The second reading of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill was moved by the Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. A detailed analysis of the debate that lasted from 3.23 pm until 9.51 pm might result in a tl;dr response from our readers, and consequently only selected highlighted have been reported. Likewise, the comments of their lordships on the conduct of named parliamentarians and others have been omitted.
A sustained attack on this Bill, that “will get no positive mentions in anyone’s memoirs”, was led by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab), [22 Oct 2013 : Col 897]
“Three years ago, we were promised a statutory register of lobbyists. Instead, we have a skeleton register of only consultant lobbyists, exempting 80% of the industry. The word “transparency” in the title is a misnomer. It misses most lobbyists—HS2, Heathrow, the trade associations, the ABI, the BBA, British Gas, npower and the pharmaceutical, defence, tobacco and sugar manufacturers—as they all have in-house lobbyists; and it misses most of those being lobbied. It covers only Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, not senior civil servants, spads and chairs of Select Committees . . . . . . . so defence firms can continue to lobby senior civil servants behind closed doors, untouched by the Bill.”
In a concise summary, Baroness Hayter said [22 Oct 2013 : Col 897]
“Part 1 fails to deal with the lobbying problem, Part 2 deals with a non-existent problem and Part 3 deals with a made-up problem. The Government would be well advised to pause as recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, by the churches and faith groups which wrote to the Prime Minister and by just about every commentator. They should think again, consult, listen and then come back with a much better Bill. If they fail to do so, we will work in Committee and on Report to make this Bill better and workable”
This was countered by Lord Tyler (LD), who said, [22 Oct 2013 : Col 900]
“ . . . . in many years of public life I cannot recall a set of proposals that have been so misunderstood and, to some extent, misrepresented. I hope that during this debate, and particularly in Committee, we will be able to reassure the many charities and smaller campaign groups that have been in touch with us that the Bill is not about stopping them contributing to our democracy. . . . . . . . the target is the very wealthy and powerful interests that would seek to influence executive decisions and our elections, and which evidently feel threatened by greater transparency.”
The criticism of the Bill echoed the points made by Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, here; the House of Lords Constitution Committee, here; the Joint Committee on Human Rights, here; chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission; and the Electoral Commission, [22 Oct 2013 : Col. 898]. Much of the debate considered specific examples of its proposed operation in more detail.
The BBC Parliamentary Correspondent, Mark D’Arcy noted that there were “many peers serving on the boards of charities and campaign groups”. Peers generally declare their interests during their speeches, but for reference, a full list is available in the Register of Lords Interests.
With regard to charities, Lord Ramsbotham (CB), helpfully brought the attention of the House to relevant, albeit quasi-law, measures, [22 Oct 2013 : Col 905],
“the current system of checks and balances, with regulation by the Charity Commission, including a document called CC9—Speaking Out Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities, which sets out clear, sensible and balanced rules; guidance by the Electoral Commission on campaigning in the run-up to elections, including rules about supporting candidates and parties; and the fact that all charities must prepare accounts, which they must make available on request”
The Lord Bishop of Derby noted, [22 Oct 2013 : Col 907]
“Professional lobbying groups with sharp, smart outcomes are filling the space of working politics and ordinary people with political instincts are being excluded. What we lack in politics, it seems to me, is a space for the amateur, those with occasional engagement and people interested in particular issues.”
With regard to the Church of England, its Parliamentary Unit probably falls within the former category as a “professional lobbying group”, (see “Party Conference Season” here), although to an outside observer, the advocacy of the Lords Spiritual might appear to be “occasional engagement and people interested in particular issues”.
In concluding the debate, Lord Wallace of Saltaire said [22 Oct 2013 : Col 994]
“The hour is late and I should like, if I may, to continue these discussions in the Corridors between Second Reading and Committee.”
Having passed its second reading, the Bill was committed to a Committee of the Whole House, where there will be a detailed line-by-line examination of its 44 clauses and 4 schedules. This is timed for 5th November, although tactically, the subsequent report stage will provide a better opportunity for introducing amendments designed at changing critical aspects of the Bill.