The Prime Minister: I am sure that my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary will be very persuasive in New York at bashing heads together and getting people to contribute. Everyone can see the tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and even where there is such deep disagreement between Britain and Russia, for example, or Britain and China, about

9 Sep 2013 : Column 703

the right steps to take on the Syrian crisis, the one area of agreement is the need for humanitarian aid, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will be successful.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister has outlined the British Government’s contribution to much-needed humanitarian assistance in Syria. Will he please say what additional support is being given to those countries surrounding Syria that are affected by the appalling refugee crisis?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. In some cases it is money—we have put in money for humanitarian aid to Lebanon, Jordan, and some limited resources to Turkey. As I said, however, it has also been about directly providing the Jordanians with specific pieces of equipment they have asked for. We have helped the Lebanese army, given quite a lot of advice, and we stand ready to help as we can. In the long term, it is untenable for countries such as Lebanon to see an increase of, effectively, a quarter in their population. We need a solution to the crisis so that people can go home.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): On the economy, the Prime Minister spoke of repairing our broken banking system. Does he agree that the creation and expansion of regional and local banks are key reforms of this Government that will provide finance for small and medium-sized enterprises, address payday lending problems, and reinvigorate local community banking?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as looking at the big banks and how we nurse them back to health—some good progress has been made there—we also need to encourage what are called “challenger” banks, and new lenders into the British economy. Those can be crowdsource funders as well as new start-up banks, or businesses such as supermarkets that are getting into banking. We should be encouraging all those things for a more competitive sector.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Staying with the economy, those who moved their bonuses to April to take advantage of the cut in the top rate of tax undoubtedly feel that there has been a recovery. Does the Prime Minister understand that for people on zero-hours contracts, or wages that are £1,500 lower than they were three years ago, there has been no recovery? Where is the good news from the G20 for the vast majority of ordinary people in this country?

The Prime Minister: Of course I understand that times have been incredibly tough for people, many of whom have not seen an increase in their wages yet they have seen prices rising. The key is that if we want a proper recovery in living standards, we have to see three things: a growing economy, which we now have; reductions in personal tax rates, which we are doing by lifting the allowance; and we must keep inflation under control so that we get low interest rates and low mortgage rates. All three of those things are happening under this Government, but if we had listened to the Labour party, I do not think that any of them would be happening.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 704

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): What discussions did my right hon. Friend have at the G20 to crack down on tax avoidance by trade unions?

The Prime Minister: When I was at the G20 I was not aware that Britain’s leading trade unions were dodging their taxes, as well as all the other things that they do, and I got home from the G20 to read that in the Sunday newspapers. I am sure that when the Leader of the Opposition goes to address the brothers in Bournemouth —he always seems to have some problems with brothers—he will sort it all out.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Given the Prime Minister’s very encouraging interpretation of the St Petersburg action plan, what does he think the senior official who briefed Reuters could have meant when he said that there was no agreement on post-2016 targets, and that numbers merely reflected the best guess for future budgets?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman looks at what the G20 agreed in terms of 2016 targets, the target it set was that of no new protectionist measures until 2016. That was a success for the G20.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that the tax agreements that were entered into are not just a milestone against international tax avoidance, but send a clear message to any tax-dodging company, trade union or political party in this country that it is time for it to face up to its responsibilities and pay a fair share of tax?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are trying to deal with tax evasion, which is illegal, and that will be helped by these international agreements and by greater transparency of beneficial ownership. We are also trying to deal with aggressive tax avoidance where people go to huge measures not to pay their taxes. That includes the Labour donor whom we discussed a lot before the summer recess. I think he has still not had his money paid back, although I am sure they will get round to it.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Following the G20, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has today said that he has called on President Assad to hand over his chemical weapons to the international community so that it can be responsible for their destruction. Does the Prime Minister support that, and if he does, is he willing to work with countries such as Russia, Iran and the US to make it happen?

The Prime Minister: I only recently heard that announcement. If that were to be the case, it would be hugely welcome. If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use under international supervision, that would clearly be a big step forward and should be encouraged. We must be careful to ensure that this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something other than the problem on the table, but if it is a genuine offer, it should be genuinely looked at.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I welcome the excellent work that the Prime Minister is doing on Syria. Every single hon. Member has welcomed

9 Sep 2013 : Column 705

the work of the UN inspectors, but will he remind the House how they got into Syria? The G8 summit, which he chaired, made Russia agree to UN inspectors going into Syria for the first time. The Russians would not agree to that previously, so that was an acutely significant moment.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. It was a breakthrough at Lough Erne to get that unfettered access for inspectors. However, we must remember that they are not able to point the finger of blame. All they can do is build additional evidence. I hope they are successful and that they make their report, and that the report adds to the already bleak picture we can see.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The leaders declaration is right to say that too many people are not sharing in any global economic recovery. Given that, under this Government, one in five people in work earn less than the living wage, and that we have fifth-worst levels of low pay found anywhere in the OECD, what advice did the Prime Minister take at the G20 on his wages policy?

The Prime Minister: It is perfectly obvious to see what the Opposition want to do—they want to change the question. First they said there would not be a recovery, but there is now growth in our economy. They then said there would not be any more jobs and predicted millions more unemployed, but there are more jobs. Quite understandably, they are changing the argument, but the point is this: if we want rising living standards, as I do, we need a growing economy, we need to cut people’s personal taxes, and we need to keep inflation and mortgage rates down. That is what this Government are delivering.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Further to the Prime Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), will he confirm that British diplomatic staff in Russia will do everything they can to help British lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women who could either be caught up in the rise of homophobia in the country or caught inadvertently by the new anti-gay laws?

The Prime Minister: I certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. As I have said, we had a good discussion on that important issue. I was given certain assurances by President Putin that there would be no discrimination, but I am sure the British embassy will do everything it can to help people.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister accept that Labour’s amendment in the Syria debate included a time limit on parliamentary authority for military action to avoid any open-ended commitment, and that his motion did not?

The Prime Minister: In the end, the hon. Lady can find whatever wriggling reason she wants not to do the right thing, but the fact is that the Opposition asked for the weapons inspectors to report, which we granted; for

9 Sep 2013 : Column 706

a proper resolution at the UN, which we granted; and for a second vote, which we also granted. Why did they not vote for the Government’s motion? I will tell the House why: because they wanted to play politics rather than serve the national interest.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Prime Minister will be aware of concerns expressed by many hon. Members and many of my constituents about the impending closure of, or restrictions on, global money transfer services, largely as a result of changes in US regulation. Was he or the Chancellor able to have conversations with the US Administration and other world leaders on that at the G20? If not, will he commit to having such conversations to try to find a solution?

The Prime Minister: I was not able to have those discussions, but the hon. Gentleman is entirely right that this is a serious issue for people who want to send remittances back to the countries from which they originally came or where they have relatives. It is an important issue that we need to sort out.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): The Prime Minister rightly noted in his statement that the situation in Syria has created the refugee crisis of our time. Is he aware that last week Sweden relaxed its asylum policies for Syrian refugees? What thought has he given to the possibility of the UK doing something similar?

The Prime Minister: We are not planning to do that. Britain already has a very generous asylum system that operates under the rule of law. People who are genuinely fleeing persecution cannot be returned to those countries, but it is right that people should seek asylum in the first country that they flee to.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The global economic outlook remains fragile and the Prime Minister mentioned the role of monetary policy to support the recovery. What discussions has he had on the impact on the global economy and on international investment should the world’s leading economies—specifically the USA—move away from their standard monetary policies of providing easy money and low interest rates too soon?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises one of the questions that lay behind a lot of the discussions and debates on the global economy. What has happened in American markets recently, with a rise in long-term interest rates, has taken a lot of money out of developing countries and contributed, they would argue, to some instability. A year ago at the G20, the question was rather different. The argument was that because of accommodative monetary policy, the west was trying artificially to reduce its exchange rates. I understand the concerns of India and others. I think what it argues for is the importance of getting the economic fundamentals right, and that is what all countries have to take notice of.

Mr Speaker: I am most grateful to the Prime Minister and to colleagues. Fifty-nine Back Benchers were able to question him in 52 minutes of exclusively Back-Bench time. We can do it when we try.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 707

Birth of Prince George of Cambridge

4.42 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty offering the congratulations of this House to Her Majesty, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of Prince George; and signifying to Her Majesty the great pleasure given to the House by this happy event.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the message on the birth of Prince George of Cambridge.

The Prime Minister: Many generations in the House of Windsor have been welcomed by many generations in this House of Commons, and we are delighted to do so again today. Of course, in centuries past things were slightly different. When a royal birth of this significance took place, the entire Cabinet would assemble at the birthplace and the Home Secretary would actually be in the room at the time of the birth. [Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says, “Quite right.” I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that this was not seen as appropriate on this occasion.

The birth of Prince George was a national moment—a time to recognise, once again, what a vital part of our national life the monarchy is. In the past few years we have seen a surge of affection for our royal family, from the royal wedding to the diamond jubilee and coronation celebrations. This summer, millions cheered the news of the royal birth.

We must remember, however, that this birth has been not just a national event, but, first and foremost, a private and family event. It is right that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been given the space and privacy to get to know their new son. In the coming years they must continue to be allowed that space.

For now, I know the whole House will join me in congratulating the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and in wishing Prince George a long and happy life at the heart of our nation.

4.43 pm

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I second the motion in the name of the Prime Minister, and associate myself and my party entirely with the sentiments he has expressed? I congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of the new Prince George.

As the Prime Minister said, there has been an opportunity for the House, over many generations, to express its happiness at the birth of a royal prince or princess. Every new arrival represents the continuity of our royal family, and reminds us of the unique service that our monarchy renders to the British people at home and abroad. As the Prime Minister also said, each occasion reflects the generation in which the prince or princess is born. In 1688, King James II’s son was born with more than 80 witnesses in attendance. I think we can all agree that it is right that times have moved on, and, to coin a phrase, we are pursuing traditional values in a modern setting.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 708

On this occasion, I think we will all have been struck by the informality and joy of the new royal parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Any parent will have recognised the emotions of excitement—and, indeed, a bit of trepidation—about the new world of parenthood into which they were arriving. In their case, with the eyes of the world on them, they carry a heavy sense of responsibility. I am sure I speak for Members of the House when I say that they carried it off absolutely brilliantly—as did Prince George, with what was generously interpreted as a first royal wave, when he appeared in front of the cameras. I am sure the House will unite in offering our congratulations to Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh, and to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We wish the new prince and his parents health, happiness and a long life.

