Press release

New bill to bring more transparency to politics

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill has been published.

The Leader of the House of Commons has today published a bill to bring greater transparency to politics, fairness to political campaigning, and accuracy to trade union membership records.

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill seeks to make the influences on the political process more transparent to the public.

The bill includes the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists, tighter regulation of the amount organisations can spend on political campaigning during election periods, and new powers for certification officers to ensure that trades union records are accurate.

Andrew Lansley, Leader of the House of Commons, said:

From the beginning, this government has believed that ‘sunlight is the best disinfectant’. So we have been the most transparent government ever, publishing an unprecedented amount of information so that the public can see as much as possible of the workings of government, and hold us to account for the decisions we make. This bill is about extending that transparency further to give the public more confidence in the way third parties interact with the political system.

The measures in the bill will:

  • introduce a statutory register of lobbyists to identify whose interests are being represented by consultant lobbyists, those who are paid to lobby on behalf of a third party. It will enhance transparency by requiring consultant lobbyists to disclose details of their clients on a publicly available register, and complement the existing government transparency regime under which ministers and permanent secretaries publish all of their meetings on a quarterly basis. It is not intended to prevent or deter lobbying, but bring transparency of who is lobbying for whom. Read the impact assessment.

  • bring a new degree of openness and tighter control over the amount organisations spend on political campaigning. The measures cover individuals and organisations who are not political parties or candidates, but campaign during parliamentary elections. The amount an organisation can spend campaigning will be limited to £390,000 across the UK. There will be further limits on organisations who campaign for or against a specific party or target their spending at a particular constituency. Limiting such spending is intended to avoid the situation we see in other countries, where unregulated spending by vested interests means that it might not always be the best candidate who wins an election, but the one with the richest supporters. Read the impact assessment.

Chloe Smith, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, said:

British democracy needs lively debate, campaigning and lobbying to maintain an open and fair society in which citizens have a voice and the government listens. But the involvement of campaign groups and other organisations, whether through lobbying government or public campaigning, must be done in a transparent and open way.

We’re striking the balance between making sure the external influence on politics is open and accountable, without deterring people from coming forward and making their views known to the government and to the public.

Tom Brake, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, said:

The government is delivering practical solutions to concerns about undue and unaccountable influence. With these reforms, people will know more than ever about who is seeking to influence government and the results of elections.

The other main element in the bill is strengthening the existing requirement for trades unions to keep accurate records of their membership, so they can visibly demonstrate that they know who their members are and can communicate with them. Unions will now have to give annual independent assurance that they have robust systems in place to make sure their membership records are up to date. The Certification Officer will be given new powers to investigate, and take enforcement action, if discrepancies are found. The bill will make provision for smaller unions to self-certify so as not to overburden them.

Jo Swinson, Minister for Employment Relations, said:

Unions need to know who their members are so they can engage them in the democratic process. This is a well established principle and existing legal obligation which sits alongside the general duty on employers to disclose information to recognised unions.

The new measures in the bill are not about making it harder for unions to operate, but are designed to strengthen their accountability and transparency to union members and the public.

Notes to editors

  1. The Coalition Agreement said: “We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.”
  2. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill is available on the Parliament website.
  3. The Electoral Commission currently keeps a record of anyone who campaigns politically during an election period. Organisations and individuals currently listed include animal welfare groups, tactical voting groups, rural campaign groups, religious groups, individuals and trade unions.

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