Scandal-hit coalition keeps special advisers’ lobbyist meetings secret

The government is refusing to force lobbyists to register their meetings with special advisers.

Ministers are overturning a Lords amendment demanding that 'spads' be covered by the rules governing the new register of third-party lobbyists being set up in the lobbying bill.

Deputy leader of the House Tom Brake told MPs that special advisers, informally called 'spads', who wield immense influence in Whitehall and Westminster, would not be covered because they are not "decision-makers".

It follows a government defeat in the second chamber earlier this month, when Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tyler successfully argued spads needed to be included because of their influential role as 'gatekeepers' in Westminster.

He was backed by a number of liberal rebels including Shirley Williams and Paddy Ashdown, but the government is now moving to reverse the change.

Brake said the bill was being amended to give future ministers the power to add special advisers to the list without the need for further legislation "if and when they are persuaded to do so".

Brake and Tyler made clear the Tories were to blame for the omission of special advisers from future regulation.

"It will now be for the next government – of whatever party or parties – to ‘press the button’ for their spads' meeting information to be published," he said.

"They will be able to do so without need of further legislation, and consultants who meet them would then need to register too.

"It is obviously disappointing that the Conservative party does not want to open up the work of spads to public scrutiny now, especially since many of them do a very useful job listening to outside groups and bringing their views to bear in government.

"That is a legitimate function, but it is one that people should be able to look in on."

Former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt's career came close to ending over a lobbying row with his special adviser, Adam Smith, whose meetings with a News Corporation lobbyist led to Smith's resignation.

Tyler added: "The prime minister says sunlight is the best disinfectant; the sun cannot now be shut out of this area of Whitehall for much longer."

The debate took place as MPs considered Lords amendments being rushed through the Commons in just two hours.

Critics have written off the anti-democratic nature of the bill, which lacked pre-legislative scrutiny and ignores all in-house lobbyists – the vast majority of those operating in the murky world of public affairs.

Later today the government is set to override other Lords amendments relating to part two of the bill, which would limit the extent to which the coalition's reforms will make it harder for charities to campaign during election periods.