4.45 pm

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I should like on behalf of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends to endorse completely the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The pleasure and pride of the duke and duchess has been plain for all to see, although there seemed to be a hint of realism about the responsibilities of parenthood when, in the course of a television interview, the duke described his new son as a “bit of a rascal”.

The birth has given great pleasure, but nowhere has it given more pleasure than in St Andrews and, in particular, St Andrews university, where the duke and duchess first met and where they graduated on the same day. The university is engaged in its 600th anniversary celebrations, which have been much enhanced by the unqualified support for the duke and duchess, but St Andrews is not alone: the whole nation congratulates the duke and duchess and wishes them and their son well.

4.46 pm

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) in supporting the motion. We are marking the very happy news for the Earl and Countess of Strathearn on the birth of Prince George of Cambridge. As we have heard, few places have a stronger connection for them both than St Andrews, where they both attended and met at what is the oldest university in Scotland. That joy is shared across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, as it is in all 16 realms and across the Commonwealth.

The arrival of baby Prince George is clearly a tremendous joy for the parents and both their families, but for Her Majesty, the birth of Prince George equals the remarkable record of Queen Victoria, who during her lifetime also had three contemporary, following generations of heirs to the throne. Just as much has changed during the reign of our current monarch, much more perhaps will change before Prince George ascends to the throne—one imagines, in the second half of this century. We wish him, his parents and extended families every success and happiness.

4.47 pm

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): This is indeed a joyous occasion. It is somewhat bizarre that we are paying tribute to a five-week-old baby who is blissfully

9 Sep 2013 : Column 709

unaware of all our plaudits, but that is rather fine in many ways. For somebody such as me, with my beliefs, it sums up the virtue of the monarchy.

This is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves again why the monarch is so popular. Why is something that is, in many people’s view, an essentially irrational institution so popular, when it is clearly not democratic? There are no doubt many clever five-week-old babies—highly intelligent, young Ed Milibands and David Camerons—who could never get the job, but the young prince will one day be our Head of State. I think that is a rather fine thing. We have to ask ourselves why the monarchy is so popular. I think it is mainly because of what the Queen has been doing. She is so popular precisely because she never asked for the job—she never campaigned for it. She just sees her role in terms of duty—not to be popular, but just to do her job well.

The other thing about the monarchy and what it can teach us is that there are limits to the inevitability of reason and democracy, but the monarchy modernises itself in a way in which the essential structures are always kept. I was reminded of that when I went to Portsmouth the other week and looked at HMS Victory. The ship is seemingly the same as on the day of the battle of Trafalgar, but not many people know that in fact the masts are made of steel and virtually every plank has been changed. In the same way, the monarchy is constantly changing and modernising itself. No doubt the monarchy will be very different indeed when Prince George becomes King, but it will still be essentially the same. That is why it remains enduringly popular.

4.49 pm

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I have no wish to oppose the motion, and I am sure that we all send our congratulations to those involved as stated in the motion moved by the Prime Minister and supported by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. As we are discussing one child, however, I think that it would be relevant to point out that it should concern the House that at least 3.5 million children in this country are still living in households in which poverty exists after housing costs have been met. I should also mention that, according to the latest available figures, nearly 7 million children in the world die before reaching their fifth birthday, and that two thirds of those deaths could be prevented if modern medical facilities were available. I just hope that by the time the subject of this motion becomes 18—or better still, well before then—it will no longer be necessary for a Member of Parliament to stand up in this House and cite such figures.

4.51 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I am so glad that this debate has gone on long enough to allow at least one hon. Member to sound a dissenting voice, because debates in this Chamber would not be complete without a variety of voices being heard. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) has underlined the point that this young child has been born into a family with responsibilities, and that that family would not enjoy the extraordinary support that they do if they did not show the same sincerity and concern for the least fortunate in society that he has demonstrated in his speech.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 710

It is also worth remembering that this child is going to be a prisoner of public life for his whole life. Even if the monarchy were abolished, he would remain a public figure. In some respects, children born into the royal family are the least fortunate in society. Every one of us in the House chose to be in public life, but he will have no choice. It is an illustration of the extraordinary self-sacrifice of the royal family that they accept their duty with alacrity; that gives my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) an explanation of why the royal family remain so enduringly popular, even though they have had their ups and downs.

Much has been said about continuity. The constitutional value of the royal family is the uncontroversial continuity provided by the continuation of the monarchy. Other countries look with jealousy at the stability of our system of government and at how it has remained stable through general strikes, world wars and economic depressions while others have strained to remain democratic. This is one of the things that we owe to the continuation of our monarchy, and that is why it is appropriate that a democratic Parliament should choose an occasion such as this to pay tribute to the institution.

4.53 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a pleasure to add my congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their son, Prince George. In doing so, I shall unashamedly promote my constituency, the beautiful Isle of Anglesey, which provided the first home for the royal couple. Before their wedding, in February 2011, Prince William and the then Miss Middleton undertook their first public engagement together in my constituency, when they launched the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s new lifeboat, the Hereford Endeavour. That event received worldwide attention through not only BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio Wales and various local television channels, but Sky News, CNN and Australia’s Channel 9, among others. All those broadcasters saw the good side of Anglesey, which Prince William and Kate were proud to share. Also, a few days ago, they undertook their first engagement since the birth of Prince George. That, too, was on the Isle of Anglesey, where they set off the Anglesey ultra-marathon, the Ring O’Fire, around the island. Their public engagements have been well documented but, as the Prime Minister said, they have had time as residents of Anglesey to have a private life as well. There has been mutual respect between the royal couple and the people of Anglesey in that regard.

The Duke of Cambridge coined the term “Anglesonians” to describe the people of Anglesey. We are all Anglesonians now. He promoted the Isle of Anglesey a few weeks ago at the Anglesey show when he said:

“I know that I speak for Catherine when I say that I have never in my life known somewhere as beautiful and as welcoming as Anglesey. This island had been our first home together, and it will always be an immensely special place for us both. Catherine and I look forward to returning”

some day. I hope that they will bring Prince George with them. I add my congratulations to them and wish them “Iechyd da” or good health.

4.55 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): On behalf of all my constituents, I warmly congratulate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their new

9 Sep 2013 : Column 711

son, Prince George, and wish him a long and happy life. The royal family provide our nation with stability and an example of service and commitment to us all. I know that the new prince and his parents will be given a very warm welcome, should they have occasion to visit Bury, Ramsbottom or Tottington.

4.55 pm

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): I would like to add my congratulations on the birth of Prince George on behalf of all my constituents, many of whom, because it was so near, stood outside the hospital for many hours. That occasion showed the huge interest of the international press and of people from all around the world. This shows just what a privilege it is to have a monarchy in this country. I am an unashamed monarchist, and I genuinely feel that the stability and continuity of our country have been greatly dependent on the monarchy, even if there have been some ups and downs, as the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said.

I was in Northern Ireland when the birth happened. I have just seen in their place someone representing Northern Ireland, but I wanted to say what a wonderful reception the birth received in Northern Ireland, too. In all parts of the United Kingdom, we share in the joy of the parents. Very few of us will be around when Prince George becomes King. A few might hope to be, but I doubt that. We are nevertheless taking part today in a bit of history. That is why I wanted to add my congratulations to the whole royal family.

4.57 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I apologise for not being in my place at the beginning of this debate. I also apologise on behalf of my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party, the Alliance party and the Social and Democratic Labour party. We have not decided to absent ourselves, to a man and a woman, this afternoon. In fact, there is a most unusual meeting taking place: the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is meeting in the Senate Chamber in Stormont. It is good for the people of Northern Ireland to see their MPs, of all parties, in action there. However, I wanted to put on record our very good wishes. As the only Independent

9 Sep 2013 : Column 712

MP from Northern Ireland here, it is wonderful to be able to speak for those from other parties and to send our congratulations to the wonderful Queen, her wonderful husband and to the parents of Prince George. We are delighted with Prince George’s safe arrival in this world.

4.58 pm

Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Any birth is a joy, and this is a joy for the people of this country. I am particularly happy because a great grandfather in the duchess’s family was a coal miner in the area where I worked for 20 very happy years. I hope that the inherent spirit and generosity of miners and their care for others will flow through this child’s blood, so that he can play his part, along with whoever takes over from us in this House in years to come, to prevent such things as I heard about on Saturday morning: a 13-year-old girl in my constituency who has just had a spinal operation is sleeping in a camp bed, because of over-overcrowding, in her grandmother’s house. I hope that whoever takes over from us will be able to work together, along with the royal family, to make something like that a thing of the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,nemine contradicente,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty offering the congratulations of this House to Her Majesty, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of Prince George; and signifying to Her Majesty the great pleasure given to the House by this happy event.


That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by such Members of the House as are of Her Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council or of Her Majesty’s Household.

Resolved,nemine contradicente,

That a Message be sent to Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to offer the congratulations of this House on the birth of Prince George and expressing the warm wishes of the House for his good health and happiness.— (The Prime Minister.)


That the said Message be presented to Her Majesty by such Members of the House as are of Her Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council or of Her Majesty’s Household.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 713

Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill

[Relevant Documents:The Seventh Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, on the Government’s Lobbying Bill, HC 601, and the First Report from the Committee on Standards, on the Government’s Lobbying Bill, HC 638]

[1st Allotted Day]

Considered in Committee

[Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]

Clause 1

Prohibition on consultant lobbying unless registered

5 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 2, in line 5, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 76.

Amendment 5, in line 8, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 7, in line 12, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 48, in clause 2, page 1, line 12, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

‘(1) For the purposes of this Part, a person carries on the business of lobbying if in the course of a business and in return for payment—

(a) the person makes communications within subsection (3), or advises another person on the making of communications within subsection (3), and

(b) none of the exceptions in Part 1 of Schedule 1 applies.’.

Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 2, line 2, leave out ‘on behalf of another person or persons’.

Government amendment 77.

Amendment 9, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—

‘(b) in return for payment the person advises others how to make communications within subsection (3).

(c) in return for payment the person arranges or facilitates a formal or informal meeting within subsection (3).’.

Amendment 161, in clause 2, page 2, line 4, at end insert—

‘(1A) A person carries on the business of professional lobbying if—

(a) the person is directly employed by a non-lobbying business to perform the role of making communications within the meaning of subsection (3);

(b) the person is contracted to perform the role of making communications within the meaning of subsection (3) by a non-lobbying business; or

(c) in addition to other duties within their business, they make communication within the meaning of subsection (3).’.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 714

Amendment 52, in schedule 1, page 50, line 18, leave out paragraph 3.

Government amendment 91.

