Prime Minister David Cameron tied the compulsory registration of U.K. political lobbyists to restrictions on the political activities of labor unions, suggesting that attempts to deal with future scandals won’t get cross-party political support.
Two separate newspaper and television investigations in the past four days have alleged lawmakers are offering parliamentary services in return for cash. The opposition Labour Party suspended two of its members in the House of Lords over the claims, and a Conservative member of the lower house, the Commons, resigned from his party.
Cameron’s office said today a new bill to be published this session would introduce a long-promised compulsory register for lobbyists. It will also require unions to get their membership lists audited and restrict the ways they can support political parties during elections, something that would hit Labour hardest.
“The point around this is that people can have confidence that where organizations are engaged in political activity, it’s transparent,” Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters.
The move didn’t receive whole-hearted support from the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partner to Cameron’s Conservatives. Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat minister in charge of the bill, told the BBC the inclusion of union clauses was “premature” and that the policy around lobbyists was “the most fleshed-out” part of the proposals.
Earlier, the Liberal Democrat leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, called for “head-to-toe” reform of the U.K.’s political system. ‘
‘It’s the political equivalent of Groundhog Day: MPs accused of abusing their position; businesses of getting too close,” Clegg wrote in today’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. “Westminster remains a place where power is hoarded, decisions are opaque, and the people who take those decisions are not properly held to account. Our political system has long been crying out for head-to-toe reform.”
Labour suspended lawmakers John Cunningham and Brian Mackenzie “pending further investigation,” the party said in a statement. The two men, along with John Laird, who represents the Ulster Unionist Party in the upper chamber, were named in an undercover probe carried out by the Sunday Times newspaper into lobbying on behalf of private companies.
Laird resigned the Ulster Unionist whip, meaning he’s no longer part of the party in Parliament. All three deny breaching parliamentary rules.
The controversy came two days after Patrick Mercer, a Conservative lawmaker, resigned from the party after a joint BBC and Daily Telegraph investigation into lobbying. Mercer said he won’t seek to retain his seat in the next general election in 2015.
In February 2010, three months before he became prime minister, Cameron said lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen.”