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Political and Constitutional Reform Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 153
Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
on Thursday 1 March 2012
Mr Graham Allen (Chair)
Mr Christopher Chope
Mr Andrew Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mark Adams OBE, standup4lobbying, and Mark Ramsdale, gave evidence.
Q81 Chair: Thank you for your time this morning, and for helping us on our continuing inquiry on lobbying. I wonder whether you would like to take a little time to open up with some introductory remarks.
Mark Ramsdale: Sure. Good morning. My name is Mark Ramsdale. I am an independent public affairs practitioner, otherwise known as a lobbyist.
Firstly, as someone who is both a lobbyist and who has worked on this issue, I would like to thank the Committee for the opportunity to speak today. I have worked in and around Westminster and Whitehall for over 10 years now, including as a researcher for a Member of Parliament. I have been acting as an independent consultant, providing a range of public affairs services to clients since 2008, operating as a limited company since April 2010.
I have worked in various guises for the Chartered Institute of PR, the Public Relations Consultants Association and other bodies. Between July 2010 and December 2011, I was Executive Secretary to the UK Public Affairs Council, an organisation that, among other things, provides a voluntary register of lobbyists. However, I would like to make clear that I am speaking entirely in my own capacity today; any views are my own and not necessarily those of existing or previous clients or employers. I would also like to declare that I have a parliamentary pass, sponsored by Lord Smith of Leigh. I use that in relation to my duties as the Secretariat to the Parliamentary Rugby League Group.
In terms of the Government’s consultation, I think the vast majority in the public affairs industry-certainly those that I have spoken to, anyway-welcome the Cabinet Office consultation. It provides a focus to enable us to make clear that we are committed to transparency. However, I don’t think that it addresses issues such as parallel regulation or sanctions for transgression from codes of conduct. I also have concerns over registering those that operate in multi-client agencies and the tendency, I feel, to overlook non-commercial bodies, but of course I would be more than happy to provide further thoughts on that.
Mark Adams: Thank you, Chairman. I might begin by saying Dydd Gwŷl Dewi hapus-happy St David’s Day. Chairman, I am proud to call myself a professional lobbyist. My trade is advising my clients on how to present their case to government as effectively as possible, just as a barrister’s trade is to present their client’s case in court as effectively as possible. I am the Chairman of the Professional Lobbying Company and also the self-appointed Director of the campaign group standup4lobbying-although with permission, Chairman, I will give my evidence sitting down.
I am proud of what I do. I believe I offer my clients a valuable professional service. Unlike Tim Collins of Bell Pottinger, I do not have the Foreign Secretary’s mobile telephone number, but I don’t believe I need it to do my job well. I also believe in a broader, socially responsible approach to my profession. I regularly undertake pro bono work for good causes and look to give back in other ways. I have just assisted voluntarily this morning with a citizenship course at a local school, Grey Coat Hospital-a school that I know is well known to you, Chairman.
I believe in strong and effective regulation of lobbying and have been involved in trying to build such regulation throughout my lobbying career. I was heavily involved in the formation of the UK Public Affairs Council. In my view, it is purely an empirical matter whether self-regulation works better than statutory regulation or not. I have seen no proposals for statutory regulation that work better, in my view, than the current system of self-regulation, either in the Government’s current consultation paper or elsewhere.
As I understand it, the concern about lobbyists is that they can have undue influence over the political process, either because politicians have a too cosy relationship with lobbyists or because they are too easily swayed by slick arguments by lobbyists. That in a nutshell seems to be the concern. As we have a representative cross-section of Members of Parliament in this room, perhaps we should begin by establishing whether any of you feel you have a too cosy relationship with lobbyists or are too easily swayed by the slick arguments we use.
Chair: We will leave that question open, Mark, as we progress. No doubt colleagues will wish to answer that in their own way.
Q82 Tristram Hunt: Could I begin by asking where, in a sense, self-regulation went wrong? For those of us looking at this, it seems a bit "People’s Front of Judea" territory in terms of the divisions within the UK lobbying sector. Why do so many of your colleagues think that self-regulation hasn’t worked and there is an argument for statutory regulation, and why you think those divisions exist within the UK lobbying firmament?
Mark Adams: Let me answer that question very directly by saying that, of course, I recognise that there are issues of concern that arise within the lobbying profession. For me that doesn’t mean self-regulation has failed. Crime still exists, but no one says that therefore the police have failed and they should be replaced. So bad things will happen and bad things will continue to happen-we shouldn’t kid ourselves-if we have a system of statutory regulation. It won’t be the ultimate panacea.
So I don’t accept the argument that self-regulation has failed. Currently, there is an ongoing investigation into claims made in The Independent newspaper against Bell Pottinger, using existing self-regulatory machinery. Any one of us in this room could have raised a complaint against Bell Pottinger on the basis of those stories. Only one person in this room did, which is me; I am currently pursuing that complaint under the existing self-regulatory machinery, because I believe self-regulation works.
If you ask Tim Bell whether he believes self-regulation is working, well, I think he can see the potential damage that under a self-regulatory regime, that story having come into the public domain, has delivered. I am not convinced that the damage to Bell Pottinger’s reputation that may flow from this would be any different at all if there were this statutory register.
Mark Ramsdale: I would certainly endorse Mark’s comments about self-regulation not having failed. I think there is a regulatory regime out there. The issue is about the proportion of the industry that views self-regulation as a means for transparency and ethical behaviour.
One of the things that we need to make the case for, in terms of self-regulation, is that more people need to be involved in some form of regulatory regime. There are three industry bodies that exist that have codes of conduct and can authorise sanctions against anyone that might transgress them, but any regime is only as good as the volume of people or organisations that it covers.
The one thing that a statutory register would allow is blanket coverage. There will still be a few people-a few organisations-that don’t want to register, for whatever reason. They may view a definition as one of the arguments for not doing so, but if you get a very large proportion of an industry either in a self-regulatory regime or under a statutory regime, I think you are starting to deal with the issue.
Q83 Tristram Hunt: Leaving aside the politics of this and the attractiveness of doing this, is the attempt at statutory regulation in many senses a product of your own industry’s internal divisions and weaknesses, because if there was one unified body with one voice rather than three, who seem to be scrapping quite a bit, you would not necessarily be entering this place?
Mark Adams: As someone who has been a member of all three bodies, I have incorporated a new company, and as soon as my new company joins the APPC and the PRCA I will be once again a member of all three. Generally, competition is supposed to be a good thing in life. It is very easy to explain; it takes about 30 seconds to explain that the three bodies have distinct roles but they came together. I was heavily involved in the unified body, the United Kingdom Public Affairs Council, and you will hear from the Chairman of that Council after us. It is an illustration of the fact that the profession recognised the issue years ago. Well before the Public Administration Select Committee in the last Parliament got into the issue, we had started the work of pulling together the three bodies into the Public Affairs Council.
Q84 Tristram Hunt: Then do you think the decision of some to leave was a real mistake?
Mark Adams: Individual members of the organisations will have to answer for themselves. I have been very clear throughout that there should be a unified body. But I have been critical. I helped set it up, but I withdrew from it at the foundation and I have gone on record to express two serious concerns I have about the operation of the UK Public Affairs Council, which I am happy to set out. That is why I have not been involved in it. So others-the PRCA-clearly do have concerns and they have now withdrawn.
Q85 Tristram Hunt: Finally, in terms of the statutory register, one of the big complaints-particularly from SpinWatch and others-was that you are basically not accounting for the in-house lobbying capacity, and if that is something like BP or BAE or even the Church of England, there is a big gulf there. Is that your critique as well?
Mark Adams: It is. One of the oddities of the consultation paper-because hopefully I have had a very healthy debate regularly with Tamasin Cave of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency-is the Government has been able to unite both the ALT on one side and vast parts of the industry on the other in arguing that the Government have this wrong.
The Government seem to be saying, "Well, we must be doing something right because they both disagree with us". That to me is a sign of them doing something wrong. I have gone on record again to describe this consultation paper as shameful, and that is still my position. In my view, they completely miss the basic point that if you are going to have a statutory register of lobbyists, then what is a lobbyist? It is someone who lobbies, and anyone who lobbies, in my view, therefore should be on a statutory register of lobbyists.
If you have a statutory register for something else, call it something else and create it. But if it is a statutory register of lobbyists, then those who lobby in a professional capacity-I agree we keep out of it people who are doing it on a voluntary basis, constituents lobbying their MPs, of course-everybody who does it on a professional basis should be on that statutory register if there is going to be a statutory register.
Mark Ramsdale: I would certainly agree with that. The one thing that I took from the Cabinet Office consultation that I was in agreement with-and this is from the impact assessment-was that the purpose of a statutory register will be to increase transparency by making available to the public and decision-makers, and so on, authoritative and easily accessible information about who is lobbying.
If you are talking about transparency, the whole point of it is that it needs to be comprehensive. It has to cover in-house lobbyists-those that are independent, such as myself and Mark, as well as those who are providing services for commercial bodies, trade unions, religious groups, as you mentioned, and even pro bono work. What it should not include are those that are lobbying on a constituency issue, and therein lies the issue.
I understand the Cabinet Office argument that it bridges the gap between the likes of the commercial bodies you mentioned that are lobbying, because we know who they are and broadly what they are lobbying on, but we don’t necessarily know who the agency is representing in a particular meeting. I understand that, but I would also endorse what Mark said-that a register of lobbyists needs to cover all lobbyists. If you are a lobbyist, you lobby irrespective of the issue, and there is no "good cause" clause either. It is all about function and the activity.
