Political and Constitutional Reform CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Index on Censorship
Policy Paper: Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists
1. Index on Censorship welcomes the Government’s bid to increase the transparency and accountability of lobbyists in the interests of public trust.
2. However, the consultation as it stands outlines very limited options for regulation and falls short of the OECD’s “10 Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying”.1 If the Government is serious about making the buying of influence transparent, it will need to develop legislation that creates a statutory register of lobbyists, publishes the legislative footprint of lobbying, and considers the influence of foreign agents. It is also important to note that regulation should not create a gateway for the state to decide which parties can or cannot lobby; it should merely be a tool to allow transparency.
3. As an international NGO that lobbies government, we welcome the opportunity to make our dealings with politicians open and accountable. Our funding is transparent, with over 98% of our donations named on the Charity Commission website (the exception is for small individual donations). Yet, whilst we are lobbying to defend a fundamental human right—the right to freedom of expression—others, who are not transparent about their sources of funding or dealings with government, are able to lobby against our work. We believe this is detrimental to the promotion of fundamental freedoms and to the debate about these freedoms.
4. Regulation of for-profit lobbying cannot come soon enough. As this submission will demonstrate, London is now at the centre of the global lobbying trade. In recent years, the governments of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Mubarak’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others have all led their lobbying operations from our capital.
5. When approaching legislative changes, Index believes it should be recognised that lobbying by the charity sector, for aims already tightly regulated by the Charity Commission, is different in character from lobbying on behalf of a foreign government or private enterprise. Charities’ right and duty to influence decision-makers should not be made more difficult by burdensome regulations. The Government should consider that statutory registration may lead to a monopoly in which none but the largest charities can access Members of Parliament.2 Any statutory register must not interfere with the democratic right of charities to engage with decision makers, and particular care must be taken to ensure smaller groups are not discouraged from lobbying. The approach of the Government needs to be wider than the options outlined in the consultation; else the legislation will impose a regulatory burden on the third sector without making for-profit lobbying more accountable.
The Problem with the Lobbying Industry
Unfair access to politicians
6. Lobbyists pride themselves on their links to politicians. Lobbyist Derek Draper famously boasted “there are 17 people who count in this government ... [to] say I am intimate with every one of them is the understatement of the century.”3 In evidence to Index on Censorship, lobbyists admitted that their connections to politicians are a key part of the service they offer.
7. In a series of meetings with lobbying firm Bell Pottinger, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s undercover team posed as representatives of the Uzbek Government and discussed the possibility of collaborating with the firm. They filmed Bell Pottinger employees bragging of their connections with the Conservative Party, namely their access to Foreign Secretary William Hague and David Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn.4
8. “I wouldn’t quite say I have him on my speed dial,” one executive said of Hague, “but I can get hold of him and talk to him.”
9. Without transparency over the access afforded to lobbying firms by leading politicians, organisations that may wish to present an alternative view (or even, understand the current policy position of the same politicians) may be limited. It is clearly detrimental to good governance, if politicians only hear one side of an argument.
10. Thanks to the Declaration of Members’ Interests, we know of any gifts or hospitality enjoyed by parliamentarians. We do not know however the total cost of such lobbying operations, or the trips enjoyed by influential members of political parties.
11. With Azerbaijan’s notoriously poor human rights record, British MPs ought to be concerned about the propriety of any organisation lobbying and taking MPs on “fact-finding missions”. Yet, Mark Field MP has taken two trips from The European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS) worth GBP 6,000. In May 2011, he was joined on a delegation by Bob Blackman MP, Stephen Hammond MP, and former Sports Minister, Labour’s Gerry Sutcliffe MP at a cost to TEAS of GBP 3,500 per parliamentarian. At the end of 2011, a parliamentary Early Day Motion was tabled in the UK House of Commons congratulating Azerbaijan on the 20th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union—with no mention of the country’s poor human rights record, or reputation for corruption. All bar one of the primary sponsors of the motion had received paid-for trips to Azerbaijan from TEAS.5
12. Bahrain is another authoritarian nation that is a significant spender on PR and lobbyists. It is estimated that since March 2011, Bahrain has paid £15 million to firms such as Bell Pottinger, Big Tent Communications, Gardant Communications, G3 Good Global Governance, Hill and Knowlton, M&C Saatchi and YouGovStone.6 It also spends considerable sums on taking British politicians over to Bahrain on “fact-finding” missions of questionable merit. A March 2011 survey by the Guardian found British parliamentarians took 18 trips paid for by the Bahrain Government, at a total cost of £42,700.7 Research by John Horne, Director of Community, EA Worldview found that in March 2009, The Gulf Policy Forum organised a trip to Bahrain sponsored by the Government. The delegation included Lord Lothain (Michael Ancram), Alan Duncan MP (then Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Minister) and Keith Simpson MP (then Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister). Two months later, opposition leader David Cameron registered gifts from King Hamad of cuff-links and a fountain pen.8In August, Liam Fox MP took a three-day trip, also paid for by the Bahrain Government, “to meet with the King of Bahrain as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence”.9 In October 2010, Gardant Communications organised a trip to Bahrain, paid for by the Government, for three members of the UK-Bahrain All-Party Parliamentary Committee: Chair Conor Burns MP, Pritti Patel MP and Thomas Docherty MP.10 This list is by no means comprehensive.
