This Government and its predecessor has shown itself to be completely incapable of dealing in a meaningful way with lobbying, despite David Cameron stating in 2010 before the coalition was formed “Now we all know that expenses has dominated politics for the last year. But if anyone thinks that cleaning up politics means dealing with this alone and then forgetting about it, they are wrong. Because there is another big issue that we can no longer ignore. It is the next big scandal waiting to happen. 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.” His coalition Government went on to create a bill to deal with lobbyists, those people who are paid to lobby on behalf of others by getting them to be listed on a register. The bill known as the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14” was in three parts, one of which dealt with the professional lobbyists, and the other two parts sought to tie the hands of Trade Unions and Charities, to prevent them from appearing to take sides on matters of politics in the run up to General Elections. This bill was also referred to as the Gagging Bill because that was the effect it has had on charities that were already prevented from participating in party politics. The Bill prevented them from appearing to support policies of any party, a real travesty if for example one party was to come up with policies that were detrimental or supportive of particular communities of interest such as victims of domestic violence, or homeless people. A further problem with the Lobbying Bill was that it did nothing to track or challenge Ministers or MPs from speaking to big business leaders, so although the actions of the go between professional lobbyists were monitored, they could set up as many meetings as they wanted between their clients and malleable Ministers, willing to be wined and dined by big business.
The issue of Lobbying has reared its head again however, this time in the House of Lords, it was the Lords who fought a long hard battle to prevent the part 2 of the Gagging Bill (the part that relates to charities) from being passed.
Clive Brooke asked: Does the Minister recall that the Prime Minister himself and Mr Clegg, when the coalition Government were elected, were looking at the possibility of having transparency of business lobbying and looking for a register then? Nothing happened in the course of the coalition Government. “We are still looking”, according to the Minister. Can he please give us a clearer idea of when this “look” will come to a conclusion with some recommendations?
The question was responded to by another Peer, George Bridges, Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office who replied “When we perceive that there is action that is necessary to be taken.”
It might be helpful for George, or Baron Bridges to reflect on the words from another Government Minister, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture who this week said that the Government should “respect the will of the people”. It seems to me that George Bridges who to be fair, unlike Ed has never sought elected office but spent most of his working life in Westminster may not fully understand what political accountability is intended to achieve. He should understand that his and the Governments perceptions of the action that is needed when it comes to powerful business interests like Murdoch entertaining them while all those present discuss Government policy, and the perception of ordinary voters is very different. Like Baron Brooke, I would like the Government to take action now so that David Camerons words from 2010 can be acted upon before his career as Prime Minister ends.