Statutory Register of Lobbyists

Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 9th February 2012.

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Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 10:30 am, 9th February 2012

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

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

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

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

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?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

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?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Member, Panel of Chairs, Member, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

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

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

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.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Member, Public Administration Committee, Member, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

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.