Supplementary memorandum from SpinWatch
This submission has been put together in response
to the Committee's request for more evidence regarding the scope,
scale and nature of the problems associated with secretive and
deceptive lobbying and public affairs activity. Some of the evidence
below is taken from second-hand sources, particularly media reporting.
However, other parts of the evidence have been gathered and synthesised
by SpinWatch, which is a small, public interest, non-governmental
It should be acknowledged that researching,
documenting and exposing deceptive lobbying and misleading public
relations is inherently difficult. Those involved would doubtless
prefer such activity does not attract public attention and scrutiny,
even if no laws are broken. As such the evidence we are submitting,
while clearly demonstrating there is a problem, is necessarily
indicative rather than conclusive. Although this is a rather obvious
point we think it is worth restating, given some of the assumptions,
expectations and lines of questioning taken by some members of
the Committee during the hearings on lobbying.
Nevertheless, we believe there is a compelling
case for a mandatory lobbying registersupported by the
evidence here. A key reason why we believe that a mandatory lobbying
register is necessary is that in our view accountability is premised
on transparency and openness. Elected representatives and public
servants cannot be accountable to the people if their activities
are not widely known and understood. Without relevant and reliable
information in the public domain voters may struggle to understand
policy-making and decision-making processes. Having an official
record of relations between government, elected representatives,
public servants and outside interests would also go some way towards
mitigating misinformed and sensationalist media reporting of "scandal"
In this paper we want to lay out a number of
examples of problematic links between decision-makers and outside
interests. These examples are intended to illustrate how a lobbying
register would make a real impact in opening up such contacts
and channels of influence. Much of the data on the nuclear lobby
in Britain has been compiled through the NuclearSpin project.
This research suggests the role of lobbyists and public affairs
specialists in securing a key policy change by government is significant.
We believe this is but one instance of a wider trend in British
public life, which requires greater scrutiny and critical publicity.
In our view the evidence of the problem of lobbying
to which regulation is at least part of a solutions is as follows:
1. The public think there is a problem
2. Evidence of increased power and influence
of big business
3. Evidence of lack of transparency and deceptive
tactics in lobbying
4. Evidence of privileged access for lobbyists
5. Evidence of conflicts of interest particularly
in relation to outside interests and "revolving doors".
Before turning to the evidence, we suggest that
the debate on lobbying can learn from the US case.
The experience of the United States is instructive
here as it would appear that the media use the information made
available through the provisions of the Lobbying Disclosure Act
(LDA) to scrutinise decision-making, rather than launching personalised
"witch-hunts". Of course it should not be suggested
that the US provides direct lessons in terms of the precise kind
of regulation which is appropriate. It is clearly the case that
lobbying regulation needs to be fashioned in the context of specific
national and political variations in the UK. Nevertheless, there
are some general lessons we can learn from the US experience.
In the US, data on lobbying activities and expenditures are readily
available. In 2007 $2.79 billion was spent to lobby US decision-makers.
Data submitted by lobbyists under the LDA allows informed analysis
of spending by different interest groups, and enables interested
parties to discern trends and patterns of interest representation.
This information is easily accessible to decision-makers, interested
citizens and the media. Quite clearly this is not "voyeurism"
but a relevant and reliable tool that enables proper scrutiny
of the role of lobbying and thus helps to improve the quality
of democratic decision-making.
However, it is important to recognise that the
LDA has led to some critical media reporting. The infamous Abramoff
lobbying scandal in the US offers a salutary lesson in how financial
transparency can help to identify and address problematic cases
of lobbying. Under the provisions of the US LDA, Abramoff was
obliged to disclose his clients and the related lobbying budgets.
This publicly available information made it possible to identify
Abramoff's extraordinary revenues and the fact that he represented
clients with competing interests on the same policy issues. Without
this publicly available information Abramoff might not have been
brought to book for his corrupt lobbying. While we are not alleging
that scandals on a similar scale are taking place in Britain today,
we would point out that currently it is impossible to absolutely
vouchsafe the integrity and probity of all of British public life.
A lobbying register that made it possible to check what clients
a lobbyist represents and how much they receive for so doing would
help eliminate unhealthy and unfounded suspicion of British public
In our view an official, mandatory register
of lobbyists would make a telling contribution to openness and
transparency in British public life. We firmly believe that Parliament,
or any independent body set up to monitor and enforce a lobbyist
register (the model of the Information Commissioner clearly recommends
itself in this context) should be pro-active in ensuring compliance,
offering clear and consistent advice and guidance to those covered
by such a register, and to those interested in learning more about
the register. It is important that a mandatory register commands
the respect and confidence of the political community. If this
can be established then a lobbyist register can make a tangible
contribution to restoring trust in our system of governance.
