‘(1) The Registrar shall, after wide consultation with relevant stakeholders including the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, prepare a code of conduct with which all registered persons will be required to comply, and may produce revised codes from time to time.
(2) The Secretary of State must lay any professional lobbying code of conduct before Parliament.
(3) Any code shall provide that any inappropriate financial relations between registered persons and Parliamentarians are strictly forbidden.
(4) An organisation or person included on the register which contravenes the provisions of the code of conduct shall be liable to civil penalties as set out in section 14.’.—(Mr Thomas.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 6—Duty to report—
Amendment 84, page 54, line 15, after ‘satisfied’, insert ‘after consultation with the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons’.
Government amendment 31.
Amendment 85, page 3, line 7, leave out from ‘business’ to end of line 8.
Amendment 86, page 3, line 15, at end insert—
‘(h) the name of the employer and the address of employer‘s business; and
(i) the names of members of staff employed by the person registered.’.
Government amendments 17 and 18.
Amendment 87, page 3, line 21, at end insert—
‘(c) the approximate value of the registered person’s spending on their lobbying activities for each quarter.’.
Government amendments 19 and 20.
Amendment 89, page 3, line 37, after ‘client information’, insert ‘and spending on lobbying’.
Government amendments 21 and 22.
Amendment 100, page 3, line 47, at end add—
‘(c) if the registered person engaged in lobbying in the quarter in return for payment (whether or not the payment has been received), the purpose and subject matter of the lobbying services provided by the registered person; and
(d) if the registered person received payment in the quarter to engage in lobbying (whether or not the lobbying has been done) the purpose and subject matter of the lobbying services provided by the registered person.’.
Amendment 90, page 4, line 7, at end insert—
‘(7) Spending on lobbying for each quarter is the approximate value of the amount a registered person spends on their lobbying activity for each quarter.’.
Government amendments 23 and 24.
Amendment 92, page 4, line 40, after ‘appropriate’, insert ‘including in written form’.
Amendment 93, page 5, line 26, leave out Clause 10.
Government amendment 25.
Amendment 94, page 6, line 28, after ‘incomplete’, insert ‘or misleading’.
Amendment 95, page 6, line 36, after ‘incomplete’, insert ‘or misleading’.
Amendment 96, page 6, line 42, after ‘incomplete’, insert ‘or misleading’.
Government amendments 26 and 27.
Reasonable though the Leader of the House was about the previous set of amendments, he will have to reach unprecedented oratorical heights for the Opposition not to press new clause 4 to a vote. The new clause seeks to establish a code of conduct that would help establish standards of behaviour for consultant lobbyists. Such codes exist already in a number of other countries that have tough lobbying regulations—Canada and Australia, for example, both have codes of conduct to which registered lobbyists must adhere. Indeed, this House’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee also recommended a statutory code of conduct.
There was some debate in Committee about the elements of a possible code of conduct, and that point bears dwelling on and expanding a little. Surely, top of the list of standards in a code of conduct should be the requirement that lobbyists and their clients tell the truth to those they meet. Another element that might be worthy of inclusion in the code is that lobbyists must be open about who their clients are. Members of the House, Ministers and permanent secretaries are entitled to know who is lobbying them and for what purpose. Surely there should be a requirement that lobbyists advise their clients if they are about to commit illegal or unethical acts.
It is not clear to Labour Members—and, I suspect, to other Members—why Ministers do not want such basic principles of good behaviour enshrined in a code of conduct. In Committee, the then Minister, Miss Smith, suggested:
“The experience of regulators in other jurisdictions clearly shows that statutory codes of conduct for lobbying can be unworkable and unenforceable.”—[Hansard, 9 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 786.]
Sadly, she did not feel able to give the Committee any more information than that bald statement. If it remains the Government’s position that they do not support a code of conduct, it would be helpful for the House, those in the other place and those who watch our proceedings if they set out clearly the international examples that led them to the conclusion that statutory codes of conduct are unworkable and unenforceable.
If there is no code of conduct, we will be in the rather odd position in which the registrar can punish lateness in providing or submitting information, but cannot punish lobbyists who deliberately hide who they are working for from those they are lobbying. Before being drawn up, a code of conduct would need to be properly consulted on with all relevant stakeholders, including the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. I accept there are already a number of voluntary codes of conduct in the lobbying industry, some of which are extremely comprehensive. Sadly, however, not every lobbyist is a member of one or other of those voluntary codes.
Gavin Devine, chief executive of MHP Communications, one of the bigger lobbying firms, noted there is a risk that simply securing a place on the register might enable lobbyists to imply they had a kitemark or some sort of endorsement, without having to operate to particular standards. Other evidence presented to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee suggested there might be an economic issue for some who decide to register and pay the registration fee, but do not want to pay any more for the cost of being a consultant lobbyist, and therefore would no longer be part of a voluntary code of conduct.
Surely, there is a risk that, once registered, a lobbyist will simply decide not to bother with any of the voluntary codes of conduct. On
One voluntary code that bears looking at is that produced by the Association of Professional Political Consultants. Why do not Ministers think that its 18 elements should be standardised across the industry? Item 2 states:
“Political consultants must act with honesty towards clients and the institutions of government.”
Surely, we all want to see consultant lobbyists acting with honesty towards clients and the institutions of government. Why do the Leader of the House and his colleagues in government think that such a provision should not be written into a code of conduct and that every consultant lobbyist should have to abide by that most basic of standards?
The APPC code also states that lobbyists
“must use reasonable endeavours to satisfy themselves of the truth and accuracy of all statements made or information provided to clients or by or on behalf of clients to institutions of government.”
Again, that seeks to continue the principle of truthfulness among those who seek to lobby Parliament and the institutions of government. Why should there not be such a reasonable expectation that when we are told something, it is truthful and accurate? It is not clear, certainly among the Opposition, why Ministers think that such basic standards should not be required of all those who lobby.
The APPC code also makes it clear that those who sign it should be
“open in disclosing the identity of their clients and must not misrepresent their interests.”
Again, I ask the Leader of the House why such a basic standard for the lobbying industry should not be enshrined in a code of conduct. Why should everyone who seeks to lobby us not be required to meet that most basic of standards?
