[Relevant Documents: The Seventh Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, on the Government’s Lobbying Bill, HC 601, and the First Report from the Committee on Standards, on the Government’s Lobbying Bill, HC 638]
[1st Allotted Day]
Considered in Committee
[Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]
Prohibition on consultant lobbying unless registered
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendment 76.
Amendment 5, in line 8, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 7, in line 12, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 48, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1) For the purposes of this Part, a person carries on the business of lobbying if in the course of a business and in return for payment—
(a) the person makes communications within subsection (3), or advises another person on the making of communications within subsection (3), and
(b) none of the exceptions in Part 1 of Schedule 1 applies.’.
Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 2, line 2, leave out ‘on behalf of another person or persons’.
Government amendment 77.
Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
‘(b) in return for payment the person advises others how to make communications within subsection (3).
(c) in return for payment the person arranges or facilitates a formal or informal meeting within subsection (3).’.
Amendment 161, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert—
‘(1A) A person carries on the business of professional lobbying if—
(a) the person is directly employed by a non-lobbying business to perform the role of making communications within the meaning of subsection (3);
(b) the person is contracted to perform the role of making communications within the meaning of subsection (3) by a non-lobbying business; or
(c) in addition to other duties within their business, they make communication within the meaning of subsection (3).’.
Amendment 52, in schedule 1, page 50, line 18, leave out paragraph 3.
Government amendment 91.
Amendment 17, in schedule 1, page 50, line 18, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 18, in schedule 1, page 50, leave out lines 19 to 24 and insert—
‘(a) the person is a constituent contacting or communicating with their Member of Parliament;
(b) the person is making communications solely on his or her own behalf;
(c) the person is responding to a government consultation exercise;
(d) the person is responding to an invitation to submit information or evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee or Public Bill Committee;
(e) the person is acting in an official capacity on behalf of a government organisation;
(f) a person is making communications without remuneration;
(g) the person is responding to or complying with a court order,’.
Government amendments 92 to 95.
Amendment 19, in schedule 1, page 50, line 25, leave out sub-paragraph 3(2) and insert—
‘A person is carrying on the business of professional lobbying if they are acting—
(a) on behalf of a client, or
(b) on behalf of an employer.’.
Amendment 20, in schedule 1, page 50, line 30, leave out sub-paragraph 3(3) .
Amendment 21, in schedule 1, page 50, line 33, leave out sub-paragraph 3(4) .
Amendment 22, in schedule 1, page 51, line 8, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Government amendments 96 and 97.
Amendment 24, in schedule 1, page 51, line 21, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 25, in schedule 1, page 51, line 43, leave out paragraph (7).
Amendment 26, in schedule 1, page 52, line 10, leave out paragraph (8). Amendment 27, in schedule 1, page 52, line 16, leave out paragraph (10).
Amendment 30, in clause 3, page 2, line 35, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Government amendment 98.
Amendment 32, in clause 4, page 2, line 38, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 33, in clause 4, page 3, line 12, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 38, in clause 6, page 4, line 25, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Amendment 39, in clause 9, page 5, line 12, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Government amendment 81.
Amendment 41, in clause 12, page 6, line 22, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Government amendments 82 to 85.
New clause 5—Definition of consultant lobbying
‘(1) In section 1 “consultant lobbying” means activities which are carried out in the course of a business for the purpose of—
(a) influencing government; or
(b) advising others how to influence government.
(2) Activities are to be taken as having the purpose specified in subsection (1) if a reasonable person would assume, having regard to all the circumstances, that the activities were intended to have the effect described in subsection (1)(a) or (b).
(3) In this section “government” includes, within the United Kingdom—
(a) central government, devolved government, local government;
(b) members and staff of either House of Parliament or of a devolved legislature;
(c) Ministers and officials; and
(d) public authorities (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998).
(4) Subsection (1) does not include—
(a) anything done in response to or compliance with a court order;
(b) anything done for the purpose of complying with a requirement under an enactment;
(c) a public response to an invitation to submit information or evidence;
(d) a public response to a government consultation exercise;
(e) a formal response to a public invitation to tender;
(f) anything done by a person acting in an official capacity on behalf of a government organisation; or
(g) an individual who makes representations solely on his or her own behalf.
(5) In subsection (1) “influencing” includes informing, but making information or opinions public (for example, by way of advertisements or attributed articles in a newspaper) is not the provision of lobbying services.
(6) In this section—
(a) “business” includes any undertaking, including charitable and not-for-profit undertakings; and
(b) services provided by or on behalf of an undertaking are provided “in the course of a business”, even if the persons providing the services are acting on a pro bono, volunteer or not-for-profit basis.
(7) Subsection (1) applies whether a person is acting—
(a) on behalf of a client;
(b) on behalf of an employer;
(c) as a volunteer on behalf of a charitable or other organisation; or
(d) on the person’s own behalf (subject to subsection (4)(g)); but the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument permit persons who provide lobbying services on behalf of an organisation (in any capacity) to rely on the organisation’s registration.
(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument provide that a person does not contravene section 1 by providing lobbying services without being registered, provided that the person becomes registered within a specified period beginning with the first date on which those services were provided.’.
Amendment 44, title, line 2l, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.
Let me welcome you to the Chair, Ms Primarolo, for the start of this very important Committee stage. We all look forward to your wise advice as we proceed with detailed scrutiny of the first part of this absolutely dreadful Bill—a Bill which no single stakeholder of any importance has endorsed. Part 1 is in need of major change, and it is only as a result of the unfortunate abbreviation of the time available that we shall not be pressing every single one of our amendments to a vote. We will see how far we get. I do not intend to speak for too long, because there are so many important matters to be dealt with this afternoon. I apologise to the Committee for needing to slip out for a few minutes at some stage; I have a long-standing engagement.
I want to make three points. First, there is a need for a universal register of all lobbyists, to which amendment 2 and further consequential amendments refer. Secondly, we strongly object to the Government’s tabling of amendment 76, for reasons that I shall explain shortly. Thirdly, amendment 9 and amendment 48—tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee—widen the definition of “lobbyist” to ensure that all activities are properly registered.
The Government frequently claim to be the most transparent Government in history. That is a large claim. However, when it comes to making a choice between their commitment to transparency and the protection of vested interests, they always come down on the side of vested interests at the cost of transparency. That much is clear from the very first clause of the Bill, which needs to be amended.
Earlier this year, a private health care company, Hospital Corporation of America, was awarded a contract to treat NHS brain tumour patients. That happened after the same company had donated £17,000 to the Conservative party. Does my hon. Friend agree that such transactions are the ones that the public want to get to the bottom of, and that the Bill does nothing to achieve that?
My hon. Friend has made a powerful point about the way in which the Bill that became the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was prepared. As we know, the private health industry operated substantially behind the scenes in preparing the ground for that Bill. We also know that the legislation has led to a variety of actions that seem to have introduced an increasing amount of engagement in the NHS by the private sector, but that is not the point that I am addressing this afternoon.
The Government’s decision to limit the register to consultant lobbyists will lead to a narrowing of the register, because it excludes nearly all the lobbyists who are working professionally in our country today. Indeed, it would deepen the shadows that many people believe fall wherever the industry practises. Our amendments will seek to make the register universal and transparent and make what the lobbyists are doing transparent, by bringing the whole of the professional industry into daylight.
I will explain it, but it is not too difficult to understand. I have met and consulted representatives of the whole of the industry, and they have told me that only a tiny proportion of the industry are so-called consultant lobbyists—third-party lobbyists or, as it were, hired guns. Professional lobbyists who work in-house will not be covered under the definition in the Bill, which is why we feel the use of the term “consultant lobbyist” narrows the Bill’s scope.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful explanation. I do not know whether he is aware of these comments made by Cameron Penny, a financial services lobbyist, on ConservativeHome:
“In a ludicrous reduction in the level of transparency to which I currently submit, the Bill wouldn’t mean I’d have to register as a lobbyist. As an employee who lobbies on behalf of an employer whose business is lobbying; they would have to register, I wouldn’t.”
I therefore urge Members on both sides of the Committee to support Labour’s amendment, so that we ensure that we establish a lobbying register that includes all lobbyists, not just a very narrow 1%.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I met all the representative bodies of the lobbying industry only two or three weeks ago, and I asked them how many of their members would have to register under the definition of “consultant lobbyist”. They knew of nobody—not one single person—who would be both a consultant lobbyist and registered under the definition of lobbying in the Bill.
I am going to make some more points on this matter in a few moments, and I may take some interventions then.
Our amendment would secure a register that includes in-house lobbyists as well as lobbying consultants and sole traders, all of whom are excluded under this Bill.
We should remember that in previous debates many Members reiterated the view that there is nothing wrong in principle with lobbying. In fact, lobbying brings life to our democracy and we, as Members of Parliament, frequently gain important information from being lobbied. Therefore, nothing I or any of my colleagues say today will suggest that there is anything wrong in principle with lobbying. That activity should, however, take place in the full light of day, not in the shadows.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I assume she is saying that the 161 individual lobbyists were employed by the tobacco company. If that is the case, under this Bill not one of them—not a single one—would be required to be on the register. That is why when she intervened on me I was saying that we want all lobbying activities to be brought into the full light of day, not remain in the shadows.
I have—but I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has done so. He might be well advised to meet them first, before asking a question like that. Yes, I have met the leading charities. I have also met representative organisations of the leading charities, and I have made two things clear to them. First, if they employ lobbyists according to the definition that we want to introduce, they will have to be registered. Even the large representative organisations say that that is the right thing to do. We are talking about professional lobbyists. Throughout the country, in every neighbourhood and constituency, there is much excellent community and charitable work that is undertaken voluntarily, and that is not professional lobbying. We do not expect people who lobby us at our surgeries with a particular problem in their neighbourhood to have to register. However, if a large organisation such as a charity—I can think of some that spend £300 million a year; that is their turnover—has parliamentary consultants working for them or for third party organisations that are lobbying Parliament in the material interests of that charity, that should be registered. The register will take only a few moments to fill in—it is not a particularly arduous task—and it is right that anyone who lobbies Parliament should be on it.
That is not my view alone, and it is not the view simply of the Opposition. I have met, as I have told the Committee, all the representative organisations of the lobbying industry. I have met many chairmen, chairwomen and managing directors of the larger lobbying companies and, almost without exception, they think that the Bill is too weak and does not go far enough, so they oppose it. I have also met all the lobbying transparency campaigners. One would not think that the people who campaign for lobbying and the people who campaign to constrain lobbying would inevitably share the same point of view but, in this case, without exception, both sides say that the Bill is simply inadequate.
The Bill is simply not up to the task, and it is likely to make lobbying more opaque, rather than more transparent. By suggesting that the register should include only consultant lobbyists, the register would exclude—these are important figures; they are not mine—99% of meetings between lobbyists and Ministers; 80% of lobbyists; and 95% of lobbying activity. Much of that activity and those lobbyists are already registered on voluntary registers. More likely than not, they will deregister if the Bill is introduced. We will know less about the industry and its activities than we do now.
That is a powerful point, but I do not want to stray too far down that track because you may rule me out of order, Ms Primarolo; the issue is not relevant to this group of amendments. However, the hon. Lady is quite correct—as a whole, the Bill completely excludes 99% of lobbying activity. Consultant lobbying does not include, for example, lobbyists who work in-house—a point that I have made in response to the Government. People who work for big tobacco companies or those who operate in law firms as lobbyists would not have to register.
I shall give the Committee an example. The right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was revealed to have texted Mr Fred Michel, the in-house lobbyist for News Corporation, about matters that pertained to News Corporation’s business, but those exchanges would not have to be registered if the Bill became law, because Mr Michel was an in-house lobbyist, not a consultant lobbyist. One of the big scandals of this Parliament would simply be missed by legislation that is meant to clean up lobbying once and for all.
Even the Leader of the House conceded to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee that the definition of consultant lobbyist was narrow. He said—bear in mind that a Minister said this, not us—“It is not that we believe consultant lobbyists are the only ones lobbying. Clearly they are a minority.” The Leader of the House makes the point more effectively and with fewer words than I am. The point is that a very small minority of lobbyists and lobbying activity will be covered the Bill.
As Members of Parliament, we expect to be lobbied by people who are lobbying in their own interests. In that respect, a company is a person. In legal terms it is just another person. We expect to be lobbied by our constituents and by other people who are not constituents in respect of matters of national interest. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why such lobbying is corrupt? What would be corrupt—[Interruption.] Excuse me. What would be corrupt is Members of Parliament receiving payment or being influenced by anything other than argument. Otherwise, I cannot see why he wants to capture so many people in a lobbying register. Will he explain that?
I will briefly make several points. First, there is a Government amendment before the Committee this afternoon that excludes companies from having to register, yet the hon. Gentleman points out that in law companies are individuals—they are legal persons. On corruption, I have not made the case that the lobbying industry is wholly corrupt. Not at all, but there is a huge gap between the population and the political and commercial elite in our country.
