A rushed Bill

indexI spoke yesterday in the Second Reading debate on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.  The Bill is a ‘Christmas tree’  Bill (with several discrete measures hanging from it) and, despite having constitutional implications, has been rushed, with no White Paper or pre-legislative scrutiny.  It appeared fairly friendless and it was notable how few peers on the coalition benches spoke in the debate. 

I focused on Part 1 of the Bill dealing with lobbyists.  My argument was that it would not deal with the mischief it sought to adress.  Rather than simply detail the failings of the Bill, I came up with an alternative to the Government’s proposal, one that shifted the emphasis from the lobbyist to the department being lobbied.  Whereas the Bill will only bring a few professional lobbyists within its terms, my proposal has the advantage of being both comprehensive and transparent.  You can read the speech here.  I was gratified that my proposal was endorsed by a former head of the diplomatic service, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and by some other peers who spoke to me outside the chamber.

The minister, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, argued (or rather simply stated) that my proposal was not incompatible with the Government’s measure.  In practice, if my proposal were to be accepted, there would be no need for the Government’s scheme, which introduces a new layer of regulation with no clear public benefit.

Whether I get any further with my idea remains to be seen.  We are stuck with having to address the specific provisions of the Bill.  I may be tabling lots of amendments.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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5 Responses to A rushed Bill

  1. Dave H says:

    The bill is a complete disaster and should be scrapped in its present form. It will no doubt make it very difficult for small groups with few resources apart from a bit of time to write letters, because the nature of such bills is inevitably to favour those who are backed by large corporate resources and penalise the individual and small group. As you say, it will not affect many of those whom it needs to, and the fall-out will adversely affect many who should be positively encouraged to contribute to debate.

  2. Neil M says:

    I agree that this smacks of the need to be seen to be doing something and is unlikely to achieve anything tangible.
    I read your alternative proposal with interest. One of the challenges will be to define what falls within scope of making a “representation”. I expect vested interests to be making formal representations all the time – that is their right – and we have the opportunity to pass judgement on the legislators at the next election, based on the outcomes that have been achieved. What I find less comfortable is the notion of “a private word in the ear” in a smoke filled room over a snifter of brandy. But that, almost by definition, is going to be almost impossibe to define and regulate.
    Perhaps one of the virtues of our free press is that it engenders a self-policing fear of how things might look if they were subsequently to come out.

  3. tizres says:

    Lord Norton, your assessment is bang on the money, though I agree with Neil M’s sentiment on your proposal that the public (no ‘ordinary people’ to be found on this blog) will remain sceptical.

    For ingénues, like myself, you have been most persuasive in identifying the positives of lobbying. Given this Bill is supposed to be for the benefit of the public would it not be advisable for the Government to bring the public up to speed and reading from the same page before identifying any negatives?

    That said, I am not necessarily convinced by the arguments of charities, if only because there are way too many who, for my money, should not have charitable status. I hesitate to speak for the public but a cap of £390,000 once in every five years? If Private Eye is correct, it’s only £50K to talk to the PM.

  4. Croft says:

    I tend towards the view that the bill or indeed any bill is almost certainly going to be either so complex as to be vexacious or so light as to be meaningless. I wonder if it might just be better tio shrug and decide the solutions are worse than the problems.

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