Lobbyist register plans to go ahead
Legislation to introduce a register of political lobbyists is to be brought forward within the next few weeks, Downing Street has revealed.
The announcement comes in the wake of a series of scandals involving allegations that a Conservative MP, two Labour lords and an Ulster Unionist peer were prepared to exercise political influence in exchange for cash from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists.
The lobbying bill, to be published before the House of Commons rises for its summer break on July 18, sparked immediate political controversy after it was revealed that it will also include measures which could make it harder for unions to take strike action or support candidates in election campaigns.
Labour denounced the package as a "shabby and panicked" response to the recent rash of negative headlines while the TUC accused the Government of "cynically trying to exploit a political sleaze scandal to crack down on unions".
Meanwhile, there were signs of confusion within the coalition as deputy leader of the Commons Tom Brake - the Liberal Democrat minister leading for the party on lobbying - suggested that the provisions affecting unions had been announced "prematurely" and were not yet fully fleshed out.
Prime Minister David Cameron identified lobbying in opposition as the next big scandal to hit politics and the idea of a register was included in the 2010 coalition agreement.
But the PM faced criticism for failing to include legislation in last month's Queen's Speech, with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying it had been impossible to reach agreement across the coalition and questions being raised over the influence of lobbyist Lynton Crosby, who was hired by the Tories as an election adviser.
The House of Lords standards commissioner has begun investigating three peers caught up in the latest scandal - ex-cabinet minister Lord Cunningham and Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate - who have both been suspended by Labour, and Lord Laird, who has resigned from the Ulster Unionists. Meanwhile, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer has quit the party and referred himself to the Commons Standards Commissioner.
Mr Cameron's spokesman said that the proposed legislation will require any body paid to lobby on behalf of a third party to put its name on the register, along with details of its client list, or face financial penalties.
The bill will also require unions to carry out an annual audit of their membership and demonstrate that the figures they produce are accurate, in a move to end the current system of self-certification, said Downing Street. A Certification Officer will be given the power to conduct investigations into membership numbers, which are crucial when ballots on strike action are conducted.