Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
55: Schedule 2, page 55, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) Before dismissing the Registrar, the Minister shall consult the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 55, I apologise to the House for not having been in the Chamber for the debate immediately preceding the dinner break, where some aspects of the position of the registrar of lobbyists were discussed—how he will be appointed, who can be appointed and some method for reporting on his performance. My amendment is, at this stage of course, a probing amendment, and is concerned with the other end of the appointment, the question of dismissal.
Paragraph 3(6) of Schedule 2 says:
“The Minister may dismiss the Registrar if the Minister is satisfied that the Registrar is unable, unwilling or unfit to perform the functions of the office”.
Those are quite big words, capable of pretty wide interpretation. Rather gratifyingly, after I had tabled this amendment, I was written to by a number of groups that are interested in this: the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and a group called Spinwatch, which said it thought this was an issue worth probing.
As I said at Second Reading, the registrar of lobbyists will have a pretty key role in the efficient functioning of the new system. From time to time, for he or she to be effective, he or she will be required to be disobliging—to lobbyists, of course, but also to be prepared to speak truth to power, which can be quite uncomfortable. As I have just explained by reading out the clause, the Minister has summary powers as far as the removal of the registrar is concerned.
I reflected on what might be done to provide what might be described as a little air cover for the registrar in the work that he is doing. I looked at two examples. Both are bodies that have some connection to this Bill. First is the Charity Commission. Paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 1 to the Charities Act says:
“Before removing a member of the Commission the Minister must consult … the Commission, and … if the member was appointed following consultation with the Welsh Ministers, the Welsh Ministers”,
so he has no power to remove the head of the Charity Commission without at least having to go through an iteration with fellow members of the commission. More specifically, the Electoral Commission, the other body with which we are concerned, has a considerably higher threshold. Paragraph 3(4) of Schedule 1 to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act says:
“An Electoral Commissioner may be removed from office by Her Majesty in pursuance of an Address from the House of Commons”.
I thought that, at least to get the discussion going, it would be helpful to put down here that the Speakers of both Houses would have to be consulted.
This is wider than the Electoral Commission because lobbying concerns both Houses, whereas of course the Electoral Commission is concerned with elections, which, at least to date, do not concern your Lordships’ House. I am not wedded to these specific proposals. I do not suppose for a moment that the Government will accept them in their present form, but it is worth exploring how we are going to make sure that the registrar, who has this important role to play, has some protection if he or she wishes to carry out his or her work in a way that the Government of the day may find disobliging. I beg to move.
My Lords, I know that the noble Lord put this amendment down in good faith. I can see the negative aspect of consulting with the Speaker and the Lord Speaker. First, the legislation states that the person who shall appoint the registrar is the Minister, not the Speakers of both Houses. There is an old saying that if you hire the person, the unpleasant task of firing them is also yours. Things would need to get very serious indeed for a Minister to find that the registrar was so unfit that he or she would have to be removed.
There is a danger, which has happened with other appointees to the House, where the individual concerned could appear on the face of it to have a good personality and to be a likeable person; they strike up a rapport with the media and use the media against the authority that has decided to remove them. It is easy for the media to indulge in a good person/bad person scenario.
I think that the question that the media would ask is: have the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Speaker of the House of Lords been consulted? The Minister might find it quite easy to say, “Yes, they have been consulted”. If dismissal is to take place, it goes without saying that the Speakers of both Houses have agreed with that proposition. If the responsibility is given to the Minister via the Bill, any difficulties should be left at the Minister’s door.
I think that the parliamentary commissioner, whom we have for both Houses, is appointed for either four or five years nonrenewable. That is a satisfactory way to deal with the matter: the registrar gets a five-year nonrenewable appointment—I know that that is not what the amendment provides. Then, when there is a parting of the ways, there are no hard feelings, whereas the Bill talks about a third renewed appointment. I have not looked fully into the responsibilities of the registrar, but I know about the parliamentary commissioner. If the third reappointment is not given, it would be considered a slur on the incumbent.
I understand that in the 1950s and prior to that, no one bothered the Speaker or the Lord Chancellor—they did not have a Lord Speaker. In recent years, the Speaker has been attacked for many reasons, and he or she is an easy target because the rule for a Speaker is that you do not respond to a press attack. That makes him or her a very easy target. I would be happier if the Minister who made the appointment made the decision. It would take a genius of a registrar to get things so badly wrong as to get him or herself sacked. In such a controversial situation, we should leave both high offices out of the legislation.
My Lords, I recognise that this amendment, like some of those we were discussing in the previous group, is concerned with reinforcing the independence of the registrar in appointment, accountability to parliamentary committees and obstacles to what might be challengeable dismissal. Let me reassure noble Lords that the Government are committed to ensuring the independence of the registrar. The registrar’s ability to operate independently is clearly essential for the successful operation of the register.
The amendment specifically concerns potential dismissal. The Government are confident that the provisions as drafted will assure the independence of the registrar without those reinforcements. We will, however, continue to listen to and explore all suggestions for reiterating and firmly establishing that independence. Having given that assurance, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reassuring response. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, for raising some of the practical issues. I tabled the amendment just to have a discussion about who can provide some back-up to the registrar, if needed. I think that the Minister has shown a willingness to listen. I am grateful for that and, in the circumstances, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendments 56 to 61 not moved.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 4: The register
Amendments 62 to 64 not moved.
65: Clause 4, page 3, line 5, leave out from “business” to end of line 6
My Lords, in moving Amendment 65 I shall also speak to Amendments 67, 70, 71, 75, 76, 77 and 113, which are in the names of my noble friends Lady Royall and Lady Hayter. This is an extensive group of amendments but the main focus is to expand greatly the amount of information that the register holds. For example, one of the key amendments in the middle of this group concentrates on the detail of spending by lobbyists. This is important as, without these details, it is possible only to build up a very limited picture of the lobbying activity taking place because, as Unlock Democracy says in its briefing to noble Lords:
“A good faith estimate of what it being spent on lobbying would also show scale, disparities and trends in lobbying”.