Too many people believe that decisions are made in secret, in the quiet rooms around here—smoke-filled rooms, perhaps. Nobody knows how those decisions are made or on whose behalf. It would be better if the general public understood how decisions were made, who was pressing for those decisions and in whose interests they were made. The Prime Minister himself said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We should introduce legislation that would make sure that all lobbying activity was registered and properly accounted for. People would then know how decisions were made.
On the scope of the clause and the limitations on who is covered by it, Members of Parliament are lobbied, but will the public think it morally right that at least 58 Members of Parliament on the Government Benches have current or recent directorships or consultancy activities with private health care firms from which they benefit personally? That is not covered at all by the terms and scope of the Bill.
I thank my hon. Friend. My views on MPs’ second jobs are well known. They were debated in the House not too long ago.
The Leader of the House accepted that consultant lobbyists are a tiny minority. The Government have constructed a straw man argument in order to give the appearance that they are taking action on lobbying transparency, whereas in reality they are doing no such thing. Why is a register of consultant lobbyists proposed in the Bill? In my view it is because the Government merely want to be seen to be doing something while in fact doing very little.
We, the lobbying industry and the lobbying transparency campaigners, as well as the Select Committee, all want to act to achieve greater lobbying transparency for the good and the health of our democracy. We want to suggest something different to the Government. We want lobbying transparency because in a 21st century democracy it is only right that people can see how their Government are being influenced and by whom—which commercial forces lie behind particular decisions. That requires a register of all professional lobbyists. All lobbyists would then have to meet the same high standards, not only to create a level playing field within the industry, but to make sure that big money can no longer buy more influence than the rest of the population by using underhand techniques.
Instead of ensuring high standards in the lobbying industry, however, the Government would make the situation much worse. That is not simply my view. Mr George Kidd, acting chair of the UK Public Affairs Council, the body that runs the largest voluntary register of lobbyists, said that
“there is a risk that in doing something we do harm rather than good. We may end up with a less transparent system than we currently have if the definition is unchanged and”—
listen to this—
“we have a statutory register with very few names, if any, on it. People will be able to construct their business never to be on it.”
He suggests that we may have a register with no names on it—no lobbyists at all—and a register that is so full of loopholes that it is possible for anybody, with the smallest amount of ingenuity, to find a way to avoid getting on to the register. It would appear that the word “transparency” in the Bill’s title is a total misnomer.
If all that were not bad enough, Government amendment 76, in the name of the Leader of the House, rather remarkably succeeds in achieving what many think is impossible: making a bad Bill even worse. Despite comprehensive and uniquely united criticism and a consensus against the Bill, the Government have decided in their wisdom further to amend it, not in order to strengthen it, as lobbyists and experts have recommended, but rather further to weaken it. Rather than including companies and organisations that employ lobbyists on the register, as happens currently with the voluntary register, the Government have chosen to seek to limit the scope of the Bill further with this amendment by removing the need for a lobbyist’s employer to register. This is an important point, so I hope that the Committee is following the argument. For a register to bring meaningful transparency to the lobbying industry and to allow public scrutiny of lobbying, it must surely include, at the very least, all those who are doing lobbying. That surely must include the individual lobbyist’s employer. Yet that is precisely what the amendment seeks to avoid. Without the information on who is employing a particular lobbyist, it will be impossible to know which organisations or companies are lobbying at all, let alone what they are lobbying about or how often they are lobbying. The amendment is a retrograde step.
I have highlighted before how the Bill is weaker than the existing voluntary code, and the Government amendment is a case in point. The public or an organisation seeking the services of a lobbyist can currently search the voluntary registers in a way that discloses an organisation or employer’s client list, but the Government’s new proposals will remove that ability. The amendment removes the necessity for the lobbyists’ employers to be registered. We would know who the lobbyists were if they were consultant lobbyists, not if they were professional lobbyists, but we would not know who they were working for. We would not know who their colleagues were. Nor would we know which clients were being served by their colleagues. Nor would we know which other clients were employing the same company. We would not know the identity of the directors of the company. I would argue that knowing the names and identities of the directors of the company is quite important. Arguably, a company director may not themselves be a lobbyist, but it would be of interest to know who the directors of the company were which employed the lobbyists who were then on the register, and the amendment would exclude such a possibility.
Finally, we would not know who the shareholders of the company were, which leaves a massive opportunity for opacity. We would not know who the directors are or who owns the company, the name of the company or its registered address; we will be able to know simply that a lobbyist, Mr M. Smith, or whatever his name may be, is working out of Wimbledon. We will have no idea who his colleagues are, what company he works for, what its registered address is or who its shareholders and directors are. It really is a very bad and dangerous amendment. Rather than opening up the lobbying industry, the Government’s proposal would allow companies and organisations to hide behind the legislation.
The point about identifying who works for whom must be complicated by the fact that some consultancies are employed by a number of different companies. Could they disguise the fact, using zero-hours contracts, that they are not working exclusively for one employer?
Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The truth is that we will have no idea whom they are working for. We will know who their clients are, because that is required on the register, but we will have no idea who employs them. That seems to me to be a rather critical question to ask. For those people now on the voluntary register and operating to an ethical code, we know who their clients are and whom they work for, and the companies they work for also register. If the amendment is made, we will have no idea whom they are working for or who their other clients are. It seems to me that those on the Government Front Bench—I look to the Minister—should reflect on the amendment carefully before deciding whether to press it. It is very dangerous.
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that those dangers would arise as a result of the proposed amendment? The word “person” would apply equally to an individual as to a company, so
“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless… the person… is entered in the register”
could mean either a company or a human being. Indeed, it is likely to mean both, because if the person is carrying on business on behalf of an employer that is a company, he should register not only himself, but the company. I do not understand his objection, unless he has seen something in the Bill that I have not.
Let us look at the clause concerned. Clause 1 currently states:
“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless—
(a) the person, or
(b) if the person is an employee, the person’s employer,
is entered in the register of consultant lobbyists.”
Amendment 76 would exclude paragraph (b), so I deduce from that that the Government do not wish to have on the register the employer of the person who is being registered. If I was incorrect in my interpretation, no purpose whatsoever would be served by that deletion, or by its inclusion in the Bill in the first place.
Is that not the entire point? There would be no need to specify the person’s employer if they could stand alone. If a person is included, what was the point of putting that in the Bill in the first place? It is being deleted specifically to exclude the corporate entity. It is as plain as a pikestaff.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will have a chance to make a contribution if he catches your eye, Ms Primarolo.
The point is this: we will have the same individual, Mr Smith from Wimbledon, and we will know who his clients are. Under the Bill, as drafted, we will know who his employer is. If amendment 76 is made, we will not know who his employer is, so there will be a gaping hole in our knowledge. It might not matter so much for us, but there are tens of millions of people outside in the country who want to know why the Government abandoned legislation on, say, plain tobacco packaging, or why they suddenly decided to proceed with the privatisation of our national health service.
Amendment 76 would have a dramatic impact on the rest of the Bill, rendering parts of it entirely redundant. Clause 4, for example, requires a lobbyist captured by the Bill to register the address of their main place of business or, if there is no such place, their home address. The individual lobbyist’s home address could be registered and we would not know their place of employment. Yet clause 4 has been drafted precisely to attempt to ascertain where that person would be working from. Again, the Government amendment imperils the very principle of transparency that the Bill claims to advocate.
I shall not give way again on this point.
In addition, if only individuals are required to register, there will be considerable risk of a knock-on impact on the Government’s ability to raise the necessary funding for the register. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister will say about that.
My final series of points relate to amendment 9, which stands in my name, and amendment 48, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North. We recognise that lobbying also includes advising others and facilitating meetings. Yet the Government have failed to include such activity in the Bill—perhaps because they have no idea what lobbying consists of, having failed to conduct a proper consultation.
It is clear that much of the activity of lobbyists is not made up of face-to-face encounters with Ministers or permanent secretaries, but of giving advice to their clients about how to proceed, whose door to knock on, which telephone to call and which café in Portcullis House a person should be sitting in if they want to bump into someone whom they wish to influence.
Communication, facilitation of meetings and giving advice all amount to lobbying activity, but all are excluded by the Bill. The substance of amendments 9 and 48 relate to that issue. We have listened to the industry and campaigners for transparency, who have all said that the Government have misunderstood the nature of lobbying. That is why we, like the Select Committee, have tabled an amendment to include lobbying activities not identified in the Bill: advising others how to lobby or arranging or facilitating meetings with key decision makers.
As Iain Anderson, the deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, recognised—again, this is the industry’s view, not mine—the vast majority of lobbying is not about meeting Ministers or permanent secretaries but advising organisations about how the political process proceeds. That is why, under the Government’s definition, more than 95% of all lobbying activity will simply not be covered by the legislation.
Under the hon. Gentleman’s approach to lobbying, how many companies would be on the register and how many contacts would have to be logged each year? What would be the cost of running his alternative?
This is a £2 billion industry, and what we propose would cover almost all the activity that we can identify in it. It would not need to be costly; we have sat down with the industry, taken their advice and listened to their criticisms. They have told me that to complete a form of the kind proposed would take only a few moments a year and dramatically open up the whole industry. We will come to the register when we discuss other clauses. I am sure that you, Ms Primarolo, will tell me that I cannot pursue a matter that is the subject of later amendments. We will come back to the costs of the register.
I noticed that the Minister did not respond to my hon. Friend’s important point that 95% of lobbying activity will not be covered by the Bill. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Public Relations Consultants Association goes even further, specifying that the Bill would cover as little as 1% of overall lobbying?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course right. The whole industry agrees without exception and universally—there is total consensus—that this Bill simply does not meet the challenge of the day. The industry wants a register. It wants transparency because it lives in the shadows. Many professional and ethical lobbyists feel that they are being criticised unfairly. They also feel that they have been undermined by a small minority of lobbyists who are behaving unethically and do not register on any of the voluntary registers. They want a level playing field—they are right to do so—and the public want to know how decisions are made.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations summed up the situation perfectly when it said:
“The Government’s lack of engagement with the industry is reflected in a poorly drafted and narrow definition which does not accurately reflect the work undertaken by lobbyists, including those the Government perceive to be acting in the capacity of a consultant lobbyist.”
Let me return to the problem of who will be caught under the Government’s definitions and who will be excluded. It is reported that in 2011 the British financial sector spent £92 million on lobbying politicians and regulators. Documents have now come to light that suggest that they secured a series of governmental financial measures that were very favourable to the finance industry. However, all this lobbying activity was carried out by in-house lobbyists and therefore would not count within the definition of “lobbying” that the Government have sought to deploy in the Bill.
It is important that we are having the Committee stage of this Bill on the Floor of the House because we can, I hope, bring consensus to the matter. Lobbying affects Members on both sides of the House and affects all of us as constituency Members of Parliament, so it is important that we get the Bill right or there will have been little purpose to having it.
I rise to speak to my new clause 5. I have a deal of sympathy with amendments 9 and 48, which seek to capture some of the concerns that many of us have about making sure that the field of lobbying is fair and transparent and that the definition of “lobbying” captures all the activities that most people would recognise as such. The new clause refers to activities that any “reasonable person would assume” to be activities
“intended to have the effect”
of lobbying. That is important, because lobbying is a very subtle, even devious, art. Pressure can be brought to bear with a view to setting off a favourable reaction or having a desired effect. We have often heard the aphorism, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings set off a tornado elsewhere?” A lobbyist would certainly hope that it does. We have heard about the subtle art of making sure that people are in the right place at the right time to catch somebody’s eye to have that casual conversation. As the Bill stands, none of this is captured, and I am very concerned about that. The public are rightly sceptical about why, despite campaigns and efforts by ordinary people, so many decisions seem to go the way of the big developer, the big money or the big organisation, while the little’s person’s voice gets lost. Many of us would believe that the answer is powerful, behind-the-scenes lobbying.
I hope that we can find a way forward through this morass of amendments, many of which seek to achieve the same thing. I do not hold mine so dear that I would not support somebody’s else’s if it brought greater clarity to the Bill, because that is what this Committee stage is about. I want to make sure that up-front lobbying by charities and organisations that are captured by the Bill and, indeed, logged on departmental websites, is seen as fine. We need to address the informal, behind-the-scenes lobbying over the cup of coffee, the glass of wine or the lunch. That is the lobbyist’s art. These connections may be made by people whose role is a lobbyist and who use personal and private connections to call in favours, gain access or put their point of view. Surely that is what people would hope a Bill such as this should be about, and I hope that it is what it will be about.
The hon. Lady, who is fair minded and independent, is making powerful points. Could she prevail on her Front-Bench colleagues, who have been garlanded with this albatross, to follow the advice of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, withdraw the Bill and introduce a sensible one? Otherwise this legislative atrocity may well go through the House and the Government will find this to be the signature Bill of the Tory “ineptocracy” that they are creating.
