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Political and Constitutional Reform Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 153
Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
on Thursday 26 April 2012
Mr Graham Allen (Chair)
Mr Christopher Chope
Mrs Eleanor Laing
Mr Andrew Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Dr Raj Chari, Lecturer in Political Science, Trinity College Dublin, and Author, Regulate Lobbying: A Global Comparison, and Rob McKinnon, Who’s Lobbying, gave evidence.
Q329 Chair: Rob and Raj, welcome to our Committee. As you know, we are in the middle of a long-running evidence-taking session on lobbying and we are looking forward to your contribution today. Would you like to begin by making an opening statement?
Rob McKinnon: Certainly.
Chair: Fire away, Rob.
Rob McKinnon: Thank you to the Committee for the opportunity for me to provide evidence. My name is Rob McKinnon. I run the Who’s Lobbying project, which is a spare time experiment to collate publicly available data on lobbying and public affairs in the UK. Since September 2010, Who’s Lobbying has run the website whoslobbying.com. Whoslobbying.com is a publicly searchable collection of information on organisations that have engaged in public affairs activity. Currently it has entries on the activity of over 9,000 organisations. Each organisation has a page on the website listing its government ministerial meetings, oral evidence given to Parliament, lobbying firms hired as disclosed on industry registers, Lords parliamentary passes, and a description of the organisation from their Wikipedia entry in the cases where there is one.
The public are able to filter this information by organisation categories derived from data at Wikipedia. For example, if you are interested in pharmaceutical companies or defence companies, there is a filter that lets you see the information in that sense. Over 3,000 organisations have been matched to a Wikipedia entry, which is where we derive this category information from.
Currently, it is the only attempt to provide a publicly searchable collection of this collated lobbying information. It collates data from government department reports, the Parliament website, industry registers and other public sources. Potentially, it could be one option for consideration as a delivery vehicle for a statutory register.
Motivations for the Who’s Lobbying project include: to provide the public with easy access on the web to information about who is trying to influence government and public affairs, and on what issues. Another motivation is to inform the Government as to what information is and is not available, at a time when they are proposing to create a statutory register of lobbying activity, or at least of lobbyists. The third thing is to demonstrate to government how to put this type of information on the web in an easy-to-browse, consistent format for the public.
Just to note, Who’s Lobbying is extremely disappointed that departments have not released the last seven months’ worth of ministerial meeting reports. Departments last published meeting reports for the period July to September 2011. All ministers are in breach of the ministerial code May 2010 requirement that "Departments will publish, at least quarterly, details of ministers’ external meetings".
Themes I hope we cover today are that transparency delayed is transparency denied. The case of the public having to wait up to nine months for departments to publish reports is a denial of transparency in a way. Another theme I hope we explore today is that incomplete transparency is also transparency denied, and I am sure we will explore those themes in more detail.
Q330 Chair: Thank you. Raj, would you like to say something to begin?
Dr Chari: Yes, thank you. Thank you very much for inviting me to the Committee today. I suppose I will tell you a little bit about myself. I am an Associate Professor at Trinity College in Dublin, although I was born and raised in Canada myself and spent a number of years living in Madrid, Spain working out of the Juan March Institute. The research that we have been doing-together with John Hogan and Gary Murphy, both out of Dublin as well-has been looking at the regulation of lobbying legislation throughout the world and trying to analyse it from a global comparative perspective. My research has been funded by the Irish Research Council.
I suppose it is important to say that, other than publishing our book, which we have done, we have given policy advice to different organisations, either at the domestic or intergovernmental level-including: the Czech Government, the Council of Europe, Venice Commission, as well as the Irish Government-in terms of bringing our experience of understanding legislation from other jurisdictions to policymakers, that experience of when they are drafting lobbying legislation. I am hoping that being here we will be able to give you some insights as to what the global trends in lobbying regulation are about.
I suppose it is important to note, right from the beginning, which jurisdictions in the world have lobbying rules in place. It basically started in the United States in the mid-1940s. Germany then pursued legislation in the early 1950s. The next iteration came with Canada in 1989. It is also important to note here that different countries, even though they introduce legislation at a certain time, also make amendments to the legislation after that. For example, in Canada legislation was first introduced in 1989, but there was a different amendment to it in 1995 as well as 2003 and 2008. Generally what happens is the countries make amendments, so that the legislation becomes more robust in terms of fostering transparency and accountability. After Canada, the European Parliament pursued legislation in 1996. Those were the forming ones in the century of 1900. Then after 2000 we see the number of countries that have pursued lobbying legislation actually double. That starts with Lithuania in 2000, Poland 2005 and Hungary in 2006. That was actually taken off the books when Fidesz came to power in 2011, so Hungary no longer has lobbying legislation. We also see other countries that have recently done it including Slovenia, Israel and France. I would be happy to talk about the experiences of those countries in general.
I note that our book is a co-authored book, and so I would be more up-to-date, up-to-speed and more knowledgeable of regulations that exist in Canada and the European Union, whereas my co-author, Gary Murphy, would be on the United States and John Hogan on Australia. I would be happy to talk about both of those jurisdictions, Canada and the European Union. However, by any definition, I am not an expert on British politics or developments in British politics, so I come with no particular agenda.
Chair: Thank you, Rob. Thank you, Raj. I ask Members to question now.
Q331 Paul Flynn: Good morning, gentlemen. I am sure the Committee will be very grateful for the work you have done, which will certainly enrich the report we produce. First of all, David Cameron memorably said, on 8 February 2010, that lobbying was the next great scandal. Do you think that the Government’s proposals are ones that will avoid the scandal that has been predicted? Unless it has already happened of course, is this the answer to the worries that the Prime Minister has?
Dr Chari: Is lobbying regulation an answer to-
Paul Flynn: The Government’s proposals before us, do you think they are going to make sure that we will not have major lobbying scandals in the future? Is that the answer? If not, what is?
Dr Chari: The proposals as they stand right now, again I am not an expert in British politics-
Chair: Could I ask colleagues to speak up just a little bit. The acoustics are not very good in here, I am sorry.
Dr Chari: I can answer that question, not from an expert in British politics perspective but from understanding it from a global comparative perspective of different regulations that exist elsewhere in the world. From that perspective, I suppose the proposals are quite narrow on different fronts. The lobbyists that are covered would be professional consultancies solely. For example, it does not include in-house lobbyists, in-house corporate lobbyists, trade associations, NGOs and other organisations as well, which most other legislations in the world would consider to be lobbyists. From that perspective it is slightly narrow, so you can have potential for scandal existing from lobbying from other than professional consultancies.
From what I understand of the proposal, the details that are required when you register are a lot less than required by other jurisdictions in the world, particularly the United States and Canada where you would have to give full details as to who you were lobbying, who the members of your organisation are, which ministries you want to lobby and how much money is being spent on your lobbying activity. That is related to a third point, I suppose, of a very narrow focus, by not focusing on spending disclosures within the proposals. It is unclear from the proposals how the independent regulation of this will actually take place.
There doesn’t seem to be a real independent regulatory authority, which is free from partisan interest, which will be able to hold the register. It is also wanting in terms of having specific rules for cooling off periods. So we know that politicians oftentimes go into the world of lobbying, after they are done with their political career, and with that they sometimes take inside information, which is beneficial to whichever lobbyist or organisation that they work for. As a result, in the medium- and high- regulated systems, most legislation would have a cooling off period of at least two and sometimes five years before politicians can go into the world of lobbying. So to answer the question succinctly, it is pretty narrow from a comparative perspective.
Rob McKinnon: If you consider what makes something a scandal-and I just tried to think of things that are common across the different events that have been publicised in the last several years-one thing that makes it a scandal is if it is non-disclosed, non-public information that is released after some form of activity has occurred. Often it is involving some allegation of privileged access or undue influence, and then also it is sometimes the nature of the activity or what is being lobbied on. As it stands, the Government’s proposals do not include covering what issues are being lobbied on. I think that in itself will prevent the proposal from being able to help us perhaps prevent scandals of the nature we have seen.