Q86 Simon Hart: Can we go back a bit, because I do not understand what the problem is, and I do not understand what David Cameron means when he says this is the next big scandal? Before we talk about registers-who is on them and who is not on them and what they might mean and whether this is a code of practice-what is the problem that we are trying to resolve, and what is the public clamour that apparently exists, but which I haven’t yet heard, about this industry? Can somebody at least start me there?
Mark Adams: Yes. That is a very important question. I agree with you wholeheartedly. When the consultation paper came out, I turned with interest to the impact assessment because that is one of the questions that the Government is required to answer-"Why is Government intervention necessary?"-and this is the answer. I am quoting from it: "However, where lobbying is opaque, this creates a market failure caused by imperfect information that can undermine public confidence in the decision-making process and its results". So that is very clear, isn’t it?
I trained as an economist the first time round; I understand what market failure means. This is written by someone who doesn’t understand what market failure means and presumably thought that if they throw some jargon into a sentence, we will all be convinced by it. I am not. I also agree with your point about, where is the public clamour? On the whole, my friends are reasonably intelligent people-not all of them, and I won’t name the ones I think aren’t-but when I talk about my job and say, "I am a lobbyist", most of them look puzzled.
Tamasin Cave quotes evidence from a recent opinion poll, taken immediately after the Adam Werritty issue, that 53%-I think she says-expressed the view that lobbyists have too much influence over the political system. For me, that is an empirical issue. Do they or don’t they? We should do an academic study to look at it. If I heard that 53% of the public thought the moon was made out of cheese, that wouldn’t lead me blindly to think that the moon must be made out of cheese; it would make me realise that opinion polls are of limited value.
Of course opinion polls are important, but opinion polls about empirical issues just tell you how well informed the public are about that empirical issue. It doesn’t tell you anything else, and that is important. We are to blame in the lobbying profession, and that is why I created standup4lobbying. I am afraid politicians are to blame as well. We have to accept our share of the blame for the fact that when lobbyists behave badly-and if there is a lobbyist behaving badly, I am afraid on the whole it means there is a politician behaving badly on the other side-we are to blame for the public perception.
Q87 Simon Hart: I am asking you some stupid questions on purpose because I simply don’t get it. What is a "lobbyist behaving badly"? Adam Werritty wasn’t a lobbyist; he wouldn’t be on any register as proposed by the Government anyway, so in my opinion we can’t use people like Werritty as an example because he falls outside the proposal. I was in an organisation that attempted to persuade, inform and educate, and all those other expressions lobbyists use. As an MP, I rather like lobbyists; I like to be lobbied, and I am one of these people that fit into the "not enough lobbying" category because I find it a helpful experience to get outside expertise. But what is this bad behaviour we are talking about, because nobody has got there yet?
Mark Adams: Mr Hart, I should say that I disagree with Sir Gus O’Donnell in his report when he said that Adam Werritty was not a lobbyist, because I think that goes to the heart. I mean, what on earth was he doing there on behalf of his clients? What is undoubted is he was a friend of the Defence Secretary. He had clients who were paying him because of his ability to influence the Defence Secretary and to take the Defence Secretary where those clients wanted him to be. In my book, that makes him a lobbyist. So I disagreed with Gus O’Donnell’s report when it said that he wasn’t a lobbyist. Any register that is going to be effective-frankly, if it doesn’t catch that kind of behaviour, then that rather illustrates that it is not achieving.
But I agree. As things stand at the moment, it is doubtful whether I personally would have to be on this statutory register of lobbyists, bizarrely, as it is currently defined, because it is about direct interactions on behalf of clients and, on the whole, I don’t do that. My clients are the ones who interact with MPs, interact with ministers and interact with civil servants. I advise them on how to do it. That in my book still makes me a lobbyist, and in the profession’s definition of a lobbyist. That is why I register because I am caught by our profession’s definition of lobbying. But arguably, I am not going to be caught by the Government’s definition of a lobbyist, and in my view that illustrates in a nutshell how ridiculous these proposals are.
Chair: Let me just bring Mark in.
Mark Ramsdale: Yes. Again I would say that I agree with Mark; the current definition within the Cabinet Office about third-party agencies would mean that I would not necessarily need to register.
In terms of good and bad lobbying, without going into specific examples, I think there are three codes of conduct that exist for lobbyists, be they organisational or individual. If you want to look at anything that might transgress from that, there are your examples of bad practice. I also agree that the best lobbyists themselves are the clients. They put the arguments forward far more passionately, more concisely and certainly more enthusiastically than an independent lobbyist might. Our job is to help facilitate meetings, to understand the system and to help them put their case forward as best they can. On the other side of an argument, there will be another lobbying group or an individual organisation doing the same thing. Ultimately, the Member of Parliament decides.
Q88 Simon Hart: I accept absolutely what you said. There was a question earlier on, when we were trying to define what was bad lobbying and what was the cause of the alleged public concern, and one of the expressions that one or other of you used was a relationship that might be described as "too cosy". I want to explore that a little bit more, because I don’t know what "too cosy" is.
When I was attempting to do what you now do, I found that, yes, of course you could get access to ministers, but invariably the Civil Service wall was a pretty good one, and that if my lot went in to see a minister, somebody representing an alternative view was almost certainly waiting outside in order to follow. I think we overlook the fact, do we not, that there is quite a lot of protection within the political system against dodgy lobbying, whatever dodgy lobbying is.
Mark Adams: An example I have to give: as it happens, I used to play golf regularly with Gus O’Donnell and I would say to clients, "What do you expect me to do? Is it just as he is about to take his putt on the 14th green that I am supposed to say, ‘Before you take your putt, I have a client who needs help’ and he says, ‘Mark, leave it with me, let’s get back the golf’." Of course it doesn’t work like that and it is a nonsense to suggest it does. If it did work like that-if that really was how it worked-would it be me at fault for trying to exercise that influence or would it be Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Head of the Civil Service, at fault for going along with it?
In my view, if there is that kind of corrupt influence, let’s root those public servants out of public life. Let’s deal with the corruption at its source in public life. Don’t come after private individuals like me-well, not like me because I don’t believe it works like that, but those who do think it works like that and try to take advantage of corrupt public officials. They are not the people it should be aimed at. It should be aimed at rooting out corruption in public life. In my view, if there is a problem that should be the real target and the real solution to it.
Mark Ramsdale: I think you’re alluding to the Civil Service Code of Conduct and Ministerial Code of Conduct. The bit that is missing is the other part of the democratic process, which is those that are lobbying professionally. There are codes of conduct; the fact is that it is not statutory at the moment. But again, I play rugby with Members of Parliament. I think if I tried to talk to them about anything in particular on the field at the bottom of a ruck, they would quite quickly tell me that that was not appropriate.
When I do have to talk to them I usually write a letter, so that I have something on record, so that they are aware that I am doing this in a formal capacity, and they will take a decision based on the argument I put forward. I know that of all the Members of Parliament that I know, and I would expect that right across all 650 Members.
Q89 Simon Hart: One last question to both of you. Do you think that what is happening is that the Government is deciding to do the least it possibly can manage in order to say that it has ticked the box marked "Statutory registered office", and this is just a token gesture in the direction of those who are rather keen on this measure?
Mark Ramsdale: The difficulty is the definition, actually. I know that greater minds than mine have spent a lot of time thinking about this, other legislative bodies similarly have spent a lot of time on that. I don’t necessarily think it is the easiest route that the Cabinet Office has taken. Certainly, from the criticism that the consultation has faced, it would have been easier to have perhaps taken a different set of opinions before putting this particular consultation out.
What I would say is that they are listening to what has been said, and certainly the industry, and those that I have spoken to, seem to be of one mind that transparency is best suited to this industry. Also, regulation would provide the opportunity for them to demonstrate that they are not bad guys at all and are behaving appropriately in the same way Members of Parliament do.
Mark Adams: Mr Hart, the short answer to your question is yes. The slightly longer answer is that it was a proposal originally in the Liberal Democrat election manifesto. The Liberal Democrats typically write their election manifesto in the knowledge that they won’t ever have to implement any of their proposals. Because of the way the election turned out, we have a coalition Government in which, inevitably, the coalition agreement had to give way on some things.
In my cynical view, I think the Conservatives looked at this and thought, "Well, this is something that we can give way on. It is not too damaging. It doesn’t make much sense". Now it is in the coalition agreement, I am 99% certain we will get it. Does that mean it is right? Of course not. Does it make it sensible? Of course not. Yes, it is a box-ticking exercise to deliver something that the Conservatives agreed with the Liberal Democrats as the price of forming the coalition.
Q90 Mr Chope: So say all of us, but I go back to Simon’s point and what the evidence is. If there is a problem, it is a problem that can be sorted out through transparency on the part of people who are being lobbied rather than by trying to register the lobbyists, and since we can’t define lobbyists, it seems as though the Government is trying to pander to public opinion, which suggests that lobbying or lobbyists are a bad thing. But can I ask you, first of all, at the beginning one of you described yourself as "a public affairs practitioner, otherwise known as a lobbyist". I thought there was a distinction between a public affairs practitioner and a lobbyist. Can you explain?
Mark Ramsdale: Certainly. Public affairs practice is more broad than lobbying. Lobbying certainly includes the rhetoric that you put forward when trying to influence a decision. Public affairs practice includes things like monitoring, understanding where a bill might be in Parliament, being expert in what a particular government department is doing, knowing who appropriate officials are, special advisers, and so on and a ministerial brief.