The hon. Gentleman makes partisan comments about a Tory Government rather than the coalition Government under whom I find myself serving, but his powerful point has been heard by those on the Government Front Bench.
The way in which things are hidden from public gaze —our gaze—is an issue.
I do not have a problem with having a full, fair and transparent register of lobbying activities. I do not believe that charities will feel themselves constrained from lobbying. I am concerned that the Bill’s loopholes, which do not catch personal, behind-the-scenes and subtle lobbying, could lead to more lobbying being driven underground by the craft’s practitioners. The charities have nothing to fear by being transparent about making powerful cases. My concern is about decisions that have been influenced subtly and policies that have been driven by a particular narrative behind the scenes that we as Members of Parliament find hard to track down.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when the barnacles are scraped off the boat—including our entire public health policy—what people want to know is what organisations are represented by those who are in a position to make powerful cases in rooms to which the rest of us do not have access?
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Many Members will have short careers in this place and I am sure that my career is as open as anyone else’s to the vagaries of public decision making. Many former Members go on to exert the subtle forms of lobbying that we are all decrying, because they get powerful positions in and links to industries and bodies and know, as has been said, which buttons to press and which mobile phone numbers to call. That is what I want to address. Other Members have the same concerns and the Select Committee has raised them, too. Today gives us an opportunity to ensure a level playing field and to bring a degree of clarity to the domain of lobbying and the role of a lobbyist.
As I said in a speech last week, I am unhappy that discussions about a strategic rail freight interchange in my constituency were held over a private lunch. That would not be captured by the Bill. The gentleman involved is a professional lobbyist, but he is also a personal friend of the then Transport Minister. I do not understand the volte-face, but it would help if I knew who met whom. The e-mail the gentleman sent asked whether there was
“anything your department can do”.
That is how a lobbyist works: once they get an ear and access, the chain reaction—the butterfly effect—that they so desire occurs and, without transparency or a register, it is very hard for people to know where meetings have taken place.
Private lunches would be captured by my proposed new clause, which covers any activity for the purpose of “influencing government” or
“advising others how to influence government.”
Any one of us could sit at a table at a private lunch or a fundraising function and end up being lobbied firmly. If such lobbying were to continue, I would feel an obligation to declare it under my proposed new clause. I could listen to what was being said, but if I did anything about it I would regard myself as having been successfully lobbied.
The hon. Lady’s proposed new clause has a lot to recommend it, but most lobbyists would disagree profoundly with some of the language she has used about them. They do not want to be devious or skulking in corridors. They are happy to do their business because they know it is an essential part of the democratic process to get across a strong view to those who are legislating on behalf of the whole of society. They are calling for these kinds of changes as well, so may I urge the hon. Lady to be a bit nicer about lobbyists? Ultimately, I think she is calling for what they want.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I am not decrying lobbyists. What I am saying is that I need to know who they are, what they are doing, when they are doing it, who they have spoken to and what happened as a result of those conversations, however informal or formal. The register will not capture that. I am sorry if I have offended any gentle lobbyist anywhere, but there are quite a few lobbyists whom I would not give the time of day to. Indeed, I have named them. I think that Mr Hoare knows my views on his lobbying activities in my constituency.
I am sure that the scenario that I described last week is not unique; I was just fortunate enough to find out about aspects of it. Once there is a chink in the dam, there is a chance that the lobbyist will effect the result that they want, but that does not happen in a transparent fashion. Subtle messages and arguments over a private lunch or a catch-up with old chums get results, so why will we not see more of that practice if it is not captured by the Bill?
If lobbying is the next big disaster to hit Parliament, the public have the right to expect us to deliver. I believe that we have the opportunity to deliver a way of recognising where these lobbyists are, for good or bad, and what they are doing. We need to amend the Bill today. Whichever amendments get picked up, I think that we should run with them to show that this House is bigger than party politics.
Dwight Eisenhower, who many people consider to have been a great man who gave great quotes, said:
“You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up. You knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have the beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”
That crumbling effect is exactly what a lobbyist seeks to effect behind the scenes. They pick their domino. One never knows who that domino is. It might be somebody who works in a Department, a Minister or anyone else who has influence in the chain of argument. When that domino falls, the chain reaction can have the most profound influences. In my case, a refusal was turned into a permission. I believe that, but I cannot prove it. When the domino effect happens, it is amazing how other people pick things up and run with them. Most people are never lobbied directly—it all goes back through the chain reaction to the original lobbying.
I am very interested in what the hon. Lady is saying. I am not clear whether her new clause covers the wide penumbra of public and quasi-governmental organisations that spend a lot of public money and that can be influenced in the way they spend that money. I think, for example, of health authorities and local enterprise partnerships. Do we not need to address the influence on those local authorities, with respect not only to policy, but to how they spend public money?
The hon. Lady raises a large number of points. As I have said, I am not wedded to new clause 5. It would perhaps be somewhat cumbersome to remove the existing clause and insert my new clause. However, it does seek to cover anyone acting on behalf of a client or an employer and anyone acting as a volunteer on behalf of a charitable organisation or on their own behalf.
I want to seek clarification on that point. A trustee of a charity might say in a board meeting, “What you should do is write to the relevant Minister and express your concerns. This is the Minister and this is how you should write the letter.” That person, who is trying to do a good thing for their organisation, would be captured by my hon. Friend’s new clause. Such people might therefore say, “I do not want to risk getting caught up in that. I might get something wrong in the process.”
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I do not have a legal brain, but it might be possible to sort that out. My view is that if, in the course of a conversation, somebody makes a general point about how things can best be moved forward, that is hardly the same as saying, “Here is the mobile telephone number. I’m sure the Minister will meet you for lunch.” or, “How about we have a catch-up over coffee and I will tell you all about this new project I’m trying to push in your area.” I do not feel that those two things are the same.
I am willing—as, I am sure, are many hon. Members—to take on board any improvements that make the Bill deliver what most of us want it to deliver. We can put exceptions and guidance in the Bill, and I included in the new clause clarifications such as
“anything done in response to or compliance with a court order;
anything done for the purpose of complying with a requirement under an enactment;
a public response to an invitation to information or evidence;…
a formal response to a public invitation to tender;
anything done by a person acting in official capacity on behalf of a government organisation;”.
I have tried to include exclusions, and I am more than happy for people to add others if they think they could word the new clause better. We want to get rid of cosy chats, pressure behind the scenes, and people with the big money—£12 million in my constituency has been spent in trying to get this through, which is probably peanuts compared with some other industries.
I am most grateful to the hon. Lady and I am intrigued, and very pleased, to see her new clause tabled for discussion. I am particularly interested that she has chosen to define “government” in a way that excludes the Director of Public Prosecutions. As she will know, the present definition of Minister or permanent secretary includes the DPP, who is supposed to be independent. Will she confirm that she thinks the DPP should be excluded from the register?
I hope the DPP is always considered to be independent, but if there is some legal reason why that should not be the case in the Bill, I would welcome hearing it. That is what we should be discussing today. I do not wish to speak for too long, but my concern is that ministerial lobbying that goes on at every level, including with persons of influence, is not captured by this Bill because the causal nature of some conversations and chats is not included. I would like to see that tightened up, including guidance on what ministerial conversations can be held after some of that subtle lobbying has been going on.
I am sorry if lobbyists are offended today, but I hope I am trying to deliver a level playing field for all lobbyists, and not have some hiding in a back room getting advantage while others are captured by measures in the Bill. I hope we can progress with that and achieve consensus on some of the amendments that will get rid of the worries that many of us have.
Even that most brutal sport, boxing, has a code of honour so that when an opponent is bloody, battered and exhausted, they are not kept in the ring but we try—if we can—to deliver the coup de grâce. I do not like witnessing the parliamentary equivalent of propping up the opponent. In virtually every aspect, this Bill is battered, bloodied, and ready to fall over. Rather than the grizzled cornermen, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the House are pushing in some game bantamweights to keep the fight going. They are good people, but they are not here today. They are putting other people up to argue for a Bill that was not their doing. Rather than that, we should end this cruel sport and do what the all-party Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform proposed, once it was allowed to report and get engaged in this process. It proposed that the Bill be put into a special Committee so it that could be discussed and got right—not delayed, but brought back to the House as a new Bill that does the business for everybody—within six months. I argue that there would be a strong consensus behind that new Bill.
We have worked hard and I pay tribute to my Committee, two members of which—the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn)—are present in the debate. Other members are on shift to come and do their turn over the next three days. Both they, and members of staff who worked incredibly hard to get a report in front of Members in about seven working days, deserve the utmost credit.
I believe in evidence-based policy making. Through that period of about seven days, we called for, sought and proactively received evidence that provided a welter of overwhelming information to say that the Bill does not work or do what it promised to do. This Bill does not do what it should say on the can—I do not know whether the Trade Descriptions Act applies in the House of Commons, but if it did there would be a strong case for putting somebody at least in front of a magistrate. This is not the lobbying Bill, it is the 1% lobbying Bill. Most of the problems that have been identified across the House, in the media and elsewhere, will not be affected or tackled by the Bill.
As well as producing a massive wodge of evidence for Members to interpret, my Committee also proposed a number of amendments designed to make the Bill what it should be—a genuine lobbying Bill. In clause 1, as part of our long debate over the next three days, we are attempting to ask: who are the lobbyists? When one lobbying group’s trade association says, “We think maybe 20% of lobbyists will be covered” and another says, “1% of lobbyists will be covered”, there is clearly a massive welter of people who do what we normally think of as lobbying but who will not be covered.
Under the Government proposals, the Public Relations Consultants Association says that fewer than 1% of meetings with Ministers take place by consultants without the clients present. Transparency International states that the Government are not even going to capture the 20% of the industry that they have identified as the reason for the register. One can choose whatever figure one wishes.
On the earlier intervention by the Deputy Leader of the House, I say gently that this is not a choice between 100% of everything we regard as lobbying being registered and enormous bureaucracy, and 1% being registered. Let us grow up, have a debate, and find a happy medium. It does not have to be perfect the first time, but it certainly does not need to be as imperfect as this Bill.
I also sat on the Public Administration Committee in the previous Parliament, and evidence was given that the information required would not be some bureaucratic burden but information on the computers of the companies involved. It is a simple matter of cut, paste and e-mail. The costs will be minute. Does my hon. Friend not think that the most impressive evidence we heard in Committee came from organisations that have been campaigning passionately for the past 20 years for a lobbying Bill? They said unanimously that this Bill is worse than nothing at all.
Indeed, and for Labour colleagues who unkindly say that the Government are not seeking consensus, I say that they have been brilliant in trying to build consensus. I have never seen the embrace that has taken place between Spinwatch, whose very existence is to expose problems in the lobbying industry, and trade associations of the lobbying industry. If pulling those two groups together is not consensus building, I do not know what is.
There is another tremendous example of consensus building. One would never have thought that the antagonism and bile that has been exchanged between, for example, the League Against Cruel Sports and the Countryside Alliance, could ever be put aside, but those two bodies now stroll hand in hand towards the sunset because they believe that the Bill is inadequate and that it does not help them. We will come to that when we debate part 2 tomorrow. Let no one churlishly say that the Government have been unable to build a good consensus on the Bill.
Like most hon. Members, my hon. Friend will remember the campaigns for a lobbying Bill. Most people thought it would deal with the big fish who have undue influence in this country, whether in service or political terms, but that has not happened. We must also remember that MPs could be restricted under the Bill. He will remember the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act 1998. MPs were stopped from getting information from various public bodies on behalf of their constituents. In 2006, the Government put Back Benchers up to try to amend those measures.
My hon. Friend makes wise points. Perhaps I should excuse myself for having a little fun at the expense of the Deputy Leader of the House and the Minister who, in my experience of working with the Political and Constitutional Reform, are committed to what they do. However, that is not enough in this case. They have been put up as the fall guys to promote a Bill that has very few friends and does not do what it should.
My hon. Friend spoke of the public perception, which I mentioned on Second Reading. The public expected the House of Commons to do something about lobbying. The Prime Minister said something should be done about it. The coalition, in its agreement, and the Opposition had almost a contractual agreement that lobbying should be dealt with. All were committed and said clearly that lobbying should be dealt with. My hon. Friend is right that the people who will suffer most—I do not wish to repeat the points I made on Second Reading—are the public, who will be disillusioned that we will fail to do what we should. We agree that something clear, honest and open should be done, so perhaps the biggest losers will be hon. Members—the House of Commons as an institution, which is recovering from difficulties in the recent past. We have it in our power over the next three days to make a better Bill. It will not be the perfect Bill, but we have it in our power to try to make a better Bill. I will therefore take the opportunity to press amendment 48 to a Division, so that hon. Members have the opportunity of supporting their colleagues who serve on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.
