Public Administration Select Committee: Press Notices

5 January 2009

PASC CALLS FOR A REGISTER OF LOBBYING ACTIVITY

Stronger safeguards also needed on the ‘revolving door’ between government and business.

Link to Report

In the first parliamentary report on lobbying for more than 15 years, the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) calls today for a statutory register of lobbying activity to bring greater transparency to the dealings between Whitehall decision makers and outside interests.

The report takes a broad look at contact between Ministers and civil servants on the one hand and those attempting to influence their decisions on the other. It explores issues of concern: in particular, the potential for those on an inside track to wield privileged access and disproportionate influence.

The Committee’s central conclusion is that “reform is necessary”:

“Lobbying the government should, in a democracy, involve explicit agreement about the terms on which this lobbying is conducted. The result of doing nothing would be to increase public mistrust of Government, and to solidify the impression that government listens to favoured groups-big business and party donors in particular-with far more attention than it gives to others.”

In addition to a register, PASC also proposes that a “rigorous and effective” single body is needed to oversee and regulate the ethics of the activities of lobbyists. The committee describes the existing system of voluntary self-regulation as “little better than the Emperor’s new clothes”.

PASC also  assesses controls on employment moves between Government and the business world: the “revolving door”. The Committee expresses its strong concern that “with the rules as loosely and variously interpreted as they are, former Ministers in particular appear to be able to use with impunity the contacts they built up as public servants to further a private interest”. The Committee calls for a “strong” Advisory Committee on Business Appointments that is “more representative of society at large”, to provide departing Ministers and civil servants with advice on the lobbying activities that they can carry out for a new employer which is “as unambiguous as possible in its meaning”, in a way which gives “the public and media the opportunity to assess whether or not this advice has been followed”.

PASC identifies five key principles for a register of lobbying activity…

a) it should be mandatory, in order to ensure as complete as possible an overview of activity.

b) it should cover all those outside the public sector involved in accessing and influencing public-sector decision makers, with exceptions in only a very limited set of circumstances.

c) it should be managed and enforced by a body independent of both Government and lobbyists.

d) it should include only information of genuine potential value to the general public, to others who might wish to lobby government, and to decision makers themselves.

e) it should include so far as possible information which is relatively straightforward to provide-ideally, information which would be collected for other purposes in any case.

…and states that to meet these principles, the following information would need to be provided by lobbyists and by the targets of their lobbying:

a) the names of the individuals carrying out lobbying activity and of any organisation employing or hiring them.

b) in the case of multi-client consultancies, the names of their clients.

c) information about any public office previously held by an individual lobbyist.

d) a list of the relevant interests of decision makers within the public service (Ministers, senior civil servants and senior public servants) and summaries of their career histories outside the public service.

e) information about contacts between lobbyists and decision makers-essentially, diary records and minutes of meetings. The aim would be to cover all meetings and conversations between decision makers and outside interests.

Committee Chairman Tony Wright MP said:

“Lobbying enhances democracy, but it can also subvert it. Government has accepted that it should be more open to outside interests and ideas, and this has brought benefits. But there are risks too around influence and public mistrust of government, and these risks have not been managed closely enough. Our proposals may seem radical, but they are designed to be proportionate and effective. They are in line with developments abroad, but rooted in our own political tradition. Transparency is key here. There is a public interest in knowing who is lobbying whom about what. Our proposals show that this can be achieved in a reasonably straightforward way”.

PASC’s inquiry heard evidence on eight occasions between November 2007 and June 2008, from representatives of a range of public affairs organisations, big business, campaigning organisations and Government, as well as from former Ministers and civil servants, serving Members of Parliament and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.