Compare the current, limited proposals in the Bill with the level of transparency in place in the United States, where it is relatively easy to find out how much is being spent, and by which companies and sectors, using publicly available information. For example, the Senate record of spending shows that Boeing spent $15,440,000 on lobbying in the US in 2012. General Electric spent $21,200,000. These are very significant sums and they are spent by in-house lobbyists. As we know, this can have a marked effect on policy and the discussions around it. For example, an IMF working paper from 2009 draws a direct link between the amounts of money spent in lobbying by financial services firms and high-risk lending practices before the financial crisis. Ameriquest Mortgage and Countrywide Financial, both of which were at the heart of the crash, spent $20.5 million and $8.7 million respectively in political donations, campaign contributions and lobbying activities from 2002 to 2006. The IMF paper concludes that,
“the prevention of future crises might require weakening political influence of the financial industry or closer monitoring of lobbying activities to understand better the incentives”.
This is still pertinent here. As recently as 2 July, the head of the Prudential Regulation Authority was reported in the FT as saying that he was going to draw up rules to prevent the banks lobbying parliamentary officials against new requirements for leverage. Under the proposals in the Bill, we will not get any of the same transparency when it comes, for example, to lobbying by the big six energy companies. It has been reported that Ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change have met representatives from the energy giants on 128 occasions since 2010, yet have held talks with the main groups representing energy consumers only 26 times during the same period. We need much more information about what is going on here.
Amendment 65 would exclude the option of an individual residence being listed as the address of a lobbyist. Our concern is that this seems to represent a potential loophole, which we urge the Government to reconsider. The effect of the Bill, if passed in its current form, is that the level of transparency for the register is limited to the individual name and address of a main place of business or, if there is no such place, the individual’s residence. This is surely a loophole that would bar us from knowing who the individual works for. That concern fits into the wider point raised by our Amendment 67: that an increase in transparency should allow us to see who is lobbying on behalf of a company and which members of staff are engaged in that lobbying.
There are also a number of amendments in this group in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie. We should be very grateful for the way in which he has gone through the Bill with such forensic attention to detail. His amendments have similar intentions to ours and we support them. I beg to move.
My Lords, my Amendment 115 is in this group. From my point of view, it is the core amendment in terms of shifting the emphasis of the Bill. As I have drafted it, the clause is designed to be integrated in the Bill, but essentially it seeks to advance an alternative to what the Government propose. If the Government insist on the current provisions of the Bill then, as today has increasingly shown, it will achieve little by way of making lobbying of Government transparent; if anything, we are establishing that it may serve to obscure rather than enlighten.
As we have heard, the focus of Part 1 as it stands is on those who lobby. As I argued at Second Reading, a more comprehensive approach, achieving transparency without the need for a clunky bureaucratic framework, is to focus on those who are lobbied. That would shift the emphasis far more to the actual activity. My amendment is designed to give effect to what I argued at Second Reading.
If one placed a statutory requirement on Ministers when making statements of the sort enumerated in Clause 3 to publish at the same time details of those who lobbied them on the matter, that would ensure that the public were aware of all those who had lobbied the department. I stress the department because the amendment encompasses civil servants, special advisers and PPSs. Any representations made to anyone in the department would be shown. It would not matter who the lobbyists were: full-time independent lobbyists, in-house lobbyists, part-time lobbyists or individuals making representations on that particular issue—all would be caught. We would thus have true, comprehensive transparency. That is the key point, and it is important that we establish the principle.
I know what the Government’s response will be because the Minister kindly replied to my amendment earlier, before I had spoken to it. It is clear what the Government’s position is: “We believe in transparency as long as it’s not too much trouble”. That is essentially what was advanced. Yet we have already heard today a fair amount of material that suggests that it is doable. My noble friend Lord Tyler has made a powerful case for a database and has explained how it could be done—it is manageable. My amendment would take us somewhat further than that in terms of the amount of information that would be produced, and perhaps the time when it was produced because it would be drawn together at a particular point, but, as my noble friend has demonstrated, putting that material together is not that difficult.
At Second Reading I made the case, and I will revert to it, about what Select Committees do. The Minister was saying, “When a Minister brings forward a Bill, good heavens, he might receive lots of representations. If he had to produce and publish those, my goodness, the workload would be horrendous. How could it be achievable?”. Well, what would happen if a Select Committee received lots of representation, perhaps in three figures, when it was conducting an inquiry, and then when it was doing its report actually had to list those who had made representations and then publish the evidence? Oh, my goodness—it already does. Select Committees manage that sort of exercise on very lean resources, so the Government should be able to undertake a similar exercise with the resources at their disposal. As my noble friend Lord Tyler has indicated, it is no longer a case of putting together lots of papers from different sources; much can be done electronically, such as recording meetings for the database and publishing Ministers’ diaries the day after the event, so we are already getting there. That is not the obstacle that the Minister was suggesting, so it is not really credible now to argue that it is not doable; it is.
The problem is not the practicality but the political will. If the political will were there to achieve it then it could be done, and it would achieve the Government’s stated aim in a way that Part 1 simply does not do. As it is drafted, it would not achieve a great deal at all; it would create a burden of bureaucracy that would not add much by way of transparency. If we believe in the transparency of lobbying—in other words, if we actually want to give effect to the first words of the Short Title—then this is the route to go. I look forward to the Minister’s second response.
My Lords, I support wholeheartedly the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, although I have slight reservations as it is debatable whether PPSs should be included.
I shall speak to Amendments 68 and 69, which stand in my name in this group. Amendment 68 is to press Ministers on whether they feel the Bill adequately covers the possibility that lobbyists may, for whatever reason, seek to hide the name of the recipient of the payment. There is a reference in Schedule 1, Part 2 to the beneficiaries of payments, but I do not think it is absolutely clear what the intention is there. A person lobbying may be acting on behalf of another whose identity as a lobbyist is not to be revealed, but where the person whose name or company name is not to be revealed is the recipient of the financial consideration. There may be circumstances where a lobbyist has been subcontracted by another lobbyist to carry out work where the subcontractor has an expertise which the main contractor lacks, but where the main contractor does not wish to lose their client account due to a lack of expertise. There may be circumstances where a lobbyist subcontracts the work for a particular client to avoid revealing to another client that the main contractor lobbyist has other clients in the same commercial sector. There may be circumstances where a lobbyist hires a subcontractor for Client A to avoid revealing to his or her client that he is also representing Client B, whose interests are diametrically opposed. These are but a few scenarios that could include the avoidance of registrar penalties, potential disqualification as a registered person or even matters relating to liability to the Inland Revenue.