I should make one other procedural point. I am surprised that knives will not operate on any of the next three days. I will cut my remarks short, but we should have knives so that we can have a sensible debate and vote on each of the key clauses. We need to deal with five key clauses today, but we may only get past clauses 1 and 2. If we had a more sensible arrangement on the division of time, we could do a better job—I am not making a point against the Government.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify one thing? I have sought clarification from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), who speaks for the official Opposition, but it has never been explained to me. Ministers already report their meetings with in-house lobbyists. What do we gain by extending the register to include in-house lobbyists when Ministers already report such meetings?
I am very much in favour of extending the register to in-house lobbyists because many people regard the biggest scandals—the ones reported in the national press and elsewhere, and those that come to hon. Members’ attention—as resulting from the activities of people who work inside large multinational companies, whether engineering, arms manufacturing or many other things. It is not beyond our wit to produce such a measure.
The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) has courageously underlined how much lobbying takes place outwith the scope of the Bill. She highlighted with great tenacity some of the most poisonous and difficult things to deal with in the lobbying arena. We should listen to her and learn how to improve the Bill with her proposals.
I should reinforce that point. There was no ministerial logging of the meeting to which I have referred. It was a private lunch, but it was admitted that the application was discussed. Such a meeting will never appear under the Bill; it was revealed as a result of a parliamentary question.
It is not for me to network within the coalition Government, but I advise the Deputy Leader of the House to make an appointment with the hon. Lady so she can tell him clearly and forthrightly how lobbying has influenced things in her constituency. Currently, such lobbying is not covered in the Bill, which is supposed to be about lobbying. The Bill is not about one or two problem people such as Ministers, permanent secretaries or people in the lobbying industry. Hon. Members and the public have been waiting for the Bill, and it is a big disappointment. It does not cover many of the problems the hon. Lady describes.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. He is describing how the public regard both hon. Members’ treatment of the Bill and the Bill itself. Does he agree that it is a mockery that we will probably not even reach, much less debate, amendments tabled for debate later this evening? What confidence can the public have that hon. Members are taking lobbying seriously when, not only does the process undermine us, but the Bill manages to be weaker than the current provisions? Are we not sending ourselves up? It is contemptuous of the public and of ourselves.
It beggars belief that we have three days to talk about a lobbying Bill and some of the key issues highlighted by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee will not be paid the due respect of having an airing in a Committee of the whole House. I agree with the hon. Lady that people outside will say, “What are they playing at? They promised us a Bill, and now they are playing parliamentary games so that we do not have the time to debate very important matters, such as the role of MPs, the definition of lobbyists, whether there should be better scrutiny of expenses paid by charities, and the definition of political activities.” I will not make that worse by going on for too much longer.
The Deputy Leader of the House made a point about logging meetings with internal representatives of organisations. The problem is that, even if we accept that the system is 100% perfect, which I do not, the log does not include Parliamentary Private Secretaries, special advisers, senior civil servants and other people to whom internal representatives speak. I was contacted recently by a senior figure from Starbucks. I will not meet them, but their interest in me was because of an all-party parliamentary group with which I was connected. Such contacts should be logged.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have only a day to discuss those issues, which will be covered in the next group of amendments. I hope that the Committee will have the time to debate them, but it is now a matter of doubt whether we will have the chance to do so.
Much comes back to the fact that the Government do not consult Parliament in an effective way. If the Government had consulted Parliament, many of the foibles and flaws in the Bill could have been dealt with. My Committee spent a year, on behalf of every Member, considering this matter. We then spent seven hectic days trying to produce a report for the House. It is as if we had not bothered; it is as if the parliamentary process were irrelevant. The Bill has been stuffed into the sausage machine in the hope that it will be voted through tonight and the next two nights.
In conclusion—I will speak to other amendments on behalf of my Select Committee and others—the Prime Minister said that lobbying would be the next big scandal to hit us. I am afraid that there has been another scandal: the prostitution of the House of Commons by the Government in the way that the Bill has been brought forward. This is not a partisan point, but a point about the legislature and the Executive. I hope that there is a communion between Members of this House, who are parliamentarians, to say that this is an unacceptable way of making law. It would be unacceptable if it produced good law; it is absolutely intolerable that it produces such terrible law.
On behalf of my Select Committee, let me say that the Bill should be put into a special Committee so that we can have something we can all be proud of and say to our constituents, “You wanted us to do something about lobbying. The Prime Minister said it was a big issue, the coalition agreement said it was important, those on the Labour Front Bench said it was important and here it is, we have done the job. It has taken us a few years and another six months, but here it is.” If it is not, I am afraid that this House will be dragged into disrepute because of the way the Bill has come before us.
The hon. Gentleman makes a familiar lament. I remember making it myself many times in the previous Parliament, from the Opposition Benches on which he now sits, in relation to his own Government.
There are those of us on the Government Benches who have concerns about the drafting of the Bill. I hope those on the Front Bench will listen to them and understand that there is no need to dive into the trenches and resist, and protect every clause. I must say that in making criticisms of the Bill—specifically, on clause 1—the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) deployed a fundamentally misconceived argument, one that a short acquaintance with its provisions can demonstrate. It is important, if we are to make criticisms of the Bill, and to expect the Government to move on them, that we ensure they are well targeted and accurate. If they are not, all that will come from the Opposition will, if I may say so, be a wall of noise. A wall of noise will not persuade the Government to change individual clauses.
Government amendment 76, which seeks to delete clause 1(1)(b), does not do the mischief the hon. Member for Hemsworth suggested. After the deletion, clause 1 will read:
“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless the person is entered in the register of consultant lobbyists.”
The word “person” is apt to cover a multitude of types of persons: it can cover an individual, a partnership and a corporate entity. That is plain in clause 25, which is not to be amended, where the interpretations provision is set out:
“Where the Registrar is required or permitted to serve a notice on a person, this is to be effected—
(a) if the person is a registered company…by sending it by post to the company’s registered office;
(b) if the person is an individual, by delivering it in person;
(c) in any other case…to the last known main address”.
It is plain that the word “person” in clause 1 covers companies and is not intended to exclude companies, as the hon. Member for Hemsworth suggested.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is always very persuasive and clever, so I hope he will be able to help me. Which persons, using his definition, would be required to register in a situation where, for instance, News Corp wanted to buy out the whole of BSkyB? It would not be any member of News Corp. It would not be the company itself, anybody it employed full-time, its lawyers or any of its consultancy companies, unless they were predominantly engaged in lobbying. Am I right to say that not a single person in that process would have to register?
Let me come on to that question, because I want to tackle it, if it is appropriate to do so, in connection with clause 1. First, let me make it clear that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Hemsworth, asserted in this Committee that the intention of Government amendment 76 was to exclude companies and employers. That is simply not right: that is a misconception. If the Opposition pour a torrent of misconceptions on the drafting of the Bill, their criticisms will not be listened to. I am anxious, as is the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), that some criticisms should be listened to.
The word “person” in clause 1, as proposed, would mean that anybody carrying on the business of consultant lobbying, whether they represented a partnership or a company, would have to register if they came within the definition of consultant lobbying. The problem the hon. Gentleman refers to is not a problem in clause 1; it is a problem in clause 2, to which I expect we are about to come. The problem in clause 2 is the definition of consultant lobbying, but clause 1 would cover employers and people who carry on a business of consultant lobbying through their employees. A company cannot carry on business in any way unless it be through human beings—their employees. Therefore, if a human being goes to lobby and is lobbying on behalf of a consultant lobbyist, as defined, then that consultant lobbyist, his employer, will have to register. There is no doubt about that—that is a fact.
I will not give way, because I want to be quite short if I can.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a question and he made a legitimate point. What concerns me, although it may not be a point on clause 1; it may be a point on clause 2—I look with diffidence at the occupant of the Chair—is that an in-house lobbyist would not necessarily be caught by this definition. My suggestion and submission to those on the Government Front Bench is that in larger firms—for example, in major City law firms—it is now not uncommon for there to be specialist departments that deal with lobbying activities. It strikes me, with the greatest of respect to those on the Government Front Bench, that there is a strong case, where such a specialist department exists, for that department to have to register as a lobbyist.
No, I will not give way at this stage. The hon. Gentleman must forgive me. I want to be short, and there is much to cover.
It may be argued that that position will encapsulate too wide a net. What concerns me is that that will offer the opportunity for the construction or the engineering of the structure of a business, so that what is a specialist lobbying company can become part of a larger business and thus avoid the need to register. That would be a regrettable element of manipulation, and bring into disrepute the passage of the Bill.
I hope that those on my Front Bench, in considering this question, will answer it at leisure and not straight away on the hoof. It cannot be right that specialist departments—set up, it may be, in larger entities—that are often the product not so much of caprice, but of chance accident in the evolution of companies and their structures, should elude capture by this Bill.
I hope that those on the Front Bench will consider what I hope they will believe is a constructive point. Let me say again that it is quite wrong of the hon. Member for Hemsworth to launch a tirade against those on our Front Bench by saying that clause 1 is being mischievously amended by the deletion of subsection (1)(b).
In following the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), let me say that I am surprised that he did not rest his rebuttal of the arguments about amendment 76 on clause 4, which clearly shows that the register—in the way it deals with persons—would cover those exact points. However, that does not fully allay the concerns we should have when we see the Government’s amendments to what is already a highly flawed Bill, not least Government amendments 92 to 95 to schedule 1, about which I am sure we will hear from the Government.
Like others, I do not want to take up too much time now, given the range of issues that we need to reach in order to deal with the layers of inadequacy and evasion that are, to my mind, deliberately built into the Bill. The Government who told us that lobbying was the next big scandal have basically come up with the narrowest of nets to deal with professional lobbying, restricting it not to professional lobbying as we all know and understand it—lobbying as we see it practised in and around the parliamentary estate and elsewhere in public life, at various levels of government—but to a narrow definition of “consultant lobbying”.
We have a net that is deliberately narrow, made up of holes that are deliberately wide. That is why I welcome the amendments from the Opposition Front Bench and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which would ensure a wider net with smaller holes. If Parliament achieves that, we will have done something for our credibility, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said. However, if we remain with the Bill as provided by the Government, or if we amend it in the way they have proposed, Parliament will be open not just to ridicule, but to suspicion. Why would we go along with a glaringly inadequate Bill? Why would we fail to respond to the representations that have come from so many people in the business who will not be affected—I am sure that some will be happily unaffected—but are bemused at what the Government have produced in part 1?
I know that we looked at the Bill more widely on Second Reading, Mr Caton, but I hope it is in order to make the argument in the debate about this group of amendments and part 1 that it is hard for people not to be suspicious when they see the lobbying to be registered so narrowly defined in part 1, and the issues to be covered in part 2 so widely scoped. As many hon. Members who have spoken have pointed out, none of the lobbying scandals that have happened in recent years—not even those during the life of this Parliament—would have been ameliorated or mitigated in any way by the scope of this Bill. Instead of pretending that it will solve the next big scandal, let us be clear: it would not have addressed any of the big, small or medium scandals that we have seen in the last few years. That has to be a matter of design on the part of the Government. They cannot have missed all those points just as a matter of haphazard chance and sloppy drafting. To my mind, the scoping in part 1 is deliberately evasive.
The Government have already said that they are trying to fix a specific issue relating to a gap in transparency. I do not think I got an answer from the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), so can the hon. Gentleman explain how many people he thinks will be required to register under the amendments we are discussing? Does he believe that MPs should also make a declaration whenever they meet a lobbyist, be they in-house, or from a trade union or a charity?
My hon. Friend is making an eloquent case. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) is a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Under the current proposals, only two of the nearly 1,000 meetings would have been captured. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a completely nonsensical approach?
What my hon. Friend describes absolutely trivialises the claims that the Government are making for this Bill, especially when we consider what bearing it would have on the amount of lobbying of the Government and what would be registered. If we consider the Bill in terms of transparency, the slight, little bit of translucence that will emerge at the very edge of the current lobbying business is hardly what would pass for transparency in any meaningful sense of the word.
If some of those meetings are not captured, the only thing open to hon. Members is parliamentary questions and so on, yet quite often the response we get says that the cost of finding out whether somebody met someone else would be disproportionate. That is a problem. Once we get past that gatekeeper, we have no opportunity to explore what conversations were had or what impact they might have had.
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. The point of transparency and registration is about being able to say that, if all such engagement is absolutely above board and matter of fact, there is nothing to hide and nothing to worry about. When the picture is created, or when it can be canvassed by some, that there is something untoward about such contacts and representations—that they are an attempt to get undue influence in pursuit of a particular vested interest—the whole public policy system and Parliament suffer. That is what happens when those suspicions abound. We are trying to protect ourselves and the public understanding and trust of Government and parliamentary processes by ensuring we have a more meaningful Bill.
That is why the amendments before us are important, not least amendment 48—which, as we know from the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, will probably be put to a vote—and the Opposition amendments, beginning with amendment 2, which basically take to task the Bill’s deliberately narrow definition of “consultant lobbying” by replacing it with a wider term, “professional lobbying”. This group of amendments also contains amendment 161, which stands in my name, which also tries to add more definition to the type and character of lobbying that we want the Bill to capture. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon said that there are issues with lobbying activity that is clearly carried on in firms and on behalf of firms. Such lobbying is a dedicated, professional wing of activity on the part of corporations, and it should be captured in any appropriate Bill.