Amendment 17, in schedule 1, page 50,  line 18, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 18, in schedule 1, page 50, leave out lines 19 to 24 and insert—

‘(a) the person is a constituent contacting or communicating with their Member of Parliament;

(b) the person is making communications solely on his or her own behalf;

(c) the person is responding to a government consultation exercise;

(d) the person is responding to an invitation to submit information or evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee or Public Bill Committee;

(e) the person is acting in an official capacity on behalf of a government organisation;

(f) a person is making communications without remuneration;

(g) the person is responding to or complying with a court order,’.

Government amendments 92 to 95.

Amendment 19, in schedule 1, page 50, line 25, leave out sub-paragraph 3(2) and insert—

‘A person is carrying on the business of professional lobbying if they are acting—

(a) on behalf of a client, or

(b) on behalf of an employer.’.

Amendment 20, in schedule 1, page 50, line 30, leave out sub-paragraph 3(3) .

Amendment 21, in schedule 1, page 50, line 33, leave out sub-paragraph 3(4) .

Amendment 22, in schedule 1, page 51, line 8, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Government amendments 96 and 97.

Amendment 24, in schedule 1, page 51, line 21, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 25, in schedule 1, page 51, line 43, leave out paragraph (7).

Amendment 26, in schedule 1, page 52, line 10, leave out paragraph (8). Amendment 27, in schedule 1, page 52, line 16, leave out paragraph (10).

Amendment 30, in clause 3, page 2, line 35, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Government amendment 98.

Amendment 32, in clause 4, page 2, line 38, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 33, in clause 4, page 3, line 12, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 38, in clause 6, page 4, line 25, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Amendment 39, in clause 9, page 5, line 12, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Government amendment 81.

Amendment 41, in clause 12, page 6, line 22, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Government amendments 82 to 85.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 715

New clause 5—Definition of consultant lobbying

‘(1) In section 1 “consultant lobbying” means activities which are carried out in the course of a business for the purpose of—

(a) influencing government; or

(b) advising others how to influence government.

(2) Activities are to be taken as having the purpose specified in subsection (1) if a reasonable person would assume, having regard to all the circumstances, that the activities were intended to have the effect described in subsection (1)(a) or (b).

(3) In this section “government” includes, within the United Kingdom—

(a) central government, devolved government, local government;

(b) members and staff of either House of Parliament or of a devolved legislature;

(c) Ministers and officials; and

(d) public authorities (within the meaning of section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998).

(4) Subsection (1) does not include—

(a) anything done in response to or compliance with a court order;

(b) anything done for the purpose of complying with a requirement under an enactment;

(c) a public response to an invitation to submit information or evidence;

(d) a public response to a government consultation exercise;

(e) a formal response to a public invitation to tender;

(f) anything done by a person acting in an official capacity on behalf of a government organisation; or

(g) an individual who makes representations solely on his or her own behalf.

(5) In subsection (1) “influencing” includes informing, but making information or opinions public (for example, by way of advertisements or attributed articles in a newspaper) is not the provision of lobbying services.

(6) In this section—

(a) “business” includes any undertaking, including charitable and not-for-profit undertakings; and

(b) services provided by or on behalf of an undertaking are provided “in the course of a business”, even if the persons providing the services are acting on a pro bono, volunteer or not-for-profit basis.

(7) Subsection (1) applies whether a person is acting—

(a) on behalf of a client;

(b) on behalf of an employer;

(c) as a volunteer on behalf of a charitable or other organisation; or

(d) on the person’s own behalf (subject to subsection (4)(g)); but the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument permit persons who provide lobbying services on behalf of an organisation (in any capacity) to rely on the organisation’s registration.

(8) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument provide that a person does not contravene section 1 by providing lobbying services without being registered, provided that the person becomes registered within a specified period beginning with the first date on which those services were provided.’.

Amendment 44, title, line 2l, leave out ‘consultant’ and insert ‘professional’.

Jon Trickett: Let me welcome you to the Chair, Ms Primarolo, for the start of this very important Committee stage. We all look forward to your wise advice as we proceed with detailed scrutiny of the first part of this absolutely dreadful Bill—a Bill which no single stakeholder of any importance has endorsed. Part 1 is in need of major change, and it is only as a

9 Sep 2013 : Column 716

result of the unfortunate abbreviation of the time available that we shall not be pressing every single one of our amendments to a vote. We will see how far we get. I do not intend to speak for too long, because there are so many important matters to be dealt with this afternoon. I apologise to the Committee for needing to slip out for a few minutes at some stage; I have a long-standing engagement.

I want to make three points. First, there is a need for a universal register of all lobbyists, to which amendment 2 and further consequential amendments refer. Secondly, we strongly object to the Government’s tabling of amendment 76, for reasons that I shall explain shortly. Thirdly, amendment 9 and amendment 48—tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee—widen the definition of “lobbyist” to ensure that all activities are properly registered.

The Government frequently claim to be the most transparent Government in history. That is a large claim. However, when it comes to making a choice between their commitment to transparency and the protection of vested interests, they always come down on the side of vested interests at the cost of transparency. That much is clear from the very first clause of the Bill, which needs to be amended.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Earlier this year, a private health care company, Hospital Corporation of America, was awarded a contract to treat NHS brain tumour patients. That happened after the same company had donated £17,000 to the Conservative party. Does my hon. Friend agree that such transactions are the ones that the public want to get to the bottom of, and that the Bill does nothing to achieve that?

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend has made a powerful point about the way in which the Bill that became the Health and Social Care Act 2012 was prepared. As we know, the private health industry operated substantially behind the scenes in preparing the ground for that Bill. We also know that the legislation has led to a variety of actions that seem to have introduced an increasing amount of engagement in the NHS by the private sector, but that is not the point that I am addressing this afternoon.

The Government’s decision to limit the register to consultant lobbyists will lead to a narrowing of the register, because it excludes nearly all the lobbyists who are working professionally in our country today. Indeed, it would deepen the shadows that many people believe fall wherever the industry practises. Our amendments will seek to make the register universal and transparent and make what the lobbyists are doing transparent, by bringing the whole of the professional industry into daylight.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I am a little puzzled as to the distinction drawn in the hon. Gentleman’s amendments between the terms “consultant” and “professional”. Can he explain the difference?

Jon Trickett: I will explain it, but it is not too difficult to understand. I have met and consulted representatives of the whole of the industry, and they have told me that only a tiny proportion of the industry are so-called

9 Sep 2013 : Column 717

consultant lobbyists—third-party lobbyists or, as it were, hired guns. Professional lobbyists who work in-house will not be covered under the definition in the Bill, which is why we feel the use of the term “consultant lobbyist” narrows the Bill’s scope.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful explanation. I do not know whether he is aware of these comments made by Cameron Penny, a financial services lobbyist, on ConservativeHome:

“In a ludicrous reduction in the level of transparency to which I currently submit, the Bill wouldn’t mean I’d have to register as a lobbyist. As an employee who lobbies on behalf of an employer whose business is lobbying; they would have to register, I wouldn’t.”

I therefore urge Members on both sides of the Committee to support Labour’s amendment, so that we ensure that we establish a lobbying register that includes all lobbyists, not just a very narrow 1%.

Jon Trickett: I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I met all the representative bodies of the lobbying industry only two or three weeks ago, and I asked them how many of their members would have to register under the definition of “consultant lobbyist”. They knew of nobody—not one single person—who would be both a consultant lobbyist and registered under the definition of lobbying in the Bill.

Several hon. Members rose

Jon Trickett: I am going to make some more points on this matter in a few moments, and I may take some interventions then.

Our amendment would secure a register that includes in-house lobbyists as well as lobbying consultants and sole traders, all of whom are excluded under this Bill.

We should remember that in previous debates many Members reiterated the view that there is nothing wrong in principle with lobbying. In fact, lobbying brings life to our democracy and we, as Members of Parliament, frequently gain important information from being lobbied. Therefore, nothing I or any of my colleagues say today will suggest that there is anything wrong in principle with lobbying. That activity should, however, take place in the full light of day, not in the shadows.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that a leading tobacco company employed 161 people to lobby MEPs? Would all 161 of them be registered?

Jon Trickett: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I assume she is saying that the 161 individual lobbyists were employed by the tobacco company. If that is the case, under this Bill not one of them—not a single one—would be required to be on the register. That is why when she intervened on me I was saying that we want all lobbying activities to be brought into the full light of day, not remain in the shadows.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman discussed his proposals with leading national

9 Sep 2013 : Column 718

charities, because they might not wish to have to register their people, who are legitimately campaigning for their charitable purpose?

Jon Trickett: I have—but I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has done so. He might be well advised to meet them first, before asking a question like that. Yes, I have met the leading charities. I have also met representative organisations of the leading charities, and I have made two things clear to them. First, if they employ lobbyists according to the definition that we want to introduce, they will have to be registered. Even the large representative organisations say that that is the right thing to do. We are talking about professional lobbyists. Throughout the country, in every neighbourhood and constituency, there is much excellent community and charitable work that is undertaken voluntarily, and that is not professional lobbying. We do not expect people who lobby us at our surgeries with a particular problem in their neighbourhood to have to register. However, if a large organisation such as a charity—I can think of some that spend £300 million a year; that is their turnover—has parliamentary consultants working for them or for third party organisations that are lobbying Parliament in the material interests of that charity, that should be registered. The register will take only a few moments to fill in—it is not a particularly arduous task—and it is right that anyone who lobbies Parliament should be on it.

That is not my view alone, and it is not the view simply of the Opposition. I have met, as I have told the Committee, all the representative organisations of the lobbying industry. I have met many chairmen, chairwomen and managing directors of the larger lobbying companies and, almost without exception, they think that the Bill is too weak and does not go far enough, so they oppose it. I have also met all the lobbying transparency campaigners. One would not think that the people who campaign for lobbying and the people who campaign to constrain lobbying would inevitably share the same point of view but, in this case, without exception, both sides say that the Bill is simply inadequate.

The Bill is simply not up to the task, and it is likely to make lobbying more opaque, rather than more transparent. By suggesting that the register should include only consultant lobbyists, the register would exclude—these are important figures; they are not mine—99% of meetings between lobbyists and Ministers; 80% of lobbyists; and 95% of lobbying activity. Much of that activity and those lobbyists are already registered on voluntary registers. More likely than not, they will deregister if the Bill is introduced. We will know less about the industry and its activities than we do now.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that private meetings, private lunches and any contact that seeks to influence or give guidance to people on how to influence is not covered by the Bill?

