Campaign news

This lobbying Bill’s not fit for purpose

26th July 2013

Jeremy Corbyn in the Morning Star tells how the new bill from the Tories is designed to tie ‘a manacle round the hands of trade unions or other groups seeking to properly represent their membership’ :

On almost the last day of Parliament before the recess our discredited former health secretary Andrew Lansley, now leader of the house, made an announcement.

That was that on our first day back, September 2, would see the second reading of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill.

If it’s approved as expected, the next two days will see the committee stage on the floor of the house and then the third reading before the Bill goes to the Lords.

That’s an amazing speed for legislation which, while important, is hardly the most urgent thing facing us.

The reason for the frenetic timing is of course to have the Bill going through around the time of the Trades Union Congress and just before Labour Party conference.

The Bill itself is supposed to meet the obligations of the coalition agreement, which stipulates that there should be a register of all lobbyists and transparency in the commercial relationship between lobbying organisations, the government and individual Members of Parliament.

There is no doubt that a tough law is needed to rein in the malevolent influence of highly skilled lobbyists working for commercial interests.

We also need to get a grip on many members of the House of Lords, who seem to think being elevated to the second chamber is a carte blanche for them to brazenly lobby for corporations.

However, none of these high-minded aims is met at all by the government’s Bill.

In a very useful briefing, the Institute of Employment Rights has pointed out two fundamental problems with the Bill.

“Firstly, the obligation to be named on the register only applies if a lobbyist has met a minister or permanent secretary themselves, so as long as they keep to a meeting with mid-weight civil servants or special advisers they can be as covert as they wish.

“Secondly, there are other glaring exclusions from the list, including organisations for which lobbying is not a major part of the business - say, the tobacco industry or banks.

“In fact, it is only third-party lobbyists, which represent other clients, that will need to be transparent at all by sharing their client list.”

The Bill is also designed to affect the ability of voluntary organisations, such as trade unions, to lobby on behalf of their members.

In short, it’s nothing more than an escape clause for the powerful and influential, such as tobacco companies, and a manacle round the hands of trade unions or other groups seeking to properly represent their membership.

Labour will oppose the Bill in September, or at least those parts of it that actually weaken the ability to control what lobbyists do.

But this opposition will undermined by the proposals for changing the relationship between trade unions and the party that Ed Miliband is spending most of his summer worrying about.

It’s worth reminding the political advisers to the Labour front bench that the unions founded the Labour Party to be a political voice for the organised working class.

The constitution of the Labour Party is unique among socialist parties worldwide in that there is a direct relationship between the unions and the party.

The influence of unions in Parliament has brought about some of the best and most progressive legislation ever achieved, including the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act, the national minimum wage, the Equalities Act, the Redundancy Payment Act of the 1960s and almost all workplace rights.

The relationship between unions and the party means that real concerns of union members at work can be represented in Parliament.

The political centre, the right and the commentariat have always resented trade union influence in the Labour Party.

Successive leaders have sought to appease this criticism by weakening the link to unions.

Under Tony Blair it was the establishment of national policy forums to replace decisions made by the national executive or conference.

Under Miliband it seems to be a repeat of what Stanley Baldwin did in 1927, when union members had to opt in to the Labour Party-affiliated political fund rather than retaining the right to opt out.

Miliband seems to think the most important issue facing the Labour Party right now is a significant rewrite of our constitution and preparation for a special conference next April which has all the echoes of the dismal days when Blair dragged the party to Westminster Central Hall to ceremoniously tear up Clause IV.

Let’s remember what Clause IV actually said. “To secure for the workers, by hand or by brain, the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof, on the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.”

It would be so much better if instead of holding a special conference about its relationship with the unions Labour took inspiration from a more recent event at Westminster Central Hall and rallied behind the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

If it dealt with the real concerns of people up and down the country who are trying to cope with the benefit cap, the housing crisis and employers’ ability to recruit workers on zero-hours contracts.

In the long hot summer that is upon us many young people have no prospect of a holiday or trip abroad.

Joblessness, boredom and a grim future are all that faces them under the austerity package of this wretched coalition.

It is Labour’s job to offer an alternative to the restructuring of society in favour of the richest and most powerful which is, at heart, what the Con-Dem coalition is all about.

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour MP for Islington North

Bookmark and Share

Find us on Facebook Follow LRCinfo on Twitter

Corbyn for 2020:


Subscribe to Labour Briefing

Labour Briefing