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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 13th January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Turnbull Lord Turnbull Chair, Audit Committee (Lords) 4:30 pm, 13th January 2014

My Lords, this is the first time I have got involved in this Bill.

The current structure is indeed rather peculiar: lobbyists or lobbyist consultants are to register themselves and report those whom they represent, but we will find out whom they lobby only by an indirect process of interrogating a list of external meetings of all kinds that Ministers and Permanent Secretaries have attended. The case for this amendment is that lobbying takes place with a much wider group of people, which in a typical department would be about five or six individuals. I was a Permanent Secretary for 11 years in three departments and I do not think I ever had a conversation with a lobbyist as defined in this Bill. The lobbying always took place with officials who were working on the policy or were experts on the subject or were working on a Bill team.

Should we extend the requirement to civil servants? Well, there are 412,000 of them, so we have to define whom we mean. The people working on a policy would probably include the senior Civil Service, which is probably about 3,000 people. The logic of this Bill is that we extend the requirement to assemble and publish a list of external meetings—of course, these are not only meetings with lobbyists—to a very much wider group. In my view, there would be a lot of dead-weight cost in this: most of those contacts are part of the regular and desirable interchange between government and industry. In the White Paper that launched this whole process, it was stated:

“The Government does not wish to create an obstacle to necessary interaction with policy makers”.

If that is the price—that we extend this to all of the senior Civil Service, who then have to report all external meetings involving not just these people but everyone—in my view that is a price too high.

On the other hand, I am taken by the arguments about special advisers. There are now 98 of them; there were 38 in 1997 at the exit of John Major’s Government; there were about 74 by 2010; the number dipped for about three months but now there are 98. If I really had to distinguish between the amendments in this group, I would vote against Amendment 2 but for Amendment 3.