House of Lords
Tuesday, 5 November 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
Introduction: Baroness Williams of Trafford
Susan Frances Maria Williams, having been created Baroness Williams of Trafford, of Hale in the County of Greater Manchester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Morris of Bolton and Lord Howard of Lympne, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb
Jennifer Helen Jones, having been created Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, of Moulsecoomb in the County of East Sussex, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws and Baroness Grey-Thompson, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
EU: Balance of Competences Review
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe recently briefed the September General Affairs Council of the European Union on the balance of competences review. This is but one example of the regular conversations that we are having with our European partners and the Commission as the review progresses. Lead departments also regularly engage with the institutions and their foreign counterparts during the consultation period for reports. Ministers will continue to raise the findings from each semester with EU partners and institutions.
I thank my noble friend for that Answer. No doubt he would agree that emotional fans of the review of competences were few and far between, but even they would agree with the excellent results of the last EU summit at the end of October and the firm and detailed agreement reached by President Barroso and the Council of Ministers on a secure reform agenda for the future, which has also helped to anchor the United Kingdom membership into the Union even more strongly.
My Lords, I am pleased to hear my noble friend echoing the speech that the Prime Minister made to the CBI only yesterday. The balance of competences review is only one of the things that the coalition Government are undertaking on European issues. It is intended to be an evidence- based review, and we have so far had well over 1,000 contributions to the reports published and under consideration.
My Lords, it is not a question of which competences we agree. We are asking various stakeholders, and getting very large pieces of evidence from producer groups, about the current balance of competences. I think that the Scotch Whisky Association has produced the most pieces of evidence so far—clearly a stakeholder. As Ministers have said before from this Dispatch Box, the current Lisbon treaty has a lot of headroom on competences, not all of which are currently exercised by the European Union. We are asking stakeholders to say whether they are happy with the current balance, whether there are areas in which they would like the balance to be tipped back towards the national level or whether there are areas in which they would like the balance to be tipped further towards common European policies.
Would my noble friend, who knows a lot about these things, accept that it is not just a question of looking at the balance of competences? It is also about looking at unpicking and unravelling some of the categories of competences, which are now substantially out of date, as they were invented in the last century. For instance, agriculture now embraces all aspects of climate, energy and scientific issues as well; and many aspects of social policy, which used to be centralised, are now much better handled at a very local level. Those are all areas in which it is not just a question of taking the competence as it stands but unravelling and unpicking it to see what aspects are best dealt with at a global, national or local level. Would he take that message back to his ministerial colleagues?
My Lords, one thing that has come across strongly to me from the first round—and the second round, which we are currently considering—is the dynamics of globalisation, on which the noble Lord is himself a great expert, and the extent to which the context in which we operate with our European partners in a great many sectors differs fundamentally from the context in which we joined in 1973. As I have stressed before, we are not seeking to arrive at policy recommendations in this review; we are asking for evidence of how far the current arrangements satisfy the various stakeholders and where there is room for improvement, reform or change.
With regard to the claims by some members of the Conservative Party that we should withdraw entirely from Europe, I suspect that the reaction of the people whom the Government are consulting has been almost unanimously opposed to that extreme view.
My Lords, the Prime Minister made it clear in his speech to the CBI that he is interested in a reform and not a repatriation agenda, and that he seeks to use the process of reform as a way in which to convince the sceptical British public that our national interests remain in staying in the European Union.
As our officials wander around Europe begging for bits and pieces that might be repatriated, does the Minister sometimes worry that the Government will end up generating a good deal of diplomatic irritation without achieving any genuine reconstitution of the relation between Britain and Europe?
No, my Lords, I do not. I am very struck by the extent to which a number of other Governments are following a similar agenda to ours. I am sure that the noble Lord is familiar with the Dutch Government’s recent study of subsidiarity. In the process of publishing the opening stage of papers, the Minister for Europe and I spoke to Ministers in other European Governments and many of them have very similar views to our own. We are pursuing a reform agenda for which there is a great deal of sympathy in a number of other Governments.
My Lords, while the Government conduct this interesting and potentially valuable but, in truth, somewhat academic exercise, has the Minister noticed the CBI report published yesterday which shows that the benefit to Britain of our membership is between £62 billion and £78 billion a year—4% to 5% of our GDP? Can he imagine any circumstances in which any British Government would be crazy enough to throw away these benefits, whatever the results of his review of competences?
My Lords, in any future renegotiation, I hope the Government will bear in mind that currently we have a massive imbalance of trade with Europe, equivalent to £80 billion a year. Thus we are creating in Europe 1.5 million jobs more than are its trade with us creates. We also import 800,000 more cars from Europe than it buys from us. All these factors mean that in many respects from a trade point of view Europe needs us more than we need it. I hope that this imbalance of trade will be well remembered in any future negotiations. It is something that the CBI surprisingly missed.
My Lords, Britain has a trade deficit in goods with a great many countries, including China. I am not sure where the noble Lord’s argument is taking him. We have a surplus in financial services and other services with the European Union and a number of other countries as well.
EU: Free Movement of Labour
My Lords, the Government support free movement but do not tolerate abuse. We are focusing on work across government to tackle abuse of free movement and address pull factors such as access to benefits and public services. We have consistently raised the issue of fraud and abuse with other member states, and in April the Home Secretary wrote, with Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, to the Council presidency. We continue to welcome the brightest and the best but immigration must benefit the UK.
Given that the economies of the original EEC countries were at similar stages of development and that the 28 economies of the current EU are not, is the policy of free movement of labour compatible with current economic circumstances, and will the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister will be raising this matter with our EU partners in the course of his reform negotiations?
I can certainly reassure the noble Lord on his latter question. As regards our negotiations with the EU, although we support the principle of free movement we continue to give high priority to preventing the abuse of free-movement rights. The Home Secretary has repeatedly raised questions about free-movement abuse at European level and, as I said, we are getting increasing support for our position from other member states, including Germany.
My Lords, the Prime Minister argues eloquently for the completion of the single market and for its extension to services, which would greatly benefit this country, but is there not a transparent inconsistency, and is it not obviously counterproductive, to seek at the same time to modify the free movement of labour, which is one of the pillars of a single market?
I accept that the noble Lord is quite right in saying that free movement was one of the founding principles of the European Union, and we in this Government support it. Although the vast majority of individuals coming to the UK reside here lawfully and make a positive contribution to our society, a small minority abuse these rights by either becoming a burden on their local communities or turning to crime.
My Lords, in each answer the Minister has spoken of abuse of the system. Does he accept that enforcement of the national minimum wage helps to prevent bad employers undercutting the wage of local workers by not allowing them to exploit foreign workers on lower wages? We know that that is a real problem but only two prosecutions have been brought since this Government took office. To help tackle this issue, will the Minister and the Government support us by giving local councils the power to enforce the national minimum wage and bring their own prosecutions?
The noble Baroness has expanded the Question somewhat into Labour policy and that is not necessarily something on which I can support her. However, I reaffirm the Government’s support for the national minimum wage. Indeed, it has never been part of our policy to do other than to maintain a national minimum wage, and we do so regularly.
My Lords, will the Minister say whether the Government support the findings of the report published this morning by UCL which demonstrates that there are major benefits to this country from economic migrants from the European Economic Area and the European Union? If the Government agree, does he not think that it is more important to concentrate on the practice of free movement rather than the principle?
The principle is important but it is the practical that I have been trying to address. I have not read the UCL report but I have noticed the media comments on it and the key findings. I reiterate that what matters now is that we take steps, through our policy on access to benefits and public services, to reduce the incentives for abuse and to prevent this problem from growing.
I have not noted that particular report. I am concerned that we are experiencing a pull factor in this country, and that is something that we need to address if we are going to get a proper balance between migrants who are coming here to support the British economy and those who, through other purposes, are seeking to abuse our systems.
My Lords, will the Minister recommend that all colleagues study reports on the nature of multinational corporations in this context? Is he aware that many executives and other workers in many industries, including the motor car industry, are moving all the time from, say, a job in Frankfurt to a job in Limoges or wherever? We need Ministers’ assistance to improve the public’s perception of this issue as the tabloids are not going to do it.
I agree with the noble Lord that many of the people coming here are essential to the British economy. That is why the Government facilitate their presence here, to support economic activity in the country. As I say, we welcome the brightest and the best.
Health: Local Healthwatch Organisations
My Lords, the Government have made no assessment. We believe that local areas are best placed to make funding decisions to ensure that local needs and circumstances are best taken into account. In total, we have provided £43.5 million to local authorities for funding Healthwatch this year. We believe that transparency on funding is important. We will be requiring each local Healthwatch to publish the funding it receives from local government in its annual report.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that response. I am, however, amazed that he says that he has no direct information on this matter. Is he aware that at least 23 local Healthwatch organisations have budgets lower than those of their predecessor organisation and that one of them—the one covering the Mid Staffordshire area—has a budget 19% lower than its predecessor LINk organisation? Are the Government nonchalant about how this money is being spent and about how patients are to be represented at a local level because they want to ensure that there is no vociferous view from patients about the scandalous way in which local health services are deteriorating as a result of both the top-down reorganisation that this Government have imposed and the real-terms cuts in budgets that have taken place?
No, my Lords. As the report from Robert Francis identified, the patient voice has to be at the heart of the health and care system, and Healthwatch plays a crucial role in supporting that as the new consumer champion for health and social care. It is very easy to get fixated on the amount of money that is going into Healthwatch. One additional consideration could be the investment that a local authority may be making in other areas to ensure that the voice of service users and the public is heard—for example, through the voluntary and community sector. Surely what matters are the outcomes that are achieved for service users and the quality of those services.
My Lords, are good activity and good results really coming out of these Healthwatch groups? In particular, have they done anything to help stroke victims or underprivileged or autistic children? Can the Minister give us an update on what good they are doing and whether they should be continued?
I am grateful to my noble friend. The first annual report from Healthwatch England was laid before Parliament on 9 October and it outlined some encouraging progress at both a national and a local level. There are already examples of the impact that local Healthwatch is having—for example, the work of Healthwatch in Peterborough, which is looking at how to improve health outcomes for offenders. My noble friend mentioned autism. I am aware that Healthwatch Cornwall uncovered a gap in the services meant to deliver a diagnosis of autism in children. That work resulted in a really practical solution so that families could access a diagnostic service without losses to other services in the area.
My Lords, will the noble Earl acknowledge that, certainly from the point of view of people who are working on the ground, the process we are going through is somewhat different from that set out by my noble friend, with whom I hate to disagree? There are obviously challenges at the moment, particularly in A&E, as the noble Earl is aware, but many of the changes have brought a lot of good news for health trusts, and my own in particular. However, the Healthwatch bodies—certainly locally where my trust is involved with them—need some support and guidance about what they are meant to achieve. It may seem odd but there is still some ambiguity about who is doing what. We are working with them as an acute trust to make sure that we can link with them, but there needs to be more clarity about their role.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. She is certainly right that some local Healthwatches have got off to more of a flying start than others. I am aware of many that are working closely with their local clinical commissioning groups and indeed with provider trusts. However, others need encouragement and support, and we have created Healthwatch England to provide exactly that kind of support. That is the route for the Healthwatches which find themselves in some uncertainty about their role.
I am very much in sympathy with that thought. However, it is up to the local Healthwatch organisation to organise its funding as it sees fit and in the most cost-effective way possible. I would not want to dictate to them what they should do but, clearly, for a Healthwatch to work effectively, one has to have volunteers who are ready and willing to do the work, which might involve the need to reimburse them for some expenses.
My Lords, we will be responding to the recommendations from the Clwyd/Hart review in the context of our response to the Francis inquiry, so there is a limit to what I can say today. In answer to the noble Lord, I think that the local Healthwatch has an important role to play as patient champion and it is right that individual local Healthwatch organisations have access to information about complaints so that they can spot the themes and trends that emerge from them.
Israel and Palestine
My Lords, we warmly welcome the courageous decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Government to release 26 Palestinian prisoners. We pay tribute to the leadership of Secretary of State Kerry, Prime Minister Netanyahu and, of course, President Abbas for the progress made. We urge both sides to take further measures to build trust and avoid steps that undermine the prospects for peace, including Israel’s recent settlement announcements. Britain stands ready to support efforts to secure a lasting peace.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Will the Government do whatever is possible to help genuine confidence-building measures and to discourage provocation—for example, by preventing attacks and retaliations, and rhetorical and impossible land claims? Does he agree that a calm climate for the long-delayed final-status negotiations is urgently needed?
As the noble Lord rightly points out, there are unfortunately individuals on all sides of this conflict who seek to derail any attempts at peace. The Government stand with those who are looking to work towards peace between Israel and Palestine, and the UK consistently outlines steps in this regard and raises these issues. Indeed, my right honourable friend Hugh Robertson, the new Minister of State responsible for the region, is currently visiting the region and he will be raising this issue with all sides. Let me once again reiterate that we are calling upon both sides, because the violence we have seen by extremist settlers and the rocket attacks on Gaza are derailing a peace process which really needs to reach a conclusion.
My Lords, perhaps I may say straightaway that the Opposition are, of course, at one with Her Majesty’s Government in welcoming the renewed peace negotiations and remain committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution and a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state. In that context, will the Minister tell the House what judgment Her Majesty’s Government have come to on the role that the UK might play in the next important few months and what role the quartet might play in that same period?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for his words. Of course, irrespective of the colour of its Administration, over the years the UK has been consistent in ensuring that we require a two-state solution, which, as he said, secures the borders of Israel in a secure way and ensures that the Palestinians have a viable state. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that there is no greater global priority for the UK than the search for peace in the Middle East. Let me assure the noble Lord that Britain is working intensively to support all parties in their efforts to achieve a negotiated end to this conflict, which has gone on for far too long.
While it is very welcome that 26 of the Palestinians internees have been released, there are still many thousands of Palestinians in prison. Does the Minister agree that further steps to release yet more prisoners and perhaps, equally importantly, a pause in the settlement policy, at least while the negotiations are continuing, would be very welcome steps towards the outcome we all want to see?
My noble friend raises two very important points. I reassure her and the whole House that the Government believe that any steps taken by both sides to encourage the peace process are welcome. I state once again that the UK Government retain their position that the settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are classified as illegal and do not help in the process for peace.
My Lords, surely the impact of this and other confidence-building measures by both sides can only be positive. This particular prisoner release was painful for Israel because of the nature of the offences committed by these Palestinians. On the best evidence available to the Government, do they think that the rather ambitious timetable set for negotiations is now realistic?
First, I agree with the noble Lord that it has been a painful process for the Government of Israel. Indeed, reports have suggested that up to 80% of the Israeli population were against such releases. As I have already said, it was a courageous decision on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu. On the second point, I think the timetable has been set. Secretary of State Kerry has been clear. We, and the whole international community, must work together to ensure that we reach successful conclusions to these talks by April next year.
There is plenty of time. If we can go to the Cross Benches then we will come to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott.
In the light of the Minister’s remarks, it seems to me that there is a coalition now about these settlements which includes the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, me and the Government. If that is the case, perhaps he can express the view that seems to me to be crystal clear. We are not in a static situation as we prepare for the peace talks that have been longed for for many years as the Israeli Government are quite deliberately making the situation more difficult by the continual expansion of the settlements. Quite apart from that being in clear violation of international law, is it not also crystal clear that the longed-for, two-state solution, to which nearly everyone at least states themselves to be committed, becomes more and more difficult to achieve so long as that settlement activity continues?
My Lords, I can do little more than reiterate what Secretary Kerry and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary have said. Yes, the window of opportunity is fast closing. That point has been made by my noble friend Lady Warsi from this Dispatch Box as well. We are all working towards finding a two-state solution which guarantees the security of the State of Israel from rocket attacks but also guarantees a viable, economically independent Palestinian state. These peoples share a history but we have to look at the reality on the ground today, and we call upon both sides to recognise that they also share a future—one of peace and economic prosperity.
Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
Clause 104, Schedule 5, Clauses 105 to 109, Clauses 151 to 154, Clauses 1 to 10, Schedule 1, Clause 11, Schedule 2, Clauses 12 to 86, Schedule 3. Clauses 87 to 96, Schedule 4, Clauses 97 to 103, Clauses 110 to 118, Schedule 6. Clauses 119 to 131, Schedule 7, Clause 132, Schedule 8, Clauses 133 to 150, Clauses 155 and 156, Schedule 9, Clauses 157 to 161.
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
Motion to Agree
That, in the light of recommendations of the 7th Report from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (HC Paper 601–1), the 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights (HL Paper 61) and the 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee (HL Paper 62), and the report on Non-party campaigning ahead of elections from the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, so much of the orders of the House of 22 October and 28 October as relate to Clauses 26 to 35 and Schedules 3 and 4 be vacated, and that those clauses and Schedules be instead committed to a select committee; and that the select committee do report by 13 February 2014.
My Lords, I should make it abundantly clear from the start, as I have done to the Leader of the House and the Minister, that far from being a wrecking Motion, this is a saving Motion designed to save the Government from doing untold damage to a very precious part of the big society that they claim to champion—namely, the voluntary sector—and to save the vast majority of voluntary sector organisations which have nothing whatever to do with the electoral process. That is why my Motion is confined to a very specific part of the Bill and organisations with which I and, I suspect, every other Member of the House are in regular contact.
I freely admit that it would have been more normal for me to have tabled my Motion at Second Reading, but it was only when the masterly report of the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement entitled Non-Party Campaigning Ahead of Elections, under the outstanding chairmanship of my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, was published after Second Reading that the need for urgent preventive action became abundantly clear. The report accentuated the points made by the constitutional Select Committees of both Houses and the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the effect that there are serious flaws in what is being proposed that the Government need to address. However, these could have been exposed had the Government allowed the three-month consultation period that hitherto they had been so keen to promote. By not engaging with the sector and pressing ahead with the Bill, which essentially addresses political matters, the Government appear to be oblivious to what they claim to be the unintended consequences for what I described at Second Reading as one of the “jewels in our national crown”; namely, the vast number of organisations that have nothing to do with the political process.
Last week, when we debated the unfortunate redundancies imposed on members of the Armed Forces within days and weeks of qualification for pensions, I mentioned the damage that this had done to the all-important mutual trust that there should be between government and people. I fear that the way that this Bill is being handled will seriously damage the trust that the voluntary sector has in the Government, which is something that the alleged champions of the big society can ill afford to lose. Indeed, the very clear exposition of the consequences set out in the commission’s report reminds me of the most succinct but unenforceable instruction that I ever saw in the Army: a note pinned to a company notice board which read, “A breach of common sense is a breach of the rules”. I was therefore glad when the Leader of the House contacted me last night, after I had tabled this Motion, to see whether there was a way of avoiding confrontation—which was, I assured him, the very last thing I wanted.
I hoped that a way could be found to mitigate the damage that had been done and to assuage a voluntary sector that is understandably worried and incensed. As it forms such an indispensable and irreplaceable part of our national infrastructure, I have to admit that I was amazed that the Government did not realise the risk they were running in tabling this part of the Bill. At Second Reading, I asked why the Secretary of State for Justice had not complained about the likely damage to those voluntary organisations that he hopes to engage as partners in his rehabilitation revolution. Like me, many Members of the House are wearing the annual symbol of the Royal British Legion, which, along with countless other organisations helping military veterans, is deeply concerned about these clauses.
During the day today I have had meetings with the Leader of the House, the Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the opposition Chief Whip and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, as well as regular contact with the voluntary sector. As a result of that, the Leader of the House has given me his word that he will alter the order of consideration of the parts of the Bill and instruct the Minister to consult my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries over the composition and terms of reference of an examination of the recommendations of the reports of the two constitution committees and the Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as of the report of the commission, and to produce a report to the whole House before a delayed Committee stage. I know that many in the House and in the deeply suspicious voluntary sector will feel that the Leader’s word is not enough and that what he has offered is less than I was seeking, which was for a Select Committee to be allowed to specify a three-month consultation period to conduct a similar inquiry.
The Leader added that, of course, opportunities still remain for amendment in Committee and on Report. As a soldier, I am accustomed to accepting pledges given by my Government in good faith. Therefore, if I do not press my Motion to a Division, knowing that I shall face the opprobrium of those members of the voluntary sector who do not share my faith, I would be doing so because the word of the Government is on the line. I know that this House and the nation know what to do and to think about those who do not keep their word. If the regulation is felt to need tweaking, by all means tweak it, but not in this way. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for coming to talk to the Leader of the House and me this morning to set out frankly his concerns about the passage of the Bill to date. Following our conversations, and having taken on board his constructive suggestions, I am glad to say that we seem to have an agreed way forward. I believe that we have come up with a way of delivering a pause in our consideration of Part 2 of the Bill so that there can be wide consultation over the coming weeks and so that the Government can try to address the concerns of those involved and interested in Part 2.