Amendment 69 brings us to the heart of the legislation. It dominated debate in the Commons. It would require the name of the person lobbied and the subject of the lobbying, which we have been dealing with extensively this evening. It follows broadly the case made by Graham Allen MP, chair of Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, in his Amendment 100 during Report stage in the Commons. His committee had recommended:
“The information that the registrar requires to be listed should be expanded to include the subject matter and purpose of the lobbying, when this is not already clear from a company’s name. To be clear, this should not involve the disclosure of detailed information about the content of the meeting—just a broad outline of the subject matter and the intended outcome”.
The Government’s response to that recommendation is just not credible. It talks of the availability of information, which I raised on an earlier amendment on ministerial diaries. We know that that system does not work because it is a congested system. The truth is that we have a huge gap in transparency and, sadly, the Government are doing very little to bridge it. The register is useless if all it does is list a few names that are already on the lists of the professional bodies. We need real hard information on who is lobbying, when they lobby, on what issue and on whose account.
My Lords, I support Amendment 115, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton. If the Government are not willing to go for a comprehensive register covering a wider range of lobbyists and those who are lobbied than currently envisaged, this seems a much simpler and more sensible approach that will be cheaper for the public purse and for the relatively small number of consultancy companies that would otherwise have to bear the not-insignificant costs of the registration system.
My Lords, I welcomed the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, goes further and I welcome that even more. In Amendment 81 I go even further. Noble Lords will see that it would introduce a register of lobbying activities. It gives statutory effect to the welcome initiative of the Government in requiring Ministers and Permanent Secretaries to publish on a quarterly basis details of meetings they hold with external organisations. This statutory register would ensure that this practice continues under future Governments. It would also include details of lobbying activity submitted by lobbyists. The public would obtain from this register a clear picture of lobbying activity within any quarter.
Noble Lords will no doubt recognise the language of my proposed new clause. My approach in framing the clause has been to mirror the provisions in Clause 4 about keeping a register and in Clause 5 about who must make returns and the content of returns. In a later group, Amendment 103 imposes similar criminal sanctions upon failure to make returns to the register. I realise that some noble Lords might think that a trifle draconian but, if we are serious about civil servants and Ministers making accurate returns and they fail to make the return, what is the sanction? Or if they make a false return, what is the sanction? However, there is a sanction against lobbyists.
I also speak to Amendments 82 to 86, 91, 92, 97, 102, 104 and 114, which are all consequential. I mention Amendment 97 in particular because it empowers the registrar to serve an information notice on Ministers, civil servants and political advisers whom he has reason to believe ought to have submitted a return. I can imagine that that might well arise if a lobbyist has submitted a return disclosing a meeting with a Minister or civil servant in which a lobbying activity took place when there is no equivalent return from the civil servant or Minister. In that situation the registrar would serve an information return upon the offending party and he or she would be obliged within a period specified in the notice to make a return under pain of a criminal sanction.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, suggested at Second Reading—that a lobbying register is a more effective approach to the lobbying issue, but such a register should include entries by lobbyists as well as anyone in government. It would provide another form of central database available to the public from which the public could determine the involvement of others in the formulation of policy and in influencing the Government generally. The enforcement powers given to the registrar would make this an effective tool in the search for transparency. Will the Minister tell the House whether the Government considered such a register before introducing the Bill? If not, given that this issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lang, has this matter been considered since Second Reading? What has been the outcome of that consideration?
My apologies. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for making the comparison with the United States. We are, of course, concerned to avoid British politics being invaded by the scale of money there; indeed, that is partly what Part 2 responds to, as I said at Second Reading. We make comparisons with the scale of lobbying in the United States but, thankfully, that problem has not yet arisen.
I am slightly puzzled by the Opposition’s Amendment 65, which would remove the requirement for lobbyists to provide a residential address in the absence of any registered address. That seems to us to provide a basic element of information. The consequence of the amendment would be that where there is no registered business address a lobbyist would not be required to provide any contact details. The information to the public would thus be reduced, and the registrar’s ability to investigate compliance and to enforce the registration requirements would be undermined.
It will be worth clarifying this so that we understand each other. You may forget my name, but surely you will understand what I am trying to say. This is a probing amendment, so we do not expect that the wording will necessarily be accepted. However, if it is possible for someone simply to record themselves as a lobbyist on the register and give only their private address, the information that should be available—which business they are acting for—will be missing. One would hope that they would put in their business address, but if the current phrasing is adopted that will be a loophole. We are simply asking the Minister if he will take this away.
I will certainly take it away, and I am very happy to do so.
An amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, would alter Clause 4 to require lobbyists to disclose the recipient of the payment for lobbying and the focus and subject of lobbying activity. The Opposition’s further amendments would require that lobbyists disclose the approximate value of spending on lobbying activity during a quarter. I suppose that I should welcome the pressure that is coming across the room for even greater transparency than we propose in the Bill; that is a splendid step forward. Under the previous Government there was some considerable resistance to this level of transparency.
We have been very clear that the objective of the register is limited, in our view, to the identification of the interests that are represented by consultant lobbying firms. Consultant lobbyists should therefore be required to disclose their clients. We are not yet persuaded that the burden that would be imposed on both the industry and the regulator of requiring further information—for example, spending and financial data—is justified by the limited insight it will provide. That sounds to me like something else we may discuss in the Corridors. However, we are not yet persuaded that that provides a proportionate approach to the problem identified. It is not necessary to require the disclosure of the subject or target due to the Government’s transparency regime, whereby Ministers’ and Permanent Secretaries’ meetings with external organisations are already declared.
I compliment the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, on the detail and care with which he has prepared a large number of amendments. His new clause proposed in Amendment 81 would establish a second register—the register of lobbying activities, as he has explained—which would run in parallel to the register of lobbyists. He has tabled a number of consequential amendments with that. The register would record information both from lobbyists and from public officials in receipt of lobbying communications.
The Government are not persuaded that a register of lobbying activities is necessary, nor do we think it necessary to require that both the maker and the recipient of a lobbying communication submit a report on that activity. The noble and learned Lord’s register would duplicate existing information—that provided in government transparency reporting—and the information requirements of the register appear to duplicate each other: both the lobbyist and the recipient of the lobbying would have to report any interaction. Even the American system does not come close to imposing such onerous requirements on industry and public officials. The administrative cost of complying with such a scheme would be high, both for industry and for public bodies. The cost of regulating it could be ever more expensive—costs which would surely fall either on the industry or the public purse.
