The Government has published its long-awaited bill paving the way for a statutory lobbying register this afternoon, after a hiatus of 18 months since opening a consultation on plans for regulation.
The Cabinet Office said the system is designed to complement the existing government transparency regime under which ministers and permanent secretaries publish all of their meetings on a quarterly basis and which it judges as doing a good job of capturing in-house lobbying activity.
It stressed the system is not intended to prevent or deter lobbying, but bring transparency of who is lobbying for whom.
The bill stipulates that a person must not carry on the business of consultant lobbying unless they, or if they are an employee, their employer, are on the register.
The regulation is limited to the act of lobbying - orally or in writing - only ministers and permanent secretaries, which excludes MPs and special advisers.
Offences include lobbying while unregistered and submitting inaccurate or incomplete information to the register.
Sanctions include a maximum civil penalty of £7,500 at the discretion of a proposed Registrar of Corporate Lobbyists, with a tribunal in place to hear appeals.
The register requires disclosure on a quarterly basis of the names of clients on whose behalf a consultant either received payment to lobby or carried out lobbying in return for later payment.
The Government estimates the cost of the Registrar at £500,000 in the first start-up year and £200,000 in subsequent years (2013/2014 price terms) and anticipates that these costs will be recovered via the subscription fee. However, the bill also stipulates that the minister responsible may make a grant or loan to the Registrar.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons following Prime Minister’s Questions, in which David Cameron claimed his Government was the ‘most transparent ever’ and again deflected questions about the influence of his election strategist Lynton Crosby claiming ‘Lynton has never lobbied me about anything’.
The bill also puts forward limits on third party funding of political campaigning, a move interpreted as a strike against Labour’s links with trade unions.
It will impose a limit of £390,000 on the amount an organisation can spend campaigning across the UK, and there will be further limits on organisations which campaign for or against a specific party or target their spending at a particular constituency.
It also strengthens the existing requirement for trades unions to keep accurate records of their membership, so they can visibly demonstrate that they know who their members are and can communicate with them.
The bill was brought forward by Conservative MP and Leader of the House Andrew Lansley as according to a Cabinet Office spokesman it is standard practice for Cabinet ministers to present legislation.
The bill’s second reading, at which MPs will have a chance to debate its contents, is set to take place after the summer recess.
Labour has already proposed amendments to the bill that state the statutory register should apply to all professional lobbyists working in the UK and include the approximate value of their lobbying activity.
Its other amendments include that anyone doing a senior job for the Government of the day who is a professional lobbyist must be declared and senior officials or ministers leaving Government to take up posts in related areas have their appointment scrutinised by a committee and potentially have conditions put on their activities.