One of the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, was that we could revise the order of consideration to delay our consideration of Part 2. I can undertake to return to the House tomorrow with a revised order of consideration Motion, to take Parts 1 and 3 first and Part 2 last. I understand from the Chief Whip that I can also undertake that the two days in Committee on Part 2 will not be scheduled before 16 December, on the understanding that we need to finish Committee this side of the Christmas Recess. That effectively gives a near six-week pause in our formal consideration of Part 2.
In that period, I and my colleagues in Government responsible for the Bill will consult widely with all the interested parties—Members of the House and the many others outside. We intend to draw on the work of the Commission on Civil Society, chaired so ably by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and to build on it so that the charity sector has a proper opportunity to explain to the Government its concerns not only with this Bill but, as we discovered in our conversations, with the current statute electoral law in this area, in particular the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. We can also consider the reports generated by the two Houses. I also hope to facilitate further discussions between the Electoral Commission and the Charity Commission about each of their sets of guidance, in the hope of achieving something straightforward and agreed for those who have to work within it.
If the commission of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, could report in three weeks, I am confident that we can find a solution in nearly double those three weeks. I stress that we are listening and that we want to listen. We have already shown willing: we announced this morning that we will bring forward an amendment, the effect of which will immediately be to exempt all smaller charities from the provisions of the Bill. If that listening ultimately proves not to satisfy all the concerns in this House, then there can of course be Divisions in Committee and on Report, as is usual and proper, and the House will have a final opportunity to stop the Bill completely on the Motion that the Bill do now pass at the end of the process. The House will therefore scrutinise the Bill in detail.
I believe that my proposal satisfies the concerns that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and others hold and offers us a practical way forward this afternoon, one that will better enable the House to go about its scrutiny of the Bill as we all seek to get it right.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords for what has been said so far. Obviously, we support the Motion but we consider that this is a decision for the House to take about how it scrutinises the Bill.
We welcome the acknowledgement, albeit somewhat late, of the mishandling—if I may call it that—of the Bill this far. When it was in the other place, the same comments were made and were brushed aside. They were made at Second Reading but it has taken until this morning, I think, to have at least an acknowledgement that further consideration with those people affected by the Bill is necessary.
I will not rehearse everything that has been said about the Bill to date, but “raising significant concern”, “rushed”, “unacceptable”, “unnecessary speed”, “abuse of parliamentary scrutiny”, “lack of due process” and “truncated timetable” are all phrases that have come across all our desks. There was no warning of this part of the Bill. There was no pre-legislative scrutiny. It is no wonder that the Constitution Committee was very critical of the way it was dealt with.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights raised a slightly different issue from the hurriedness. The lack of effective scrutiny, it thought, had left serious questions about challenges to freedom of association and speech, which needed greater consideration by lawyers as much as discussion with the third sector.
Of course, the recommendation of the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee was for a six-month pause so that serious work can be done, not simply in hearing the concerns but in responding to them. It would be worth keeping the words and for the Government to have a listening exercise if nothing changes at the end of it. What we need is much more of a commitment, not just to listen and engage, important though that is, but to act on what is heard.
There has been no indication that something other than the raising of the threshold is on offer. Not everyone has followed the detail of this Bill. Let us just say that it is one of the many asks that the third sector has but it is not the answer to the problems of the Bill. There is a democratic fear about Part 2—it is not the whole of the Bill—about the threat to freedom of assembly and free speech, which needs more than just consultation to be put at rest. It may be that there is not a problem but we need to be sure of that.
Nowhere is this issue more important than in Northern Ireland, a nation emerging from conflict, where civil society has had a prominent role. Indeed, NGOs’ participation in democratic processes is one of the key components of the peace process. The Assembly and civil society must be consulted—not merely, as the Government said yesterday in their response to the your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, that the Minister,
“wrote to the devolved administrations on the introduction of the Bill … to ensure they were aware of the proposals”.
That is not what we are looking for. That is not due consideration of their special circumstances, nor is the Government’s undertaking simply to provide,
“further clarification of the potential impacts”.
The third sector is not looking just for reassurance; it is looking for change. Amnesty International is concerned about the potential to undermine its vital campaigning on human rights. These are not the small charities that might now be exempted; they are the ones that are basic to our democratic engagement and discussion in this country. The Women’s Institute fears that its legitimate comment on policy could leave it,
“exposed to scrutiny for seemingly promoting a political party”.
We need to engage with the WI to see whether its concerns could be met by more fundamental change than is being suggested today.
Able though my colleagues on this side of the House are, I do not believe that they will be able to come up with amendments by 16 December that would answer those questions. I also point out that the week beginning 16 December is a short parliamentary week, and there may be people in this House who have made other plans for that week. Trying to engage with civil society in the period running up to Christmas and then to get the amendments written in time for Committee still seems a tall order under the offer that has been made.
We need to hear whether the fears of the third sector are founded or not. If they are, we need to respond. The third sector has organisational problems. It may seem simple to people with lots of accountants to change the way they account for staffing costs, travel costs, and all that. For any charity with a small back office, that is a big challenge and they need to be heard on that issue.
It may not have been the Government’s intent to wrap up charities and small organisations in the red tape that, elsewhere, they are taking off businesses. It may not have been their intent to frighten the third sector into thinking that their campaigning would be undermined, but that is the position at the moment. I fear that if we over-hurry this pause—if we make it just a breather, rather than a serious pause—it will not achieve what the Government want.
The NCVO has already heard of the offer being made, and said this afternoon that,
“one small change does not fix this bill, and it is important that any changes are considered as a package”.
In particular, in addition to a rise in thresholds, it is looking for the removal of constituency limits, the end-use of nil reports, the removal of staff costs, the removal of events and public rallies, change to the way coalitions are dealt with—not the one over there, the coalition of voluntary organisations—and a reduction of the regulated period to six months.
The Government may not accept that as a final package, but it is important that there is time to consider that and to ensure that a change in one part of the Bill does not leave effects elsewhere. Time spent now, before the Bill is set in stone, will help the Government to achieve their aims. We would like a pause as suggested—a longer one for the discussions. Having done that, we on this side of the House will do all we can through the offices of the usual channels to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book in the timescale that the Government want. We can work to do that, but without a sensible pause and a proper committee to look at it and report back, and to allow the Government time to change the Bill, we will not achieve what all of us seek.
My Lords, first, perhaps I may say how glad I am that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, tabled this Motion today. I pay tribute to him because he was willing to take the lead on this important issue and for all the hard work that he has done behind the scenes, keeping me and the commission in touch with what is going on. I also pay tribute to the Minister and the Leader of the House, who I know are genuinely anxious to get a real consensus on this issue.
The Minister has basically offered a five-week period of consultation. I remind your Lordships that the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee recommended a pause of six months. The commission believes that six months is unnecessary, but five weeks is a very short period indeed. I can say that the commission will do all it can to help the Government during the consultation period, but if it turns out that five weeks is not long enough to get the kind of agreement that we all want on this crucial issue, I remind the leadership of some new advice which has just come from the Electoral Commission, which states:
“Should Parliament decide that a period of consultation is desirable before the Bill makes further progress, we would recommend that the start of the regulated period for the 2015 general election be delayed by an appropriate period”.
It goes on to say that that would give it good time to draw up its advice and educate the charities. Therefore, if the Minister finds that this five-week period is not long enough, there is an alternative that would still enable the Bill to get through in time for the 2015 election: namely, to heed the advice of the Electoral Commission. Meanwhile, I repeat that the commission will do all it can to support the Minister in this consultation period.
My Lords, the question has been posed as to whether this consultation has any effects on other parts of the Bill. This is the time to say that the question of consultation, which has been completely left aside in Part 3, has consequences a fortiori—and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The trade unions have supported and are part of the coalition with the NGOs. The voluntary sector is huge, and trade unions are probably a bigger part of that sector than is the rest of civil society. I want to put the point on record that the time for more consultation should apply also to the trade unions, otherwise they will feel discriminated against.
My Lords, I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for the excellent report of his commission, which has performed a service to the whole House and to everybody involved in the debate throughout the country.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for tabling his Motion today. It has performed an extremely useful purpose in concentrating minds, particularly within the Government. I would never say that the Government have been running around like headless chickens, but there has been a great deal of activity over the weekend and into today, to try to find a compromise which will do what a lot of us want. This is no excuse; anybody who heard my speech at Second Reading will know that my views on Part 2 of the Bill are not terribly complimentary.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to serious damage to the relationship between the Government and civil society as a whole. We have an extraordinary position in which on the one hand the Government are saying that black is black and, on the other, pretty well the whole of civil society is saying, “No, it is not. It is actually white”. Who is right in this instance? A great deal of scrutiny and investigation is required. The question is whether it needs a special Select Committee or whether it can be done through the normal processes of this House, augmented by enhanced consultation by the Government with all corners of the House, with everybody outside and with the whole of civil society in the mean time. Is five weeks long enough? Ideally, we would have longer, but we can do the job in five weeks.
We are often told that the purpose of this House, particularly in Committee and on Report, is to scrutinise legislation and revise it. Will my noble friend Lord Wallace give an absolute assurance that, as this scrutiny takes place with the groups in this Chamber and as there is further discussion and negotiation with outside bodies, the Government will be serious and honest—and will not, when we come to Committee, take the typical attitude of all Governments to Bills, which is to defend the status quo and the wording on their Bill, then give way when they are really forced to? As far as Part 2 is concerned, are the Government really going into this with an open mind? It is not just a matter of reassuring the third sector or civil society that the words in the Bill will not harm them, but of taking seriously their view that the Bill will harm them and of looking at ways of changing the Bill so that not only will it not harm them but civil society generally will accepts and be confident that it will not. Are the Government open to change in a serious way on Part 2? That is the fundamental question that we have today. If my noble friend can guarantee me that that is the open-minded approach that the Government are going to take in Committee and on Report, we can be justified in going ahead with the revised schedule, taking Part 2 later on and going to Report in January.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested that there was not enough time to write amendments. I am sure that that is not the case, but the important time for amendments is of course Report. If the amendments are going to be serious and are going to stick, and not be overturned when they go down to the House of Commons, they will have to have general consensus in this House—and that means general consensus by the Government, even if there is otherwise a majority in this House for what might be proposed.
That is the task before us. It requires a change of approach to the Bill, to some extent, on behalf of the whole of the Government, including parts of the Government that are not represented in this House—in higher places, perhaps—and an acceptance that Part 2 is not right yet but can be made right. I believe that the normal processes of this House, worked properly and well, can achieve that. I hope that I am right. I am very pleased that these discussions took place today and that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is seriously thinking of not pressing his Motion to a vote. If it does go to a vote, I will unfortunately not be able to support it. We have a compromise now and, in the best traditions of this House when negotiations take place around the House between the Government and parts of the House and a compromise is reached, we should accept it and go ahead on that basis.
My Lords, I was very concerned about the Motion that was put down today. I am very glad that a compromise has been reached for dealing with this issue without going ahead with the Motion. It has been said that five weeks is not enough. As we know, these things are not absolutely inflexible, but we know how quickly the Governments can work and how quickly amendments can be produced when there is the political will to do so. I accept the assurances that have been given on behalf of the Government about the spirit in which this is being done.
I was extremely concerned about the idea that we should depart from our ordinary practice for the scrutiny of Bills. As far as I know, one part of a Bill has never been sent to a Select Committee in this way. In my time, the whole of a Bill was sent when an office that had lasted for more than 1,000 years was to be abolished by a press release from No. 10; the House then sent the whole of the Bill to a Select Committee. So far as I know, though, a Select Committee has never been appointed to deal with part of a Bill.
The danger that I see about that is that if it were to be done, it would suggest that we were not confident in our own procedures for dealing with all forms of questions. It would undermine the confidence that exists at the moment in the integrity of the parliamentary process that we have come to know and respect. One thing about this House that I seek to emphasise as often as I can is that anyone who has a point of view that they can persuade a Peer to raise will see it raised in consideration of the Bill in this House, and the Government will have to give an answer. People may not always be very keen on that answer, but at least they can get one. That is a very valuable aspect of our House’s procedure, and I am delighted that it has been preserved in the arrangement that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made with my colleagues.
Another danger here would be if we departed from our ordinary procedure in a particular case in which a lot of Members of this House are particularly involved, as they are in the charitable and third sectors— I am a member of a number of charities, as noble Lords might have thought—whereas, for example, we never subject to special procedure Bills on disabled people or on the particularly poor. I am very relieved that this has been agreed to, and I sincerely hope that it will work. I am sure that the Government can work very speedily, with political will, if that should be necessary.
My Lords, I assure the House that the Government are open-minded on the possibility of changing a number of aspects of the Bill. One thing we discovered in the course of the consultation is that the language of PPERA 2000, particularly of Part 6, does not meet the needs or requirements of a very large number of those who are now to be affected by it. I hope I will not embarrass my noble friend Lord Greaves if I quote him as having said that he had never previously read Part 6 of PPERA 2000, and now that he has, he does not like it very much. I think that opinion is shared by a number of voluntary organisations outside the House.
Clearly, we will need to look at that in consultation with others. It may well be that we will need a government amendment. That is the process through which we should go on that and a number of other concerns that were set out very well in the Harries commission report: for example, the range of activities covered, the treatment of campaigning coalitions, the reporting procedures requested of campaigning groups and so on. We are open to listening, we are open to adjustment, and we expect that when we come back to Committee and Report, this House will give the Bill the detailed scrutiny that it needs.
I have one narrow point. That was just a list of things that would be considered. One thing was mentioned specifically. It figures very largely in the report. It is the special situation in Northern Ireland. Will that be taken seriously in the five weeks? I was Minister for Northern Ireland for only a year, unlike many Members of this place, but I know that the nature of the third sector there and of its relationship with the political process is completely different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I am very grateful to all those who have spoken in this short response to the Motion. In particular, I paid great attention to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said. In fact, in preparation for this, I consulted a previous recommendation to a Select Committee, which was made by my noble friend Lord Owen at the time of the Health and Social Care Bill. It was proposed and debated, but it related to a constitutional measure rather that a measure like this. However, I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord that the processes of the House should be allowed to proceed.
After reflecting on this and, in particular, listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and her catalogue of things that need to be addressed, which I did not list, I hope that the Minister will be able to exercise the flexibility that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, mentioned, and that if, when this consultation and examination gets under way, it is discovered that the work needed cannot be done in the time before the new date for Committee, rather than rush things through, consideration will be given to pushing the Committee date yet further back to enable all the proper consultation and examination. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and others said, this is a hugely important matter that cannot be allowed to go by default.
However, in the spirit of the assurances given to me by the Leader of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 5th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee and 12th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee.
Clause 1: Prohibition on consultant lobbying unless registered
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, leave out “carry on the business of consultant” and insert “engage in professional”
My Lords, in moving this amendment I also wish to speak to Amendments 4, 6, 46, 53, 59 to 62, 66, 79, 80, 87, 96, 98, 111, 116 and 117 standing in my name.
Part 1 of the Bill is confined to those who carry on business as consultant lobbyists. This amendment, and related amendments in my name, seeks to extend the Bill’s provisions to in-house lobbyists who endeavour to influence the Government about the matters specified in Clause 2(3). I suspect that the public do not distinguish between consultant lobbyists and in-house lobbyists. The present proposal for a register of those carrying on business as consultant lobbyists fails to address the equal concerns of the public about the activities of in-house lobbyists of major companies to which the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, alluded at Second Reading. In other amendments which we shall discuss later I have suggested a register of lobbying activities. As the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, implied, a lobbying register might be more effective than a register of lobbyists. I have suggested both but if there is to be a register of lobbyists, it must be a register that includes in-house lobbyists if it is to have any credibility.
In introducing the Bill at Second Reading the noble Viscount the Minister acknowledged the role of lobbying in the policy-making process of our democracy. I agree, as did many other noble Lords at Second Reading, that lobbying undertaken in an open, transparent and responsible manner is integral to our democratic system. However, the noble Viscount also said that there had,
“been some concern … that some lobbying activity is opaque and there is a perception that certain powerful organisations and individuals could exert a disproportionate influence on government”.—[Official Report, 22/10/13; col. 893.]
It seems to me that in confining the register to consultants lobbyists the Bill fails to provide the necessary transparency in public life which will deliver to the public the noble Viscount’s promised offer of,
“greater confidence in our political system”.—[Official Report, 22/10/13; col. 892.]
It certainly does not dispel the perception that powerful organisations could exert a disproportionate influence on government. It does nothing to address that particular concern. Such organisations include major British and multinational companies involved in the tobacco, alcohol and gaming industries as well as energy suppliers, and many more listed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, at col. 897. Many of those organisations have in-house lobbyists and will not be subject to this legislation.
The Public Relations Consultants Association, which is the professional body that represents UK PR consultants, in-house communications teams and individuals, has advised me that about 80% of the industry consists of in-house lobbyists. Why should the legislation exclude the majority of lobbyists from the requirement to register? How is that consistent with the Government’s commitment to increase transparency and public confidence in our political system? The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, at col. 928, asked the Minister to explain the salient distinction between in-house lobbying by tobacco firms about cigarette duty and identical lobbying by consultant lobbyists. The Minister did not respond at Second Reading. In his reply to this debate, will he provide an answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Norton?
The Public Relations Consultants Association fears that a statutory register will impact upon those choosing to be part of the existing voluntary registers, which provide more information than will be captured on the statutory register. The voluntary registers include a register of consultant lobbyists which lists the clients of each consultancy. They also include a register of organisations that employ lobbyists whose names are listed. The statutory register would list only a small proportion of those already on the voluntary registers. There is a genuine concern that the effect will be to reduce transparency, not increase it.
The noble Lord the Minister seemed to appreciate that he had to justify the restrictive approach to registration adopted in the Bill. What reasons did he give at Second Reading? The first seemed to be that it is necessary to have a register of consultant lobbyists so that Ministers and civil servants know on whose behalf they are being lobbied. One might expect Ministers or civil servants to ask appropriate questions of people making representations to them to obtain that information, if it were not already obvious, rather than go to the trouble of legislating for a register. However, whatever inquiries are made by Ministers or civil servants, it seems to me that this reason is no justification for confining the obligation to register to consultants. The register has to be seen in the context of the public’s desire to know who is seeking to influence government policy, and perhaps succeeding.
Another explanation given by the noble Lord the Minister was that if the register is extended beyond consultant lobbyists, it would contain too much information. Is that a good reason? If the register is confined to consultants, and thereafter all lobbyists elect to operate as consultants, is it the intention to abandon the register because there are too many entries? An inclusive register would mirror the current voluntary register but would obviously be larger. Nevertheless, it would not be too cumbersome. If a member of the public noted that there had been a communication between a Minister or senior civil servant and a named person during a relevant quarter, he or she could search the website for that name and discover the identity of the lobbyist’s employer or client.
Finally, the Minister relied upon the inconvenience that might be caused to the voluntary sector, particularly those charities which engage in lobbying. He cited the example of Oxfam, saying:
“For example, Oxfam has people who actively lobby the public and the Government”.—[Official Report, 22/10/13; col. 988.]
I have two observations to make on that purported reason. The first is that the provisions in many parts of this Bill are far from clear, but what is abundantly clear is that this Bill has nothing to do with lobbying the public. Clause 2(1) defines consultant lobbying as making “communications within subsection (3)”. Subsection (3) only includes,
“communications … to a Minister … or permanent secretary”.
My second observation about this reason is that the activities of charities consist mainly of non-lobbying activities. Any lobbying of Ministers or senior civil servants is incidental to those activities. In his response, will the Minister confirm that charities will be able to take advantage of the exception allowed by Clause 2(1)(c) and paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 1? In so doing, will he confirm the explanation given in private by Ministers and officials that the word “incidental” is not related to the proportion of time spent on lobbying activities but is concerned with ascertaining the intention of the remit of the client or employer to the lobbyist?
The reasons advanced by the Minister for restricting the register to consultant lobbyists do not bear scrutiny. There is no justification for such restriction. The amendment would have no adverse effect on charities but even if there were such a risk, there could be an amendment to include a specific exclusion for charities. Will the Minister confirm that the mischief that this part of the Bill seeks to address is unrelated to the activities of charities? If so, will he agree to bring forward at Report an amendment to exclude charities from any requirement of registration to put the matter beyond any doubt?
This amendment would result in a fairer and more effective system of registration, which would enable the public to scrutinise the activities of powerful organisations and individuals in their dealings with government.
