Parliament shrouded in fog: the new Lobbying Act has failed on every measure. Photo: Getty
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The Lobbying Act does nothing to stop vested interests. That’s why Labour will repeal it

A wasted opportunity to clean up politics and give people faith that their government makes decisions in the interests of the country.

When David Cameron singled out lobbying as “the next big scandal waiting to happen”, he wasn’t wrong. Since coming to power, his government has been rocked by a series of scandals about the access and influence of lobbyists, and yet the Lobbying Act, which was supposed to clean up politics, has failed on every measure.

This is an act so flawed that it has achieved the rare feat of uniting lobbyists and transparency campaigners against it. According to the Association of Professional Political Consultants, it only covers 1 per cent of ministerial meetings, leaving most of those lobbying government unregistered and unregulated. Instead of tackling the lobbying industry, this abysmal act clamps down on charities and grassroots campaigners. Its definition of lobbyists excludes people such as the Conservative adviser and lobbyist Lynton Crosby but the regulations in Part Two stifle campaign groups such as 38 Degrees and the RSPB. This law does nothing to stop vested interests lobbying at the heart of No 10, but makes it harder for grassroots campaigners to hold government to account. It really says it all about who David Cameron stands up for.

The Lobbying Act is so bad that virtually none of the scandals that brought it into being would have been prevented by it. Its limited scope means that meetings between News Corp and the then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt would not have been disclosed. But the regulations around charities and campaigners are so onerous and unclear that the laws will have a chilling effect, silencing a voice that the government has a duty to hear. In doing so, the coalition has reinforced people’s distrust in politics, underlining the impression that Westminster is out of reach to all but a privileged few and making it harder for ordinary people to make their voices heard.

This is why Labour will repeal the act and replace it with real, comprehensive lobbying reform in the next parliament. We will shine a spotlight on relations between lobbyists and government by setting up a statutory register that will cover all professional lobbyists, not just “consultant lobbyists”. We’ll also introduce a code of conduct, backed by sanctions to encourage the highest standards of lobbying practice. 

We will also tackle the “revolving door”, which sees people moving between jobs in government and jobs in the lobbying industry. We need proper oversight to make sure people don’t abuse the connections they’ve made during their time in office. We will also make sure that people who hold senior jobs in politics can't also be lobbyists without the public knowing about it. Anyone doing a senior job for the government or for its political party who is also a professional lobbyist will have to declare it.

The Lobbying Act was a wasted opportunity to clean up politics and give people faith that their government makes decisions in the interests of the country, not vested interests behind closed doors. Instead it has cracked down on the very institutions – charities, campaign groups and trade unions – that provide a voice for those who aren’t heard often enough. When he became Labour Leader Ed Miliband said: “politics is basically broken. Its practice, its reputation and its institutions - I’m in it and even I sometimes find it depressing. This generation has a chance and a huge responsibility to change our politics. We must seize it and meet the challenge.” The Lobbying Act has done nothing but damage our politics, but Ed Miliband and a Labour Government will put it right and deliver the reform our politics needs.

Lisa Nandy is the MP for Wigan. She was formerly Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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