Lobbying is a very complicated area. As we have seen, a lot of the scandals involve relationships that you need to explain with a narrative rather than with data. I appreciate it is difficult to actually define what data needs to be collected in order to prevent these issues, but I am sure that my fellow panellist will be able to provide examples in other jurisdictions where they have been able to define more comprehensive data collection that would help prevent scandals.
Q332 Paul Flynn: "Transparency delayed is transparency denied", was the striking phrase you used. Have we seen a denial of transparency in the past two years? How has the situation changed?
Rob McKinnon: After the 2009 Public Administration Committee report into lobbying, the previous Government promised that they would publish ministerial meetings. This was before the election. Several months later I went to look for these-they said they would publish them quarterly-they weren’t there. I had to send an FOI request to every department. After the election it was a joy to see the ministerial code actually specify a requirement for departments to publish ministerial meetings quarterly, along with some other information.
In May 2010 they promised this requirement and several months later, in October, I was looking for these reports. They were not there and I had to send an FOI request again to every department. So it seems this theme is one of promising but not necessarily delivering. Just to give you an example-because sometimes it is a bit hard to visualise what we are talking about-Liam Fox resigned last year from a ministerial position. The department in which he was a Minister has still not released all of his meetings. We are still waiting for the last seven months of government meetings. This is an example of the denial of transparency, even when there has been a scandal, so I think the Government could be improving in that respect.
Q333 Paul Flynn: Are you happy with the workings of the ministerial code, since the independent adjudicator resigned at the time of the Liam Fox debate? He expressed unhappiness because he was not called in to adjudicate on it. A civil servant was brought in.
Rob McKinnon: I am not an expert in these matters, so I don’t have an opinion on it.
Q334 Paul Flynn: Dr Chari, appreciating the differences in all groups of countries, could you point to one that you regard as a model in which we could frame an alternative proposal to the Government? Would it be Canada? We were going to take evidence from Canada. It is not going to happen now. We know they changed recently, but there is still unhappiness about the way it is working. Are things so much better in Europe? In the last Committee’s report we went across to Brussels. We were very unimpressed by the embryonic system they had for the control of lobbyists there, which seemed to be just a free-for-all.
Dr Chari: I suppose the first point to note about the European Commission Register is that it is voluntary, which basically means that it is not mandatory. So if you want to register, you can-if you don’t, you don’t have to-and there is really no effective penalty for not registering. From that perspective, in terms of models to follow, if you are seeking a statutory register, where you have lobbyists having to register, that obviously would not be a model to follow. To contextualise my answer as to which model is the best, I can’t answer that. What I can answer is that, in our research, we have tried to conceptualise three different types of regulatory environments that exist from a global comparative perspective. The first would be very low-regulatory environments, where basically not much information is required by the lobbyists when they register. There are really no spending disclosures that are ever made. There isn’t a real independent regulatory authority that verifies or falsifies the information that is given, and generally speaking there is very limited public access to what details the lobbyist has given when they register. So you would find that, particularly in the European Commission, in the Parliament. You would also find that in Poland as well as Germany.
In the second step you have what we call "medium-regulated systems". In medium-regulated systems you would have a lot more information given by the lobbyists, with regard to the name, not only just the senior chief executive officer, if it is in-house corporate or the people in charge of the consultancy or the NGO, but the staff members that would be involved in lobbying activity as well, the issues that they are going to lobby in, which are the potential ministries they are going to lobby in and which are the specific bills they may be lobbying in.
In the case of Canada as well, you would have monthly updates being given if lobbyists meet, which are referred to as "designated public officeholders" who are senior members, including ministers and senior civil servants. Sometimes you would have audits and reviews of the information. But in these medium-regulated systems you wouldn’t really have penalties that are given precisely because the rules are followed, as I am sure they are in Canada. I know there have been a couple of cases where they found that there could have been potential breaches, but mostly penalties aren’t given. You will find those jurisdictions, particularly in the Canadian provinces and at the Canadian federal level. You would also find it in terms of the legislation in Lithuania, the old Hungarian legislation and the Australian legislation as well.
Then on the other extreme you have the high-regulated systems, where full information is given, penalties are enforced if there is a law broken, complete public access. What distinguishes the high-regulated systems from the medium or the low is that there are full spending disclosures given by the lobbyists.
Q335 Paul Flynn: Is there any objective evidence on which of these systems produce benefits that could be objectively measured?
Dr Chari: Yes. Look, from an objective point of view, as social scientists we have to think of things in terms of pros and cons of every system. In high-regulated systems the obvious pro that you would have is increased transparency as to who is lobbying whom, for which reasons and how much money is being spent on doing it.
The disadvantage is that you might have regulatory offices that are highly staffed, which could cost a lot of money to the state. Medium regulation, again, it provides much more information in terms of transparency for the public to see who is lobbying whom. But oftentimes you don’t see very severe penalties that are being laid down by regulatory authorities. In low regulatory systems, it is there, it is window dressing. It looks good but its effectiveness, in terms of regulating lobbyists, can be considered wanting. So that doesn’t particularly answer your question, but I guess when any political system is deciding which model to follow each comes with pros and cons.
Q336 Paul Flynn: I don’t know if you gentlemen accept the Government’s definition of lobbying as, "Those who undertake lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client or whose employees conduct lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client". Is this an appropriate definition?
Dr Chari: It is a narrow definition. With that definition, what you are basically focusing on is the activity of professional consultancies, public relations and public affairs firms. It does not include in-house corporates. It does not include trade associations, non-governmental organisations, different types of charities, religious organisations, and think-tanks. There are plenty of other lobbyists.
To put that into context, it is interesting that in looking at the registry data in the European Commission we tried to see which percentage of the registered lobbyists belong to the different categories. If you actually look at the percentage of the in-house lobbyists and trade associations that are registered, that would represent about 50% of all of those that are registered in the Commission’s transparency registry. NGOs and think-tanks would represent about 30%, other religious organisations and academic organisations about 10%. Effectively now we know that the uptake of registering professional consultancies in the European Commission has been very low, for different reasons of confidentiality. I suppose the question would be: of all lobbyists that are in the UK, what percentage do professional consultancies represent? I don’t know the specific data, but in other jurisdictions it would be around 10% to 15%, and that is a very small percentage of all lobbyists. So that is why it is a very narrow definition.
Q337 Paul Flynn: I should imagine you would agree with that, Mr McKinnon?
Rob McKinnon: Yes. I agree with people who have previously given evidence to this Committee that it is the activity that needs to be defined, and then anyone engaged in an activity should be included in the legislation as being required to register. I would go a step further and say it is actually the activity that should be registered and, as a consequence, you will eventually find other people performing that activity.
Just to provide some numbers that I have. In the Who’s Lobbying database I have almost 8,000 meetings that were declared by departments. Of those, at present only 18 of those meeting included a lobbying firm. That is less than a quarter of a percent of all of the government meetings. In comparison, law firms have twice as many at 34 meetings, which is about 0.4% of government meetings. Organisations that are in Wikipedia’s political and economic think-tank’s category have had 163 declared meetings with government, which is about 2% of the meetings I have in my database. We can see that in comparison think-tanks have almost 10 times as many meetings with ministers. As we probably all know that is obviously a very small part of the activity that is performed by people who are lobbying. So these are really just indicative levels of activity.
Q338 Tristram Hunt: Does a meeting with a think-tank mean a speech at a think-tank event, because that is a rather different thing?
Rob McKinnon: That is a good point. Unfortunately, the level of information provided by department reports is fairly limited, so I could delve into those numbers and give you a breakdown, but in some cases it would require me making a judgement call. Another point perhaps I should make is the current Government meeting reports do not provide a date. They only provide the month of the meeting, so it makes it very hard to do further analysis.
Chair: Eleanor, did you want to follow up?
Q339 Mrs Laing: Basically, I didn’t catch what you said. You said "10 times" but you did not say what. Ten times what? Could you just go over that again, sorry?
Rob McKinnon: Sure. Of the meetings I have in my database, which are derived from the government department reports, lobbying firms have been in 18 of those meetings and political and economic think-tanks have been mentioned in 163. So there are almost 10 times as many meetings that think-tanks have been referenced as being in the meeting as meetings where lobbying firms have been mentioned in the meeting.