Amendment 112, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, would provide that the subscription charge be set as a percentage of the lobbyist’s turnover. The noble Lord does not specify at what percentage the charge should be set and instead provides that the level could be set in regulations. As outlined in our impact assessment, we anticipate that the charge will be approximately £650. That figure should not prove too burdensome on any organisations that undertake professional consultant lobbying. Indeed, it compares favourably with the fee charged by the host of the industry’s voluntary register. The fee will be set to recover the full costs of the registrar’s activities—including those in relation to enforcement—and will ensure that the register is not funded by public money.
The noble Lord may be concerned that such a charge should be minimised for the smallest businesses. However, as I commented earlier, the VAT exemption is intended to exempt the smallest businesses from the requirement to register.
Does the Minister accept that, if the charge is going to be £650, some companies may well simply deregister and the professional lobbyists’ lists may no longer exist? In so far as those lists have more information than what is currently provided by the Bill, would that be helpful to the issue of transparency?
I think that that is unlikely, but this is obviously something on which we should perhaps consult informally with the industry, to see whether there are any serious concerns. I am not aware that there are and, as I have said, the current voluntary register is in the same league but slightly more expensive.
Amendment 113, from the Opposition, would amend the reference to the setting of the subscription charge from one that requires the Minister to seek to recover the full costs to one that would require the Minister to ensure that the charge is set so as to recover the full costs of the registrar’s activities. I recognise that it is intended to emphasise the importance of ensuring that the charge recoups completely the cost of the register, but assure the Opposition that the Government are very well aware of the importance of ensuring that the register is fully funded by the industry.
We expect that the register will cost around £200,000 a year to run and that that cost will be borne not by the taxpayer but by the lobbying industry. The register that the Opposition have suggested would cost a great deal more—possibly nearer the £3 million that it costs to operate the Canadian register. Perhaps they would like to consider how they would ensure that those costs were recovered from the much larger number of individuals and organisations that they intend to capture.
The Opposition’s Amendment 114A would remove subsection (2) from Clause 24, thereby affecting the regulation-making powers under that part. The Joint Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform has recently published a very thorough and thoughtful report on the delegated powers included in the Bill. The Government are giving the committee’s recommendations careful consideration and will respond formally shortly.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that I responded to his Amendment 115 before he had spoken to it. Rather too many meetings over the past day left me less well organised than ideally I should have been. I took him down as saying that the Government believe in transparency but not too far. I would say that the Government believe in transparency, but want to be proportionate in our approach. I fear that some of the amendments that have been floated today have suggested that we move from a situation of extremely moderate transparency to one in which there will be a very burdensome set of regulations, which would go further than we need to at this time.
My noble friend is now talking about moderate transparency rather than transparency, so he is already limiting it. He is very keen on “proportionate”, I have noticed; it has come up a number of times today. I am just wondering how proportionate it is to introduce a register of perhaps 350 companies when we have not established how many of them already publish their client list. If most of those who are going to be registered already publish their client list, it is proportionate at the wrong end, because there is no point, really, in doing it. It is not good enough just to establish how many would be covered by the register; we need to know whether it would actually add anything to our knowledge of what those companies are doing and who their clients are. There may not be any point in doing it.
My point is that, if you are going to do it, do it properly; if you want transparency for lobbying and you are going to be comprehensive, there will be a cost to it. If you are going to do it properly and have a register, I am afraid that you have to go down the Canadian route. My argument is that you can avoid doing that by going down my route, whereby you get transparency of lobbying, not simply listing lobbyists.
My Lords, as regards my noble friend’s reference to the Canadian system, the Government consider that that system is onerous, expensive and more than we need. My task in Committee and on Report is to convince this House that the proposals in the Bill are proportionate and provide additional transparency. However, I will check and get back to my noble friend on how many of the current lobbying companies on the voluntary register publish their clients’ names, as that is clearly an excellent question that deserves an answer.
I would like to clarify the following point. First, does the Minister accept that there would be benefit in enshrining in statute in some way—whether by accepting the measure proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, that proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, or my extreme proposal for a new clause—the practice that the Government have introduced of disclosing information to the public? The Government could claim credit for that initiative and could ensure that future Governments of any colour would be bound by the statute unless they sought to amend it. Secondly, can the noble Lord tell me what consideration the Government have given at any stage—either before the introduction of the Bill or after Second Reading—to creating a lobbying register?
I apologise to the noble and learned Lord; I should have answered his question about the noble Lord, Lord Lang. I am not aware that the Government have investigated that issue in detail but I will write to the noble and learned Lord as soon as I have the answer.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very full coverage of the points, although it is becoming clear that he is expending considerable effort in trying to give no more commitments on any of these questions than are in his brief, except to welcome occasional points that he will take back. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, is right to say that it is not worth discussing the Bill if it does not deliver—either directly or through voluntary means—something more than we have at present. The wicked thought occurred to me that perhaps the amendment we ought to be tabling and debating is whether the Title of the Bill should be changed to “The Proportionate and Moderate Transparency of Lobbying Bill”.
What is going on here? Does the Minister really believe that this Bill will add very much to what we have at present? If not, why on earth are we wasting our time on it? We are discussing Part 1, but I am afraid that the same questions will come back to haunt him in Part 2. He may well be able to escape the Bench on Part 3, but they will be there in Part 3 as well. This Bill does not add very much to the effectiveness of what most people in the country, and certainly Members around this House and in another place, would like to see happen. When we were in power, we moved forward on this. We did not move very fast because it is a difficult issue, as the Minister would accept, but we would not have got into the position where the Minister is today—that is very clear.
While I thank the Minister very much for taking back my proposal that we should look again at the possible loophole in Amendment 65, I do not think that he has given clear answers to my questions on Amendments 70, 71, 75, 76 and 77 about the money. Having said that the money is important and that we do not want to go the way that the Americans and those in other territories have gone, he also said that we could not possibly put a burden on those who have to participate in the system that would cause them difficulties. However, in Parts 2 and 3, burdens are being sallied out to charities and trade unions without any shame at all, as far as I can see. Apparently, what is meat for one is not meat for the other. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, had it right in a very brief but salient interjection. Transparency is not capable of being moderated. Something is transparent or it is not. This Bill is heading towards having no transparency at all.
