Although not as dramatic or significant as last week’s 306 to 178 defeat in the House of Lords of the contentious issue of the “nuisance or annoyance” criterion in clause 1 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, (the “Asbo Bill”), day 1 of the Report stage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill yielded one important vote on the inclusion of Ministers’ special advisers, (spads).
The day’s considerations related to the Part 1: Registration of Consultant Lobbyists, (clauses 1 to 24), and Part 3: Trades Unions Registers of Members, (clauses 37 to 39). The Hansard report of proceedings is available here.
Clause 1: Prohibition on consultant lobbying unless registered underpins Part 1 of the Bill, and the Amendment 1 by Lord Hardie, CB, would have changed
“(1) A person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless . . “
by replacing “carry on the business of consultant” and with “engage in professional”, and in conjunction with future un-tabled amendments, would have extended the registration provisions to “all lobbyists who are engaged in that activity on a professional basis.” This, however, was disagreed: Contents 185; Not-Contents 218. A government defeat on this amendment would have been equivalent in importance to its loss on “nuisance or annoyance”.
Lord Hardie’s Amendment 2 on Clause 2: Meaning of consultant lobbying was also disagreed: Contents 191; Not-Contents 242. This would have introduced less prescriptive wording by replacing “or permanent secretary” with “, Parliamentary Private Secretary, civil servant or political adviser”, under the rationale that
“the persons listed [in the Bill] would not be the first port of call for lobbyists, who would probably concentrate on political advisers, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and more junior civil servants before approaching Permanent Secretaries, Second Permanent Secretaries and Ministers.”
Quite so – this would have made Clause 1 more effective. However, the division on Amendment 2 was followed immediately by a division on Amendment 3, moved by Lord Tyler, LD, which was agreed: Contents 213; Not-Contents 195 – Modified rapture. The effect of this is to include special advisors, “spads”, in clause 2(3),
“(3) The communications within this subsection are oral or written communications made personally to a Minister of the Crown, permanent secretary or special adviser relating to—“
Lord Hardie explained [13 Jan 2014 : Column 28]
“What is unusual about a special adviser is that he or she of course is not responsible to the head of the department: he or she is not a full-time employed member of the Civil Service, and their first loyalty and responsibility is to the political master for whom they work. The special adviser’s responsibility is to the Secretary of State, or other ministerial politician, and his or her relationship is with them. It is therefore our view that this is the one major exception that should be tackled, either in this Bill or in some other way, because these are special people—special advisers are, by definition, outwith the normal hierarchy of responsibility to the Permanent Secretary in the department.”
[Both Ed Miliband and David Cameron are former special advisers]
The second day of the Report stage of the Bill is scheduled for Wednesday 15 January, for which the Second Marshalled List of Amendments to be Moved on Report is here.
The BBC notes that the number of special advisers has risen to nearly 100 since the coalition government came to power, despite the Conservatives in opposition pledging to reduce their number. Ministers argue that this reflects the nature of coalition government, where both the Tories and the Lib Dems have their own teams of special advisers, (a theme exploited in the BBC’s The Thick of It).
As we noted in the case of the “Asbo Bill”, MPs could still overturn the proposal when the Lobbying Bill returns to the Commons.