I should mention that Amendment 46 raises a different issue altogether. This is a probing amendment. Does the reference in the Bill to a sovereign power include those countries with which the United Kingdom does not have formal diplomatic relations or which are not members of the United Nations? As an example, I have in mind the Republic of China-Taiwan; and in mentioning Taiwan, I wish to declare that I am a member of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Taiwanese Group and have attended many receptions hosted by the Taiwanese Government to celebrate the national day or visits to Edinburgh by the wife of President Ma, and several other cultural events. Furthermore, a number of years ago I was part of a judicial delegation to Taiwan as guest of the Taiwanese Government; on a further occasion, I lectured at an international conference there.
Taiwan has a democratically elected Government and is recognised as a sovereign state by a number of countries, including the United States of America. Although we do not have an embassy in Taiwan, we have a representative there, and we have cultural and trade links with it. Indeed, our whisky exports benefit significantly from our trade with Taiwan. Is it intended to protect communications between officials from Taiwan and Ministers or government officials that come within Clause 2(3)? I am sure that there are many such communications, and if the Bill does not already protect them, it is essential that it does and affords Taiwan equal status in that regard as is given to other states.
Can the Minister define what is meant in this Bill by a sovereign power? Will he confirm that communications between officials from the Republic of China-Taiwan and Ministers and officials will be afforded the same protection as other states? I beg to move.
I advise the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment 2 due to pre-emption.
My Lords, I rise to speak to my amendments in this group which seek to achieve the same aim as Amendment 1 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie. I will keep my comments fairly brief as the noble and learned Lord has made the case that I would have made. However, I want to make a few points in support of the thrust of what these amendments seek to achieve. The Short Title of this Christmas tree Bill begins, “Transparency of Lobbying”. That is misleading because the Bill does not contribute to transparency of lobbying. The Bill may result in us knowing who engages in the activity of lobbying—in other words, lobbyists—but it contributes little to knowing what lobbying takes place on particular policies or measures. It could be argued that it is necessary to know who the lobbyists are in order to know what lobbying takes place, but it is certainly not sufficient, and I am not sure that it is even necessary.
The value of a register of lobbyists is far from clear. As I argued on Second Reading, I am not clear what the compelling argument is for introducing a register. The value of the register proposed in the Bill is especially unclear. It is not a register of lobbyists. It is not even a register of professional lobbyists; it is a register of some professional lobbyists. If one is to have a register of lobbyists and, as I say, I am not persuaded of the case for it, one should at least try to make it comprehensive. This entails broadening the class of lobbyists covered in the Bill as well as the class of those being lobbied. This group of amendments deals with the class of lobbyists. We will come shortly to the other aspect of the Bill and its limitations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, powerfully made the case for the measure to be extended to encompass in-house lobbyists. As I argued at Second Reading, I see no case for distinguishing between those who are paid and are external to a company and those who are employed directly by a company.
It is no good saying that in-house lobbyists should be excluded as it is apparent on whose behalf they are lobbying. The fact that someone works for a company as a political lobbyist is not necessarily a matter of public record. They may have a title which masks their activity and may work in a public affairs division rather than a parliamentary affairs unit. If one is truly going to have a register of lobbyists for the purposes of transparency, one should aim, as I say, to be comprehensive and not go for an option that excludes more than nine out of every 10 lobbyists.
My amendments, like those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, are designed to encompass in-house lobbyists. That is the purpose of the whole grouping. I am not particularly wedded to the wording because the aim at this stage is to get the Government to concede that the Bill as drafted will not make any significant difference to transparency in respect of lobbying government. Indeed, Part 1 conflicts with what the Government seek to achieve because it establishes a new regulatory regime at public expense and for no clear purpose. The taxpayer will not get value for money. If my noble friend the Minister argues that extending the definition to in-house lobbyists is too complex or not practically feasible that, I fear, is not so much an argument for rejecting the amendments as it is for dropping this part of the Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 1, moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie—perhaps I should say the noble and wise Lord, Lord Hardie, given his masterly introduction. I wish to speak on the last amendment in this group—Amendment 143—in the names of my noble friend Lady Royall and myself, and also on Amendments 2, 7, 8, 11, 13, 16, 37, 38, 39, 41, 42, 47, and 99, together with various others, on which our names are joined with that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie.
However, Amendment 143 is perhaps the simplest and is the key. It would amend the title of Part 1 to read, “Registration of professional lobbyists”. Establishing a register only of consultants would add nothing to the existing non-statutory register. Worse, it would effectively end that voluntary register, its associated code of conduct and related disciplinary mechanism. As UKPAC says, the Bill risks creating a statutory register with minimal coverage while undermining a voluntary regime that lists several hundred employers such as agencies, in-house lobbyists, public bodies and charities, and more than 1,000 people employed in lobbying.
Indeed, the proposed register—a skeleton rather than a viable thing—would cover only 1% of lobbying meetings, yet would be a heavy financial burden on consultant firms because they would have to fund the whole operation of the registrar. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has said, the register would fail to increase transparency because it would not enable the public to see how outside bodies seek to influence the political system.
On the “Today” programme, which I assume we all listen to, Andrew Lansley said last week that the public should be able to see who is lobbying Ministers. I think we all agree, but the register will not tell you that if you saw only the list of clients and not the particular client on whose behalf even a consultant was meeting a Minister. The register would tell us nothing about the big six energy companies’ discussions with perhaps HMT or DECC officials. Indeed, we would learn about only their meetings with Ministers—and would learn that from the departmental diaries, not the lobbyists themselves.
Most seriously, the proposed register would exclude virtually all business lobbying, whether done by companies themselves or by their trade bodies. The Minister needs to tell the House whether that really is the intention. Does he really want a list that excludes the bulk of lobbying activity? Last year, BIS had 988 meetings with lobbyists, only two of which were with consultants. Under the Bill, only those two meetings would need to be entered on the register. Thus the register would capture fewer than 1% of ministerial meetings and do nothing to shed light on what goes on behind those closed doors in Whitehall.
Big government decisions often involve big business which—quite rightly and with no criticism—want to influence decisions that affect their bottom line. There is nothing wrong with Ministers, civil servants, Bill writers or anyone else meeting those who will be affected by legislation. In fact, had Ministers met those affected by Part 2 of the Bill, we might have saved ourselves half an hour earlier this afternoon and not have been presented with such a dog’s breakfast. More importantly, for the rest of us, for democracy and for good governance, we need to see who is lobbying Ministers and civil servants. Those who will not be covered, in addition to those mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, will include: the British Insurance Brokers’ Association, which recently produced a manifesto for insurance for 2014; the Building Societies Association, which has been lobbying on the Banking Reform Bill; the Mobile Operators Association, which has been lobbying about the electronic communications code; Philip Morris, which sought to delay the tobacco products directive; the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, with the associated Keep Me Posted campaign; the Save Our Supplements campaign and Holland and Barrett, which makes supplements and spends money on reaching politicians; Fujitsu, which is keen to meet us, whether in Parliament or at party conferences; Forest, which argues for us to keep the freedom to kill ourselves with tobacco; One Hub or None, Heathrow’s campaign for expansion; BAE Systems, builders of killer planes and warships, which are, in its words, “defence solutions”; the CBI; the Nuclear Industry Association; Santander; Canon; and Siemens.
Noble Lords will recognise that list as containing just those whose material has passed over our desks in the past few months. There are also the pharmaceutical companies, and the drinks industries have been mentioned. They contrast with Alcohol Concern, which is too small to have in-house lobbying and thus has to rely on an agency for lobbying assistance. They all use in-house lobbyists and therefore will not have to register. The same is true of virtually every other manufacturer, service provider or audit firm which wants the ear of government. I am not against that dialogue; in fact, I rather favour Keep Me Posted, as my bills come by post so much more slowly than by e-mail.
I am delighted that we were lobbied about this Bill, but that is not the point. The question is: why should only lobbying consultancies, rather than those that do serious lobbying on behalf of their own company, have to register? That is not what was foreseen in the coalition agreement and it is not what the industry itself wants. The overwhelming feedback from the consultation last year was that the proposals lacked breadth and depth and would fail to collect meaningful and sufficient information.
Furthermore, requiring only those employed by a consultancy to register would mean that it would be cheaper for lobbyists to work directly for a company, if only part time. For example, they could perhaps work for 10 companies rather than run a consultancy with 10 clients. If a company wanted to have its dealings excluded from the register, it would only have to pull its hitherto outsourced person on to its own wages bill and then, as an in-house lobbyist, they would be below the radar.
It is not just business lobbyists who want to see a full register. Charities and trade unions, including Oxfam, which has been to see me, have told us that they are very content for their public affairs professionals to be included on a register and to disclose their lobbying meetings.
Therefore, we support Amendment 1 and the production of a proper, comprehensive—the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth—and statutory register of all professionals engaged with government and Parliament. Democracy demands nothing less.
My Lords, unfortunately I was unable to attend the Second Reading of the Bill due to the fact that domestic committees of the House were meeting and I was otherwise engaged. However, I have read the whole of the Second Reading debate.
It is quite clear that the Government have not really put a case for what they are doing in this very limited form. One speech that struck me from reading the debate was that of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who suggested that a very different approach to the Bill could well be taken. I just wondered whether Ministers had considered the contents of his contribution. His is a sort of halfway-house proposal: it would dilute the value of the register but would ensure that the kind of information that we really need was available. Today, he slightly alluded to his case, and I believe that the questions he raised at Second Reading should be answered during the deliberations on the Bill. I cannot understand for the life of me what is driving the Government down this route, apart from some huge PR effort to convince the public that they are doing something about lobbying in line with their coalition agreement. However, their proposal does not meet the terms of what I understand was agreed.
I have a number of questions that I should like to ask, and I have tabled amendments of my own, to which we will come later. What is the Government’s latest estimate of the number of organisations and individuals that will register? Some work on that must have been done. I have seen some figures published but, in the light of the speeches at Second Reading showing up the deficiencies in the Bill, and recognising that many will not be required to register because they will not meet the criteria for registration—information which, prior to Second Reading, the Government may well not have considered—what is now their estimate of the number that will finally register?
I should like to know more about the discussions that took place between departmental officials and Ministers and the professional associations. Since the early 1970s, in one form or another—I shall give more detail later in the debate on the work that was done in the 1970s and 1980s in this area—a system has been in operation which provides far more information than the Government are seeking the lobbyists and lobbying organisations to provide. It has been suggested in this House and in correspondence that we have received that their efforts may no longer be necessary. Some of them may be inclined simply to discard the work that they have been doing over the years and rely on the Government’s far more limited source of information. Surely that would be totally counterproductive. I wonder whether Ministers or civil servants have been told what the intentions are. I think that the House is entitled to know what the professional organisations intend to do in the event that this register is set in place.
Finally, on in-house lobbyists and their exclusion, it is simply not credible to call a Bill the name given to this Bill when it excludes the vast majority of lobbyists in the United Kingdom. It is not credible; it is a joke. Inevitably, there will be some scandal which will draw attention to the deficiencies in the registration system that has been set up by the Government. It may be for a future Government to find themselves defending the indefensible. I hope that the Minister can answer some of my questions prior to my moving my amendments.
I had to go abroad on the day of Second Reading and I very much regret that I was unable to make a contribution. I do not intend to make a Second Reading speech. However, I should declare a couple of interests. Some years ago I wrote a book on lobbying. It is a very small interest because it is out of print and no one can buy it. It was a do-it-yourself book on how to lobby and was intended specifically for the voluntary sector. The other interest I want to declare is that I spent some years until coming into this House as chief executive of the Refugee Council. Indeed, one of the things that I did most was to lobby. The organisation did quite a lot of lobbying on refugee policy.
I cannot for the life of me understand why that activity should not be incorporated in the register. If we had had the money, we could have hired a firm of lobbyists, which might have had to be on the register. The fact is that we did not have the money and I simply carried out that activity myself. It took me to all three party conferences: going to the Lib-Dem and Tory party conferences, as well as the Labour Party conference, is a subject for another day. I lobbied quite blatantly and I had two members of staff who also did quite a lot of lobbying. I hope that the Minister can tell me why that activity should not be covered in the proposed register.
My Lords, let me start by stressing that lobbying is a normal, valuable, regular aspect of any healthy democratic political system. The question is one of transparency and certainly not one of trying to reduce the level of lobbying in this country. Part 1 was designed to address the problem of consultant lobbying firms entertaining and going to see Ministers without it being clear who they were representing. The Government have dealt with the question of employed lobbyists—members of charities and others—through their arrangements for transparency. Every three months, I and others have to declare who we have met and what organisations employ them, including anyone who happens to be an old friend, perhaps from student days: I have to list “the Information Commissioner” or whoever it may be because a meeting has taken place.
We have looked at other systems, in particular the Canadian one, which adopts the universal system of wishing to take on board every single lobbyist. It is a very large and expensive system and unlike what we propose—I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Norton—it is funded by the public purse and costs the equivalent of £3 million a year.
The Minister talks about the system he has to use. Did he listen to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, at Second Reading? I think it was he who recalled how very complicated the current system is, how you often have to trawl through hundreds or even thousands of documents, and that it is almost impossible for the general public to have access to that kind of material. It is just too complicated. Does he take that on board?
My Lords, I take that on board. The question of designing a system that is easily accessible to everyone, including if one has such a very large register as that which the noble Lord and some others are proposing, is one with which we all have to deal. The Government are indeed looking at making the ministerial diaries more readily and more rapidly available. At present we submit them every three months, so they are sometimes three months or more in arrears. We are aware of that problem. However, we are much more transparent than previous Governments in this respect and are, to that extent, moving forward.
Looking at the Canadian system, we are not persuaded that we need a comprehensive register in which everyone who might be said to be lobbying as a matter of their employment would be included. The Canadian system was introduced in response to a system in which it was felt that there was no information about who Ministers were meeting. We have dealt with the issue of who Ministers are meeting by other means.
If wonder if I can help my noble friend, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. There is a specific amendment which I hope will help with the point he raised. It is not necessary therefore to include every in-house lobbyist because they are already going to be recorded in those meetings and it is fairly obvious why they are there.
My Lords, we are more persuaded from other countries that have the light-touch system we are proposing that it is more effective at addressing the problem than the large, expensive and comprehensive system the Canadians have gone in for.
There are a large number of amendments in this group. I will try to address as many of the issues as I can.
My Lords, before the Minister goes on to the detail of those, I think he has not answered the point—it was made more at Second Reading—of why the existing publication could not simply deal with this. If any Minister meets a consultant lobbyist they name the organisation on behalf of which they have met that consultant and the purpose of it. I still do not understand why that would not meet the objectives there seem to be for the register.
My Lords, there was considerable concern while the previous Government were in office that consultant lobbyists were a powerful element in our political system, that we did not know who they represented and that it would be better if the public were informed who their clients were. The noble Baroness has, on a number of occasions, stressed the point that perhaps one should also add what subjects they are discussing with the Government. I am very happy to take that away and perhaps on a belt-and-braces principle that should be tied in. However, I do not think it takes away the issue that for transparency of the democratic process it is desirable to know who consultant lobbyists are representing and who therefore is paying them.
Perhaps I may move on to answer some of the questions. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asks what our assessment is of the number of lobbying organisations that will be required to register. Our current estimate is that it will be somewhere in the order of 350. We have held a number of constructive meetings with representatives of the industry at which we discussed the voluntary register and the code of conduct, and we have talked with the three main industry bodies concerned. They were able to give a reassurance that many of the concerns regarding the application are being met by that.
I turn now to the details. As I said to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, if the tobacco industry lobbies on behalf of its own industry, we know what is going on. If it is a consultant lobbyist lobbying on behalf of the industry, that is a great deal less clear. That is the underlying distinction between a consultant lobbyist and a professional lobbyist. Because I am concerned with the EU balance of competences exercise, over the past nine months I have read a great deal of evidence produced by the Scotch Whisky Association. I know exactly where the association is coming from and what it is lobbying about. If it were a consultant lobbyist, that would be a different situation. That is the distinction we are making.
On the question of whether we extend this to professional lobbyists, I cannot see the justification for excluding charities from it. As a Minister, I have met a number of charity representatives who have lobbied us on policy issues. That is quite properly a part of what charities themselves do.
I am not sure that I do accept that. I am a member of the National Trust. Yesterday I received an e-mail from the trust which talked about the National Trust’s “vital” campaigning and advocacy work. I have to admit that I did not actually join the National Trust primarily in order to support its campaigning and advocacy work, but it regards that work not as an incidental part of what the trust is for. Noble Lords should look at the most recent announcement made by Oxfam. It is changing its internal organisation so as to put more stress on its campaigning dimension. Campaigning is at the centre of what Oxfam regards as its entirely appropriate charitable activities. Part of campaigning is, of course, lobbying Governments. I therefore do not accept that distinction.
We see the Canadian example as one that suggests overregulation, and therefore distinguish between professional lobbyists and consultant lobbyists. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I were at a conference over the weekend. At one point we were both sitting with a senior executive from BP, and indeed one consultant lobbyist was there. I forgot to ask him precisely who his clients were, and perhaps I should have done. However, when you are talking to a representative of a company, you know who you are talking to and what you are talking about. I came away from the conference much better informed about BP’s involvement in the Southern Corridor pipeline project than I had been, and I trust that that will inform me in future discussions with those Governments through whose territories the pipeline will go.
Transparency is about knowing who these consultant lobbyists are representing. A number of amendments in this group address that point. The Government are not persuaded, but of course we are open to further discussions about particular areas where noble Lords feel that there is an overlap between consultancy and professional lobbying, although I do not entirely see how a particular lobbyist, being employed part time by five or 10 different companies, would somehow get around this legislation, as has been suggested.
A little earlier, the noble Lord mentioned that the Government favoured a light touch. In case the light touch does not work as effectively as he or the Government expect it to, can he amend the Bill in any way as it goes through to provide for adjustments to be made that do not need further primary legislation? It will be years before we come back to this and if we do not get the outcome that many people wish to see, it will be a lost opportunity.
That is, again, a fair point, which the Government will look at. We are extending regulation into lobbying here and are reluctant to go too far too quickly. There may be a means of considering further extension on review. The noble Lord will know that we now have a regular practice of having a five-year review of legislation. If whichever Government are then in power decide that this is inadequate, we will see what can be done.
My Lords, that stretches my expertise very considerably. I will have to consult and write to the noble Lord about that. It is a good academic question. The Government have been quite clear that there is no exemption from the requirement to register for large multidisciplinary firms that conduct consultant lobbying. We refined the exception provided in paragraph 1 by amendment in Committee in the other place to clarify that it will not be enjoyed by organisations such as, for example, law firms if they run consultant lobbying operations and lobby in a manner which is not incidental to their other activity—even if consultant lobbying is not their primary activity. As such, they will be required to register if they meet the other criteria outlined in the definition of consultant lobbying. The provisions outlined in paragraph 1 provide an important and effective exemption for those whose limited involvement in lobbying is in a manner which is merely incidental to their normal professional activity. However, it brings within its scope those that provide consultant lobbying as a major part of their activities and firms for which consultant lobbying is a significant part of their activity.
Opposition Amendment 39 provides a long list of exemptions from the Opposition’s definition of professional lobbying. Exemptions are provided for constituents contacting their Member of Parliament, persons making communications on their own behalf, persons responding to government consultations or an invitation to submit evidence to a parliamentary committee, persons acting on behalf of government, persons not receiving remuneration, and those responding to a court order. That is a very large and unwieldy list of exceptions partly because once one extends this to professional lobbying, the question of definition itself becomes much more difficult. That is, again, partly why we have stuck to consultant lobbying in our approach.
Finally, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, asked about sovereign powers and the Government of Taiwan. It is very helpful that he has raised Taiwan but it would probably be better, to be absolutely sure that I am correct, that I offer to write to him on that specific point. I would like to reassure him as far as I can.
I hope that I have managed to answer most of the points in these amendments. I have outlined why it is not necessary to extend the register to those who lobby on their own or their employer’s behalf, because it is clear whose interests are being represented. Our proposals will deliver a focused, problem-specific register and, as such, we believe that these amendments are not necessary. I urge the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Is a consultant lobbyist somebody who has more than one client? Is that what constitutes a consultant—somebody who has at least two clients? So far as “professional lobbyist” is concerned, I am not too clear in my own mind so far—no doubt it is my fault—as to what exactly is meant by a professional lobbyist. For example, if a company has engineering matters that it wants to deal with, it might send along an engineer to tell the Minister what it is all about. He might not be described as a professional lobbyist but, being an engineer, at least he knows about the subject matter. Does a professional lobbyist have to have some professional qualification or does professional mean something else? I am rather befogged.
My Lords, that is a very fair intervention. That is one of the reasons why we hesitate to include people whose main responsibilities within the charity or company for which they work is to contact government. The public affairs departments of major companies are the ones dealing with government, trying to interface between the company and the political process, and it would be the public affairs departments of many companies with which one would therefore logically deal. I know many people who have gone to work in the public affairs departments of companies—I am sure we all do. It is very often where people who have been involved in politics go afterwards to earn what they failed to earn in politics.