Finally, we were intrigued by the announcement about the likely fee of £650, if I correctly took down the figure. Why is there no variation on that figure between small and large firms? The scale in this sector is substantial, so even if we are going to have a register, the costs of which are met by those participating, it seems absurd to charge some of the large companies the same amount as those firms with one or two persons working in them. Perhaps the noble Lord can think about that. We on this side are not at all clear why our proposals for a more expanded register that would work only if it delivered full transparency—I understand that point—will cost so much more. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to explain how his calculations arrive at figures in the millions of pounds, when the figure for the current register is so modest. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 65 withdrawn.
Amendments 66 to 71 not moved.
72: Clause 4, page 3, line 31, at end insert—
“( ) A person, company or partnership (including a limited liability partnership) listed on the register of consultant lobbyists shall not in any communication issued use the image of the portcullis or any other image representing Parliament.”
My Lords, this amendment is about the use of the portcullis. This is an issue that concentrated the minds of Members of the House of Commons Select Committee who considered the issue of lobbying during the 1980s, nearly 30 years ago. That inquiry followed the previous inquiries of 1969 and 1974 by the Select Committee on Members’ Interests (Declaration). At that time in the 1980s, we had been considering a register for those in the industry who had access to Parliament, not government. In an attempt to think through the consequences of adopting such a register, we visited Canada, a country that at the time had only recently introduced a system that included registering lobbying activity, thereby going further than the Government’s current proposals.
What quickly became obvious to us during the course of our inquiry and from what we learnt in Canada was that many in the lobbying industry saw registered access to Parliament as a marketing tool. As Sir Trevor Lloyd-Hughes, a leading influence in the industry at the time, said in his evidence:
“Some of the PR people may announce claims in their glossy brochures of all kinds of entrée to the House of Commons and their ability to do this and that and the other, which I think are almost against the fair trading description legislation”.
He went on to say that he did not do that himself, although he added:
“If you are in business, surely you are entitled to say, we can do this and in my case as quite a few of you know I have been here since 1949. I say I have got experience and contacts. I have. It is true”.
Now I recognise that we are not talking here about Parliament but about government. However, there is an element of overlap. The moment that an organisation receives registration approval, that approval will bring with it an element of public recognition. The assumption will be made, particularly abroad, that a code exists and standards are being met. For many, government and Parliament will be indistinguishable. They will be regarded as the same, perhaps even by some here at home. I am in my amendment simply seeking, in the absence of a proper code of conduct, to lay down a requirement that at least the portcullis, a symbol of Parliament, is not used to promote a particular lobbying operation or organisation.
As Gavin Devine, chief executive of MHP Communications, said in his evidence to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee during its inquiry:
“There is a real danger that a register by itself may make the situation worse, since it is likely those on the register will describe themselves as a ‘registered’ or ‘approved’ lobbyists, without having to meet at least some minimum standards. In short, there is a risk that the register will give a kitemark or endorsement to some who do not deserve it”.
Again I say that I recognise that Parliament is tangential to the Bill. Nevertheless, we need to make it clear in the Bill that we will not tolerate the use of the portcullis as a marketing tool in what, in effect, is to be an unregulated marketplace. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to my Amendment 73 but, before doing so, I wish to say that I fully endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, in relation to Amendment 72. He may recall that one particular Member of Parliament decided to publish a book—an act of fiction—on the front cover of which was the portcullis. It was clearly there to try to give the impression that the book was authorised by the House. The Member would not listen but the publisher did, to the extent that the royal crown—I think it was the prince’s crown—was taken off the second edition, although the portcullis gate was left on. That, at least, was something. It is right and fitting that the portcullis should be the symbol of both our Houses and not of any individual organisation.
Turning to Amendment 73, I recall the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, saying in an earlier debate that you have to know whom you are dealing with. That has to be clear. Those who hold press cards in the House of Commons are very well looked after, but it is the taxpayer, not their newspaper, who provides them with a desk and facilities. In fact, I believe that some journalists do not even have a place to hang their hat at their newspaper’s head office. I recall that only about five years ago the health and safety situation here was so bad for journalists—some of the senior reporters were using portakabins—that it was put to me that it was time we did something. Both Houses paid a share of £8 million to refurbish the Press Gallery. We even opened a restaurant, which is named after a highly respected journalist called Chris Moncrieff—it is called Moncrieff’s bar. We did all that and it is lovely. I was there to officiate at the opening, and so was Chris Moncrieff. I said, “It’s not bad that two teetotallers have opened up a drinking place”.
There was not one bad piece of publicity about that £8 million but nor was there one good piece of publicity about it. Nothing was said about it. Even now, I get very angry when I read pieces by journalists who are taking cheap shots. I also hear them doing it on Sky News. They say, “Oh, they’re getting subsidised drink”, but they do not tell you that they are partaking of the subsidised food and drink.
That brings me to my concern, which is dual membership. You have to know whom you are dealing with. I could be in one of the cafeterias here having a cup of tea or whatever and bump into someone who I think is a journalist. If we enter into a discussion, I know whom I am dealing with. However, it would not do if the journalist were both a journalist and a lobbyist. You might ask whether that is possible. It is. Some people in the Press Gallery have been there for years and years, and they are entitled to be there, but sometimes their newspaper will say, “We’re sorry but you’re no longer required. You’re redundant”. That must have happened to the boys on the News of the World and there are others in that category. Some of them get to like this place so much that they will go to a regional newspaper or a publication and say, “I will be your reporter”. That would allow them to retain their press status, although not the salary.
I have always prided myself on being a constituency MP but it has put me in an embarrassing situation. I remember one employer writing to me—the head office was in London but there was a factory in my constituency that made non-combustible boards. The employer was worried that fire regulations were going to be dropped and that people would put up plasterboard in airports rather than the non-combustible boards, which are also called non-asbestos boards. Between 200 and 250 people were employed in the company so I was keen to meet that employer. I thought that I would be meeting him alone in the House of Commons and would be able to say, “You’re employing local labour in my constituency and I will make that representation”. That is what a Member of Parliament is entitled to do. He was with someone who I thought was a reporter. I said, “Excuse me, but I didn’t expect to meet you here”. The person said, “I am lobbying on behalf of this company”. I took exception to that and said, “No one needs a facilitator to see their Member of Parliament”.