It also includes understanding which committees, parliamentary groups and constituency MPs have a particular interest in that issue. Thereafter, lobbying will take place and you will talk to those Members of Parliament, that minister, that special adviser, about the issue, but I would certainly say that public affairs practice encompasses lobbying. Lobbying is a small part of practice. When you say "public affairs practitioner", it is easier to say "lobbyist", and it is certainly more transparent.
Mark Adams: Mr Chairman, I want to disagree with what Mr Ramsdale has just said. I am terribly afraid that I am going to get a reputation for being very cynical about matters generally. I think "public affairs practitioner" was something that lobbyists started to call themselves when the word "lobbying" got itself a bad name. I am dedicating the latter stage of my career to trying to rebuild the reputation of lobbying because I think it is an honourable profession. That is why I call my campaign standup4lobbying, and I hope at some stage in the future public affairs practitioners, whatever that means, will stop calling themselves that and use the name that it should say on the tin, "lobbying", because that is certainly what they are doing in the tin.
I would like to pick up briefly, though, on the bit you said at the start about surely the best thing to do being to just get those on the inside to be transparent. I put that to the Minister responsible-and if you do call him before this Committee, I hope you will do as well. I said, "If it is about understanding who lobbyists are representing when they meet ministers, why not just require that to be declared at the start of the meeting and put it on the record? That seems a very sensible solution". His answer to that was, "It is not just meetings with ministers we are interested in. It is meetings with Members of Parliament". It is a perfectly fair point, and he is saying, "We in government have no control over what MPs do; therefore, we are going after the lobbyists. We are going to come at it from the other side".
It seems to me that a more sensible approach would have been to enter into discussions with the House authorities to see if the House authorities would agree. I agree that the Government can’t impose its will on Parliament in that way, but the House authorities might like to consider it. It may be a recommendation that the Committee might like to consider. If there is a need for greater transparency, why not make it a requirement on MPs that they are more transparent about the meetings they hold, rather than me, a private citizen, having to publish information of what I get up to as part of, essentially, my private business life?
Q91 Mr Chope: Did the Minister in this response extend lobbying into the area where you have lobbying of the public? If lobbying of MPs is pernicious and needs to be controlled, surely lobbying of the public-for example, when people who are trying to promote wind power or renewables have a deep financial interest in the promotion of that cause, they are lobbying the public. The public don’t realise that so-called environmental groups are actually in it for the money, for themselves or for their clients. How is that going to be controlled?
Mark Adams: Mr Chope, I am very pleased to report that the Minister didn’t suggest extending it into that area. I think it is worrying enough when governments try to regulate the people who are lobbying them. The Government and you people around this table-you are supposed to listen to us. We are supposed to make our representations and you weigh them up. That is your duty, to weigh them up.
The idea that governments start regulating how we go about lobbying you, to me is a deeply, deeply worrying development in a democracy; I can hardly believe that of a Conservative-led government. At the end of Margaret Thatcher’s reign 20 years ago, the idea that a Conservative-led government would be seriously considering restrictions on the freedom of the press, and restrictions on the right to lobby, would have been unbelievable. But that is exactly what we have from a Conservative-led government now, and I find that astonishing.
Mark Ramsdale: Again, I was going to talk about how the best lobbyists out there are the newspapers-the fact that they can have huge sway over Members of Parliament by influencing the general public. I think campaign legislation exists already. Certainly there are rules about campaigning, being honest and forthright with members of the public, and there is a sense that transparency right across the piece is required and that lobbying is just one part of the democratic process. Essentially, that needs to be brought up to the same levels of transparency.
Q92 Mr Chope: So why are we doing this at all? Do you agree that this is an area where the Government is talking about more regulation when we don’t need any more regulation at all?
Mark Ramsdale: It is talking about less regulation, because it is only talking about having a statutory register of consultancy bodies. The self-regulatory element of the UK Public Affairs Council, for example, which brings together the codes of conduct and rules on transgressions and sanctions against those that transgress, is more stringent that the Cabinet Office proposals. They would be best served by listening to those in the industry and others, those that are critical, because we come together on this with greater transparency and more regulation.
Q93 Mr Chope: Let me distinguish between what you might describe as self-regulation, which is a private matter, and government legislative regulation, under which the Government is supposedly committed to reduce regulation and interference in our lives. Yet this seems to be going completely in the opposite direction.
Mark Ramsdale: I don’t see the reason why it couldn’t say there must be a regulatory body out there that is self-funding, and it is within the Secretary of State’s gift to award the regulatory regime to that body at no cost to the taxpayer.
Q94 Mr Chope: But in a sense, for those who participate in the game of cricket, you could describe the rules as self-regulation but we wouldn’t say that the rules of cricket are part of a regulatory burden. This is a private thing. As lobbyists, if you want to regulate yourselves and set up your own rulebook and then introduce your own private sanctions that people comply with, then that is a matter for you. It is nothing to do with the Government or with the state or with statute and legislation.
Mark Ramsdale: I agree. As a cricket fan, I am disheartened when players do transgress from those rules. Thankfully they are being taken to task, and I think self-regulation within this industry could do exactly the same thing.
Mark Adams: That is a very important question, because I said at the start that I believe in effective regulation of lobbying. I just believe it should be self-regulation and I think that is because we can offer a better professional service to our clients by being effectively regulated, so our clients can see that we behave in a certain professional way.
Something is deeply worrying-the more I read about this consultation paper, the more worried I get. For example, the way that the Government have disapplied the moratorium on new domestic regulation for micro-businesses that it announced in a fanfare for a three-year period, and it says, "As a significant proportion of the lobbying industry is made up of sole operators and micro-businesses, the Government has disapplied the moratorium to these proposals". I used to work in government on SME policy, and 98% of businesses in all walks of life are small businesses. So if it can be disapplied in this case, that fanfare three-year moratorium, frankly, isn’t worth the paper that the Chancellor’s speech was written on at that particular party conference.
Mr Chope: Thank you very much for making that point.
Q95 Mr Turner: I must say that I feel a sense of disagreement with Christopher Chope, which is unusual for me, because he was talking about people in general. I don’t think it is people in general. You know the lady who used to run The Sun, I have forgotten her name.
Chair: Rebekah Wade.
Mr Turner: Thank you, yes. It appears she has been given a horse to look after by the Metropolitan Police. I am trying to work out whether anyone is lobbying. I realise it is not the Government’s intention that they should control the Metropolitan Police’s lobbyists, but would she be the sort of person who should be covered?
Mark Adams: Mr Turner, I am tempted to quote the Minister himself in an event that I attended that he spoke at yesterday, when he said, "Lord Leveson is looking at matters like that and is much better qualified than I to come to a conclusion". That is how I feel on this. There clearly are very important issues to do with the relationship between the media and public bodies. Clearly the media, in my view, do lobby, so there is an overlap in these proposals, but I think I have enough to worry about in thinking about the lobbying profession not to concern myself too much about the way the media is operating, mindful that someone much cleverer than I, in the shape of Lord Leveson, is looking into those matters.
Mark Ramsdale: I have nothing more to add on that. I think that is a very good point.
Q96 Mr Turner: You are saying that she is being dealt with by someone else?
Mark Adams: What I am saying is that Lord Leveson’s inquiry is obviously looking into the relationship between the media and public bodies-and, indeed, between the media and society more generally. I would expect the proposals to come out of that to cover the issues that you are concerned about. However it takes this consultation forward, I wouldn’t be expecting the Government to concern itself with a matter like that.
Q97 Mr Turner: No. But what I am trying to work out is what is lobbying. I suppose I am following Simon Hart’s case, but what is lobbying? Does it include-
Mark Adams: On one level it is very, very simple and then the complexity, as very often in life, is how you then apply that very, very simple definition.
In my view, lobbying is an attempt, directly or indirectly, to influence public policy as set by public bodies, be they European Union bodies, national governments, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, or indeed local councils. All that is within the definition of "lobbying", and I say it very explicitly, directly or indirectly. So clearly, the media have a role to play within that. After all, what did The Sun headline very famously say the day after the 1992 election? They clearly thought they were lobbying.
Clearly therefore, any proposals that are dealing with lobbyists need to be mindful of the role of the media in that. Frankly, what I am saying is that I think the issues thrown up by the media are more serious. They are clearly more serious. What are we talking about in terms of the so-called lobbying scandals? We are talking about one or two naive-in my view-lobbyists, who have made a bit ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims to undercover journalists. In the case of the media, we are talking about people who have hacked into the voicemail of a murdered teenager. The scale of the problem is massively different. I have no interest myself in straying into that very complex area-a very important and, in my view, much more serious area that is being dealt with very effectively by the Leveson inquiry.
Q98 Mr Turner: But you have illustrated how she was lobbied.
Mark Adams: Whatever the specifics of that case are, the media in general is an important part of the lobbying world.
Mark Ramsdale: Yes. I agree with that. The issue of the definition is fundamental to anything that we are trying to achieve. I endorse Mark’s comments.
The UK Public Affairs Council definition-and you can argue that, having worked for the UK Public Affairs Council, I would endorse this-is "Lobbying means, in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the UK Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence".
Within that, newspapers would be caught or certainly those working for newspapers would be caught. They would become in-house lobbyists, but I think there are things around newspapers and media, and so on, that Lord Leveson is looking at that are best suited to that inquiry and on campaigning, for example, as well. That is best suited there. If we are talking about those that are lobbying as we understand it-we know when we see it. That is the issue. We understand a lobbyist when we see one. But when you try to write it down and include exemptions about constituents who have an absolute fundamental right to lobby, then it gets difficult, particularly in the statutory regime where it has to be enforceable.