Another provision that might be included in a code is the requirement that lobbyists do not make misleading, exaggerated or extravagant claims to clients. Anyone who has followed the unfortunate publicity that some lobbyists have generated will be aware that some have made exaggerated claims for their influence on the Government or Members of Parliament. Again, a basic requirement that lobbyists should not make misleading, exaggerated or extravagant claims would surely help to protect those who use the services of the lobbying industry. Why do Ministers not think that clients should be protected from such basic bad behaviour by a would-be lobbyist and therefore have it written into a code of conduct?
Interestingly, the APPC code deals with payments and offers of entertainment and mementoes. It makes it clear that
“political consultants must not offer or give, or cause a client to offer or give, any financial or other incentive to” somebody in government
“that could be construed in any way as a bribe or solicitation of favour”
Again, that must be a basic standard we would want all consultant lobbyists to abide by. If one shares that view, it should be written into a code of conduct, so that all consultant lobbyists have to abide by it, not just those who, in this case, choose to be members of the APPC.
The wording of new clause 4, to which the hon. Gentleman is speaking, is curious. It states:
“Any code shall provide that any inappropriate financial relations between registered persons and Parliamentarians are strictly forbidden.”
That suggests that there are inappropriate financial relations and appropriate financial relations, which I am sure is not what he meant.
Indeed not, although I do not see the hon. Lady’s concern about the wording. She will be aware of several cases of allegations of inappropriate relationships, which we need to address, and a code of conduct could help us to do that.
We are seeking to establish the principle that there should be a code of conduct dealing with the relationship between Members of Parliament and the industry and covering a whole series of other questions. I hope that the hon. Lady will be persuaded of the need for such a code of conduct. I accept that consultation on the detail would be required, but if we could persuade her and the whole House to join us in the Lobby to support new clause 4, and if it were carried, I would hope she wanted to respond to such a consultation.
I am so sorry to be persistent, but I am even more confused than when I made my first intervention on this point. I am wildly enthusiastic about having a code and am willing to support the principle, but I cannot support the wording in the new clause. I would like the hon. Gentleman to explain what could possibly be an appropriate financial relationship between a registered lobbyist and a parliamentarian. No financial relationship is appropriate, so my problem is with the word “inappropriate”. Will he address that point, please?
The hon. Lady is right that it is very difficult to see how any direct financial relationship could be appropriate. I come back to a particular provision in the APPC code that might shed some light on this issue. The provision makes it clear that in relation to entertainment, for example, or to token mementos, no incentive should be given. It might be possible to suggest that such circumstances involve a financial incentive, but my point is that we need a code of conduct and we need clear details of what should be in it. I hope that that explanation will persuade the hon. Lady to support our proposal for a basic code of conduct, and that she will be able to play a role in being consulted on the details.
New clause 6 would place a duty on the registrar to report to Parliament annually on the operation of the register. The Information Commissioner has a similar duty under the Data Protection Act 1998. At the moment, the Bill implies little accountability to Parliament by the registrar. Given the registrar’s powers to impose civil penalties, to issue guidance and to make financial decisions, some accountability ought surely to be provided for in law. Let us remember when, all those long days ago, Government Members supported the signing of the coalition agreement. Page 21 of that document contained a commitment to strengthen the powers of Select Committees to scrutinise major public appointments. Surely new clause 6 follows the spirit of that provision. Indeed, even the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised to increase parliamentary scrutiny of Government appointments. New clause 6 would allow just that.
Even at this late stage—if not today and tomorrow, then in the other place—we hope that the Bill can be made more effective and, crucially, more wide ranging in regard to the number of lobbyists it covers. It remains our view that it should cover all lobbyists, and that it should provide for a clear code of conduct. The registrar would have an even more important role to play if these proposals were accepted, as we hope they will be. There is therefore even more need to ensure the registrar’s accountability to Parliament.
Amendment 84 provides that, in the unlikely and unusual circumstances of the registrar facing dismissal by Ministers, the dismissal could be confirmed only after consultation with the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. Given the registrar’s importance in regulating the activities of those who seek to lobby Members of this House, as well as Ministers, it is surely reasonably to ensure that the ultimate disciplinary sanction could be taken only after discussions with Parliament.
Amendment 86 would require lobbyists to name those for whom they were working, and for whom their staff were working. Whether the Conservatives like it or not, the adverse publicity that the employment of Lynton Crosby has secured for them has been caused in part by the lack of clarity from the Prime Minister about whether Mr Crosby’s firm and its many members of staff are working for anyone else in the UK at the same time as they are working for the Conservative party. We want transparency in lobbying, and the Government say that they too want to abide by that ambition. In that case, lobbyists should at least be required to disclose which clients they and their staff are working for.
Amendments 87, 89 and 90 would require a declaration of how much had been spent on lobbying in a particular period. If we want to understand what lobbyists are doing, and if we want proper transparency in our politics regarding the scale of lobbyists’ influence, we need to understand where and why big money is being spent on buying consultant lobbying services.
I have followed the debate with a great deal of interest. It seems to me that the additional safeguards that the hon. Gentleman wants to put in place would be so convoluted as to create a lawyers’ nightmare. Surely it would be simpler to strengthen the guidance to Ministers and Members of Parliament than to try to enshrine all this in the Bill.
I say gently to the hon. Lady that I understand her frustration with the process, but we are trying to make the best of a bad job by the Government, and to tidy up a poorly prepared Bill. She makes a reasonable point, however. Had we had the opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny and for a further period of consultation with the industry on the details of the lobbying provisions in the Bill, we might not have needed to table amendments to try to make the Government’s proposals more workable.
I have a degree of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Many of us have concerns about the Bill, but he might just be making matters worse, despite his best intentions. I do not believe that the Bill will catch the behind-the-scenes lobbying that the public are most concerned about. The emphasis should therefore be more on ensuring that Ministers and Members of Parliament act totally correctly, rather than on trying to second-guess every little nuance that a lobbyist might come up with.
I have to disagree with the hon. Lady. If we can get the rules for lobbyists right—or as right as we possibly can—at the beginning of the process, we should be able to limit the scope for problems further down the line. In tabling our amendments, we have been motivated by what has happened in other countries that have statutory codes of conduct. Our research suggests that such measures have had a positive impact in helping to make lobbying more transparent in those other jurisdictions. That is why I commend our proposals to the hon. Lady and to the House.