1. The public view
It is clear from a wealth of opinion poll evidence
that there has been a decline in trust in the political process
(affecting not just Ministers or government, but also Parliament
and politicians generally). It can certainly be argued that some
of this change in the public mood might be driven by media reporting
and not be a straightforward index of mounting corruption. Nevertheless,
it is difficult to lay all the blame for this at the door of the
media. In any case, the issue of lobbyists' apparent special relationships
with and privileged access to decision-makers is not going to
go away. Even if it were only a matter of perception this would
still need to be addressed. As we noted in our first submission
to the Committee the evidence from the Power Inquiry does show
that the public believe that lobbyists are able to gain privileged
access to Ministers and other decision-makers.
The popular view is that this is unfair and that it ought to be
tackled. It is our contention that transparency and enhanced ethics
regulation is the most obvious and most effective way to address
2. The increased power of business
The context of such public concerns relates
to changes in governance over the last two decades. Almost all
writers on corporate power or interest groups now agree that corporations
have increased their power over political decision-making in the
past twenty years. For example, the leading political scientist
Wyn Grant noted in 1995 that "business interests have tended
to strengthen their privileged position in the 1980s and 1990s".
One reason for this, he notes, was a government which "sought
to promote business interests".
Since then relations with business have only been enhanced by
recent administrations, of which Grant notes "consultation
is close, frequent and intense. Concessions are often given, if
less frequently publicised". Grant notes and does not demur
from the judgement that the Blair Government "was the most
pro-business government Britain had ever had".
Other writers from across the spectrum of political science go
further. Colin Leys refers to "market driven politics",
Philip Bobbitt, a former US presidential advisor, describes British
governance as an example of the "market-state", while
Colin Crouch refers to the contemporary period as the era of "post-democracy".
Each description acknowledges the increase in the power of business.
The academic literature on lobbying is extensive.
Much of it situates itself in the context of studies of the "group
theory of politics" as an early US account put it.
UK studies have tended to focus on interest and pressure groups.
There are surprisingly few book length or even extended empirical
studies of lobbying in the UK. Those that do exist include the
classic early account by Samuel Finer, Anonymous Empire (published
in 1958) and an edited collection in response to the emergence
of "sleaze" as a political issue in the 1980s.
Other accounts have either been written by lobbyists themselves,
with a tendency to paint a rosy picture,
or by journalists, who tend to highlight cases of apparent misbehaviour.
One reason for this apparent gap in the literature in the UKcompared
with the US for exampleis that lobbying has been less of
a problem in the UK in the past. All observers agree that lobbying
has hugely expanded in the UK in the past two decades.
This has been as a direct result of the business-friendly policies
pursued by successive governments. It is the enhanced role of
business in government more than anything which has made the issues
of transparency and conflict of interest more prevalent and pressing.
Some political scientists have recognised the
importance of lobbying. Jordan, for example, states that a proper
understanding of contemporary British politics is impossible without
Austin Mitchell MP remarked in the early 1990s that "in reality,
lobbying has increased, is increasing, and is not going to be
diminished ... our vaunted constitution is really a framework
of lobbying; for the constitution is, essentially, whatever governments
can get away with. Lobbying, persuasion and opinion manipulation
are the tugs at the sleeve of power".
Since then the lobbying industry has indeed grown significantly,
but there has been little in the way of book length academic studies
The British lobbying industry is estimated to
have doubled in size since the early 1990s and there are said
to be 3000 full time lobbyists (consultants and in-house) in the
This may be something of a conservative estimate. A survey published
by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in 2005
indicated some 47,800 people employed in public relations in the
UK. Just over 80% of these were identified as working "in-house"
(ie working directly for corporations, charities and public bodies)
with an even split between those employed in the public and private
sectors. If we accept there is something of a blurring between
lobbying and PR, and if we include lobbyists working in-house,
rather than in consultancies, then the number of professional
communicators engaged in lobbying and related activities is quite
significant. That there is no reliable register of what these
people are doing in public affairs is properly a matter of public
3. Transparency and deceptive lobbying
There are two main issues here. The first is
that lobbyists do not routinely disclose all their clients and
those lobbyists who do disclose (either through the APPC or on
their websites) do not always disclose all their clients. The
second issue is that lobbying is often deceptive in that lobbyists
will try and disguise their clients or will engage in misinformation.
