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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 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 6:00 pm, 13th January 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his amendment. It might be helpful if in response I indicate the Government’s thinking on sanctions and appeals. When considering the most appropriate sanctions in respect of non-compliance with the register, Ministers did consider the option of removing a person from the register, thereby prohibiting them or the company from continuing to operate as a lobbyist. We concluded, however, that such a sanction would represent a disproportionate penalty as it would essentially take away their livelihood. There are very few industries where, unless one is imprisoned, one is prevented from carrying out one’s professional activities if one has made errors in the course of doing so, and the Government are not persuaded that the lobbying industry should be singled out for such treatment. The sanctions regime that we have designed is therefore a proportionate one, designed to provide appropriate deterrent against, and punishment for, non-compliance with the provisions of the register.

Clause 6(6) does, however—as the noble and learned Lord has pointed out—provide the registrar with the ability to remove a person from the register. That provision is not drafted as a sanction, but rather as an administrative housekeeping measure to enable the registrar to maintain the accessibility and relevance of the register. The registrar may, for example, wish to remove individuals who have retired, passed away, chosen a change of career, or who work for a company that has been wound up. The noble and learned Lord’s amendment would enable a person to appeal against the registrar’s decision to remove them from the register, as under Clause 6(6).

We do not envisage that the registrar would remove any person from the register unless they were confident that the person no longer engaged, or no longer wished to engage in future, in consultant lobbying. I take the noble and learned Lord’s point that there are potential criminal sanctions attached to it. Obviously, as a former distinguished Lord Advocate, he will know that there is a discretion. Indeed, Clause 12(9) indicates that proceedings for an offence under this part in England and Wales may only be instituted by, or with the consent of, the Director of Public Prosecutions, and in Northern by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland.

Therefore, if a person was to find that they had been wrongly removed, if they wished to object, they could immediately advise the registrar that they were still living, or that they had not given up consultant lobbying, and accordingly the registrar could reregister that person without the need for an appeal and without any difficulty. If they remained dissatisfied in spite of the fact that they could prove that they were still living and consulting, it would be possible to judicially review a decision, although that is very unlikely given the much simpler course of reregistering.

The important point is that this is not intended as a sanction or a penalty, but rather one of administration where the company or the individual is no longer believed to be performing the role of consultant lobbyist. Therefore in those circumstances, if a person becomes aware of that and wishes to challenge it, the best and most simple thing to do is to ask to be reregistered rather than to go to some expense in seeking an appeal to a tribunal.

I hope that the noble and learned Lord is reassured by that explanation. This provision is not intended as a sanction and I invite him to withdraw his amendment.