Not least in broadcasting, which is one of the most lobbyacious parts of society, and for a very good reason—a lot of broadcasting depends on legislation. However, broadcasting firms hardly ever employ third-party consultants; rather, they always use their own, normally enormous in-house operation. Also, those lobbyists would not bother going to see the permanent secretary, because the permanent secretary would not be bright enough to understand the technicalities. Instead, they would go to the junior officials in the Department who do. None of that would be captured by this Bill.
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will not be tempted to wander away from the issues that we are meant to be dealing with in this group of amendments, but he is right to point out some of the flaws that exist elsewhere in part 1 of the Bill and to the wholesale escape by corporate lobbyists working on behalf of various bodies. Whether those lobbyists are working on behalf of allegedly public bodies, private commercial bodies or much larger international conglomerates, they should not be able to escape the scope of the Bill as lightly and handily as they are going to do. As the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon has pointed out, the Bill is framed in such a way that some people will simply be able to recast their business in order completely to escape being touched by the legislation.
Let me illustrate that point. I have just looked at my diary for this week. It contains six meetings with people from corporate bodies or trade associations, and six with people from what we might loosely call the voluntary sector. None of the first six would be caught by the provisions in the Bill, but all the second six would. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that is absolutely ridiculous?
I do. At risk of receiving a caution from the Chair, I must agree that my hon. Friend is contrasting the inadequate provisions in part 1 of the Bill with the egregious and excessive provisions in part 2. Many of us suspect that those charities, voluntary organisations and public advocacy campaign groups that will find themselves in line of danger under part 2 are being used as a human shield to protect those that should have been targeted in part 1 but have deliberately been given free licence and allowed to escape. This part of the Bill, particularly in the light of some of the Government amendments, will say to those who might be sitting on the next big scandal, “Carry on regardless. Carry on happily. We don’t want to touch you, and we have deliberately framed this legislation so that it will not touch you.”
As a former lobbyist and an honorary fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, I have to say that it is actually worse than that. Unless the Government accept amendment 52, which would make it necessary for management consultancies, lawyers and accountant to register, lobbying will become much less transparent as a direct result of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very pertinent point.
This is why so many people are dissatisfied with the Bill, including bona fide, honest-to-goodness, up-front lobbyists who want to be able to conduct their business on good terms. They need to know that the register exists to ensure that they can conduct their business not only on good terms but on equal terms with anyone else who is competing to provide similar services, peddling similar influence and perhaps having an even greater effect on Government decisions on policy, on the framing of legislation, on programmes or on projects.
I hope that we will come to the amendments that try to address other problems relating to the Bill, but I am speaking in support of those Opposition amendments that are properly seeking to change the definitions relating to consultant lobbying. My own amendment 161 would ensure that the Bill covered more people involved in commercial lobbying who provide either full-time or significant part-time lobbying services on behalf of what the Government call non-lobbying or mainly non-lobbying businesses, and that they too would need to register. Such a provision would protect those who meet those lobbyists, be they MPs, members of Select Committees, Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, permanent secretaries or senior civil servants. I would like all of them to be scoped into the Bill, rather than it simply focusing on Ministers and permanent secretaries. They would all be better protected if the legislation were better cast.
I am sorry that the Government have scrambled the Bill in this way. If we do not take the time now to get it right, many people will have to pay the price later. Some people will deservedly find themselves caught up in a scandal, but others who do not deserve it will also find themselves in that predicament, because we are deliberately leaving twilight zones in which people will bump into things that they did not realise were there. People might be told that certain things are okay under the legislation—just as people were told that certain things were okay under the expenses rules—only for a different assessment to be made following public scrutiny. We must be vigilant about the standards we are setting for ourselves and others. That means that we need to support the Opposition amendments, and particularly those tabled by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.
I fully respect the points made by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) about new clause 5, but I have problems with some of the details of the proposal, and not least with its implications for charities and other bodies. It also sticks to the narrow definition of consultant lobbying, even if it completely recasts that definition by what it subsequently goes on to propose. I understand that she tabled the new clause to make a point, and she has made a valid point very well. She has indicated that she will not press the new clause to a Division, and I will not press my amendment to a vote either.
This has been a fascinating debate, and I shall not repeat the points that have already been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) and other colleagues across the Committee. I want to bring some of my own experience to the Chamber. Fundamentally, what is wrong with this part of the Bill is that it does not reflect any kind of understanding of the lobbying industry, of which I am a proud ex-member.
The lobbying industry has changed dramatically since I first joined it in 1998. I worked for a consultancy that, if it existed today, would be caught by the Bill’s provisions because it was a dedicated Government relations lobbying agency. However, the industry has changed and most public affairs firms are now part of wider communications groups, on which the Bill will have no impact. I worked in the industry between 1998 and 2003, and it gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn many things and to engage in the political process.
We should be clear that the lobbying industry is important to a fair and democratic society. It is also important to us as Members of Parliament, in that it can help to inform and educate us on incredibly technical issues. We should not always view the industry with deep, dark suspicion. The only point in the debate that I have disagreed with so far was the description of lobbyists as mendacious and as performing some kind of dark arts. That is incredibly unfair, because most lobbyists are highly professional and very proud of what they do. They want transparency in their industry, and they want a level playing field. The Bill delivers neither. If anything, it could make the industry more opaque, and it will certainly not produce a more level playing field.
I would like to give the House an example from my own experience. Between 2005 and 2010, I was head of public affairs for Aviva. It was known as Norwich Union when I joined it, but it subsequently changed its name. We had a large lobbying team here in the UK and in Europe. As I look around the Chamber, I can see many people whom I, as head of public affairs, probably would have lobbied.
My lobbying team would not have been covered by the provisions in the Bill. We employed a major City law firm to provide specific counsel on legislative issues. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon has pointed out, such lawyers will not be covered by the Bill either. We also employed a consultancy that provided public affairs advice and was part of a wider group; it, too, would not be included in the Bill. We worked closely, too, with trade associations, which again would not be included. If we paid for research by a think-tank and lobbied on the outcome, that, too, would not be included in the Bill.
It is therefore quite clear that this part of the Bill needs to be taken off the table and looked at again, particularly in respect of expanding the definitions. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Opposition Front-Bench team’s amendment, as does the Association of Professional Political Consultants, because it wants a level playing field. Those of us who have worked in the industry consider ourselves professional lobbyists, not just consultant lobbyists.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but does she agree that the transparency shown by publishing ministerial diaries, including the companies that Ministers meet and the purpose of the meetings, fulfils that role, and that trying to extend the law is effectively using a sledgehammer to crack a small nut, which concerns the PR industry in particular?
I do not wish to be rude, but I think that that shows a real lack of understanding of the lobbying industry. A significant proportion of what lobbyists do does not relate to Ministers or permanent secretaries. In the entire 10 years for which I worked in the industry, I do not think that I once either arranged or attended a meeting with a permanent secretary. With great respect to current and former Ministers, that was very much the end process of whatever we were seeking to do. We would quite often meet civil servants to discuss incredibly technical issues that, by the time they reached the Minister’s desk, were probably already signed and agreed through the interactive relationships developed with those particular civil servants.
I quite agree, so it is not surprising that I did not meet a permanent secretary in any capacity during my lobbying days. It was not my job to advise them on how they ran their Department; it was my job to try to influence opinions and the legislative process with civil servants at a lower level, particularly on the very technical issues that typically arose in the insurance industry. It is quite clear that this aspect of the Bill is not fit for purpose and it would benefit from being broadened in definition to include all consultants, including both in-house consultants and those that are part of multi-agency firms.
My concern is as follows. If I am approached by a representative of lobbyists from Save the Children or, indeed, from the life insurance industry, in which my hon. Friend used to work, I will know what company they are from and who they represent; they will be in-house and I will know what they are about. On the other hand, if I am approached by a lobbyist from one of the big lobbying companies, I may not be entirely clear about whom they represent. My concern is to ensure that we have a sense of whom they are representing; when the lobbyists are in-house, we have a greater sense of clarity about whom they represent.
I feel as if I am being rude to my Back-Bench colleagues, but yet again I think that that demonstrates a lack of understanding of the lobbying industry. Only very rarely would a lobbying company or consultancy have a direct meeting with a Member of Parliament or Minister. Such companies are the facilitators of meetings for their clients, who quite often happen to be big companies. I remember when I was an in-house lobbyist having a meeting with my hon. Friend when he was an adviser to the shadow Treasury team on matters relating to European tax legislation. We need to be clear that the lobbying industry today provides a very different service and is a very different industry from what it was 10 or 15 years ago.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I agree with every word. On the subject of tax, however, I want to highlight one particular danger. A multinational company wanting to make representations to a Minister or a permanent secretary—that is very unlikely—is likely to be an accountancy firm, not a lobbying firm, but accountancy firms are specifically excluded from the Bill. It is a bizarre exclusion.
I agree entirely with the principle to which my hon. Friend refers, but as it happens, we had tax experts in Aviva and we were able to use them. We did not need to employ accountancy firms, but we did on occasion need to employ experts from law firms. The problem with this part of the Bill is that it does not extend to that.
We need to be clear that lobbying must be transparent and there needs to be a level playing field. At present, I am afraid that clause 1 and the first part of the Bill do not allow that to happen. I hope that my Front-Bench team are listening and hope that they recognise the genuine concern about whether the definition goes far enough. I hope they will consider expanding the definition either today or in later stages of the Bill’s passage to ensure both transparency and a level playing field.
I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) on her speech. I like the fact that she takes no hostages from among her own colleagues who betray their ignorance and all. I entirely agree with her: there is no point in introducing a Bill that destroys the whole premise of decent, open, transparent lobbying in this country, because it is one of the fundamental precepts that inform the way we do our democratic business.
Our legislation would be consistently weaker if people had no opportunity to lobby us. Let us face it: most of the time we are dealing not with issues on which we are the experts but those that are way beyond our normal ken, so it is important that people come here to inform our decisions.
I would say, just as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford said, that it is very rare for a lobbyist to devote their energy to the permanent secretary, who will nearly always be entirely irrelevant to the process in hand. Normally, the Minister would be the person of last resort to whom a lobbyist would go because they would want to persuade members of a Select Committee, people sitting on the Bill Committee and all sorts of other people that need to be persuaded long before thinking of engaging with the Minister. Special advisers are essential to that process.
Before my hon. Friend goes into orbit in praising the saintly activities of the lobbying world, will he agree that the worst activities of lobbyists can be found among the corporate lobbyists, who buy advantage for the already advantaged? The purpose is to give extra access and extra influence to those who are already rich, privileged and wealthy. Is that not what we need transparency about?
I am not suggesting that all lobbyists are saints, but most of the world is somewhere between saints and sinners. Of course we want a level playing field. I do not want a corporation, by virtue of having deep pockets, to have a special advantage over those who do not have deep pockets, but I do not want to say that a corporation should not be able to put its case, simply because it is a corporation.
I mentioned on Second Reading that when the mental health legislation was going through Parliament I would not have been a valuable, I hope, member of the Public Bill Committee if it had not been for Mind and other mental health charities, the British Medical Association and other organisations coming to lobby us. I have to say, too, that the pharmaceutical companies, which others may want to paint as the devil incarnate, had an informed voice to bring to the debate. In the end, I had to make a judgment—that is what I am paid to do—about where the right public interest lay. I think it right and proper, when it comes to this Bill, to ensure that everybody knows about all that activity, not just a tiny proportion of it.
The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) is slightly wrong in what he suggests. It is true that we are debating clause 1, but many of the amendments in this group refer to clause 2, schedule 1 and other provisions. Those are the elements of the Bill that profoundly limit the effects that this so-called lobbying Bill would have. There are 15 Government amendments in the group, one of which is one of the most bizarre amendments I have come across. Amendment 84, which can found on page 667 of the amendment paper and was tabled by the Leader of the House, reads:
“Clause 25, page 11, line 31, leave out from ‘lobbying’ to end of line 32.”
If the amendment were accepted, clause 25 would simply read:
“‘consultant lobbyist’” means a person who carries on the business of consultant lobbying”.
If that is not a circular provision, I do not know what is. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said earlier that a very small net was being employed. This is not a net; it is fly-fishing. I can think of only one person who might be caught by it, and that is the Prince of Wales.
On a need-to-know basis, I agree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I do not wish to use tortuous means to obtain correspondence from someone who says
“I would prefer for my email not to be sent to the MPs” ,
or, in my case, to a solicitor fighting against a proposal. I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to see my report, because I was trying to find out what lobbying was going on. We should be able to know what is happening. I have no problem with lobbying—it is not a dark art—but I have a problem with things that are being concealed.
