Today in the Lords is report stage for the government’s plans for a lobbying register, which make up Part 1 of the Lobbying Bill. This may be the only opportunity for substantial changes to the Bill before it goes back to the Commons for approval. As they stand, the proposals are fundamentally flawed. They will not open up lobbying to public scrutiny. In fact, because the government has limited who needs to register and what information they need to provide, the new register will provide even less transparency than the toothless voluntary registers set up by the industry.
There are two key issues with the Bill:
- It will only cover a minority of consultant lobbyists, who themselves make up less than 20% of the lobbying industry.
The government’s plans will only cover consultants working for a third party who meet ministers and permanent secretaries on behalf of their clients. Very few organisations do this kind of lobbying. Four out of five lobbyists work in-house, while consultants will rarely go to meetings without their clients, and many prefer to meet special advisers or more junior civil servants with policy responsibility. The planned register will be practically empty. The government says a more comprehensive register is unnecessary, because they already publish ministers’ diaries. But as we revealed last week, these diaries are out of date, inaccessible, and contain little useful information. They are no substitute for a comprehensive register.
- It will include no meaningful information on the activities of those lobbyists it does cover, merely a list of clients. This is not enough to allow public or Parliamentary scrutiny of lobbying.
The register will include even less information than existing voluntary registers. Consultant lobbying organisations only have to declare their clients and the head of their organisation, not the names of their employees who do the actual lobbying. Even the voluntary registers include a list of employees; without it, we will be unable to check the names of lobbyists against the records of meetings in ministerial diaries. There is no transparency here; this register leaves us in the dark about who’s lobbying whom, on what, and how much they are spending.
Today we are supporting amendments to strengthen the register. The most important amendments are:
- Clause 1 - extending the register to all professional lobbyists
- Clause 2 - extending the register to those who meet special advisers, parliamentary private secretaries, or civil servants as well as ministers