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Volume 545: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012

9. When he plans to implement the commitment in the coalition agreement to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists. (108469)

The hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) will know that we have just carried out a consultation on our statutory register of lobbyists, which closed on 20 April, and we are now studying the responses. We will publish our response to that consultation before the summer recess, and we will publish a White Paper and draft legislation later this Session.

I thank the Minister for that helpful answer. Abuse of lobbying is nothing new, but in recent years we have had to deal with the issue of helpful calls to News International. We have seen the Conservative co-treasurer offering dinner dates with the Prime Minister, Bell Pottinger offering influence at No. 10, and Adam Werritty and so on. So may I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to get on with this register, because people were disappointed not to see it in the Queen’s Speech and this situation is undermining our democracy?

I would add to that list of examples, because people are also concerned when trade unions write amendments for the Labour party. I will not take any lectures from the Labour party on dealing with this issue at speed, because it had 13 years to tackle the issue and made no progress at all. It is important that we get this right, so that we do not have to keep returning to it. We have published a consultation, I have set out the steps we are going to take to publish a White Paper and a draft Bill, and I have already made a commitment, when giving evidence last week to a Select Committee, that we will deal with this issue, as we have committed to do, this Parliament.

The Prime Minister has already been proved right when he said that lobbying would be the “next big scandal” to happen, so why this delay? Does the Minister not agree that any failure to bring forward meaningful legislation will justifiably feed the public mistrust of politicians? Is it not time that we completely cleaned up this place?

I am very happy to agree with the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question; the Prime Minister is, indeed, always right. On the second part of the question, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my previous answer. I am not going to take any lectures from the Labour party, which did nothing on this subject. It is important to get this right. We have published the consultation document. He will know, from listening to what people have said publicly, that there are a range of views on how we deal with this. We are going to look at those consultation responses, publish our proposals and put them up for pre-legislative scrutiny, so that people can look at them, and we will legislate and deal with this matter in this Parliament, as we have committed to do.

The Minister still has not explained to us why the Government are dragging their feet. It was widely expected that this Bill would be in the Queen’s Speech and we have been told that the draft legislation is going to be available before long, so why not just get on with it and bring the legislation forward?

Again, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that his party did nothing about this when in government. We will take one lesson from his Government: rushing forward with ill-considered legislation that then is not brought into force or which goes wrong when it is introduced and then has to be revisited is not a good way of legislating. We have published a number of Bills in draft so far, in the first Session of this Parliament, including the one dealing with electoral registration. That is a good way of legislating and it is generally supported across this House. It is better to get it right and do it well, rather than rush it and make a bodge of it.

What is my hon. Friend doing to regulate that most destructive form of lobbying—that which comes from Liberal Democrat Back Benchers and is designed to undermine the economic recovery by arguing against the regionalisation of public sector pay and against the Beecroft report?

Speaking for myself, I enjoy being lobbied by Back Benchers of all descriptions, be they Members from the Government parties or Opposition Members. I am very happy to listen to views. The Government will then move forward with their proposals on lobbying, based on the evidence and on the responses to our consultation.

The Minister will know that there is considerable opposition on both sides of the Houses to any regulation on lobbying, and we all know why, certainly after 13 years of the Labour Government. However, will he confirm that the key is transparency? If the public know which politicians are meeting whom, it will be much harder for anything dishonourable to happen. I hope that that will be a key part of any announcement.

The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on transparency. It is one reason why Ministers in this Government are much more transparent about those whom we meet than Ministers in previous Governments were—[Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) laughing; this Government are much more transparent about the meetings that Ministers have. Transparency is the key; that is where we have identified the problem and this is what we are going to solve with our proposals. As I said, it is important to get it right and get the job done, and that is exactly what we are going to do.