Q340 Paul Flynn: A current theme that runs through our investigations is whether there is a need for a statutory code of conduct for lobbyists, based on the concern that self-regulation is often no regulation. What views do you have on that; is this necessary in a reform of the system?
Dr Chari: A code of conduct in terms of professional behaviour?
Paul Flynn: Yes, indeed.
Dr Chari: Yes. There are certain principles I think that are established in most legislation, which say that you can’t give dishonest information to a public officeholder and that you have to be honest in what you do. However, it is very difficult to fine someone based on breaking a code, per se, because it could be somebody’s interpretation based on another. I think where you do see prosecutions taking place within the legislation, particularly in Canada, is when there is misinformation that is given at the registration stage; for example, saying that you are going to lobby ministry X when effectively what you are doing is lobbying ministry Y. So, based on giving false information or incorrect or inaccurate information when you register, you can prosecute somebody on that. It is very difficult in terms of monitoring codes of conduct, though, to prosecute someone, I would have thought.
Q341 Paul Flynn: We are not seeking perfection on this. We are seeking improvement if we can. Mr McKinnon, do you go along with the view that a statutory code is going to be helpful to strengthen the regard that the public have for the political system?
Rob McKinnon: I am not an expert in these matters and I actually don’t have an opinion on this issue.
Dr Chari: I would estimate that it would increase the faith in the political system in many ways. It would increase transparency, people would see what lobbyists were doing, politicians can openly say they are speaking with lobbyists, and you can decrease an amount of cynicism within the general public, yes.
Q342 Paul Flynn: There was a defence given recently by someone who is a lobbyist for another country. His claim was that he was lobbying government and not Parliament and, as such, lobbying government should not be restricted in any way. Do you agree with this concept?
Rob McKinnon: What we are talking about is transparency of lobbying activities. I would imagine what would be important, in terms of legislation in this area, is whether that activity would be required to be registered. As I understand it, it would not be. So I think it is really for the public to decide whether that is a legitimate activity or not on behalf of this Member of the House of Lords. What would be important, in terms of the legislation, would be whether that activity is actually recorded in a publicly accessible place.
Q343 Paul Flynn: Some evidence we have had has drawn attention to activities by other countries who sponsor visits-sometimes they do-to their countries, and are very active in presenting an acceptable PR case for their countries. Often these are countries with dreadful records on human rights and various others. Is this a matter of concern to you and something that you believe needs additional regulation?
Rob McKinnon: I come from more of a technical perspective on these things, so a little bit of background: I am actually a software developer rather than a professional in the actual industry itself. But as a member of the public I would expect there should be a record of this that is easily available for me to make my own decision and, as someone who is producing software that tries to collate this information, I would like there to be requirements that this type of information be published in a very consistent, machine readable format, which would make it easy to automate analysis and reporting of this type of activity. To a certain extent, some of this information is published in the financial disclosure of Members, which is published on the parliamentary website, but it is not always published in a manner that is easy for someone to extract out the name of the organisation providing the sponsorship, or in this case maybe the country providing the hospitality. So in a way I think there needs to be an evaluation of how rigorously and consistently this information is reported, in a way that can be consumed by third-party services.
Q344 Paul Flynn: Any view, Dr Chari?
Dr Chari: On the foreign diplomats, I think some different legislation has clearly stated in some cases, particularly Canada, that if you are a foreign diplomat, you don’t have to register with the state when a lobbying activity takes place, because it is assumed that this is an interaction between states and this is not a lobbying act, per se, in terms of experienced institutional actors lobbying the political system. I think what is at play here, in terms of conceptualising what Rob is saying and what I am saying, is the big question that has to be asked-that the Committee has to ask itself, and maybe the Government has to ask itself-is: who is responsible for getting the information out? You can go through ministerial releases as to whom, where and which venue or whatever. But in the case of Canada, for example, or systems with regulation that is robust, it is not the state’s responsibility to say with whom elected representatives or civil servants have met. It is the lobbyists’ responsibility to give that information and update that information on a regular basis. Theoretically, the question is: should it be the lobby that have to give the information, or should those that lobby be the ones that have to give the information?
Finding information on the internet is very important but if you have a centralised system, where lobbyists themselves give all that information and they update that information, you will have that housed in one central registry.
Paul Flynn: I am very grateful to you, gentlemen.
Q345 Mrs Laing: I think that is the most interesting thing is that the balance of responsibility is the other way around. If lobbyists are required to provide that information, what is the sanction if they don’t do so?
Dr Chari: It depends on the jurisdiction. Generally, it would either be a monetary fine and/or a jail fine. For example, in the Canadian legislation if you were found to have broken the rules, you can get a maximum of up to a $200,000 fine and up to two years’ imprisonment. There are different jurisdictions that have different penalties; some it is less. I think even in some Canadian provinces it might be X thousand dollars, which would be a lot less. But there would be a monetary fine or a jail sentence-
Mrs Laing: It is a pretty substantial sanction.
Dr Chari: -and they would be struck from acting as a lobbyist for the next whichever number of years according to the register.
Q346 Tristram Hunt: Is it your view that, in terms of where the balance of responsibility lies, that is the most effective system?
Dr Chari: I think that is the way that most systems have worked until now, in the sense that it is not the onus of the state to collect the information but it is the onus of the lobbyist to give that information to a regulatory agency that independently monitors it from any partisan influence.
Q347 Tristram Hunt: But has a big stick?
Dr Chari: Has a big stick, yes.
Q348 Tristram Hunt: Just on the Government’s current proposals, as I understand it-obviously, we are in the middle of this rather interesting debate with the Leveson inquiry and the role of various lobbyists within News Corporation trying to allegedly influence the DCMS-the in-house lobbying of the former News Corporation lobbyist, Frédéric Michel, would not be listed because it is not a third-agency lobbyist; it is an in-house corporate lobbyist. Would that be right?
Dr Chari: If it were based on your proposals, from what I understand it would not be required. No, it would not be. To answer the very first question, that is why the proposals are quite narrow. You would not have been able to pick that up if you had this registry based on that proposal.
Q349 Tristram Hunt: Rob, in terms of the kind of transparency you are interested in seeing, what is your reflection on what we have seen over the last 48 hours of this rather interesting data-trail case study of lobbying?
Rob McKinnon: I would like to say I have had time to follow it in detail. I have not. Because I have spent the last several nights after work trying to get more department meeting reports into my database. In general I think it highlights that this is a complicated area, but I was trying to ascertain from my datasets whether any of these communications were actually described as ministerial meetings. It becomes very difficult to do that because they might have been phone calls; the communication might have been happening at levels below that which is currently reported. In general, it highlights the need for maybe a broader definition to be included in an activity that should be registered. I am more familiar with the US situation, where the registration that is made by the lobbyists, whether they are in-house or consultant, includes information on who within the Government they are lobbying.
Dr Chari: Yes, it would be the same in Canada as well. You can go do a search on any company and you can find out the different types of meetings that they have had in the last month, and you would see the names of the people that have been involved.
Rob McKinnon: What is interesting there is you said "in the last month".
Dr Chari: Yes, it is updated. If you meet with a designated public officeholder you have to do a monthly return at the federal level. Yes, that is correct.
Q350 Tristram Hunt: Dr Chari, from your comparative analysis, and then looking at the Government’s proposals, do you get the sense that there has not been a great deal of research done in terms of what is out there?
Dr Chari: Without making any criticism I wouldn’t want to answer that question, but there is certainly a whole wealth of information out there from the international perspective. International experience, there have been good things that have gone in highly-regulated systems, there have been bad things. So it is important to learn from both.
Q351 Tristram Hunt: In terms of that comparative analysis, the Canadian model for a UK perspective-I know you wouldn’t want to answer that, but if pushed, would you say that was the most applicable?
Dr Chari: You are dealing with parliamentary systems that have a lot of similarities and there is certainly a very big historical link. I would have thought that, given the experience, a model from where to start from would be the Canadian federal model. But, again, keep in mind that there is different legislation at the provincial level. Different provinces have different legislation, but the federal legislation is probably considered the more robust of them. But it has had its glitches as well.