It is interesting that some of these big companies feel that when they come to Parliament they need to get themselves a lobbyist, yet small companies with 10 or 11 employees say, “I’m going to see the Member of Parliament in the Barmulloch community centre—that’s where Michael Martin sits on a Friday night”. They have more nous than the great captains of industry do in these matters. What appalled me was that this reporter was doubling up as a lobbyist. I think that that is wrong: you are either one or the other. When I was a metalworker in industry I did not go about the business of doing the welder’s job.
To be able to get a press credential is a very privileged position and many privileges come with it. Both Houses have provided some lovely facilities that the press are entitled to use. I will not go into the places that they are entitled to go, but when the new Portcullis House was opened they were entitled to use the facilities there. I do not see why they should be able to wear a reporter’s hat on a Monday and a lobbyist’s hat on a Tuesday. They should be one or the other—that is the case that I am putting.
My Lords, I want to reinforce the contributions that have been made on these two amendments, particularly the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin of Springburn, about the relationship between a constituency Member of Parliament and any representatives of any interests in that constituency. As I understand it—as I recall, this was reinforced in the other place on Report—there is nothing in the Bill that in any way impedes the opportunity and the responsibility of representing the people of one’s constituency in any way that may be appropriate. It is very important that we reiterate that principle now. I am very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Martin, make that point again.
My Lords, I will be very interested to see whether anyone reports the words of the noble Lord, Lord Martin, about the Press Gallery.
I rise to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, because he makes a very important point—I am surprised that it has not come up more in our discussions on the Bill—and that is this point about a kitemark for lobbying firms. Lobbying has always been a contentious activity. When I was writing about lobbying in the 1980s I made the point then that quite often the problem is not in the relationship between the lobbyist and the parliamentarian. Parliamentarians know perfectly well when they are being lobbied and essentially where it is coming from and can assess what is happening; if you like, they know the quality of the lobbying. The real problem, I argued, was between the client and the lobbyist, because clients would not necessarily know the quality of the firms they were employing to make representations. Lobbying firms are very good at making grand claims for their success rates.
Therefore, there is an issue of lobbying firms wanting to portray themselves in a certain way. My concern here is the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours: you will get firms on the register using that to promote their interests to potential clients—putting on the notepaper something such as “Registered lobbyist, regulated by the Registrar of Lobbying Companies”, as a way of giving themselves the seal of approval. I fully endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is trying to do in his amendment but I think that it raises that broader issue which he has touched on and which we need to be very much aware of. I am surprised that we have not considered that to a greater extent. It is just one of the problems if you go down this particular route of having a formal register, especially if there is no code attached to it.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, and support the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for the same reasons. I also support the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Martin of Springburn but for a different reason from that given by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. The example the noble Lord gave of meeting the employer in the company of someone who was both a lobbyist and a newspaper reporter highlights the need for a code of conduct. What is there to stop the lobbyist in that situation from sitting in on a meeting and then rushing away and phoning his newspaper to tell them he has a scoop—or whatever it is called nowadays—that the factory in Springburn has or has not been saved. More subtly, he could tell one of his fellow reporters. Therefore it is important that the distinction is maintained. Of course, if there was a code of conduct I would hope that that would be contrary to the code and the lobbyist could be deregistered, or whatever the appropriate word is.
My Lords, I support this issue. If you are regulated by the Financial Services Authority you have to mention it. There is a very substantial series of penalties and enforcement procedures if you fail to comply with the authority’s regulations. We need to be clear in our own mind whether this is going to be seen as the kitemark, whether it is going to be permitted as the kitemark and, if it is, how we make sure the kitemark standards are achieved.
My Lords, first I thank the noble Lord for initiating what has been an interesting debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that parliamentary images should not be used inappropriately. At present the use of the Crowned Portcullis is governed by the following statement:
“The principal emblem of the House is the Crowned Portcullis. It is a royal badge and its use by the House has been formally authorised by licence granted by Her Majesty the Queen. The designs and symbols of the House should not be used for purposes to which such authentication is inappropriate, or where there is a risk that their use might wrongly be regarded, or represented, as having the authority of the House. The House symbol is primarily used to authenticate communications from Members”.
It is clear that the use of parliamentary images is the prerogative of the House authorities, and for that reason the Government do not wish to intrude on the existing arrangements, although I understand entirely the point that the noble Lord is making.
I am sorry, but that does not answer my question. Can the authorities enforce the non-use of it? If the Minister does not know, I understand that, and I am sure that he will find out. However, if the authorities do not have the power to enforce it, my amendment stands.
I think it is important to get chapter and verse for the noble Lord and, indeed, for myself, because I would not want to mislead him in any way. That is the reason the Government, having thought about this particular point, felt that the House authorities should have continued to have the prerogative.
I turn now to the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Martin. Again, it is designed to address the problem he has identified in relation to accredited parliamentary lobby journalists, specifically that some are acting as lobbyists and/or are servicing all-party groups. As my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie observed in his letter to the noble Lord following his intervention in the debate on Second Reading, matters relating to the conduct of accredited lobby journalists and to the administration of all-party groups are the prerogative of the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I understand, however, that a core requirement of many of the voluntary codes of conduct that lobbyists currently already sign up to require that they do not hold parliamentary passes.
I also understand that, pursuant to a resolution of the other place, holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to declare relevant interests on the register of journalists’ interests. That register is compiled and maintained by the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The commissioner also has responsibility for the rules governing all-party groups and hosts the register of groups recognised by Parliament, who their officers are, and information about the source and extent of financial and material assistance received by groups from outside Parliament.
Given the oversight of these matters by the House authorities, I suggest that it would not be appropriate for the Government to legislate quite in the manner that the noble Lord has presented in his well meaning amendment. However, I will consider the points made by both noble Lords on their amendments and I shall certainly clarify the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. In the circumstances I have outlined, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, is the Minister telling me that I have the option of going to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner if I find it to be the case that someone who is holding a Parliamentary Press Gallery credential is also holding a lobbyist’s credential? Is that what the Minister is saying? I find that difficult to take in because the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner must work within the rules and regulations of the House. He might say to me, “I am sorry, but there has been no breach of the rules. Reporter A can be a lobbyist as well as a journalist”.
My understanding, as I have said and as is set out in the letter the noble Lord has received from my noble friend the Minister, is that pursuant to the resolution, holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to declare relevant interests on the register of journalists’ interests. The letter also suggested that if the noble Lord had concerns, he should perhaps consider approaching the assistant registrar. However, I would like to take up the point that the noble Lord has posed to me because I want to be absolutely certain that what I am suggesting is correct. I want to clarify it because clearly that is the most important thing of all.
