are listed. The statutory register would list only a small proportion of those already on the voluntary registers.”
In discussing a related issue, Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) argued it is necessary to include “government as a whole, as against the cherry-picked sectors which the Government propose.” His opinion is that the Bill must clearly incorporate lobbying all aspects of government: “My case is that executive agencies, which are staffed by civil servants, non-departmental public bodies, which are staffed with a mix of non-civil servants and civil servants, and non-ministerial departments are all crucial parts of government.”
The Lords debated the inclusion of Permanent Secretaries, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, Special Advisers and other civil servants into the scope. The topic of proportionality was considered “a matter of some difficulty” as admitted by Lord Wallace.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town expressed her desire to include a provision that promotes a Registrars’ code of conduct: “For me, it is particularly sad that the golden opportunity for this Bill to introduce a requirement for registered lobbyists to abide by a code of conduct has been lost. A code is absolutely key if we wish to raise standards.” The statutory code would not be written in the Bill, but “would set the standard for the behaviour of those who seek to influence the Government of this country”.
She also shared her doubts about the feasibility of attaining such a code of conduct and, therefore, suggested “that those whom [the Bill] does cover are encouraged to continue their compliance with existing voluntary codes by requiring that they are transparent as to whether they do so or not.”
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab) wanted to “ensure that the Government address the issue of lobbying UKRep and senior officials representing the UK in Brussels. As we all know, lobbying in the European Parliament is covered by an EU register of lobbyists, but there is much lobbying in relation to European legislation where UKRep is concerned. […] Brussels is the city second to Washington in being the kingpin of lobbyists. It would be absurd if our civil servants working in UKRep, especially the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative, were not covered by the Bill. We are not talking about foreign policy; we are talking about domestic policy and the way in which it is affected by European legislation and how it is then implemented in this country.”
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con) showed concern that a Minister may dismiss the Registrar if he or she “is satisfied that the Registrar is unable, unwilling or unfit to perform the functions of the office”. Regarding the question of dismissal, he said it is “worth exploring how we are going to make sure that the registrar, who has this important role to play, has some protection if he or she wishes to carry out his or her work in a way that the Government of the day may find disobliging.”
Lord Camphbell-Savours pointed out that “the Bill does not […] set out the arrangements for removal from the register” despite the fact that “If the Registrar has reasonable grounds for believing that a registered person is not (or is no longer) fit to act as a consultant lobbyist, the Registrar may decide that the registered persons shall be removed from the register.”