Skip to main content

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

Volume 749: debated on Wednesday 6 November 2013

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved by

To move that the order of the House of 28 October be vacated, and that it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clause 3, Schedule 2, Clauses 4 to 25, Clauses 36 to 39, Clause 26, Schedule 3, Clauses 27 to 32, Schedule 4, Clauses 33 to 35, Clauses 40 to 44.

My Lords, by mismanaging the lobbying Bill, the Government are wrecking the work of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which was set up to reform the culture in the banking industry, by bringing forward this Bill early—on 18 November. That is the unanimous view of all members of the banking commission, who have said that they need until the new year to study these government amendments for the simple reason that this is an entirely new Bill. This is a Bill that left the House of Commons 35 pages long. It is now more than 160 pages and the government amendments are four times the size of their original Bill. This morning I spoke to Andrew Tyrie MP, the chairman of the commission, who said that if the Government go ahead before due consideration to this increasingly complex and dense legislation, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards will not be able to carry out the mandate that the Government gave it to reform the banking industry. The collective efforts over one year—almost 200 hours of public evidence and 10,000 questions —will be wasted. The Government will not only be betraying their promise when they established the commission, but will be seen and disowned by members of the commission for indulging in cynical, low, political-level, sharp practice. I ask the Government to think again and give due time to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards by bringing this Bill back in the New Year when it is appropriate.

My Lords, as a fellow member of the banking standards commission, I agree with the conclusion reached by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, that the Leader of the House should think again about this important matter. I have great sympathy with him. I understand that the parliamentary timetable has been complicated by the late change of plan on the lobbying Bill and that presents him with a difficulty, but it would be wholly wrong to put Report of the banking Bill in as a stopgap. This is a massively important Bill. It is a completely different one from the Bill that emerged from the other place. It is hugely larger—about five times—and extremely complex. In Committee, a number of noble Lords asked for a particularly long gap between Committee and Report, and I was under the impression that the Government were extremely sympathetic to that. Now they are suddenly putting it forward as a stopgap.

That is the main reason for making this objection, but there is another one. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be in his place today because he is abroad, but he was an active member of the banking commission. I spoke to him by telephone this morning. He is most anxious to take part in Report and, as a member of the banking commission, he has strong and informed views on a number of the issues. The week that the Government have now chosen is the week of the annual Synod of the Church of England, over which he has to preside, which means that he cannot be present. I urge my noble friend to think again.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, is not yet able to get to the House so he has asked me to convey his concerns about the scheduling of this stage of the Bill. The colleagues who have spoken already, like the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, have invested an immense amount of time and energy both on the banking commission and on this Bill. It is a most important Bill and there is a huge amount of work that remains to be done, not least, as previous speakers have already pointed out, about the way in which it has been changed—though changed, I may say, for the better.

The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, is well respected in this House, not least because of his measured tones. He asked me to convey his feelings on this subject, but I fear that I may not be able to do it accurately while keeping within the bounds of acceptable parliamentary language. Suffice it to say that he is, to put it mildly, put out. I hope that the Government will feel that they are able to look again at this matter because there is still much to be done in a great deal of detail and it is vitally important.

My Lords, I rise from this Bench in the absence of my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who cannot be in his place, to follow up a little on what the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said. I know that your Lordships have sometimes observed that when these Benches are full, the General Synod must be in session and the Bishops are absconding. We sometimes are, of course, but the week after next, the Synod will spend a great deal of time on the new proposals for the consecration of women as bishops, and we are hopeful of progress.

I know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury would be glad not to miss consideration on Report of the Banking Reform Bill but will, on this occasion, have to give the General Synod priority. I am sure that your Lordships would not wish him to abscond, as some of us hope to live to see the day when there will be women with us on these Benches. I realise that there are diary clashes for us all, but it would be a great pity if the Archbishop could not play a very full part in our debate here. He would be too modest to say it himself, but I can say it for him: we would be the poorer without his contribution.

My Lords, I think that it would be wrong to suppose that it is only those who have been serving with great diligence on the banking commission who are concerned about this matter. The size of amendments in relation to the size of the Bill is, I think, without precedent. It is a very important matter which should be properly debated on the Floor of the House.

My Lords, I regret the fact that the Chief Whip has taken the decision unilaterally to impose business on the House. I have to make clear that Her Majesty’s Opposition did not agree to the tabling of the banking Bill for consideration on 18 November. It is clear from the conversations that we have had with the members of the Joint Committee on banking reform that the huge number of amendments and truncated timescale run the risk of an important Bill not being taken seriously. The arguments made very cogently in the Chamber today demonstrate that.