In one of the Committee's hearing Tony Wright noted that"Most
people assent to the proposition that lobbying is integral to
an effective democracy| We could not do our job unless we were
being lobbied all the time by every outside interest group who
know more about these issues directly than we do." We agree
that lobbying is both integral and necessary. But some lobbying
may also be less than open and honest. The best way to protect
against that is through a register and enhanced ethics rules for
A key question that must be addressed if the
principle of a lobbyists register is accepted is the definition
of lobbying for registration purposes. The Committee has heard
evidence recently that there is something of a blurring between
lobbying, public affairs, government relations and public relations.
In some respects this is reflected in the evidence we draw upon
below. While the precise details of a lobbyist register are matters
for further deliberation, it is important to note at this point
that the traditional notion of the lobbyist as political fixer,
go-between and mediator of relationships between outside interests
and the political class needs to be updated. The distinction between
public relations and lobbying activity can be difficult to discern.
Some political campaigns may require a degree of publicity to
build support and political pressure. Others are strategically
premised on secrecy and discretion. The former may require conventional
media-relations and PR capacity, whereas the latter suggests a
low profile, but perhaps high-powered approach.
Many of the largest lobbying firms in the UK
offer a range of communications services to clients. Indeed, the
recent controversy over the lobbying activities of well-known
PR firms such as Burson Marsteller and Edelman point to a clear
regulatory gap in the current system of lobbyist self-regulation.
In the case of Burson Marsteller, the Association of Professional
Political Consultants (APPC) accepted that the interest in question
(Microsoft, and their efforts to shape politicians, regulators
and media sentiment)
had not been a public affairs client when Burson filed its self-declaration
for the APPC's register. For many observers the effort to imagine
such communications activities as unrelated to lobbying requires
a certain suspension of disbelief. In the case of Edelman, it
was again media reporting rather than industry vigilance that
exposed the problems associated with the lack of full transparency
in public affairs.
Arguably, two newspaper articles on the same Sunday in September
2007 have done more recently to publicise and scrutinise the role
of lobbyists in British public affairs than the much-vaunted self-policing
system the industry expects us to rely on to secure the probity
of public life.
In evidence to the Committee Mike Granatt stated:
"I am sure that there are companies here that manage to sign
up to the APPC code, for example, by splitting their operation
in half so they have one half that deals with one sort of business,
one half they say deals with public affairs business and signs
up to the APPC code, but they do not for the other half of their
business declare who their clients are, and I think their interests
are exactly the same." Eben Black of DLA Piper echoed this
observation, claiming: "We suspect within the industry, quite
frankly, that the APPC register is more honoured in the breach
than it is in actually being kept to by members." Such evidence
establishes that the self-regulatory model does not work and that
transparency will not be possible without binding regulation.
We should note in particular that any register would have to define
lobbying and that this is the mechanism to catch all lobbying
activity as opposed to activity labeled "lobbying" by
Transparency and ethics in lobbying are both
raised in the case study of the policy debate on nuclear energy
When the three industry representative bodies
(APPC, CIPR, and PRCA) gave evidence to the Committee they were
asked about the role of lobbyists in shifting government opinion
on nuclear power since 2003. "Has the lobbying industry made
a difference in the change of position in the development of civil
Evidence of lobbying and PR activity from the
nuclear lobby suggests yes. In October 2004, Nirex, the government
agency established in 1980 to oversee the storage of radioactive
waste, which was then charged with finding a long-term repository
for the waste, wrote a public relations and media strategy document.
Both "Government" and "Parliament"
were listed as "target groups".
The strategy for Parliament and government was
to "divide and rule" MPs. The strategy stated that it
was necessary to "Bolster and if possible enlist those MPs
who support our policy", "Convince those MPs who are
indifferent or soft against" and "Isolate or convince
those MPs who are against."
Nirex proposed that third partiesor "indirect
methods"should be used to put forward the nuclear
industry case. "'We must first establish what are the best
lines of action to be followed particularly whether `direct' or
`indirect' methods would be better'". Indirect methods included
using "local and regional media to progress arguments, not
necessarily by Nirex".
