Today (18th November) the Lobbying (Transparency) Bill had its Committee Stage hearing in the House of Lords, and despite expectations we won! We were faced with a bucket-load of amendments from Andrew Lansley. Some were minor, others more substantial but but we got Lansley to back down on the most important issues and the bill is now moving forward!
Andrew Lansley tabled a whopping 31 amendments, threatening to use up all the time for the debate which could have meant the bill did not progress to the next stage. A majority of the amendments were merely technical, changing a word or a phrase and Lord Brooke readily accepted these minor changes. Brooke made some concessions, agreeing to remove the statutory code of conduct (for now) and the exemptions for trade unions but the heart of the bill is still intact!
One of Lansley’s amendments tried to remove the requirement for lobbyists to disclose the subject matter of their communication with public officials. This would render the bill meaningless and give us no information about what lobbyist were trying to influence. But with mounting pressure from our dedicated supporters and the Guardian, Lansley withdrew his amendment, so this key element of transparency is still in the bill.
There was another important battle over an amendment which would have meant the the bill would apply if a lobbyists was trying to change a specific policy but not the government’s position. Lord Brooke pointed out that as it stands there is only a position on Brexit and not yet any policy. This is one of the areas of greatest concern and so it is more important than ever that it is included. Lansley accepted our argument and withdrew his amendment pending further discussions on the issue.
There was a lot of debate over whether the register should be publicly funded, as the bill proposed, or funded by fees from those who register. Lord Brooke acknowledged our contribution to the bill and fought our corner articulating our position that there should be no barriers to transparency! We don’t want to put a financial burden on small campaigning organisations, disclosure should always be free. He also made the argument that existing lobbying registers like the one in Scotland don’t have fees, so it is possible. Lansley listened to what we had to say and stressed that the amendment only introduced the possibility of fees, it would not require them to be introduced. He also talked about the possibility of exemptions for certain groups like charities. The government Minister agreed to set up a meeting between Lord Brooke and the minister to discuss the issue. The amendment was passed so the debate continues but we will continue to push for cost free transparency.
Today marked an important victory, but the battle isn’t over yet. We still need to get this bill through report stage and into the House of Commons for it to have the chance of becoming law. But to do that we need your support. Your support helped persuade Lord Lansley to back down, now help us continue the fight.