Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill put on hold

Following on from yesterday's posting
Futures Forum: Concerns for campaigning: Lobbying Bill reaches the Lords 
the decision by the government to put the bill on hold has been generally welcomed:

Lobbying bill gets six-week pause

Governance | Kirsty Weakley | 6 Nov 2013
Lobbying bill gets six-week pause

The government has agreed a six-week pause of the aspects of the lobbying bill that concern the voluntary sector to allow for wider consultation.

Lord Ramsbotham, a crossbench peer, tabled a motion on Monday evening - ahead of the committee stage of the House of Lords yesterday afternoon - calling for parts of the bill to be withdrawn and scrutinised by a select committee, which would report back in three months.

After securing a six-week pause from government, he withdrew the motion. Speaking in the Lords, Ramsbotham said: “I fear that the way that this bill is being handled will seriously damage the trust that the voluntary sector has in the government, which is something that the alleged champions of the Big Society can ill afford to lose.”

He told the Lords that after he met with the Leader of the House, the minister handling the bill Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat), and the leader of the opposition yesterday, Lord Wallace agreed to consult with Lord Harries, who chaired the Commission on Civil Society. Lords Wallace and Harries would consider the issues that had raised concerns and produce a report ahead of concluding the committee stage for part two of the bill. 
Lord Wallace said that the two days for the committee stage of part two of the bill would not take place before 16 December and in that six-week period “I, and my colleagues in government responsible for the bill, will consult widely with all the interested parties.” He added: “We intend to draw on the work of the Commission on Civil Society, chaired so ably by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and to build on it so that the charity sector has a proper opportunity to explain to the government its concerns not only with this bill but, as we discovered in our conversations, with the current statute electoral law in this area, in particular the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.”

Lobbying bill gets six-week pause| Civil Society Media

See also:

However, Peter Oborne of the Telegraph has a different take on event:

David Cameron’s great lobbying purge fails the 'Mandelson test’

Thanks to a loophole, the former Labour minister’s clients can remain anonymous

Mark Pritchard MP, lobbying
Revelations in The Telegraph that the Tory MP Mark Pritchard (above) used his political contacts to fix business deals overseas were an ugly reminder of the scale of the problem Photo: ANDREW FOX


