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Regulation of Lobbyists

Volume 563: debated on Tuesday 4 June 2013

The Government have repeatedly made very clear their commitment to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. The events that have unfolded over the weekend demonstrate just how important transparency in political life is. We will therefore introduce legislation to provide for a lobbying register before the summer recess. The register will go ahead as part of a broad package of measures to tighten the rules on how third parties can influence our political system.

Given what has happened over the last few days, does the Minister accept that the public expect full transparency on how big business and money try to influence decisions? Will the legislation include not just lobbying companies but in-house lobbyist for-profit organisations?

The aim of any reform in this area must, I think, be to ensure that the activities of outside organisations are transparent to the general public and accountable. As we have said throughout the process, it is important that we get this right. We will announce more details in the coming weeks. The hon. Lady will be aware from the proposals already put forward that the intention is to regulate third-party lobbyists. Let us not forget what this is for: it is about knowing who is lobbying and on behalf of whom.

In order to tackle some of these concerns, the suggestion has been made that we should have a right of recall. Will the Minister confirm that a right of recall would include a recall ballot, so that instead of leaving it to a committee of grandees in Westminster to decide an MP’s future, constituents would have the chance for a final say?

My hon. Friend and I have exchanged views on this subject a number of times, and I look forward to doing so again. As to what we are discussing today, Mr Speaker, you and he will know that there was a draft Bill. We continue to work through its detail and I look forward to bringing forward the further details in due course.

11. Given that MPs across the parties, and particularly those of us elected in 2010, have been calling for action on lobbyists since we were first elected, why has it taken three years, and still no action? When will we actually have a register in place?

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Although we all strongly support openness and transparency of the kind that the Minister has described, does she agree with me that the sort of blatant entrapment carried out by the “Panorama” programme at the weekend would not have been prevented by any such register of lobbyists? Does she also agree that there is a risk of doing something simply in order to be seen to be doing something without addressing the real problems besetting us?

Mr Speaker, I do not think you would want me to go into the details of the particular case to which my hon. Friend refers. It is important to draw from that, however, that the public expect us to act, that we have said for quite some time that we shall be doing this and that we are bringing forward the details from now onwards. I think that a number of factors might have gone into the events that we saw unfold over the weekend, and it is important to take a wider look at some of them.

13. Why are the Government conflating the issues of regulating lobbyists with those of party funding, when previously no links whatever were made between them? Is this a shoddy tactic of the Prime Minister and the Government to get them out of a hole, given that they have done nothing about regulating lobbying before now?

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As I think I have made clear, this is about third parties more generally, and it is right to understand how third parties can influence the political process in general. It is something in which the general public will take a great interest.

Does the Minister agree that trade unions are also lobbyists, so if legislation is to be brought forward, they should be included in it?

I think that our legislative proposals will allow ample opportunity for that and other issues to be discussed. It has been shown in the last few days that there is enormous public concern about the external influences that can arise in relation to people who make laws, and I think it right for third parties and undue influence to be considered.

I am sure that the Minister is as disappointed and disgusted as all other parliamentarians by the allegations made in the media over the weekend. She will be aware that the manifestos of all three main parties contained commitments to make lobbying more transparent, and to give the electorate more power to hold Members of Parliament to account. Does she agree that if these proposals are to be implemented swiftly, and if the resulting measures are to be enduring, all-party support and work will be necessary? Will she ensure that all parties are involved in the work that will take place before the Bill is published?

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and I look forward greatly to working with the right hon. Gentleman and others to support proposals that will make the activities of third parties more transparent to the public.

Given that the proposals constituted a strong part of the coalition agreement, why were they not included in this year’s Queen’s Speech?

We made it clear all along that we intended to introduce this Bill. Working on the detail is important, and I think all Members will welcome the fact that we are doing that now.