Statutory Register of Lobbyists
Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House
10:30 am

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John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead, Labour)

Whether the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists will require any changes to the Standing Orders of the House.

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Graham Jones (Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons); Hyndburn, Labour)

Whether the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists will require any changes to the Standing Orders of the House.

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David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

The Government published our initial proposals in the form of a consultation document on 20 January. Any effects on Standing Orders would best be considered in the light of what emerges from that consultation and subsequent legislation.

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John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead, Labour)

Does not the fact that there are links between serving parliamentarians and certain lobbying firms imply that there would be a need to change Standing Orders in some way? Does not this exchange reinforce the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister should have made an oral statement on the Floor of the House to launch the document, rather than fobbing us off with a written statement?

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David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

I really think we need to understand that the House is not being fobbed off with a written ministerial statement, particularly when there is a consultation paper the hon. Gentleman can contribute to in the same way as every other Member. Consultation papers are there to consult, and it is perfectly appropriate

to let the House be aware of a consultation paper that has been issued by issuing a written ministerial statement—a point you, Mr Speaker, have also made in recent weeks.

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Graham Jones (Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons); Hyndburn, Labour)

It took months for the consultation to be published. There is obviously a lot of dithering by the Government. When will the register of lobbyists finally be put before the House so that we can scrutinise it?

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David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

Let us make a comparison on dithering. We have brought before the House, within 18 months, firm proposals in a consultation paper with draft clauses. In 13 years, the Government that the hon. Gentleman supported did nothing whatsoever, despite being asked several times by Committees of the House to bring forward a statutory register of lobbyists. I think that we are making progress where his Government did not.

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Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)

Why have the Government not been able to provide a concise definition of a lobbyist?

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David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

Because, believe it or not, it is rather a difficult thing to define, which is why the consultation paper invites responses on precisely that issue. Some people would take an all-encompassing definition, which would require every one of our constituents who comes to see us in an advice surgery to register as a lobbyist before attending. I think that that would be an over-extensive definition.

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Angela Smith (Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Penistone and Stocksbridge, Labour)

The Government’s proposals, inadequate as they are, will require primary legislation. Will the Government now commit to pre-legislative scrutiny, which might encourage Ministers to come up with more substantial proposals?

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David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

Pre-legislative scrutiny requires the publication of draft clauses, and that is what we have done. The hon. Lady might have noticed that. Of course, if, as a result of consultation, a very different proposal is put before the House, that too will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny, because it is important that we get this right. Again, though, I really cannot take seriously the hon. Lady and her colleagues, who were incapable of doing anything about this problem, now complaining that we are doing something, which we are.

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Paul Flynn (Newport West, Labour)

The tentacles of the corrupt and semi-corrupt lobbying system have sunk deep into the body politic. If politics is to be reformed and confidence in the House and politics restored, major reform is essential. Unfortunately, the consultation document shows that instead of listening to what the Prime Minister said when in opposition, the Government have spent their time listening to lobbyists lobbying about lobbying.

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David Heath (The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)

That is absolute nonsense.