I suspect that, once lobbyists had got used to the new regime, they would become extremely comfortable with a code of conduct and with the other requirements that I have set out. Clearly, there would be a need for the registrar to do some educational work, but I am sure that that would be possible. I am concerned, however, that because so few lobbyists will be covered by the provisions of the Bill, the registrar might not be financially sustainable in the way Ministers hope. If that is the case, I fear that there would not be sufficient resources to do the educational work that would form part of the registrar’s public duties. I hear the hon. Lady’s reluctance, but I urge her to keep the faith and to come with us into the Lobby tonight in an effort to make a bad Bill a little bit better. [Interruption.] I think I heard her say that the Bill was rubbish, or at least saw her mouth those words. I would not use such terms, but I understand her frustration with those on her own side.
I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend Mr Allen speaking to amendment 100. His interesting amendment seeks to require the declaration of the purpose and subject matter of a lobbying exercise. Our amendments 86, 87, 89 and 90 would have a similar effect, but I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will offer his own specific analysis of the merits of his amendment.
Amendment 92 would allow the registrar to publish the register—not only on a website, but in any other form that the registrar thinks appropriate, including, I would suggest, in written form. The key here is to ensure that the register is as accessible as possible.
Amendment 93 would remove the provision that deals with privilege and self-incrimination. This is surely a somewhat archaic principle, holding that an individual cannot be compelled to provide information that would then incriminate them. I am not sure why we need this provision to be included, so the Leader of the House might like to dwell in his reply on the need for its inclusion. This is essentially a probing amendment, intended to allow the Government to set out their argument.
Amendments 94 to 96 would ensure that a lobbyist who submitted a misleading entry to the register would be committing an offence under the Bill. Again, we seek to make the register a more transparent document and an accurate source of information about who lobbyists are working for and how much they are receiving for doing so. We want the legislation to provide for clear consequences if lobbyists fail to provide the required clarity and transparency about their lobbying work. If, for example, a lobbyist’s entry were somewhat ambiguous, the registrar could, under our amendment, take steps to compel the lobbyist to be more open, clearer and more transparent about their activities. If the Leader of the House intends to oppose these amendments, I would be interested to hear his thoughts on whether misleading entries should be regarded as acceptable and on why no sanctions should be imposed on lobbyists who provide the registrar with misleading information.
I very much hope that the Government will, in the end, come round to the view that in-house lobbyists need to be brought under the scope of this legislation. A code of conduct, provided for by the principal new clause in the group, could then cover a whole series of lobbying activities and require all lobbyists to adhere to clearer standards of behaviour. Many in the lobbying industry who are practitioners of political lobbying work to high ethical standards, and they unsurprisingly support a code of conduct. It is far from clear why the Government do not support a statutory code of conduct.
I am just trying to be helpful.
Amendment 100 emerged from the considerations of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform when the Bill was put before us and we had a chance to take evidence from witnesses. I hope that the amendment is helpful in raising a number of issues that I would like the Government to consider.
We heard a few moments ago from my right hon. Friend Mr Barron, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and I endorse his views in that the Government have listened on the particular item he mentioned, as a result of which we have a better Bill, although it is still far from perfect. That just shows that where there is interaction—this does not mean that the Government have to swallow every probing amendment that finds itself on to the amendment paper—there is a possibility of a little bit of give and take. From my perspective as a parliamentarian, I understand that some of the ethics coming from the Front Bench have to be a little sharper and a bit more oppositional, but I sometimes have the luxury of posing a view on behalf of Parliament that might find favour, albeit not necessarily in its existing form. Let that debate continue.
This is why, unprecedentedly in my own political career, I opposed the programme motion earlier today—because we did not have the chance in so many fields and areas to interact with the Government. Where we have had that chance, it has, by and large, been a productive relationship. I hope that, because this House has not had as much of that chance as we would like, colleagues in the other place will find an open door and be allowed more give and take so that the Bill evolves and gets better and better as it goes through the parliamentary process. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the Leader of the House was about to launch forth from the Dispatch Box or whether he was merely stretching, having sat in his place for 40 minutes. Clearly, he was just stretching.
As I say, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West has covered most of the issues, but on a more specific and narrow point, I would like to look at the issue of the information provided in the register. It was an issue that my Select Committee took very seriously, and we took a lot of evidence on it. Looking at the nitty-gritty of the Bill through the first consultation we undertook, we thought that we would have a Bill that dealt only with what we are discussing today—not with what we will be discussing tomorrow, as that was added at a later stage. Today, however, we are discussing lobbying, lobbyists and the process of lobbying. We thought that we had made quite a sensible and constructive contribution to that debate. Subsequently, we then rather hurriedly took additional witness evidence, including from the Leader of the House, but from people on all sides of the arguments about what lobbying is and what form regulation should take.
One point that was common to all those who spoke to us was that they felt that the big chance had been missed. They believed that the lobbying problem had been accurately identified by the Prime Minister and perceptively identified by the Deputy Prime Minister in the run-up to and during the last general election. People were surprised, however, that none of those issues that raised such public concern—and the concern of two party leaders who became partners in the coalition—were addressed in the Bill that was produced to deal with lobbying. Rather, lobbyists were narrowly defined and those to be lobbied were narrowly defined. We thus felt through that period that a big chance had been missed to do what we all thought the lobbying Bill was about. The detail of all that was taken seriously, as people from a wide range of views said, “Let us try to help; let us try to define the problem a little more accurately”—by reflecting, for example, on what sort of information should be provided. That is clearly at the heart of amendment 100.
I would be pleased to do so. My Select Committee, composed of Members of all parties, pulled together the full list of those who gave us evidence, and we published it. On the specific point that the hon. Lady mentions, my report heard from interested people ranging from a former chief executive of five trade associations, Mark Boleat, the Information Commissioner’s Office and Spinwatch, which was on one particular wing of the argument, to academics such as Dr Hogan, Professor Murphy and Dr Chari, to Iain Anderson, the deputy chairman of the Association of Professional and Political Consultants, the Committee on Standards in Public Life—mentioned earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley—and the list goes on and on. Many people and organisations in all parts of the lobbying industry gave evidence to the Committee, and there was a surprising degree of consensus on the issue of what might happen, particularly in relation to information provided in the register.