We recognise that this House is a part-time House—that includes Front-Benchers—and welcome the expertise that comes from Members, including Bishops, of course; it means that Members of the House can keep their interests and remain part-time, so changes to the timetable have a profound effect on the work of the House.

I ask the noble Baroness the Chief Whip, in these unusual circumstances—that is to say, the fact that yesterday, the whole House agreed that there should be a pause in consideration of the Transparency of Lobbying Bill—why, for just one legislative day, the Government cannot schedule debates on some of the many reports that are languishing, waiting to be debated on the Floor of the House. I well understand the need to deliver the Government’s programme, but I do not understand the difference that one day will make. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s reply and add that I cannot agree to the change that has been proposed to the House, but the House will know that my door always remains open to constructive discussion about the forthcoming programme.

My Lords, of course, I am always sorry to cause concern to Members of the House in the matter of scheduling of business. In this House, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said, Members are not expected to attend full time. I have to observe that many do and have a tremendous sense of duty to the work they do in scrutinising legislation. It is not a part-time House; we sit full time, but Members clearly have other expertise, which may keep them elsewhere on occasion. It is because of that, in scheduling business in this House, that we always take care to try to give advance notice. Commonly, we give three and a half weeks notice, which is considerably different from the one week given in another place, where elected, paid politicians are obviously in a different position.

As the noble Baroness said, yesterday, a deal was struck on the Floor of the House to delay part of the Committee stage of the lobbying Bill. An inevitable consequence of that was that I would have to make some changes to future business; there were two Committee days for the lobbying Bill which had to be vacated. I looked at all the available legislative business. This House is justly proud of the scrutiny that it gives to legislation. Of course, I looked at the availability of the opposition Front Bench spokesmen for that business; I always do. What I advertised today meets what I always try to do in looking at the availability of opposition Front Bench spokesmen and making good use of government time. I had other options available to me, it is true, but each of those options would either have been a worse use of time for the House, less convenient for the opposition Front Bench or, indeed, both. So I have decided that the only proper use was to schedule the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill.

I appreciate that those noble Lords who formed part of the commission—obviously, it no longer exists—play a very full and effective part. Committee finished on October 23, so we have not jumped in here. It is now two weeks later. In the normal run of things, Report could have been scheduled for today, but we wanted to avoid doing it within the normal time of two weeks. Taking it forward to 18 November gives almost a month after the end of Committee. It is not unusual to schedule after two weeks; it is quite unusual for it to have been left as long as it has after Committee. I have proposed today that Report should begin nearly a full month after the end of Committee.

There have been references to the Bill’s being longer. It is indeed longer, but that is due to the Government’s having accepted the commission’s proposals. It is because the Government have been responding positively that the Bill has grown to meet the recommendations. Reference has also been made to colleagues’ availability, and I note particularly what the right reverend Prelate said. Far be it for me to wish to take the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury away from discussion of important matters at his next weekly meeting of the Church, particularly if it is on the matter of women bishops. By the way, I do not hold the right reverend Prelate to any idea that that meeting will pass a resolution in favour of women bishops. I look on and wait with interest.

On a serious point, I know that the most reverend Primate attended two out of three days. He did as much as he possibly could to attend two days of Committee. He decided not to speak until late one night, when he was of great assistance in speaking briefly but importantly. Members of the House will know what I mean when I say that I did so “to assist the staff”, if I may put it that way, at 10.30 pm. It was a generous thing to do. I know that he listened assiduously and I am sure that he has read Hansard.

This is not in any way a matter of trying to put people out on any of the Benches. I assure the House absolutely of that. I know that my noble friends Lord Deighton and Lord Newby have been, and continue to be, very involved in discussions off the Floor of the House with those taking part in the Bill. Those started in Committee; they continued after Committee. They continue now, and I feel that those have been very constructive discussions.

I do my best in the way of scheduling. There are other legislative options. The noble Baroness, the Leader of the Opposition, asks why we do not have more debates. This House scrutinises legislation. I have offered a considerable number of days to the Committee Office—indeed, last week I was thanked for so doing. Two days of government time have been given over to committee dates this Session. That was what the Committee Office asked for in the first place, and we have fulfilled that commitment. Last week, the Committee Office was not able to take up the full offer of the time that we gave them, but we had extremely good debates last Wednesday.

This House needs to do what it does best, to use time efficiently and effectively for scrutiny of legislation. There is other legislation available which could be scrutinised on that day. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that my door is open to the opposition Chief Whip if he wishes to discuss the availability of his Front-Bench spokesperson, to look again at those dates for legislation to be scheduled.

Motion agreed.