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Statutory Register of Lobbyists

Volume 552: debated on Wednesday 7 November 2012

2. Whether his Department has issued guidance to other Departments on the likely implementation date of a statutory register of lobbyists. (126833)

The plans for developing a response to the Select Committee’s report and other evidence are still under way, and we have not issued guidance to Departments yet on a timetable. However, I rather think that we will do it quicker than the 13 years in which the previous Administration failed to introduce any systematic approach to lobbying.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the special adviser to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is also the paid chairman of an outside lobbying organisation? Does that not show the need for urgent guidance and, preferably, the statutory register of lobbyists that the Government have promised but so far failed to deliver?

I think I can say that I disagree with every part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. He was a distinguished Minister in the previous Government and will be perfectly aware of these things. The special adviser in question made a full declaration of what she was doing to the permanent secretary and the Cabinet Office. It is also on the parliamentary register, because she is a special adviser. It is all perfectly appropriate and the Centre for Social Justice is not a lobbying organisation but a think tank with a long and passionate record of advocating social justice.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to look at internal as well as external lobbyists? May I encourage him in his work to identify the very large numbers of people who are working during paid public sector working hours for trade unions affiliated to the Labour party?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General is already taking steps to limit the extent of the public payroll and the taxpayer supporting people engaged in trade union activity inside the civil service. My hon. Friend also raises a wider point. Part of the evidence from the Select Committee and others in response to our proposals on the register for lobbyists showed concern that they did not cover the question of those who lobbied on behalf of firms by which they were employed. We have taken major steps to make that more transparent by ensuring that Ministers reveal who comes to lobby them about any subject, regardless of whether they are internal or external. We are considering whether we can go further in that transparency.

The Prime Minister promised us a Bill two and half years ago and nothing has appeared. Is that because of incompetence or powerful vested interests on the Government Benches?

The short answer is neither. The reason the hon. Gentleman’s party failed to move on this for 13 years is that it is a genuinely complicated issue. We issued proposals not too long ago and we believe in evidence-based policy making rather than policy-based evidence making. We are therefore paying serious attention to the Select Committee of this House and to others and I would have expected the hon. Gentleman to congratulate us on doing so as Opposition Members frequently ask us to spend more time considering what has been proposed by Select Committees and others in response to our proposals.

May I press the Minister further? There is a big difference between lobbying and the important policy formation work done by think tanks, especially the excellent Centre for Social Justice. There is also a big difference between a special adviser who is a professional and one who is vocational and passionate, like Philippa Stroud.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a big difference. We must consider every measure we can to ensure that there is full transparency. In this case, there was transparency—the information can be seen on the register of the House and was fully reported to the permanent secretary and the Cabinet Office.