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

Volume 749: debated on Monday 11 November 2013

Committee (2nd 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

Amendment 94

Moved by

94: After Clause 7, insert the following new Clause—

“Professional lobbyists taking up employment in Government

(1) Any professional lobbyist taking up a senior position in Government shall—

(a) have their appointment scrutinised by a Committee; and(b) have restrictions placed on their activities as set out in subsection (3).(2) “Senior position in Government” means a position as Senior Civil Servant or their equivalent.

(3) The Minister, after consultation with relevant stakeholders, may make regulations about the activities specified in subsection (1)(b).”

My Lords, we return again to what my colleague has just described as a Bill with a long title but a very short content. The amendment stands in the names of my noble friend Lady Royall and me. Last week, an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Rooker, called for the requirement under the Bill to publish meetings with lobbyists to be extended from Ministers of the Crown to the leader of the Opposition in the six months before an election. This is an interesting proposition, as it raises the question of those slightly outside the magic circle of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, the lobbying of whom should be disclosed to the public.

However, the other side of that coin is the question of whether there are paid lobbyists—paid by industries to promote their interests—who have the ear of government in a particularly close way, but who would not be caught by the register rules, as they are not civil servants and they protest that when they do meet, for example, the Prime Minister, they are speaking not on behalf of those clients who pay them but about very different matters, such as how to beat the Labour Party, or, indeed—the Liberal Democrats should be warned—how to beat the Liberal Democrats. We therefore find that, for the strangest of reasons, meetings that the Prime Minister has with a very well paid lobbyist are not recorded, because, as it so happens, they are only to pore over opinion polls.

Furthermore, despite the Prime Minister’s promise to lead,

“the most transparent government ever”,

we understand that No. 10 has failed to reveal the identity of guests entertained at Chequers. We do not know whether these are lobbyists, mere donors to the party or ordinary friends. But what we do know is that Downing Street has traditionally published an annual list of guests at Chequers, but has not done so since July 2011.

In the context of this Bill, we would be interested to know how many times the lobbyist Lynton Crosby has been at Chequers. What sounds odd is that even after the Bill becomes law, Mr Crosby’s lobbying consultancy would have to disclose any such visits—and therefore publish more than the Prime Minister would have to about such conversations—because Mr Crosby would be defined by the Prime Minister just as a strategic political adviser. But how easy is it to make such distinctions, with the Bill as it stands?

Mr Crosby was hired in November 2012. That month his lobbying firm signed a contract with Philip Morris. In December, he allegedly chaired a meeting at which he advised tobacco companies about plain packaging. In January, he started work for the Conservative Party. In March, a senior Whitehall source told the BBC that Australian-style plain packaging would be introduced here. In July—surprise, surprise—the plan was dropped.

Similar questions have been raised about minimum unit pricing for alcohol. Of course, we have tried to find out the names of Mr Crosby’s clients, which would have had to be disclosed if the Government had produced this Bill rather sooner after their 2010 promise rather than now, as his lobbying company, being a consultancy, would have had to register and disclose its clients. As it is, Mr Shapps said on 17 July, it is a matter for Mr Crosby who his clients within the company are. That is because, as the Minister reiterated to me in a Written Answer on 29 July, Lynton Crosby was not employed by the Government—although, as we know, he was employed by a lobbying company, and by the Conservative Party.

In passing, we might note that although the Minister claims that Part 2 of the Bill is aimed at keeping big money out of politics, the Conservative Party can afford to pay Mr Crosby £500,000 to do his best to keep Mr Cameron in Downing Street. That sounds like big money to me.

Putting that to one side, this example—and there are others—raise two significant questions. One is about a possible conflict of interest caused by a lobbyist working on the Conservative Party leader’s political strategy, but there is also the wider point about the revolving door between government and the lobbying industry. We have just heard about the appointment of a former lobbyist, who also happened to be a Conservative campaigns officer, to oversee public appointments, which sounds to me like double jeopardy. The Civil Service Code states that Whitehall mandarins should be politically independent—a former Conservative worker does not look too independent. The lobbying transparency campaigner, Tamasin Cave, referring to this appointment, said that Ms Wyld had been a lobbyist. She went on to say:

“This job needs someone impartial. It does not bode well”.

Last July, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee also looked at the issue from the other end: the revolving door between the Civil Service and the private sector. It urged the Government to adopt a joined-up approach to lobbying regulations and to consider changes to the ACOBA alongside lobbying regulations. All of this needs flushing out if the public are really to see who has the ear of government and whether the Bill’s objective of increasing transparency is to be achieved.

Our amendments tackle the issue of lobbyists coming into the system, either as civil servants or employed by a governing party, rather than the outward move, but both should be of concern in any Bill dealing with the openness and transparency of the lobbying industry. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am not an expert on lobbying by any means, but I wonder whether lobbyists employed by opposition parties should also have their position made public. Opposition parties from time to time can form Governments after an election. The work of lobbyists in opposition is just as important as the work of lobbyists for those parties in government. The noble Baroness needs to redraft her amendment.