This is another missed opportunity. First the Government missed the opportunity to tackle some of the big issues involved in what the public regard as lobbying; now, by ramming the Bill through the House of Commons at such a late stage like a bull charging at a gate and by leaving any effective scrutiny to the other place, they have failed to cash in on the good will that exists among organisations in the lobbying business which might be expected to be at daggers drawn.
In fact—partly as a result of a process of discussion and debate in which my Committee played its part, but partly because of public interest in the issue—people began to say things such as “Let us try to find a sensible way forward. Let us find some basic steps on which we can all agree.” Perhaps the issue could be revisited in a couple of years when things had settled down, or perhaps cases could be responded to as they arose when loopholes were identified.
No one ever expects a measure to be perfect initially. I think that we missed that chance, that possibility of consensus. We suggested that there could be a pause, certainly in respect of clause 2, and that we, or at any rate a Committee of the House, could—within a set time such as six months, and not as a means of delay—bring back to the House a fully fledged Bill that would command consensus among all those with an interest, rather than a Bill which, sadly, commands consensus because no one likes it.
The Bill has no friends. It has a driver in the Leader of the House, but no one is saying “Thank goodness for this Bill.” There are no people out in the streets marching up and down saying “Thank goodness Parliament has got it right.” I think that it reflects badly on the reputation of this place, and we are seen to be failing the public, when a public issue such as anxiety about lobbying can be put to bed in a rational way but we produce a Bill that has so many loopholes, one of which relates to the information provided in the register.
I have just observed that other members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights are not in the Chamber. Although I did not attend the last meeting, I know that it is in the public domain that the Chair of the Committee wrote to the Leader of the House expressing similar concern about speed and lack of scrutiny. The report has not been written and I am therefore not at liberty to reveal the likely proposals, but I think that there is a fairly widespread cross-party view that more time would produce a better and more comprehensive Bill.
I think that if I am allowed to speak for long enough in replying to the right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Human Rights Committee may appear from somewhere, and may be able to inform the House of the Committee’s view on whether the Bill, as currently constituted, should be subject to a pause so that it can be examined effectively in the context of the human rights aspects to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
But not in my usual place.
My hon. Friend has made an important point. As he knows, tomorrow Simon Hughes and I will discuss the heads of the report. In September, we agreed that it was very inopportune that we should have to deal with matters of great import in such great haste. The Committee feels strongly that we need far more time.
Order. The amendment to which Mr Allen is speaking relates to the issue of registered persons, which, as he said at the outset, is specific and narrow. The debate is not about the time that has been allocated to discussion of the Bill. Dr Francis has assisted the hon. Member for Nottingham North, and I hope that he will now speak directly to his amendment.
I am very sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. Two experienced Members led me astray, and diverted me from the points that I was seeking to make about delays and human rights. I am sure that they took your strictures very personally.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that we are not where we would like to be, and that an opportunity has been missed. Why does he think that? Why, in his view, have we not taken action that most Members would support?
Order. The Members who are present this evening are indeed experienced, and the hon. Member for Nottingham North is very experienced. He knows that the purpose of the debate is to focus on the matters contained in the amendments. Perhaps Members who wish to comment on matters relating to Third Reading, or to other amendments, could save their remarks for those occasions. I am sure that, given the huge amount of work that has been done by the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, he will now want to return to the subject of amendment 100.
I must ask Members to stop tempting me to stray, because I have some important points to make about the amendment. Other points can be made at other times.
Let me now make some comments relating specifically to the information provided in the register. I shall try to be even-handed, as my Committee was, and balance the arguments that were presented to us. I have already mentioned Mark Boleat, the former chief executive of five trade associations. He thought that the Bill, as constituted, was sufficient. He said:
“Subject to the definition of ‘lobbyist’ being widened, the information to be included on the register is satisfactory.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office commented:
“It is clear that the nature of the information to be provided for inclusion on the register by those engaged in lobbying activities will provide a useful source of information not previously available on a routine basis.”
I do not suggest that this is a clear-cut, black-and-white issue—I think that there are contending views—but the balance of the evidence given to the Committee clearly indicated that slightly more detailed information could be provided in the register. For example, there was a significant degree of agreement that the additional information should include disclosure of the subject matter of lobbying, and some agreement about inclusion of the purpose of the lobbying and the list of those who had been lobbied.
Having put that on the record, I hope that, either today or at some other stage, Ministers will digest it and decide whether they consider it reasonable for such measures to be included in the Bill. I am hopeful that that would receive consent both here and in the other place.
Some people also argued for financial disclosure in the register. As one might expect, Spinwatch stated that the information required under the Bill was “wholly insufficient”, adding:
“For a register to meaningfully allow public scrutiny of lobbying, it must include information from lobbyists on their interactions with government. In other words: whom they are meeting and what issues they are discussing. Members of the public wanting to see which outside organisations are exerting influence on a particular policy area, for example, will be unable to do so under this proposal.”
As I mentioned, there was a joint submission to the Committee from three eminent academics: Dr Hogan, Professor Murphy and Dr Chari. They argued for the inclusion in the register of
“the subject matter and purpose of the lobbying”.
The Royal College of Midwives commented:
“It is hard to see how the information requested will add greatly to the transparency of the lobbying process...Would it be too burdensome, at the very least, to ask for the register also to spell out the issues on which clients are seeking to lobby (e.g. improved conditions for farm animals), and the nature of the lobbying that has taken place (e.g. all-party group on road hauliers established)?”
Therefore, evidence was coming in all the time about how seriously the detail, the nitty-gritty, of the lobbying part of the Bill should be examined. Those are important, serious issues that will not only affect the livelihoods of those in the lobbying business, but influence the transparency of those who are being lobbied, their accountability and how effectively they are lobbied.
