The Transparency Bill – on which I seem to have spent most of my waking hours, excluding the few days with our grandchildren over Christmas – has had some very positive results for the House of Lords.
Setting aside the particular areas of agreement and disagreement the reputation of the House has been improved in four ways.
First, a large number of charities, campaigning and pressure groups have become much more aware of the significance of Parliament, and of the Lords itself, in our role as scrutineers of Government proposals. That must be good.
Secondly, they have worked together to a much greater extent than previously in ensuring we were well briefed. The independent Commission led by Lord Harries of Pentregarth was especially effective in this respect, but so too were the Charities Aid Fund, Bond, AVECO, and individual organisations like the Royal British Legion, OXFAM and Friends of the Earth. That too was very helpful.
Thirdly, the result was a whole package of sensible amendments on which we worked together, with support from various parts of the House. A number of these were first tabled by me at the Committee stage but this week we shared responsibility for leading on them, with Lord Harries making the first case, and others of us following on, and some with me taking that role. We therefore had signatories from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat benches as well as from Crossbenchers. We also had Labour supporters when we voted, and carried the day as a result.
Fourthly, the combined effect of the above was that we have been securing some really useful improvements and clarification from Ministers. In particular, my colleagues Lord Wallace of Tankerness and Lord Wallace of Saltaire (no relations !) are to be commended for not only listening so carefully, but in seeking to meet the many concerns expressed by so many organisations – and expressed by us on their behalf during the Committee stage – before the Christmas Recess.
My only disappointment is that a cross-party attempt to exempt charities from the provisions of this Bill altogether was stillborn when the Opposition indicated it would back the Government in voting to keep charities inside the regulations. After all the complaints about the inadvertent effect the Bill could have on charities, I was perplexed by their decision.
We still have Third Reading on Tuesday, and I expect further improvements to be made at that point in relation to the operation of constituency spending limits. It is only to be hoped that the Prime Minister does not then wish to instruct colleagues in the Commons to vote against any of the amendments sent to them by the Lords. All are carefully considered and should be accepted. All in all, the end result will be a MUCH better Bill than the one which came to us from the other end of the building… and a very healthy reminder of the value of the House when it truly represents opinion outside.