For example, one of the issues is that basically the rules say that in-house corporate lobbyists have to register if 20% of their time is spent on lobbying. I think the Office of the Commissioner have themselves been very critical of this and would like to see it changed, precisely because how do you quantify if an in-house corporate is spending 20% of their time on lobbying? It is very, very difficult, and this is where you come to misinterpretations and, "Well, I actually didn’t spend 20%. I spent 18%", and the lobbyist might say, "I think he spent 25%", and it gets into something that is very difficult to make a judgement on.
If you were to follow the Canadian model then avoid things like trying to quantify it in terms of percentage of time. This is also seen in the United States as well: that if you work 20% over six months, then you are required to register. So this threshold of 20% is very contentious. It is necessary to broaden the scope of lobbyists who you are dealing with in terms of your proposals, but it is also necessary to be very clear as to what is considered a lobbying act.
Q352 Tristram Hunt: On that point, one of the issues that we are wrestling with is this world of charities, think-tanks, trade unions, some of us regard those organisations as having a slightly different place within the political ecosystem in contrast to professional consultant lobbyists. How do other countries deal with that issue, or do they approach trade unions and charities in the same field as a professional lobbyist company?
Dr Chari: No. Roughly speaking, they would treat them similarly. A lobbyist is any individual or group of people, each with varied and specified interests, who attempt to influence political decisions. Public consultants or professional consultancies, yes, try to influence political decisions; so do NGOs, and so do trade unions. This is a normal legitimate part of any democratic society that outside interests will try to influence it. So you have to create a level playing field, in the sense that you can’t call some lobbyists and others-well-charities that don’t lobby. Everyone is trying to influence political decisions, and they should be treated on an equal footing. I think this is the view of most legislation in the world. Does that answer the question?
Tristram Hunt: It does. Not necessarily the way I want it to, but it does.
Rob McKinnon: What is also interesting, in terms of what is currently transparent, is there is no distinction between the types of organisation. For example, when you report this Committee meeting you are not going to distinguish the organisation I represent, or whether I am representing myself, when you report that I was here meeting you. In that sense, it has been quite interesting to use the oral evidence witness lists as a data source for the Who’s Lobbying website, because along the way I get the name of the person, their role within their organisation and also the organisation name. From that I have probably got most of your register-well, I don’t know-and I am definitely able then to produce a list of people who have titles in their name, which make it sound like they are in-house lobbyists. So, when you report who gives you evidence, you are not distinguishing what type of organisation they are from. So I don’t see why we need to make that distinction now that we are regulating other information disclosures.
Q353 Tristram Hunt: The level of transparency and complexity you are interested in, Rob, does that have financial implications? Does that cost a lot to produce?
Rob McKinnon: Currently I am self-funding the project. I am not receiving any external funding. The cost is mostly my volunteer time. The actual IT costs are probably in the order of £30 a month for web-hosting, and I am using open-source software to develop the website, which comes at no cost. I know UKPAC had some issues developing their online website, and I think what this highlights is part of what we are talking about is a process and information technology issue. If executed correctly, the actual cost of this, in terms of financial cost and the cost of the time of the people who are required to enter this information, should be fairly low.
Also, by treating this as an IT problem you can then produce a single source of information that is updateable in a timely fashion, that can produce information that is reusable by third party services, or itself provides fairly comprehensive public transparency services, like search, browsing by category, being able to be indexed by Google so that people in a search engine are able to find the content.
Dr Chari: Could I ask a question? Why is there no single source of all the information together right now? If all this information is collected at the ministerial level-this is not knowing anything about the developments in UK politics-what is the issue in making the next step and just putting it together in one centralised databank? That someone outside of the state has to do this, it seems slightly surprising-
Tristram Hunt: We have the Minister next week or in two weeks’ time, so we shall ask him.
Dr Chari: Okay. It just occurs to me that it is a simple step to do, and that someone from the outside is actually doing it-I guess, from an international perspective, I think it is great you are doing it-it is slightly surprising it needs to be done.
Rob McKinnon: I just wanted to show it was possible, and you can have a fairly interesting website on the back of it. Yes, it is an example to government that they can do this. It is possible to do it.
Just to answer your question, I think right now what has happened is they have made it a department responsibility to publish this information. Some of the problems that go along with that are there are over 24 department websites you need to visit to find this information. Currently, it has been published in over 150 different files. If you had a researcher trying to collate this information, it might take them days just to collate the activity of a single organisation right now if the Who’s Lobbying website was not there.
The other issue is each department is publishing in a slightly different format. Some publish only in PDF format, which is notoriously difficult to extract information from. Some publish in Comma Separated Value file format. A memo the Prime Minister sent to departments was that all data should be in a machine readable format. They have made some attempts there but once again it is not standardised, so any efficiency gain on my part, by writing software that can automatically extract this information, is dramatically diminished every time there is a different format. That is really where all the work has gone right now on my part in just finding ways to extract this information.
In comparison, because Parliament published the witness lists of Committee meetings in a fairly regular format, I can automate that. Every day I have software that actually takes the lists of witnesses and automatically updates the website and I don’t have to do anything, so Parliament can perhaps pat itself on the back there that it is doing a more consistent job of reporting some of this information than government.
Q354 Chair: We should all be careful of extrapolating from media events that are occurring as we speak. But with that health warning could I ask, from what you have both said, it would appear that the questions that have come to light in recent times, around the interaction of News Corp with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where an in-house lobbyist is alleged to be in contact with either the Secretary of State, or people close to the Secretary of State, Mr McKinnon, none of that would appear on your website because none of it would have been available in publicly available sources?
Rob McKinnon: It would only be available to the extent the department reported a meeting.
Q355 Chair: If a physical meeting had taken place?
Rob McKinnon: I don’t think they have actually defined what a meeting is.
Q356 Chair: From your knowledge of the Government’s proposals, nor would anything have been required to have been registered around the issue that has been in the newspapers in the last 48 hours?
Dr Chari: Not to my knowledge. If it was an in-house corporate lobbyist from the corporation that was directly talking to a public officer or a public official, minister’s assistant, according to your proposals, no, that would not have been captured by that.
Q357 Chair: When the Prime Minister talks about the next big scandal and lobbying, I think he believes it is this sort of issue that should be in the public mind and yet, both from existing sources and from proposed sources, an issue of that kind would escape disclosure?
Dr Chari: That is correct.
Rob McKinnon: That is correct in my understanding.
Q358 Mrs Laing: I am a bit concerned about the contrast you have made between the information that is available about witness lists, Select Committee and parliamentary activity, and information that is available from departments about meetings, simply because this is an open public meeting. This meeting right now is being broadcast. I don’t know if anybody is watching.
Chair: Millions of viewers.
Mrs Laing: It is being broadcast. This is as open as you can get. We are taking evidence and we are having an open discussion, and anything that happens in Parliament is open, is minuted in Hansard or in Committee reports, is in the Order Paper beforehand. That is the nature of Parliament. Are you comparing that with departmental meetings and meetings of ministers, because I would ask you, is it appreciated in your analysis that these are two completely different parts of the democratic process?
Dr Chari: I think within the democratic process you have different stages when policy is made. Quite clearly, when you have a committee that meets, which gets different views from experts or witnesses, or when you have a debate in Parliament between the two different political parties, that is one stage of the policymaking process; particularly in Parliament, after either the blueprint or the details of the actual policy has been made, either at the executive level, or if it is a single Member bill when the single Member has decided to present the bill.
But we know most legislation from most Western democracies is spearheaded by core executives, which includes your most important ministers, working alongside their own cabinets and different secretaries within the different ministries. It is within that black box of policymaking that you don’t have the cameras that you have here, or that you have in Parliament. In these meetings the actual details of the policy, or the important aspects of the policy is made, which may favour certain interests over others. So the regulation of lobbyists is simply to say, "Okay, we know that is the important part of the policymaking and policy shaping process, what’s going on? Who’s talking to whom?" What the regulation of lobbyists would allow you to see is who are those extra institutional actors working, effectively in that black box behind the scenes, trying to shape policy.
Q359 Mrs Laing: Can I just take you further on that. This is a rhetorical question. This is not expressing my opinion because that is not what I am here for. Why is that important?