The noble and learned Lord is absolutely correct to say that in the exact definition of a professional lobbyist we are talking about people who are employed by a company, campaigning group or charity and pursue its interests in its relations with government. A consultant lobbyist is someone who lobbies on behalf of someone else apart from their own company. Theoretically, I suppose it is possible to imagine a consultant lobbyist all of whose income comes from one external client but the majority of consultant lobbying firms provide assistance, advice and lobbying for a large number of clients. That is the industry with which we are all familiar and with which those of us in government often interact. That is the distinction we make.
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, responds, my noble friend has really not addressed the distinction between those who do the activity and the activity itself. The Government are supposed to be trying to provide transparency about the activity, not simply listing those who may engage in it—in this case, only some who engage in it.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to what I said at Second Reading about what is in effect an alternative to this rather clunky mechanism being proposed by the Government. What I was proposing gets fairly comprehensively at the activity of who is lobbying on each measure that the Government bring forward. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, may wish to note that my Amendment 115 is intended to get at that. It is an alternative to what the Government are proposing and it would actually deal with that particular problem. My noble friend may wish to bear that in mind in responding to the amendments because I am not sure he has established that there is a need for this part of the Bill, certainly not compared with the alternative that I am putting forward, which actually gets at the nub of ensuring transparency of lobbying.
I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate and to the Minister for his reply.
To answer the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the definition of professional has been slightly widened over the years. I imagine that those who undertake lobbying activity for a living would probably prefer to be called a profession rather than a trade. Therefore, those who lobby, whether they are lobbying as employees on behalf of employers or as consultants, might be described as professional lobbyists.
As the Minister pointed out, consultant lobbyists might well have only one client, although that might be a rare case. Indeed, the Bill itself recognises that the consultant is a person who,
“makes communications … on behalf of another person or persons”,
so the singular is certainly envisaged.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response and want to reflect on his comments about charities and the exemptions—if they are exempt. I note that he said that he is open to further discussion and that the Government will look in response to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, at possible further extensions without further legislation. Those matters ought to be and will be explored between now and Report. I may come back at Report with a more focused amendment, but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 5, after “lobbying” insert “of government”
My Lords, my amendment would inject the words “of government” after the words in Clause 1(1):
“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying”.
I should make it clear that I am amending a part of the Bill which I believe in principle to be totally inadequate to deal with the problem of the lack of transparency; I am only amending what is on offer.
Amendment 3 would clarify in the first clause of the Bill exactly the intention of the Government behind the legislation. The Bill restricts its remit and reach to limited areas in the institution of government. My amendment would make it clear that at this stage, the Government’s intention has been deliberately to exclude other important areas of government influence over public policy and decision-taking from the reach of the Bill. I tabled this amendment last Thursday to draw on the wider debate about those bodies that were being deliberately excluded—namely, government in its wider form, and Parliament—since when, on Friday, my noble friends Lady Royall of Blaisdon and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town tabled their Amendments 18 and 22, which more roundly deal with the issue of Parliament. I therefore yesterday withdrew the reference to Parliament in my amendment and will leave that to them to deal with.
My amendment would bring under the Bill government as a whole, as against the cherry-picked sectors which the Government propose. My case is that executive agencies, which are staffed by civil servants, non-departmental public bodies, which are staffed with a mix of non-civil servants and civil servants, and non-ministerial departments are all crucial parts of government.
The document Categories of Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments, of December 2012, sets out each of the three areas of government to which I have referred. Non-ministerial departments are described as,
“government departments in their own right—but they do not have their own minister”.
They include the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the Food Standards Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education and Children’s Services and Skills, Ofwat, the Office of Water Services, and the UK Statistics Authority.
Executive agencies are defined in the document as,
“business units headed up by a chief executive … often supported by a management board. Executive agencies carry out executive functions, with policy set by ministers”.
They include HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the Identity and Passport Service, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the UK Border Agency. Finally, there are non-departmental public bodies, which are described as carrying out,
“a wide range of administrative, commercial, executive and regulatory or technical functions which are considered to be better delivered at arm’s length from Ministers”.
All these bodies are part of government and deal with contracts as set out in Clause 2(3)(c)(i). Some deal with grants and “other financial assistance”, as set out in Clause 2(3)(c)(ii), and some grant licences and other authorisations, as set out in Clause 2(3)(c)(iii). In other words, they are very much at the heart of government and carrying out the functions described in the Bill, and which the Bill is intended to catch. My amendment, which at this stage is a probing amendment, asks the Government why these bodies are to be excluded. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 24, which is in this group. In doing so, I wish also to speak to Amendment 52 and, with the leave of the House, Amendments 56, 57 and 58, which are in a different group but are all consequential on the main amendment.
Clause 2(3) applies only to communications to,
“a Minister of the Crown or permanent secretary”,
second Permanent Secretary or persons serving in government offices as listed in Part 3 of Schedule 1. My amendment seeks to extend the class of persons. As many noble Lords observed at Second Reading, lobbyists will not confine their activities to Ministers or the senior civil servants listed in these provisions. Indeed, their involvement with such people is likely to follow lobbying activity involving civil servants of a lower grade. This is clearly the case when one considers the word “government” in paragraphs (a) to (d) inclusive of Clause 2(3), which has to be construed in accordance with paragraph 1(4) of Schedule 1. That construction extends the definition of consultant lobbying to Ministers or their equivalent, and officials at the highest level in devolved Governments and local authorities in the United Kingdom, and in any institution of the European Union.
When I was in practice at the Scottish Bar, I was initially standing junior to the City of Edinburgh Council then, when I was appointed Silk, I became standing senior to that authority. From that experience, I am aware that local authority officials of a lower grade than senior management prepared policy documents for consideration by senior officials, then elected members. Those junior officials had considerable expertise within their own professional competence and a significant influence on the terms of policy documents that were ultimately submitted to elected members. Any lobbyist worth his salt who wished to influence policy would communicate with these officials at an early stage. I suspect that the same is true in central government and devolved Governments in the United Kingdom. If this provision is to be of any significance, it should be extended to include communications with any civil servant. Equally, there is a perception that political advisers can have a significant influence on government policy. Why should they not be included in the definition of persons to whom communications are made?
Amendment 34 sets out the definition of “political adviser” but, on reflection, the approach taken in the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall of Blaisdon and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, is more appropriate in referring to “special advisers”. That avoids reinventing the wheel.
I have suggested the inclusion of Parliamentary Private Secretaries, but I suspect that that might be the most controversial part of the amendment. While I agree that it is essential that Members of Parliament and Members of your Lordships’ House, but not Ministers, should be excluded from this provision, PPSs are in a special position regarding their Minister. Although unpaid, they may have access to draft policy documents and will attend meetings with the Minister and departmental officials when the formulation of policy is being discussed. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who is not in his place, attended many such meetings when he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the late Donald Dewar when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. The special relationship that a PPS has with his or her Minister and the access to policy documents and discussions indicate that their inclusion in the affected parts would increase the transparency that the provision seeks to achieve. The other amendments are consequential because the definition of “Permanent Secretary” would be otiose if Amendment 34 were passed.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 23, some of whose content has been covered, and 26. Before I do so, however, I would like to jump back for a moment because I was reluctant to intervene on the welcome statement that the Minister made at the beginning of our proceedings. I hope that when he comes forward tomorrow with the timetable, Part 4 will actually still be Part 4—that is, after we have finished Parts 1, 2 and 3. It is no good doing Parts 1, 3 and 4 and then trying to fix in Part 2. Part 4, on commencement and everything else, has to come at the end and remain as the final part of the Bill. I hope that that will be the order that we will get tomorrow.
I shall share this with the Committee: I have made a bit of a list, although I agree, frankly, that the route taken by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth is much more satisfactory. Like my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, I am amending what is on offer; I am not trying to rewrite the Bill. It is fairly obvious that a Minister of the Crown has to be covered, and it is an open-and-shut case that special advisers should be covered.
What the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, has just said about Parliamentary Private Secretaries is absolutely true. To be honest, I had an effective PPS only for my first four years as Minister when I was in the other place; to have a Lords Minister with a Commons PPS is a complete waste of time—not much help at all. Nevertheless, the PPS that I had for two years in MAFF and then for two years at the DSS—the same person—did not attend all meetings but certainly once or twice a week was sitting around a table with officials and myself and other Ministers, along with the Secretary of State’s PPS. That was normal; there was nothing suspicious about it. It worked perfectly okay. It was very useful. That person therefore has to be covered by such legislation, not in their role as a constituency Member of Parliament but in their role as a minor functionary in the Government. They can be dismissed by the Prime Minister or indeed appointed with the Prime Minister’s permission. Effectively, for practical purposes, those decisions are made by the Chief Whip but it is the same thing: the head of the Government sanctions these appointments and dismissals—as I found out to my cost when I got sacked as a PPS in 1977. I had voted the wrong way on a Bill. So PPSs have to be covered, and the Government have covered Permanent Secretaries.
I come to the issue of non-ministerial government departments. On the latest count that I have, there are 23 ministerial government departments and 21 non-ministerial departments. One thing that is unique about them compared with the non-departmental public bodies and executive agencies—it is a cast-iron cert—is that they are all separately funded by the Treasury. They are government departments. They do not have a parental department. When one looks at the Cabinet Office list on the web for November last year, they are all listed. For executive agencies, the list gives the parent department. For non-ministerial departments, there is no parent department but a post-box department that answers PQs and debates. It has no role whatever in policy and no authority. Most non-ministerial departments are set up by primary legislation. They have their own Act of Parliament to set them up—obviously, I declare an interest, having just done four years as chair of the Food Standards Agency.
Let us take the first one on the list: the Charity Commission for England and Wales. It is the independent regulator of charitable activity. In the advert for a new chief executive that I saw at the weekend—I am not quite sure what has happened there because I thought the former chief executive was reappointed in August—the word “independent” is used. Non-ministerial departments are set up to give them a degree of independence. In fact, most members of the public do not know that they are government departments. That is the benefit. They are genuinely treated as independent regulators. Half the food industry does not understand that the Food Standards Agency is a copper-bottomed, 100% central government department, but it operates under its own legislation as the independent regulator for the sector. It answers to Parliament, like all government departments, and all the staff are civil servants, as in all these 21 non-ministerial departments.
Although there are 21 non-ministerial departments, only one is covered in the legislation: HM Revenue and Customs. The reason is that it is the only one of the 21 where the chief exec is a Perm-Sec-status civil servant. In all the others, the chief executives are either directors-general or in some cases, directors, who are very senior civil servants, but not at the top. There is a difference in their status. The one exception is HMRC, where there is a Perm Sec, and that is covered in Schedule 1.
Non-ministerial departments are set up in the way they are to keep them away from the sticky fingers of Ministers on a day-to-day basis. I know it looks like Topsy, and it is a very unsatisfactory arrangement with the hierarchy of different bodies, but each one was set up for a reason: to keep Ministers away from the day-to-day activity. That is obviously the case in Customs and regulating charities and, certainly, in food. Not having Ministers involved in the day-to-day working on a hunch has been a big success. That is the reason for setting them up as freestanding and funded by the Treasury, unlike executive agencies or non-departmental public bodies. They are quite different, but they are central government departments and are all staffed by civil servants, and the heads, including the chairs of boards—I will come to that in a moment—are all approved on appointment by the Prime Minister, after they have gone right through the interview process with Civil Service commissioners. They are government departments for all practical purposes, but they do not have a Minister walking the floors day to day. Ministers do not like it because they do not have any policy levers over these government departments, but they answer PQs and debates, and it is a very satisfactory and British way of dealing with an issue.
So are they subject to lobbying? Ha! You only have to look at the list. Of course they are subject to lobbying. Who is subject to lobbying? The chief execs are. So far as I know, they all have governance boards with a chair to deal with the governance aspects and they are all non-execs. I have not gone into that, but I think most of the boards are completely non-exec. In the case of the Food Standards Agency, it certainly is, and long may it remain so.
The question is whether they are subject to lobbying as government departments. They are operating, by the way, without phone calls from the Perm Sec or Minister of another department. They are told that it is a no-go area: “Take your tanks off my lawn. The legislation says that I am responsible for this policy. We, as the agency”—it may be a regulator; most of them are, but there are other functions—“are responsible under the law for these areas of policy”. Ministers therefore do not have a role. They do not sit around the table deciding on the policies. The agencies and non-ministerial departments do that, and the board deals with the strategy and governance, so you can bet your bottom dollar that the chairs and chief execs are subject to lobbying and, as such, should be treated in the same way as the Government say that Ministers and Perm Secs should. It naturally follows.
The other matter I listed was that of a chief scientific officer to a government department. The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser is of course listed in Schedule 1. That is not good enough. They are incredibly influential in the departments. By definition, they are all now part time; that was part of the change some years ago to have all the chief scientists out in the real world. They have got to have a chair somewhere or be part of another organisation, and give three to four days to the department. That is certainly the case with Defra and the Food Standards Agency, as was. That was laid down: they would have another role and be tied to academia or outside science. Are they subject to lobbying? You can bet your bottom dollar they are. Should they be covered? Most certainly. They should be covered for their own protection. It is not a question of saying that they cannot be trusted, but these bodies are independent and this applies to all government departments, whether they are ministerial or non-ministerial.
I do not want to labour this—I think I have made the point—but my other point relates to Clause 26. With the charities part of the legislation, we have this new rule of one year before the date of the fixed-term election; now we have that fixed date you can do things that you could not do before. Different rules will come in. Well, frankly, the salaried leader of the Opposition and the financially publicly supported members of a shadow Cabinet, six months before the election—and they could be the Government after those six months—ought to be covered. There ought to be some kind of rule which includes the Opposition for their protection. Again, I am not casting aspersions; it is for their protection. The reality is that all kinds of accusations will be made during the election period. First, Ministers will be publishing their diaries and all that during the election. There are bound to be some people causing trouble, asking questions and things like that. Within that final six months, the official Opposition, salaried out of public finds, trying to be the Government, ought to be covered. That is a crucial period. I have not discussed this with anybody, by the way; I just came up with a bit of lateral thinking the other day.
If the Government are genuine about the transparency of the lobbying they have to cover as many arms of government as they realistically can. I deliberately did not include every single civil servant—the bottle washers, cooks, cleaners, engineers and whatever. That would be going too far and would be impractical. We need a tight list that could be practical and both understood and accepted by the lobbying fraternity, government, customers outside government and the staff concerned. The staff would want to be involved because it is about their protection. All kinds of allegations would be bandied about when things go wrong. It is much better if you can always say, “We are open and transparent”. The greatest protection people have is openness and transparency. Most of the press do not read the open and transparent stuff until something goes wrong. Then they make all sorts of accusations, saying that they have discovered this, that and the other, while things were already there, open and transparent. However, that means that you do not get the full scare stories of the press or the leaks, and openness is a good idea. In this case that ought to be shared by the Opposition. It would obviously be to a limited extent, because they do not issue contracts. All kinds of lobbying activities will go on, and it will be useful for everyone else to know who was being lobbied, who was doing the lobbying, and what they were lobbying about.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 25, which is in my name and that of my noble friend, and is a very specific amendment. Before I do so I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I have a very open mind about the wider additions that have been proposed in different parts of the House, and I shall listen with great interest to the noble Baroness—whichever noble Baroness that will be—when she speaks to Amendment 18, as that may well clarify our minds.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, makes a very interesting point about non-ministerial government departments, precisely because they are not in the hierarchy of any department. They have a different relationship to the Permanent Secretary and the Minister from all the other civil servants. While I would be very worried about going too far down the list of civil servants—down the hierarchy—he makes a very valuable point and I shall look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on it.
Rather late last night, after leaving the House, I renewed my acquaintance with a very interesting book, Dr Andrew Blick’s history of the special adviser in British politics, published nine years ago in 2004, which is entitled People Who Live in the Dark. That is a quotation from Clare Short that some of my noble friends may recall. Very many distinguished Members of this House, on both sides, are of course former special advisers, and I do not in any way intend what I have to say to be a slur on their reputations. Of course, it is also true that some important Members of the other House have been special advisers, not least Mr Ed Miliband and Mr Ed Balls, both of whom feature very prominently in Dr Andrew Blick’s account of how the Treasury clique operated under Gordon Brown. Then, of course, there was the “special special adviser”, Mr Alastair Campbell.
No sooner had I got myself to sleep last night by reading Andrew Blick—it was rather late—than I woke up again at 4am. I usually find that a good book sends me straight back to sleep, but unfortunately Dr Blick’s book is so interesting that I was awake for several more hours this morning. Therefore, if I am slightly less articulate than usual, that is entirely his fault. I will quote from page 313:
“The Thatcher years had a centralised, private-sector flavour, with individuals making a great impact. In Major’s premiership, temporary civil servants were less remarkable, subject to more formal regulation and perhaps more intrigue-prone. Finally, the Blair period saw expansion in terms of significance and numbers, and the exercise of pronounced managerial and media roles, leading to high levels of publicity”.
My Lords, I realise that the noble Lord is quoting from a book, but I point out that recent figures showed just last week that the number of special advisers has risen quite extensively under this Government as compared to the previous Government.
I am absolutely aware of what the noble Baroness has said, and I will come to that very point. Of course, it is not just a question of the numbers but about the role they play. I am trying to demonstrate that this is not a new problem but is certainly a central issue for the Bill and hence for my amendment.
Dr Blick goes on to say:
“If there was a change over time, it was in aides becoming more firmly established and accepted, and, to a limited extent, officially defined”.
Therefore they are recognised there and so they should be recognised in this legislation.
Then, as now, these political appointees acted as gatekeepers for senior Ministers. Then, as no doubt now, too many lobbyists found their way to the top decision-makers by this route. It was their particular way forward. If the spad did not feel that it would be politically helpful for the lobbying exercise to reach his or her Minister, it often failed at that hurdle. However, in many cases that was and is the gate through which the lobbyist has to go. It is certainly true in the present Government—I endorse what the noble Baroness said.
With both Labour and Conservative Ministers, we know that this was the route taken by representatives of the Murdoch media empire. Since 2010, there have been two serious scandals involving lobbying at this level that resulted in resignations. In one case it involved a spad and in another an adviser who clearly thought that he was a sort of special spad—a sort of spadoid. As I indicated at Second Reading, it would be ridiculous to exclude those extremely important decision-makers who are outwith the normal hierarchy of responsibility to the Permanent Secretary.
The advantage of the amendment is that it is simple to add spads into the regime. Consultant lobbyists who approach them should have to register, and the spads should have to publish details of their meetings with all external organisations, in precisely the same way, I am glad to say, as the coalition Government have now insisted that Ministers should do. I understand the arguments for extending the scope of transparency still further down the Civil Service chain, but the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made a very valid point. It will be difficult to know where to stop, if you go down the departmental hierarchy. The cases that he mentioned are not within that hierarchy, of course. If we went further down that hierarchy, there would be a substantial administrative burden; for the move to be effective, hundreds and perhaps thousands of civil servants would have to publish their diaries. As it is, the Permanent Secretary is responsible for what happens at lower levels.
I welcome the fact that this Government have, for the first time, introduced very considerable transparency in terms of the meetings that take place. As I said at Second Reading—the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to this—there is an amendment that would address the particular difficulty that the public, the media and parliamentarians have at present in identifying, in precise terms and quickly, when a meeting has taken place of this nature, with whom and on what subject. Therefore, it is extremely important that we have that clarity and access. Adding hundreds more people into the declaration regime would risk giving an excuse for delay in the publication of details about meetings with those who strongly influence decision-makers, and those who really do take those decisions—who must surely be the political appointees, special assistants and senior Ministers.
As we have heard in this debate, the lobbying register proposed by the Government is limited.
I referred specifically to the non-ministerial government departments, on which the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, made a very valid point, because they are not within the hierarchy of departments responsible to the Permanent Secretary, in the same way as other civil servants. So I do not accept that. The addition to which he specifically referred would have considerable merit. I would look at that very carefully, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will, as well.
Unlike others, I accept that we are making a limited addition to the transparency of the whole process with the register. Far more important is to make sure that the meetings that take place with whoever is lobbying are as transparent, timely and accessible as we can make them. What surely should not be limited should be the encounter with such critical political decision-makers and their advisers as the special advisers attached to senior Ministers. Therefore, I hope that my amendment will find favour with the House and with my noble friend the Minister.
My Lords, I have amendments in the grouping as well. My amendments have similar aims to those of the noble Lords, Lord Hardie and Lord Rooker, and of the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Hayter. I was very attracted by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, because of the breadth of what it covers. However, I also noticed an omission; it does not encompass senior members of the Civil Service but confines itself to Permanent Secretaries. I think that there is a problem there.
When this Bill was considered in the other place, the point was well made that it appears to have been written by people who do not understand lobbying—clearly people who have not read the book by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. If it helps, I have a copy of his book on my shelf.