13. Britain is not alone in attracting the attention of foreign governments. There is also a significant lobbying operation by Azerbaijan in Germany with the Azeri Government hiring the Berlin-based Consultum Communications public relations agency. The Director of Consultum, Hans-Erich Bilges is a former editor of Bild, Germany’s highest circulation newspaper. His firm has also advised the authoritarian governments of Belarus and Kazakhstan. On 29 September 2011, a German gala to celebrate Azerbaijan’s 20th year of independence was held at the Berlin’s German Historical Museum and attended by luminaries of the political scene including the wife of the then-President of Germany Christian Wulff, former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (1982–1992) and former Economics Minister Michael Glos (2005–2009). The latter, Genscher and Glos, are board members of Consultum. “I wouldn’t have gone (to the event),” said Markus Löning, the German Government’s human rights commissioner. German MP Marina Schuster agreed: “Azerbaijan’s behaviour here borders on brazenness. This kind of lobbying work goes far beyond what is acceptable.”11
Spinning for regimes
14. There are various other ways that lobbyists help foreign regimes. Bell Pottinger executives told the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporters that they had written Sri Lankan President Rajapaska’s speech to the United Nations in 2010 which “went a long way to taking the country where it needed to go”. They also said they had manipulated search engine results to boost Google rankings for money transfer company Dahabshiil, serving the Horn of Africa.
15. When asked by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s undercover reporter if there were ways of “dealing with” the Uzbek Government’s Wikipedia entry (which the president was said to be “unhappy with”), Bell Pottinger said they used “all sorts of dark arts” to create a more favourable image. Uzbekistan has been widely condemned for its human rights record.12 Opposition and dissent is routinely silenced, with activists and journalists frequently targeted by authorities.
16. Lobbyists also work closely with PR firms to place pro-government editorial pieces in the media, and even seek to silence their critics through legal action.
17. Index has revealed that Bahrain has not only been consistent in denying entry to human rights monitors wanting to assess the situation, but its government has also used Western PR machines to polish its image and silence critics. Both tactics work to suppress a narrative and silence free speech. Ahead of the first anniversary of mass protests on 14 February this year, journalists and human rights activists were refused visas to enter the country. Index also reported that Washington DC-based PR firm Qorvis receives a monthly stipend from the Bahraini Government of $40,000. The company operates by “attempting to influence journalists or opinion makers through the strategic placement of favourable reports defending the actions of the Bahrain Government. Their methods range from circulating articles on outlets such as PR Newsire, to emailing journalists directly in order to defend the actions of the regime.” British intelligence firm Olton is also said to carry out “reputation management” work for Bahrain’s Ministry of Interior, and their software is reported to be able to identify “ringleaders” through using social media such as Twitter and Facebook.13
18. When the Guardian criticised the Government of Bahrain, its advisors demanded a right to reply putting forward the influential former ambassador to Bahrain Sir Harold Walker to write the piece. Another figure of influence, former Sunday Times political editor David Cracknell, now employed by Big Tent Communication wrote directly to the Guardian to firmly request a right to reply. He wrote:
19. “Despite what those who do not know Bahrain well sometimes think, freedom of expression and right to assembly is entrenched in the constitution—hundreds of demos go ahead each year without trouble.”