Absolutely. Indeed, let us get it all out in the open: I used to be a lobbyist. I used to lobby for the BBC in Brussels. All right, the Daily Mail hates me. That is just about every bad thing knocked into one. However, I believed that the work that I was doing had to be done openly, transparently and publicly, and I was entirely happy about that. The European Parliament has a register, everything must be declared openly, and it is all above board. I wish that we had the same arrangement here.
In recent years I have worked with the UK Public Affairs Council, which now produces a voluntary register. It is online, and it is pretty good. It is possible to detect a fair amount of the lobbying that is going on, and to detect who represent what clients and so on. I fear that if the Bill is passed, it will not be in the interests of the vast majority of the people who are currently signed up to an online voluntary register. The Bill means that they will not have to register, and it will not be in their interests to go the extra mile and sign up to the voluntary register, so we shall end up with less transparency rather than more.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), will respond to him on that point. [Interruption.] However, I wanted him to explain why he felt that organisations that are currently on a voluntary register—there is no requirement for them to be on it—would automatically choose to cease to be on that register. Many consider that being on it is to their commercial advantage, because it is a unique selling point when it comes to working with their clients.
We now know that a Liberal Democrat nod really means a shake of the head. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to tell us how many organisations would be caught by the Bill, but now he says that the other Minister will answer my question. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West referred to albatrosses earlier. As I recall, in Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” the mariner shoots the albatross, which then hung around the mariner’s neck until all the people involved on the ship had died. I fear for the Parliamentary Secretary. I fear that, charming and wonderful as she is, this Bill will be hanging around her neck, and the necks of several other Members, until they have all passed on, politically at least.
Let me say this to the Minister. The reason many people will choose to opt out of the voluntary register on which they are listed at present is that there will now suddenly be a mandatory register to which only a tiny proportion of people will be required to sign up. Until the Government are prepared to say what proportion—
I can tell the hon. Gentleman the answer to his earlier question: 350 organisations will be covered. However, he has still not responded to my question. Will he explain why organisations that are currently on a voluntary register should decide to remove their names from it. What advantage would they gain?
It is not a question of the advantage that they would gain; it is a question of the disadvantage of being on the voluntary register. If the Government are to introduce one mandatory register, saying that it is all that is required by public society, of course such organisations will make that decision.
The Deputy Leader of the House has just given a figure of 350. I suspect that the Government plucked that figure from Australia and Canada and bunged it into the impact assessment, and that it is not based on any knowledge of the United Kingdom industry.
My hon. Friend is right. It is clear from clause 2—the amendments that we are considering relate partly to clause 2 and to paragraph 3 of schedule 1 —that any organisation whose main purpose is not lobbying, such as a legal firm, an accountancy firm of a broadcaster, will not be required to register at all. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon made a very good point when he said that the industry had changed in the last 10 years. Many Government relations companies that used to stand alone have been brought into wider companies that deal with public relations and communications of a much more general sort. Those organisations will not be required to register. Moreover, the words
“in the course of a business”
in clause 2 make it pretty clear that a large number of businesses will be able to opt out of the provision entirely.
My hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the circular definition of a consultant lobbyist in amendment 84. Clause 2 states that the consultant lobbyist thus circularly defined “does” do certain things. It does not state that the lobbyist “might” do certain things. It is clear that the majority of consultant lobbyists who may not do such things, as circularly defined in clause 25 as amended, will also escape from being on the register. I think that that will knock several more of the 350 organisations off the register.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Such is the paucity of the drafting of the Bill—cobbled together, I think, at the last minute—that the real danger is that even the people who the Government think do consultant lobbying do not do it in the terms of the Bill, and will therefore be excluded from the register. The Government may think that 350 organisations will be covered, but I think that that is a very dubious, dodgy number. I think that it is more likely to be 35 or three and a half or even three.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right about not just the existing paucity of the definition in the Bill, but about the tautology that we are being asked to introduce in the form of the circular definition in amendment 84. Would it not be more honest for the Government simply to propose that the Bill should define a consultant lobbyist as anyone who places an entry in the section of the Yellow Pages that is headed “Consultant Lobbyists”, and that those who do not so define themselves should be exempt?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has seen the Leader of the House’s amendments 93 and 94, which have just been drawn to my attention. On the face of it, those important amendments would go a considerable way towards dealing with the problems that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and I have outlined. They would widen the scope, and would mean that only incidental lobbying activities would escape. That could not be said of any specialist department, so it seems clear that the Government are going some way towards responding to some of the concerns that have been expressed. If the hon. Gentleman has not read the amendments, he should have a look at them and think about how far they go.
Of course I have read the amendments on pages 658 and 659, but I think they would have exactly the opposite effect from what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. The concept of a non-lobbying activity is as interesting as the concept of a lobbying activity. That is why I think this Bill provides so many grey areas, and that, in turn, is why I can see that it would recommend itself to lawyers—to lawyers, I repeat.
The hon. Gentleman forcefully makes the point that this would be a matter for lawyers, but on my reading of some of the Opposition amendments, they would bring vicars within the ambit of the Bill. That would be a very odd and unintended result, would it not?
I think I am the only ex-vicar in the Chamber. It is perfectly legitimate for people to lobby, even vicars—and, for that matter, tarts. I have no problem with vicars and tarts lobbying. For that matter, I have no problem with vicars and tarts lobbying together on a piece of legislation, if that is what they want to do. That would be absolutely legitimate, but I just want to have a level playing field.
If somebody is being paid to lobby on behalf of others, I think there is a higher requirement in respect of our being able to know, but I just say this to the Government: they have brought forward a Bill that is so narrowly drawn in its first part that I think it will do far more harm than good.
This Bill should not be advanced as a Government Bill. It should be a private Member’s Bill. It should be advanced on a non-partisan basis. It is the kind of legislation where we desperately require people to come in and give evidence before we start considering amendments, so that Members such as the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) who has just tried to make a pointed intervention on me would be able to learn from the experience of those who are actually—
My concern with the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that this should be a private Member’s Bill is that he and I both know that the process for that is tortuous because this House does not lack for wreckers who would destroy any such moves to any kind of legislation that would be more considered and sensible, which is a shame.
I have been campaigning for a very long time to get rid of the entirely mendacious private Member’s Bill process and to replace it with a system that works better, but I do think this Bill would be better advanced on a cross-party basis without Government-Opposition divide and on the basis of practical experience of how the industry actually works. There is a danger that we will introduce bad legislation here, and we may well—irony of ironies—have to resort to the House of Lords to try to improve it because the Government nearly always have a majority on any legislation in this House.
My hon. Friend is making his case rumbustiously, but I just wonder whether I could bring him back to the problems of definition and the limitations of this Bill by giving a couple of examples. I spent 16 years as a Treasury civil servant, and we were subject to highly formalised lobbying every year before the Budget from the Scotch Whisky Association, the tobacco people, the cider people, the motor manufacturers and so forth, and in the case of the UK offshore operators, we had a whole joint committee between the industry and the civil service in order to work out the north sea fiscal regime—
Government Members have suggested that Government amendments 92 and 93 clarify matters, but does my hon. Friend agree that they actually have the opposite effect, because whereas before the Government were badly defining what lobbying activities are, they are now badly defining everything else that lobbying activities are not?
My hon. Friend expresses far better than I could exactly what I was trying to say earlier, and she is absolutely right.
Let us consider how two areas would be affected by the Bill and the proposed amendments. The first of them is the introduction of droit de suite. When the European Union insisted that every country in Europe had to have an artists’ resale right, the Government at the time—a Labour Government—were wholeheartedly opposed. However, some members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee were wholeheartedly in favour and wanted to persuade the Government to take a different course of action, which we thought was going to be inevitable anyway.
At the time the Design and Artists Copyright Society, the body that administers copyright for artists, was lobbying very hard to have droit de suite introduced in the UK, and on a generous basis—more generous than that originally intended by the UK. So far as I am aware, it never lobbied the permanent secretary, but it certainly lobbied all the Culture, Media and Sport Committee members and a lot of junior DCMS and Treasury officials, and in the end it won its case. It would not be caught by this Bill, however, because its primary purpose is not to lobby, but to administer a system of collecting rates for artists. My argument is that that is wholly inappropriate. The body that was opposed to the introduction of such a right was the body that represents all the art houses and art galleries. It, too, would not be covered by this Bill, but I think it should be.
Communications with Members of Parliament should be included, as the new clause of the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) would allow, just as much as communications with Ministers or anybody else should, because knowing who is trying to influence proposed legislation, and who tables amendments and who does not table amendments and so on, is a vital part of knowing what is going on in the lobbying business.
Let us consider, too, recent events in the newspaper industry. I think all Members would agree that it has been ferociously lobbying for quite some time, sometimes through direct means and sometimes through indirect means. The chairman of the Press Complaints Commission is Lord Hunt. I am not sure whether he is still the chairman, but he is a Member of the other House. I am not sure whether he would be included in this legislation by virtue of being a Member of the other House, but he has certainly been lobbying on behalf of a whole set of other newspaper agencies, and he is paid to do so. The Government may say, “Yes, he probably would be included, as that is consultant lobbying.”
The Minister is nodding, so Lord Hunt would be included, but what about Peter Wright? He is the former editor of The Mail on Sunday, but he is now working solely on lobbying on this business on behalf not just of The Mail on Sunday, but other newspapers, too. Would he also be included? I do not think so, as he is a full-time employee of what was Associated Newspapers.
What about Lord Black of Brentwood? He is an executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. He has tabled amendments in the House of Lords and visited Ministers and so forth. He has been lobbying ferociously as well. Would he be included by virtue of the Government’s legislation? I suspect not, but I think most people in the country would think that that kind of activity should be publicly available so that we can all know the basis on which Ministers are making decisions.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend agrees with me about this process. A person who accepts that they are a consultant lobbyist under the definition in clause 25 might then refer to clause 2(1)(a) and say, “Well, I make communications,” and might then refer to clause 2(3) and say “Well, I make communications but I do not make communications to a Minister of the Crown or a permanent secretary and I will agree not to,” and since there is no further definition of what a consultant lobbyist is, their decision not to talk to a permanent secretary—which they would not do anyway, perhaps—would exclude them from needing to be on the register.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It does not have to stop there. The lobbyist can carry on, as paragraph 3 of schedule 1 states:
“A person does not carry on the business of consultant lobbying if…the person…carries on a business which is mainly a non-lobbying business”.
They can opt out in hundreds of different ways.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. Is he aware that Lord Black not only uses his position directly but awards a parliamentary pass to a senior lobbyist of the Telegraph Media Group, who can then wander freely through the corridors of Parliament lobbying MPs and peers?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. At the risk of travelling too far from the amendment, the real danger of corruption in the Palace of Westminster and the legislature lies at the other end of the building. It is much easier for a lobbyist to persuade a peer quietly to table an amendment in the House of Lords than it is to persuade someone to table an amendment in the House of Commons. That needs to be looked at. [Interruption.] And, for that matter, to hand out passes. The decision about who should get a pass should be solely about security—it should not be about access.
That is exactly the point I was trying to make in subsection (3) of new clause 5, which states that
“‘government’ includes…members and staff of either House of Parliament or of a devolved legislature”.
Access through staff, who then chat to the MP or peer, is just as valuable, but it is not covered by the Bill.
I am sorry, I have obviously not made it clear: I love the hon. Lady. Well, I will not do so when it comes to the general election, but I love her new clause, because it deals with many of the points that need to be addressed. Our constituents want a clear, open, transparent system without any dodgy handing out of passes to staff who are not really working for a Member but for a third party and so on.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the case of Lord Blencathra, who was reported to the parliamentary authorities as a representative and lobbyist for the Cayman Islands? The House of Lords authorities decided that there was a prima facie case against him, but then decided not to act, although action is still possible in future. However, what he was doing was certainly against the rules in this House. Should not the Bill address the scandal of allowing permissive rules in the House of Lords because, it is said, its members are not paid? However, lobbying is going on there in a dangerous way, which is grossly unfair to the population as a whole.
What about electing the House of Lords? That is quite a good idea. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have always thought that it is wrong of the House of Commons simply to say that the rules of the other House should be written by the other House. To be honest, the House of Lords is part of the legislature—as much as we are—and if it is to retain that power, it is important that that is done within strict limits.
It is very kind and perfectly charming of the hon. Gentleman to accept an intervention.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is a stickler for detail and for getting things spot on, so may I ask him to correct a technical error, which I am sure was a slip of the tongue on Second Reading last week? The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) spoke before him, and the hon. Gentleman referred to him as the “Irish Member”. As a member of the Democratic Unionist party, I do not think that the hon. Member for East Antrim would regard himself as Irish but truly British—true, true British.
I do not always get things right, it should be said—that is a well-established fact. In this case, I am more than happy to apologise to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) via the hon. Lady, who represents a seat in Northern Ireland but is as British and, quite possibly, more British than I am.