There are a number of problems but, as has been identified, Clause 2(3) is particularly problematic as it is so narrow. If you are going to lobby, the target is normally the Minister, and you therefore have to focus on the channels for reaching the Minister. The Permanent Secretary is not a significant channel for this purpose. Other officials will deal with that particular policy area—or a special adviser or the parliamentary private secretary. In saying that, I have nothing against special advisers; they play an extraordinarily valuable role from which Ministers and civil servants benefit. Parliamentary private secretaries also play a valuable role, so both should be included in the measure.
I know the objection as regards PPSs will be that they are private members, but increasingly they have been drawn within government. They are now mentioned in the Ministerial Code and are subject to certain requirements under it. Therefore, they are particularly good channels for reaching Ministers. We should encompass within the Bill’s remit all those who are being lobbied for the purposes of affecting public policy. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, does a valuable job in that regard, but one could add to it. I suspect that between now and Report we could come up with an amendment that brings together the various points that have been made and ensures that if we are to go down this route—and I am not persuaded that we should—those who are lobbied with a view to affecting public policy will be included in the Bill.
As it stands, Clause 2 is too narrow and, as I say, Permanent Secretaries should not feature significantly in it. I commend the various amendments that seek to widen the provision, so that if the Government go down this route at least they will do so effectively.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, provided that “government” is defined not as it is in the Bill but as it is in the amendments standing in the names of the baronial opposition Front Bench, by which I mean Amendments 33 and 43.
I approach all this with a certain bemused detachment. I have to intervene because the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, appeared to imply that Permanent Secretaries are not important, although I am sure that he did not mean to do so. I say “bemused detachment” because none of this would ever have applied to me—not the Bill as it stands or with any of the amendments, even the wide-reaching, admirable amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I was never a civil servant. I was a Permanent Under-Secretary but I was never a civil servant. The Diplomatic Service is a separate service. I apologise for making a rather pedantic—indeed, possibly, pompous—point, but there is something wrong in the drafting. I was a public servant but not a civil servant.
When I was a Permanent Secretary I never met a consultant lobbyist, thus proving the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. They do not come to see Permanent Secretaries. If you are Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, the people who come to see you are CEOs or chairmen of companies that are in trouble and want the help of an embassy or high commission somewhere around the world. They do not send government affairs people, so widening the definition would not bring in Permanent Secretaries—they come themselves. They certainly do not send a professional consultant lobbyist to see the Permanent Secretary or, I think, the Minister. I think they do to see special advisers, so I think that is a very important addition which has to be brought in. They tend to see the relevant desk or the Under-Secretary. They do not come near the Permanent Secretary.
I was, for a time, head of the British negotiating delegation in Brussels. In that capacity I saw professional consultant lobbyists all the time. Brussels is a mass of lobbyists, and some of them are actually not too bad. I had to see a great deal of them but I was not a Permanent Secretary and would therefore not have been covered by the Bill. All their approaches to me would therefore have been irrelevant to this Bill. Even if wider definitions were brought in, their contacts with me would still have been exempt because I was never a civil servant. When I was running UKRep I was still a member of the Diplomatic Service.
At least three drafting points therefore need to be looked at. You need to deal with the distinction between the Diplomatic Service and the Civil Service, and include the Diplomatic Service. You also need to look very closely at Schedule 1, in which the definition of “government” seems to be strikingly and dangerously wide. I do not know what is meant by the inclusion in the schedule of a reference to the institutions of the European Union. It is every citizen’s right to approach the European Parliament, lobby the European Commission or approach the Permanent Representative and his office to register their views in the Council. I am not terribly happy about that reference, or the reference to other sovereign Governments, in Part 1 of Schedule 1.
Even if these definitional points were tidied up, I am still bemused. I am not quite sure, despite the noble Lord’s elegant explanation, what the problem is that we are trying to fix. As the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the other place pointed out, it is not clear that transparency in lobbying is a significant problem. However, if it is a significant problem but a problem that applies only to Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, and that is all, and we keep a narrow definition, it is a problem that we can solve this afternoon. We need to change the Ministerial Code and the code of practice for civil servants, and we need a clear instruction to all Ministers’ private secretaries that in any contact with a lobbyist it must first have been established who the client is—who the lobbyist is acting for. Problem solved. You do not need a Bill to do that if you are dealing with the narrow problem that the Minister says the Bill is dealing with.
However, if you are dealing with a much wider problem, and most of the amendments assume that you are doing so, you are still in difficulty. I would have loved to go down the road that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, suggests and regulate the activity rather than the individual doing it. But where then do you draw the line? When I was Permanent Secretary, senior trade association representatives or senior company executives did come to see me and did ask for help. Were they lobbying? They were not professional lobbyists but were acting for their company and asking for the support of the Government, high commission or embassy in question. If you legislate on the activity you need a recherché definition of what exactly lobbying is. Of course, that is not in the Bill because the Government have ducked the problem by going for the individual and a particular narrow category of individual.
It would be good to go wide rather than narrow, so my heart is closer to amendments such as that of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, than it is to the Bill as originally drafted. It is an uneasy mix and it does not quite work.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I was a Permanent Secretary for some 10 years and, unlike him, was a civil servant. I do not remember in that period ever being lobbied as a Permanent Secretary, but of course lobbying went on among the grades immediately below mine. This debate has therefore shown that these matters must be the subject of a new amendment on Report that resolves the various difficulties that have been mentioned.
I was attracted by the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, which referred to senior civil servants and special advisers. It probably needs to go further. Amendment 33 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, goes wider than it needs to in its references to “Ministers or officials” and then to civil servants; however, that is for her to discuss. I very much hope that this issue will be looked at and that the definition will be widened. It need not go beyond including a senior civil servant, as defined by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, because any lobbyist would think that lobbying below that level was a waste of time, and it is therefore not likely to happen.
My Lords, I was a very junior Minister in Northern Ireland and, of course, was being lobbied all the time. Such activity would, of course, be covered by the Bill, except to say that most of the people doing the lobbying were not consultant lobbyists but from a range of organisations. Perhaps I may make a few brief points.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker about shadow Ministers. It is clear that any lobbyist worth their salt will pinpoint those who will be of influence, should there be a change of Government after an election, and make a beeline for them. That is an important issue. I also agree with my noble friend about government agencies. There were a large number of government agencies in Northern Ireland, which were a bit closer to government than the ones in England. Nevertheless, the point my noble friend makes still applies—I am quite sure that a lot of lobbying of those government agencies went on, and goes on, which would not be covered by the definition of a Permanent Secretary.
However, I should like to make another general point about civil servants. As I said earlier, although I had lots of meetings and was being lobbied, that activity would be covered because I was there. But of course civil servants are lobbied to secure access to a Minister, and that is a crucial part of the process. They need not be very senior civil servants but be senior enough to say to whoever is doing the lobbying, “Yes, I will get you a meeting with the Minister”. The Minister has to agree to such a meeting but in the way things are that nearly always happens. Civil servants who are not that senior can therefore be quite influential. Indeed, in all my meetings with civil servants during that time and when people lobbied me, I do not think that the Permanent Secretary of one of the two departments I represented was there on more than a handful of occasions. It was all done at a less senior level. I am bound to say that I cannot work out where the cut-off point should be, although there clearly has to be one. One of the considerations should be to include those civil servants who are senior enough to assist in the process of gaining access to a Minister. That might be a helpful way of looking at this issue. Someone said that Permanent Secretaries are ultimately responsible. I would say, “if they know”, because, in the nature of things, so much is going on I do not believe that a Permanent Secretary could possibly know about all the contacts made by lobbyists with more junior civil servants. There is a bit of a problem there.
Lastly, I should like to comment on advisers. I was not senior enough to have an adviser, although the Secretary of State had one who helped all of us. I very much agree with noble Lords who said that political advisers are crucial in the process. They open doors, can be extremely influential and give advice to their Ministers, having been lobbied in turn. I am therefore puzzled. I understand that the Minister has said—we had meetings on this before Second Reading—that transparency is what he is after, but I am puzzled as to why the Government are taking such a narrow view of the way in which the lobbying process works. We are talking about a process that seeks to influence legislation and public policy, and the scope of the Bill should be a bit wider to cover people who lobby in that manner.
My Lords, I have listened to the whole debate thus far this afternoon and I confess that I, too, remain baffled by the logic behind this part of the Bill. It is something of a relief to find that I am in the distinguished company of others such as my noble friend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, with whose remarks I very much agreed. That is despite the efforts of the Minister to explain the logic. As I understand it, the problem is that Ministers are not clear whom consultant lobbyists represent. I find that astonishing. If that is so, why not ask?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, told us that two out of 988 meetings with Ministers at BIS were with consultant lobbyists, so that is not a huge number. One of the briefings that we have had from the professional lobbying bodies—from the PRCA—tells us that rarely do consultancies speak directly to Ministers on behalf of clients, especially without the client being present, in which case I imagine that it is fairly clear for whom they are speaking. Furthermore, speaking to Permanent Secretaries is pretty much unheard of, as has been confirmed by a number of former Permanent Secretaries in your Lordships’ House. In addition, the professional bodies tell us that their estimate of the number of organisations likely to have to sign up is around 100. Therefore, I fail to understand how this is likely to improve transparency. Indeed, it seems to me that there is a real risk that it could reduce the incentive to sign up to some of the voluntary registers which exist and which are also linked to codes of good practice.
The Bill as it stands seems to fall between two stools, and I am not sure which one to rest on in order to form a view on these amendments. It seems to me that if we are to have a register, it has to be a broader register that on the one hand covers a wider range of people who are undertaking lobbying and on the other hand covers a wider range of people who are being lobbied. I agree that if we are to have a register, it should extend to many of the bodies and individuals that other noble Lords have mentioned.
However, if we are not going to do that, it seems an incredibly expensive and elaborate approach to set up a register and a registrar if we are going to cover just 100 consultant lobbying firms, together with Permanent Secretaries, who are never lobbied by them, and Ministers, who are rarely lobbied by them. I would be much more attracted by the sort of approach that the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, mentioned at Second Reading, in which the reporting system on the receiving end is improved to make sure that it records those particular interactions.
Therefore, I confess that I am totally confused. I should be very happy to support some of these amendments if I thought that that was what the Bill was going to do. If it is not, then I do not know at all what the Bill is trying to do and I hope that I will receive further enlightenment as I sit here for longer.
My Lords, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, correctly, he feels that more restraint should be put on special advisers, and I agree with him. I have already said in this House that it was absolutely appalling that in the previous Government the Prime Minister’s special adviser went about the business of blackening, or seeking to blacken, the names of the family of a member of the Cabinet. That was absolutely disgraceful. He then went on to have the absolute brass neck to write a book. When he was interviewed, he said, “Well, you see, when I left I did not get any money, so I have to get some money somewhere”. I say: welcome to the real world. I had constituents who were in employment for less than two years and they did not get any redundancy money, but they did not seek to brag about the bad things that they did.
I mention that because this individual was there on taxpayers’ money. To my shame as a practising Catholic, he went on to work for an organisation called CAFOD. Fellow Catholics, like me, are expected to give to missions on what is known as Mission Sunday, and they do so very generously. The poorest of the poor set aside funds that they have worked hard for to give to that organisation, and it really amazes me that someone gave that individual a senior job there. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that I feel strongly that if these people are employed by the Government and paid for by the taxpayer, they should be accountable in every possible way.
As has been mentioned, Her Majesty’s Opposition get Short money. It is a substantial amount of money and it has increased rapidly since Edward Short—later Lord Glenamara—created it when he was Leader of the House. It should be remembered that it extends not only to funds but to office space here in central London, and it is a substantial amount, not in cash but in kind. I would see difficulties arising where members of the shadow Cabinet had to report in the same way as Ministers do. Ministers have a big back-up team, whereas members of the shadow Cabinet, particularly the junior ranks, do what they do on a more voluntary basis. They give up a great deal of their spare time.
However, I want to talk mainly about the role of the PPS. I was a PPS in opposition. I had the honour of serving Denis Healey when we were fighting against the extreme left wing of the Labour Party. It was a time when, as some noble Lords will remember, the lunatics were beginning to take over the asylum. As much as I made my peace with Tony Benn, whom I consider to be a nice man, he attracted some of the most dangerous elements that I have ever come across—and nasty people with it.
The PPS has a difficulty, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, touched on it. Not only is he or she an adviser to the Minister, with the honour of being taken into the inner circle when important decisions are being taken, but they have to go into constituency mode when they go home at the weekend. As my noble friend Lord Kerr said, you do not always know that you are going to land up in the company of one of these consultants. The local authority could say—it happened to me—“We would like to invite you as a Glasgow MP to talk about a certain industry within the city”. When you turn up, lo and behold, someone who is employed as a professional adviser is there. They could be from a roadworks or an engineering organisation; they could be from anywhere. That would put a serious responsibility on a Member of Parliament who happened to be a PPS. He would have to be very careful about somehow getting the matter on the record. The media have a habit of building up a story and they would pounce on the fact that something was not declared. It might be that it was not declared inadvertently but that would not be how it was presented. Sometimes even a headline can be different from the story.
If anything is to be done about Parliamentary Private Secretaries, it should be borne in mind that they are usually young Members of Parliament who have not necessarily established themselves in their constituency. They are still building up their reputation and getting known, and they are as keen as mustard and going to all the meetings. We should be careful that we do not put that burden on them if we can help it.
My Lords, I rise, with my very messy notes, to support Amendment 3 in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and to speak to Amendments 18, 22, 29, 32, 33 and 36. I do so while congratulating the Government on their unique feat of uniting transparency campaigners and the lobbying industry against the Bill—including on the issue that our amendments seek to address, namely the scope of those who are lobbied. I speak as someone who has been lobbied as a Back-Bench Peer, as a Minister and as a member of the shadow Cabinet. All the while I was a legislator, but I have also been a special adviser, albeit to the leader of the Opposition. I agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker that it is important to include members of the shadow Cabinet in such legislation. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Martin, has said about the fact that they do not have the infrastructure that is properly accorded to a Minister of the Crown. However, these people aspire to be in government and perhaps within the next year they might be in government. Therefore, for their own protection in many ways, they should be included.
As regards PPSs, again I hear the rightful concern and warnings of the noble Lord, Lord Martin. These people are perhaps fairly new to Parliament but they have real access to power. We should consider properly whether they should be covered by the legislation. The fact that the Bill confines the scope in Clause 2 to,
“oral or written communications made personally to a Minister of the Crown or permanent secretary”,
demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the lobbying industry. In evidence to the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Gavin Devine, chief executive of MHP Communications, stated:
“The only conclusion one can reach about the Bill is that the Cabinet Office has no understanding of what companies like MHP Communications actually do”.
I hear the Minister when he says that there has been interaction with the lobbying industry about this part of the Bill, but perhaps there has been a dialogue of the deaf. I do not mean to be rude but I do not think that there always has been proper listening; otherwise we would not be confronting some of the issues that we now face.
At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said that,
“the Permanent Secretary is probably … the last civil servant to be lobbied in a controversial situation”.—[Official Report, 22/10/13; col. 979.]
Listening today to the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Armstrong, it is clear that the Permanent Secretary is always the last civil servant to be lobbied, and not only in a controversial situation. The speeches made today by the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Kerr, were very important. We should also read very carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said about the Diplomatic Service. The whole industry of lobbying our Diplomatic Service should be looked at. The lobbying of government is not just about Bills in play but also about future policies.
On special advisers, I welcome and support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. However, I do not think that it goes far enough. One has only to think of the demeaning tale of Adam Smith and the News Corporation lobbyist Fred Michel, who would not have been touched by this Bill—and yet that case was one of the catalysts for the Bill. It is interesting to note that the Committee on Standards in Public Life has today published a report on lobbying. One of the recommendations from that body is that special advisers to Ministers should be subject to tighter rules about their contacts with outsiders, which probably is something with which the majority of this House would agree. I hope that the Minister will move on that swiftly.
The lobbying industry itself has said many times during discussions about this Bill that,
“we do not make personal representations to Ministers or Permanent Secretaries”.
So one has to ask: what is the Bill trying to do? The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked some incisive questions. Indeed, the House of Lords Constitution Committee points out that,
“even those who consider that ‘transparency in lobbying is a significant problem’ do not appear to be of the view that the specific matter of consultant lobbyists meeting ministers and permanent secretaries needs legislative correction. Indeed, some witnesses told the PCRC that if this really is the problem that needs addressing, it does not require legislation to fix it and could be dealt with simply by the Government changing the rules that apply to ministers and permanent secretaries”.
However, as we have this golden opportunity of the Bill before us, we are obliged to do whatever we can to ensure that there is a healthy and transparent relationship between government and lobbying and to resolve the problems that we have seen over the past months and years.
In their response to the Constitution Committee, the Government said:
“Ultimately, it is ministers and permanent secretaries that are responsible for the decisions taken within their departments and the focus of the register is therefore on communications with those key decision-makers whose meeting details are published”.
Yes, ultimately, the responsibility for decisions is taken by those at the very top. However, we know that the influencing of policy-making and of legislation occurs at a much lower level.
I certainly agree with the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Rooker and the scope that he mentions in his Amendment 23. The exposé that he gave of non-ministerial government departments was very important. I hope that the Minister will look at that very closely. These bodies, and those who work in them, are extremely influential in terms of governing in this country.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, mentioned the devolved institutions, which, again, need to be looked at. While I fully recognise that devolved institutions make their own rules and regulations pertaining to this issue, it would be terrific if we could get to a situation where the rules pertaining to all the governing bodies of the United Kingdom were similar. That would make it much easier for the Governments of the nations and for those who are doing the lobbying.
Our Amendment 18 would widen the scope phenomenally to Members of both Houses of Parliament. I am sure that many Members of this House would think that that perhaps widens the scope of the Bill too far. However, we should reflect on that because we all recognise the important role that lobbyists play and the invaluable information that they provide. We should also recognise that in lobbying they have a profound effect on us as legislators and on the laws that we pass. We therefore need to keep that in mind, because it is a matter of being open and transparent so that the public know what or who has influenced the laws that we are making all the time. As everyone’s inboxes in relation to this Bill will testify, we are heavily lobbied.
My noble friend Lord Rooker raised an important point about the revised order of consideration. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the revised order will be Parts 1, 3, 2 and then 4. That would be the proper and logical way of doing things.
The right honourable Andrew Lansley suggested on Report in the Commons that to extend the scope of those lobbied would be too bureaucratic. He imagined 5,000 senior civil servants all publishing their diaries. I believe that that is a poor excuse because we all know that the system does not have to depend on the publishing of diaries. I very much welcome what the Government have done in publishing ministerial diaries but perhaps we could look at some other way of ensuring that there is a less bureaucratic means of having an open and transparent way for the public to know who is being lobbied and on what issue. Now that we have longer before Report on this Bill I hope that the Government will look at that problem and perhaps come up with a way of ensuring there can be a system that is not overly bureaucratic and provides the openness and transparency required.
Transparency in the 21st century means that the public not only want to know who is being lobbied but, I believe, that they have the right to know. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, pointed out, this Bill is indeed entitled “Transparency of Lobbying”. It presents us with an opportunity to address the concerns of our citizens who have lost trust in the political system to the detriment of our democracy. They rightly want to know who is being lobbied and what power is being lobbied. We all know that power does not just reside with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. I trust that the noble Lord will reflect on these points.
My Lords, I will first answer some of the specific questions raised. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that Part 4 will be taken in Committee after Part 2, as is logical in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, suggested that the Diplomatic Service is not part of the Civil Service. When I was a young academic people talked about the Home Civil Service as opposed to the Diplomatic Civil Service, which I understood was the overseas Civil Service.
Both of those services were as opposed to the military service—and I am not sure that I would think of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, as particularly military.
The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, asked who needed to know. It is not Ministers who need to know primarily. Transparency is about the public being better informed, and campaigning groups and civil society organisations making the information easy to obtain.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said that perhaps if the information was easier to obtain we would not have newspapers any longer claiming that they had discovered such and such. As I listened to him, I recollected that yesterday in the Daily Mail, I think that I read the same “We have discovered” story for about the third time in about four years. Newspapers have a tendency to claim that they have discovered something that was all there already. Indeed, many years ago when I criticised the financial services industry in the Channel Islands, the local press announced that it had discovered that I was a French spy. Its evidence for this—that my wife and I had both been decorated by the French Government—came from that deeply obscure publication, Who’s Who. I am sure the press will go on “discovering” things that could already have been found out easily. Again, that is the way the press behave.
