A unique alliance of trade unions, professional lobbyists and constitutional reform activists has been formed to pressurise the House of Lords into wrecking the Government’s “flawed” reforms of Britain’s lobbying industry.
The lobbying transparency bill, piloted by Andrew Lansley, was passed by the Commons last week despite almost universal criticism outside Parliament describing it as a “dog’s breakfast”.
However the new alliance, called “1% is not enough”, which will formally launch this week, wants the Lords to recognise the “deep flaws” in the legislation that was supposed to honour David Cameron’s pre-election promise to put an end to lobbying scandals.
Despite last-minute efforts in the Commons to amend the awkwardly named “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Unions Administration Bill” , the bill will now be scrutinised in the Lords before being passed back to the Commons at the end of this month.
A campaign to be launched on Monday by the TUC, the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) and the Unlock Democracy political pressure group, wants charities, unions, private sector corporations, campaign organizations, accountants, law firms and other groups to openly support a petition which attacks the lobbying bill as an abject failure that would result in only one percent of all lobbying activity in the UK being registered.
The alliance’s “1 % is not enough” online petition wants to demonstrate to policy-makers the need for any statutory regime and register to include 100 percent of lobbyists in the UK.
Although the political activities of charities and trade unions have also been limited by the bill – with many charities and voluntary sector groups saying it will have a “chilling effect” on their abilities to operate – the ‘1%’ alliance is targeting its campaigning efforts on the Lords. They want Parliament’s second chamber to effectively reject what the Commons backed, and to demand an authoritative register for the UK’s £2bn lobbying industry is delivered.
Iain Anderson, deputy chair of the APPC, and head of the Cicero political consultancy, told The Independent ahead of the alliance’s launch: “It’s crucial that the Lords look afresh at this piece of legislation in a way that their colleagues in the Commons have not. Not a single amendment widening the scope of this bill to include all lobbyists was passed in the Commons.”
Chloe Smith, the former Cabinet Office minister, had been in charge of the lobbying bill prior to Mr Lansley taking charge just over three months ago. Neither of the two Conservative ministers consulted leading lobbying bosses or the industry itself during more than 18 months of claimed preparation. Ms Smith left the Government last week.
Mr Anderson added: “In order to be effective this bill must ensure all professional lobbyists sign up to a new register, not a tiny minority as the Government envisage.”
The involvement of the TUC on the left, working alongside professional lobbyists generally regarded as right-leaning, demonstrates a consensus and unity on the damaging impact Lansley’s bill holds.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said : “We need more openness and debate about how we are governed. This bad bill does the opposite, excluding most lobbyists and hobbling free speech. The government should withdraw it and start again, proceeding through consultation and consensus building to create rules that both work in practice and command wide support.”
The TUC also believe the bill doesn’t go far enough because it fails to enforce any legally robust declaration of who lobbyists meet, and therefore lacks any claim to transparency.
Nigel Stanley, the TUC head of campaigns, said parts of the bill simple read “Let’s have a go at the trade unions’ adding “It is tainted with party politics, has unnecessary regulatory burdens covered by what the TUC already does. Essentially it is legislation that should go the same way as Chloe Smith.”
Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, said the bill was “One of the worst drafted pieces of legislation ever to have left Whitehall.”
She added : “The government is behaving recklessly by pushing forward with a bill which would make lobbying in the UK less transparent. As it stands, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, “this bill is the next big scandal waiting to happen.”