I commend amendment 48, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who chairs the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform. It meets many of the concerns that many ordinary members of the public would express if they saw the Bill, and certainly the concerns expressed by Members on both sides of the House. Preparing someone to appear before a Select Committee is lobbying just as much as other activities. When I worked for the BBC we regularly acted out appearances before the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. I always got to play Gerald Kaufman, which was one of the more enjoyable parts of my working career.
We need to catch more of the lobbying business than is currently caught in the Bill, and amendment 48 does so. In particular, it removes a loophole in clause 2 by deleting the phrase,
“in the course of a business”.
It looks innocuous, but it is a massive loophole.
There are many other loopholes to which I have referred, and some hon. Members have referred to amendments that they hope will be accepted. As I said to the hon. Member for St Albans, I like new clause 5, but there is one problem in it, as it pretends that MPs are Ministers. If it were redrafted, it would meet the Bill’s requirements rather better.
Finally, if the Government know that the legislation is so flawed that they have had to table many amendments—we are considering 15 Government amendments in this first group—it would make far more sense to say, “Let’s draw stumps. We all want a piece of legislation. Some parts of the Bill may be serviceable. Let’s give it to the Select Committee and suggest that it draft proper legislation that will work and meet the requirements of the whole House.” If we did so, we would enact a piece of legislation that would last not just until the general election but beyond and make our democratic system stronger rather than weaker.
I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). Consensus seems to be emerging among Members across the Committee, with the exception of Government Ministers. We want legislation that reflects, as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) said, the reality of the lobbying industry as it operates at the moment.
Amendment 2, which was tabled by Labour spokespeople, amendments 48 and 49, which were tabled by members of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, amendment 161, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), and new clause 5, which was tabled by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), all seek to achieve some understanding in government that the Bill should reflect the real world. On Second Reading, one of the best speeches was by the hon. Member for St Albans, who talked about her personal experience of what lobbying does in a particular constituency and the impact that it can have on one’s constituents. We want legislation that protects the individual Member of Parliament as well as his or her constituents.
I raised the example in my own constituency of the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow and what has happened over the past three decades, but more intensively over the past decade. The homes of some 10,000 people are at risk; 50,000 people, and perhaps more, are at risk of the atmosphere being poisoned in such a way that air pollution far exceeds European limits; 2 million people will experience increased noise across London. There was lobbying from the aviation industry, particularly BAA, formerly the British Airports Authority. A lobbying firm was employed, but its activities were largely a smokescreen for the real lobbying by BAA employees. As I said on Second Reading, many of them had passes to enter the Department for Transport and meet officials. The Bill does not catch that aspect of lobbying, as we have heard in every interpretation by Members on both sides of the Committee.
Amendment 48, however, is rather inadequate, as its definition of lobbying relates to the lobbying of Ministers and permanent secretaries, and does not relate in any way to the real world of lobbying. In the BAA lobby on the third runway there was, as I said, wining and dining of Ministers and senior civil servants, but that was a smokescreen for the intensive lobbying of fairly junior civil servants who undertook the assessments of traffic growth, air pollution impacts, noise impacts and the logistical arrangements around the airport. By the time that the reports that they prepared landed on the desks of the permanent secretary and of Ministers the decision had virtually been made.
My hon. Friend illustrates the complexity of the situation. The staff of BAA would have been accompanied by planning consultants, highways consultants and lawyers, who also would have been on the payroll to lobby for the third runway and therefore should be included in our consideration if we want a proper Bill.
That is an extremely valid point. In the real world of lobbying, I have experience of that constituency issue, with BAA employees employed virtually full-time—yes, with a range of experts—intensively lobbying relatively junior staff in the Department for Transport and the Treasury, building up a head of steam around a particular demand from BAA that eventually shapes the decision made by Ministers. My understanding of the debate so far is that such lobbying would not be covered by the Bill and BAA in its new form, as Heathrow airport, would not be caught by it.
Things have moved on. Governments are increasingly outsourcing the preparation of the material that will eventually enable Ministers to take decisions. That outsourcing relies upon the commissioning of external experts—not within Government, but often academics and others—and in addition to that, the setting up of various commissions. The Howard Davies commission is consulting various organisations on behalf of Government about the expansion of aviation in London and the south-east, especially the issues surrounding the expansion of Heathrow. My understanding of the Bill is that the lobbying of the external advisers and members of such commissions is also not caught by the legislation.
Members may have experienced that process, but let me explain. An intensive lobbying exercise is being undertaken by the aviation industry across the country. Businesses that own individual airports are intensively lobbying Howard Davies’s commission, and they are lobbying external experts commissioned to undertake pieces of work, because obviously they are looking to expand their particular airport. I do not believe, and I am happy if the Minister wants to advise me differently, that any of that lobbying will be caught by the Bill.
The plea from the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) and the hon. Members for Chatham and Aylesford, for St Albans and for Foyle—right across the piece—was that, if we are going to legislate, we must legislate in the real world, and we are not doing so. We are going through an exercise that people will think is a waste of time, and many will find it disingenuous. Some may think that, when we have ticked the box, we have sorted out lobbying, but the real-world lobbying will go on as before.
As the Prime Minister rightly said, lobbying is open to the potential for scandal. There have been scandals. What causes me anxiety is that I am prevented from protecting my constituents from a heavily resourced and effective internal lobbying machine within an organisation that could destroy parts of my community and the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people in west London. The Bill does not meet the purpose. It does not rise to the challenge that the Prime Minister set us, which is to ensure that we have a transparent lobbying process. That transparency can, we hope, enable us to have some element of probity within the system of lobbying overall.
I take what my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda said. The criticism has come from all parts of the Committee. There must be some recognition from Government that these legislative proposals do not stack up. I know that by way of a taunt to the Leader of the House what happened in the case of the NHS legislation was mentioned earlier, but I think the idea of a short pause while we try to get some consensus discussions going is the most constructive way forward. In that way we can learn the lessons from the lobbying industry itself. Members of this House across the parties have had years of experience of lobbying, so we can get some decent legislation in place, otherwise we will bring ourselves into potential disrepute. Members of the public who expect us to represent and protect them will think we are not doing our jobs effectively.
I urge the Government to listen to their own Back Benchers as much as to those on the Opposition Benches who have no axe to grind. Let us see whether we can have some cross-party discussions over the next week or two. We should not allow the Bill to leave this House and expect the House of Lords to sort it out, as usual. That is a derogation of our duty. We must do the work here and send the best Bill we possibly can to the other place, because that is what we are paid for.
I am grateful, Mr Caton, to catch your eye in this debate.
Many colleagues have commented on the drafting of the Bill. I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about the merits of the private Member’s Bill. Last year I introduced a private Member’s Bill on this very subject, supported by our Front-Bench team. I was lucky to work with Simon Patrick and the formidable Kate Emms on the drafting of that Bill. May I helpfully suggest to the Deputy Leader of the House that the Clerks of the House might be well qualified to help the Government draft a more effective and fully baked Bill than the one before us?
I gently point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda that he mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) by name. I know that my hon. Friend is not a properly read parliamentarian, but I am fairly confident that according to “Erskine May” we are not allowed to mention the name of a right hon. Member, even in a quotation, but I am sure that he did not mean to do so. As he is a new boy in this place, we will let that one pass.
The Government have been caught by their own phenomenally tight definition. I shall speak mainly about Opposition amendment 18, which would remove paragraph 3(1)(a) and (b) of schedule 1, which is ambiguous and creates uncertainty. Sub-paragraph (1) creates a loophole which cripples the aims of the Bill. On Second Reading and in the debate today, I have been struck by the fact that the Government consistently believe that, if they say that a measure is not intended to have a particular effect, that somehow means that it will not have that effect.
The Government were correct one time. As the Deputy Leader of the House said earlier, the Government are not seeking to capture lobbyists—they are seeking to capture 1% of those who would otherwise be defined as lobbyists. Credit is due to the Government; that is the one element that is consistent with their intentions. Unfortunately, sub-paragraph (1) does not capture even that 1%. Sub-paragraph (1)(a) excludes
“a business which is mainly a non-lobbying business”,
and sub-paragraph (1)(b) excludes a business whose lobbying efforts are
“an insubstantial proportion of that business.”
That would mean, for example, that big tobacco firms did not have to declare their in-house lobbying activities, but a small firm of public affairs professionals or consultants campaigning on behalf of, say, Action on Smoking and Health, would have to do so. I will return to that point later. The term “non-lobbying business” is insubstantial and too vague and does not have any real meaning.
The Government’s attempt to try to correct this error, amendment 93, which says
“consists mainly of non-lobbying”,
does not improve matters in the slightest. Unfortunately, what the Government by their own definition mean by lobbying is purely that direct communication with Ministers of the Crown and permanent secretaries. I could understand if the Government were defining lobbying as being what we think of as lobbying. It is interesting the number of Members on both sides of the House who describe themselves as lobbyists. Unfortunately, I suspect that none of those so-called lobbyists are actually lobbyists under the Government’s own definition. They have defeated themselves by drawing their amendments so closely.
You do not have to take my word for it, Mr Caton. Iain Anderson, deputy chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, an organisation of which I used to be a member, says:
“There cannot be a grey area. I cannot work out whether my business and our members should be working out for ourselves whether we should be registering. That is a completely crazy situation.”
Unfortunately for the Government, such vague terms and ambiguity is how loopholes, on which lawyers become even richer, are formed. This morning, the Financial Times called on the Government to withdraw the Bill and look again at their proposals. The editorial says that this is simply not good law making. This loophole in the Government’s proposals shows just how little they understand the lobbying profession. The chief executive of a major company may lobby the Prime Minister for an hour during a cosy kitchen supper, which I understand starts at £100,000 a go, and have a huge impact on Government policy.
Let us take a fictitious example related to tobacco. An adviser may have a big impact on the Government’s policy, much bigger than the Secretary of State for Health for example, but because his business is mainly non-lobbying, he does not have to register. That is the influence that goes on behind closed doors, whereas small businesses that are lobbying for change, those SMEs that work as public affairs consultants, have to bear the burden of regulation. As has already been touched upon, the burden is horrific. The impact assessment is fundamentally flawed. As I said earlier, it has simply been transposed from the systems in Australia and Canada. It has been assumed that that is how our system works. Given that the Minister and our civil servants had not had a single meeting, until last week, with any part of the lobbying industry, I am bemused as to how they came to that conclusion.
I appreciate that the Minister is getting her advice from the Treasury Whip, but I hope that when she replies she will spell out which lobbying professionals agree with her definition and think that Australia and Canada are a suitable comparator. As someone who has worked for eight years in the industry, it strikes me that civil servants have licked their finger, stuck it in the air and come up with a figure of—[Interruption.] The Deputy Leader of the House chunters from a sedentary position. Perhaps he wishes to add something to the debate. Apparently not. We are going to get the usual curmudgeonly Deputy Leader of the House role; the second Liberal Democrat to do that with such skill and grace in the last few years, and heckle anyone who has the temerity to disagree with his views.
I support the excellent comments that my hon. Friend is making. Will he set himself the challenge of explaining why a Government who set such store in supporting small and medium enterprises, should, as he describes, put such a regulatory and financial burden upon them?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, who spoke eloquently from the Front Bench during proceedings on my private Member’s Bill last year, setting out why the Opposition want to see workable legislation. I am more than happy to set out what is wrong with the impact assessment. It uses the Government’s figures and is confused. It says that the register, which covers only consultant lobbyists, will cost £500,000 to set up and a further £200,000 to run each year. That is according to the Government’s own figures, so it must be right. Almost all the firms who are members of the APPC are SMEs. I would be amazed if there were one that employed more than 250 people in total. Most are firms with between 20 and 50 employees, so these are not large firms. They are the entrepreneurial firms that we hear so much about from Government Members. But the Government and their civil servants have made up some rash figures. They have said that there are about 1,100 lobbying consultants in this country. I am still not clear where that figure has come from. I think they have taken the APPC list and accepted that that is probably pretty much every one who is “a lobbyist”. They have then said that, if the cost is £500,000, that can be shared by 1,000, which I assume is the 1,000 lobbyists. However, the Bill contradicts that. It says that payment is per firm—the Deputy Leader of the House graciously nods in agreement—and probably only 10 to 20 firms will be caught by the current definition. I am not a great mathematician, but if one takes £500,000 and divides it by 20, that is not £500. It is significantly more. That is just the start-up cost in the first year. That is a disproportionate and huge impact on small businesses.
I am trying to make some sense of a pretty nonsensical set of proposals. On my hon. Friend’s point about how the costs would stack up, there are some public affairs companies that are global, such as Edelman and Weber Shandwick. Does he have a view on whether there should be some variation in how the costs are apportioned to the small—perhaps one-person band—lobby company relative to some of these very large companies?