The internal strategy document went on to note
"We have to be sure that `opinion leaders are carefully recruited
and groomed'." The document also talked about "recruiting"
people and then to "provide them with a programme of appropriate
communications messages and platforms." This is classic third
party techniqueapparently much used by the nuclear industry
as part of their public affairs campaigning.
It has been admitted as much by BNFL. Philip
Dewhurst was BNFL's Group Corporate Affairs Director from April
2001 until December 2006. He was also the Chairman of the Nuclear
Industry Association. In 2006, he told PR Week that BNFL was spreading
its pro-nuclear messages "via third-party opinion because
the public would be suspicious if we started ramming pro-nuclear
messages down their throats."
One of the ways that BNFL has done this is through
its employees. BNFL has been paying the wages and travel expenses
of the workers organisation, Nuklear 21, which has been lobbying
for new nuclear new build. "We have tended to lobby party
conferences and fringe meetings and get ourselves down to Westminster,
talking to MPs," according to Howard Rooms, a trade unionist
from BNFL's plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, and coordinator of
Working closely with Nuklear 21 have been John Robertson,
chairman of the All-Party Group on Nuclear Energy, and Jamie Reed,
MP for Copeland and former BNFL spokesman. BNFL's strategy has
been extremely clever. Instead of the sinister nuclear lobby,
you had workers and MPs fighting for jobs.
The industry has also been trying to get others
to promote its cause too. In the summer of 2005, the Nuclear Industry
Association and BNFL approached key academics and independent
researchers to attend a media training workshop, along with staff
from BNFL and NIA, to be run by lobbying firm Weber Shandwick.
One of the recipients of an email announcing the training said:
"If, as we expect, the energy review is announced before
Parliamentary recess in July we need to be well prepared to hit
the airwaves confidently then".
Documents uncovered by SpinWatch's project,
NuclearSpin, show that the issue of climate change has been used
by the industry to try and persuade the Government to change its
mind on nuclear energy. For example, climate change features in
a series of "race-cards" that the PR company, Strategic
Awareness, developed for BNFL. The cards were key messages for
senior BNFL staff to use to push for nuclear in public. They argue
for the need to make the debate "personal" and "real",
using "simple, straightforward language", while "emphasising
how nuclear protects values." On the link with climate change
they said: "CO2 emissions = climate change = irreversible
damage to our environment."
The PR company Weber Shandwick also worked on a "Nuclear
New Build" strategy for BNFL. Part of the strategy related
to the question of climate change: "Nuclear power is essential
in combating CO2 emissions", argued Weber Shandwick. This
link now appears to be accepted as fact in the minds of many.
Much of the information on the lobbying and
public affairs work of the nuclear industry in the last few years
has been obtained from government using the provisions of Freedom
of Information legislation. Downing Street took ten months to
reveal the details of how Geoffrey Norris held secret meetings
with nuclear bosses at the crucial time when the Government was
formulating its policy on nuclear power. Norris, now energy adviser
to Gordon Brown, held at least nine meetings at Downing Street
with the bosses of nuclear energy companies. The meetings were
held with EDF and BNFL (attended three meetings each); British
Energy (two meetings); EON (one meeting); and the World Nuclear
Association (one meeting).
Because there are no official records of the
meetings this adds to the concern that certain advisers can operate
outside the rules of government accountability and transparency.
This also leads to serious concerns about privileged access to
decision-makers for wealthy and well-resourced special interests.
4. Privileged Access
Lack of transparency in lobbying is compounded
by the apparent phenomena of privileged access. This means that
some interests and some lobbyists are given preferential treatment
and are able to access Ministers, civil servants and in some cases
MPs more easily than their competitors in policy disputes, and
certainly more easily than citizen interests. We give two examples
of this below which support this view that certain interests are
given privileged access to Number 10 and government Ministers
The example of the obscure and generally secretive
Multinational Chairmen's Group illustrates this. The Guardian
recently reported how a small lobbying group of businessmen, including
Lord Browne, then of BP, Arun Sarin of Vodafone, Sir John Bond,
then of HSBC, and Sir Christopher Hogg, then of GlaxoSmithKline,
were able to use their privileged access to then Prime Minister,
Tony Blair "to protect the pensions of the ultra-rich."
The group "meets informally three times a year and has an
annual meeting with the Prime Minister".
"This discreet club takes pride in its privacy", reports
the Sunday Times.
