Bill Wiggin MP said: “As many of my constituents have contacted me with their concerns regarding the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill I thought it might be helpful if I shared some information I have recevied.
“Copied below is a letter from The Rt Hon Andrew Lansley CBE MP, Leader of the House of Commons, and a factsheet about the Bill.
“I hope they are of some assistance.”
Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill
I am writing to you ahead of the second reading of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. The Bill was published before summer recess and aims to extend transparency to give the public more confidence in the way that third parties interact with our political system.
Under changes introduced by this Government, ministers now publish the meetings they have with external organisations on a quarterly basis. This provides more transparency and openness. However, there is a transparency gap in this process where if a minister meets with a consultant lobby firm, details of that meeting will be published but it will not necessarily show on whose behalf the consultant lobbyist was meeting the minister.
That’s why we want this Bill to set up a register of consultant lobbyists to ensure that any lobby firm which communicates with ministers and permanent secretaries will have to list their clients. This will enable interested parties to identify those who are using the consultants.
Over the years there have been many issues linked to the lobbying industry, politics and „sleaze‟. It is important to note that many scandals were prohibited under rules in force but were contravened by guilty parties. I will stand up for the role of lobbyists; they do an important job, representing wide views to Government to assist informed and considered policy making. But it is not my job, nor the job of Government, to control the lobbying industry; nor to create a burdensome and bureaucratic monster.
The industry and some colleagues have suggested other approaches, but with no consensus, and each seeking to serve a different purpose in trying to regulate lobbying activity, not to achieve openness.
Under our proposals there will be a statutory register of consultant lobbyists for the first time, providing transparency without excessive burdens. The register aims to shine the light of transparency on consultant lobbying – not act as a comprehensive regulator of it.
We have a long history of democratic engagement, and non-party campaign groups can play an important role in our politics. Part two of the Bill proposes to make it clearer what third party groups are spending in election campaigns, not threaten their futures, as has been asserted by some whose purpose seems to be scaremongering.
This Bill would extend transparency further to increase public confidence in the way third parties engage with the political system. The intention is to bring greater transparency where third parties campaign at an election in a way which supports a particular political party or its candidates. It would require expenditure on those campaigns to be fully recorded and disclosed.
The Government wants to limit the spending of third parties so that we avoid the experience of other countries, where vast amounts of money are deployed outside party spending controls without limit or regulation, and elections are dominated by those who spend the most rather than who is the best candidate.
Only campaigning by third parties, which promotes or procures electoral success or otherwise enhances the standing of parties or candidates, would be regulated. So an organisation campaigning only on policy issues would continue to be exempt.
The Bill does change the activities that are deemed to be “controlled expenditure” (only „controlled expenditure‟ counts towards a third party‟s spending limit). Controlled expenditure by a recognised third party would now include spending on a broader range of activities such as market research, rallies, press conferences or transport. This is to ensure all relevant campaigning activity is caught. Advertising, websites, unsolicited mail addressed to electors, which are already covered under legislation, would continue to be regarded as controlled expenditure.
At present, charities can undertake non-party political activity where the trustees can show that it supports their purposes and would be an effective use of their resources. The law prohibits charities from engaging in party politics, party political campaigning, supporting political candidates or undertaking political activity unrelated to the charity‟s purpose. The Bill does not change this. Charities will still be able to support specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve their charitable purposes.
We want to prevent our politics being used by opaque and unaccountable groups, spending millions attempting to influence the outcome of an election. The Bill is an important step towards achieving this, without undermining the ability of third parties to actively get involved in policy making.
Trade Union administration
Trade Unions are vital participants in the economy, working with employers to maximise employee engagement and delivering practical solutions to workplace issues. Part three of this Bill aims to provide greater confidence, to union members and to the wider public, that unions are complying with the existing duty to keep membership record accurate and up-to-date, so far as is reasonably practicable.
The Bill will amend the original statutory duty, to require unions to provide an annual membership audit certificate to the Certification Officer. For larger unions, this will be an independent assurance that they have got robust systems in place to maintain accurate membership records. For unions of fewer than 10,000 members, they will provide self-certification of their compliance with the original duty. The Certification Officer will have power to proactively investigate potential non-compliance, and to require unions to remedy failures.
I have included a myth-buster document which I do hope you will find useful. I hope that you find this letter helpful and please do get in touch if you have further questions.
I and Tom Brake, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons; Chloë Smith, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform and Jo Swinson, BIS Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, are working together on this Bill and will be happy to have further discussions with colleagues.
Rt Hon Andrew Lansley CBE MP
Leader of the House of Commons
MYTH- BUSTER: STATUTORY REGISTER OF LOBBYISTS
Myth: Firms where only part of their business is lobbying won‟t have to register.
Reality: No. The Register is specifically designed to capture professional consultant lobbyists and we absolutely intend for this to cover multidisciplinary firms that run consultant lobbying operations. There are, however, exclusions for those operating in a representative capacity, like the vast majority of trade organisations and charities.
Myth: MPs will have to register when they lobby on behalf of their constituents.
Reality: This simply is not true. To be required to register under the Bill a person must lobby “in the course of a business”, performing one‟s public role as an elected official does not amount to carrying on a business and is therefore exempt. This is true of anyone holding an elected office such as an MP, MEP or councillor.