Dr Chari: Because this is when you basically see what are the objectives of the policy, and who wins and who loses and who does it benefit. For example, you can take liberalisation, and telecommunications before liberalisation took place. You may have had outside interests from different operators that would say no to liberalisation, "We don’t want it to happen". If they are able to block liberalisation of telecommunications-which is not the case in the UK, but if they were able to do it for years, then that would give them a privileged market position, right? So that is why it is important because it can benefit-
Q360 Mrs Laing: No, I am not suggesting it is not important. I just want to get it on the record what is important about it.
Rob McKinnon: Just to provide an example, the Prime Minister commissioned a report into copyright law. In that report Professor Ian Hargreaves stated on copyright issues, "Lobbying on behalf of rights owners has been more persuasive to ministers than economic impact assessments". In summary, this report says that copyright law should be based on evidence, not lobbying.
In terms of why transparency is important, the Government consultation asked the question, "How can public participation in the development of Government policy best be safeguarded?" In response I said, "Making paid lobbying activity fully transparent in a timely manner is the best way to safeguard public participation in the development of Government policy. Timely transparency gives the public an opportunity to provide an alternate view to Government before Government has made decisions. Closed door lobbying jeopardises public participation, as it denies the public an opportunity to present timely alternative viewpoints to Government". In my view, part of this lobbying transparency is merely just to level the playing field. Right now I imagine you can access some information by paying for it that is not publicly available, and in a way that was harmful to the-
Q361 Mrs Laing: Which information?
Rob McKinnon: I presume these lobbying firms have been paid to provide information, in addition to other activities. So-
Q362 Mrs Laing: Sorry, you said you can access some information that is not available by paying for it. Who can access it and what information?
Rob McKinnon: I don’t have any evidence of this, so maybe I should stop there.
Q363 Mrs Laing: All right. It would be very interesting if you were saying that there is information that the Government ought to make available, which some people get because they pay for it.
Rob McKinnon: When I say "pay", they pay for the services of people who know things, either the workings of government-and I presume this is what-
Q364 Mrs Laing: People who know-you mean, in the same way as if there is a legal case somebody pays a lawyer to advise on the law and to represent them in a legal argument, someone can pay a government affairs company to give them advice on government affairs and possibly to represent them?
Rob McKinnon: I take your point. I have no evidence for that.
Mrs Laing: No, I am not making a point; I am asking a question.
Rob McKinnon: I don’t have any evidence, so I take back that comment.
Q365 Mrs Laing: All right. Can I take you to a completely different matter that you mentioned earlier? You said something about-and I am not sure exactly what you said, so I am asking you to go back to that-people who have been involved in politics having a time restriction on being able to go into any kind of public affairs business once they have left politics. You said something about that in your opening remarks.
Dr Chari: So that would be referred to in the legislation as a cooling off period or revolving door provisions. Basically what that would stipulate is that, once a politician leaves his or her post-and there may be some conditions-whether it is specifically related to their post or not, they can’t get into the world of lobbying, particularly if it involves going back to talk to officials with whom they have worked before.
Q366 Mrs Laing: When you say "a politician", do you mean a minister, or do you mean-
Dr Chari: Yes, sorry, it could be a minister. It could also be a high-
Mrs Laing: Can I just make the distinction that there is a huge difference between a minister, who has been party to information and the workings of government within a department, which is not known to anybody outside that department, by the very nature of the fact that people never know exactly what other people do in their workplace. There is a big difference, is there not, between that and a Member of Parliament? So when you say "politician" what do you mean by "politician"?
Dr Chari: In the Canadian legislation it would be what is referred to as DPOH or designated public officeholder, which can include ministers to senior members of their staff to parliamentarians, as well as high level civil servants. See, the concern here is that if you have contacts already established in your previous life, either as a politician broadly speaking or as a civil servant, you will use that information on the inside as a lobbyist to help either the firm or the consultancy you are working for gain contracts, gain money and so on, or have undue influence when it comes to public policymaking. So you have inside information.
Q367 Mrs Laing: In the UK we have rules to that effect, as far as ministers are concerned. They are not allowed to leave their ministerial office and then immediately go and earn money from a similar sort of job with the same people. But are you suggesting that that should be what-
Dr Chari: Sorry, what did you mean by "the same people"?
Mrs Laing: Sorry, I am just trying to summarise the law for the sake of brevity. We have rules that prevent someone who has held ministerial office from going immediately from ministerial office to a position where they would earn money from the immediate contacts that they have.
Dr Chari: For example, if someone worked in the Exchequer, they couldn’t go and work for a bank after?
Mrs Laing: There is a time period.
Dr Chari: There is a cooling-off period?
Mrs Laing: Yes.
Dr Chari: Okay.
Mrs Laing: I would not call it "a cooling-off period". There is a time period. I can’t remember the exact restrictions, but what I am asking you is are you saying that that should go further to Members of Parliament?
Dr Chari: From a normative perspective, my own personal point of view, yes. What I talk about is what exists in the pre-existing legislation around the world-and particularly Canada-and, yes, that is the rule.
Q368 Mrs Laing: Thank you. I wanted to take Mr McKinnon to the issue of TheyWorkForYou. I understand that you have been involved in the New Zealand TheyWorkForYou?
Rob McKinnon: That is correct, yes.
Q369 Mrs Laing: Are you in or do you have knowledge of the TheyWorkForYou website working here in the UK?
Rob McKinnon: Yes, I do. I do not have any direct involvement in the UK theyworkforyou.com, but I am acquainted with many of the people who have contributed to making it. I often see them at events and, in fact, they did encourage me to create the New Zealand version.
Q370 Mrs Laing: What I wanted to ask you about was the collation of statistics, presentation of statistics and analysis of statistics. I will just give you an example. I was very surprised when someone drew my attention to my own entry on TheyWorkForYou, on what people have been saying about me, because each of us knows our own activity better than anyone else’s, I guess. The publication of the statistics, how many times you voted, which bills you voted "Yes" or "No" on and which motions you voted "Yes" or "No" on, of course is absolutely fine and it is very good to put that in one place. It is publicly available information and most of us would encourage that. But what I would like to take you to is analysis of that information. Because I have read that I personally am on a particular point on the left-right spectrum of politics, because of an analysis done by TheyWorkForYou, and frankly it is wrong and very crude.
Rob McKinnon: As I said, I have no involvement in the UK theyworkforyou.com. On the New Zealand site, such analysis is prohibited because we changed to a proportional representation electoral system, some 17 years ago, and since then most divisions in the New Zealand unicameral Parliament are party votes, which means the whole party votes together. In my mind, this makes it much easier as a voter to be able to vote for a party and that party votes in the Parliament. There is no possibility to record rebellion.
Chair: That is all very, very interesting, perhaps we need to do some lobbying and we can give Eleanor some private advice.
Q371 Mrs Laing: All I was seeking to explore was the analysis of statistics, and you have given me a good answer; thank you. Looking at the analysis of statistics, I was concerned that the last issue that Dr Hunt was looking at was the way in which publication of information solves the problem. The way the discussion was going alarm bells rang in my head, that if the Government were to be encouraged to collate information-as Mr McKinnon said, it would be possible to do because the information is there, and I think you said, Mr McKinnon, in 26 different places-but if you can collate it, then why can’t the Government collate it? My concern is that if that were done it would look as if the job was done and that the information is all there, whereas what you have said in your evidence suggests that the information in fact is not all there. So what I was getting at was presentation of information and that in fact, in a complicated subject like this, can it be summed up on a website with numbers of meetings? What is a meeting?
Dr Chari: It is a good question. The experience of lobbying regulation in North America, for example, is that that information is given by the lobbyist to the regulatory authority. That information is then updated if necessary and there you can see the different information. If you look at this act of registration of a corporation in Canada, you can see the information of the company, a description of its activities, all of its subsidiaries, the lobbying activity information, in terms of the federal departments that it is actually seeking to lobby, the senior officers of the organisation, communication techniques that have been used or that are going to be used by the organisation, information about the subject matter, and specific descriptions on policies and programmes. Then if there is a meeting with a public officeholder that is recorded and summarised every month, in which you have, "This is the organisation, this is the responsible officer, and this is the designated public officeholder that they have talked to and this is their position within the ministry". If you click on that, you get a more detailed analysis, not necessarily of the content but of actually what was the subject matter of the communication.
