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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 3rd September 2013.

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Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage 3:16 pm, 3rd September 2013

I did take the opportunity to read the long title, as I do with every Bill on which I vote. Sometimes I vote in the Lobby with Opposition

Members. I am not one who always supports the Government 100%, although I do support them 100% on this Bill because it is starting a process. When matters are discussed on the Floor of the House, it creates a debate in Government and wider society, after which we can push for further improvements if that is what is needed. I have read the title; I have also read the Bill and the huge amount of documentation surrounding it.

I want to emphasise that the Bill represents progress. We are going to establish for the first time a register of consultant lobbyists. I know that some Members are concerned about how in-house lobbyists affect what happens here, but the reality is that if a Government relations person—as I believe they are called—from a particular firm turns up here, it is perfectly obvious that they will be trying to influence policy on behalf of that firm. That is fair enough. It is the same with trade unions. It is their responsibility to try to influence policy on behalf of their members; otherwise, what is the point of them? I do not really see a distinction between in-house lobbyists and others.

The public are more concerned, as am I, about when we meet a representative of some public relations agency and we do not know what they are going to talk about. When I first became a Member of Parliament, I was very naive in my first six or seven weeks here. I did not understand why so many people wanted to meet a mere Back-Bench MP. I actually saw the same lobbyist three times in one week, expressing three different views. I then decided never to meet a lobbyist again. Anyone who wants to meet me has to be the chief executive of their organisation or to be based in my constituency. In that way, I at least know who I am talking to and what they are talking about. For me, that is key.

A further issue relates to transparency and public confidence. The public want transparency. I must confess that, until I heard the wonderful speech by my hon. Friend Mrs Main, I never knew that lobbyists had any influence whatever. I thought that they just sat around and had a bloody good chat and then decided that they really ought to do something, but that nothing ever happened. The example that my hon. Friend gave was the first I have heard of a lobbyist having some influence.