The point is that my noble friend’s amendment would require that they could not do both—they could do only one. The Minister is saying that they can do both as long as they register it. He is not answering the point in my noble friend’s amendment. The answer is, “No, we are not prepared to legislate, we are prepared to carry on allowing journalists to act as lobbyists as well, as long as they register it”. That is not my answer but it is the Minister’s answer and he should be blunt at the Dispatch Box and spell it out in that form.
Amendment 72 withdrawn.
Amendment 73 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Amendment 74 not moved.
Clause 5: Notification of client information and changes
Amendments 75 to 80 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
Amendment 81 not moved.
Clause 6: Duty to update register
Amendments 82 to 87 not moved.
88: Clause 6, page 4 , line 27, at end insert—
“( ) If the Registrar has reasonable grounds for believing that a registered person is not (or is no longer) fit to act as a consultant lobbyist, the Registrar may decide that the registered persons shall be removed from the register.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 88, I will also speak to Amendment 90. The Bill as it stands sets out a series of offences under Clause 12. The offences include “inaccurate or incomplete” registration and failing,
“to submit an information return under section 5”.
The Bill then goes on to propose penalties in the form of fines. What the Bill does not do at this stage is set out the arrangements for removal from the register, which is what my amendment is intended to deal with. Under the heading “Guidance”, Clause 21 states:
“The Registrar may give guidance about how the Registrar proposes to exercise the functions under this Part”.
Under Clause 21(2)(c), it is proposed that the guidance may indicate,
“the circumstances in which the Registrar would … remove a person’s entry from the register”.
My amendment flags up what I believe these circumstances should be.
The first circumstance is bringing Parliament into disrepute. I recognise that the professional associations have their own codes of conduct, but their codes are not written by Parliament—they are written by their legal advisers and approved, I presume, by their members. Parliament, in conditions of a statutory register, although not included in the Bill, needs to seek protection against being itself brought into disrepute through the actions of lobbyists who are not subject to a code. We will all be aware of the well documented and publicised scandals of recent years and that a small minority of lobbyists can abuse their relationships with Members of Parliament. The same applies with civil servants: if a lobbying operation is found to have compromised the integrity or independence of a civil servant, it is not just the civil servant who is necessarily at fault; a heavy burden of blame inevitably falls on the lobbyist. We need to be sure that the lobbyist concerned loses his or her official seal of approval, which is effectively what registration provides.
As to the wider issue of offences under Clause 12, there can be no circumstances in which a lobbyist who commits an offence under this clause should be allowed to remain on the register. We need more than guidance at this stage. We need to place firmly and clearly in the Bill our view as Parliament on what the circumstances for deregistration are. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendments 89, 103, 109 and 110 stand in my name. Amendment 89 is concerned with Clause 6. Your Lordships will note that Clause 6 empowers the registrar to do a number of things, including, under Clause 6(6)(b), to decide whether a person’s entry should be removed from the register:
“If the Registrar has reasonable grounds for believing that a registered person is not (or is no longer) a consultant lobbyist”.
It is important to bear in mind that under Clause 1, a person cannot be in business as a consultant lobbyist unless he or she is registered. The decision of the registrar to remove someone from the register effectively stops that individual from operating in business. As far as I can see, there is no right of appeal against the decision of the registrar, which seems fundamentally unjust. Anyone who is aggrieved by a decision to remove him or her from the register ought to have a right of appeal to the tribunal, and that is what this amendment seeks to do.
I did not want to tie the Order Paper down with a very long amendment but if I had done more homework I would have introduced an element of appeal. I was simply floating the principle and I am sure that, were the Government to accept it, an appeal procedure would be introduced into the Bill.
I take the noble Lord’s point. I am not criticising his amendment; I am criticising the Bill. The Bill does not contain any right of appeal. My Amendment 89 introduces such a right for someone who is aggrieved by the registrar’s decision.
Not only does the Bill deprive someone of the right to a livelihood, perhaps, but Clause 12 creates an offence: it is a criminal offence to lobby if you are not on the register. Not only do you deprive someone of their livelihood but you subject them to the possibility of criminal proceedings and a fine. Clearly there ought to be a right of appeal. There is a tribunal in existence so there is no difficulty about that.
I have already referred to Amendment 103, which creates similar offences in relation to the register of lobbying activities, so I will say no more about that.
Amendment 109 relates to Clause 16, which concerns the ability of the registrar to impose civil penalties. The level of the penalty is fixed at £7,500. I have suggested that that should be reduced to £5,000. The civil penalty is an alternative to prosecution and, if you are prosecuted, the maximum summary fine in Scotland is £5,000 so I do not understand why the civil penalty is half as much again. There may be a reason for that; if there is, I would like the Minister to tell me; if there is not, there should be equivalence of penalties.
My final amendment is Amendment 110. It relates to Clause 18, which states:
“The Registrar may not impose a civil penalty on a person in respect of any conduct … at any time after criminal proceedings … have been instituted … and before they have been concluded, or … after the person has been convicted of an offence under this Part”.
My amendment introduces, after the word “convicted” in subsection (1)(b), the words “or acquitted”. Once we get to that stage, the individual has gone through a criminal trial and a court has decided that he or she is not guilty. Unless we include the words “or acquitted”, a court may have acquitted someone but the registrar could still impose a civil penalty of £5,000. Again, that is unjust. That is the reason for that amendment.
My Lords, in supporting Amendments 88 and 90, which stand in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, I will speak in particular to Amendments 107 and 108, which are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Royall.
The four amendments comprise the framework that would enable the register to be more than just a limp piece of paper. Taken together, they provide that if someone on the register breaches the code of conduct or the Bribery Act, or is found unfit to be registered as a lobbyist—for example, if they have brought Parliament into disrepute—the registrar would have the power either to remove them from the register or to impose an appropriate civil penalty. That is perhaps rather closer to what was suggested earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, which is what happens under what is now the Financial Conduct Authority’s list of recognised people. So this is an important combination of amendments.
Of course, we agree that someone should have the right of appeal to a tribunal, as with any such threat to the removal of one’s profession and employment. As the noble and learned Lord said, there is already a well established tribunal that deals with appeals from the pensions regulator and other similar bodies.
