Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists: Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2012-13 - Public Administration Committee Contents

1  Report

1.  On 13 July 2012, we published a report on Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. The report examined the proposals set out in the Government's consultation paper. It is the convention for the Government to reply to Select Committee reports within two months.

2.  On 28 November 2012, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Chloe Smith MP, wrote to the Committee stating:

...I am determined to find a solution that provides transparency without hindering legitimate lobbying by those with an interest in government policy. I will write to you in the New Year to respond fully to your recommendations and set out my intended policy direction.

3.  On 4 February 2013, the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to the Chair, to follow up on points raised during the Committee's oral evidence session on 18 December 2012. He commented:

We are currently analysing the evidence received through the consultation 'Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists', and are carefully considering the Committee's Report. As you know, this is a complex issue with much information to digest and it is important that the Government take the time to get this right. As a result of our ongoing consideration we are not yet in a position to produce a draft bill. However, I can assure you that the Government remains fully committed to introducing a statutory register and will be responding to the Committee's recommendations in this session of Parliament.

4.  On 13 February 2013, we wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister to point out that his statement that a response would be received "in this session of Parliament" raised the prospect of several further months of delay. In the event, no Government response to the Committee's lobbying report was received before the end of the session.

5.  On 2 June 2013, the press began to publish a series of allegations about inappropriate behaviour connected with lobbying. On 3 June came the first announcement that the Government would publish a lobbying Bill before the summer recess. On 4 June, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Chloe Smith, told the House:

The Government have repeatedly made very clear their commitment to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. The events that have unfolded over the weekend demonstrate just how important transparency in political life is. We will therefore introduce legislation to provide for a lobbying register before the summer recess. The register will go ahead as part of a broad package of measures to tighten the rules on how third parties can influence our political system.[1]

6.  On 11 June 2013, we wrote again to the Deputy Prime Minister to note that we still had not received a response to our report on lobbying and to make it clear that we were keen to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on a draft lobbying Bill.

7.  However, despite the then Minister for Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, Mark Harper MP, having told us in an evidence session on 17 May 2012 that once the Government had considered our report, it would then "publish a White Paper and a draft Bill during this Session of Parliament for pre-legislative scrutiny",[2] and despite the Deputy Prime Minister's reference in the above quote to producing a draft Bill, it rapidly became apparent that the Government no longer intended to publish a Bill in draft.

8.  In a letter sent to the Chair on the evening of 17 July 2013, Chloe Smith stated:

The timetable for the introduction of the Bill has not, regrettably, allowed for formal pre-legislative scrutiny of the provisions. The proposals for a statutory register have, however, been subject to a full consultation and detailed scrutiny by the Committee and we will be undertaking targeted stakeholder engagement over the summer to ensure that all aspects of the Bill are subject to thorough examination.

The letter continues: "In parallel, we are also responding to the Committee's response on Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and publishing our response to the report on Recall of MPs." It was subsequently confirmed that this letter, which we publish in full in Appendix 1, was itself the Government's response to our report on lobbying.

9.  It is utterly unacceptable that the Government took more than a year to respond to our report on Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and that when it finally responded it did so in the form of a letter of a page and a half that does not engage with any of the detailed points made in the report. We consider that this shows a lack of respect for Parliament and for the many people who contributed to our inquiry. We urge the Government to provide us with a revised response that addresses our original report.

10.  We are further dissatisfied that we have been denied the opportunity to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on a draft Bill on lobbying. As recently as February 2013, the Deputy Prime Minister referred to his intention to publish a Bill in draft. We are unclear what has changed since then and why the timetable has suddenly become so tight. As we noted in our reports on Improving standards in the quality of legislation and Revisiting 'Rebuilding the House': the impact of the Wright reforms, pre-legislative scrutiny is a vital part of the legislative process. Bills which do not receive pre-legislative scrutiny should be the exception not the rule. There should always be a good reason for dispensing with pre-legislative scrutiny. In the case of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill there is no good reason.

1   HC Deb, 4 June 2013, col 1363 Back

2   Second Report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Session 2012-13, Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists, HC 153, Q 403 Back

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Prepared 19 July 2013