Q99 Chair: If I can just draw us back from horses and cricket, back towards golf and rugby league. Mark Ramsdale, why can’t Members of Parliament who are interested in a particular subject use their own resources and their staff resources and club together and, if they really are interested in a particular subject, organise themselves to be a parliamentary group? Why do they need your good offices to do that?
Mark Ramsdale: I think it is purely this: Members of Parliament like to serve their constituents. Parliamentary groups bring together Members of Parliament from all sides from both Houses on a particular issue. It would be inappropriate to use public money to work on an issue that they may be personally interested in, or based on their constituency. It is appropriate that parliamentary groups exist to facilitate the opportunity for outside bodies to come together to discuss issues that, perhaps, a select committee or a debate can’t achieve under the auspices of either House.
Q100 Chair: Isn’t it very appropriate that Members of Parliament use the public resources in order to pursue issues of importance and interest? It may well be that in this instance rugby league is a very significant issue for many Members of Parliament. It has economic consequences as well. Is that not undermined by Members saying, "Well, we will leave the organisation of this all-party group to someone who is, firstly, not a Member of Parliament and, secondly, is a professional lobbyist"? Doesn’t that immediately raise questions that are frankly unnecessary? If there is nothing untoward, nothing going on, why on earth go into that territory?
Mark Ramsdale: The first thing to say is that parliamentary groups are led by Members of Parliament. They simply don’t have the time to administer them, nor do their offices. MPs’ staff are employed to work on constituency issues and bespoke pieces of research related to issues that the Members of Parliament is interested in-be that debates, questions, motions and so on.
The fact is that a well-administered parliamentary group is run by the Members; the secretariat simply facilitates the action. It may provide counsel, but it acts as a conduit for information to get to Members. In terms of other lobbying practice, a public affairs practitioner-sorry to use that term; I haven’t been around as long as Mark, so I stick to the new terms-is able to pull together the sheer volume of information on a particular issue, and that is where Members of Parliament get the best out of parliamentary groups.
Q101 Chair: You don’t think you are possibly risking a conflict of interest being both an administrator of a particular all-party group and potentially having interests outside of Parliament, which you may seek to represent formally or informally-not at the bottom of the ruck, but in the bar afterwards, perhaps?
Mark Ramsdale: I would say that there isn’t a great deal of lobbying that would go on relating to a game, for example, but I am employed by the sport’s governing body, the RFL. The members of the group took the opinion that that would be an appropriate vehicle through which the group might be funded. I drafted a 10-page constitution for the group, which makes quite clear that, if any funding were to be accepted, the members of the group decide where it comes from and, in fact, have turned funding down when it was considered inappropriate. If you look at the secretariat support that is provided to a range of groups, they usually are some sort of charitable interest-a governing body, whatever it might be-and I think they are the most appropriate vehicles.
Q102 Chair: I don’t know whether lobbying is the next big scandal, but certainly the use of all-party groups may be the next area of interest for people who are looking for difficulties in the lobbying field. If self-regulation is to work, it may be an area where you and your colleagues want to have another look at how all that works, so that you do not have any semblance of a conflict of interest. I am sure there isn’t any, but that may be something you want to have a think about.
Back to the golf course then, Mark. The Public Administration Committee in 2009 said that, "Some of the concerns that exist around improper influence are closely linked to the power of informal networks of friendships and relationships". So, once again, not tapping up the Cabinet Secretary as he is about to make his knee-trembling four-foot putt on the 18th, but nonetheless congratulating him on the 19th hole over a beer on successfully holing that putt, it never entered your mind to have conversations about issues of national importance that were on your mind and perhaps on his, too?
Mark Adams: Chairman, let me begin by saying that I reread-very brave of me-all 80 pages or so of the Public Administration Select Committee’s first report on lobbying in the previous Parliament, and it reminded me that they looked very hard, over the course of extensive evidence, to find any wrongdoing. It goes to Mr Hart’s question at the start. For example, to quote from it, "In essence, because secret lobbying by its very nature leaves no evidence trail, there could still be a significant problem even with little concrete evidence of one".
In other words, it said, "We have not been able to find any evidence of wrongdoing but we kind of think that it would-" and it is true, isn’t it, if there is wrongdoing they are not going to shout it from the rooftops. But, frankly, I don’t think that is good enough. I don’t think it is good enough to say, "Because people would hardly declare that they are acting wrongly, it still exists even though we couldn’t find it". In my view, the other main conclusion from that report is that they said multi-client agencies weren’t the problem with the lobbying profession, which of course is precisely the route that the Government is going down with this statutory register.
As it happens, to answer the question directly, I am going to give you an unusually open insight into how lobbying works in practice. I am not offering to do this permanently and regularly, but I think in my relationship with the Cabinet Secretary, when he was Cabinet Secretary-actually, he may have been Permanent Secretary to the Treasury at the time-I only ever had one direct conversation with him on behalf of a client, and that was at the explicit instruction of that client against my advice. They wanted me to convey a message. I rang Sir Gus and I said, "I have been instructed to make this call on behalf of a client. I would ask that you listen while I make this point, and at the end of it I don’t expect you to comment in any way at all", and I made-
Q103 Chair: You had that sort of access to the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, did you?
Mark Adams: I didn’t get through him to immediately; I don’t have his mobile telephone number on my phone.
Q104 Chair: But you set up a call?
Mark Adams: I am not going to reveal the client-I am happy to write privately to the Committee, if you would find it useful-but it was a client that had very serious relations with government. I was able to place that call, not because of who I was but who they were. I think that is the legitimate point, and we keep saying this. It is about our clients, and they had a perfectly open and perfectly important and natural relationship at senior levels with government. They just happened to want me to be the one who made the call, despite the fact that I advised against it. If that conversation has to take place someone has to make the call, and I have always said, does it really matter if they subcontract the making of the call to someone outside?
You have to ask the client whether they asked me to do it because they thought that, as it was me and I played golf with Gus, he would listen to me more than he would listen to them. My advice, which is why I told them not to instruct me to do that, was that it <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>would make not the blindest bit of difference. Sure enough, at the end of the conversation he said, "Well, thank you, Mark. You did say at the start of this that you didn’t expect me to comment. I won’t comment, but I hear what you say". I remain convinced to this day that the advice I gave that client-that I should not have been instructed to make that call-remains the correct advice.
To my recollection, that is the only time I ever had a direct conversation with Gus O’Donnell on behalf of a client. Of course we talked about political issues. Of course we talked in the same way that all of us, when we get together in the bars, will gossip about politics. For me, it is a fascinating subject and I love talking about it. I love boring my friends to death about it. But having a direct conversation with him about an issue on behalf of a client, I did once and only once.
Q105 Chair: I am very impressed with your ability to access the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. We have about 150 years’ worth of parliamentary experience around the table; I don’t know how many times any parliamentary colleague, any elected Member of Parliament, has ever had that sort of direct access by phone to the Permanent Secretary. No one is taking me up on the offer, so I suspect you have better access than we do.
Mark Adams: Chairman, the point I made in my answer was that the access came not because of who I was but who the client was. That is the important thing, the client-
Chair: We all have some very important clients, Mr Adams. We don’t just sit here twiddling our thumbs. We try to represent our constituents-
Mark Adams: Of course.
Chair: -and the national politics on some very important issues, including deficit reduction or going to war, but I certainly have never had that access directly to the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, so I congratulate you on your portfolio.
Mark Adams: As I say, it is my client at the time you should be congratulating. I am happy to pass that on to them. As I say, I am happy to write to the Committee with further details on a confidential basis about that particular case.
Q106 Chair: Do you think Sir Gus will have fewer golfing partners this coming year than he did when he was Cabinet Secretary?
Mark Adams: I would fully expect him to have more.
Q107 Chair: More? Okay, excellent.
Back to Mark Ramsdale. You were the Executive Secretary of the UK Public Affairs Council, and you met with Cabinet Office officials at least three times. Could you tell us the purpose of those meetings, and did you make any suggestions as to what should or should not be included in the statutory register?
Mark Ramsdale: To deal with the last point first, no. On the initial part of the question, it was essentially an opportunity to share experience. The whole point of meetings with the official was to provide the benefit of that experience, to share the research and the <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>implementation work that we had done, so they could better understand the technical issues and other logistical issues should they wish to take forward a statutory register.
Q108 Chair: Back to Mark Adams. Mark, now Stephen has joined us-Stephen Williams is a Lib Dem. I wonder if we can give him the opportunity of hearing part of the answer you suggested earlier, about why we have this in front of us-because the Lib Dems did not anticipate coming into power and it was in their manifesto and it was a bit of a giveaway for the Tories in the coalition. He may appreciate hearing your line of rationale on that one.
Mark Adams: Chairman, I think you have summarised my answer very succinctly-better than I put it originally.
Chair: Perhaps Stephen might want to follow up on that?
Stephen Williams: All I would say, Chairman, is that my party and myself have a long history of being patronised by people who think we are of no consequence, and perhaps they regret their words now.
Chair: I think you are slightly affronted, Stephen, but is there anything specific that you want to take up with Mr Adams?
<?oasys [cn ?>Stephen Williams: No.
Q109 Fabian Hamilton: I noticed on your website this morning that you faced 150 15 to 16-year-olds at Grey Coat Hospital, a fabulous school in central London. At the end of your very short piece on the website you say, "Do you think the line of questioning I will get this morning from Members of Parliament will be more sensible than that from the girls?" What is your conclusion?