"Outside the small circle of its members, it is little known
even within the upper echelons of the Confederation of British
Industry, under whose auspices it meets."
Details about the MCG meetings only came to light after a long
struggle by the Guardian to get hold of documents under Freedom
of Information legislation went all the way to the Information
Commissioner. The Groupof less than tenincludes
the heads of some of the biggest firms in the UK including BP,
Diageo, Unilever, HSBC, Shell, Vodafone, GlaxoSmithKline, Rio
Tinto and British American Tobacco (BAT). Its tactics include
threatening "exit" from the UK if the Government does
not do what it wants. To ensure the Government got the message
the press were briefed and reported as follows: "Business
leaders are warning they're not bluffing. The very real scenario
he is facing is of an industrial and corporate Britain without
many of the huge multinational players. The spectre of Britain
being an outpost|is haunting Blair."
Documents show that BAT "was able to put
private pressure on Tony Blair and a Cabinet Minister who wanted
to hold an inquiry into allegations that the firm was colluding
with criminals". After behind-the-scenes lobbying, via the
MCG, plans for an inquiry, "which could have published a
highly damaging report", were "dropped." "Instead",
the Guardian reported, "MPs were told that a watered-down
inquiry would be conducted in secret. Its activities were `buried'
for almost four years, after which it emerged that no action was
to be taken. BAT was so pleased with the eventual form the inquiry
took that their lobbyists described it, in a private note, as
"not a problem"."
The group also "outmanoeuvred Gordon Brown,
then chancellor, to shield `fat cat' pensions from his proposals
to tax them more heavily":
The lobbying, allied with protests from other
business groups, forced Brown to rethink. Within a few months,
he had loosened the proposed cap on their pension pots so that
more of their money would escape the tax net. The extra tax will
only be payable on pension savings over £1.8 million, not
the originally proposed £1.4 million, and will not come in
until 2010. He delayed the start date of the new regime to give
the rich more time to re-arrange their finances. He also reduced
the tax rate from 60% to 55%. The super-rich can thus shelter
an extra £400,000 from the taxmanat Brown's original
proposed 60% tax, that sum would have incurred a £240,000
The Guardian states that Downing Street only
released the heavily censored documents after Richard Thomas,
the Information Commissioner, ruled that the public had a right
to know how lobbyists influenced Ministers.
In his ruling he said: "In relation to
policy discussions with external stakeholders the Commissioner
takes the general view that the likelihood of those parties being
deterred from freely expressing their views is diminished when
they are in effect being given an opportunity to lobby the policy-makers,
as in this case."
He continued: "Furthermore, the Commissioner
notes that there is a strong public interest in informing public
debate | In addition, he considers that there is a public interest
in facilitating understanding of how government formulates policy,
and also in increasing public confidence that decisions are properly
It is our belief that a register of lobbying
can only help facilitate a proper understanding of how government
works, and thereby increase public confidence that decisions are
being made properly and in the public interest. In a climate of
skepticism and suspicion (which is not simply attributable to
the media or watchdog groups) transparency offers the best means
of restoring trust and confidence in public affairs.
The case of the aviation industry also exhibits
similar features. A request under the Freedom of Information Act
for details of any Department for Transport Ministerial meetingsheld
between January 2006 and June 2007with British Airways,
British Airports Authority, environmental NGOs and development
NGOs revealed a huge disparity in access to senior decision-makers.
The two companies had many more meetings with
the Secretary of State or Under Secretary of State compared to
environmental NGOs. With BAA securing 12 Ministerial meetings
and BA 6, and the various environmental NGOs managing just 7 between
them, the figures themselves suggest that a level playing field
does not exist.
|Transport 2000 (T2000)
||Secretary of State|
|02/03/06||T2000, RSPB, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, National Trust, Green Alliance
||Secretary of State|
|15/06/06||T2000||Secretary of State
|28/06/06||Greenpeace||Secretary of State
|17/07/06||Friends of the Earth
||Secretary of State|
|16/10/06||T2000, Sustrans, Slower Speeds Initiative, Car Plus
||Secretary of State|
|20/11/06||Sustainable Development Group
||Secretary of State|
|BAA||Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
|07/03/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|22/03/06||BA||Secretary of State
|25/04/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|23/05/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|19/06/06||BA||Secretary of State
|19/07/06||BAA||Secretary of State & Parliamentary Under Secretary
|10/08/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|12/08/06||BA||Secretary of State
|23/08/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|13/09/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|18/10/06||BAA||Secretary of State
|29/01/07||BA||Secretary of State
|30/01/07||BAA||Secretary of State
|21/02/07||BA||Parliamentary Under Secretary of State
|07/03/07||BAA||Secretary of State
|13/03/07||BA||Secretary of State
|16/05/07||BAA||Secretary of State
The lobbying efforts of BAA and BA, and their access to Ministers
has not escaped the notice of Parliamentarians. In a debate in
the House of Commons on the Planning Bill last year (10 December
2007), John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes & Harlington also
drew attention to BAA's lobbying efforts after the inquiry into
terminal 5 at Heathrow.