As I have listened to this debate, I have been thinking about the debate we had in the Cabinet Office about the mistake previous Governments made in going for really grandiose IT projects, trying to put absolutely everything into what they were doing and eventually coming unstuck. The Cabinet Office has now decided that incremental change in IT is easier to control. If we are moving towards transparency we have to be careful that we do not say we want absolutely everyone to be included. The best can be the enemy of the good here. The first target is lobbyists rather than every single representative of government that they meet in all circumstances. The definition of who they meet in government was adopted as “those within government who now have to publish their diaries: their lists of whom they meet”.
Amendment 3 from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in many ways stands on its own. We need to think about it in a different context from the others here. Other amendments extend the register to parliamentarians, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, other civil servants, special advisers, all Members and staff of Parliament, all non-ministerial departments, parliamentary private secretaries and so on. We are talking about, I suspect, between 15,000 and 20,000 people. There are 5,000 members of the senior Civil Service—Permanent Secretaries, directors general, directors and deputy directors. The figure in my head for the number who work in Parliament is more than 6,000, and then we have to include non-ministerial departments. How fast and how far we go certainly needs to be considered.
There is an organisation in the Civil Service that they all want to belong to—the Top 200. It is an official classification. The figure the Minister has just given for the kind of people who will be covered as the decision-makers and opinion formers is preposterous. I am not saying it is limited to 200, but within the Civil Service being a member of the Top 200 means you are there. It is not just the Permanent Secretaries but the directors general as well. You are not talking about thousands. They are the chief executives of some of the departments I referred to.
I take that. I was about to say that the issue of proportionality—how far we go—is a really difficult one here. However, if one is talking about who gives you access to a Minister perhaps we need to include diary secretaries for example. Who we include and who we do not is itself a matter of some difficulty.
Perhaps we need to discuss between Committee and Report which definition of senior civil servants Ministers and various Members of the House wish to adopt. I was adopting my own understanding of the senior Civil Service, which is the 5,000 I mentioned.
I will be interested to hear from the Opposition whether they also need to be included in this. Again, that is something that perhaps the Opposition Front Bench and the Government should usefully discuss between Committee and Report. I come back to say that the best can be the enemy of the good in requiring too many people to be brought within the context of this Bill. I take the very powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about non-ministerial departments to mind. I also take some of his other points about particular senior civil servants. We will consider all these points and, in that light, I trust that the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I do not understand my noble friend’s point about numbers. It is irrelevant in the sense that it is the consultants who are doing the lobbying to those people. It does not matter how many they are. It is merely the fact that they are engaging with some of them that requires them to register.
The register is of lobbyists. If we wish to include in the register every single Member of Parliament and others with whom they interact, we would get into a very complicated business. The question is who you wish to define as a consultant lobbying—as Amendment 3 says—to government.
My Lords, we have had a very wide-ranging debate which has fully revealed the flaws and inadequacies of the Bill. In Amendment 3, I drew on the 2012 document which dealt with categories of public bodies. It is worth noting what it says about them:
“The landscape for public bodies is undergoing significant reform to increase transparency and accountability … Those public bodies retained will remain at arm’s length from Government, but will be expected to become more open, accountable and efficient”.
The Bill as it stands does precisely the reverse.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Rooker, who drew on his very considerable experience in the Food Standards Agency to strongly reinforce my case. The Government would be very wise to heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who argued that an amendment should be tabled on Report to widen the definition of those civil servants who should be covered by the Bill. I hope that the Minister has taken on board that suggestion, and that the Government will wish to bring forward their own amendment to deal with those issues.
Finally, I want to say a word about the position of Permanent Secretaries. It has been argued that Permanent Secretaries almost appear to have little influence over what happens in many areas. However, there is of course one department where Permanent Secretaries have a major influence and could well be subject to substantial lobbying, and that is the Ministry of Defence, to which I do not think any of the former Permanent Secretaries who spoke today referred. In that department it is crucially important that they are included.
On the basis of the response given by the Minister and in the hope that he will respond to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert “and the person has signed up to the Registrars’ code of conduct”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 5, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Royall, I shall speak also to Amendment 93. I would expect a Bill on lobbying to do two things. First, it should show who is lobbying whom over what, which was the issue of the first two groups of amendments. Secondly, it should raise standards in the industry to help make it a profession, with all that that implies for ethics, training and good practice. As I made clear earlier, I am not against lobbying. Like many other noble Lords, I spent too many years seeking to influence civil servants and politicians, sometimes with success and sometimes with none, but always, I hope, by employing honest arguments and with the most open of motives and the cleanest of hands. For me, it is particularly sad that the golden opportunity for this Bill to introduce a requirement for registered lobbyists to abide by a code of conduct has been lost. A code is absolutely key if we wish to raise standards.
We are not arguing for a code to be spelt out in the Bill—far from it—but we are arguing that the registrar, after discussion with representatives of the industry, should be able to adopt or approve a code; and that, if it was shown that someone had breached it, that would lead to a sanction. It would signal to the industry how the registrar judges any misdemeanours. It would be a code rather like the one that noble Lords sign at the Table as we take the Oath, and anyone putting their name on the register would also have to sign up.
The Sheila McKechnie Foundation states that,
“an effective register would include an obligatory code of conduct for all registrants, along with clear sanctions for non-compliance or breaches”.
Indeed, we need to be able to prevent the worst offenders from continuing to practise by removing them from the register, but without a code and the power to judge someone in reference to it, how will we see offenders taken out of this industry?
Understandably, the Government do not want a statutory code written into the Bill. Nor do we, but neither that nor their response to the Select Committee report explains why they do not want to make it mandatory for the registrar to give approval to a code that she or he has drawn up or endorsed in consultation with the industry and other stakeholders. Just as the royal charter does not itself set up a press regulatory body, but simply ensures that whatever is established is up to standard, so the Bill should simply require the registrar to endorse and lay before Parliament the code against which she or he would judge the behaviour of anyone on the register. The code would set the standard for the behaviour of those who seek to influence the Government of this country. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 78, tabled in my name and those of my noble friends, attacks—if that is the appropriate verb to use—the same point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has addressed, but in a slightly different way. We have heard a lot about the need for a statutory code of conduct for lobbyists both in the debate on Second Reading and, to some extent, in our debates today. However, the Bill is not about regulating lobbying but about trying to make lobbying more transparent. My own amendment maintains that spirit. There is a genuine concern that the Bill, by setting out in law some of the things that consultant lobbyists must do, could imply by omission that there are some things that we do not expect them to do. Hence, it is important to make some reference to the existing codes.
I confess that although I have not been involved with the lobbying industry for many years, when I had a real job before politics, I headed up a public affairs consultancy. In those days I do not think we even referred to it as lobbying. It was thought to be simply informing decision-makers about important issues and so on. I can see noble Lords opposite observing that there is hardly any distinction between the two activities. However, I appreciate very much the extent to which the lobbying industry has improved its transparency and its codes of conduct, of which I understand there are several. It is important that we should refer to the voluntary codes of conduct that various professional associations and their membership bodies have now signed up to.
The UK Public Affairs Council has said that,
“the range of membership bodies, trade associations, companies and other organisations involved to a lesser or greater extent in lobbying makes a single self-regulatory code unobtainable for the foreseeable future”.
That is a realistic position, but surely it does not mean that we should ignore what is already in place. UKPAC went on to say that,
“effective self regulation can nonetheless be achieved if everyone in a business or employed in a capacity which involves lobbying subscribes to an appropriate Code of Conduct”.
The Bill can only do that for consultant lobbyists because, as we have heard, it is not about a telephone directory-style register of everyone who ever lobbies. However, it should ensure that those whom it does cover are encouraged to continue their compliance with existing voluntary codes by requiring that they are transparent as to whether they do so or not. All concerned—those on the receiving end of lobbying, those who engage these services to lobby on their behalf, the general public and we as parliamentarians representing them—would then be aware of whether they have subscribed to the voluntary codes. Our amendment deals simply with that objective.
My Lords, the Opposition’s proposed amendment would prohibit lobbying unless the person had signed up to the registrar’s code of conduct. Their new clause would require the registrar, after consultation with relevant stakeholders, to produce a code of conduct which would include a provision that any inappropriate relations between lobbyists and parliamentarians were strictly forbidden. Amendment 108, which has been grouped elsewhere, would enable the registrar to impose civil penalties for breaches of the code of conduct. The Government are not persuaded that a statutory code of conduct is appropriate, and I suggest that the proposed amendments are based on a miscomprehension of the role of codes, either statutory or voluntary, in the regulation of lobbying. The Opposition appear to suggest that such codes are in existence and are operating successfully in other jurisdictions. Perhaps I may draw their attention to international examples of statutory codes of conduct, of which there are very few.
The Australian statutory code of conduct establishes a statutory register of consultant lobbyists and prohibits the lobbying of government on behalf of a third party without registration. That is exactly what this Bill provides for and, if that is what the Opposition are seeking to achieve, the amendments are not needed. In Canada, the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct promotes three principles—integrity and honesty, openness and professionalism—and requires that lobbyists act transparently, that they respect confidentiality, and that they avoid conflicts of interest. That code is not a statutory instrument and there is no sanction for non-compliance other than a report from the registrar outlining the lobbyist’s misdemeanour. That is appropriate, because determining non-compliance with these very broad principles is a challenging, uncertain and subjective process.
We have not been able to identify any international precedent for the type of code the Opposition propose. Indeed, even the overwhelmingly high-regulation system in the USA, which requires a 900-plus page handbook to aid compliance, does not incorporate a statutory code of conduct of this sort. Perhaps the fact that the Opposition have been able to propose just one provision for their code of conduct illustrates why such an approach has not been adopted elsewhere.
The Government recognise the industry’s efforts to improve lobbying practice by introducing its own codes of conduct and are confident that that will continue. Those codes promote the ethical behaviour that is essential to the integrity and reputation of the lobbying industry. The codes contain laudable principles and good practice guidance, but their translation into statute does not seem sensible or feasible.
Amendment 78, in the name of my noble friend Lord Tyler, would instead amend Clause 5(4) so that regulations could be made to enable lobbyists to include details in their information returns of the voluntary codes of conduct that they had subscribed to; but no other additional types of information unrelated to voluntary codes of conduct could be so specified. My noble friend appears to agree with the Government that a statutory code of conduct is not necessary and that the existing voluntary codes should be endorsed and promoted. I am happy to tell my noble friend that the Government are committed to ensuring that the statutory register complements the existing self-regulatory regime.
A specific reference on the statutory register to the voluntary code to which a lobbyist has subscribed is an interesting proposal that the Government are willing to consider further. However, we are not persuaded that the power under Clause 5(4) should be restricted so that it could be used to make regulations only in relation to voluntary codes, which is the—perhaps unintended—effect of my noble friend’s amendment. We will consider this further. Meanwhile, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and my noble friend not to press his.
I fear that that reply was written before I made my speech. I made it very clear that I do not want a statutory code of conduct. The reply that the Minister gave was about why we should not have a statutory code of conduct: I agree, and we did not ask for it. What we are asking is for the registrar to endorse a code of conduct. I assume that it would be based either on the format of five principles that other professions use or maybe on the existing voluntary code. That would be a matter for the registrar, but I very clearly said that we did not want a statutory register.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, is in her seat as she will remember very well discussing whether the regulation of letting agents should be statutory or—as it is now—voluntary. The letting agents had a very good voluntary code but if you did not obey it and were taken to the ombudsman, you could simply say, “I will leave the code, walk off and not remain signed up to the voluntary code”. All the good boys were signed up to the code but—guess what—the cowboys were not. If anyone was caught breaking the code they just resigned. The noble Baroness did at one point ask me to stop thanking her for this but I will never stop doing so because, through her work, we agreed the amendment that makes it compulsory for letting agents to belong to an ombudsman scheme. As part of that, there will be a code, overseen by the ombudsman, by which will be judged any misbehaviour by letting agents.
Effectively, that is what we are asking for here. Once you have a register of consultants, they should have to sign up to some code of good practice or ethical principles against which it will be judged whether they should be taken off the register. I am not asking for a statutory code, although it was very nice to hear the Minister make a speech against it. What we want is, if you like, a blessing to the voluntary code that says more than simply, “Please read it”. If you are on a register, I imagine it would become quite a kitemark. People would say, “I am a registered consultant lobbyist” —or, if our amendment were passed, a proper lobbyist, not just a consultant. It would be a kitemark to be on the register. However, if it implies no requirement to keep to an ethical code or a code of good behaviour, the kitemark could itself be quite misleading.
We will definitely return to this and I hope that the Minister has heard what we are really asking for: not a statutory code but a requirement that the registrar should have a code that anyone on the register would have to sign up to. I will leave that until Report for the moment—whenever that will be—and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed.
Clause 2: Meaning of consultant lobbying
Amendments 6 to 9 not moved.
10: Clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out “and in return for payment”
My Lords, I have a few probing amendments in this group: Amendments 10, 12, 15, 30 and 51. I am not in any way criticising the Minister here, as we are in Committee and the idea is to get some detailed answers to some of these issues so that we can decide whether or not there are issues of substance to come back to on Report. I hope he will feel free to give us some detailed responses to some of the points being raised as, otherwise, we will not get the benefit of Committee stage. It was always planned that Report would be after Christmas anyway—there is no change there, as I understand it—and this is important.
Amendment 10 says,
“leave out ‘and in return for payment’”.
I want to know what happens if the lobbyist is acting for free. What is the situation when they are not doing it for payment? There might be ways of people organising their affairs such that they can undertake lobbying but not actually get paid for it. I want to know what the effect would be of removing the words “in return for payment”.
Amendment 12 has a degree of substance. I have not brought it with me, because I do not want to make big speeches in Committee, but this is based on paragraphs 18 and 19 of the report from Graham Allen’s constitutional reform committee in the other place. The reality of life is that lobbyists, in return for payment, provide professional advice on how to lobby but do not lobby themselves. That is, to a great extent, the evidence that was given to the Select Committee in the other place about the way that professional lobbyists work. They go to a company and say, “You have a problem and this is the way to solve it: deal with it this way and approach these people. Do it all yourself and we will guide you through”. That is perfectly respectable—I am not criticising it in any way—but it is not covered by the Bill. The industry itself says that is the main way that it works. There has to be a response to that. I did not follow the details in the other place but the Select Committee report criticised the Bill as an object lesson in how not to legislate. This is an important point.
I have pondered this myself. I wonder what interest it really is anyhow of anybody what a lobbyist advises a client. Why is there a need to register that person? If he is simply advising his client as to what to do, why should that original lobbyist register?
The point behind this is that the Bill is addressing an issue that does not really arise. The vast majority of the work that takes place is lobbyists training and advising others how to do their own lobbying. They will not get caught by this. The reality is that the Bill will not cover anybody. The numbers are going down all the while. We will end up with a register with nobody on it; there will be no fees to run the register. I am not criticising this; it is a perfectly respectable way to work. I do not want to criticise people who train others how to lobby; it is a bit like training others how to legislate. But that is what the industry told the Select Committee in the other place about how the industry works. This Bill is a complete waste of time and does not address the issues the Government set out to address. That is what is behind Amendment 12, simply the way it works.
On the VAT thing, I am not really clear. I have read the clauses on this. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has tabled amendments on it and I will be interested to hear what he has to say. I think we should take out the bit about the VAT registration. I am suspicious as to why it is in there. It seems to be done in such a way so as to avoid people having to be up front. That is why I query that. Amendment 15 is purely a probing amendment.
Amendment 30 might look a bit juvenile. It says that communications,
“must take place in the presence of a civil service note taker”.
This is born out of my experience: Ministers do meet non-civil servants without the presence of civil servants and then make decisions which they promulgate to the department to act on, and there are no notes. I have been on the receiving end of it myself in the past four years—of being given an instruction that came about because of such meetings where there was no access to the notes because there was no note-taker present. I did not follow that instruction, by the way. The Food Standards Agency is open and transparent and we said no. We were instructed to do something—to stop a process—and we said, “No, we’re not doing it”.
In my early days of my 12 years as a Minister, I was a bit irritated that you could not go anywhere without somebody there writing down what you said. I soon learnt that it is a massive protection to have a note-taker present. It is not so much what you are being told but what you say that you must have a note of so that you cannot be misrepresented later on. It should not require a note in the legislation but I am suspicious because the Bill does not reflect the way in which the industry works, so I wonder why we have the Bill and think it is probably a good idea if we can be assured that there will be notes of such meetings if they are face to face with a Minister.
I do not think that the Bill will stay as it is but let us assume that it does: if a lobbyist has personal contact with a Minister or Permanent Secretary—there is a question over how we define personal contact—it is axiomatic that there has to be a note-taker. In the previous Parliament, one of my colleagues in this place, a Minister, made some incredibly important decisions one weekend in the middle of a crisis and did not have a back-up civil servant with him. It was an issue. It is a protection for the Minister. The civil servants in the private office will make sure that it happens, as long as they know about the meetings, of course. That is the other issue: the meetings have to be in the diary anyway.
Amendment 51 seeks to cover the issue of in-house teams, those who make,
“communications on behalf of another person irrespective of whether the individual is an employee of that person”.
The in-house teams of the big corporations should be covered. They are the employees. Let us take a FTSE company. It does not have to employ lobbyists: it has its own people, in-house. They are not covered by this Bill. I think they should be. That is what this amendment is, inadequately, designed to cover deep in the issues in Schedule 1. I looked at what the Minister in the other place said and, to be honest, the answers on this aspect were not satisfactory. There is a powerful case for the in-house lobbyists of a company to be covered; they are not consultant lobbyists but salaried employees. By definition the company will be big enough to have its own team—rightly so. I am not criticising any of this at all; it is a perfectly respectable activity.
I would just like some answers to those questions so that I can decide whether in about three months’ time—or maybe six months’ time—I will have to come back on Report with other amendments.
My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend if I misunderstood slightly what he was driving at. But it begs the question as to whether the 350 companies that the Minister referred to at the Dispatch Box include some of those companies that my noble friend was arguing were excluded from the legislation. The Minister might want to provide for us a more detailed analysis of how that list of 350 was drawn up so that we can see whether it includes some organisations that we believe are excluded under the legislation.
Amendment 17, which was in the first group, and Amendment 19, which is in this group, are in my name and deal with essentially the same issue. Amendment 19 stems from an unease I harbour about how some lobbying works in practice. I want to make it clear that I understand the vital role lobbying plays within our system of government. What I worry about is how people interpret the word “lobbying”.
Clause 2(3) defines lobbying as “oral or written communications” but there are oral communications and oral communications. This came out during an interview on the “Andrew Marr Show” on 7 October this year. The Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, was asked by Andrew Marr whether he had been lobbied by Lynton Crosby, the Conservative Party strategist, on the issue of tobacco. He replied, after the question had been repeated, that Lynton Crosby “has not intervened”. It was a curious construction of the language. You got the feeling that some wriggling was going on. I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no idea where the truth lies. I am sure that Mr Crosby is a perfectly excellent gentleman; that is not the point that I am making. I am simply drawing on that as an example of how there can be a wriggle on the use of the term.
The answers given by the Prime Minister during that interview reminded me of the answers given by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, during the famous Paxman interview. It also brought memories back of the many conversations we had in the Select Committee on Members’ Interests in the 1980s during the course of our inquiry into lobbying nearly 30 years ago, under the chairmanship of the late Sir Geoffrey Johnson-Smith. There was endless discussion on formal as against informal discussion—formal as against informal lobbying—the word in the back of the cab as against the discussion across the table in the department with civil servants or a Minister present; the word on the golf circuit as against the formal response to a consultation.
The issue is where you draw the line. To this day I do not know, and I have asked Ministers over the years where they draw the line and there has always been much ambiguity as to where that line is to be drawn. When is an intervention not lobbying? When is lobbying not an intervention? This is a probing amendment to tease out some guidelines on where that line is to be drawn.
My Lords, I read with interest Amendment 12, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, because there is a serious point here, although I am not sure that that is the right way to approach it. As I mentioned earlier, way back in the 1980s, I headed a public affairs consultancy. I recall that on many occasions I and my colleagues would advise clients. They were not, on the whole, commercial clients. They were usually trade associations, local authority associations, environmental groups, the Countryside Commission, the Rural Development Commission, and so on. Ministers and their senior team would always rather hear from the horse’s mouth, not from me as an intermediary. I had some experience; I had previously been a Member of Parliament; but it was far more effective for bodies of such reputation to speak directly to Ministers. So there is the definition suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, that not just those who are themselves making representations but those who, in return for payment, provide professional advice on how to lobby should be within the subsection.
However, we may be losing the effective target for the legislation. It would not be appropriate to deal with the next group of amendments in great detail, but the critical issue is who meets who when and what is discussed. In those days, I may have advised a client to take a particular line, think about the implications, talk to particular people in whatever context or perhaps given them bullet points as to what to say. For example, I recall advising a client on what approach they should take when talking to the then Prime Minister about which of the options should be supported by the Government for the Channel crossing. We went into detail about exactly what should be said. We did not go to see the Prime Minister in No. 10, and Sir Nicholas Henderson, who was the leader of that particular team, did not take a great deal of advice from me—he was far too experienced at dealing with Prime Ministers, not least Mrs Thatcher.