That is one detail of an important, extended set of original legislative prerogatives that we are being asked to look at. I briefly allude to the fact that earlier I felt that we needed not just more time on the Floor of the House but adequate time to tease out these issues. There are not wild differences of view but there are understandable differences of nuance. Parliament has a role in helping to make legislation work. If we have that starting point, people can come together and make even a Bill that some of us largely disagree with workable. I hope that the second Chamber can pick that up, too.
Iain Anderson, deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, supported publishing information about the purpose and subject matter of lobbying, but suggested that that could be done most effectively and efficiently when details of ministerial and official meetings were published, rather than in the register. That is a perfectly valid view. I have heard it put by Government Front Benchers. It is perfectly justifiable. The Committee on Standards in Public Life also argued that information on the subject matter could be included either on the register or in the details that were published of meetings. The difficulty with including the information in the data about ministerial and official meetings is that, if the definition of lobbying is expanded to encompass conduct and contact with the rest of the senior civil service, special advisers and others, who do not necessarily publish details of their meetings, the coverage of such information would be patchy at best. That would not necessarily be advantageous when we are trying to pull such a Bill together.
My hon. Friend is making an interesting and powerful point. Did his Select Committee consider the possibility that the public, if enough time had been allowed, would have considered it appropriate for national newspapers to be seen as lobbyists?
Again, my hon. Friend is seeking to take advantage of my good nature. Madam Deputy Speaker gives me the row when colleagues do that, so I am going to avoid the temptation that he puts in my way. I do not wish to offend again.
I would never lead an hon. Member astray. The hon. Gentleman has raised a serious issue to do with the transparency of lobbying. Those are the words in the Bill: transparency of lobbying. Therefore, it is essential that the subject matter of the lobbyist group that meets the Minister or senior civil servant, talks to them, phones or whatever is noted. Clause 4(2)(g) says that the entry must include
“such other information as may be specified in regulations.”
Therefore, I would like the Leader of the House to confirm tonight that there is provision in the Bill for the subject matter of the lobbying to be required by regulation. If he were to give the House that assurance tonight, would that influence the hon. Gentleman’s decision on whether to press amendment 100 this evening?
I do not want to incur the wrath of the Deputy Speaker, so I had better not say anything on clause 4(2)(g) as my amendment relates to clause 5. I do not intend to press my amendment to a Division, however. What I wish to do is engage the Leader of the House on an issue on which there is both concern and a lot of constructive activity. If he chooses to tap into it, there is a lot of constructive endeavour out there seeking to get this right for all the people who are concerned about lobbying. On that basis I am putting a number of items on the record in the hope that, either here or in the other place, we examine the following very difficult question: if we are going to register lobbying, do we register the subject too, and if so, how do we best do that for the sake both of convenience and of the transparency and accountability on which this whole Bill rests? I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of my Select Committee, and that it is absolutely not beyond the wit of Government, to come up with something, put it on the Order Paper in the second Chamber and find a way forward that allows everybody to make progress.
We are not talking about a detailed note and a minute and so forth—I do not imagine the hon. Lady is talking about that either. Alexandra Runswick, the director of Unlock Democracy, is one of the people who gave evidence to us. She said:
“I think that misrepresents the nature of the information we are looking for in the register. We are not expecting a transcript of the meeting, but what policy area it is that is being lobbied on. There are already individual MPs who publish their diaries and say, for example, ‘I met Unlock Democracy about the Lobbying Bill.’ That is the level of information that we are looking at—the policy that is being lobbied about, not the exact information that was shared with the person whom you are lobbying.”
That strikes me as eminently reasonable, but if it is not in those exact words something that the Government feel they can adopt, perhaps it is something they feel they can work with, so what we produce from these Houses is not a laughing stock to people out there who say, “There they go again; the old boys in the club have stitched it up again. Look at what they’ve done. This isn’t going to tackle lobbying. We’ve seen that it’s not tackling some of the key lobbying issues that got this subject into the public domain, and now look at it! They’re not even going to tell us what they want to talk about in two words.”
That does not do a service to the House or to this Bill. Lobbyists and those being lobbied are also very clear that that does not help them in what most of them do, which is a fair day’s honest work trying to do their job effectively. They understand that this looks as though there is something to hide, when in fact, as in most walks of life, 99.9% of them are just doing a fair day’s work.
The hon. Gentleman rightly makes the point that if the topic on which the lobbying is taking place can be kept secret, people will have no sense of true transparency, but does he agree that not only do the public need to be satisfied about, and protected by, such transparency, but so, too, do the people contracting the lobbyists and the lobbyists, because they should be free of any accusations of ulterior motives or ulterior agendas, or lobbying on other issues, by being able to say clearly, “This is what it was for; that is what it was about”?
That is why I think sorting out the information provided in the register is essential to this part of the Bill.
Political Lobbying and Media Relations stated:
“Explicit information on the details of meetings between lobbyists and ministers should not be published.”
I agree with that. It continues:
“This removes the right of privacy to individual organisations who often have sensitive information that they wish to share with elected representatives.”
As far as I can gather, nobody is actually suggesting that that should be done and that there should almost be a video camera present whenever such an interaction takes place. We are modestly suggesting, as food for thought, that there should be some means of registering the subject that is the object of the debate involving the lobbyist.
As the hon. Gentleman will have realised from the last debate, I have great concerns about a specific development of rail freight in my constituency. If the topic was lodged just as, “Discussion about getting freight off roads and on to rail”, I would be none the wiser as to whether the discussion was about a specific development that I am particularly concerned about. So I am a little concerned that his broad-brush approach might end up with people who wish to phrase things in such a way concealing matters rather than revealing them.
The hon. Lady made a telling intervention about that in our last set of debates. I am sure she will forgive me for not knowing enough about the detail of the case; the subject appeared to be very specific. It would have been a lie to say that this was a general discussion about transport and haulage; that would have been to conceal the truth. It is not for me to judge, because I do not know the case, but that particular interaction would have been much better described in specifics; without going into technical detail, mention could have been made of the constituency and the people involved. That could have been done in a few words, and the hon. Lady, one of her constituents or someone interested in this particular case would have picked that up from the register. She would then, rightly, have been able to ask further questions of a Minister or a friend of a Minister. She would have been able to say, “Hang on. What does this actually mean? I have a constituency interest here. I have been following this. What went on here?” From that, we can move things forward. We are not saying, “Let’s have a full minute of that particular thing in the public domain for everybody.” We want to give people the lever to make transparency and accountability actually work.