20. The Guardian suggested that Sir Harold could post a comment on the article like anyone else.14
21. Alongside a revolving door between politics and the industry, many journalists are now working for lobbying firms. George Pascoe-Watson, former political editor of the Sun, left the redtop in 2009 to work at lobbying firm Portland Consultancy. American-owned PR and lobbying firm Edelman has recruited former journalists such as Richard Sambrook of the BBC and the Financial Times’ Stefan Stern.15
How to make lobbying more transparent
22. Index on Censorship believes that in order to ensure transparency a broad series of measures are required including a requirement for ministries to publish the legislative footprint of lobbying, a code of conduct and a statutory register of lobbyists working in the UK.
(a) Statutory registration of lobbyists
23. We agree with the principle of statutory registration to increase the transparency of the lobbying industry. Registration should not be a “gateway” to allow or prohibit lobbying (as this would have an impact on free expression) and must allow retrospective registration within a sensible timeframe.
What should a statutory register cover?
A statutory register should be comprehensive, so that the public can obtain sufficient information about lobbying activities. It should include:
24. A statutory register would raise the standard of transparency of for-profit lobbyists to that already engaged by charities. Index notes the NCVO position on the registration of charities:
“The current proposed register is simply bringing multi-client agencies up to the level of transparency already exercised by charities and in-house lobbyist, by making clear who these agencies are representing. While this is a positive step, it does not add anything to the safeguards and requirements already in place for charities.”
25. Moreover, charities are subject to additional regulation. If a charity chooses to lobby for a short period of time, this must be in line with the Charity Commission’s guidance.16
26. If statutory registration is implemented it needs to create a level playing field between the highly regulated framework charities operate in, and the for-profit lobbying sector. The register ought to include an element of detail around the contractual relationship between the client and lobbyist (as detailed above), without creating an onerous bureaucracy or creating a “gateway” that will allow the UK Government to create who can or can’t lobby.
(b) The legislative footprint of lobbying
27. The inclusion of the footprint of lobbying in any published legislation is necessary to guarantee the probity of Acts of Parliament. A footprint appended to the end of draft legislation would outline all representations made to government, or ministers, by third parties and in particular whether any representations had changed draft clauses of the legislation.
The Digital Economy Act
Index on Censorship raised concerns over the role of lobbyists in the formulation of the Digital Economy Act. One MP described the lobbying by the entertainment industry over the then Digital Economy Bill as “unprecedented and relentless”. Lord Clement-Jones tabled an amendment (120a) which was almost word for word identical to a draft amendment written by the BPI, a lobby group for the British music industry. The amendment, if passed, could have banned access to sites such as Youtube—a clear infringement of the right to freedom of expression. Lord Clement-Jones at the time was paid £70,000 a year for “parliamentary lobbying” for law firm DLA Piper whose “Intellectual Property and Technology practice is one of the largest groups of IP lawyers in the world”. A legislative footprint would have made open and transparent any representations by third parties to the Government on this issue, and allowed parliament to assess the Bill in this context.
28. The footprint should include a full disclosure of parliamentarians’ interests that may pertain to the Bill and whether they had made representations to either civil servants or ministers on this issue. Increasingly, former lobbyists (with paid relationships with particular clients and interests) are elected as MPs. 28 Conservative prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) in the 2010 general election were lobbyists; of Labour’s PPCs 7 were lobbyists and for the Liberal Democrats, 3. Of those elected that year, a number of high-profile private sector lobbyists entered Parliament. Aviva’s head of public affairs Tracey Crouch became Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford; former Hanover associate Penny Mordaunt won Portsmouth North. Finsbury Group partner Robin Walker in Worcester won as did former Portland partner George Eustice in Camborne and Redruth; former PLMR director Conor Burns won in Bournemouth West; whilst Weber Shandwick director Priti Patel won Witham, former EDS lobbyist Mike Dugher took Barnsley East. There is no question that former lobbyists can make excellent constituency MPs, but legislation should be clear if MPs have made representations on behalf of former clients.
(c) A code of conduct for lobbyists
29. A code of conduct would set out clear expectations of how interested parties should interact with the Government. Australia established a lobbying code of conduct17 alongside a register in 2008. It adds that lobbyists will use “all reasonable endeavours” to satisfy themselves of the truth and accuracy of the information provided to them by the clients they represent; and shall not make “misleading, exaggerated or extravagant claims about, or otherwise misrepresent, the nature or extent of their access to government representatives, members of political parties or to any other person.”18
30. The code also requires lobbyists to keep their work as lobbyists and any involvement on behalf of a political party strictly separate. They must inform government representatives that they are lobbyists or employees of lobbyists; whether they are listed on the country’s register of lobbyists, the name of any relevant client(s) and the nature of matters their client wishes them to raise.
