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Viscount Thurso: I rise to express my support for my noble friend and kinswoman in her amendment. This is one of the subjects which is not only topical at present but something which is of such importance that the principle deserves to go on the face of the Bill. The important part about my noble friend's amendment is that she leaves all the decisions as to how such regulation should be enforced to the Scottish parliament.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: This is an important subject. Well, it is mildly important in comparison with the two matters that we have already discussed. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, summed it all up and that there is very little to add to what he said. Like the
I turn now to the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I hope that she gave my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie some notice that she was going to do a little advertising for him. I am not entirely sure that he would be happy with being described as someone hovering around a honeypot. My noble and learned friend could perhaps do without hovering around a honeypot. However, I would caution the noble Baroness against saying anything like that outside this Chamber. What intrigues me about the source from which this came is the fact that, in the great levels of importance, I should have thought that a public accounts committee and the scrutiny of delegated powers were hugely more important.
Earlier I discussed the matters I thought we should leave to standing orders and the matters I thought we really ought to set down. I think this matter comes pretty low down the list. When we discussed a public accounts committee the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said that that was a matter that should be left to the Scottish parliament and this Parliament should not set down anything in that regard. I am amazed that just a little while later a Liberal Democrat demands that standing orders will include provision for regulating lobbying activities. A few moments ago that party said we should not include a provision that made it compulsory to have a public accounts committee.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: The noble Lord may appreciate that this is a new form of trouble which has been revealed in recent weeks, whereas a public accounts committee is absolutely essential. The matter we are discussing is something new which we think should be taken into account.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I suppose that if you have to defend holding two opposite positions within an hour, that is as good a defence as I have heard. However, it does not convince me. If I had heard the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, roundly condemning my suggestion that standing orders should include provision for a public accounts committee, if I had been the noble Baroness I would have decided quietly not to move my amendment. I do not know what the Government will say about this, but I believe this matter falls well inside those matters that can safely be left to standing orders of the parliament.
The Lord Advocate (Lord Hardie): The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness raises an important issue, as is apparent from the many contributions made by the Committee this evening. It is an issue which obviously requires careful consideration. We believe that it is important--I am sure the Committee will accept that this is important--that the Scottish parliament should establish from the outset a reputation for the utmost probity in the conduct of its members. I do not think there can be any question about that. Having said that, I cannot support this amendment. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, on the relative importance of this matter. I also am of the view that this is clearly a matter which can safely be left to the Scottish parliament.
The amendment proposes that there should be a duty on the parliament to make standing orders to cover such lobbying activities as are specified. I do not believe that standing orders are the right means to regulate lobbying activities of individuals and companies. The means by which the noble Baroness has sought to regulate this matter in this amendment are in my view, not appropriate. Standing orders are concerned with regulating the proceedings of parliament and the conduct of members of the Scottish parliament who are participating in those proceedings. But to regulate the evil or ensure that the proper remedy is provided this proposal would be extending the scope of standing orders too far to encompass matters proposed in the amendment.
If there is to be statutory regulation of the lobbying activities of individuals and companies--and I do not demur at the suggestion that that matter may well have to be considered, and considered seriously--I suggest that it would be more appropriate for such regulation to be by an Act of the Scottish parliament. I can assure the noble Baroness that it would be within the legislative competence of the parliament to enact such legislation if it concluded that that was the right course.
Clause 22 covers matters of members' interests and also the question of lobbying in relation to paid advocacy of a particular cause or matter on behalf of any person. We shall deal with these matters further in considering a later group of amendments. However, I think it is important that noble Lords should note subsection (4) of Clause 22. That provision makes it clear that standing orders must prohibit a member of
I would further remind the House that in its first report the committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, which considered standards in public life concluded firmly against the establishment of any form of public register of lobbyists and specifically against a statutory register. I mention that in the context of the comments by the noble Baroness. The thinking behind the recommendation was that the committee recognised that it was the right of everyone to lobby Parliament and Ministers. Moreover, it foresaw a danger in the creation of a register in that it might create the impression that the only way to approach an MP or Minister was through a registered lobbyist. That is clearly not in the interests of democracy. These arguments will still have to be addressed.
To assist the parliament in addressing these issues, it is my understanding that the Consultative Steering Group will cover this matter in its report. I understand that the committee is expected to consider the issue at its next meeting and that further work will be undertaken over the next few months to allow the group to make recommendations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and ultimately to the parliament to consider in due course.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: This has been an interesting short debate. I am glad that, if nothing else, there seems to be a consensus around the Chamber that this an issue of great importance. I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying his position. This amendment was more in the nature of a probing amendment and he has made matters very clear.
However, I noted the feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the amendment could possibly go further, thus disagreeing with some noble Lords on his side who feel that it is almost an entire irrelevance.
I took great heart at the words of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and was grateful to him. As I understood it, the noble Lord welcomed the amendment. I know that he is a distinguished lobbyist of the best kind. The fact that he welcomes some kind of regulation from parliament is good to hear.
I suppose that I did not expect much more from the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, than to have this proposal dismissed. However, I indicated clearly that the shape and form of any regulation should be left to the parliament itself. Under the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.