I know what Mrs Main is talking about, and she made an important point that we should recognise: the distinction between those lobbying for commercial interests and those, apparently or even genuinely, lobbying for an altruistic case, for example, on behalf of the environment. Members of a lobbying group wanting to reduce emissions and to get people off road and on to rail might be being used by commercial interests. The distinction between the two things is very important.
We need a dose of common sense here, so that the stuff in the public domain is not onerous for all those people involved in it but is none the less informative for those who wish to go further and ask questions.
Deciding on a form of words that makes that apparent and makes it acceptable to almost everyone who is lobbied or who is a lobbyist is well within our capabilities. That is why my Committee has suggested—I speak not as an individual MP but on behalf of a Select Committee of this House which looked at this matter with care—that the Leader of the House and his team have another look at this. In order to get that debate going, we have suggested, in amendment 100, that we add the words
“the purpose and subject matter of the lobbying services”.
Our amendment states:
“if the registered person engaged in lobbying in the quarter in return for payment (whether or not the payment has been received), the purpose and subject matter of the lobbying services provided by the registered person”.
We hope the proposal is helpful and I think that people out there would expect it of us. We should not be pressing to have a particular form of words, but we should certainly be pressing to have the Government think about how they meet this very obvious public requirement. On the basis of good faith that the Government Front-Bench team will take this issue away, I will not seek to press amendment 100 to a vote.
I am grateful to colleagues for the two speeches on this group of amendments.
Let me start with new clause 4, moved by Mr Thomas. The proposed new clause would require the registrar, after consultation with stakeholders including the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, to produce a code with which all registered persons must comply or face a civil penalty. We are talking about a statutory code with a requirement for a penalty if it is not complied with. The exchanges between the hon. Gentleman and Lady Hermon amply illustrated that there is scant detail about what such a code would contain, so the amendments reveal that the Opposition intend to create not only a register of lobbyists but a full-blown general regulator of the industry. While the Government are seeking to shine the light of transparency on the key issues in lobbying and the impact on key decision makers, the Opposition are bent on regulating the lobbying industry as a whole. They would regulate the behaviour of the huge number of individuals and organisations that would be captured by the definition of professional lobbying that they suggested in Committee.
The Government recognise the industry’s efforts to improve lobbying practice by introducing its own codes of conduct and we are confident that that will continue. Those codes promote the ethical behaviour that is essential to the integrity and reputation of the lobbying industry. The voluntary, self-regulated codes contain laudable principles and good practice guidance, but their translation into statute is hardly sensible—nor is it feasible. The experience of regulators in other jurisdictions illustrates clearly that statutory codes of conduct for lobbying are effectively unworkable and unenforceable.
I was going to answer the point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier, so let me give him an example and then I will let him intervene.
The consequence of seeking to regulate the whole industry is that in Congress the point has been reached at which there is an 894-page manual. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously proposing that we should go down that path, having a similar relationship between the lobbying industry and this Parliament to that in Congress?
The right hon. Gentleman is now making a different point from that made by Miss Smith in Committee. She argued that there were plenty of examples of statutory codes of conduct that were not working. The right hon. Gentleman is making a different point and I would gently suggest to him that the experience from Canada and Australia, where statutory codes of conduct exist, suggests that such codes can be made to work perfectly effectively.
I do not agree. The consequence of large-scale statutory codes is considerable expenditure.
Let us consider the simple questions to which we have no answers. The new clause states only that there should not be inappropriate financial relationships; the hon. Gentleman does not tell us what those inappropriate relationships are or explain why they are not already prohibited by instruments such as parliamentarians’ codes of conduct, which we discussed earlier, or laws on bribery and corruption. How would the provisions of the code be enforced? What resources would the registrar require to monitor and enforce compliance, particularly if seeking to enforce compliance against imprecise, vague and wide-ranging—understandably so, as far as the voluntary code is concerned—principles and prescriptions? Trying to set up such a structure of enforcement in relation to such a wide-ranging code for such a large number of people is completely unsustainable. Who would foot the bill? The bill for the measures in Canada is equivalent to £3 million and this proposal would clearly cost much more. In any case, the Canadians go about things in a different way from us. It is not a case of adopting what they do, because they do not take our approach. We set out, through the transparency of Ministers’ and permanent secretaries’ diaries, to approach the issue in a completely different fashion.
We are not trying to set up a register that controls what the lobbying industry does. Our approach recognises that lobbyists have a job to do. They are engaged in a self-regulatory structure. We are not trying to introduce a bureaucratic monster to oversee all that. We are clear that the key decision makers should be transparent about who they are seeing, and that—as the Bill would now ensure—where it is not transparent, in that they are meeting someone who is representing, as it were, their own interests, where they meet consultant lobbyists, those consultant lobbyists, through the register, are required to disclose who their clients are.
I am afraid that new clause 4, and much of what we heard from those on the Labour Front Bench and from Mr Allen, suggests that either they are not clear about what problem they are trying to address or they are simply trying to create a bureaucracy. We are not in that business. They are trying to create something that the Government have been very clear we do not want to create. We believe in transparency. We do not believe in the large-scale regulation that they are pursuing.
Like my right hon. Friend, I am keen that we do not have some great bureaucratic invention to deal with this issue. There is one thing I do not understand, however. If a public relations company that has 500 clients comes to speak to my right hon. Friend or a Secretary of State or a permanent secretary, what would be the difficulty in making it a requirement that the company makes it clear which client it is coming to speak on behalf of? Otherwise, one does not get very much further by just knowing which company is making the representation.
My right hon. Friend, characteristically, makes a better point than those on the Opposition Front Bench did. It is consistent with the approach that we are taking, but I respectfully suggest that we should not include such a requirement in the Bill, as amendment 100 seeks to do, because the register is not the place where those meetings are recorded. They are recorded in ministerial diaries. The issue is getting transparency in ministerial diaries.