I think that it is to cover breach of the code. The criminal term would not be appropriate for that. If the Government accept the amendments, I would be more than happy to accept any final tweaks, but the wording is designed to cover non-criminal matters such as breaches of the code of conduct.
In recognising and supporting the amendment dealing with an appeal, that is symbolic of our intention that lobbyists, like financial advisers, pension trustees, lawyers or accountants, should aspire to being members of a profession, with all the obligations of maintaining standards.
We know that the vast majority of lobbyists agree with that objective. They want their profession to be valued and acknowledged and therefore want us to ensure that anyone misleading the registrar or breaching the code should have no place on an approved register. We hope that the Government accept the intention behind the amendments and will respond accordingly. If not, we fear that there will be no mechanism other than sanctions for late filing to keep the register of lobbyists to a high standard.
My Lords, when considering the most appropriate sanctions in respect of non-compliance with the register, Ministers considered the option of removing a person from the register, thereby prohibiting them from continuing to operate as a lobbyist. However, we concluded that such a sanction would represent too extreme a penalty, as it would essentially take away their livelihood.
I am conscious that I speak on the edge of my expertise, but a number of professions have disciplinary procedures and appeals within those procedures, some of which are very complex. I was once approached to join the General Medical Council but once I understood what it did, I rapidly said no. The issues of due process and dismissal, judicial review et cetera are ones that we are reluctant to enter into in this respect. The sanctions regime that we have designed is therefore more limited and designed to provide on appropriate deterrent against, and punishment for, non-compliance with the register’s provisions.
As the Committee will know, breaches of the Bribery Act are punishable by unlimited fines, up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or both. I am not convinced that an additional sanction—that of being prohibited from carrying on a certain profession—should be added to those already significant penalties. Further, breaches of the Bribery Act must be proven beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal court, yet the Opposition’s amendment would enable the registrar to draw his or her own conclusion as to whether the Act had been breached, and to impose sanctions on the basis of that conclusion. I suggest that such a power or responsibility is not a suitable one for the registrar of a new register, but instead that breaches of the Bribery Act should continue to be determined in court.
Amendment 89, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, would enable a person to appeal against the registrar’s decision to remove them from the register as per Clause 6(6). We do not envisage that the registrar would remove any person from the register unless they were confident that that person no longer engaged, or wished to engage in future, in consultant lobbying. The removal power is not intended as a sanction but rather as an administrative housekeeping measure to enable the registrar to maintain the accessibility and relevance of the register.
Does the Minister accept that while I do not dispute that the registrar would be operating in good faith, he may genuinely make a mistake—and if he does, it has the effect of removing someone from the register. Is there to be no appeal to the tribunal for that? There may not be many appeals at all. It is only if the person is aggrieved that he has a right of appeal.
My Lords, that seems unlikely, on the face of it, but I am very glad to go away and consult officials to make sure that there is not a lacuna here. I appreciate where the noble and learned Lord is coming from, with a genuine concern on this issue. If one were to accept some of his other amendments, the case for writing into the Bill the appeal to the tribunal would be stronger. If a person were to object, under our scheme, to the registrar’s decision they could advise him or her accordingly and reregister without difficulty. We do not therefore consider that appeals to the tribunal should be necessary in those circumstances.
The Opposition’s proposed amendments, Amendments 101, 105 and 106, appear designed to ensure that the provision of misleading information is captured by the offence outlined in Clause 12 and, as a consequence, by the civil penalty power provided for in Clause 14. I am advised that “incomplete or inaccurate register” also covers the question of “misleading”. I can therefore confirm that the provision of misleading information in any of these instances would be captured by the concept of,
“information which is inaccurate or incomplete in a material particular”,
as provided in subsections (2)(b), (3)(b) and (4)(b) of Clause 12.
The offence outlined in Clause 12 is designed to be applicable in both the civil and criminal systems. We anticipate that the provision of inaccurate or incomplete information due to administrative oversight will be sanctioned by the imposition of a civil penalty. If, however, inaccurate or incomplete information had been provided in an attempt to deliberately mislead, we could expect such non-compliance to be prosecuted in a criminal court.
The Opposition’s Amendment 108 would enable the registrar to impose civil penalties for breaches of the code of conduct. The establishment of sanctions, whether civil or criminal, requires detailed and measured consideration. The Opposition have been able to identify only one of the provisions to be included in the statutory register. I suggest that the provisions with which lobbyists would be required to comply should surely be identified before it was determined whether they should be liable to a civil penalty in the event of a breach.
Amendment 103, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, would impose an offence on those who failed to submit lobbying activity reports as and when required. We recognise that this amendment is consequential to his other proposals so I will not address it further. His Amendment 109 would amend Clause 16(3) so that the maximum amount for a penalty notice would be reduced from £7,500 to £5,000. I note that his point of comparison is the Scottish civil penalty. In setting the maximum amount for a penalty notice at £7,500, the Government were mindful of comparable regulatory regimes, such as the fines imposed by the Companies Act in relation to the late filing of accounts, and we took that as our comparator. The Government are confident that the proposed limit of the civil penalty is thus an appropriate one and are not persuaded that it should be reduced, although of course the registrar is able to issue civil penalties of any amount up to £7,500, so not in every case would it be the amount.
The noble and learned Lord’s Amendment 110 would prevent the registrar from issuing a civil penalty to a person if that person had been acquitted of an offence under this part in relation to their conduct. We then get into interesting questions; as a non-lawyer, I am not entirely an expert on the difference between the evidence required to prove a criminal case and that which is required to produce a civil one. Perhaps we might consult on that off the Floor to resolve that very delicate distinction. Having answered some of those extremely interesting and detailed probing amendments, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The register is not intended to have sanctions on it, but let me take that away and come back. I appreciate that we are in an area here where the question is how much the register is intended to be one which you go on to if you are engaged in this activity, or whether the register should begin to develop a disciplinary dimension, which raises some of the questions that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hardie, in particular has pursued.
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House. We have now been talking about amendments for some five and half hours but the Government have conceded nothing. However, the Minister has repeatedly said that he intends to take some of these amendments back to his department for further consideration. Let us hope that when we further consider them on Report, we have far more flexibility from the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 88 withdrawn.
Amendments 89 and 90 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Duty to publish register
Amendments 91 and 92 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Amendment 93 not moved.
House adjourned at 10.09 pm.