Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill — Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 13th January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office), Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:30 pm, 13th January 2014

If the Scotch Whisky Association was lobbying itself, then the important thing is that if the Scotch Whisky Association is meeting a Minister or a Permanent Secretary, then that would be in the returns which the Minister or Permanent Secretary makes. That would make it very clear that it is the Scotch Whisky Association whom the Minister has been meeting. That is what I think people wish to know. In a moment I will address my noble friend’s amendments to say some of the things which the Government intend to do to actually improve the openness to which we are already committed and delivering.

The position—as I understand it—which we have adopted or sought to adopt is the position in Australia. I am delighted to see my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire here—I just wish he was actually right here because he has a wealth of knowledge and experience on this Bill. He very helpfully reminded me that we have modelled these provisions on the position as it is in Australia, whereas Canada has what might be described as medium regulation which requires some of the information on employees and in-house lobbyists to which the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord referred. That system costs £3 million a year and, as my noble friend says, there is actually so much detail that it almost ceases to be useful. There is almost a detail overload whereas our system replicates the Australian model. We expect it to cost considerably less, at £200,000 a year, and we believe that that is a very good system where the consultant lobbyists are identified, their clients are identified and the Minister works hand in hand with the regular returns from Ministers and Permanent Secretaries as to whom they have met.

I was actually struggling to see how the problems raised by the noble Baroness would be addressed by just adding more names to a register of people who are employed, unless—as we have committed to and are doing—you also indicate who Ministers are actually meeting. It does not add anything else by having the name of the person who was the in-house lobbyist, for the sake of argument, at one of the utility companies when they met the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Until we see evidence of the case for introducing a register of all professional lobbyists, we remain reluctant to expand the scope of these proposals because we believe that what we have here is proportionate and problem-specific and will increase transparency without discouraging engagement by those who will be affected by policy and legislative decisions, such as businesses, charities, community groups and members of the public.

Amendment 11 would require consultant lobbying firms to disclose the names of all who undertake consultant lobbying activity on their behalf. The Government do not consider that such a requirement is either necessary or appropriate. The Bill requires the publication of the clients of consultant lobbyists, and the existing meeting publication scheme publishes both the persons Ministers and Permanent Secretaries meet as well as the body or firm that employs them. Transparency of who a consultant lobbyist is is therefore achieved on that information alone. To require the disclosure of the names of every private individual who is employed by a consultant lobbying firm would raise issues of proportionality and justification when the disclosure of such names provides no greater transparency, because we will know what the group, organisation or company is that meets the Minister or the Permanent Secretary. Therefore in return for listing a large number of names there seems to be no increase at all—not even a proportionate one—in the amount of the transparency than what is made available at the moment through the scheme of publication of persons whom Ministers and Permanent Secretaries meet.