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UK Politics

Beware consequences of 'rushed' lobbying legislation, MPs warned

Regulations 'would effectively make it illegal' for TUC to organise conference in election run-up

The Government’s planned regulations of lobbying are so badly constructed that it would effectively become illegal for the TUC to organise a conference of union members during the run-up to a general election, MPs have been warned.

The TUC's head of campaigns, Nigel Stanley, told an emergency meeting of the Commons' political and constitutional reform select committee that the lobbying bill - which will be debated in the Commons next week - was "rushed legislation" and represented a "chilling attack" on free speech.

Although the anticipated bill was initially directed at the prevention of future lobbying scandals, such as MPs caught in stings over cash for questions, other powers limiting the financial influence of campaigning groups, trade unions and charities, were later folded into the legislation.

An unexpected alliance of leading lobby companies, charities and civil rights campaigners, have united to fight the proposed legislation and force the minister piloting the bill, Andrew Lansley, to accept the bill is seriously flawed and order a revision.

The chair of the reform select committee, Graham Allen, recalled MPs for the emergency evidence-gathering session after telling The Independent earlier this month that the lobbying law being fast-tracked by the government was a "dog's breakfast".

A report, based on evidence from the emergency hearing, will be given to MPs next week. The aim is to force Mr Lansley to postpone plans to make the bill law before the end of the year and allow a special committee of MPs to re-examine the issue.

The heads of the four main professional bodies who represent Britain's £2 billion lobbying industry, uniformly attacked the planned bill, telling the committee it would lead to less transparency and a statutory register of lobbyists with few names on it.

George Kidd, chair of the UK Public Affairs Council, said "This bill is both a damp squib and a white elephant. It will end up doing more harm than good."

Iain Anderson, the deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, criticised the bill's narrow concentration on lobbying of just ministers and senior civil servants. He said the minister initially in charge of the bill, Chloe Smith, had spoken to barely any major lobbying company. "The bill doesn't capture the vast majority of what lobbyists do. We want all lobbying covered in a statutory register."

Francis Ingham, director of the Public Relations Consultants Association, was asked by Mr Allen if better legislation could be produced if the government took an additional six months to review the draft bill. "We could produce a better bill in six days, " he said.

Tamasin Cave from the pressure group SpinWatch, told the committee that the addition of charities and campaign groups into the lobbying bill was a "deliberate act of divide and rule, that has the signature of Lynton Crosby [the Conservative Party's election strategist] all over it." She added "This bill, as it stands, is worse than nothing. It is bogus."

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill is due to receive its second hearing in the Commons next Tuesday.