Mark Adams: I mentioned that exact point to the girls, and promised them that I would feed back the answer to that very question. With the greatest respect to this esteemed Committee and to be fair to the girls-it was a citizenship course, and they were all very engaged-I probably should give that answer first to the girls and then write subsequently to the Committee.
Q110 Fabian Hamilton: We can read it on your website, I assume?
Mark Adams: Or you can read it on my website.
Chair: We look forward to that letter, Mark. Gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. That has been very helpful. Thank you so much for your time. It has illuminated our inquiry. Thank you for coming.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Elizabeth France CBE, Chair, UK Public Affairs Council, gave evidence.
Q111 Chair: Hello, Elizabeth. How are you?
Elizabeth France: Hello. I am well, thank you, Chairman.
Chair: Excellent. Welcome to the Committee.
Elizabeth France: Thank you for the opportunity to expand on our written evidence and to answer any questions you might have.
Q112 Chair: You are very welcome indeed. Would you like to give us a couple of minutes’ opening remarks?
Elizabeth France: Yes. Just a tiny bit about my background, really, to make clear that I have no past or present involvement in the lobbying industry as such. A major part of my career was as a Home Office civil servant. I resigned from the Home Office in 1994 when I was appointed as Data Protection Registrar. I spent eight years as Data Protection Registrar and Information Commissioner, a further eight years after that as an Ombudsman, dealing first with telecommunications and then, additionally, with energy and surveying.
Since then I have had a number of non-executive directorships, of which chairmanship of the United Kingdom Public Affairs Council is one. I was appointed after a search by Ellwood and Atfield in the spring/summer of 2010, and I took up post on 1 July 2010, along with two other independent directors-I think this is very important-Sir Roger Sands and George Kidd. We were brought in as the last piece of the jigsaw, for the creation of something that was more than simply an industry body or a group of industry bodies getting together. We provided the independent element, the UKPAC.
During the period between the search for independent directors and our appointment, there was a change in direction, in that we had originally been appointed to assist the industry to respond to PASC recommendations. By the time I was appointed on 1 July, we had the coalition Government and a commitment to a statutory register, which slightly changed the emphasis and probably the mood of those of us who were trying to get the new organisation launched.
I am happy to answer questions about how we function as we go through, but if we get to the main issues, which are critical for all of us, about where we are going, what the future for lobbying is and where the Government proposals take us, I want to start by picking up the use of the term "regulation", which I keep hearing. I see no proposals for regulation in this consultation, and I think it is important that we make that clear. A register on its own is not regulation. A register on its own provides transparency, but as a former Information Commissioner who is very keen on transparency, I would say you need to say, "Well, what step does that lead to?" Transparency on its own must take you somewhere.
So I would want to say that we, as UKPAC, would expect to see some link from that transparency to some forms of code of practice. You might be able to create-and I would be content to see created-a self-regulation linked to a broader-based shallow register, with information about everybody who meets the definition and makes clear on that register whether they subscribe to any self-regulating code. That might be a way forward that doesn’t actually involve statutory regulation, but does involve a statutory requirement to be open. That is the first of my points.
The second is the definition itself, which has been talked about by Mark Adams and Mark Ramsdale. The UKPAC definition is one that was worked on for many, many months before I took up post and is one that we have found difficult to better. It wasn’t drafted by parliamentary counsel and, as it stands, it wouldn’t be fit simply to slip into a piece of legislation. But the key thing I would want to emphasise is that it defines lobbying, not lobbyists. It is the activity that we need to be open about and then we can decide whether there are exemptions for certain people who practise it, but first we have to know what it is and what the definition is.
Our definition makes it clear that it has to be done professionally for a fee and be a substantive part of somebody’s job; I am paraphrasing. So, definition is key. If it is going to be a statutory register, then the definition also has to be enforceable, so it can’t have the soft edges one might like in a self-regulating system because there must be some way of ensuring that everybody who should be on a register is on it.
So definition, scope-I cannot understand the narrowness of the approach. It seems to me that, across the whole spectrum of people commenting, the idea that this should be limited to multi-agency lobby firms makes little sense. It makes little sense for a number of reasons, not only the reasons you heard expressed already-that the larger firms will be the ones with in-house lobbyists and they might be spending more on lobbying. Our view would be, if you have somebody there whose primary job is lobbying, whose job description says that is what they do, they should be included in the register. Although it is also important to think that, if we are going to have transparency, and if we look for what the issue is that we are trying to address, then we can only assume that while it is important to shine a light in dark corners, on the whole most people behave properly most of the time.
So if you are going to take a step it must be a step to address those who are not behaving, who are at the edges of the activity. If you design a system where, when you shine the light in the corner, you find a hole has already been dug and the people have disappeared it is not very much help. My worry is that there would be all sorts of ways of getting round the requirement to register, if it only applied to the third-party agencies and not to in-house lobbyists. For example, what is to stop a large firm, who didn’t want it to be known that they were lobbying, from asking one of the agencies to second staff to them for six months? Do they become in-house? All those sorts of difficult issues would arise. It would not be straightforward. If we are going to have a statutory register, it needs to be straightforward, it needs to be simple, it needs to be enforceable, and it needs to cover everybody who meets the definition.
Q113 Fabian Hamilton: In 2010, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said that lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen. Do you think that the proposed statutory register, which you have given us an introduction to, will avert such a scandal and help to rebuild trust in British politics?
Elizabeth France: It can’t do it on its own because it is simply a register. As I say, there is no regulation attached to it. There is no requirement to commit to codes of practice or to any guiding principles, such as the UKPAC already has in place. But transparency is a means to an end. As I say, a few years ago we might have argued about the extent to which publication schemes or FOI requests might help our democracy. I believe they have done. So I believe transparency is important, but it does not on its own stop the problem. It gives information to allow people to ask further questions.
Q114 Fabian Hamilton: UKPAC has run a voluntary register for some time now. Is that right?
Elizabeth France: It has sought to run a voluntary register for some time. Only on 15 February this year-that is, a couple of weeks ago-have we launched a register that we think works well and that we would invite you to look at. We would invite you to look at it because we think it provides an example of what you could do. It is limited in scope. It is limited in scope because, as you are aware, we are now including members of CIPR and APPC but not PRCA, and because it is on a voluntary basis we are not currently open to other lobbyists to put their information on the register.
Q115 Fabian Hamilton: Could you just enlighten us as to what those initials stand for?
Elizabeth France: Yes, I am sorry. I shall probably get it wrong now, shan’t I? I shall need help. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is the CIPR. The Association of Professional-I shall have to look up my notes. I am sorry about that. I am hopeless at acronyms.
Q116 Fabian Hamilton: It is all right. They are basically professional bodies?
Elizabeth France: Yes. The three professional bodies; I have the details of the acronyms in here.
Fabian Hamilton: Don’t worry if you don’t have them.
Elizabeth France: The three professional bodies that came together to form UKPAC. We have two of them now in place, and those two have their members now on there. But the reason I would invite you to look at the register is that I think that it gives you an idea of what a universal register could look like.
Q117 Fabian Hamilton: What were the problems you encountered, though? What lessons could the Government learn from that?
Elizabeth France: When Mark Ramsdale was asked what he was sharing with the Cabinet Office, we were trying to share some of our pain with them in that it wasn’t as straightforward as I think we had perhaps thought it would be at first. To start with, we had incredibly limited resources and with those resources we wanted to set up a searchable register online.
What we had not appreciated was that this was not a straightforward exercise. So we under-specified what was needed and the IT response was inadequate. It took us a little while to realise that, to say, "This is not good enough", to go back out to the market to find a new provider and to deliver what we now think-and I know it has only been up for less than a month-does work, and does show you what could be done.
It could be expanded to include people outside the professional bodies that are members; it could be expanded to include individuals, but the point is that the vehicle is now there and you can search it. You can search it by looking at "client", by looking at "employer", by looking at "lobbyist" and it is the beginnings of what we think could be a vehicle that could meet the needs for a statutory register.
Q118 Fabian Hamilton: Finally, did the withdrawal of PRCA damage the credibility of UKPAC?
Elizabeth France: I think that is for others to judge. It was disappointing for us. The industry properly took huge credit for coming together. For the three main trade bodies to come together, to agree to have three independent directors, to agree a common definition and to agree some guiding principles, was a huge step forward. So it is disappointing to me that the PRCA chose to leave, particularly as they chose to leave at the point at which we had just commissioned the new IT provider for the new register and therefore were at the point, we believed, of delivering something that could take us forward.
Q119 Fabian Hamilton: You don’t think the register is damaged, though, by PRCA?
Elizabeth France: The register is clearly damaged to the extent that it now covers fewer people, but I believe what we are trying to do at this stage in the process, given that we have launched it during the consultation process, is to demonstrate to you, and to others who are interested, what a statutory register might look like, because if it were statutory everybody would have to be on it. Who runs that in the future is a separate question. I wanted to show proof of concept, and I think that is what we have been able to do.
Q120 Sheila Gilmore: I wanted to pursue a bit further this distinction between registration, with the transparency it can provide, and regulation. Is it possible that the public is going to end up being quite dissatisfied with the outcomes of processes because their expectations have been raised in all this discussion about somehow controlling lobbying, and so on?
Elizabeth France: As I say, I don’t think that there is anything in the consultation paper that suggests the legislation is going to control lobbying. If the Committee was minded to think of ways of controlling lobbying-if that is what is thought to be necessary-then again I would say that you are looking at different pieces in a mosaic and there is push and pull. So, it is back to ministerial codes of practice, MPs’ registers of interest and FOI requests, and all of those coming together to give you the information you need rather than looking to the register on its own.