Jon Trickett: That is a powerful point, but I do not want to stray too far down that track because you may rule me out of order, Ms Primarolo; the issue is not relevant to this group of amendments. However, the hon. Lady is quite correct—as a whole, the Bill completely excludes 99% of lobbying activity. Consultant lobbying

9 Sep 2013 : Column 719

does not include, for example, lobbyists who work in-house—a point that I have made in response to the Government. People who work for big tobacco companies or those who operate in law firms as lobbyists would not have to register.

I shall give the Committee an example. The right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, was revealed to have texted Mr Fred Michel, the in-house lobbyist for News Corporation, about matters that pertained to News Corporation’s business, but those exchanges would not have to be registered if the Bill became law, because Mr Michel was an in-house lobbyist, not a consultant lobbyist. One of the big scandals of this Parliament would simply be missed by legislation that is meant to clean up lobbying once and for all.

Even the Leader of the House conceded to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee that the definition of consultant lobbyist was narrow. He said—bear in mind that a Minister said this, not us—“It is not that we believe consultant lobbyists are the only ones lobbying. Clearly they are a minority.” The Leader of the House makes the point more effectively and with fewer words than I am. The point is that a very small minority of lobbyists and lobbying activity will be covered the Bill.

5.15 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): As Members of Parliament, we expect to be lobbied by people who are lobbying in their own interests. In that respect, a company is a person. In legal terms it is just another person. We expect to be lobbied by our constituents and by other people who are not constituents in respect of matters of national interest. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why such lobbying is corrupt? What would be corrupt—[Interruption.] Excuse me. What would be corrupt is Members of Parliament receiving payment or being influenced by anything other than argument. Otherwise, I cannot see why he wants to capture so many people in a lobbying register. Will he explain that?

Jon Trickett: I will briefly make several points. First, there is a Government amendment before the Committee this afternoon that excludes companies from having to register, yet the hon. Gentleman points out that in law companies are individuals—they are legal persons. On corruption, I have not made the case that the lobbying industry is wholly corrupt. Not at all, but there is a huge gap between the population and the political and commercial elite in our country.

Too many people believe that decisions are made in secret, in the quiet rooms around here—smoke-filled rooms, perhaps. Nobody knows how those decisions are made or on whose behalf. It would be better if the general public understood how decisions were made, who was pressing for those decisions and in whose interests they were made. The Prime Minister himself said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. We should introduce legislation that would make sure that all lobbying activity was registered and properly accounted for. People would then know how decisions were made.

Grahame M. Morris: On the scope of the clause and the limitations on who is covered by it, Members of Parliament are lobbied, but will the public think it morally right that at least 58 Members of Parliament

9 Sep 2013 : Column 720

on the Government Benches have current or recent directorships or consultancy activities with private health care firms from which they benefit personally? That is not covered at all by the terms and scope of the Bill.

Jon Trickett: I thank my hon. Friend. My views on MPs’ second jobs are well known. They were debated in the House not too long ago.

The Leader of the House accepted that consultant lobbyists are a tiny minority. The Government have constructed a straw man argument in order to give the appearance that they are taking action on lobbying transparency, whereas in reality they are doing no such thing. Why is a register of consultant lobbyists proposed in the Bill? In my view it is because the Government merely want to be seen to be doing something while in fact doing very little.

We, the lobbying industry and the lobbying transparency campaigners, as well as the Select Committee, all want to act to achieve greater lobbying transparency for the good and the health of our democracy. We want to suggest something different to the Government. We want lobbying transparency because in a 21st century democracy it is only right that people can see how their Government are being influenced and by whom—which commercial forces lie behind particular decisions. That requires a register of all professional lobbyists. All lobbyists would then have to meet the same high standards, not only to create a level playing field within the industry, but to make sure that big money can no longer buy more influence than the rest of the population by using underhand techniques.

Instead of ensuring high standards in the lobbying industry, however, the Government would make the situation much worse. That is not simply my view. Mr George Kidd, acting chair of the UK Public Affairs Council, the body that runs the largest voluntary register of lobbyists, said that

“there is a risk that in doing something we do harm rather than good. We may end up with a less transparent system than we currently have if the definition is unchanged and”—

listen to this—

“we have a statutory register with very few names, if any, on it. People will be able to construct their business never to be on it.”

He suggests that we may have a register with no names on it—no lobbyists at all—and a register that is so full of loopholes that it is possible for anybody, with the smallest amount of ingenuity, to find a way to avoid getting on to the register. It would appear that the word “transparency” in the Bill’s title is a total misnomer.

If all that were not bad enough, Government amendment 76, in the name of the Leader of the House, rather remarkably succeeds in achieving what many think is impossible: making a bad Bill even worse. Despite comprehensive and uniquely united criticism and a consensus against the Bill, the Government have decided in their wisdom further to amend it, not in order to strengthen it, as lobbyists and experts have recommended, but rather further to weaken it. Rather than including companies and organisations that employ lobbyists on the register, as happens currently with the voluntary register, the Government have chosen to seek to limit the scope of the Bill further with this amendment by removing the need for a lobbyist’s employer to register. This is an important point, so I hope that the Committee is following the argument. For a register to bring meaningful

9 Sep 2013 : Column 721

transparency to the lobbying industry and to allow public scrutiny of lobbying, it must surely include, at the very least, all those who are doing lobbying. That surely must include the individual lobbyist’s employer. Yet that is precisely what the amendment seeks to avoid. Without the information on who is employing a particular lobbyist, it will be impossible to know which organisations or companies are lobbying at all, let alone what they are lobbying about or how often they are lobbying. The amendment is a retrograde step.

I have highlighted before how the Bill is weaker than the existing voluntary code, and the Government amendment is a case in point. The public or an organisation seeking the services of a lobbyist can currently search the voluntary registers in a way that discloses an organisation or employer’s client list, but the Government’s new proposals will remove that ability. The amendment removes the necessity for the lobbyists’ employers to be registered. We would know who the lobbyists were if they were consultant lobbyists, not if they were professional lobbyists, but we would not know who they were working for. We would not know who their colleagues were. Nor would we know which clients were being served by their colleagues. Nor would we know which other clients were employing the same company. We would not know the identity of the directors of the company. I would argue that knowing the names and identities of the directors of the company is quite important. Arguably, a company director may not themselves be a lobbyist, but it would be of interest to know who the directors of the company were which employed the lobbyists who were then on the register, and the amendment would exclude such a possibility.

Finally, we would not know who the shareholders of the company were, which leaves a massive opportunity for opacity. We would not know who the directors are or who owns the company, the name of the company or its registered address; we will be able to know simply that a lobbyist, Mr M. Smith, or whatever his name may be, is working out of Wimbledon. We will have no idea who his colleagues are, what company he works for, what its registered address is or who its shareholders and directors are. It really is a very bad and dangerous amendment. Rather than opening up the lobbying industry, the Government’s proposal would allow companies and organisations to hide behind the legislation.

Grahame M. Morris: The point about identifying who works for whom must be complicated by the fact that some consultancies are employed by a number of different companies. Could they disguise the fact, using zero-hours contracts, that they are not working exclusively for one employer?

Jon Trickett: Again, my hon. Friend makes an important point. The truth is that we will have no idea whom they are working for. We will know who their clients are, because that is required on the register, but we will have no idea who employs them. That seems to me to be a rather critical question to ask. For those people now on the voluntary register and operating to an ethical code, we know who their clients are and whom they work for, and the companies they work for also register. If the amendment is made, we will have no idea whom they are working for or who their other clients are. It seems

9 Sep 2013 : Column 722

to me that those on the Government Front Bench—I look to the Minister—should reflect on the amendment carefully before deciding whether to press it. It is very dangerous.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Why does the hon. Gentleman think that those dangers would arise as a result of the proposed amendment? The word “person” would apply equally to an individual as to a company, so

“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless… the person… is entered in the register”

could mean either a company or a human being. Indeed, it is likely to mean both, because if the person is carrying on business on behalf of an employer that is a company, he should register not only himself, but the company. I do not understand his objection, unless he has seen something in the Bill that I have not.

Jon Trickett: Let us look at the clause concerned. Clause 1 currently states:

“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless—

(a) the person, or

(b) if the person is an employee, the person’s employer,

is entered in the register of consultant lobbyists.”

Amendment 76 would exclude paragraph (b), so I deduce from that that the Government do not wish to have on the register the employer of the person who is being registered. If I was incorrect in my interpretation, no purpose whatsoever would be served by that deletion, or by its inclusion in the Bill in the first place.

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Is that not the entire point? There would be no need to specify the person’s employer if they could stand alone. If a person is included, what was the point of putting that in the Bill in the first place? It is being deleted specifically to exclude the corporate entity. It is as plain as a pikestaff.

Jon Trickett rose

Mr Cox: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jon Trickett: The hon. and learned Gentleman will have a chance to make a contribution if he catches your eye, Ms Primarolo.

The point is this: we will have the same individual, Mr Smith from Wimbledon, and we will know who his clients are. Under the Bill, as drafted, we will know who his employer is. If amendment 76 is made, we will not know who his employer is, so there will be a gaping hole in our knowledge. It might not matter so much for us, but there are tens of millions of people outside in the country who want to know why the Government abandoned legislation on, say, plain tobacco packaging, or why they suddenly decided to proceed with the privatisation of our national health service.

Amendment 76 would have a dramatic impact on the rest of the Bill, rendering parts of it entirely redundant. Clause 4, for example, requires a lobbyist captured by the Bill to register the address of their main place of business or, if there is no such place, their home address. The individual lobbyist’s home address could be registered and we would not know their place of employment. Yet

9 Sep 2013 : Column 723

clause 4 has been drafted precisely to attempt to ascertain where that person would be working from. Again, the Government amendment imperils the very principle of transparency that the Bill claims to advocate.

Mr Cox rose—

Jon Trickett: I shall not give way again on this point.

In addition, if only individuals are required to register, there will be considerable risk of a knock-on impact on the Government’s ability to raise the necessary funding for the register. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister will say about that.

5.30 pm

My final series of points relate to amendment 9, which stands in my name, and amendment 48, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North. We recognise that lobbying also includes advising others and facilitating meetings. Yet the Government have failed to include such activity in the Bill—perhaps because they have no idea what lobbying consists of, having failed to conduct a proper consultation.

It is clear that much of the activity of lobbyists is not made up of face-to-face encounters with Ministers or permanent secretaries, but of giving advice to their clients about how to proceed, whose door to knock on, which telephone to call and which café in Portcullis House a person should be sitting in if they want to bump into someone whom they wish to influence.