We are the first Government to publish details of those meetings and other transparent relationships. We have extended the scope of that, not only in lobbying but in relation to the media; we publish that information. The Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend Greg Clark, picking up the work undertaken by his predecessor, my hon. Friend Miss Smith, is engaged in ensuring that information provided by Departments provides sufficient detail about the subject of meetings. If one has the register, which discloses who the consultant lobbyist is and their clients, and Ministers’ diaries, which are clear about the purpose of a meeting, one should be able to see the character of the relationship —who is lobbying whom, and for what.
I completely understand that, and I commend the Government, as my right hon. Friend knows, for the change in the rules about the publication of diaries, which is very welcome. May I ask him a practical question, which may answer my concerns and those of others? What will be the intended delay between the meeting and the diary publication or the appearance in the register? People often need that knowledge soon after the event—not a long time after, when it may be too late to be relevant.
We have already made a commitment that Ministers’ and permanent secretaries’ diaries for each quarter would be published by the end of the subsequent quarter.
Is not the point about Ministers’ diaries that so few consultant lobbyists actually go to meet Ministers directly? Making a great virtue of the publication of Ministers’ diaries is therefore a complete red herring.
That brings us to some of the other amendments. We are clear that the key decision makers are the gap in terms of transparency. We want to be clear whom the key decision makers are seeing. There are plenty of amendments on that subject in the next group, so I will not answer that point. It would of course be possible to extend that to lots of other groups, but we should consider the bureaucracy that would be created by doing so, by imagining 5,000 senior civil servants all publishing their diaries.
Let me make some progress, then I will give way again. There are quite a number of amendments in the group and I want to address each of them briefly.
New clause 6 requires that the registrar provide an annual report to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The Chair of the Committee did not, I think, refer to new clause 6, and I am not aware that the Committee made such a proposal. If the Committee wants to call the registrar to give evidence to it on an annual basis, it is quite within its rights to do so, and the Government would be happy to support that, but we do not believe it is appropriate to set this down as a statutory requirement.
Opposition amendment 84 requires the Minister to consult the PCRC before dismissing the registrar—another interesting proposal, but I am not sure that the amendment adds anything of substance to the Bill. In essence, this is part of the same issue as the independence of the registrar, which I believe is already made clear in the wording of the Bill. The registrar will be independent of the lobbying industry and the Government and will have a clear remit to operate independently of both. The Minister will be able to dismiss the registrar only when he or she is satisfied that the registrar is unable, unwilling or unfit to perform the functions of his or her office, and any decision by the Minster could be challenged in the usual way via judicial review.
Opposition amendment 85 removes the requirement that lobbyists who have no business address must register their private residence. I can understand the concern to protect the privacy of individuals on the register, especially given the more onerous and invasive reporting requirements proposed elsewhere by the Opposition, but I am not sure that the removal of the requirement to register an address is a helpful one. A registered address is critical if the registrar is successfully to issue information notices, investigate compliance, and serve penalty notices. The great majority of consultant lobbyists will have one or more dedicated business addresses, so no issue will arise. The handful of individual consultant lobbyists who have no separate business address—I recognise that there is no requirement to register for those who do not meet the threshold of undertaking a business that is VAT-registered—can choose to obtain such an address and use that or they can submit their personal residential address. I therefore do not agree that this step is a wise one.
Given the Opposition’s concern about privacy, do they really want to require, as proposed by their amendment 86, that every organisation that lobbies must declare the names of all members of staff employed? Let us take an example. Given the way in which other Opposition amendments would apply, if an academic were engaged in contact with a Minister in pursuance of a subject on which they had undertaken research, the Opposition’s definition—not ours—would require that to be registered, whereas we would say that that was incidental and that the academic was not engaged mainly in lobbying activity. The Opposition would say that it should be included and, by extension, the names of everybody who works for the university should be entered in the register. That is unrealistic and makes no sense.
Amendments 87, 89 and 90 would amend the information requirements outlined in clause 4 to require that lobbyists also disclose financial information. Amendment 100, as I mentioned earlier, would alter the information requirements outlined in clause 4. We have been very clear that the objective of the register is the identification of the interests that are being represented by consultant lobbying firms. Lobbyists should therefore be required to disclose their clients. We are not persuaded that the burden of providing further information that would be imposed on the industry and the regulator is justified by the limited insight that it would provide. One can readily envisage the administrative nightmare that would result from trying to determine the costs of lobbying activity, especially where this had to be disaggregated from wider business activities. Requiring the disclosure of financial information relating to lobbying activity is not, in our view, proportionate to the problem identified.
Amendment 92 makes it explicit that the registrar may publish the register in written form. I can assure the Opposition that this is already implicit in 7(2), which states that the register may publish the register
“in such other form or forms as the Registrar thinks appropriate.”
The registrar can do whatever is necessary, including publishing the register in written form.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for allowing me to intervene, even at this stage. Before he concludes his comments rejecting amendment 100, may I remind him of his opening remarks in response to this group of clauses? He said that the Government intend to shine the light of transparency—a great phrase—on lobbying, and we say, “Hear, hear” to that, but I cannot understand his justification for not requiring the subject matter of a meeting to be registered. He suggested that that is publication of the diaries of Ministers and permanent secretaries, but the Leader of the House will know better than any of us that the definition of permanent secretary includes the DPP, the chief medical officer and the chief executive of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Are they obliged to publish their diaries?
The point I was making is that the register that the Bill establishes is not where meetings will be listed. Meetings will be listed in the diary of the Minister or the permanent secretary. Consequently, in so far as it is appropriate for a meeting’s character to be disclosed, it will be disclosed in the ministerial diaries. To try to construct in the Bill the idea that the subject of meetings will be disclosed in the register would be to misunderstand what the register does. The register discloses the clients of consultant lobbyists, not the subjects on which they are lobbying.
The Leader of the House has still not made any convincing case for why the register should not specify the topic of the lobbying. The idea of relying solely on ministerial diaries, with people having to look up the register and then the diaries on the basis that they already have a suspicion, clearly imposes more difficulty. If this is meant to be about transparency in lobbying, why cannot there be transparency in the register?