If there is anybody out there who is expecting the register to deliver any more than a full list and explanation of who is lobbying, who their clients are, and whether they sign up to any particular professional body’s code of conduct, then they will clearly be disappointed. But I am not sure who is looking for that.
Q121 Sheila Gilmore: The point I was making was that the professionals might know that is not the case, perhaps politicians as well, but in the wider context of discussion, where lobbying has been seen as a bad thing or something that has to be dealt with, we may end up with a process that does not really satisfy anybody very much and may be quite an expensive process.
I have an example. It is a different situation, but in Scotland we introduced, about four or five years ago now, a register of landlords. The effort of just even putting the register together has dominated, to the extent that, although there is provision-it does go slightly further than just transparency and there is provision for people having to satisfy a fit and proper person test-somehow there has never been the time or the resource to really achieve that.
Elizabeth France: My experience of 20 months as Chair of UKPAC would echo that. I thought my time was going to be spent doing the things that are the other key roles of the organisation, which involve, for example, an audit of their complaints handling processes and looking at promoting best practice in lobbying, but in fact in our first year we have been entirely taken up with trying to get the register itself sorted out. I would like to think that once we have done that-particularly as we have now designed a register where it is in effect self-registration, so that the accuracy of the data is in the hand of the registrant-that the amount of time we have to spend as a body on that is reduced and time could be given for these other things. But these other things are not included in the Government’s proposal.
The other thing I would want to stress is the unintended consequence of the Government’s proposal could be that you get less self-regulation. Let’s assume there is a fee to pay to join the statutory register, and you are a small lobbying firm and you have to decide whether you can afford both to go on the statutory register, which you must go on, and join a professional body that has a professional set of standards and a code of practice you must adhere to. If we are not careful, the second is going to become a luxury and we are going to end up with fewer people. I hope this doesn’t happen. It would be quite the wrong outcome. But an unintended consequence could be that you get fewer people signing up to bodies that have ethical standards and codes of practice, which their members must comply with because they are obliged to sign up to and pay to be on the statutory register.
Q122 Sheila Gilmore: Do you think it would be possible to link in some way, even the form of statutory register that is being suggested here, with an obligation to comply to a code of practice?
Elizabeth France: Yes. I think it would. It would be more costly and it would turn into regulation. There are a number of ways of doing it. As I suggested at the beginning, one way would be to have a hybrid where the register showed whether a particular entrant on the register was signed up to a code of practice, which code of practice and who enforced it. So if you were a member of the APPC or the CIPR, or perhaps if you were a lawyer regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority but you were a public affairs consultant, maybe you could put that on the register and then it would be clear to people which body was making sure you behaved ethically and held you to account.
We have a set of guiding principles. An alternative would be to beef up that set of guiding principles and to require anybody, any individual signing up to the register, to comply with those. Additionally, perhaps they would also want to show, because those will never be as detailed, that they comply with a set of standards from a professional body.
So I think it is possible to create a hybrid of that kind, but we need to be clear which we are doing. Is the register just a register? If so, is one of things that should go on the register membership of a body that has a set of standards that is enforceable, or is the register simply for transparency, or is it the beginning of regulation and, therefore, of a bigger construct with more teeth? That is not something I have seen justified, either by the behaviour that is being addressed or by any justification for going against what I think is otherwise the direction of government policy in relation to regulation.
Q123 Mr Chope: On a technical point, surely setting up a statutory register is itself an act of regulation, because it is placing a burden on the people who would be obliged to sign up to the register?
Elizabeth France: Yes. To an extent I accept that. It is just I didn’t want people to think that it was doing more than exposing information. It is not actually setting any standards.
Q124 Mr Chope: But in terms of the Government’s deregulation agenda, it flies right against that. Can I take you back to the days when you were the Data Protection Registrar and the Information Commissioner? Were you ever lobbied then?
Elizabeth France: That is an interesting thing, isn’t it-were we ever lobbied? As a public body, we had consultations and we received responses to consultations and people who came to see us. I don’t think I ever asked them whether they had been briefed by lobbying companies, so that is quite interesting. You would have people coming to talk to you.
The key example I have, where I suppose you would call it lobbying but it was very open, was when I was proposing a code of practice in relation to personnel management and the use of personal data by employers. I had a number of meetings with the CBI and with the trade unions, who took different views of the code of practice, which was within my gift because it was within the framework legislation. But it was transparent because it was the CBI and the TUC. So yes, I have been on the receiving end of people who had clear views on policy issues that I was taking forward.
Q125 Mr Chope: But you had initiated the agenda?
Elizabeth France: Yes.
Q126 Mr Chope: Were you ever lobbied on what should be or not be on your agenda?
Elizabeth France: Oh, goodness me. I can’t recall any instances at the moment. The big picture is such that there were key areas that we looked at during my time in office. The amendment of the law entirely, of course, but the lobbying there was of government rather than of us when we moved from the 1984 Act to the 1998 Act. There was a lot of industry concern there about the changes that would be brought by an EU directive, but that was lobbying of government. As Information Commissioner, I had to take an independent view on individual cases, and the only times that I was consulting was on codes of practice that were new under the 1998 Act. The key one I recall is that one on employment.
Q127 Mr Chope: It was in fact government lobbying that I was interested in. When you were in that role you were lobbied by the Government?
Elizabeth France: No. I wasn’t lobbied by the Government. The Government were looking to change legislation. I was a Crown appointment and I was the servant of the legislation. When we moved from the 1984 Act to the 1998 Act, my powers changed because the statute changed, but I was a creature of that statute so they certainly weren’t lobbying me. Of course we did spend a lot of time in Europe, where data protection registrars and information commissioners took a professional view on what was practical, but we were in different committees from ministers who were debating the directives.
Q128 Mr Chope: But you were the independent Information Commissioner. Are you saying that on no occasion did you ever have a conversation with government officials or government ministers saying, "Elizabeth, couldn’t you do a little bit more in this direction or not do so much in that direction?"
Elizabeth France: There is a very fine line to be drawn, and I am now chairman of an Ombudsman’s service where the same thing applies. When you have a quasi-judicial role, as you have with Information Commissioner and with Ombudsman, it is perfectly proper for government to look at the way you are spending public money and to set key performance indicators. It is not for government to tell you how to use the powers you have to enforce the substance of the law, and I was never lobbied in that regard.
There were occasions when I had issues with ministers about their use of personal data, as indeed you will be aware. It is over 10 years since I was Information Commissioner. You are reminding me of the fact that I had debates over identity cards with the then Home Secretary, where we tried to take a very professional and objective view, but where it was clear that we disagreed with the view of the then Home Secretary.
Q129 Mr Chope: Do you think that, to try to promote transparency, any register of lobbyists should also apply to government, where the Government, either itself or through intermediaries, seeks to lobby independent public bodies such as the Information Commissioner?
Elizabeth France: That is very interesting, isn’t it, because the Information Commissioner doesn’t make policy; the Information Commissioner interprets policy and takes an independent approach to taking decisions in individual cases. I understand what you are saying, and I can think of some examples where it is important for there to be transparency, but I am not sure that a lobbying register is the way to do it.
FOI publication schemes are there for all government departments; all government departments give lists of key meetings; minutes of meetings are published. These are public bodies caught by the FOI Act. When I talked about different things in the mosaic, we have to run horses for courses. I think pushing further, on some of the other things there to ensure proper transparency in relation to public bodies, is the way to go, not to expect a register to deal with that.
Q130 Mr Chope: Being caught by the FOI Act is very different. That is not transparency, because you need to know the right question to ask before you can get the information.
Elizabeth France: Not if publication schemes are working properly, because publication schemes will give you, as a register does, the baseline data on which to ask your further questions.
Q131 Mr Chope: Just a final question, Chairman. On 16 January this year, two Cabinet ministers and one senior minister had an exercise in lobbying of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. This was private, off the record, designed to influence the Parliamentary Standards Authority to take a particular course of action, which in the end they did-bowed to government pressure.
How do you think that sort of incident can be brought out into the open, the transparency created, leaving aside the propriety of whether it is right that government ministers should lobby an independent body in that way?
Elizabeth France: If we are talking about ministers, then ministers should be indicating what meetings they have had and with whom, which helps you ask the right questions. You can’t look for something that will provide the answers to everything. You can try to make sure that the baseline level of information is such that further questions can be asked. In that context, if ministers have gone to see a public body that should be clear from their engagements, which should be published, which should allow further questions to be asked, and then can allow you to frame the question that you want to ask under the FOI Act if you seek to do so.
We can’t try to stretch all the bits of machinery we have to cover every issue that arises. We have to look at all the different pieces and try to make them work together. If there is a gap in the middle here, and if that gap in the middle is that we don’t know who out there is doing lobbying, and if that is a feeling that is reflected by the public, then we need to have a better register. It needs, though, to be universal because otherwise all the things you are talking about, you have cracks all over the place that people fall through. So you need something as broad based as possible and it is then the trigger for further, more detailed questions or the use of other powers that already exist.
Chair: Talking about stretching the machinery, you have just answered questions from one of the experts in the parliamentary field on that. Working in that last question was ingenious, Chris. Congratulations.