So, all of that; if you do a search of corporation X or consultancy Y or NGO Z, you can do a search on the database, you get the information, you click on it, and you can see all of that information neatly aligned.
Rob McKinnon: We know in the United States that, because the information is fairly detailed and comprehensive, you have a whole ecosystem of websites that process, analyse, collate and consolidate that information. My concern with the current proposal from the Government is that they haven’t specified that the clients of lobbying firms provide their company number or charity number if they are not a company. What I have found, in trying to collate existing information, is that almost 30% of the organisations that are declared in government meetings have been put into reports with a variant of their name, which makes it very difficult to collate their activity by organisation. I would strongly recommend any proposal by the Government require that any time a legal entity is mentioned, if it is a company, that the company number be provided, if it is a charity, that the charity number be provided, And if it is registered in a different jurisdiction, that the jurisdiction and the registration number in that jurisdiction be provided. Otherwise I agree that there are concerns with the ability to analyse and report on this information.
Q372 Mrs Laing: Bringing all of that together, given that you have both made a very good point that the point of this is to know how policy is arrived at and constructed. If the political cycle was at the stage where it was, let’s say, 18 months to a year before a general election and, given that a change of government would therefore be possible, while information about activities of government ministers would be required, do you consider that such information about shadow ministers and their meetings with lobbyists should also be disclosed, because surely a government in waiting is also constructing policy?
Dr Chari: I agree with you, and-
Mrs Laing: No, I am not making a point; I am asking a question.
Dr Chari: Okay, let me clarify that answer then. Full information is a good thing because it helps with transparency, it helps the public understand who is trying to influence whom, including from the Government side or the Opposition side. I guess my suggestion would be that we are looking at this from the wrong way, in terms of what is the information that either the Government or Opposition has to give with regard to meetings. All I am simply saying here is that if you had a proper register of lobbyists, which made the lobbyists detail all the information of every public official he or she was meeting with, all of this information would be clearly on the public record.
Q373 Mrs Laing: By "public official", and I have to get a definition here, you see, because "public official" to us doesn’t mean a Member of Parliament. It means somebody paid by the Government, on the Government payroll, and the Leader of the Opposition and his team don’t count as public officials. Forgive me we are trying to put it into UK language. What do you mean?
Dr Chari: I will repeat what I said earlier with regard to what is referred to as a designated public officeholder in the Canadian legislation, and that would refer to anyone who is either in government at the ministerial level or a Member of Parliament. It could refer to any Member of Parliament. It could refer to any high-level civil servant in any ministry, and it also can include a member of the armed forces as well.
Mrs Laing: Thank you.
Q374 Sheila Gilmore: Sorry, I missed the beginning of the meeting due to another commitment. This is primarily to Mr McKinnon. The website Who’s Lobbying: could you tell us a bit more about the relationship between your website and data.gov.uk? Why does the Government website, listing ministers’ meetings, actually send users to your website for further information?
Rob McKinnon: Last year I was asked by data.gov.uk if I could provide a report to them of all the meetings that I had collated, which I did so, and they chose to present it in the manner you described.
Q375 Sheila Gilmore: So they are linking to you?
Rob McKinnon: Yes, but you would need to ask them as to their reasoning for why they do that.
Q376 Sheila Gilmore: I think you also said in your written evidence that there are a number of government departments that haven’t published up-to-date details of ministerial meetings. In fact I think the date you gave was June 2011. Some departments seem to have no difficulty publishing photographs of meetings much more regularly. Do you know of departments that can publish photos but don’t appear to be able to give any further details?
Rob McKinnon: Yes, many government departments now have a photo publishing account on a website called flickr.com, and they are regularly publishing information in quite a timely fashion there. Here is an example from the No. 10 stream. I am holding here a photograph of a meeting David Cameron had in May 2010. In the same month that photo was published on flickr.com, and then we had to wait until October 2010 before the report of that meeting was published as part of the regular ministerial meeting reports from the departments.
Q377 Sheila Gilmore: Do you have a view about how often details of meetings should be published, and are there any departments that we could look to for the practice?
Rob McKinnon: The more often, the more frequently and the more closely to the event the information is published the better, for transparency and the ability for the public to participate in government and Government policy formation. Given that pretty much all departments now have a social media account on twitter.com, where they are regularly updating and many have photo accounts at flickr.com, there seems to be no reason why they could not be equally forthcoming with who the minister is meeting in the same sort of fashion. I would imagine if the technology was in place they should be able to update that on more like a daily or weekly basis. The evidence is they are paying for staff right now to provide regular updates to the public, so I don’t think there is any additional cost burden to departments to do this.
Q378 Simon Hart: Sorry, I had to disappear, and also I apologise if I raise topics that have been raised already while I have been elsewhere.
Can I go back to a reference to the cooling-off period-which I think, Dr Chari, you mentioned earlier on, and I know Eleanor Lang did also in the last few moments-as I want to explore it a bit more. It seems to me that an MP or a minister when they leave here will carry with them information that may benefit some future career. That career may be in industry; it may be in journalism; it may be in a range of things, as well as possibly within lobbying. In many ways that they will have, though no fault of their own, privileged information which they can use to their advantage in a future career, apparently any future career other than lobbying, according to what you have told us. If the Government was to impose the register as currently proposed, and that was to become law and there was a proper register, and let’s say there was also some voluntary code of practice, what is the problem? Why should an MP not go into a highly regulated, highly transparent industry where his or her skills can be effectively deployed? Why should they be barred from so doing?
Dr Chari: Precisely because they would be able to take some inside information of how things go on in the ministry, or wherever they worked before, that could be used.
Q379 Simon Hart: They could do that in any industry.
Dr Chari: Yes, they could.
Q380 Simon Hart: So why not bar them from that too?
Dr Chari: Let’s look at this by way of an example. Let’s say I am working as a minister in industry and I go to work for a big oil corporation. Quite clearly, if there is any new legislation, which may be relevant to the oil corporation and that the oil corporation might want to influence so that it is better off by changing something in the legislation, or by adding something to the legislation, that minister is in a privileged position as a member of the that corporation, as a lobbyist, to influence policy. He or she is able to influence policy based on inside information in a way that other corporations or other lobbyists can’t.
Q381 Simon Hart: But if he was a lobbyist for a third-party company that is representing a multi-client company-
Dr Chari: A consultancy.
Simon Hart: -or equivalent of, you have made your point and we can accept it or not. However, he or she may go into one of the organisations that regularly lobbies us, either as ministers or MPs, but won’t fall within the Government proposals because it might be a charity or an NGO. They will still take with them powerful insider information, which they can deploy but will not be caught as a consequence of the proposals, either as they are or as they might be.
Dr Chari: There are varying views on that in the legislation. Some legislation internationally might say you cannot be a lobbyist in the area that you specifically worked in before because you would be able to take insider information. There are others that would say that, "Okay, if you can clearly demonstrate that the information you take as a politician will not be used in a way that is disadvantageous to other lobbyists or in a way that will mean that you will use your contacts from your previous work, well, then that is fine".
Q382 Simon Hart: Two more questions. How would you do that because a lot of this information is contained in people’s heads? When people leave any industry they take with them industry knowledge, which they could go to a competitor with. However much you might tie it up in a contract you cannot remove the knowledge that they have acquired and the use to which they may put it.
Dr Chari: That is right, and that is why it is probably just best to have a cooling-off period altogether.
Q383 Simon Hart: In two years that knowledge has ceased to be of relevance; is that what you are saying?
Dr Chari: I don’t know the psychology-if someone remembers the information or not that is up to them-but I think the idea is that in two years or for those two years at least, or five years as in the case for the federal level in Canada, you will not be exercising influence in the way that is not fair.