My Lords, I shall start by welcoming the at least partial support expressed by the Labour Front Bench for Part 1 of the Bill, and indeed the commendable sentiment that has been expressed for strengthening Part 1 further. I am sure that as we proceed, the same sort of constructive spirit for the Bill’s aims will be provided by the Labour Front Bench. The revolving door is an issue all the way across politics, which no Government have yet entirely managed to resolve. We recognise that people moving in and out of different private and public forms of life create some problems, and a number of things are now in place to cope with those who move from private industry into government and back again. It is not a new problem with this Government.

For Amendment 95 to cover all three parties, one would need to add,

“those who are employed in voluntary capacities”,

because my party would love to employ a number of these people but could not conceivably afford to pay them. Indeed, I am aware of a number of people associated with consultant lobbyist companies who have advised my party in the past. Perhaps that is an area that might also be considered.

I am conscious that this is very much about Lynton Crosby and Crosby Textor. In listening to the beginning of the speech of the noble Baroness, I felt that in some ways this was an amendment with a very long text but very little content, if I may slightly adapt what she said when starting out.

I note her comment on guests at Chequers and I will take that back. However, I googled Crosby Textor this morning and I can assure the noble Baroness that it would be caught by the new register, since it has offices in both Sydney and London, and would be forced to register and declare its clients under the new Part 1. That is part of what the Bill is about and Crosby Textor would therefore be entirely covered by it. The question of what happens when a member of a consulting company is employed under a contract part-time—as he is—by one of the political parties in government takes us close to the difficult area of how far political parties in government should be covered by this scheme. I have checked and I can assure the noble Baroness that he has not discussed the tobacco question with the Government. I realise that the tobacco question—I was not so aware of the alcohol question—is very sensitive in government. I merely say that Part 1 of the Bill would catch Crosby Textor. We would then know exactly who its clients were; that is part of the justification of Part 1.

Professional lobbyists taking up employment in government is a rather broader issue. We would of course need to know what sort of a committee would look at this. It would be easier to absorb it into the current arrangements for checking on people who move into government from the outside and, indeed, those who then leave government and go back into these sorts of activities, for which Whitehall already has arrangements. However, I think in some ways these two amendments are in order to make sure that Crosby Textor gets on to the agenda, and possibly into tomorrow’s “Today” programme. Having said that, I say: well played. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, the amendment was not short on content and certainly not on intent. However, before I make one comment to the Minister, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, that my passing reference at the beginning was exactly the point that he raised. I did not reiterate what we did last week. It was about the leader of the Opposition in the run-up to an election possibly making the same declarations as we are now asking for from Ministers. I do not have full backing yet from the powers that be in the party, but we came as close as we could to a nod in that direction last week in a way that I think the Minister understands.

The Minister slightly misunderstood the point of the amendment. We know that Crosby Textor would be caught, which is why we were trying to get the information before the Bill became law because it was taking such a long time. The interest was, of course, that the Prime Minister would feel that he did not have to declare that because the person he is meeting at the moment is not a Permanent Secretary and therefore would not be covered in that way. The two really do need to dovetail together.

This is something that we will want to come back to on Report, maybe not exactly in this form. However, it will be important for the aim of the Government, which is to make sure that those who have the ear of the most senior people in government declare theirs. We will need to make sure that we have captured that in a suitable amendment. However, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 94 withdrawn.

Amendment 95 not moved.

Clause 8 agreed.

Clause 9: Notice to supply information

Amendments 96 and 97 not moved.

Clause 9 agreed.

Clauses 10 and 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Offences

Amendments 98 to 106 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Amendment 107 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Civil penalties

Amendment 108 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16: Imposition of penalty

Amendment 109 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 agreed.

Clause 18: Civil penalties and criminal proceedings

Amendment 110 not moved.

Clause 18 agreed.

Clauses 19 and 20 agreed.

Clause 21: Guidance

Amendment 111 not moved.

Clause 21 agreed.

Clause 22: Charges

Amendments 112 and 113 not moved.

Clause 22 agreed.

Clause 23: Power to make further provision

Amendment 114 not moved.

Clause 23 agreed.

Clause 24: Regulations

Amendment 114A not moved.

Clause 24 agreed.

Amendment 115 not moved.

Clause 25: Interpretation

Amendments 116 to 118 not moved.

Clause 25 agreed.

My Lords, we gave an indication to the House that the Statement would take place after Amendments 94 and 95. This was for the convenience of, and to give certainty to, all those taking part in the transparency Bill, and to give some certainty to those who wished to be here for the Statement. The rationale behind this is that we have just heard the last of the amendments to Part 1 of the Bill and the House determined last week that Part 2 would not be considered until the middle of December. Therefore, during the rest of the day we will consider Part 3.

I can see that my noble friend Lady Warsi, like others, thought the first amendment would take a little longer. It was commendably briefly dealt with—it was a model for the rest—and at this stage I will have to move that the House adjourn during pleasure to enable others to take their places. As we are in Committee, I will first move that the House resume and then that it adjourn during pleasure, I suggest for 10 minutes.

House resumed.

Sitting suspended.