Communication, facilitation of meetings and giving advice all amount to lobbying activity, but all are excluded by the Bill. The substance of amendments 9 and 48 relate to that issue. We have listened to the industry and campaigners for transparency, who have all said that the Government have misunderstood the nature of lobbying. That is why we, like the Select Committee, have tabled an amendment to include lobbying activities not identified in the Bill: advising others how to lobby or arranging or facilitating meetings with key decision makers.

As Iain Anderson, the deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, recognised—again, this is the industry’s view, not mine—the vast majority of lobbying is not about meeting Ministers or permanent secretaries but advising organisations about how the political process proceeds. That is why, under the Government’s definition, more than 95% of all lobbying activity will simply not be covered by the legislation.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): Under the hon. Gentleman’s approach to lobbying, how many companies would be on the register and how many contacts would have to be logged each year? What would be the cost of running his alternative?

Jon Trickett: This is a £2 billion industry, and what we propose would cover almost all the activity that we can identify in it. It would not need to be costly; we have sat down with the industry, taken their advice and listened to their criticisms. They have told me that to complete a form of the kind proposed would take only a few moments a year and dramatically open up the whole industry. We will come to the register when we discuss other clauses. I am sure that you, Ms Primarolo,

9 Sep 2013 : Column 724

will tell me that I cannot pursue a matter that is the subject of later amendments. We will come back to the costs of the register.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab) rose—

Jon Trickett: I will give way to my hon. Friend and then wind up.

Andrew Gwynne: I noticed that the Minister did not respond to my hon. Friend’s important point that 95% of lobbying activity will not be covered by the Bill. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Public Relations Consultants Association goes even further, specifying that the Bill would cover as little as 1% of overall lobbying?

Jon Trickett: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is of course right. The whole industry agrees without exception and universally—there is total consensus—that this Bill simply does not meet the challenge of the day. The industry wants a register. It wants transparency because it lives in the shadows. Many professional and ethical lobbyists feel that they are being criticised unfairly. They also feel that they have been undermined by a small minority of lobbyists who are behaving unethically and do not register on any of the voluntary registers. They want a level playing field—they are right to do so—and the public want to know how decisions are made.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations summed up the situation perfectly when it said:

“The Government’s lack of engagement with the industry is reflected in a poorly drafted and narrow definition which does not accurately reflect the work undertaken by lobbyists, including those the Government perceive to be acting in the capacity of a consultant lobbyist.”

Let me return to the problem of who will be caught under the Government’s definitions and who will be excluded. It is reported that in 2011 the British financial sector spent £92 million on lobbying politicians and regulators. Documents have now come to light that suggest that they secured a series of governmental financial measures that were very favourable to the finance industry. However, all this lobbying activity was carried out by in-house lobbyists and therefore would not count within the definition of “lobbying” that the Government have sought to deploy in the Bill.

Tom Brake: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jon Trickett: No—I am about to finish.

The consequence is that the public would have no knowledge of how any of these decisions were made. That is why we have tabled our amendments.

Mrs Main: It is important that we are having the Committee stage of this Bill on the Floor of the House because we can, I hope, bring consensus to the matter. Lobbying affects Members on both sides of the House and affects all of us as constituency Members of Parliament, so it is important that we get the Bill right or there will have been little purpose to having it.

I rise to speak to my new clause 5. I have a deal of sympathy with amendments 9 and 48, which seek to capture some of the concerns that many of us have about making sure that the field of lobbying is fair and

9 Sep 2013 : Column 725

transparent and that the definition of “lobbying” captures all the activities that most people would recognise as such. The new clause refers to activities that any “reasonable person would assume” to be activities

“intended to have the effect”

of lobbying. That is important, because lobbying is a very subtle, even devious, art. Pressure can be brought to bear with a view to setting off a favourable reaction or having a desired effect. We have often heard the aphorism, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings set off a tornado elsewhere?” A lobbyist would certainly hope that it does. We have heard about the subtle art of making sure that people are in the right place at the right time to catch somebody’s eye to have that casual conversation. As the Bill stands, none of this is captured, and I am very concerned about that. The public are rightly sceptical about why, despite campaigns and efforts by ordinary people, so many decisions seem to go the way of the big developer, the big money or the big organisation, while the little’s person’s voice gets lost. Many of us would believe that the answer is powerful, behind-the-scenes lobbying.

I hope that we can find a way forward through this morass of amendments, many of which seek to achieve the same thing. I do not hold mine so dear that I would not support somebody’s else’s if it brought greater clarity to the Bill, because that is what this Committee stage is about. I want to make sure that up-front lobbying by charities and organisations that are captured by the Bill and, indeed, logged on departmental websites, is seen as fine. We need to address the informal, behind-the-scenes lobbying over the cup of coffee, the glass of wine or the lunch. That is the lobbyist’s art. These connections may be made by people whose role is a lobbyist and who use personal and private connections to call in favours, gain access or put their point of view. Surely that is what people would hope a Bill such as this should be about, and I hope that it is what it will be about.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The hon. Lady, who is fair minded and independent, is making powerful points. Could she prevail on her Front-Bench colleagues, who have been garlanded with this albatross, to follow the advice of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, withdraw the Bill and introduce a sensible one? Otherwise this legislative atrocity may well go through the House and the Government will find this to be the signature Bill of the Tory “ineptocracy” that they are creating.

Mrs Main: The hon. Gentleman makes partisan comments about a Tory Government rather than the coalition Government under whom I find myself serving, but his powerful point has been heard by those on the Government Front Bench.

The way in which things are hidden from public gaze —our gaze—is an issue.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Voluntary organisations have big concerns. Age Concern could lobby on a number of issues, so it could get caught by the Bill, as could Macmillan cancer nurses, because they lobby and raise funds for charities.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 726

Mrs Main: I do not have a problem with having a full, fair and transparent register of lobbying activities. I do not believe that charities will feel themselves constrained from lobbying. I am concerned that the Bill’s loopholes, which do not catch personal, behind-the-scenes and subtle lobbying, could lead to more lobbying being driven underground by the craft’s practitioners. The charities have nothing to fear by being transparent about making powerful cases. My concern is about decisions that have been influenced subtly and policies that have been driven by a particular narrative behind the scenes that we as Members of Parliament find hard to track down.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that when the barnacles are scraped off the boat—including our entire public health policy—what people want to know is what organisations are represented by those who are in a position to make powerful cases in rooms to which the rest of us do not have access?

Mrs Main: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Many Members will have short careers in this place and I am sure that my career is as open as anyone else’s to the vagaries of public decision making. Many former Members go on to exert the subtle forms of lobbying that we are all decrying, because they get powerful positions in and links to industries and bodies and know, as has been said, which buttons to press and which mobile phone numbers to call. That is what I want to address. Other Members have the same concerns and the Select Committee has raised them, too. Today gives us an opportunity to ensure a level playing field and to bring a degree of clarity to the domain of lobbying and the role of a lobbyist.

As I said in a speech last week, I am unhappy that discussions about a strategic rail freight interchange in my constituency were held over a private lunch. That would not be captured by the Bill. The gentleman involved is a professional lobbyist, but he is also a personal friend of the then Transport Minister. I do not understand the volte-face, but it would help if I knew who met whom. The e-mail the gentleman sent asked whether there was

“anything your department can do”.

That is how a lobbyist works: once they get an ear and access, the chain reaction—the butterfly effect—that they so desire occurs and, without transparency or a register, it is very hard for people to know where meetings have taken place.

Private lunches would be captured by my proposed new clause, which covers any activity for the purpose of “influencing government” or

“advising others how to influence government.”

Any one of us could sit at a table at a private lunch or a fundraising function and end up being lobbied firmly. If such lobbying were to continue, I would feel an obligation to declare it under my proposed new clause. I could listen to what was being said, but if I did anything about it I would regard myself as having been successfully lobbied.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The hon. Lady’s proposed new clause has a lot to recommend it, but most lobbyists would disagree profoundly with some of the language she has used about them. They do not want to be

9 Sep 2013 : Column 727

devious or skulking in corridors. They are happy to do their business because they know it is an essential part of the democratic process to get across a strong view to those who are legislating on behalf of the whole of society. They are calling for these kinds of changes as well, so may I urge the hon. Lady to be a bit nicer about lobbyists? Ultimately, I think she is calling for what they want.

5.45 pm

Mrs Main: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am not decrying lobbyists. What I am saying is that I need to know who they are, what they are doing, when they are doing it, who they have spoken to and what happened as a result of those conversations, however informal or formal. The register will not capture that. I am sorry if I have offended any gentle lobbyist anywhere, but there are quite a few lobbyists whom I would not give the time of day to. Indeed, I have named them. I think that Mr Hoare knows my views on his lobbying activities in my constituency.

I am sure that the scenario that I described last week is not unique; I was just fortunate enough to find out about aspects of it. Once there is a chink in the dam, there is a chance that the lobbyist will effect the result that they want, but that does not happen in a transparent fashion. Subtle messages and arguments over a private lunch or a catch-up with old chums get results, so why will we not see more of that practice if it is not captured by the Bill?

If lobbying is the next big disaster to hit Parliament, the public have the right to expect us to deliver. I believe that we have the opportunity to deliver a way of recognising where these lobbyists are, for good or bad, and what they are doing. We need to amend the Bill today. Whichever amendments get picked up, I think that we should run with them to show that this House is bigger than party politics.

Dwight Eisenhower, who many people consider to have been a great man who gave great quotes, said:

“You have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle. You have a row of dominoes set up. You knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have the beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”

That crumbling effect is exactly what a lobbyist seeks to effect behind the scenes. They pick their domino. One never knows who that domino is. It might be somebody who works in a Department, a Minister or anyone else who has influence in the chain of argument. When that domino falls, the chain reaction can have the most profound influences. In my case, a refusal was turned into a permission. I believe that, but I cannot prove it. When the domino effect happens, it is amazing how other people pick things up and run with them. Most people are never lobbied directly—it all goes back through the chain reaction to the original lobbying.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I am very interested in what the hon. Lady is saying. I am not clear whether her new clause covers the wide penumbra of public and quasi-governmental organisations that spend a lot of public money and that can be influenced in the way they spend that money. I think, for example, of health authorities and local enterprise partnerships.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 728

Do we not need to address the influence on those local authorities, with respect not only to policy, but to how they spend public money?

Mrs Main: The hon. Lady raises a large number of points. As I have said, I am not wedded to new clause 5. It would perhaps be somewhat cumbersome to remove the existing clause and insert my new clause. However, it does seek to cover anyone acting on behalf of a client or an employer and anyone acting as a volunteer on behalf of a charitable organisation or on their own behalf.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): I want to seek clarification on that point. A trustee of a charity might say in a board meeting, “What you should do is write to the relevant Minister and express your concerns. This is the Minister and this is how you should write the letter.” That person, who is trying to do a good thing for their organisation, would be captured by my hon. Friend’s new clause. Such people might therefore say, “I do not want to risk getting caught up in that. I might get something wrong in the process.”

