Lord (Paul) Tyler writes… Transparency Bill – Government concessions

Yesterday Lords amendments came to the Commons for consideration. The Government has accepted the principle of my amendment on including Special Advisers (SpAds) in the regime of transparency about who lobbyists get to meet in government. However, the Conservative Party refuses to ‘switch on’ this provision at this stage, and probably for the duration of this Parliament.

The Government therefore brought forward an amendment which will allow Ministers to bring those who meet SpAds into the register of lobbyists, but they will remain out for now. David Cameron says ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. Since two of the big lobbying scandals of late involved advisers, the pine scent of transparency surely cannot be shut out of this part of Whitehall for much longer!

Meanwhile, the Government gave us in the Lords a bigger concession still which is that all Ministerial meeting data will now be put in one place, with better details of the subject of the meeting. This is a big, but not very well known, step forward in transparency. You can see Jim Wallace talking about it here.

On the non-party campaigning parts of the Bill, MPs were whipped to vote against our amendment on excluding background staff costs. This is a pity and of course put many of them in a difficult position over something where I do not think the Government’s case is very strong. My hunch is that the Lords will insist on its position about this, which is well-argued. We are now getting into an incredibly technical argument over the minutiae of whether the staff cost attached to organising a public rally needs to be included in an expenses return.

I sometimes think that Number 10 and the Whitehall machine militate in favour of dying in the ditch over quite tiny issues, and in so doing just put MPs in a really difficult position. If the Lords insists, my understanding of procedure is that the Commons cannot just disagree again, because that is ‘double insistence’ and would mean losing the Bill altogether. So it would be better to find a sensible compromise now than to enter into another stand-off over trivia.

The Government appears fairly set on keeping the broad scope to constituency limits. Having propounded the argument for making them narrower and simpler, I still incline to that view. However, you can read my speech in the Lords about why the particular amendment they in the end passed was defective. On this issue – much more than on staff costs – the Government is on firmer ground, rightly pointing to the potential effect of billboards, big public meetings and so forth on constituency results. I do not know if the Lords will push this but the majority on that was smaller than on staff costs last time, so it seems less likely that they will.

I will give a further update next week, when the Bill has been back to the Lords.

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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3 Comments

  • Andrew Colman 24th Jan '14 - 7:44am

    I am disappointed that the commons overturned the Harries Lords amendments to the lobbying bill. For democracy to work properly, the electorrate needs to be fully informed on the issues it is voting about. The Lobbying bill as it stands could prevent this allowing politicians to secretly close hospitals or approve unwelcome developments for example without the knowledge of many voters. The Lib Dems seem determined to commit suicide over this bill. Only the tories will gain if the lobbying bill passes. I expect many Lib Dem voters including myself will regard this as the final straw and vote against the coalition parties at the 2015 election to secure a Labour Government and restoration of true democracy by scrapping the lobbying act (as it would be then).

  • Agree with Paul on the need to bring contacts with Special Advisers into consideration, and it is disingenuous, but protective of Tory interests to try to keep them out of consideration. They (Cameron in particular) have clearly not properly atoned for the difficulties of Jeremy Hunt, and the earlier hot water in which Liam Fox found himself. But I am afraid that neither Paul, nor other Parliamentary Lib Dems, have properly addressed the issue that it is big money that first raised this issue. With Trade Unions, we can all have different views, and for affiliated Unions, they are a part of wider attempts to get Labour elected anyway, so any overt campaigning for Labour can be seen in the same context as actual party campaigning by Labour.

    However, what seems to have been missed by Lib Dem Parliamentarians is that it is big money lobbying, not primarily campaigning at election time, but trying by backdoor means to change policy, that caused worries. If a charity, or a Trade Union, or a campaigning group funded mainly by ordinary people are openly trying to influence things, then so be it. People out there can hear what they are saying, and have the right, as Andrew says, to hear and respond. In the week in the Westcountry when we have another major attempt to privatise a successful public service (the Land Registry), is it surprising that we should want “outed” all the corporate influences on Government. Now that all three “major” parties, in addition to UKIP, are now pushing ideologies supportive of “market thinking”, is it surprising that we want a more robust way of standing up against these?

  • Andrew Colman 24th Jan '14 - 10:38am

    I remember when unions forced people not to work though mass picketing, when the closed shop and demarcation disputes were regularly in the news. The unions need reforming then, but that was an age ago, 35 years to be precise.

    Unions are very different today, yet many tories and perhaps a few lib dems are still living in 1979. Had the present state of the Unions been offered to the tories in 1979, every MP would have accepted with extreme gratitude.

    Today is very different, unions need a voice or we risk going back to the 19th century when only the landed gentry had a voice. The problem with lobbying is not the unions, its lobbying those who have already made their fortunes in various kinds of business and want to keep them.

    The problem is illustrated this week, in Davos conference where Business leaders and politicians are meeting. However , I bet that most of the business people , politicians are meeting are has-beens who made their fortunes in the 20 Century (eg from banking, fossil fuels). I doubt if many representatives from new industry are there (eg renewable energy, hydrogen cells), and if they are they are restricted to side shows away from where the real business is done.

    The role of business should be to serve the community and make a profit from doing an honest jobs which the customer and community want and is satisfied by. If business gets to close to politicians, this process is compromised as politicians can set rules that favour a particular form of business, even against the communities wishes (as is threatened by the EU America and the Pacific trade deal drafts).

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