MPs tell Government to rethink 'seriously flawed' lobbying bill

A key committee of MPs has called on the Government to amend its lobbying bill to include in-house lobbyists and apply to communications with senior civil servants and special advisers.

Political and Consitutional Reform Committee chairman Graham Allen: 'An object lesson in how not to produce legislation'
Political and Consitutional Reform Committee chairman Graham Allen: 'An object lesson in how not to produce legislation'

The statutory register the bill would introduce should also cover those providing advice on how to lobby, according to the report published by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.

It recommended the disclosure on the register of a broad outline of the subject matter and purpose of meetings and any code of practice to which a lobbyist subscribes.

Graham Allen, the Labour chair of the committee, said: ‘The definition of "consultant lobbyist" in Part 1 of the Bill is so narrow that very few, if any, lobbyists will have to register.’

The committee lambasted the bill as a whole as ‘an object lesson in how not to produce legislation’ and decried the late addition of ‘unclear’ sections on third-party political campaigning and trade unions as ‘unfortunately partisan’.

After considering written evidence from 81 organisations – including the APPC, CIPR and PRCA – its primary recommendation is that the Government withdraws the bill and charges a special committee with producing an improved bill within six months.

However, with the Government apparently in no mood to compromise on the timetable of getting the bill through, the committee has also invited it to take up the above amendments.

Failing that, it also called on the Commons to back the amendments when the whole House debates the bill at committee stage next week.

The committee’s amendments are similar to that tabled by Tory MP Anne Main yesterday, adding to pressure on the Government and providing cheer for public affairs trade bodies that have campaigned for changes.

The two sets of amendments are similar in widening the definition of a lobbyist to in-house professionals and including the provision of advice. However, Main’s amendment calls for a wider net of who is lobbied.

The committee recommended that the type of communication the register should catch be widened from the ministers and permanent secretaries to senior civil servants of grade 5 or above and special advisers.

Allen, who recalled his committee during the Parliamentary recess to produce the report, again slammed the Government for rushing and failing to consult interested parties.

‘This bill is an object lesson in how not to produce legislation,’ he said. ‘There was little or no consultation with those affected. There was no pre-legislative scrutiny. And the bill is now being rushed through the House in a way that indicates a lack of respect for Parliament.’

Allen added: ‘None of the measures will address the scandals that caused comment by the Prime Minister, the coalition parties and above all the public, who will feel let down by this partial Government response.’

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