Shortly before the last election, David Cameron predicted that political lobbying would be the “next big scandal”. He pledged action, and the Coalition Agreement duly contained a promise to clean up British public life via legislation.
The result is the Lobbying Bill, which proposes a statutory register of lobbyists. This makes excellent sense. Andrew Lansley, the minister responsible, is also to be admired for his plan to make it more difficult for charities to campaign in general elections. This has generated a furious reaction from the state-funded charity sector, for whom lobbying for yet more state money is a crucial function. Mr Lansley has just “paused” his Bill in the Lords in order to take account of these self-interested and predictable complaints. I hope he does not listen too hard.
But what of the original purpose of the Bill – David Cameron’s commendable intention to avert a major lobbying scandal? Here, the signs are not hopeful at all. The Bill should be judged in part by what Mark Harper (when constitutional affairs minister, and in charge of the Bill) called the “Mandelson test”. This test is important for three reasons. Lord Mandelson is a legislator: the public is entitled to know his outside income. He is a former cabinet minister, so many of whom have traded on their status to make money. Above all, he is the insider’s insider, with expert knowledge of how to influence decisions in government.
Mr Harper was referring to a loophole in the Code of Conduct for the House of Lords. Peers are encouraged to declare and list the clients of any “public affairs consultancies” that they run or work for. After stepping down as a minister after the 2010 election, Lord Mandelson set up a consultancy business, Global Counsel. He cites this connection in the Lords register of interests, but as it is a “strategic advice consultancy”, his clients remain anonymous.
This means that Lord Mandelson can potentially give advice to companies, while using his position as a former cabinet minister to engage in public debate, lobby ministers and officials etc without anyone being any the wiser about whether he is intervening on behalf of one of his clients. There is no evidence that he has engaged in lobbying per se, which would contravene his firm’s stated business model, but the lack of transparency creates unnecessary questions.
I imagine that this is exactly the sort of thing the Prime Minister was hoping to stop with his Lobbying Bill. Yet it will place no fresh burden of disclosure on, say, Lord Mandelson, or others in a similar position.
So what has gone wrong? How has a Bill designed to shine light on lobbying ended up as a problem only for the charity sector? Part of the problem is its narrow definition of the term “lobbyist”. It applies it only to people who, as their main business, try to influence a minister or a permanent secretary to make a decision in order to help a client. Those who do incidental lobbying as part of some other business will be exempt. So the Bill can catch only those honest enough to put up a notice saying: “Lobbyist. Influence for sale.” Lord Mandelson (like his friend Tony Blair) has found another way to describe his money-making ventures.
But His Lordship has another problem. Unlike Mr Blair (who is beyond any form of accountability), he took a peerage. That means, in principle, that he should reveal all his sources of outside income in the Lords register of interests, including all the individual clients who receive any kind of public affairs service through his firm. The Lords recently tightened up its rules on this point, precisely to stop peers hiding their clients behind a consultancy.
Lord Mandelson has not listed any of his clients. That is because the parliamentary authorities preserved a weird exemption: peers can receive money from clients of their own consultancies without listing them if they make no personal effort to earn it. His resort to this device was unearthed by the Tory MP Priti Patel, who put in a formal complaint. The Lords Commissioner of Standards, the former chief constable Paul Kernaghan, told her that Lord Mandelson had satisfied the Registrar that he was entitled to claim the exemption, because in his role as chairman of Global Counsel he did not have any “personal clients”.
Lord Mandelson was famous for extraordinary standards of personal integrity during his time in government, but even so, I cannot help wondering what he told the Lords Registrar. His Lordship is by a distance the biggest talent at Global Counsel. Very shortly after the consultancy was founded, he sent out a letter touting for business, which laid stress on his experience in the Labour Party, in government, and as an EU Commissioner. I find it hard to imagine that clients would pay the generous fees Global Counsel is believed to command without some sort of personal attention from him.
Apart from anything else, this use of a special exemption places an unfair burden on Lord Mandelson himself (who insists that much of his work is taken up with virtuous and altruistic causes). Take the case of his recent attack on Ed Miliband after the Labour leader called for a price freeze on energy companies. What if Global Counsel’s client list had contained electricity companies directly affected by this proposed action? Even if Lord Mandelson personally believed that he was acting out of the highest and most disinterested motives, others could hardly feel so certain.
As it happens, we have just learnt the identities of some of Global Counsel’s “clients and network”, thanks to a fine investigation by Richard Brooks in the current issue of Private Eye. Among a list of parties who received the firm’s research notes – who may or may not be its clients – we find three energy companies, BP, Shell and E.on, each with a direct interest in stopping the Labour proposals. Also on the list are JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Vodafone and various Russian and Eastern European firms.
One of Global Counsel’s few confirmed clients is Asia Pulp and Paper, the paper-making giant hit by a customer boycott over alleged environmental destruction. In May last year, the Guardian reported that Lord Mandelson had twice travelled to Jakarta on behalf of this firm, to hold meetings with the EU ambassador to Indonesia. Reasonable people might well take the view that this visit, which was not declared to the Lords Registrar, did amount to personal service.
The truth is that the current rules either do not work or are ignored. Yesterday’s revelations in this newspaper that the Tory MP Mark Pritchard used his political contacts to fix business deals overseas were an ugly reminder of the scale of the problem. The current Lobbying Bill has made no serious attempt to deal with the issue, and none at all to pass the “Mandelson test”.
On the eve of the last election, when Mr Cameron pledged to make lobbying transparent, he declared that “it’s an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”. These were powerful words, but the Prime Minister has not lived up to them. There is now an opportunity for Ed Miliband to pledge that Labour will legislate to bring transparency after the next election, thus forcing those such as his former Cabinet colleague Lord Mandelson out of the dark and into the open.


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