Q132 Stephen Williams: I go back to your answers to Fabian, where you used the phrase "professional bodies and professional institutions", and I think the previous witnesses used that phrase as well. To me, if you are a member of a profession-like the Law Society, the Institute of Chartered Accountants or the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which I am a member of-you have sat exams, you have been admitted to an institute, you have a certificate, there is a code of conduct and you have continuing professional education if you are doing consulting in practice. Is that a description of lobbying?
Elizabeth France: I can’t speak for the three bodies that you will be seeing later, but they do set standards for admission, they do have codes of conduct and they do take action against their members if they don’t comply with them. They all have slightly different sets of rules, but were all happy to sign up to the guiding principles that we established. But I think you would need to direct your questions to them, when you see them, about how effective that is and what their hurdles for admission are, if any.
Q133 Stephen Williams: Do you have a view on how high those hurdles for admission are?
Elizabeth France: I don’t think they should be high if what we are looking for is transparency. If you are doing the job, if you are qualified to do the job, then joining a body that is going to encourage you to be ethical in your behaviour, to continue with professional development, to go to training courses, to talk to your peers and to submit yourself to any code of conduct has to be a good thing.
Q134 Stephen Williams: How do you become qualified to do the job?
Elizabeth France: I am not a lobbyist, but I would imagine that you become qualified to do the job by getting appropriate experience and then proceeding in that way. I don’t think it is a profession like the law, where there is an exam that you would sit.
Q135 Stephen Williams: So it is more like being an estate agent, perhaps?
Elizabeth France: I wouldn’t want to comment.
Q136 Stephen Williams: From my right it was said, "Or being an MP". MPs are scrutinised-in my case, by 82,000 people in Bristol West. It is an oral examination conducted en masse, I would say. You mentioned that there may be codes of conduct that have to be adhered to. Can you think of any examples where someone has fallen foul of those self-devised codes of conduct and has been struck off? Indeed, is it possible to be struck off as a lobbyist, or blacklisted perhaps?
Elizabeth France: I think each of the bodies has the right to remove people from membership, but again you will have to ask them what their rules are. Mark Adams referred to the fact that he has made a complaint against Bell Pottinger, and that is currently being looked at by the PRCA. So that is an example that is in the public domain.
Q137 Stephen Williams: In the minutes that have been made available to us of your Council-specifically the ones from 17 November 2010-it refers to you dealing with a query from Imperial Tobacco, which is based in Bristol where I have my parliamentary seat. It was about questions they wished to be raised at your meeting with the Cabinet Office. What sort of worries did Imperial Tobacco have, and have you been approached by any other tobacco companies about their concerns over any regulation or transparency at all in this field?
Elizabeth France: Certainly not. If I recall, the question was a more general question about how we define lobbyists, was it not?
Q138 Stephen Williams: As I asked you, what were the concerns that Imperial specifically had, or indeed any other-
Elizabeth France: They simply wanted to know how broad a definition there was going to be of a lobbyist. I don’t actually recall, and I certainly have not spoken to Imperial Tobacco-neither have I taken up any cause for them, nor am I aware of anybody else contacting us. I think it was purely a query that was put through our Executive Secretary about breadth of definition, to which we didn’t have an answer.
Q139 Stephen Williams: In terms of the ethics of people who lobby, is it unethical to undermine the reputation of somebody who holds a particular view on behalf of a client?
Elizabeth France: On behalf of?
Stephen Williams: Well, on behalf of a client or on behalf of the interests of a client?
Elizabeth France: As I say, I am not a lobbyist. I have no experience of doing lobbying, but what we have in our guiding principles is a requirement to be accurate and honest, to show integrity and propriety, and those are defined in there. I think any misleading claims or misrepresentation of views would not only fail our guiding principles but would fail the requirements of any of the professional bodies.
Q140 Stephen Williams: Coming back to who is a lobbyist, I suppose is at the heart of all this. If we have a register of lobbyists, who would fall into that definition of a lobbyist? Should it include somebody who is either directly or indirectly engaged by a corporate interest in order to make comments in, say, online forums about a Member of Parliament who holds a particular view?
Elizabeth France: If we look at our definition, a lobbyist would have to be doing that if they were attempting to influence or advise a change policy. If that was their ultimate objective then that might be defined as lobbying. But I can think of other things they might be doing; it might be defamation. I don’t know what sort of situation you are thinking of. If it is a professional, and-we say, "Lobbying means, in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the UK Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures". If they see that as a means of doing that, it might be classed as lobbying, if it is an attempt to modify policy, to get some change in direction. But one would have to look at each case. If there is a complaint to be made about somebody, then it needs to be made and examined.
Q141 Andrew Griffiths: Elizabeth, could you tell us whether there is good lobbying and bad lobbying?
Elizabeth France: Would that the world were that simple. There is lobbying well done and professionally and lobbying that might not be so well done, and I think that is the point. It is not the subject matter; it is not whether I believe in a cause that makes something good or bad lobbying. It is has it been done in a professional way; has it been done with integrity; has it been done in a way that meets at least the guiding principles that we have set out; and has it been done-above all, in this conversation-with transparency and openness?
For example, I don’t believe in "good cause" exemptions from the register. Just because you are lobbying for a health charity, for example, that doesn’t mean you should be exempt. "Good cause" exemptions are a dangerous route because they require subjectivity. Your good cause might be my bad cause, so you have to be very careful in introducing that sort of subjectivity. Provided that you are not placing an undue burden on those who lobby, that the burden is evenly spread and that what we are asking for is transparency, then I see no reason why there should be any exemptions based on the nature of the lobbying.
Q142 Andrew Griffiths: Very good. That almost answered my second question, which is do you believe that there should be any difference between-I think Stephen used the phrase-a corporate lobbyist and a campaigning organisation, be that a charitable campaigning organisation, a voluntary campaigning organisation or a business engaged in lobbying on a specific subject? Should there be any difference?
Elizabeth France: I don’t think there should be any difference at all in terms of the requirement to register. It has to be universal; it has to be as broad as we can possibly make it. That doesn’t mean there could not be, if the Government so chose, a difference in view as, for example, to who pays what to be on the register and whether there should be exemptions from a fee.
To go back to my old role, although the Data Protection Register is slightly different now so I might be a little bit out of date: there is a fee for notification, but there are some exemptions. Therefore there is an ability to notify and the fee can be very low, so the two don’t necessarily go together. Requiring you to be on the register doesn’t necessarily mean everybody has to pay the same fee to be on there. So that is where you might go into your "good cause" exemptions if the Government chose to do so.
Q143 Andrew Griffiths: Elizabeth, just moving on a little. We read newspaper articles about concern over lobbying and we discuss in Parliament concern over lobbying. Do you think there is a public concern over lobbying?
Elizabeth France: Public concern is always very difficult to judge because, where an issue hits the headlines and people address what they believe to be the problem, then that is when you will see concern expressed.
It is quite clear that, with any of the recent issues that have led to concern about lobbyists, some would not have been caught by a register. If we go back to the earlier trigger, the one that involved Mr Byers, then it is most unlikely that a register would have helped except if you use the push and pull, which I might see as an enforcement possibility, that there would be a penalty for ministers who saw somebody who was not on the register. If you are looking for how do you make a register work, how are you going to make people go on it and how are you going to make ministers use it-just because there is a register it does not mean that you can’t see somebody who is not on the register-then that is the only way it would have affected that instance.
But if you ask me are the public generally concerned, I think the public are always concerned that there might be things happening that they are not aware of, so the more open we can be, generally across the way that our administration works, the better. Although that is not an end in itself, as I keep repeating, it then gives you the foundation stone on which to ask further questions if you are concerned. That seems to me a minimal level-if we want to call it "regulation"-of regulation, which is a stepping stone to asking further questions if there is concern.
Q144 Andrew Griffiths: If you went for statutory regulation, where does it stop? For instance, if a solicitor in my constituency asked to see a minister to raise an issue of concern for one of their clients, would they be lobbying? If a community group asked for a meeting with a minister and they represented 1,000 people who had signed a petition in my constituency, would they be lobbying? Where should the definition lie?
Elizabeth France: They would be lobbying, but they wouldn’t be somebody who was caught by our definition for inclusion on the register because we say that they have to be acting in a professional capacity, and they have to be providing-
Q145 Andrew Griffiths: But a solicitor would be acting in a professional capacity.
Elizabeth France: Who would be?
Andrew Griffiths: A solicitor acting on behalf of a client, who asks to see a Minister would be-
Elizabeth France: Yes. Provided it is a substantive or sustained part of their responsibilities. These would need to be better defined for statute than they are for a voluntary register, but our view would be: firstly, it has to be in a professional capacity; and secondly, it has to be a substantive and sustained part of their responsibilities. So if you are a partner in a big London firm of lawyers but your title is "public affairs consultant" then I think you are caught. If you are the local solicitor giving some guidance on a one-off issue, we might want to discuss what the threshold is before you are actually a lobbyist.
Q146 Andrew Griffiths: Just finally, Mr Chairman, if I may. What are the consequences of not being on a register with your voluntary code?
Elizabeth France: At the moment the consequences lie entirely with the bodies that I have referred to: the Association of Professional and Political Consultants and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. They will take any action they think appropriate if their members are not listed. It is difficult while it is voluntary. As I said, what we are trying to do at the moment is a proof of concept. Because this happened during a change of policy direction, then our view is that that is the important thing to do, to show it will work, to show what can be achieved by a register. Then if there is going to be some statutory framework placed around it, that is where you will get the powers of enforcement.
Q147 Andrew Griffiths: Is it not always the case, by definition you could argue, that those who are reputable and would act within a code will register, and those that are not as reputable and would perhaps act in a way that would not be satisfactory are the people who won’t register?