Mrs Main: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I do not have a legal brain, but it might be possible to sort that out. My view is that if, in the course of a conversation, somebody makes a general point about how things can best be moved forward, that is hardly the same as saying, “Here is the mobile telephone number. I’m sure the Minister will meet you for lunch.” or, “How about we have a catch-up over coffee and I will tell you all about this new project I’m trying to push in your area.” I do not feel that those two things are the same.

I am willing—as, I am sure, are many hon. Members—to take on board any improvements that make the Bill deliver what most of us want it to deliver. We can put exceptions and guidance in the Bill, and I included in the new clause clarifications such as

“anything done in response to or compliance with a court order;

anything done for the purpose of complying with a requirement under an enactment;

a public response to an invitation to information or evidence;…

a formal response to a public invitation to tender;

anything done by a person acting in official capacity on behalf of a government organisation;”.

I have tried to include exclusions, and I am more than happy for people to add others if they think they could word the new clause better. We want to get rid of cosy chats, pressure behind the scenes, and people with the big money—£12 million in my constituency has been spent in trying to get this through, which is probably peanuts compared with some other industries.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs Main: I am just about to draw to a close because I would like to hear about the amendments tabled by other Members. This is not about filibustering or talking out the Bill today.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind) rose

Mrs Main: I will take one intervention from the hon. Lady and then I will conclude.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 729

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady and I am intrigued, and very pleased, to see her new clause tabled for discussion. I am particularly interested that she has chosen to define “government” in a way that excludes the Director of Public Prosecutions. As she will know, the present definition of Minister or permanent secretary includes the DPP, who is supposed to be independent. Will she confirm that she thinks the DPP should be excluded from the register?

Mrs Main: I hope the DPP is always considered to be independent, but if there is some legal reason why that should not be the case in the Bill, I would welcome hearing it. That is what we should be discussing today. I do not wish to speak for too long, but my concern is that ministerial lobbying that goes on at every level, including with persons of influence, is not captured by this Bill because the causal nature of some conversations and chats is not included. I would like to see that tightened up, including guidance on what ministerial conversations can be held after some of that subtle lobbying has been going on.

I am sorry if lobbyists are offended today, but I hope I am trying to deliver a level playing field for all lobbyists, and not have some hiding in a back room getting advantage while others are captured by measures in the Bill. I hope we can progress with that and achieve consensus on some of the amendments that will get rid of the worries that many of us have.

Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): Even that most brutal sport, boxing, has a code of honour so that when an opponent is bloody, battered and exhausted, they are not kept in the ring but we try—if we can—to deliver the coup de grâce. I do not like witnessing the parliamentary equivalent of propping up the opponent. In virtually every aspect, this Bill is battered, bloodied, and ready to fall over. Rather than the grizzled cornermen, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the House are pushing in some game bantamweights to keep the fight going. They are good people, but they are not here today. They are putting other people up to argue for a Bill that was not their doing. Rather than that, we should end this cruel sport and do what the all-party Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform proposed, once it was allowed to report and get engaged in this process. It proposed that the Bill be put into a special Committee so it that could be discussed and got right—not delayed, but brought back to the House as a new Bill that does the business for everybody—within six months. I argue that there would be a strong consensus behind that new Bill.

We have worked hard and I pay tribute to my Committee, two members of which—the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn)—are present in the debate. Other members are on shift to come and do their turn over the next three days. Both they, and members of staff who worked incredibly hard to get a report in front of Members in about seven working days, deserve the utmost credit.

I believe in evidence-based policy making. Through that period of about seven days, we called for, sought and proactively received evidence that provided a welter of overwhelming information to say that the Bill does not work or do what it promised to do. This Bill

9 Sep 2013 : Column 730

does not do what it should say on the can—I do not know whether the Trade Descriptions Act applies in the House of Commons, but if it did there would be a strong case for putting somebody at least in front of a magistrate. This is not the lobbying Bill, it is the 1% lobbying Bill. Most of the problems that have been identified across the House, in the media and elsewhere, will not be affected or tackled by the Bill.

As well as producing a massive wodge of evidence for Members to interpret, my Committee also proposed a number of amendments designed to make the Bill what it should be—a genuine lobbying Bill. In clause 1, as part of our long debate over the next three days, we are attempting to ask: who are the lobbyists? When one lobbying group’s trade association says, “We think maybe 20% of lobbyists will be covered” and another says, “1% of lobbyists will be covered”, there is clearly a massive welter of people who do what we normally think of as lobbying but who will not be covered.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I would like to understand how many people the hon. Gentleman believes will be required to register as a lobbyist under the proposals that he and his Committee have put forward.

Mr Allen: Under the Government proposals, the Public Relations Consultants Association says that fewer than 1% of meetings with Ministers take place by consultants without the clients present. Transparency International states that the Government are not even going to capture the 20% of the industry that they have identified as the reason for the register. One can choose whatever figure one wishes.

On the earlier intervention by the Deputy Leader of the House, I say gently that this is not a choice between 100% of everything we regard as lobbying being registered and enormous bureaucracy, and 1% being registered. Let us grow up, have a debate, and find a happy medium. It does not have to be perfect the first time, but it certainly does not need to be as imperfect as this Bill.

Mr Jim Cunningham rose

Paul Flynn rose

Mr Allen: I will give way first to my hon. Friend from the Select Committee.

Paul Flynn: I also sat on the Public Administration Committee in the previous Parliament, and evidence was given that the information required would not be some bureaucratic burden but information on the computers of the companies involved. It is a simple matter of cut, paste and e-mail. The costs will be minute. Does my hon. Friend not think that the most impressive evidence we heard in Committee came from organisations that have been campaigning passionately for the past 20 years for a lobbying Bill? They said unanimously that this Bill is worse than nothing at all.

Mr Allen: Indeed, and for Labour colleagues who unkindly say that the Government are not seeking consensus, I say that they have been brilliant in trying to build consensus. I have never seen the embrace that has taken place between Spinwatch, whose very existence is to expose problems in the lobbying industry, and trade

9 Sep 2013 : Column 731

associations of the lobbying industry. If pulling those two groups together is not consensus building, I do not know what is.

There is another tremendous example of consensus building. One would never have thought that the antagonism and bile that has been exchanged between, for example, the League Against Cruel Sports and the Countryside Alliance, could ever be put aside, but those two bodies now stroll hand in hand towards the sunset because they believe that the Bill is inadequate and that it does not help them. We will come to that when we debate part 2 tomorrow. Let no one churlishly say that the Government have been unable to build a good consensus on the Bill.

6 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham: Like most hon. Members, my hon. Friend will remember the campaigns for a lobbying Bill. Most people thought it would deal with the big fish who have undue influence in this country, whether in service or political terms, but that has not happened. We must also remember that MPs could be restricted under the Bill. He will remember the Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act 1998. MPs were stopped from getting information from various public bodies on behalf of their constituents. In 2006, the Government put Back Benchers up to try to amend those measures.

Mr Allen: My hon. Friend makes wise points. Perhaps I should excuse myself for having a little fun at the expense of the Deputy Leader of the House and the Minister who, in my experience of working with the Political and Constitutional Reform, are committed to what they do. However, that is not enough in this case. They have been put up as the fall guys to promote a Bill that has very few friends and does not do what it should.

My hon. Friend spoke of the public perception, which I mentioned on Second Reading. The public expected the House of Commons to do something about lobbying. The Prime Minister said something should be done about it. The coalition, in its agreement, and the Opposition had almost a contractual agreement that lobbying should be dealt with. All were committed and said clearly that lobbying should be dealt with. My hon. Friend is right that the people who will suffer most—I do not wish to repeat the points I made on Second Reading—are the public, who will be disillusioned that we will fail to do what we should. We agree that something clear, honest and open should be done, so perhaps the biggest losers will be hon. Members—the House of Commons as an institution, which is recovering from difficulties in the recent past. We have it in our power over the next three days to make a better Bill. It will not be the perfect Bill, but we have it in our power to try to make a better Bill. I will therefore take the opportunity to press amendment 48 to a Division, so that hon. Members have the opportunity of supporting their colleagues who serve on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

I should make one other procedural point. I am surprised that knives will not operate on any of the next three days. I will cut my remarks short, but we should have knives so that we can have a sensible debate and vote on each of the key clauses. We need to deal with five key clauses today, but we may only get past clauses 1

9 Sep 2013 : Column 732

and 2. If we had a more sensible arrangement on the division of time, we could do a better job—I am not making a point against the Government.

Tom Brake: Will the hon. Gentleman clarify one thing? I have sought clarification from the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), who speaks for the official Opposition, but it has never been explained to me. Ministers already report their meetings with in-house lobbyists. What do we gain by extending the register to include in-house lobbyists when Ministers already report such meetings?

Mr Allen: I am very much in favour of extending the register to in-house lobbyists because many people regard the biggest scandals—the ones reported in the national press and elsewhere, and those that come to hon. Members’ attention—as resulting from the activities of people who work inside large multinational companies, whether engineering, arms manufacturing or many other things. It is not beyond our wit to produce such a measure.

The hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) has courageously underlined how much lobbying takes place outwith the scope of the Bill. She highlighted with great tenacity some of the most poisonous and difficult things to deal with in the lobbying arena. We should listen to her and learn how to improve the Bill with her proposals.

Mrs Main: I should reinforce that point. There was no ministerial logging of the meeting to which I have referred. It was a private lunch, but it was admitted that the application was discussed. Such a meeting will never appear under the Bill; it was revealed as a result of a parliamentary question.

Mr Allen: It is not for me to network within the coalition Government, but I advise the Deputy Leader of the House to make an appointment with the hon. Lady so she can tell him clearly and forthrightly how lobbying has influenced things in her constituency. Currently, such lobbying is not covered in the Bill, which is supposed to be about lobbying. The Bill is not about one or two problem people such as Ministers, permanent secretaries or people in the lobbying industry. Hon. Members and the public have been waiting for the Bill, and it is a big disappointment. It does not cover many of the problems the hon. Lady describes.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. He is describing how the public regard both hon. Members’ treatment of the Bill and the Bill itself. Does he agree that it is a mockery that we will probably not even reach, much less debate, amendments tabled for debate later this evening? What confidence can the public have that hon. Members are taking lobbying seriously when, not only does the process undermine us, but the Bill manages to be weaker than the current provisions? Are we not sending ourselves up? It is contemptuous of the public and of ourselves.

