19 July 2013
The new Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, published by government earlier this week, has been widely criticised for its failure to significantly affect rich donors, but crackdown hard on trade unionists.
In announcing the Bill, the government boasted its new proposals would increase transparency in the lobbying of government with a new registry of lobbyists. However, the Financial Times reports that there are major loopholes in the proposed legislation that will allow rich lobbyists to go about their business as usual, while trade unions will suffer.
Firstly, the obligation to be named on the register only applies if a lobbyist has met a Minister or Permanent Secretary themselves, so as long as they keep to meeting with mid-weight civil servants and Special Advisers they can be as covert as they wish.
Secondly, there are other glaring exclusions from the list, including organisations for which lobbying is not a major part of their business – say, the tobacco industry, or banks. In fact, the it is only third-party lobbyists, which represent other clients, that will need to be transparent at all, by sharing their client list.
As has been highlighted by Iain Anderson, deputy chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, to the Financial Times; as well as Director General of the public relations company PRCA Francis Ingham in the Huffington Post, the register of lobbyists under the new government legislation would actually be shorter under than the industry’s own self-regulated register.
Meanwhile, the government is throwing obstacles in the path of trade unions, partly – it is supposed – due to a plainly anti-trade union ideology; and partly because some unions are donors of their political opposition the Labour party.
The Institute of Employment Rights has also noted the curious timetabling of the Committee stage from 09 September to 11 September 2013 – the dates between which the Trades Union Congress’ National Conference will be held. Unusually, the Committee will also be of the whole House of Commons.
The Bill is being led by Andrew Lansley and Chloe Smith, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, was yesterday (18 July 2013) the first witness called to speak on the Bill to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The Institute of Employment Rights will continue to report on the progress of the Bill in the coming weeks and months.