With respect, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my previous answer. Consultant lobbyists disclose in the register who their clients are. The diaries of Ministers and permanent secretaries disclose who they meet. If the Secretary of
State for Transport meets British Airways, it is transparent that British Airways is representing its interests. However, if the XYZ airline is represented by a consultant lobbyist, the register will disclose that the airline is the client of that lobbyist, and it will be transparent through the Minister’s diary that he or she has met that lobbyist and, as a consequence, it will be clear who they are meeting. The issue is not whether there is transparency but the mechanism by which transparency is delivered. It is delivered through the publication of Ministers’ diaries, and the gap in transparency that we have identified, and which the Bill remedies, is the gap in understanding, if Ministers or permanent secretaries meet consultant lobbyists, who their clients are.
No, I have answered that question.
Amendment 93, tabled by the Opposition, would remove clause 10. I must confess that I am still bemused. We made it quite clear in Committee that the effect of doing so would be that in response to an information notice a person would not be required to provide any self-incriminating information, including in relation to any offence committed in relation to the register itself. The amendment would entirely undermine the enforcement regime relating to the register.
The Opposition’s amendments 94, 95 and 96 would make it an offence for consultant lobbyists to report misleading information. Although the intention behind the amendments is undoubtedly sound, I do not believe that they would have a substantive effect, as in order to be misleading the information must be either inaccurate or incomplete, and that is already covered by the clause.
The Government’s amendments in this group include amendment 31, which will allow the registrar to make direct payments to staff who have been seconded to support the office holder in addition to or instead of payments being made to the Minister or other person who seconded staff to the registrar. The registrar can also make payments to Ministers or other persons who supply accommodation or other services to the registrar under the general provision to make arrangements set out in paragraph 8(1)(b) of schedule 2.
Clause 4(3) outlines the client information that should be included in each register entry. Amendment 17 clarifies that if the registered consultant lobbyist has not engaged in lobbying or been paid to engage in lobbying during that quarter, its register entry for that quarter will contain a statement to that effect, as set out in clause 5(5), in lieu of any client information.
Amendments 18 and 19 will ensure the clarity and consistency of references to the periods for which consultant lobbyists are obliged to provide information. In the existing Bill, the three-month period prior to their initial registration about which consultant lobbyists must provide information in their register entry is called the “relevant pre-registration period”. This amendment changes the references to that phrase in clause 4 to the phrase “pre-registration quarter”, reflecting the references to the quarters for which client information is required after registration and ensuring consistency across the Bill. I hope that is clear.
Amendment 20 will ensure that the parameters of the pre-registration quarter are unambiguously defined as the three months ending on the date on which the person applies to be registered. The amendment changes the definition of the relevant pre-registration quarter period from the period of three months preceding the application date to the period of three months ending on the application date.
Amendments 21 and 22 will make it clear that register entries must include the names of the person or persons on whose behalf lobbying is undertaken, reflecting the reality that consultant lobbyists are likely to be engaged by more than one person during a quarter, and ensures consistency across the provisions of the Bill.
Amendment 23 clarifies the registrar's duty to update the register in accordance with the information returns submitted by consultant lobbyists by removing the unnecessary reference to “receiving the information return” which is covered in the following sub-paragraph.
Amendment 24 makes clear the separation of what the registrar is required to do, and what it may do. The registrar must publish the register in accordance with requirements set out in section 6. The registrar may also publish entries in respect of persons who were but are no longer entered in the register, but this is not a subset of its requirements under section 6.
Amendment 25 makes it clear that it is an offence for a “registered” person to carry on the business of consultant lobbying if they have submitted incomplete information to the registrar. This puts beyond any shadow of a doubt the class of person that is caught by this provision.
Amendment 26 will clarify that a person guilty of an offence relating to the register is liable to a fine, whether they are summarily convicted or are convicted on indictment. If convicted in a Crown court, the fine will be unlimited. If convicted in a magistrates court in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the fine will not exceed the statutory maximum. If convicted in a magistrates court in England or Wales before the coming into force of section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the fine will not exceed the statutory maximum; if convicted after the coming into force of that Act, which removes the statutory maximum in England and Wales, the fine will be unlimited.
Amendment 27 further clarifies that an appeal against an information notice or the notice or imposition of a penalty can be heard either by the first tier tribunal or, if so determined by or under the tribunal procedure rules, the upper tribunal.
When the time comes, I would welcome the opportunity to move the Government amendments standing in my name.
We have had a very good debate on these amendments but, sadly, what has become clear is that whenever meaningful transparency has been suggested, the Leader of the House has cited the danger of a huge level of bureaucracy as the reason real transparency cannot be achieved. This Bill is badly titled; instead of the Transparency of Lobbying Bill, it would be better and more accurate to describe it as a little bit of transparency on a little bit of lobbying Bill.
The Leader of the House did not revert to the attempt made by the former Minister, Miss Smith, who suggested that there were plenty of examples of countries around the world that had statutory codes of conduct that suggested that such codes were unworkable. The one effort that the right hon. Gentleman made was to cite the American political system as being a reason that a statutory code of conduct would not work here. Not even the scale of incompetence that the coalition parties are managing to achieve in government comes close to the scale of dysfunctionality in the American political system at the moment. It is not a meaningful comparison to cite the American code of conduct; more sensible would have been to point to the examples of Australia and Canada, as I sought to do. Experience there does show that a statutory code of conduct can be made workable and enforceable, and could help to achieve the objective of delivering real transparency when lobbyists meet Ministers and indeed members of the House of Commons. A clear, basic code of conduct would avoid confusion over which voluntary register was the best one. It would offer clarity to the House and, indeed, to those in Government about the standards expected and required by those lobbying. I urge the Government to accept, even at this late stage, the benefit of having a code of conduct, even for the tiny number of lobbyists their Bill will cover.
My hon. Friend Mr Allen, in a very well-judged speech, highlighted the number of loopholes that exist in the Bill. He cited the balance of evidence presented to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, suggesting that further information should be included in the register, including the scale of financial information, the subject matter of the lobbying, and the purpose of the lobbying activity. He noted that representations for that additional information had come to the Committee from a range of organisations as diverse as Spinwatch all the way through to the Royal College of Nursing.
Our amendments sought to inject that greater level of information and transparency into the process. I deeply regret that even at this late stage Ministers are not willing to consider even their own versions of the amendments. I therefore seek the opportunity to press the new clause to a vote and urge all Members of the House to support it.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a Division.