Pressure mounts on House of Lords to amend 'deeply flawed' lobbying bill
Campaigners want all lobbyists to be included on a statutory UK register
James Cusick is political correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. As an experienced member of the lobby, he has previously worked at The Sunday Times and the BBC. His career as a journalist has been split between print and television, including senior positions as producer with Sir David Frost and at BBC Newsnight. He is also an award-winning golf and travel writer, working for over a decade as the UK contributing editor for one of the USA’s leading golf magazines. He broadcasts regularly for the BBC and CNN. He lives in London.
Monday 04 November 2013
The heads of leading trade unions, including the General Secretary of the TUC, have joined an alliance of leading lobby firms and campaign groups aiming to force the House of Lords to radically amend the Government’s “deeply flawed” lobbying bill and ensure “100 per cent of professional lobbyists” are included in a statutory UK register.
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, is among the heads of 11 trade unions who have formally petitioned the Lords to make substantial changes to the proposed lobbying legislation which was almost universally criticised and dubbed “a dog’s breakfast” before it was passed by the Commons last month and sent to Parliament’s second chamber for revision.
The awkwardly named ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Unions Administration Bill” is supposed to be the political delivery of a promise made by David Cameron in opposition which claimed he would put an end to lobbying scandals.
However the imprecise wording of the bill passed by the Commons, and the failure to consult the lobbying industry before it was drafted, means transparency pressure groups and professional lobbyists believe only one per cent of the £2 billion industry will be covered by the new lobbying law.
The diverse alliance pushing for the Lords to either amend the bill or send it back to the Commons demanding a special committee properly scrutinise its proposals, fear that its ineffectiveness will result in more, not less, lobbying scandals.
The House of Lords will begin its second look at the bill on Tuesday.
Although the political campaigning of charities and trades unions will be affected by parts of the bill, with many charities saying the legislation, as it stands, will have a “chilling effect” on their effectiveness, the alliance is focused on forcing the Lords to acknowledge that an authoritative lobbying register is needed.
Michael Burrell, chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, told The Independent on Sunday: “We urge the House of Lords to take note of what a number of organisations are telling them loud and clear: that 100 per cent of professional lobbyists must be included on a statutory register. It simply makes no sense whatsoever to include only a tiny fraction of lobbyists on a register, as the bill is currently drafted, and which perversely risks transparency of the lobbying industry.”
The proposed register currently covers only consultants whose “main business” is lobbying and only meetings with ministers and their immediate senior advisers need be declared.
Amendments moved by the Lords so far are alterations that would widen the scope of the register.
Lord Norton of Louth has suggested any member of the Senior Civil Service or a minister’s appointed political special advisor, or a person appointed by a minister as a private secretary, be included within the scope of the register.
Lord Campbell-Savors wants anyone who has “received or expects to receive payments for lobbying” be included in the statutory register.
Among those joining the TUC in petitioning the Lords is John Hannett, General Secretary of the shop workers union, USDAW; Dave Penman, head of the senior public servants union, the FDA; Steve Murphy of construction union, UCATT; Christine Payne, the head of the actors’ union Equity; Michelle Stanistreet head of the National Union of Journalists; and Manuel Cortes of the travel and transport union, the TSSA.
Other bosses from teachers, university lecturers and allied workers unions, have joined the unlikely alliance that also include high-profile international lobbying and consulting firms such as Edelman and Grayling.
The informal petition, called “1% is not enough” criticises the planned register as “deeply flawed” and wants in-house lobbyists, and lobbyists who work for trade unions, charities, think-tanks, as well as lobbying agencies, law firms, and accountancy companies, to be included in a “statutory registration scheme.”
Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons who piloted the bill through the Commons, has said the legislation is neither a “dog’s breakfast” nor a “bureaucratic monster” and denies it does what its critics claim.
Members of the House of Lords debated the key principles of the bill on 22 October. Further scrutiny will take place this Tuesday.
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