Q384 Simon Hart: Last question for Mr McKinnon; leaving that where it is, a slightly different point. As I left you mentioned lobbying scandals, and one of the things we have struggled with, with previous witnesses, is to actually clearly define what a lobbying scandal is. We haven’t got very far with having examples of lobbying scandals that would have been prevented had the Government’s proposals been in place. Unfortunately I couldn’t wait to hear you expand your argument, but I know you touched on Liam Fox. Of course, we all take the view that Adam Werritty would not have qualified as a lobbyist so he would not have been caught by the proposals, therefore that particular scandal would not have been avoided as a result of the proposals. So I wonder if I can ask you for some more examples of scandals that might or might not have been prevented by the proposals; recent ones?
Rob McKinnon: We did cover this earlier.
Simon Hart: Apologies.
Rob McKinnon: Earlier I tried to identify what makes something a scandal, and I think it is a combination of there is closed, non-public information that involves some degree of privileged access that at a later time becomes public, and that the public, or the media, or the two together come to the conclusion that there was undue influence or privileged access that would not be considered publicly acceptable. As we know, the current Government’s proposal does not require lobbying activity to be registered. As currently proposed, I don’t think the register would aid or mitigate these types of scandals. Whether that is the sole purpose of the register, I don’t think it is. It might be exciting for the media to think that that is why we are going to have a register, but just from a general public interest point of view it is quite interesting to know that, yes, there are lots of different organisations that are involved in lobbying government and to what extent they do so.
Q385 Simon Hart: I did say specific examples that illustrate your point: anything from the last couple of years that you think really illustrates the need for a register and which would have been avoided if that register had been in place. Is there anything specific you can point us to?
Rob McKinnon: As I said, I don’t think that is the sole purpose of a register, so I would be hesitant to-
Q386 Simon Hart: Except you mentioned lobbying scandals. I am only trying to find out which ones you were referring to when you made that comment.
Rob McKinnon: There have been so many.
Q387 Simon Hart: Give me two.
Rob McKinnon: Okay; so this current situation, where you’ve got an in-house public affairs professional having direct communication with people at a fairly senior level within a government department. As my co-panellist has suggested, if that activity were required to be registered we would then have that on the record, so it would cease to be a scandal if in a fairly timely fashion that type of communication was on a public record.
Q388 Fabian Hamilton: Apologies to our witnesses for being late. I was detained by a Bill Committee. Dr Chari, in your research, which I believe is entitled Regulating Lobbying: a Global Comparison, you suggest that many lobbyists who are working within regulated systems are in favour of detailed registers because it allows them to gain information about their competitors. Did the lobbyists that you interviewed-and indeed politicians-state that there were any other benefits in working within a regulated system?
Dr Chari: That is an excellent question. We talk about four positive kick-backs with any register, and it has to do with benefits not just for the lobbyists but also for politicians as well and citizens alike. The first one would be that lobbyists would be able to get information on what their competitors were doing. Particularly when we were interviewing in Ontario, what we found was that religiously lobbyists, whether they are in-house corporates or whether they would be consultants or NGOs-and the NGOs would do this quite a bit-would see basically there are other organisations that would work in their area, "Let’s check the registry to see if they have updated their register or what they are working on now; if there is anything different". So this isn’t a new finding, in the sense that in the late 1990s other academics in the literature were saying that one of the biggest consumers of an actual lobby register would be the lobbyists themselves. There is a perception that innately lobbyists are against a register. There is that preconception. Our experience shows that, over time, it is the lobbyists that become the most passionate users and defenders of the register in a lot of ways because it gives them that sort of competitive advantage.
It also gives them a second advantage-and this would be the second positive kick-back-and that would be being able to demonstrate to either members of their organisation or their clients what they are doing. We see this particularly with the non-governmental organisations. For example, the Cancer Society every year can tell its members, "If you want to see how we have been trying to influence health policy, these were the bills that we lobbied on; these were the Members of Parliament or the ministers that we talked to. So you can see that we are active in trying to better your interests as members of our organisation". In-house corporates could also use it the same, to show the members of the corporation what they are trying to do and how they are trying to do it.
The third kick-back in all of that is that citizens, in having access to this information on the web, can see that lobbyists are a legitimate, open and transparent part of the democratic process and are not hiding what they are doing. All of the information is there. Any citizen who wants to hold either a politician accountable for talking to corporation X because they don’t like that they are talking so much with their Member of Parliament, well, they can be accountable because they might not necessarily get the votes they want. On the other hand, they can be very transparent in terms of saying, "Well, this is the different organisations that are lobbying" simply in terms of interest. I suppose the assumption here then is that consumers of the registry would be a citizenry that do want to understand about politics; that do want transparency.
The fourth benefit would actually then be from the politician’s side because the politicians do not then have to hide that they are talking to lobbyists. They can openly say, "Yes, I talked to this lobbyist on this day about this event", and that is perfectly legit and it is on the public record.
Q389 Fabian Hamilton: That is helpful. Thank you very much. Can I move to you, Mr McKinnon, and just ask you this. In your written evidence I think you identified 167 organisations with lobbying activity in the UK and the USA. You stated that there was a combined disclosed spend in the United States of about $3 billion. In your view, is an element of financial disclosure necessary to ensure transparency about the differing resource capabilities of those who do the lobbying?
Rob McKinnon: Yes. But what was more interesting when I did this research was to also find out what issues these organisations were lobbying on. In the United States they are also required to say what issues are being lobbied on, and that includes bills that are going through. Right now the monetary financial figures provide an indication of the extent to which resources are being put into lobbying. But I think for the public it is much more interesting to know what issues are being lobbied on. The two combined then can also provide fuel for public debate and participation.
Fabian Hamilton: Thank you for that. Can I just ask one final question, which is one that I know that my colleague Paul Flynn wanted to ask: do you think it would be a progressive move if the Government nationalised your enterprise, Who’s Lobbying, which obviously operates at a fraction of the cost of a government department? Forgive me if it sounds frivolous, but there is a serious intent here.
Rob McKinnon: That is definitely something that could be possible. The current website is a combination of two things: it is bespoke software code that was written, and then the time it takes to nurture some of the data and clean it on the way in to the system. So there is definitely a cost for anyone engaged in this enterprise of doing the two things.
The other thing to consider is the Government has now set up a Government Digital Service, the GDS, and they are in the process of developing a single government domain, which was a Martha Lane Fox recommendation for the Government. Once again, this was a cost reduction measure that each department need not be spending money on maintaining the infrastructure necessary for a website when that could be centralised. I would imagine that that Government Digital Service would be a good candidate for a part of government that would be able to rapidly develop the software required to maintain such a register.
Q390 Fabian Hamilton: You will forgive me here; I was not trying to be frivolous. There was a serious intent here. The point is that organisations like yours, entrepreneurs like you, can do these things at a fraction of the cost, and we all know the extraordinary inflation in costs of any government computer, IT or digital programme. So would it not be better to get entrepreneurs like you to develop the Government’s Digital Service or people in your situation?
Rob McKinnon: I am definitely available to have a conversation.
Fabian Hamilton: I can’t let the contract, obviously.
Rob McKinnon: I think we are all in agreement that this is a useful resource. It was an experiment. It is done in my spare time. It is not necessarily going to continue. I do this at some personal cost right now. But definitely if someone in government wanted to talk about either taking the software, or even just having a conversation about how I do things, because I have probably discovered some workarounds for merging information from different sources.
Q391 Fabian Hamilton: I think you will agree there is no point in re-inventing the wheel, is there? Why spend huge amounts of money doing what you have already done? We might as well just pay you for it.
Rob McKinnon: As UKPAC have said-it really depends on what the requirements are. So I think we have not really got to the bottom of what the requirements are for such a service.
Fabian Hamilton: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman.
Chair: Thank you, Mr Flynn/Hamilton. There was some heavy lobbying there, which I hope will be declared if Mr McKinnon makes a million out of it. But I would have to say, having had some recent experience with the speed with which civil service can let tenders, I want to ask Mr McKinnon to carry on doing the work in a private capacity for the foreseeable future.
Q392 Andrew Griffiths: Gentlemen, we have heard a lot about how you feel there needs to be more transparency in government, about how they are lobbied. Doesn’t that also apply to the Opposition, who you could say have a huge influence over policy, and that the public have a right to that information also?