Mr Allen: It beggars belief that we have three days to talk about a lobbying Bill and some of the key issues highlighted by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee will not be paid the due respect of having an airing in a Committee of the whole House. I agree with the hon. Lady that people outside will say, “What are they playing at? They promised us a Bill, and now they

9 Sep 2013 : Column 733

are playing parliamentary games so that we do not have the time to debate very important matters, such as the role of MPs, the definition of lobbyists, whether there should be better scrutiny of expenses paid by charities, and the definition of political activities.” I will not make that worse by going on for too much longer.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): The Deputy Leader of the House made a point about logging meetings with internal representatives of organisations. The problem is that, even if we accept that the system is 100% perfect, which I do not, the log does not include Parliamentary Private Secretaries, special advisers, senior civil servants and other people to whom internal representatives speak. I was contacted recently by a senior figure from Starbucks. I will not meet them, but their interest in me was because of an all-party parliamentary group with which I was connected. Such contacts should be logged.

Mr Allen: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have only a day to discuss those issues, which will be covered in the next group of amendments. I hope that the Committee will have the time to debate them, but it is now a matter of doubt whether we will have the chance to do so.

Much comes back to the fact that the Government do not consult Parliament in an effective way. If the Government had consulted Parliament, many of the foibles and flaws in the Bill could have been dealt with. My Committee spent a year, on behalf of every Member, considering this matter. We then spent seven hectic days trying to produce a report for the House. It is as if we had not bothered; it is as if the parliamentary process were irrelevant. The Bill has been stuffed into the sausage machine in the hope that it will be voted through tonight and the next two nights.

In conclusion—I will speak to other amendments on behalf of my Select Committee and others—the Prime Minister said that lobbying would be the next big scandal to hit us. I am afraid that there has been another scandal: the prostitution of the House of Commons by the Government in the way that the Bill has been brought forward. This is not a partisan point, but a point about the legislature and the Executive. I hope that there is a communion between Members of this House, who are parliamentarians, to say that this is an unacceptable way of making law. It would be unacceptable if it produced good law; it is absolutely intolerable that it produces such terrible law.

On behalf of my Select Committee, let me say that the Bill should be put into a special Committee so that we can have something we can all be proud of and say to our constituents, “You wanted us to do something about lobbying. The Prime Minister said it was a big issue, the coalition agreement said it was important, those on the Labour Front Bench said it was important and here it is, we have done the job. It has taken us a few years and another six months, but here it is.” If it is not, I am afraid that this House will be dragged into disrepute because of the way the Bill has come before us.

Mr Cox: The hon. Gentleman makes a familiar lament. I remember making it myself many times in the previous Parliament, from the Opposition Benches on which he now sits, in relation to his own Government.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 734

There are those of us on the Government Benches who have concerns about the drafting of the Bill. I hope those on the Front Bench will listen to them and understand that there is no need to dive into the trenches and resist, and protect every clause. I must say that in making criticisms of the Bill—specifically, on clause 1—the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) deployed a fundamentally misconceived argument, one that a short acquaintance with its provisions can demonstrate. It is important, if we are to make criticisms of the Bill, and to expect the Government to move on them, that we ensure they are well targeted and accurate. If they are not, all that will come from the Opposition will, if I may say so, be a wall of noise. A wall of noise will not persuade the Government to change individual clauses.

Government amendment 76, which seeks to delete clause 1(1)(b), does not do the mischief the hon. Member for Hemsworth suggested. After the deletion, clause 1 will read:

“A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless the person is entered in the register of consultant lobbyists.”

The word “person” is apt to cover a multitude of types of persons: it can cover an individual, a partnership and a corporate entity. That is plain in clause 25, which is not to be amended, where the interpretations provision is set out:

“Where the Registrar is required or permitted to serve a notice on a person, this is to be effected—

(a) if the person is a registered company…by sending it by post to the company’s registered office;

(b) if the person is an individual, by delivering it in person;

(c) in any other case…to the last known main address”.

It is plain that the word “person” in clause 1 covers companies and is not intended to exclude companies, as the hon. Member for Hemsworth suggested.

6.15 pm

Chris Bryant: The hon. and learned Gentleman is always very persuasive and clever, so I hope he will be able to help me. Which persons, using his definition, would be required to register in a situation where, for instance, News Corp wanted to buy out the whole of BSkyB? It would not be any member of News Corp. It would not be the company itself, anybody it employed full-time, its lawyers or any of its consultancy companies, unless they were predominantly engaged in lobbying. Am I right to say that not a single person in that process would have to register?

Mr Cox: Let me come on to that question, because I want to tackle it, if it is appropriate to do so, in connection with clause 1. First, let me make it clear that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Hemsworth, asserted in this Committee that the intention of Government amendment 76 was to exclude companies and employers. That is simply not right: that is a misconception. If the Opposition pour a torrent of misconceptions on the drafting of the Bill, their criticisms will not be listened to. I am anxious, as is the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), that some criticisms should be listened to.

The word “person” in clause 1, as proposed, would mean that anybody carrying on the business of consultant lobbying, whether they represented a partnership or a company, would have to register if they came within the definition of consultant lobbying. The problem the

9 Sep 2013 : Column 735

hon. Gentleman refers to is not a problem in clause 1; it is a problem in clause 2, to which I expect we are about to come. The problem in clause 2 is the definition of consultant lobbying, but clause 1 would cover employers and people who carry on a business of consultant lobbying through their employees. A company cannot carry on business in any way unless it be through human beings—their employees. Therefore, if a human being goes to lobby and is lobbying on behalf of a consultant lobbyist, as defined, then that consultant lobbyist, his employer, will have to register. There is no doubt about that—that is a fact.

Chris Bryant rose

Mr Cox: I will not give way, because I want to be quite short if I can.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a question and he made a legitimate point. What concerns me, although it may not be a point on clause 1; it may be a point on clause 2—I look with diffidence at the occupant of the Chair—is that an in-house lobbyist would not necessarily be caught by this definition. My suggestion and submission to those on the Government Front Bench is that in larger firms—for example, in major City law firms—it is now not uncommon for there to be specialist departments that deal with lobbying activities. It strikes me, with the greatest of respect to those on the Government Front Bench, that there is a strong case, where such a specialist department exists, for that department to have to register as a lobbyist.

Chris Bryant rose

Mr Cox: No, I will not give way at this stage. The hon. Gentleman must forgive me. I want to be short, and there is much to cover.

It may be argued that that position will encapsulate too wide a net. What concerns me is that that will offer the opportunity for the construction or the engineering of the structure of a business, so that what is a specialist lobbying company can become part of a larger business and thus avoid the need to register. That would be a regrettable element of manipulation, and bring into disrepute the passage of the Bill.

I hope that those on my Front Bench, in considering this question, will answer it at leisure and not straight away on the hoof. It cannot be right that specialist departments—set up, it may be, in larger entities—that are often the product not so much of caprice, but of chance accident in the evolution of companies and their structures, should elude capture by this Bill.

Chris Bryant: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr Cox: No.

Chris Bryant: It will take seconds.

Mr Cox: No.

I hope that those on the Front Bench will consider what I hope they will believe is a constructive point. Let me say again that it is quite wrong of the hon. Member for Hemsworth to launch a tirade against those on our Front Bench by saying that clause 1 is being mischievously amended by the deletion of subsection (1)(b).

9 Sep 2013 : Column 736

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): In following the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), let me say that I am surprised that he did not rest his rebuttal of the arguments about amendment 76 on clause 4, which clearly shows that the register—in the way it deals with persons—would cover those exact points. However, that does not fully allay the concerns we should have when we see the Government’s amendments to what is already a highly flawed Bill, not least Government amendments 92 to 95 to schedule 1, about which I am sure we will hear from the Government.

Like others, I do not want to take up too much time now, given the range of issues that we need to reach in order to deal with the layers of inadequacy and evasion that are, to my mind, deliberately built into the Bill. The Government who told us that lobbying was the next big scandal have basically come up with the narrowest of nets to deal with professional lobbying, restricting it not to professional lobbying as we all know and understand it—lobbying as we see it practised in and around the parliamentary estate and elsewhere in public life, at various levels of government—but to a narrow definition of “consultant lobbying”.

We have a net that is deliberately narrow, made up of holes that are deliberately wide. That is why I welcome the amendments from the Opposition Front Bench and the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which would ensure a wider net with smaller holes. If Parliament achieves that, we will have done something for our credibility, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) said. However, if we remain with the Bill as provided by the Government, or if we amend it in the way they have proposed, Parliament will be open not just to ridicule, but to suspicion. Why would we go along with a glaringly inadequate Bill? Why would we fail to respond to the representations that have come from so many people in the business who will not be affected—I am sure that some will be happily unaffected—but are bemused at what the Government have produced in part 1?

I know that we looked at the Bill more widely on Second Reading, Mr Caton, but I hope it is in order to make the argument in the debate about this group of amendments and part 1 that it is hard for people not to be suspicious when they see the lobbying to be registered so narrowly defined in part 1, and the issues to be covered in part 2 so widely scoped. As many hon. Members who have spoken have pointed out, none of the lobbying scandals that have happened in recent years—not even those during the life of this Parliament—would have been ameliorated or mitigated in any way by the scope of this Bill. Instead of pretending that it will solve the next big scandal, let us be clear: it would not have addressed any of the big, small or medium scandals that we have seen in the last few years. That has to be a matter of design on the part of the Government. They cannot have missed all those points just as a matter of haphazard chance and sloppy drafting. To my mind, the scoping in part 1 is deliberately evasive.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: The Government have already said that they are trying to fix a specific issue relating to a gap in transparency. I do not think I got an answer from the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), so can the hon. Gentleman explain how many people he thinks will be required to register under the amendments

9 Sep 2013 : Column 737

we are discussing? Does he believe that MPs should also make a declaration whenever they meet a lobbyist, be they in-house, or from a trade union or a charity?

Mark Durkan: As other hon. Members have said, we do need a lobbying Bill, but we needed more consultation and proper pre-legislative scrutiny precisely to determine how many people would be caught and whether they should be comfortably caught under this Bill.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an eloquent case. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) is a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Under the current proposals, only two of the nearly 1,000 meetings would have been captured. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a completely nonsensical approach?

Mark Durkan: What my hon. Friend describes absolutely trivialises the claims that the Government are making for this Bill, especially when we consider what bearing it would have on the amount of lobbying of the Government and what would be registered. If we consider the Bill in terms of transparency, the slight, little bit of translucence that will emerge at the very edge of the current lobbying business is hardly what would pass for transparency in any meaningful sense of the word.