(d) Transparent international lobbying
31. While a statutory register with the features Index proposes would go a long way to creating a much more transparent environment for lobbying in the UK, it will not add to transparency in other countries around the world and towards intergovernmental bodies (such as the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe, EU). Many other countries and organisations—including the Council of Europe—do not even have voluntary lobbyist registers. London—like Washington—is one of the global hub countries for international lobby companies. Many of these received funding from and have clients who are governments of other countries, who in a number of cases are funding lobbying that undermines or intends to undermine fundamental freedoms in their countries or in the assessments and actions of intergovernmental organisations. Lobbyists based in the UK have in recent years worked for some of the world’s most autocratic governments including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Mubarak’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia (to name but a few).
32. Other countries have far more exacting standards. For 70 years, Americans have been informed of the activities of lobbyists working on behalf of foreign governments through the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Act is a statutory registration system that shows who is lobbying government, discloses their spending and activities in significant detail, and is open to the public.
33. Just as with bribery and corruption, the lack of transparency in international lobbying can and should be tackled both at source and at destination. Index considers wider consideration is needed of how to promote transparency of lobby organisations based in the UK but lobbying abroad whose activities—or all of whose activities—will not be captured by the UK statutory register. While the UK statutory register should represent an important step forward within the UK, the next step must be to consider how best to promote international transparency of UK-based bodies.
34. Index on Censorship welcomes the Government’s consultation on a statutory register of lobbyists. A statutory register if comprehensive and enacted alongside a strong code of conduct and a commitment to detailing the legislative footprint of lobbyists, would make transparent the relationship between lobbyists, politicians and civil servants. This would help reduce scepticism and public distrust of the political process and help the main political parties move on from recent scandals. With London increasingly at the centre of the international lobbying trade for foreign governments, consideration should next be given to how to make this trade more accountable abroad. Reform cannot come soon enough.
OECD, “The 10 Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying”
2 Mike Harris, “Proceed with care”, Public Affairs News (September 2010).
Greg Palast, “Britain for Sale”
http://www.gregpalast.com/tony-blair-and-the-sale-of-britain/ (May 2004).
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “PR uncovered: Top lobbyists boast of how they influence the PM”
http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/12/05/pr-uncovered-top-lobbyists-boast-of-how-they-influence-the-pm/ (November 2011).
Andrew Gillian, “Graeme Lamb: British general's company paid to support Bahrain dictatorship”,
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/andrewgilligan/100142981/graeme-lamb-british-generals-company-paid-to-support-bahrain-dictatorship/ (March 2012) NB: Public relations and consultancy firms New Century Media and Dragon Associates both worked for the Bahrain International Circuit, which is state owned.
The Guardian, “MPs accepted Middle East regimes’ hospitality 107 times in a decade”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/mar/25/mps-middle-east-regimes-hospitality (March 2011).
The Guardian, “Bahrain government funded MPs’ trip”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/24/bahrain-government-mps-trip (February 2011)
Mike Harris, “Azerbaijan’s image problem” in ‘Running Scared: Azerbaijan’s Silenced Voices”
http://www.indexoncensorship.org/Documents/Azerbaijan/12-03-26-azerbaijan.pdf (March 2012).
12 Human Rights Watch, “No-one left to witness: Torture, the Failure of Habeas Corpus, and the Silencing of Lawyers in Uzbekistan”, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/12/13/no-one-left-witness-0 (December 2011).
13 Index on Censorship, “Bahrain: February 14” http://www.indexoncensorship.org/bahrainfeb14/ (February 2012).
The Guardian, “Syria: Arab League monitors say they cannot stop the killing—Thursday 12 January”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/jan/12/syria-arab-league-monitors-cannot-stop-the-killing#block-26 (January 2012).
Ian Burrell, “PR stunt or the new journalism?: The titans of public relations are going direct to viewers and readers”, Independent
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/press/pr-stunt-or-the-new-journalism-the-titans-of-public-relations-are-going-direct-to-viewers-and-readers-1989936.html (June 2010).
Charity Commission, “Speaking out: Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities” (CC9)
18 Australia Lobbying Code of Conduct, p 5.