Lobbying bill to go before Commons ‘before recess’

THE government is to bring a bill forward to regulate lobbyists following allegations involving a Tory MP and three peers.

Legislation will be brought before Parliament before summer recess, according to the Prime Minister's office. Picture: AP
Legislation will be brought before Parliament before summer recess, according to the Prime Minister's office. Picture: AP

The bill, which will be brought forward before the summer recess next month, will create a statutory register of lobbyists but also introduce rules on funding of parties by lobbying groups.

Controversially it will also end the ability of trade union lobbyists to self certify themselves and will tackle funding from the unions.

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The announcement comes in the wake of a rash of lobbying scandals, which saw a Conservative Newark MP Patrick Mercer and an Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird resigning the party whip and two Labour peers - Lord Cunningham and Lord Mackenzie - suspended after it was alleged that they breached parliamentary rules.

The bill creating a lobbyists register will also include measures to end self-certification of union membership and reform third-party contributions to election campaigns, said Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman.

Any body which is paid to lobby on behalf of a third party will be required to put its name on the statutory register, along with details of its client list. Financial penalties will be imposed on any lobbyists who refuse to take part in the scheme, said Downing Street.

Before the last election, Mr Cameron warned that lobbying would be the next big scandal to hit politics, and the idea of a register was included in the 2010 Coalition Agreement, but the Government was criticised for failing to include it in the Queen’s Speech.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the Government will table the lobbying Bill before the Commons rises for its summer recess on 18 July and intends to put it into law by the end of this parliamentary session in May next year.

Meanwhile, proposals to create a power for voters to recall MPs who misbehave will feature in the Government’s legislative agenda for the final session of this Parliament in 2014/15.

Asked whether any consultation had taken place on the proposals, the spokesman said: “There has been a process of deliberation within the Government on the entire package.”

The package will “enhance the transparency of the role of third parties in the political system”, said the spokesman.

Trade union leaders attacked the bill for including them in the new rules.

Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary, said: “This is the height of hypocrisy - when MPs and peers get exposed for taking money from business, the Tories and Liberals seek to deflect attention by attacking trade unions and working people.

“It would be a good idea that before Government starts lecturing trade unions and their members that they put their own house in order.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s office did not comment but a party source said: “The best way to proceed if you want to take big money out of politics and clean up the lobbying scandal is to act on a cross-party basis. Labour has done so.

“This seems to be a shabby and panicked response by David Cameron to divert attention from a set of damaging headlines hitting the Conservative Party.”

The lobbying industry has welcomed the Bill.

Michael Burrell,chairman of the APPC responding to the announcement that the Government will bring forward a bill to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, said: “We welcome news that the Government will introduce a statutory register of lobbyists during this Parliament. In order to be fully effective it must capture all lobbyists operating in the UK - that includes in-house lobbyists, trade unionists and lawyers.”