I have a great deal of regard for John Cryer who proposed this Bill. He will know that the people in the Bradford district still have a great deal of regard for his father, who originally brought in this Bill, and for his mother, too. However, I am afraid that the Bill is typical of the Labour party’s nanny state bureaucracy and its belief that the Government should have a role in everything.
Although the hon. Gentleman started by saying that he just wanted to introduce a register of lobbyists, it became increasingly clear that he was against lobbying altogether and wanted to see an end to it, but only for businesses and commercial enterprises. None the less, lobbying plays an important part in any democratic process. It gives a voice to a whole range of groups and interests within our democracy by allowing them to make their case. One of the things that I despair of in politics is that increasingly politicians want to be on the popular side of the argument and that we are in danger of having a generation of politicians who will argue for what 75% of the public want rather than the other 25%. Actually, the 25% also deserve to have their case heard, and lobbyists can play a useful role in allowing organisations that might not be immediately popular and might not even have a particularly popular message to get across to have their voice heard as well. Surely, in a democracy all voices should be able to be heard whether or not they are popular.
This Bill could lead to many organisations and Members of Parliament becoming lobby shy. Discouraging lobbying altogether, as the hon. Gentlemen wishes, would lead to poorer law-making. I make no apology for the fact that I meet people who have a particular view that they want to express. It does not mean I will end up agreeing with them, and I am sure it does not mean that the hon. Gentleman agrees with everybody who advocates their case to him. None the less, it is perfectly reasonable that they should be able to have their say and that we should be able to listen to their arguments. We can either accept their arguments if they are good ones or we can dismiss them if they are not so good. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has so little faith in people in this House that he thinks that just because someone makes a case to them, they will automatically agree with it, pick it up and run with it. It does not mean anything of the sort; it just means that other voices can be heard.
What was sadly lacking in the hon. Gentleman’s speech was anything to do with trade unions. He had a lot to say about the lobbying of Members of Parliament by businesses, but he was reluctant to mention the importance of the lobbying of Members of Parliament by trade unions. His Bill talks about establishing
“a public register of organisations to carry out lobbying of Parliament for commercial gain”.
It seems that he has deliberately designed his words to exclude trade unions from his provisions. He wants a system in which trade unions can lobby anybody as much as they like and spend as much money as they like on doing so, but anyone else in the commercial world will not have any opportunity to do so. That is his real agenda—to push forward the trade union argument.
An opinion poll conducted by ComRes asked MPs about the number of approaches they typically received each week from various organisations, and the results were startling: 59% of MPs said that they received 20 or more approaches from interest groups, but in sheer lobbying volume the approaches from interest groups that included trade unions and non-governmental organisations outnumbered those from the corporate world. The hon. Gentleman wants to entrench that position. In effect, he wants the trade unions to have all the influence that they desire and nobody to be able to argue against any of the things for which they lobby. That would be a triumph not for democracy but for his own agenda. A perfectly effective self-regulatory system is already in place.
I do not want to detain the House any further and I certainly do not intend to call a Division, but I thought it important that the one-sidedness of the hon. Gentleman’s argument be made abundantly clear. The Bill is not necessary or desirable. We should be prepared to listen to people who want to lobby from all parts of society, whether they be businesses, trade unions, charities or other organisations, and we should not support a Bill that tries to prevent certain people from getting their message across just because he happens not to agree with it.
Question put and agreed to.
John Cryer accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on