He said that decision-making at Ministerial level had been "unduly
influenced by the aviation industry".
According to McDonnell, "the aviation White Paper was
drafted and dominated by the aviation industry lobbying the former
Chancellor. The consultation paper that will be out for the next
few months was drafted and virtually dictated by BAA, with the
evidence modeled by BAAthat is the information that we
have received under the FOI Act 2000." For a detailed map
of the relationships between BAA, their retained lobbyists and
PR consultants, and government, please see appendix 1.
The links outlined in this appendix were established using
a number of sources of information and methods. It took ten months,
using FOI and other means, to assemble this information. Under
a mandatory lobbying register, with online reporting and updated
every 6 months, this information would have been easily available
in the public domain.
With the information on a registerout in the openit
would also mean there was less public and media suspicion and
speculation. The current strength of opposition to Heathrow expansion,
for example, has been fueled in part by the secrecy and accusations
of undue influence by the aviation industry. Had the information
been in the public domain, via a lobbying register, media reporting
could not have proceeded without some recourse to official, reliable
The concern about whether having a parliamentary pass gave
someone "extra power" or particular advantage has been
raised during evidence to the Committee. Perhaps this question
can be answered by two recent cases that highlight how passes
can be abused.
In July 2007, it was revealed that some peers were allegedly
handing out exclusive access to the Houses of Parliament to lobbyists
and pressure groups, for which they received thousands of pounds
Parliamentary passes intended for researchers and secretaries
were being given out to representatives of the defence, transport,
freight and legal industries. For example, an investigation by
the Times newspaper found that Lord Howie of Troon, gave a pass
to Doug Smith, a Westminster lobbyist who is chairman of Westminster
Advisers, whose clients include French multinationals Sodexho
and Accor. Lord Berkeley gave a pass to Neil Stevens, from the
Rail Freight Group, whose clients include Maersk, the container
Gill Morris, head of the APPC told the paper: "Having
a pass to the Palace of Westminster and its facilities has clear
Three months later, in October 2007, it was also alleged that
a Labour peer, Lord Hoyle, had taken money to introduce an arms
company lobbyist to the government Minister in charge of weapons
lobbyist is said to have paid cash for an introduction to Lord
Drayson, the Defence Minister in charge of billions of pounds
of military procurement.
The lobbyist, Michael Wood, had access to the Palace of Westminster
because he has a security pass as a research assistant to another
MP. While "cash for introductions" is forbidden by lobbyists'
trade body the APPC, Wood is not a member,
showing that self-regulation does not work.
5. Conflicts of interest: the Revolving Door
The increasing involvement of business in politics gives
added potential for conflicts of interest. There is now a wealth
of evidence showing that there is a problem with the so-called
"revolving door". This refers to the interchange in
jobs between lobbyists, corporate staff and Ministers, special
advisers and senior civil servants. The potential for conflict
of interest arises especially when public servants take up posts
in the industry they were previously responsible for. However,
the opposite can also be the case where lobbyists or corporate
staff are seconded into government departments or even appointed
as Ministers. Given the increasing trend of such movements, it
makes sense to consider how such conflicts can be handled. As
evidence of the trend we note some recent examples from the nuclear
IN THE NUCLEAR
Recently two senior ex-government Ministers have moved into
lucrative jobs within the nuclear industry. This has happened
at the same time as the Government has been undertaking a public
consultation on the issue and has recently given the go-ahead
to proceed with a new generation of nuclear power plants.
Ian McCartney, the former chairman of the Labour Party and
former Trade Minister, is now paid up to £115,000 to act
as a senior adviser to the Fluor Corporation. Although the Advisory
Committee on Business Appointments gave McCartney permission to
take the appointment it was on condition that he did not lobby
the Government for a year.