Myth: The register will be pointless as it doesn‟t cover in house lobbyists.
Reality: When a minister meets with an in-house lobbyist, it is clear on whose behalf they are lobbying. That is not the case with consultant lobbyists. We estimate that 700 organisations will be required to sign up to this register, a number detailed in the impact assessment that was published alongside the Bill.
Myth: Transparency will be reduced as a result of the register as it doesn‟t go as far as the current systems of voluntary disclosure.
Reality: This register is intended to make consultant lobbying more transparent – not act as a complete regulator of the industry. We have made it clear to the industry that we don‟t want to undermine the existing voluntary initiatives on transparency and the associated self-regulation. We are committed to working with the industry to ensure that the statutory register fits with existing voluntary initiatives.
Myth: The Government is setting up a new quango.
Reality: No. As there is no existing public body with a relevant remit that could take responsibility for the register, an independent office-holder – the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists – will be established. This is not a new quango it is simply the creation of a statutory office holder.
yth: Current government reporting of ministerial meetings is too slow/not sufficiently detailed.
Reality: This is the first government to publish such information and we are continuing to refine the process. We have now published the information from January-March 2013 and in future, we have committed to publishing quarterly transparency returns in the quarter immediately following the period in question. Published information is now available on data.gov.uk and gov.uk – and is published in both PDF and CSV formats.
MYTH- BUSTER: NON-PARTY CAMPAIGNING
Myth: The expansion of activities that are being captured for controlled expenditure and the lower maximum spending limits will stifle campaigns by third parties.
Reality: The new lower spending limits are proportionate and still substantial sums, particularly when considered alongside the fact that the costs of campaigning have fallen in recent years as the use of online tools increases.
The Bill is bringing what third parties have to declare as „controlled expenditure‟ more in line with what political parties have to declare, something which the Electoral Commission has recently called for. We agree that a wider list of activities more properly reflects the type of campaigning activity that third parties will carry out. It makes little sense for an advert by a third party in support of a political party to be caught, but not a public rally in support of that party.
Myth: Activity by a campaign group would be caught by the Bill if it could affect the outcome of the election – even if that was not its purpose.
Reality At present, either the purpose or effect of a third party‟s expenditure on election material may be considered by the Electoral Commission in determining whether that expenditure constitutes “controlled expenditure”– and we are not changing this.
Myth: Charities will be forced to register as third parties under the Bill.
Reality: At present, charities can undertake non-party political activity where the trustees can show that it supports the charity‟s purposes and would be an effective use of the charity‟s resources. The law prohibits charities from engaging in party politics, party political campaigning, supporting political candidates or undertaking political activity unrelated to the charity‟s purposes. At the 2010 General Election, very few charities were registered as third parties. Provided they continue to campaign as they always have – i.e. they are not promoting the electoral success or otherwise enhancing the standing of parties/candidates – charities will not be forced to register as third parties.
However, if a charity is using material that could be seen as indicating to the public that particular candidates or parties support or oppose its policies may need to register with the Electoral Commission as a third party. This will depend on how the charity is planning to campaign and how much it is spending.
Myth: Charities will be prevented from campaigning on policy issues in case they are seen to be endorsing a political party or candidate.
Reality: Charities will still be able to give support to specific policies advocated by political parties if it would help achieve their charitable purposes.
The Bill does not regulate attempts to engage with the policy of any political party; nor does it regulate having a view on any aspect of any policy of any party; nor any attempt to influence the policy of any party.
Such activity would only be captured if it was promoting the electoral success or otherwise enhancing the standing of parties or candidates. This is the same as under current legislation.
Myth: Charities will effectively have to stop campaigning during election years.
Reality: That is not the case. Under both current rules and the Bill, for a charity to incur controlled expenditure, that expenditure would have to be for “promoting or procuring [the] electoral success” of a party or candidates.
Only then will the expenditure incurred against the range of activities count towards the spending limits. Provided charities continue to campaign as they currently do, expenditure they incur on the wider range of activities will not be treated as controlled expenditure.
Myth: Staff costs will be now count towards third parties spending limits.
Reality: Staff costs already have to be included by recognised third parties when they incur controlled expenditure. The Bill does not change this, although it extends the number of activities which could count as controlled expenditure.
YTH- BUSTER: TRADE UNION ADMINISTRATION
Myth: This is a party political attack on the Trade Union movement and the Labour Party.
Reality: That simply is not true. This is about trade unions knowing who their members are and the union members and general public having confidence in these records. We are simply building on the existing principle that trade unions are required to keep membership records accurate and up to date.
Myth: Disclosure of membership details under the new provisions breach human rights.
Reality: Again, this is not true. There are safeguards in the way information is handled, both in existing legislation and in additional provisions in the Bill.
In handling any membership details, the Government will have to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 and act consistently with ECHR rights. The Cabinet Office and a union‟s assurer will also be required to comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, including the principle that personal data must be processed fairly and lawfully.
Myth: This is just a way to stop unions taking industrial action.
Reality: We are not amending the requirements around industrial action ballots. The requirement to keep a list of member names and addresses is distinct from the duties a union must comply with when balloting for industrial action. The membership information dealt with in these provisions does not form part of the information a union must provide to an employer in advance of a ballot on industrial action.