Mrs Main: If some of those meetings are not captured, the only thing open to hon. Members is parliamentary questions and so on, yet quite often the response we get says that the cost of finding out whether somebody met someone else would be disproportionate. That is a problem. Once we get past that gatekeeper, we have no opportunity to explore what conversations were had or what impact they might have had.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. The point of transparency and registration is about being able to say that, if all such engagement is absolutely above board and matter of fact, there is nothing to hide and nothing to worry about. When the picture is created, or when it can be canvassed by some, that there is something untoward about such contacts and representations—that they are an attempt to get undue influence in pursuit of a particular vested interest—the whole public policy system and Parliament suffer. That is what happens when those suspicions abound. We are trying to protect ourselves and the public understanding and trust of Government and parliamentary processes by ensuring we have a more meaningful Bill.

That is why the amendments before us are important, not least amendment 48—which, as we know from the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, will probably be put to a vote—and the Opposition amendments, beginning with amendment 2, which basically take to task the Bill’s deliberately narrow definition of “consultant lobbying” by replacing it with a wider term, “professional lobbying”. This group of amendments also contains amendment 161, which stands in my name, which also tries to add more definition to the type and character of lobbying that we want the Bill to capture. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon said that there are issues

9 Sep 2013 : Column 738

with lobbying activity that is clearly carried on in firms and on behalf of firms. Such lobbying is a dedicated, professional wing of activity on the part of corporations, and it should be captured in any appropriate Bill.

Chris Bryant: Not least in broadcasting, which is one of the most lobbyacious parts of society, and for a very good reason—a lot of broadcasting depends on legislation. However, broadcasting firms hardly ever employ third-party consultants; rather, they always use their own, normally enormous in-house operation. Also, those lobbyists would not bother going to see the permanent secretary, because the permanent secretary would not be bright enough to understand the technicalities. Instead, they would go to the junior officials in the Department who do. None of that would be captured by this Bill.

Mark Durkan: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will not be tempted to wander away from the issues that we are meant to be dealing with in this group of amendments, but he is right to point out some of the flaws that exist elsewhere in part 1 of the Bill and to the wholesale escape by corporate lobbyists working on behalf of various bodies. Whether those lobbyists are working on behalf of allegedly public bodies, private commercial bodies or much larger international conglomerates, they should not be able to escape the scope of the Bill as lightly and handily as they are going to do. As the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon has pointed out, the Bill is framed in such a way that some people will simply be able to recast their business in order completely to escape being touched by the legislation.

6.30 pm

Helen Goodman: Let me illustrate that point. I have just looked at my diary for this week. It contains six meetings with people from corporate bodies or trade associations, and six with people from what we might loosely call the voluntary sector. None of the first six would be caught by the provisions in the Bill, but all the second six would. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that is absolutely ridiculous?

Mark Durkan: I do. At risk of receiving a caution from the Chair, I must agree that my hon. Friend is contrasting the inadequate provisions in part 1 of the Bill with the egregious and excessive provisions in part 2. Many of us suspect that those charities, voluntary organisations and public advocacy campaign groups that will find themselves in line of danger under part 2 are being used as a human shield to protect those that should have been targeted in part 1 but have deliberately been given free licence and allowed to escape. This part of the Bill, particularly in the light of some of the Government amendments, will say to those who might be sitting on the next big scandal, “Carry on regardless. Carry on happily. We don’t want to touch you, and we have deliberately framed this legislation so that it will not touch you.”

Peter Luff (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): As a former lobbyist and an honorary fellow of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, I have to say that it is actually worse than that. Unless the Government accept amendment 52, which would make it necessary for

9 Sep 2013 : Column 739

management consultancies, lawyers and accountant to register, lobbying will become much less transparent as a direct result of the Bill.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman makes a very pertinent point.

This is why so many people are dissatisfied with the Bill, including bona fide, honest-to-goodness, up-front lobbyists who want to be able to conduct their business on good terms. They need to know that the register exists to ensure that they can conduct their business not only on good terms but on equal terms with anyone else who is competing to provide similar services, peddling similar influence and perhaps having an even greater effect on Government decisions on policy, on the framing of legislation, on programmes or on projects.

I hope that we will come to the amendments that try to address other problems relating to the Bill, but I am speaking in support of those Opposition amendments that are properly seeking to change the definitions relating to consultant lobbying. My own amendment 161 would ensure that the Bill covered more people involved in commercial lobbying who provide either full-time or significant part-time lobbying services on behalf of what the Government call non-lobbying or mainly non-lobbying businesses, and that they too would need to register. Such a provision would protect those who meet those lobbyists, be they MPs, members of Select Committees, Ministers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries, permanent secretaries or senior civil servants. I would like all of them to be scoped into the Bill, rather than it simply focusing on Ministers and permanent secretaries. They would all be better protected if the legislation were better cast.

I am sorry that the Government have scrambled the Bill in this way. If we do not take the time now to get it right, many people will have to pay the price later. Some people will deservedly find themselves caught up in a scandal, but others who do not deserve it will also find themselves in that predicament, because we are deliberately leaving twilight zones in which people will bump into things that they did not realise were there. People might be told that certain things are okay under the legislation—just as people were told that certain things were okay under the expenses rules—only for a different assessment to be made following public scrutiny. We must be vigilant about the standards we are setting for ourselves and others. That means that we need to support the Opposition amendments, and particularly those tabled by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

I fully respect the points made by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) about new clause 5, but I have problems with some of the details of the proposal, and not least with its implications for charities and other bodies. It also sticks to the narrow definition of consultant lobbying, even if it completely recasts that definition by what it subsequently goes on to propose. I understand that she tabled the new clause to make a point, and she has made a valid point very well. She has indicated that she will not press the new clause to a Division, and I will not press my amendment to a vote either.

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): This has been a fascinating debate, and I shall not repeat the points that have already been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) and other colleagues across the Committee.

9 Sep 2013 : Column 740

I want to bring some of my own experience to the Chamber. Fundamentally, what is wrong with this part of the Bill is that it does not reflect any kind of understanding of the lobbying industry, of which I am a proud ex-member.

The lobbying industry has changed dramatically since I first joined it in 1998. I worked for a consultancy that, if it existed today, would be caught by the Bill’s provisions because it was a dedicated Government relations lobbying agency. However, the industry has changed and most public affairs firms are now part of wider communications groups, on which the Bill will have no impact. I worked in the industry between 1998 and 2003, and it gave me a fantastic opportunity to learn many things and to engage in the political process.

We should be clear that the lobbying industry is important to a fair and democratic society. It is also important to us as Members of Parliament, in that it can help to inform and educate us on incredibly technical issues. We should not always view the industry with deep, dark suspicion. The only point in the debate that I have disagreed with so far was the description of lobbyists as mendacious and as performing some kind of dark arts. That is incredibly unfair, because most lobbyists are highly professional and very proud of what they do. They want transparency in their industry, and they want a level playing field. The Bill delivers neither. If anything, it could make the industry more opaque, and it will certainly not produce a more level playing field.

I would like to give the House an example from my own experience. Between 2005 and 2010, I was head of public affairs for Aviva. It was known as Norwich Union when I joined it, but it subsequently changed its name. We had a large lobbying team here in the UK and in Europe. As I look around the Chamber, I can see many people whom I, as head of public affairs, probably would have lobbied.

My lobbying team would not have been covered by the provisions in the Bill. We employed a major City law firm to provide specific counsel on legislative issues. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon has pointed out, such lawyers will not be covered by the Bill either. We also employed a consultancy that provided public affairs advice and was part of a wider group; it, too, would not be included in the Bill. We worked closely, too, with trade associations, which again would not be included. If we paid for research by a think-tank and lobbied on the outcome, that, too, would not be included in the Bill.

It is therefore quite clear that this part of the Bill needs to be taken off the table and looked at again, particularly in respect of expanding the definitions. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Opposition Front-Bench team’s amendment, as does the Association of Professional Political Consultants, because it wants a level playing field. Those of us who have worked in the industry consider ourselves professional lobbyists, not just consultant lobbyists.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but does she agree that the transparency shown by publishing ministerial diaries, including the companies that Ministers meet and the purpose of the meetings, fulfils that role, and that trying to extend the law is effectively using a sledgehammer to crack a small nut, which concerns the PR industry in particular?

9 Sep 2013 : Column 741

Tracey Crouch: I do not wish to be rude, but I think that that shows a real lack of understanding of the lobbying industry. A significant proportion of what lobbyists do does not relate to Ministers or permanent secretaries. In the entire 10 years for which I worked in the industry, I do not think that I once either arranged or attended a meeting with a permanent secretary. With great respect to current and former Ministers, that was very much the end process of whatever we were seeking to do. We would quite often meet civil servants to discuss incredibly technical issues that, by the time they reached the Minister’s desk, were probably already signed and agreed through the interactive relationships developed with those particular civil servants.

Helen Goodman: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is not the job of a permanent secretary to do particular pieces of policy work; that person’s job is to run the Department.

Tracey Crouch: I quite agree, so it is not surprising that I did not meet a permanent secretary in any capacity during my lobbying days. It was not my job to advise them on how they ran their Department; it was my job to try to influence opinions and the legislative process with civil servants at a lower level, particularly on the very technical issues that typically arose in the insurance industry. It is quite clear that this aspect of the Bill is not fit for purpose and it would benefit from being broadened in definition to include all consultants, including both in-house consultants and those that are part of multi-agency firms.

Charlie Elphicke: My concern is as follows. If I am approached by a representative of lobbyists from Save the Children or, indeed, from the life insurance industry, in which my hon. Friend used to work, I will know what company they are from and who they represent; they will be in-house and I will know what they are about. On the other hand, if I am approached by a lobbyist from one of the big lobbying companies, I may not be entirely clear about whom they represent. My concern is to ensure that we have a sense of whom they are representing; when the lobbyists are in-house, we have a greater sense of clarity about whom they represent.

Tracey Crouch: I feel as if I am being rude to my Back-Bench colleagues, but yet again I think that that demonstrates a lack of understanding of the lobbying industry. Only very rarely would a lobbying company or consultancy have a direct meeting with a Member of Parliament or Minister. Such companies are the facilitators of meetings for their clients, who quite often happen to be big companies. I remember when I was an in-house lobbyist having a meeting with my hon. Friend when he was an adviser to the shadow Treasury team on matters relating to European tax legislation. We need to be clear that the lobbying industry today provides a very different service and is a very different industry from what it was 10 or 15 years ago.