The critical issue is the details of the meeting: who, when and how? That is why, in the next group of amendments, we will address that to a greater extent. It is important that we concentrate on that. I give credit to the present Government because they have made that a great deal more transparent than it has been in the recent past. That is a real step forward, and we must make sure that the Bill builds on that.
I support these probing amendments from my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Campbell-Savours, and certainly look forward to the Minister’s response. On Amendment 30, I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Rooker that such an amendment would afford important protection to the Minister and his office but, as he acknowledged, that should be a matter of good practice, and I am not sure that one can always legislate for good practice. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s views.
My noble friend Lady Hayter and I have tabled Amendments 21, 28 and 48 to 50. There are three essential issues: the inclusion of electronic communications; the inclusion of lobbying about European legislation; and the exclusion of parts of the schedule that limit the definitions of lobbying. In the 21st century, I think we would all accept that electronic communications are probably the principal way by which we all communicate, yet the Bill defines communications as “oral or in writing” and fails to make clear whether electronic indications are also included. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that. If electronic communications are not included, I hope that the Government will consider that issue and, if not, I will certainly come back with an amendment at a later stage.
Apparently, the Australian register of lobbyists states that communications with a government representative includes oral, written and electronic communications, and the USA register provides that the term lobbying contact means any oral or written communication, including an electronic communication. Were electronic communications not to be included, there would be a loophole. I am sorry to keep banging on about this, but Jeremy Hunt’s texts to News Corporation lobbyist Frederic Michel about Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB were in electronic form. It is important that that should be captured.
Secondly, our Amendment 28 in this group is intended to ensure that the Government address the issue of lobbying UKRep and senior officials representing the UK in Brussels. As we all know, lobbying in the European Parliament is covered by an EU register of lobbyists, but there is much lobbying in relation to European legislation where UKRep is concerned. I have to some extent been on the receiving end of it, although not directly employed by UKRep, and have also lobbied UKRep. Brussels is the city second to Washington in being the kingpin of lobbyists. It would be absurd if our civil servants working in UKRep, especially the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative, were not covered by the Bill. We are not talking about foreign policy; we are talking about domestic policy and the way in which it is affected by European legislation and how it is then implemented in this country. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond favourably to that amendment.
Finally, our amendments to Schedule 3 would delete paragraphs 6, 7 and 9. Paragraph 6 can be deleted because it is designed to be a carve-out of which activities do not count as lobbying. However, we are seeking a different carve-out in Amendment 39, which excludes a number of activities, such as someone contacting their MP or making communications solely on their own behalf. That means that we can delete the government provision excluding certain types of lobbying. Our Amendment 49, which would delete paragraph 7, is consequential.
Most importantly, I hope that the Minister will address the amendments relating to electronic communication and about UKRep, because I truly believe that that is extremely important for the people of our nation, who want to know who in Brussels is being lobbied about legislation which has a real impact on their lives in this country.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for the detail of the various amendments. I will take them all back and consider them. First, on Amendment 10, it was absolutely the intention of the Bill to capture consultant lobbyists who lobby as a profession, not the neighbour who is lobbying for a friend about a housing development, or whatever, for no payment. That is part of informal campaigning, which is different from the professional consultant lobbyists with whom Part 1 is intended to deal.
I clearly need to have a long tutorial with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I promise that I will give him a good deal of my time, but I hope that that gives him some comfort. I also take the noble Lord’s point, which I had noted in the committee report, about not only direct lobbying but the sort of indirect lobbying that comes through professional advice and the danger that public affairs companies will retreat from saying that they are lobbying to saying that they are merely providing advice. We clearly need to ensure that we cover that.
On the question of VAT, the Government were looking for a simple means to exclude the very small fry from the Bill. It was felt that whether or not a business has a large enough turnover to have to register for VAT was the simplest and easiest method to exclude the small fry and include the large ones. That is the intention. If the noble Lord has a better way to do it, I look forward to discussing it, but there is nothing more intended by that provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, had an interesting thought about whether communications include interventions. I am advised that interventions are communications, but, again, we will consider in detail the subtle differences that may occur. I am certainly advised that it is established practice in legislative drafting that the now ubiquitous nature of electronic communications is accepted as being included in the term “writing”, except in cases where the context specifically demands otherwise. The Bill therefore makes no distinction between a handwritten note, a typewriter-produced letter—if such still exist—a dot matrix-printed telegram, a fax, an e-mail, a text message, a personal tweet or a BlackBerry messenger conversation, so I assure the noble Lord that the amendment is not necessary.
On the inclusion of “European” in the Bill, I understand that the intention is that lobbying the UK Government in respect of European legislation will be captured. Our understanding is that lobbying with respect to government policy, including government policy towards the European Union, is covered by the Bill but we will look at that to make sure that it is fully covered.
Let me take that back and be absolutely sure. We are all conscious that, as has been said, Brussels is the seat of lobbying on the largest scale, after Washington. We need to make sure that the interaction between those huge American law firms based in Brussels, which have large lobbying activities, and others is not excluded from the Bill. I will certainly take that back.
I am grateful for what the Minister says. The other point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was about level. When you are looking at UKRep and thinking about Brussels, it would be best to think not just about the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative, because in many ways those are figureheads. The real work is done in working groups by quite junior public servants. Some are diplomats and some civil servants but they are often in their early 30s and, in those working groups, they are doing serious legislation. They certainly are beset by lobbyists from outside all the time, so if you are going wide then you need to look down in seniority a bit, well below the top brass.
My Lords, in answering these amendments I set out to avoid reading out any of the note prepared beforehand, in order to satisfy the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. However, let me read out the paragraph I have on that. I can assure noble Lords that any lobbying of the UK Government in relation to European legislation is indeed captured by the Government’s provision at Clause 2(3)(a), which captures communications in relation to government policy. Communications in relation to the development, adoption or modification of the Government’s policy on any element of European legislation would therefore be captured by the definition of lobbying as drafted.
The overlap between what happens in Brussels and London is, I appreciate, a slightly more subtle issue than that. The question of what happens when everyone is abroad is a constant of globalisation, and one which the British Parliament may find it a little difficult to cover entirely by legislation.
The question is of how policy develops in response to a development in the negotiation. Policy is not an artefact made in London, whole and entire, which stays like that all the way through a negotiation. Policy has to take account of what others do or what amendments emerge from the European Parliament. The process of legislation in Brussels is very much ongoing and the key figure is often the young man or woman who is sitting in the relevant working group. Yes, they will be contacting London but they will also be contacting their opposite numbers. The chances are that most of the decisions on how we react in a war of movement will be taken on the ground, without reference up to Ministers. Of course the Ministers will see every night how we are getting on but, over there in Brussels, the lobbyists are very close to this. If you are to take an interest in contact between lobbyists and UKRep, do not cut it off at the Permanent Representative and Deputy Permanent Representative.
My Lords, the political process flows through a whole series of meetings. Capturing every single dimension of the political process may be beyond the wit of man or woman to achieve. We are looking here at making lobbying more transparent and capturing the main actors involved. The Bill specifically includes the lobbying of Ministers wherever they are: in London, Brussels or Washington. How far down the chain of officials we go, outside the United Kingdom as well as inside it, is a matter that we need to consider under the issue of proportionality and how far we think we need to cover absolutely everything.
Perhaps I may turn to Amendment 30, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, which is on note-taking. Perhaps recording rather than note-taking is what we might now be considering. As the noble Lord said, the question of how far one can legislate for good practice under all circumstances is very difficult but, again, I will take that back and discuss the matter further with him.
The noble Lord’s Amendment 51 takes us back to the definition of directly employed lobbyists versus consultant lobbyists. As I said on a previous grouping, Part 1 is intended to deal fundamentally with consultant lobbyists—lobbyists for hire—rather than those directly employed in the public affairs departments of multinational companies. From my own experience, perhaps I may say that companies and banks based in London often operate directly with government and we know who they are. Consultant lobbyists are often representing companies based abroad, foreign Governments or others who are not used to knowing how the British political system works. That is one reason why they come to consultant lobbyists, who are specialists. They advise them and then often lobby for them. That is part of what we want to catch in a globalised political system where non-British actors, so to speak, are taking an active part in our political process.
Having, I hope, answered some of the points raised and repeated that I am open to further conversations off the Floor with those who have tabled these amendments, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his response. What the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said in his intervention regarding Brussels is absolutely right. It so happens that about 95% of the legislation affecting food in this country, and which is implemented by the government department—the Food Standards Agency—is actually European. It starts in Brussels. At the point when I joined the FSA in about 2009, my predecessor had already decided to embed someone in UKRep because we were too often too slow. If you are not there when the conveyor belt starts, you cannot influence it and we were too far down it.
Look at the evidence of what happened with the way that the food information regulations were dealt with in Europe. There was massive lobbying against some of the things that we wanted to do, such as traffic-light labelling. I will not criticise people from other countries but the international lobbying was massive. We got a first-class individual, exactly as described by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I will not name them. There are negotiations and meetings while they are trying to get this stuff ready for the Parliament, which has more interference now—I meant more contact and should not have said that; parliamentarians should interfere but the EU Parliament has a different role now in this area—but there is no way that you would get all that detail back for Ministers and perm secs. The decisions would be done, so it is on a different level completely.
I wanted to reinforce that from my own little window of experience from the last few years. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 10.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Amendments 11 to 36 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.
Schedule 1: Carrying on the business of consultant lobbying
Amendments 37 to 52 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 3: The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists
Amendment 53 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Schedule 2: The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists
54: Schedule 2, page 54, line 31, at end insert “after consultation with the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee”
My Lords, Amendments 54 and 74 are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Royall. We support an independent registrar, which means independent of the industry as well as working independently of the Government. However, the matters over which the registrar must judge, the standards that he or she sets and the objectives set for the office have an importance to Parliament and to our standards and expectations. We believe that that requires an organic link to Parliament, not just to the Government of the day.
We think it appropriate that that link is to the elected House, which by its nature is responsive to the outside electorate and their concerns and interests. We recommend that the Minister, in making the appointment, should consult the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the other place and that, in similar mode, the registrar should report back to that committee on an annual basis.
We recognise the strength of the other amendments in this group, and we trust that the Minister will similarly do so and agree to take these away and bring back his own amendments on Report. I beg to move.
My Lords, the principle in Amendment 74 of the registrar reporting is important. In my view, though, rather than reporting to a particular committee, it would be more appropriate to oblige the registrar to produce an annual report to Parliament itself. If it were going to be confined, I would not just confine it to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the other place; I hear what the noble Baroness says, but there would also be a case for the Constitution Committee of you Lordships’ House being included as well. My preference would be for a report to Parliament, but I wholly support the principle that there ought to be a report. As the noble Baroness said, bringing the registrar within the scope of Parliament is entirely appropriate.
My Lords, my Amendment 63 comes within this group. It is an extremely important amendment and one that is so central to the Bill that I hope there will be general agreement with its purpose. It may not be in perfect form; that is a different matter.
The amendment would insist that, alongside, there would be a central database of meetings between Ministers and external organisations, as recorded under the Ministerial Code. As the Minister said earlier, and as has been said on other occasions, not least at Second Reading, there is wide agreement across your Lordships’ House that the movement towards more transparency on meetings, with reports from various Ministers about what meetings have taken place with outside organisations, has been a major step forward under the present coalition Government. In fact, I was astonished to learn that this is the first Government to proactively publish the details of such meetings.
There is nevertheless a concept known among transparency campaigners as “hidden in plain sight”. That means that important information about who is bringing influence to bear in government may be published but may still be obscured by the form in which it is published. That is the issue to which I made reference at Second Reading and to which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, made reference earlier, when we had a brief exchange. That is critical to making progress in this direction.
To find out who Tesco has met in government over the past 12 months, you need to go manually to each of 26 different departmental websites, and then you have to look at spreadsheets for each quarter. There are therefore 104 spreadsheets that you need to find, and you then need to download them—just to get one simple bit of information: who has Tesco been talking to over the past 12 months? You will probably find that one or two departments have not even got around to publishing for the latest quarter, so it is not in real time. Indeed, by the time that department does publish that information, the influence that has been exerted over important legislation might have come and gone, right through Parliament. There is simply no opportunity to see what has happened.
You might find that one or two departments have broken or defective links that lead nowhere; we discovered that when we looked at some of the relevant spreadsheets. Surely it should not be necessary for a citizen, journalist or indeed parliamentarian to spend days looking for such simple information. The technology is there. Having made such a good start, this Government should surely not be hiding what is happening at this level simply because the systems that they are using are not up to the job.
If the Government took up the suggestion in our amendment, a simple and searchable central database for all their meeting data would mean that we could take the sting out of the calls, here and elsewhere, for an enormous lobbying register. We would have immediate access. This would fulfil my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth’s objectives: we would have the information, very accessibly, at our fingertips very quickly. It would not matter whether the lobbyist was a professional consultant or an in-house one, a charity or some other organisation; the information about who was talking to whom within the governmental system would be available relatively accessibly.
In my office we started to try to put together the spreadsheets for different departments. We just did two or three departments for one quarter in order to see if this experiment could be undertaken by anyone—parliamentarians or people outside. Excel itself can then produce a list of external organisations that have met Ministers. Quickly we could see who had met Ministers in more than one department, right across Whitehall. Surely that should be the objective that we all have. If we can do that in my office, there is no reason why departments and the Government collectively should not and could not do so. If it was done professionally, the data would then need to be parsed to ensure that if a meeting with BT came up, for example, it was indicated whether the meeting was registered as with BT, with BT Group or in other formats. Clearly there has to be some moderating intervention, but in this day and age that is surely not too difficult or expensive a task to ask of Government in the interests of transparency, which is surely what this initiative is all about. Then the result will be a fully searchable database, online, for all to examine—interested citizens, organisations outside Parliament, journalists and us. We could see what exactly had happened in the process of influencing legislation or executive decisions.
To make it more effective still, government departments should surely be able to publish these data at least on a monthly basis. Previously the Minister explained that he records very carefully all such meetings. Why should other Ministers not do so on a monthly basis rather than a quarterly basis? Surely that is no more difficult than doing so on a wider time basis. Anyone who has tried to influence the Government knows that time is critical. Get in at the right moment, or you fail. Given the way in which legislation, particularly statutory instruments, can go through both Houses of Parliament relatively speedily, if you do not know who has talked to whom within a matter of a few weeks after their meeting has taken place, the exercise becomes purely academic.
We need to see when people have been exerting influence at the same time as that influence may have had effect, not three or six months later. These would be very simple but very significant improvements. I hope that the Government, who have now created a more transparent system for meetings—the first time that any Government have attempted this—can see that this is the way to be more transparent still, and that surely is precisely what Parliament should be asking in the context of this legislation.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend just said. It seems rather silly to have done what is required in order to be transparent without taking the necessary steps to make it easy for other people to access that transparency. For example, ministerial diaries will be done on a daily basis, I assume, or possibly on a weekly basis, in advance, I hope, so the basic structure is there almost immediately. I cannot see why the diary cannot immediately be put out. Obviously, the diary sometimes has to be corrected, because even ministerial diaries sometimes do not actually transpire as intended, but an immediate correction could be made to make sure that it is accurate. I cannot see why it could not be done immediately, on a daily basis. Certainly, weekly would seem perfectly possible. If not, having made what one might regard as an important step towards transparency, the Government are losing the full benefit of that transparency by the difficulty that people have in accessing it.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. Ministerial diaries need to be secure about the future. There are security considerations about ministerial movements. The future is quite different from the past. I do not see any reason why ministerial diaries should not be available the following day. I agree that they need to reflect not what the Minister planned to do, but what he actually did, and therefore the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, is quite right, but that can easily be done within a few hours. I see no reason why they should not be out the following day. I think the Foreign Secretary’s diary used to be, until a slightly embarrassing moment in the time of Ernest Bevin. When he was planning to go to the cinema, the diary said, “Night of love with Mrs Bevin”.
It seems to me that there is a bridge between the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, at Second Reading and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, today. That is the way forward, but what it really needs is courage. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, will recall that in the previous Parliament I had to lead a rebellion against my own Government on political funding. We won. We defeated the Labour Government. I, a Labour Peer, was behind that rebellion.
It may well be that because what is being advocated here is so very different from the approach being proposed by the Government, it needs a bit of bottle and a bit of courage for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, or the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, to take on their Government on the Floor of the House of Lords and in the Division Lobbies in the hope that they will have the support of the Official Opposition for the amendment. That is the only way we are going to be able to reshape the legislation whereby there is a far greater element of accountability in the way the noble Lords suggested in their contributions during this debate and at Second Reading.
I support this amendment, and I hope that the Minister will see his way to coming forward with an amendment on Report to give effect to this. This may well not only meet the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, but also the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, at Second Reading that an easier and perhaps more effective approach to lobbying issues might be to require the person in government who is lobbied by discernible commercial interests to declare that in a lobbying register. That would perhaps go slightly further than the amendment, but I think the amendment meets the concerns expressed then. The amendment would have the added advantage that it would enshrine in statute this admirable initiative taken by the Government so that it would apply not just to this Government on a voluntary basis, but to all future Governments so that Ministers would be obliged to disclose their activities and they would appear alongside the details in the register.
My Lords, I am slightly worried about the speed which is being talked about by the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Tyler. I have no objection to getting up-to-date information but, if I understand correctly, we are talking about the information going out the following day. There have to be security implications. When I held of the office of Speaker, I was warned that there are fixated individuals who watch, stalk, make a pest of themselves and can be even more dangerous than that. The information would not only show up who the Minister was meeting but could well show up the venue, the place where the Minister was meeting. If it showed on a regular basis over a number of weeks that a meeting was taking place at a certain venue—let us say that the Minister by preference wanted to meet in his or her native city and said, “Make it a Friday at my constituency central office”—it could throw up a pattern of where the Minister was every Friday or every Monday for that matter, before they moved down to Westminster. I put that in as a word of caution. If the information says that the Minister met a representative from BT or Centrica, I would not be too unhappy, but if it showed a Minister meeting at a certain venue, I would worry about that.
I add my support to my noble friend’s amendment, but it does not go far enough. Partly for the reason he just mentioned, I would be more ambitious, along the lines indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. There is no reason why you cannot have a rolling publication after the event excluding, following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin, the venue because that is not really germane. It is the substance of the discussion that matters. I would be more ambitious than my noble friend Lord Tyler.
As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours said, the amendment links to what I am arguing. It moves us in the right direction, so I am fully in support; it is just that I want to go further because this is a database of meetings between Ministers and external organisations and we need to extend it in terms of who is being seen. Just confining it to Ministers creates problems, so we need a larger database, or we certainly need to be able to identify those who are being lobbied.
My Lords, I am fascinated to hear this great outbreak of revolution in transparency. We thought that we were set out on a constructive step forward on transparency. I am not sure that I want all Ministers’ and civil servants’ diaries published the day after they meet anyone, which I think is what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, was beginning to suggest.
I will try to answer the various probing amendments. A number of them, starting with Amendment 54, are about stiffening the independence of the registrar. Amendment 54 would require the Minister to consult with the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee before appointing the registrar. I am not aware whether that has yet been requested by the committee itself, but it is an interesting proposal.
The amendments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, would prevent any person who had been a civil servant or a political adviser in the previous five years being appointed registrar. This is also thoughtful, and designed to provide assurance regarding the independence of the registrar which, of course, the Government are entirely committed to establishing and maintaining. Under the Bill, the registrar will be appointed according to the public appointment principles of open and fair competition and the Minister will be able to dismiss the registrar only where they are satisfied that there are reasonable grounds that he is unable, unwilling or unfit to perform the functions of his office. If thought unreasonable, any such decision by a Minister could be challenged in the usual way, by judicial review. The registrar will be independent of the lobbying industry and the Government, and will have a clear remit to operate independently of the lobbying industry and the Government.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, seeks to extend the positions that will not be eligible for appointment as registrar to capture those officials who would be required to submit information to him or her under his new clause. The Government are not persuaded of the case for the noble and learned Lord’s additions, and would therefore resist this amendment.
The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that the registrar is independent. We are confident that our proposals secure that, but are grateful for these suggestions and will of course consider whether they should be pursued further.
Amendment 63 has attracted a considerable amount of support. It would require that, in addition to the statutory register of consultant lobbyists, the registrar would be required to keep and publish a central database of ministerial meetings with external organisations.