One part of lobbying is gaining privileged access to MPs.
In November 2007, the press reported how McCartney was spotted
in the Commons "entertaining an executive from a controversial
US nuclear company". The person concerned was Flour's UK
boss, Ian Thomas, who said that he was there on a "social
But this is surely part of what lobbying involvesaccess
and influence. Flour is on a shortlist of four seeking to win
an £18 billion contract for decommissioning the Sellafield
nuclear power site and is expected to be heavily involved in any
future nuclear revival.
Richard Caborn, the former Sports Minister and former chairman
of the Trade and Industry Select Committee is another ex-Minister
with nuclear interests. In November 2007, the Financial Times
reported how Caborn had "joined the growing band of former
Ministers and Labour MPs who have taken lucrative jobs in the
Mr Caborn, was appointed as an adviser to "Amec, the
British engineering services group that is part of a consortium
bidding for a £5 billion contract to run Sellafield, the
UK's biggest nuclear site." According to the Register of
Member's Interests, Caborn is paid up to £75,000.
Even if these positions are cleared by the Advisory Committee
on Business Appointments, it seems difficult to reconcile MP's
commercial interests with the spirit of Rule 10 of the Code of
Conduct for Members of Parliament: "No Member shall act as
a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House."
These two are not the only MPs and Lords who have taken lucrative
positions within the nuclear industry:
NO LONGER MPS
Brian Wilson is a former Labour MP and Energy Minister, who
left Parliament in April 2005. On 26 October 2005, he was appointed
non-executive director of AMEC Nuclear Holdings Ltd, the nuclear
services arm of AMEC plc. The announcement boasted that the firm
is the UK's largest private nuclear services business. "It
is vital to have a British company of AMEC Nuclear's standing
involved in every aspect of the industry," Wilson said. "There
is a huge amount of essential work to be done at both home and
abroad, including clean-up and decommissioning, and I want to
see the maximum level of participation from the UK in that process."
Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan (Martin O'Neill) was a Labour
MP for 26 years, until he stood down at the 2005 general election.
He is now chair of the Nuclear Industry Association.
Lord Cunningham of Felling is one of the Honoury Legislative
Chairs of the Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum (TANEF) that
"aims to address key industry concerns and foster on-going
strong relationships amongst nuclear energy companies and between
the nuclear energy industry and governments, legislators and regulators
based in the European Union and North America."
The PR and lobbying company Sovereign Strategy, which has
strong ties to the Labour Party, not only lists TANEF as a client,
it acts as TANEF's secretariat and registered its website.
Cunningham was a non-executive director of Sovereign Strategy
from 2002-2005, whilst still an MP. Cunningham is now a partner
in the political consultancies Brinkburn Associates and Anderson
MacGraw, whose clients remain unknown. 
Sovereign and TANEF were also caught up in a "sleaze
row" in 2006 with the revelations that Sovereign Strategy
bossAlan Donnellyhad helped to pay for the refurbishment
of then Environment Secretary David Miliband's constituency party
headquarters in Newcastle. Sovereign Strategy also represents
the US multinational Fluor, which Ian McCartney now works for.
The Guardian also reported recently that Lord Cunningham
is paid £36,000 a year by the City of London Corporation
to give political advice.
According to the report this includes: advising the Corporation
on how to present its case at meetings with Ministers and the
Government, the best time to speak to politicians, and general
political advice. It also involves calling Ministers to arrange
meetings with the authority when it is having difficulty securing
Documents obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information
Act also show that Cunningham has given the corporation confidential
advice about two bills going through Parliament which affected
the authority. The newspaper reports that Cunningham was hired
by the corporation in September 2006. In the first year, the corporation
paid £48,000 for this work to him and the lobbying firm,
Sovereign Strategy, of which he was a director. In the Lords register,
Cunningham declared his financial ties with Sovereign Strategy
and Brinkburn, but makes no mention of the City of London Corporation,
meaning that anyone reading the register would be unaware that
he is currently working for it.
A lobbying register would help address these gaps in reporting
and transparency. Under the obligations of becoming an MP, Members
are required to sign the Register of Interests. According to the
Office of Parliamentary Standards, every MP since Enoch Powell
has filled in the Declaration. Although the Office itself does
not proactively police the Register, if a complaint is made against
an MP with sufficient evidence, then the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards can conduct an investigation.