Elizabeth France: That will always be the case with any form of voluntary self-regulation. Unless there is a bar to practising in some way, which I don’t think you could achieve in lobbying, except, as I say, by trying to show almost by a form of kite mark on the register: who is a member of one of the three professional bodies or a member of something similar like the legal profession, then I don’t see any other way of doing that.
Q148 Simon Hart: A couple of quick ones, I hope, to finish off. Can you think of an example of a lobbying scandal-to use the Prime Minister’s description-that would have been avoided or could be avoided had there been a register in place, or the register as proposed, I should say?
Elizabeth France: These are always difficult questions, aren’t they, hypothetical questions. I think we have already shown that it is difficult to think of an example. The problem with this is that it is not so much the big scandal-although I appreciate that the Prime Minister said that he thought that there might be one coming down the track-as a general desire to improve the confidence of the public in the democratic process, and lobbying is a key part of the democratic process. If there is any question that there is concern that it isn’t as open as it should be, then there is justification for improving the transparency, but I am not aware of anything immediately that I can think of.
Q149 Simon Hart: In a sense the whole thing is hypothetical, isn’t it, because we are basing this whole discussion on a hypothetical threat. But anyway, we asked a previous witness a couple of weeks ago about evidence. We were trying to push for evidence, not opinion or anecdotal but actual evidence of where the public concern lay. A response that we have had subsequently refers to The Sunday Times YouGov poll, conducted in October 2011, which showed that over 50% of people think that lobbyists have too much influence in politics. I wonder what your view is on too much influence. If lobbyists didn’t have influence, I would not employ them, and I just wonder whether-
Elizabeth France: That is an example of a result that begs further questions, and the further questions would need to be asked before that could count as evidence. It seems to me that we would need to know what those people responding understood about the process of policymaking. It seems to me that the more information and good information is available, to those of you who legislate, the better the legislation we are likely to get. When you say, "Can there be too much?", I don’t think we should say there can be too much. So long as we know-that is the purpose of transparency-who is doing it, then that should help us to make the judgments.
Q150 Simon Hart: Sorry to talk in the hypothetical a bit, but do you have any views or evidence that support the view that, if there was a register, public confidence would improve and people’s view on what lobbyists did would be improved as a consequence? Is there any evidence out there that supports that argument?
Elizabeth France: No. We can only look back at other examples of where we will all have our own views of whether transparency has helped. We can go back to the 1970s and Parliament and people-the example was given to me the other day by one of my colleagues-taking fees for making speeches and it was decided that needed to be declared. However the activity carried on until we had the Nolan principles. You have an evolution there of something that I think people would look back and say, "Oh yes, the Nolan principles, they have been an important part of improving our idea of the standards required in public service".
Most of us who are public servants would say, "Yes, that has worked well for us". Whether at the time that seemed to be something that was going to improve our understanding of the process, I don’t know. It is the same with freedom of information-some people think it has been helpful, some people are critical of it, but actually on the whole public bodies are much more open now. You can read minutes of organisations on their websites; you have information if you want to ask further questions.
It is difficult to say, "Oh, we don’t need to do it because there is no problem". If there is any sense that there are dark corners, it seems to me there is no harm in shining the light. Whether we need to do it by a statutory structure, or whether we could improve self-regulation, is a matter for policy debate, and whether we need to do it in a way that includes further regulation is a matter for policy debate. But what I am quite clear about is, if we do it at all, it must add to what we have on a voluntary basis and it must be as broad as we can possibly make it.
Q151 Simon Hart: To finish, Chairman. The cynic in me thinks that over the last 20 years, each and every time we take a step in that direction, when it comes to openness and transparency and declaration of interests and all these other measures brought in, the graph that measures public confidence in Parliament and parliamentarians appears to be going in the opposite direction. That is an observation.
One last point. In earlier evidence, you suggested that UKPAC might be an organisation that could take responsibility for regulation as part of a statutory requirement that might be imposed by government. Obviously, there is some industry tension; there always is in these things. Do you have any strong views about whether UKPAC would be the only body, one of the bodies? How would you see that happening?
Elizabeth France: I think what we shall be proposing to government in our response-I shall be careful; this is not a view yet shared with all my directors, so perhaps I had better rephrase. My personal view at this stage is that there is no need to set up a separate statutory body to run even a statutory register. If one wants to, one can; there are costs involved.
I see no existing vehicle that would be a ready home. I would suggest a model that I have seen elsewhere of the Government setting up, if they are going to go ahead with this, the requirements for a statutory register, the requirements for a body delivering a statutory register, and that they invite people to come forward and offer to run it. If they did that, UKPAC would consider whether it would offer to do that, and see what changes to its governance structure were needed in order to meet whatever the Government requirements in the legislation were.
Q152 Chair: Elizabeth, you kindly sent us a memo saying you had had no discussion on policy relating to a register of lobbyists with the Cabinet Office. Is that still true?
Elizabeth France: Yes, it is true. Although, having said that, Mark Harper attended an event, a forum that we held last week, but that was an open forum that a wide range of people attended.
Q153 Chair: Isn’t it rather odd that UKPAC has not had policy discussions relating to a register of lobbyists?
Elizabeth France: I would say that it was. Going back to my days as a civil servant, I think I would have been recommending that ministers do the sort of consultation that is now going on after the proposals have been issued as a preparation to issuing them, but ministers deliberately chose not do to this; Mark Harper is quite clear that they decided not to do it.
When I went to see him in July 2010 with Sir Philip Mawer, which is the only meeting I had with him-which was when Sir Philip handed over the embryonic UKPAC to me and introduced me to the Minister-I had the impression that we would have a dialogue in the run-up to the delivery of the recommendations, but that was very early days. It was early July and when they reflected, the Cabinet Office took the view that they wanted to produce their consultation based on research that they were able to do themselves without engaging any of the stakeholders, and they are now doing that at this stage.
Provided the Minister and his officials listen to all the comments that are coming in, as the Minister says he is doing, then we may yet have proposals that add value. As things stand, I think that opportunities to benefit from what others have done, and what others have found difficult to do, were not taken up earlier.
Q154 Chair: So far, UKPAC have not spoken to the Cabinet Office about any of this stuff, and the Cabinet Office have not spoken to UKPAC about any of this stuff?
Elizabeth France: No. We had the meetings that Mark Ramsdale referred to between Mark Ramsdale and an official, which were to share some of our early learning. That was very early on. We have prepared, but not yet submitted, our full response to the consultation. I would hope once those responses are in, and the Government starts to consider those, that officials will want to talk to a number of us who will have put in substantive responses.
Q155 Chair: Looking at your website, I see there are minutes that record three meetings between the UKPAC Executive Secretary and Cabinet Office officials in September and October 2010 and in June 2011. Also, the minutes of UKPAC’s meeting on 17 November 2010 state, "The Executive Secretary should stress to the Cabinet Office our view that emphasis should be on regulation/transparency of the activity, not the entity carrying it out".
Elizabeth France: Yes.
Q156 Chair: Also, the minutes of the UKPAC meeting on 27 July 2011 state, "Executive Secretary to circulate a note to all board members on conversations with the Cabinet Office, immediately".
Elizabeth France: That was the June 2011 meeting that has already been referred to.
Q157 Chair: That strikes me as some very serious interaction with the Cabinet Office.
Elizabeth France: No, it was-
Q158 Chair: At that point, you managed to undertake those meetings without mentioning your policy in relation to a register of lobbyists.
Elizabeth France: This shows how transparent we are. The meeting between the Executive Secretary and the official-
Chair: We will see.
Elizabeth France: -in June 2011, and you have already spoken to Mark Ramsdale, was referred to by him orally at that meeting, and one of our directors was quite determined that if such a meeting had been held he wanted to know exactly what had been said. It was actually in order to make sure policy had not been discussed, because the view was that only directors ought to be discussing policy with the Cabinet Office.
Q159 Chair: So, on these five separate occasions of interaction with the Cabinet Office, there was no discussion of a register of lobbyists by UKPAC, which is meant to represent the lobbying industry?
Elizabeth France: No. When you say, "There was no discussion", we were discussing the practicalities. We did not try to suggest a policy way forward. We were never invited to. Although there is reference to where we thought there would be interaction, we were not then invited. We were prepared.
When I went in July 2010, I thought we were going to gear up to some serious debate about policy issues. We prepared for that. Indeed, we have a letter from Mark Harper agreeing that regular meetings between our Executive Secretary and his officials might be helpful. That was in July 2010. He then took a different view. So, although we were prepared for those discussions, we were never invited to share views on policy. What we did share views on were the practical difficulties that we were experiencing in getting a register up, in getting a definition that worked, in getting something that actually made sense.
Q160 Chair: So you distinguish between practical difficulties and policy related to the register?
Elizabeth France: Yes. We were simply trying to share our experience on what we were doing and what it was clear in the public space we were trying to do.
Q161 Chair: But using your words, you have nonetheless interacted with the Cabinet Office on possible difficulties, practical difficulties, related to a register?
Elizabeth France: At an executive level. No directors have had any discussion with ministers or officials.
Q162 Chair: From memory, I don’t recall the distinction between executive officers and directors in your memo.
Elizabeth France: In my memo? Yes. Well, it is quite clear. The Executive Secretary had meetings in September, October and June and I had a meeting in July 2010. Those are the meetings.
Chair: Do any colleagues have anything further to add on these issues? No. Elizabeth, thank you very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it. You have helped us considerably in our thoughts about the report we will write. Thank you so much.