Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): A couple of Opposition Members have raised the issue of paid advocacy and I want to reassure anyone following our debate that no one in this Chamber is saying that MPs should be allowed to receive top-up money from outside this House and then advocate the cause of those paying them. That is clearly wrong. It is against the rules and nothing in the Bill would facilitate it. I think we all agree on that, so that argument is a red herring.
The issue we are debating is the crucial one of the legitimate role of an MP and whether it can continue untrammelled by a Bill that could inadvertently capture legitimate things that an MP does. If the Leader of the House is going to guide us to reject the new clause, I want reassurance that the lobbying element of an MP’s job will be completely untouched by the way in which he wants the Bill to end up. In moving the new clause, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) made it clear that he is trying to resolve the issue of the legitimate work of an MP.
A very important part of an MP’s job is to be the chief lobbyist for their constituency but, as colleagues have said, we may also wish to be a lobbyist for another interest group that is not based in our constituency. It may be a very important part of a shadow Minister’s job to represent an industry, charity or group of underprivileged people who are not in their constituency, in order to shape national policy. Individual Members may wish to pursue similar themes, even if they are not prominent in their constituencies. It enriches our debates and makes for a fairer society if anyone from outside this House can find MPs who support their cause and who can be their advocates. We are lobbyists for all sorts of groups and interests throughout the country, whether they are in our constituencies or not. It is very important that a court or external body does not assume that, because we are paid a salary and because we lobby Ministers on behalf of the interests of people and companies throughout the country, we are subject to the rules under discussion.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) that we are not seeking special privilege. We are saying that this Bill is designed to stop abuse of the lobbying system and I want a reassurance from the Leader of the House that it has not been worded in a way that inadvertently could trap MPs as if we were an abuse of the lobbying system, when the healthy expression of lobbying, through and of MPs, is fundamental to our democracy. I think that view is shared throughout the Chamber. The great difference between a free society and a tyranny or an authoritarian regime is that any group, interest, person or company in our country can try to find an MP who thinks they have a fair cause, and if they persuade an MP of that—without any payment of money or anything inappropriate—their cause can run in this House and have the chance of influencing Ministers.
I hope that the Leader of the House can reassure me that the Bill will leave absolutely no doubt that we can be lobbied and that we can lobby, and that we are the free lobbyist for anyone with a good cause.