When the Minister responded to the amendment of my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, I heard him say that the Government would consider the amendment; he will find that that is what he said in Hansard. If that is the case, can we be assured, then, that the chairman of that committee in the Commons will be consulted so that there can be discussion in the committee about to what extent it thinks that it is a realistic possibility for it to carry out that function, so that Ministers at least have the view of the committee when they make a judgment as to whether to accept my noble friend’s amendment?
My Lords, I am not going to give that commitment now because there are larger questions about how many public appointments should be overseen by Commons committees. That is a much broader issue than this appointment alone. I will take that back and consult with others but, as I said earlier, the Government are not currently persuaded of these amendments.
I return to the central database issue, which raises some large issues about the role of the registrar and whether or not ministerial appointments should be handed over, so to speak, for collation by an independent body associated with the Government. We have listened to those who have asked that the reports be available from one central location and have responded by migrating all meeting reports to gov.uk, where they can be readily accessed as both PDF and open-format CSV files. We have responded to those that suggested that the timeliness of reporting could be improved by committing to publishing all meeting information in the quarter immediately after that in which the meeting took place. I note the pressure to go further. The Government are committed to the principles of open government and we continue to investigate how we can further improve the value of the information that we make available to the public. However, we are not at present persuaded that we should be going as far as the noble Lord suggests.
Opposition Amendment 74 would require the registrar to submit an annual report to the PCRC on the operation of the register. Again, this is not a provision that I understand that the committee itself has sought—perhaps because it recognises that the registrar is already required by the drafting to submit their annual accounts to Parliament and that the committee will be perfectly entitled and able to call the registrar to provide evidence at any time. I would have thought that that would be enough to hold them to account.
The new clause of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, is by far the most ambitious amendment. It would require the Government to publish alongside any statement on a matter of policy, legislation or a contract or grant, records of any oral or written communication directed to a Minister, the Minister’s parliamentary private secretary or special adviser, and any departmental civil servants relating to that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, provides exemptions from the requirement to publish for commercial or security-sensitive material. This is certainly an intriguing proposal but, I suggest, neither a feasible nor proportionate one. At a time when our focus should be on ensuring more efficient and effective government, a statutory requirement that every oral or written communication received by every civil servant, special adviser, PPS or Minister be recorded, collated and published in parallel with any relevant statement would appear ill advised. It would of course be an absolute goldmine for an academic researcher.
Not only would such a system impose an unwelcome bureaucratic burden on the public sector, it would likely impose information overload on the members of the public—perhaps even academic researchers. The volume of information that the Government would likely be required to publish in relation to a Budget Statement or a Queen’s Speech would be so overwhelming that any transparency value would be entirely undermined by the inaccessibility and quantity of the information. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who talked about “hiding in plain sight”. When there is too much information provided, it is sometimes hard to weed out what is crucial.
The Government’s objective is to provide the public with valuable information which they can utilise to scrutinise our actions and hold us to account. The focus should be on the value of information and the insight it can provide, not on the volume. The Government already publish unprecedented amounts of information about decision-making, and the register is intended to extend that transparency to those who seek to influence decision-makers. It is already standard practice that responses to government consultations are published in full and in summary, and if the public require further information about certain policies or decisions then they have a right to request that information using the Freedom of Information Act.
I recognise that the noble Lord is urging the Government to extend our information publication regime a good deal further. We will continue to consider how enhanced transparency can best be achieved. I suggest, however, that a statutory requirement of this nature is not the most appropriate manner in which to do so. I therefore resist that amendment, and urge the noble Baroness to withdraw it.
My Lords, this has turned into a more interesting and wide-ranging debate than we had anticipated. There are two parts to it. One is about this database. On the idea that there is too much for us and therefore the Government do not want to put it out there—they should try harder than that. The House knows I have a certain thing about alcohol misuse. I just want to know how many drinks companies lobbied the Government about tax before the Budget. It ought to be possible to know that. I do not want all the other submissions. Someone who is interested in the environment or any other issue will just be focused and want to drill down to one thing. If it is a good system, an awful lot of noise out there will not matter.
When I am not spending my time here at 7.30 pm I am quite often at the National Theatre. You can go there with a tiny card and you have ordered perhaps four different lots of tickets for different nights and different theatres. You put in your little card and you get them all back. Its computer system can do it very easily. I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of man—even men—to produce a similar system for this database, which is currently completely unsearchable. It is not, in the words of the Minister readily available. I have tried to search it, although I did not try for quite as long as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler—in future I will come to his office when I am trying to find this out. However, it is not searchable or rapid, and is therefore almost irrelevant, so late is it. I cannot see why it cannot be available the next day. If there was a will, there would certainly be a way.
On the report going to a committee of the other House, I take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, that it probably should be both rather than one. I think that that is right. The consultation would be about the job description and the sort of person, not necessarily about the individual. However, on the report back, which the Minister says will be published in Parliament anyway, by saying that this is the committee, or committees, that will see it, a significance is given to the registrar’s report. When we were debating the Financial Services Bill we wrote in it that quite a few things would go to the Treasury Select Committee. That tells the person writing the report where they will be interrogated or interviewed about it.
Not only does the noble Lord, Lord Norton, supply me with his wonderful Hull students to help me with my work, but he comes up with answers to my questions, for which I thank him.
What seems like a small amendment about writing the committee in is an important signal. I am sorry that we keep hearing the words “not persuaded” from that side. Having had the earlier discussion about Part 2 of the Bill, we very much hope that the Government will be persuaded by what they hear. I had hoped that some of that might have bled into Part 1 of the Bill and that the Government might have been persuaded by some of the things we said. However, we will leave it here, although we may want to come back to some of it at a later stage. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.33 pm.
Armed Forces: Civilian Life
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I welcome the Minister and her evident versatility to the Dispatch Box. We debated medicine labelling 10 days ago and transition mapping tonight—that is surely a very broad canvas for her skills.
Due to redundancy programmes in the Armed Forces, more than the usual annual numbers of personnel are making the transition from service to civilian life. The Transition Mapping Study, published by the Forces in Mind Trust last August, is therefore a timely and important new look at this subject. It is a new look into the many issues and problems that may arise for some, but by no means all, who leave the forces and seek to establish themselves in a new civilian career or occupation.
I will first remind your Lordships of the Forces in Mind Trust. It is a new charity, which owes its genesis to the inspiration and determination of Air Vice-Marshal Stables, then chairman of COBSEO, to set up a charitable organisation that would be complementary to and supportive of the many service charities that already exist. Some might argue that there are enough already, so why have yet another one? Time is too short to explain in detail. Briefly, however, Stables was able to persuade the Big Lottery Fund to make a grant of £35 million to set up the Forces in Mind Trust, and the Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry has given partnership support. Those are surely two very resounding votes of confidence in the concept, place and value of this new charity.
The trust aims initially to concentrate on transition, a term used to describe the process whereby service men and women, as well as their families and dependants, make their individual preparations to leave the Armed Forces and return to civilian life. For the majority who leave each year this is a successful process. However, there are a significant number who have faced or are facing a difficult transition, and the trust has focused on that group. The trust’s patron is the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, who would have wished to take part in this debate but unfortunately has a speaking engagement elsewhere this evening.
The Transition Mapping Study report, which is the trigger for this short debate, is well worth study. Some recurring themes emerge from it—for example, transition experiences vary greatly, and much depends on the individual’s attitude to his or her transition. The differences between military and civilian life are often underestimated; cultural differences, for example, can come as some surprise, and even as a shock. Families matter; the extent to which the service leaver’s family is supportive and able to help is a strong indicator of likely transition success. Financial awareness is also important. For many it differs greatly between their service experience and forthcoming civilian life. The quality and consistency of the transition process within the services has improved but remains uneven. After transition the safety net that could be provided by service charities is hard to navigate. Not everyone who leaves the Armed Forces is entitled to resettlement support. Even among the entitled, some lack educational qualifications. Others are required to serve their final months deployed overseas or distant from their chosen civilian life. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, says in his foreword to the report, such individuals are at particular risk of failing to make a successful transition.
I will draw attention to some guiding principles identified in the report, from page 78 onwards, to aid those assisting with transition. These have been distilled from interviewing stakeholders, analysis of existing research and the research team’s own work and modelling. For example, how can one best comprehend and encompass the whole context of the experiences of a service leaver? Moving from a service environment to a civilian one is not simply about a change of job; it involves a change of lifestyle and culture, maybe moving home, establishing new friendships, new schools for the children, greater personal administration and responsible management of personal affairs. It involves not only the individual service man or woman but also the immediate members of their family.
Each case will be different, so it is not simply a matter of identifying or adopting a broad systemic approach. Rather, how should support organisations tailor and direct their services to meet the needs and aspirations of the individual in a more personally structured way? As he or she joins the forces, that individual faces the inevitability of transition and its related financial, emotional and cultural changes and experiences. So how soon, and with what help and guidance, should the individual and their immediate family start to prepare? Problems with mental health and alcohol abuse may have a direct bearing on making a successful transition. Some who are leaving the forces today have been exposed to the traumas and tragedies and operations in a way that may, months and even years later, lead to mental stress and related illnesses. Those individuals will surely need additional help.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, also mentions in his foreword to the report, there is a clear, evidence-based economic case for some change in the current arrangements. Failed transition cost the state upwards of £113 million in 2012. The financial cost to the charity sector and individuals will be many times more, not to mention the quality of life cost to the individual of ill health, family breakdown and even imprisonment. The report lists 10 categories of failed transition—for example, homelessness, imprisonment, class A drug treatment, family breakdown and unemployment. Through an algorithm, it calculates that the cost to the state in benefits, treatment and loss of revenue adds up to that figure of £113 million for 2012. Those are stark symptoms of transition breakdown, which must not be ignored or brushed under the carpet.
I shall be interested to learn from the Minister how the MoD and the Government are reacting to the work of the Forces in Mind Trust. Do they accept the thrust of its analysis and recommendations? I acknowledge that the MoD has introduced some new transition arrangements, but does the Minister agree that further change is acquired? Is not a more cost-effective approach to this important aspect of the support of the Armed Forces and the practical value of the Armed Forces covenant required? I look forward to her response.
My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for introducing this debate and offering an opportunity to consider the issues around members of the Armed Forces returning to civilian life. The timing is particularly appropriate as we approach Remembrance Day, when the nation pays tribute to all those who have laid their lives on the line in the service of the country.
As the noble and gallant Lord said, and as was mentioned in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, last week, military life is not just a job but a way of life. Leaving the military can mean personnel and their families leaving work, homes and communities, each of which will impose disturbance and uncertainty. In addition, as the insightful survey by the Forces in Mind Trust makes clear, there are very varied cultural differences between military and civilian, in forms of behaviour, language and expectations.
The transition to civilian employment has been greatly improved since the days when the military ran its own training programmes with its own, often somewhat mystical, accreditation. During the many years when I worked for City and Guilds, we saw expansion in demand from the military for NVQs and other vocational qualifications. New recruits sometimes needed basic literacy and numeracy qualifications. Advanced skills, such as those called for by REME, with its technical and mechanical prowess, by nuclear submariners in the Royal Navy, or aeronautical engineers in the Royal Air Force, and many other forms of skills could be recognised in a way that would be understood and valued by civilian employers. City and Guilds also worked with higher command and staff courses to award degree-level qualifications. Over the years, increasing numbers of personnel have been offered opportunities to gain university degrees—again, placing them in a better position for civilian life. So whatever the rank or length of service, all should now leave with a profile of achievement which equips them for the employment market. Creating transferable skills is one of the recommendations in this report.
But there is more to the transition, of course. Ray Lock, the chief executive of the Forces in Mind Trust, which generated the survey, has flagged up the importance of practical skills to cope with everyday life. Military personnel who have spent their service life in barracks or mess accommodation may have little experience of managing their personal finances. If food, accommodation, heating and uniforms have all been provided, it can be a steep learning curve to have to sort out everyday needs for oneself. As he says,
“soldiers, sailors and airmen can join up as young as 17 and are cocooned from civilian life when they are in the forces. As well as missing the camaraderie and identity of the Armed Forces, they can struggle to deal with rent, bills and planning”.
The study found that the worst affected were often young veterans who had left early. They may have joined up with few coping skills and, in a short period in service, not managed to build up self-sufficiency. An essential part of any transition process will include learning the responsibilities of everyday life. Critical to that is financial literacy, which should be part of every school leaver’s education and one of the many areas in which the Armed Forces are doing considerable work to try to improve the skills of those serving. Another theme of the report is to create independence.
The challenges faced by single people are matched by those with dependent relatives. In my 30 years, when my husband was a serving RAF officer, I became very involved in welfare matters, particularly in respect of wives and families; this was before the days when partners were officially recognised. The military community has always been resourceful and capable of innovative self-help projects. I remember that, through the station executives, it was possible to set up opportunities, albeit limited, for families to access learning and training, which would give them some skills and confidence to continue learning, both during and after their service life. Those were embryonic schemes, and much progress has been made since then, with official engagement with the family, which is another theme of the report. It is important to do this at the earliest stage.
The transition for families can be as demanding and traumatic as for the members of the Armed Forces. Measures that enable dependent relatives to be supportive rather than burdensome at this time bring all-round benefits. I pay tribute to the work of families federations, which have raised the profile of military family life, identified problem areas and offered supportive solutions. Would my noble friend the Minister, whom I welcome to her role within the Ministry of Defence, be able to say something about government support for the Army, Navy and Air Force families federations?
Many of the qualities and skills called for in military life are entirely transferable and will prove valuable throughout society—not just professional skills, but the ethos of public service, teamwork and respect for others. Plans to recruit troops into teaching, for instance, are beginning to bear fruit. Other public and private sector employers would do well to look out for these new entrants to the civilian market.
In your Lordships’ House, there is enormous expertise and support for the Armed Forces. In addressing the transition brought to the fore by the redundancy programme, I trust that the Government will take positive action to take full account of the military covenant and be generous in support of the invaluable members of the Armed Forces during these testing times. I look forward to the other contributions and to my noble friend’s response.
My Lords, I apologise most profusely to the House and to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, for being absent at the very start of this debate. I declare two interests. I am a trustee of Veterans Aid which aims through a caring and non-judgmental approach to care for veterans in crisis and contribute to their return to society. I am also president of Stoll, a housing organisation which supports vulnerable veterans in the hope that they can live as independently as possible.
I would like to address two areas this evening. One is to do with the Forces in Mind transition study itself and the second is a wider point affecting the veterans sector in the UK as a whole. It is a great pity that the study did not address the singular and very knotty problem of foreign and Commonwealth personnel as they transition to civilian life here. There are about 8,500 such folk in the Armed Forces—some 5% of the total. It is not known how many of them aspire to British citizenship, but the annual number of foreign and Commonwealth veterans who have sought help from the Veterans Aid charity has increased exponentially over the past seven years and now constitutes some 22% of those who were seen by the charity this year.
This may be due in part to the successful resolution of the Lance Corporal Baleiwai case. Your Lordships may remember that he was a Fijian soldier who had served with distinction for 13 years, including on operational tours in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, but, because he had had a barrack room fight with another soldier, was threatened with deportation. Following a petition and a relaxation of the rules by the Home Office, he and his family were allowed to stay. The publicity surrounding this case may well have given more of those likely to encounter such problems the courage to seek help. However, if there is a belief that because of interventions such as that the problem has gone away, that is not the experience of the charity. If anything, the situation is worse than it has ever been and the problems do not relate just to citizenship but to applications for indefinite and further leave to remain in the country. Many of those affected are service men and women who have served for less than four years and have been discharged on medical grounds or made redundant through no fault of their own. They believe that they have a fair claim to stay, but often do not. Public perceptions of the wider immigration issue also work to the detriment of this cohort. Indeed, they are further disadvantaged by the £1,000 cost of an application to regularise their status, which is not refundable if it fails.
A recent case is that of a former Royal Engineer from Nigeria who left the Army in September after two years of service, having been medically discharged. He had lived in the United Kingdom for six years but had never applied for citizenship. After leaving his Army quarters, he had nowhere to go. When he went to see the charity, he was sleeping in a garage and his 18 month-old daughter and pregnant wife were sleeping in a cupboard. The charity provided immediate intervention but this is not a long-term solution and the outcome remains uncertain.
Discretion can be exercised in these cases, but although there are guidelines they are by no means clear. They are further confused by the bureaucracy surrounding the applications, which is very complex, even for those with legal training, and virtually impenetrable to the lay soldiery. Not everyone can be helped, of course; there are clear cases where the actions of an individual make him or her ineligible. On the other hand, a single error on a form can generate rejection or critical delay.
Things are happening. A Private Member’s Bill in the other place seeks to amend the British Nationality Act 1981 so that foreign and Commonwealth citizens in the forces who want to apply for naturalisation as British citizens are not disadvantaged because of time served overseas. Current law states that foreign and Commonwealth citizens must have been in the UK for five years prior to making an application, and those who have spent time serving overseas, albeit on active service in Afghanistan, may have to wait longer to apply than non-service personnel or those who have spent their entire military career in the United Kingdom. It is clearly a well intentioned Bill that was introduced to ensure that the military covenant is delivered in practice as well as in spirit, and it should be applauded. It will, however, address only a small part of the wider problem.
This brings me to my wider point, which concerns the veterans sector as a whole. There are currently three studies relevant to this issue—the mapping study itself, the study of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, and a study being conducted by the Centre for Social Justice. The latter two have yet to report. We should await the outcome of these studies before any action is taken. However, coupled with the recent enshrinement into law of the military covenant, high expectations have been raised in the veteran community and the many charities involved.
We should not forget that the vast majority of those leaving the Armed Forces manage the transition to civilian life well. Those veterans in crisis or real need constitute a relatively small but none the less important cohort. At the same time, the veterans sector is comparatively well provided for. The Charity Commission calculates the net assets of Armed Forces charities at about £1.1 billion, with an annual gross income of nearly £750 million. However, there are currently some 2,050 Armed Forces charities from which these totals are aggregated. This seems a staggeringly high number and suggests that there is a charity for every 10 members of the Armed Forces. I suspect that many of them are unsustainable in the longer term and that many, too, are donor-led rather than needs-led, with good folk having what seems a cracking good idea and starting up a charity without serious analysis of the need. The marketplace is, indeed, very crowded.
Therefore, I suggest that, however well intentioned all these studies are, the time has come for a much more radical look at the veterans sector. We should revisit the notion of an independent veterans’ champion or ombudsman, or whatever would be the best title to describe him. The Ministry of Defence is the principal department with responsibility for veterans and has, through no fault of the individuals, had something like seven Secretaries of State and seven junior Ministers handling the veterans portfolio in the past eight years, which is not a recipe for focus and continuity. This is a source of concern for the ex-service charity world and begs the question of whether it is not time to look at the Canadian model of a fully fledged department of veteran affairs with an enshrined veterans’ charter. Working with the Charity Commission, this official or department should be able to bring a better coherence to the veteran sector while encouraging needs-led rather than donor-led activity and provisioning. It should also allow the sector to get the biggest bang for its buck, which is certainly not the case at the moment. It would have a much clearer focus on the issues across the board and across government and would have the independence to recommend courses of action to the Government, untrammelled by departmental agendas.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, on securing this important debate. I want to concentrate primarily—at least initially—on personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Battlefield medicine has improved dramatically. Consequently, the survival rate of members of the Armed Forces who receive very severe injuries while on active service is much greater than would have been the case some years ago. As welcome as that is, the net effect is that many very seriously injured personnel are returning to this country. These young men and women will require perhaps 60 years of help and welfare.
I tabled a Question on this issue last December and was given the relevant figures at that time. I am sure that the noble Baroness who is to reply will have access to that information. There is a growing number of very seriously injured service personnel returning to this country who will require a career path to be worked out for them. If they are able to undertake work, that is extremely therapeutic. I know of a ranger in my own home area who is doing telephony work in a barracks, although it remains to be seen how permanent that will be. There are many special needs cases among these returning personnel. I hope that the noble Baroness will refer to them in her reply.
I also want to mention another development. A few weeks ago my party, the Ulster Unionist Party, put forward a proposal at home for a world-class trauma centre that we would like to be developed as part of our local mental health strategy, which is based on the Bamford review published a few years ago. It is the case, sadly, that because of our experience with Operation Banner and our Troubles over 40 years we have many people who served in the Armed Forces or the police, or their reserves, who are even now, after 30 or 40 years, presenting with clear illness only at this stage and requiring substantial aid and assistance. I just wonder how prepared we are to deal with such people.
Given that around the world there are cases such as all the shootings in American universities, the Norwegian experience and people returning from wars, including our service personnel, a huge number of people require help and assistance in dealing with the mental health effects of such terrible circumstances. Our idea is therefore to create in Northern Ireland a centre of excellence based partly on 40 years of experience but which would be opened up internationally, because people from, for example, the United States and the European Union have been helpful to us, and because, with our experience, we think that as well as receiving help we can perhaps give something back to the international comm