The government’s push for a statutory register of lobbyists is being brought in with ‘undue haste’ and raises ‘significant concerns’, a House of Lords committee has reported.
The Constitution Committee also questioned the narrow definition of lobbying in the bill and wants the House of Lords to consider changing it.
Under the proposed legislation, only organisations with lobbying as their main business activity will need to register, leaving lawyers and accountants exempt. The bill, introduced into the House of Commons the day before summer recess, is due to have its second reading in the House of Lords tomorrow.
The committee’s report, published on Friday, said there is general cross-party support for achieving greater transparency in relation to lobbying.
‘However, there are concerns regarding the clarity and potential effects of aspects of the bill,’ it added. ‘There is also concern that the bill was introduced with undue haste, leaving no opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny and inhibiting the ability of the House of Commons to afford the bill properly informed consideration.’
The bill has already come under fire from the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which said elements were ‘seriously flawed’ and introduced without adequate consultation.
The Lords committee said the new scheme of registration of ‘consultant lawyers’ – applying only to third-party lobbyists and not to in-house lobbyists – was too restrictive in scope.
Its report said the bill would not regulate the practice of lobbying generally, while it also excludes communications with officials other than permanent secretaries – including special advisers.
Baroness Jay of Paddington, chair of the constitution committee, said: ‘We are concerned that the lobbying bill will not achieve its objectives of increasing transparency and restoring public confidence.
‘We have therefore recommended that the House of Lords considers whether the limited definition of lobbying in the bill, which excludes in-house public affairs work and covers only communication with ministers and permanent secretaries, will provide adequate transparency.’
The Law Society of Scotland added its voice to concerns, saying the new law would increase the regulatory burden on charities and deter them from engaging in public policy debate and discussion. Michael Clancy, director of law reform at the Law Society of Scotland said: 'The government needs to strike the right balance between regulation and freedom of speech. We are concerned that the correct balance has not been struck.'