If an MP is found to be in breach of their obligations, penalties
include an apology to the House of Commons; the withholding of
a Member's salary for a specified period; and suspension of the
Member from the House, which includes loss of pay.
The Register of Members Interests offers a useful model which
a Lobbying Register might follow, especially in regard to the
regular updating of this information. The online Register is now
updated twice a month.
We believe there needs to be a tightening of rules governing the
business activities and outside interests of MPs. Two years ago
SpinWatch uncovered evidence that Ken Clarke MP was using House
of Commons facilities to undertake his business role as Deputy
Chair of British American Tobacco.
According to Sir Philip Mawer "modest" use of a
PA, as well as the House of Commons facilities such as faxes and
phones for MP's commercial interests is allowed. However, as Sir
Philip says "drawing the line between what is Parliamentary
and what is non-Parliamentary is not always easy".
The rules currently seemat bestopaque, as does
the process by which Sir Philip conducts his own investigations
as his meetings are not minuted and cannot be scrutinized by the
The evidence taken by the Committee to date suggests there
are significant and worrying gaps in the oversight of lobbying
by the self-regulatory bodies such as the APPC. There is also
the obvious issue of those lobbyists who choose not to join trade
and professional associations that promote codes of conduct. There
is simply no way to assure that such lobbyists behave ethically
or transparently. There is also the problem of oversight and compliance
by those companies notionally covered by a code of conduct. The
Committee has heard evidence that it is likely that the code is
often breached. This raises serious questions about the reliability
and credibility of the self-regulatory model.
A related concern is the question of transparency and accountability.
With the accuracy of the self-regulatory register under question,
elected members, public servants and the wider public are entitled
to query if the information currently in the public domain is
a true reflection of lobbying activity: is the information available
complete, accurate, or sufficient to secure transparency and accountability
around lobbying? We believe it is not possible to answer affirmatively
to any of these questions at present. Currently there is a dearth
of information in the public domain regarding how lobbying interests
seek to shape policy and legislation. A mandatory lobbying register
is the only viable means to secure compliance, transparency and
public trust. It appears to us that the status quo is an unattractive
option. Given the secrecy that surrounds lobbying it is likely
that there will continue to be suspicion around attempts by outside
interests to shape policy. This suspicion is damaging for the
entire political class, and undermines confidence in public affairs
and elected representatives. The gravity of this erosion of trust
requires serious remedial action, of which a lobbying register
is an important element.
A common objection raised against a mandatory register of
lobbyists is that it would be too costly and cumbersome to manage.
We think these concerns are overplayed. The lessons from the introduction
of Freedom of Information are perhaps instructive here. One of
the main issues that has to date been pursued through FOI requests
has been the question of relations between ministers, officials
and outside interests. If all such information was made available
routinely through a lobbyist register then it is very likely that
FOI applications for such information would be unnecessary, thereby
saving the public purse and public officials time and effort.
Another criticism of a lobbying register is that it involves
disproportionate record keeping on the part of outside interests.
We would note that for the global professional lobbying and public
relations firms there appears to be little problem complying with
the register under the lobbying Disclosure Act in the US. In fact
the LDA shows that all sorts of outside interests, from multinational
corporations to non-governmental organisations, can easily meet
the disclosure requirements. In addition, it would appear that
some lobbying organisations already privately maintain databases
with information about contacts with elected representatives.
The APPC in Scotland keep an internal register of contacts between
members and MSPs at cross party group meetings, and a record of
the capacity in which member lobbyists attend such meetings: this
information is apparently circulated to officials in Scottish
government but not published or made public.
This example illustrates that detailed record keeping is already
taking place and could be made public.
A mandatory register of lobbying can only help facilitate
the understanding of how government works and increase public
confidence in the political process. The House of Commons already
has the Commissioner for Standards. It appears to us logical to
extend such vigilance to outside interests. The creation of an
independent body to oversee a lobbyists register is both timely
The long term damage to the political system of a drip-drip feed
of lobbying scandals should not be underestimated. A mandatory
lobbyists register is not a sledge-hammer to crack a nut: rather
it is potentially an essential tool for restoring trust in politics.
This briefing has been compiled by Professor David Miller,
Dr William Dinan, Andy Rowell and Tamasin Cave of SpinWatch. Back
We have received project specific funding for some of our work,
in particular the NuclearSpin project, which was funded by Greenpeace
and the JMG Foundation. Back
Opensecrets Lobbying database, Centre for Responsive Politics.
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