I will just touch on the issue of some of the very large firms. One of the huge flaws is the issue of non-lobbying business—that a firm that is not a lobbying company would not be captured. One example is DLA Piper, a well-regarded law firm and lobbying communication consultancy; it is exactly the type of company that could probably afford to pay something. We are talking about £25,000 per company as the cost of the register, which is not the £500 that the Government’s impact assessment claims. DLA Piper is exempt. The irony about the Front-Bench team that we have today is that the reason why the Deputy Prime Minister’s fingerprints are not on the Bill is that his wife previously worked for DLA Piper. The Deputy Prime Minister, correctly in my view, recused himself from the whole process. Under the Bill as it has been drawn up, however, DLA Piper is not covered. I hope that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is reflecting on that irony.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. Does he share my concern that unless the Government listen to some of the comments made in the Committee this afternoon, we may issue an open invitation to those who might be caught by the Bill to organise their affairs so that they do not have to register, as they will not fall within the Bill’s definitions as they stand?
That is a perceptive intervention with which I wholeheartedly agree. I bear lawyers no ill will, but it is correct that all that will happen is that some of the smaller third-party companies that might be caught and faced with this hefty bill will simply move that element of their business to the likes of DLA Piper or MHP Communications, which I will come on to.
The Deputy Leader of the House asked a genuine question when he said that surely companies would still wish to register through the APPC register or elsewhere. The answer to that genuine question is this: why would they when they are not required to and there is no commercial benefit in doing so? Having met the APPC on a couple of occasions—I was briefly a member of its board—I know that its huge concern is that its members will say, “We’re paying money already for regulation and red tape, so why would we choose to take on this second voluntary code when the Government themselves don’t think it’s necessary?”
It was indeed a genuine question I asked, but I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has answered it. He asks why organisations would continue to maintain their entry on a voluntary register under what the Government propose, but of course those organisations have already entered a voluntary register, which they were not required to do.
With your indulgence, Sir Roger, let me try to answer what I think is a genuine intervention from the Deputy Leader of the House. I was involved in the APPC back in 2008-09, when the previous Government effectively told the industry that it was drinking in the last chance saloon. In the previous Parliament, we had the Public Administration Committee report that, as I recall, recommended a statutory register if the industry did not improve public confidence and Parliament’s confidence in it. I made the point that those firms that are working in the correct manner and striving to improve their reputation would join a voluntary body, which they duly did, and the UK Public Affairs Council was set up to try to bring those things together. Regrettably, it was clear that the small number of dubious lobbying firms—dubious individuals, to be more accurate—would choose not to. Many of those who sign up to the voluntary register do so because they want to demonstrate that they are playing to the highest ethical standards and that there is bureaucracy and paperwork involved. It is not a case of chaps sitting around and signing off each other’s practices.
Firms also made the point that, when asked by potential clients whether they are a member of a register, they would simply say, “Well, we don’t do that activity.” In my three years as a consultant lobbyist—I understand that the Government do not accept my definition of a lobbyist—I do not recall once having a meeting with a permanent secretary or Minister, so my firm would have had no need to register. That is why I think that there is a real danger that those firms would say, “We don’t undertake that activity, so the Government and Parliament do not think we need to register,” and therefore the provisions will fall away.
I am trying to understand the intention of the Bill as well as its effect. My understanding of the companies that currently participate in the voluntary register is that effectively they are the good guys, although I am sure that we could find examples of where they have not always met the highest standards. What we should really be trying to do, with regard to bringing transparency, is identifying people currently operating outside any ability for us to see what their line of work is or their willingness to be transparent and bring them into some sphere of registration.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, as ever—I can see why the good Scots of Corby made such an excellent choice last year—and very perceptive. It goes to the heart of the debate about the Government’s intention and what lobbying is. To be fair, the Minister and the Deputy Leader of the House have set out what they are trying to achieve. The first clause does exactly what they want it to do, which is capture only third-party lobbyists. As the Deputy Leader of the House has said, all they are interested in is a scandal that has never happened, and frankly is never going to happen, and so they do nothing to tackle all the scandals we have had. If I understand it correctly—the two Ministers are present, so they can correct me if I get this wrong—all they are interested in doing is ensuring that if a consultant lobbyist sits in a room with a Minister, that Minister, who one would hope is a fairly bright person, is left in no doubt that that person is a lobbyist, as if he could not have worked that out beforehand—
Yes, but that does nothing to tackle what the rest of the Committee thinks are the real scandals, such as those we have seen even in the past three or four years: Fred Michel, Fijigate, Lords for hire, as exposed by The Sunday Times, MPs like cabs for hire—I could go on. None of those scandals would have been caught or stopped by the Bill.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to set out which of the scandals—MPs for hire, Fred Michel, Fijigate or whatever—are covered by the codes, I would be happy to hear him do so. The problem is that they are not. We have already heard some eloquent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda and others showing that that is not the case.
Is not part of the problem that some of the so-called scandals to which the hon. Gentleman refers involved people impersonating lobbyists and so did not involve lobbying in any meaningful way at all? With regard to his earlier exchanges with the hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford), I must say that I find the idea that those who sign up for the voluntary register are necessarily the good guys rather naive. I think that the Government are trying to deal with a genuine concern in this regard and should be congratulated on doing so.
I must say that I think the PRU needs to get a better briefing sorted out, because I am not sure what genuine concerns the hon. Gentleman refers to. Perhaps his inbox is different from mine, but in the three and a bit years that I have been in Parliament not a single constituent has contacted me to say, “I’m really concerned that the permanent secretary at the Government Department, when sitting in a room, does not know who the person sitting opposite him is and who his clients are.” Actually, given his constituency, I suspect that his inbox is very different from mine.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it would also be a scandal if people got the impression, no doubt completely erroneously, that he was speaking at such length so that we do not reach later amendments on the amendment paper? I am sure that is not the case, but we have to give the Bill an awful lot of scrutiny tonight, so I gently say to him that it would be enormously helpful if he would bear that in mind when making his comments.
I can honestly confirm that I am a parliamentary bore and that I am speaking at this great length because I can bore on the subject, and I think that Members on both sides of the Committee would agree that I am demonstrating that with some aplomb. The hon. Lady makes a serious point about the lack of time that the Government have made available. I deeply regret that the Bill has not gone upstairs, where you would have ably chaired the proceedings, Sir Roger—you would have kept us all in order, as you do so well as Chairman of the Panel of Chairs—and that all we have is four and a half hours—
I am most grateful to be admonished for staying in order.
The hon. Lady makes a serious point. We have only four and a half or five hours to consider a huge piece of legislation. Frankly, this should have been scrutinised much better. I fail to see what constitutional imperative has brought it to the Floor of the House. I hope that the other place will do a genuine job of forcing the Government to come back and make some proper amendments, because I think that there are some real issues.
These are not issues that just I have concerns about. We have had the most bizarre and unlikely coalition. The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency has said of the Bill:
“It only applies to consultant lobbyists whose business is mainly lobbying. It would exclude those for whom lobbying is only a small part of the business. This could apply to a large number of significant lobbyists-for-hire”.
At the other end of the debate, the Public Relations Consultants Association polled its own members and found that only 1% of activity was covered from under 20% of the organisation’s concern. Even the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), who I see in his place paying close attention, has said:
“The Bill tries to exclude people whose main business is not lobbying, but it does not define what constitutes a mainly non-lobbying business.”
The hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) has also criticised the loophole, saying:
“I suspect all that this new rule will do is ensure that in some instances big corporate interests will bring their lobbying activity back ‘in house’. Instead of hiring a public affairs consultancy, the big defence, banking and energy interests will give the work to their public affairs department. And because their main business is defence, or banking, or energy, they can safely ignore those provisions of the Bill.”
It is a dreadful state of affairs when two Government Back Benchers—I use the word “Government” slightly loosely, perhaps—are criticising the Bill. I hope the Minister will take on board the genuine concerns that have been expressed.
We have been told that the intention is not to exclude people. To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Andy Sawford), let me give one example of a significant public affairs consultancy—MHP Communications. I should declare that I have met MHP Communications representatives, who have seen me about developments in my constituency. They conducted themselves appropriately at all times.
My hon. Friend illustrates the complexity of the industry well. MHP Communications derived originally from AS Biss, which was a public affairs-focused agency. It merged with a media company to become Mandate—I am not sure what the balance of that new company would have been—and has now become MHP. It has taken lots of different forms.
We refer to the different registers; the PRCA code, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations government affairs group’s code and the Association of Professional Political Consultants code relate to different kinds of companies. That is why catching APPC members, of whom we are all very aware and whose business is on the web for us to see, does not get us far at all in terms of transparency.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the heart of the problem. Let me quote what MHP itself has said:
“do we work for a ‘non-lobbying business’? In our case, MHP Communications is a full service communications consultancy. We operate a single bottom line approach, and so do not break out the work of our public affairs division. Employees are employees; there is no ‘MHP Public Affairs Ltd’. And the work of MHP is certainly not mainly concerned with lobbying. Even if we were to limit ourselves to our public affairs team, the definition talks about actively lobbying, in the sense of seeking to persuade…members of the Government as well as officials—and this is not ‘mainly’ what we do all day.”
That is the problem with the clause and the Government’s attempt to fix it. It all gets circular—even if we accept that MHP is a lobbying entity, lobbying is defined purely as communicating with a Minister of the Crown and a permanent secretary.
Let us take special advisers, who are not covered at all; we all know that they often have more influence than the Under-Secretary of State. Under the Government’s plan, the lobbyist will be perfectly entitled to have lengthy and detailed influential discussions with a special adviser, and that would not be covered by the Bill. However, the lobbyist could meet the Under-Secretary of State and that meeting would be. Which meeting would be the real problem? One needs look only at the debacle of News International and Fred Michel to see the kind of scandal that can happen.
I commend to the hon. Gentleman amendment 45 on that subject, which is in the group after next. Hopefully, we will get to it tonight.
Amendment 45 is a genuine attempt to address at least some of the problem, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of another issue. I am a big fan of Babcock, a major employer of my constituents and his; some 3,500 people work at Rosyth dockyard. The Government believe that simply listing a meeting with Mr John Gardner, the public affairs director for Babcock, would somehow show transparency. However, as the hon. Gentleman and I know, Babcock has six or seven significant arms, including its nuclear engineering division, which I suspect is of particular interest to him; its defence business, which is of interest to my constituency; the rail division; and the facilities management division. It would not be clear to anybody what such a meeting would be about and what transparency there would be.
Let me bring my remarks to a timely close. Our amendment 18 would sort the issue out in a constructive, well-drafted manner. We are grateful for the assistance of the able Clerks upstairs.
Vicars would not be covered; the Church of England’s public affairs team would be covered, but not the individual vicar, as they would not be paid to lobby. Parishioners would not be covered either and nor would someone giving evidence to a Select Committee. That would impinge on parliamentary privilege, which we hope the Government accept should not be a matter for the courts. We also recognise that someone responding to a Government request for information should not be covered.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House and the Minister have listened closely and take away helpful advice from both sides and that the issue can be dealt with in this place, rather than being sorted out yet again in the other place.
I rise to address the Opposition amendments and to speak in favour of those tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I shall also address other points raised in the debate.
I begin with the amendments from Opposition Front Benchers, which would replace “consultant lobbying” with “professional lobbying” throughout part 1. The amendments define “professional lobbying” as undertaking lobbying
“on behalf of a client, or…on behalf of an employer.”
Amendment 18 provides a list of exemptions from the Opposition’s broad definition of lobbying outlined in amendments 19, 20 and 21.
The Opposition’s intention is clear, but unfortunately their drafting lacks similar clarity. They have diligently—some might say single-mindedly or simple-mindedly—substituted the term “consultant lobbying” with “professional lobbying”, but notwithstanding the years of experience demonstrated by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), their concept of professional lobbying appears not to have been sufficiently thoroughly considered. It shocks me that after 13 years of thinking about these things, they have brought forward so little.
The Government’s proposals for a register are designed to address the specific problem that we have identified: it is not always clear whose interests are represented by consultant lobbyists when they meet Ministers and permanent secretaries.
I am delighted to have taken my hon. Friend’s intervention because I will come on in detail to why those amendments are deficient. I have no doubt that they are supported by others who have made their voices known in this debate, but that does not make them a solution to a specifically identified problem. Indeed, the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife kindly confirmed that our Bill does what it sets out to do.
The context is that this Government have for the first time made it clear to the public exactly who Ministers and permanent secretaries meet. The Opposition appear to be trying to solve a different problem, but they have failed clearly to articulate what it is. What exactly is the rationale for a register that requires the local vicar to sign up as a professional lobbyist? The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) seems to think that that is okay. However, if this how Labour Members think they might get back in touch, they will not achieve it by doing this, and it is rather weak for them to think so. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife rejects the idea that the local vicar might need to sign up as a professional, but he ought to read his papers more closely.
The proposed exceptions from the Opposition’s somewhat unwieldy definition include some sensible exclusions from their concept of professional lobbying but also some major loopholes. For example, an exemption for those who lobby but are not “remunerated” is an invitation to the less scrupulous elements of the industry instead to receive payment in kind. The Government’s provisions do not allow such weak evasion.