Dr Chari: That is right; Yes, I would agree with that. But I think that the important point to underline there-and I am talking particularly of the Canadian experience or the more robust regulatory systems in general, which would be found in North America-the general rule would be that is if any attempt is made to influence political decisions that should be recorded. As a lobbyist you would have to give your details and specific registration details, and other things we have mentioned before, when you register as a lobbyist. If you have robust or even half-robust rules, you are clearly shedding light in terms of policymaking processes, and generally speaking adding some transparency of what goes on with either the Government or Opposition. That is the important point to underline here: that lobbying when it takes place-and you are totally right-can take place not just with the Government officials but also those who are not. But if there is an attempt to influence, broadly speaking, that is what is recorded.
Q393 Andrew Griffiths: Mr McKinnon, do you agree with that? Do you think we should know what is going on with the Leader of the Opposition and who he is meeting just as much as the Prime Minister?
Rob McKinnon: Many of us have come before this Committee and said it is an activity that needs to be defined, and then anyone engaged in the activity would need to register that. So if it is considered any approach to a Member of Parliament is of public interest, then it is just a matter of definition that that activity would then be recorded.
Q394 Andrew Griffiths: We heard that legislation has been introduced in various countries and then amended later. Are there any examples where legislation has been amended because the burdens have been particularly onerous or costly? Are there any examples where it has been watered down?
Dr Chari: Not really. Generally it has been amended because the regulations either didn’t ask for enough information, or it was deemed by the Government of the day that more information on the lobbyist was deemed necessary, so they made it more robust and asked different questions, or there could have been loopholes in the legislation. For example, you may have rules saying that if you meet with a lobbyist and you are a minister, that lobbyist has to be registered, but if the minister invites the lobbyist, then they don’t need to be registered. That was a loophole that existed in Canadian legislation in the beginning, but then they realised that this was a loophole so they made it so that that could not be done any more.
I don’t know if you were here when we talked about how we tried to make different sorts of regulatory systems. In our research we talk about low-, medium- and high-regulatory systems. What we have basically seen in the quantitative point scale of 1:30 for low, 31:59 for medium, and 60:87-which is our maximum for Washington State-for high, that when there have been amendments that have been made the legislation has become more robust. In fact the federal legislation in the United States was at one time medium-regulated, but with the last change in 2007 it became highly regulated. I don’t know if that answers your question, but generally speaking there is a lot of policy learning going on here. That is the other thing to keep in mind as well, as you are considering developing legislation, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be the last word. You can develop some proposals, you can get them into law and maybe you will see some other things are needed and you might make amendments within five to 10 years. That is how it has been in other countries.
Q395 Andrew Griffiths: It is always a ratcheting-up of the legislation rather than down?
Dr Chari: The only case we have seen where there have been lobbying laws that were then abandoned altogether was the Hungarian Government with Fidesz.
Q396 Andrew Griffiths: Am I right in thinking that in Canada the onus is on the lobbyist to register their meeting?
Dr Chari: Correct. That is right. That is an important point I tried to underline before. One thing we have is in the case of ministerial meetings where the State gives the information to the public as to who they have met with. In the case of lobbying legislation throughout the world, not just Canada, the onus is on the lobbyist to provide the information with an independent regulatory authority. That information goes on a centralised database that is open for the public to scrutinise.
Q397 Andrew Griffiths: What is the maximum fine anywhere in the world for failure to declare?
Dr Chari: To my knowledge the maximum fine would be in Canada with, as we mentioned before, a maximum fine of $200,000 with a potential for up to a two-year jail sentence for giving misinformation.
Q398 Andrew Griffiths: Can I just go back in relation to Who’s Lobbying. It says in our sheet here that there were 1,560 entries in different public documents. What percentage of all the entries was that, just to get a perspective on the scale?
Rob McKinnon: You are talking about the issue of different name variants being used for organisations?
Andrew Griffiths Yes.
Rob McKinnon: Yes, so I have some updated figures on that. Just to explain the situation: currently when the name of an organisation is provided in either a government Department report or one of the industry registers provided by APPC or PRCA, the name of the company is just a piece of text that can be typed in by someone. I have found, as you have identified now, over 1,700 of these, in the case of government reports, have been provided with a variance of the name. That is about 26% of the entities that have been disclosed as meeting government, so about a quarter there.
Q399 Andrew Griffiths: Do you think that is deliberate variance or do you think that is accidental?
Rob McKinnon: There is a combination of things. Acronyms are very popular in the United Kingdom so often acronyms will be provided. Also, just misspellings or just saying "Authority" instead of "Association" in the name, or just common mistakes humans make. There is also the fact that a number of bodies are going through rebranding exercises so a lot of charities are changing their name. Obviously companies can do the same as well. Companies can operate under a trading name and have a different registered name, so different combinations of that can be provided. That is why I have said that it would be best to require the publication of a company number, in the case of the entity being a registered legal company, or a charity number if it is also a charity. This is similar to the way the UK Electoral Commission political donations register works. It requires that the company number be provided. It makes it a lot easier for someone coming along to analyse and collate this information by legal entity, which I think is an important thing-an outcome we should consider to be important-that that be possible.
I just had a look at this Canadian disclosure from <?oasys [pc10p0] ?>Dr Chari and all subsidiary companies also had to be disclosed. So this is very crucial as well: that we have the combination of the parent company and all of the subsidiary companies related to an issue.
Q400 Andrew Griffiths: Just one final question for Dr Chari. Where this legislation has been introduced, have there been any surveys or quantitative work done to show that public confidence in government and politicians has improved as a result?
Dr Chari: That is an excellent question. Our own research did surveys to politicians, lobbyists and administrators, so we didn’t do a public opinion survey per se. I am not aware of any data that has been collected with regard to public opinion on registries. The general assumption is that if you add some sunshine into the policymaking black box that there is a benefit for mass publics. I am not entirely sure that surveys would capture that. At least the theoretical perspective is that you are empowering citizens with knowledge, and you are giving them the opportunity to see exactly who is trying to influence who when policy is made. That can only be good for your policy. By empowering them with knowledge, they understand how government works, and you decrease cynicism.
Q401 Andrew Griffiths: You could argue that we could get the Prime Minister to wear a head-cam 24 hours a day and we would know exactly what he was doing at any moment in time. What I am saying is, can we demonstrate that these measures actually have any impact on the public’s perception of politicians, or is it a small group of people who have a particular interest who say it would?
Dr Chari: No. Again, if you are asking for public opinion surveys on a large end scale that have been performed on this, I am not aware of any, so I can’t give you that data. What you might want to do is go back to your constituency and ask. I think it is generally assumed within countries that have high to medium regulation that interested parties-and not just lobbyists themselves or politicians or administrators-do have that ability. It gives citizens the ability to find all of this information if they need it and if they want it, and they can see that maybe a corporation is lobbying a ministry on a law and having a position that they are not in agreement with and they might not buy that company’s product. They might see that a politician is talking to 500 corporations and not once to an NGO and they might not vote for the politician. It is an interesting idea for a study to see where the hits come from-we can ask the regulators to give us their data on that-but we know from talking to the regulators themselves that they get thousands of hits every day, and invariably that is not just going to be people working in the profession; it is going to be citizens.
Q402 Andrew Griffiths: So there is evidence that these registers are well-thumbed?
Dr Chari: They are widely consumed, yes. In fact registrars will get third-party complaints all the time about citizens knowing-or I suppose competitors as well-that people are lobbying without having registered, and they will file that third party complaint to a registrar and the registrar will spearhead an investigation into that. Yes, it has happened several times.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed, Raj and Rob. You have been very informative-very interesting. Certainly we will pick up, between now and when we do our report, the question about the way in which government is responding currently to its mandate under the ministerial code to have some of this information in the public domain. Whatever we come up with in our report, it is not satisfactory if the deadlines are not being met for putting this stuff into the public arena, and I will take that up directly with the Cabinet Secretary.
Thank you so much for your evidence today. You have been extremely informative and helpful. Thank you for coming along. Thank you, colleagues-a very good session. Thank you very much indeed.