Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents

2  What is the problem?


13.  The right of citizens to lobby Government and Parliament, or to engage others to lobby on their behalf, is a fundamental part of a vibrant democracy. However, there is a perception in some quarters that some people have undue access to, and influence over, the policy-making process.

14.  The 2009 Public Administration Select Committee report stated that "some of the concerns that exist around improper influence are closely linked to the power of informal networks of friendships and relationships".[10] David Cameron outlined what he believed to be the problem of lobbying in February 2010:

I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people's worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works, with money buying power, power fishing for money, and a cosy club at the top making decisions in their own interest".[11]

As Tamasin Cave, campaigner for Spinwatch and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency told us: "We do not have public scrutiny of who is meeting whom and about what. So we have no way of knowing whether vested interests are having undue influence on policy."[12]

15.  Since 2010 there have been a number of media reports surrounding allegations of undue influence. These include

  • In March 2010, several then Members of Parliament were recorded expressing a willingness to use their contacts to lobby Government and Parliament, and were subsequently suspended from Parliament for varying periods on the recommendation of the Standards and Privileges Committee.[13]
  • In October 2011, the Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned when it was alleged that he had breached the Ministerial Code. An investigation conducted by the then Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell concluded that Liam Fox had breached the Ministerial Code.
  • In December 2011 Bell Pottinger, a lobbying firm, were filmed boasting that they had direct access to the Prime Minister and other senior Ministers.
  • In March 2012, Peter Cruddas, the co-treasurer of the Conservative Party was filmed apparently offering access to the Prime Minister in return for donations. He later resigned.
  • In April 2012 it was revealed that Frederic Michel, an in-house lobbyist for News Corporation, had been in regular communication with officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, including sending texts to the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, during the consideration of News International's bid for BSkyB. Adam Smith, special adviser to the Secretary of State, resigned.

Newspaper reports alleging close contact between politicians and lobbyists do nothing to reduce the suspicion felt by many ordinary people that large corporations or wealthy individuals have disproportionate influence over political decision making. Greater transparency regarding contacts between Ministers and lobbyists could help reduce this problem.

16.  Opinions from witnesses differed about whether the public concern about lobbying was justified. Francis Ingham, Chief Executive of the Public Relations Consultants Association claimed that: "there is unwarranted public concern that there are relationships between the lobbying community and parliamentarians or former parliamentarians or former ministers that is inappropriate".[14] However, Mark Adams, a lobbyist and author of the blog standup4lobbying, stated: "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".[15] In its consultation paper the Government stresses that the aim of a statutory register of lobbyists is to "increase the information available about lobbyists without unduly restricting lobbyists' freedom".[16] There is a public perception in some quarters that there are inappropriate relationships between Ministers and lobbyists and there is a need for action to address this perception.

10   Public Administration Committee, First Report of Session 2008-09, Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall, HC 36, para 41 Back

11   Rebuilding trust in politics, 8 February 2010, Error! Bookmark not defined.  Back

12   Q 57 Back

13   Standards and Privileges Committee, Ninth Report of Session 2009-10, Sir John Butterfill, Mr Stephen Byers, Ms Patricia Hewitt, Mr Geoff Hoon, Mr Richard Caborn and Mr Adam Ingram, HC654 Back

14   Q 193 Back

15   Q 86 Back

16   HM Government, Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists, January 2012, p7 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 13 July 2012