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Political and Constitutional Reform Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 153
Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
on Thursday 15 March 2012
Mr Graham Allen (Chair)
Mr Christopher Chope
Mrs Eleanor Laing
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Francis Ingham, Chief Executive, Public Relations Consultants Association, Jane Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and Helen Johnson, Chair, Association of Professional Political Consultants, gave evidence.
Q163 Chair: Welcome to the Committee, and thank you for coming along to help us with our inquiry on lobbying. I hope you will find this a helpful conversation. Neither you or we are on trial, so feel free to relax and tell us your views. I think it might be useful if we had a couple of minutes’ opening statement. Jane, would you like to go first?
Jane Wilson: Yes, certainly. Good morning, everyone. I am Jane Wilson, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, one of the bodies that represent the professional interests of lobbyists in the UK. Thank you for the opportunity to give our views in response to your questions today, and I am very pleased to be here alongside my colleagues, Francis and Helen, from the PRCA and the APPC. The CIPR represents the public relations and public affairs professional through individual membership. We have a membership of over 9,500 professionals and an active group of around 700 members who work in the broad discipline of public affairs. We offer training, professional development to support careers in public affairs, including the CIPR Public Affairs Diploma, which I believe is the only qualification of its kind awarded by a professional body. Above all we provide a code that regulates the professional conduct of our members, which, along with the PRCA and the APPC codes, is the cornerstone of industry self-regulation.
Our view of lobbying goes beyond the Government’s description of it as a legitimate activity. We see it as an essential part of the democratic process with an important part to play in the relationship to freedom of speech. However, we also accept that influencing public policy is an issue of public interest, and that lobbying should be open and transparent to be better understood and ultimately accepted. We therefore welcome the consultation insofar as the Government states that it wants to introduce a register that will improve knowledge about lobbying, accountability of lobbyists and more information on who and what influences public policy decisions.
However, the Government has expressed a preference for a register that includes only third party lobbyists, exempting by some estimates up to 80% of the active lobbying profession. If the aim is knowledge and accountability in the lobbying process, a register that omits in-house lobbyists would simply not achieve it. Along with the APPC, and initially the PRCA, we founded the UK Public Affairs Council, UKPAC, following the original Public Administration Select Committee report.
UKPAC was founded to provide a model for how a register could be developed and maintained independently of government. It achieved this not without a learning curve, not without some difficulties, but it is a learning curve that the Government could heed and it is the only current attempt to provide a publicly searchable register of both individual lobbyists and their employers. It was set up as a register to cover the membership of the founding bodies, so it would need to be adapted to meet statutory requirements, but we believe it could be one option for consideration as a delivery vehicle for a statutory register but only once the definition that would determine the scope of the register has been set.
There are a number of questions arising from the consultation, which I am sure we will cover here today. However, should the opportunity not arise in the rest of the session, I would like to stress that government attempts to register lobbyists should be complementary to industry structures of self-regulation, industry codes linked to professional conduct that are backed up by rigorous disciplinary structures that provide a process of accountability that clients, employees and members of the public can have confidence in. A register that covers all lobbyists and provides reasonable levels of accurate information could assist in making the process of lobbying better understood. Unfortunately the proposal in the consultation document is fundamentally flawed, and I urge the Government to reconsider its proposals as part of the consultation process. Thank you so much for bearing with me.
Q164 Chair: Thank you, Jane. Can you tell me why there are so many bodies in the field? Did they all fall out at one point?
Jane Wilson: Why there are so many what, sorry?
Chair: So many professional bodies.
Jane Wilson: I think the history is that-well, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, as I said, covers the broad church of public relations as a whole, and public affairs is part of that and lobbying is a subset within public affairs. So it is set up for individual professionals and their professional development. I believe the PRCA was set up separately as a body initially that looked after the interests of organisations, although that has emerged and evolved over time, and the APPC is specifically for public affairs only. So I hope we are complementary. We have a lot of cross-pollination between our members. Members who join us individually, professionally, may themselves now be members of the PRCA and their companies of the APPC.
Q165 Chair: Francis or Helen, do you want to make a little statement?
Francis Ingham: Yes, thank you. My name is Francis Ingham, I am the Chief Executive of the PRCA and prior to assuming that role I was Assistant Director General of the CIPR and I was a lobbyist to the CBI, in the charitable sector.
Q166 Paul Flynn: You had a sort of religious conversion, did you?
Francis Ingham: I do not think there was any sacrament involved, no. I was also a Conservative Party councillor.
Paul Flynn: You are-
Q167 Chair: Paul, I have just invited the witnesses to make an opening statement. Let them finish, if you would be so kind.
Francis Ingham: But I will not be going into holy orders.
Chair: And you too, Francis, stay on message.
Francis Ingham: The PRCA is a membership body founded in 1969, and together the three of us represent and regulate the public affairs industry. We represent agencies, so from the very large ones down to very small ones, in-house teams from multinationals to charities to the public sector, and individuals as well. We hold, as a requirement of membership, a register, which all of our members must complete four times a year, and we have held that for over 10 years. It identifies the clients and the individuals who offer public affairs services. There are about 1,000 people on it and slightly more than 1,000 clients. We also require our members to sign up to two codes of conduct, a generalist one and a public affairs-specific one. Those codes are often written into their work contracts by their employers.
Regarding the consultation paper, we welcomed it and we would have wished to have seen it earlier. We welcome the Government’s proposal for a statutory register and we believe that is essential to improving transparency and public confidence in the industry. Our problem with the Government’s proposal is that it has a very narrow definition. It will cover only, as Jane said, a quite small part of the industry. It will exclude anybody who works in an in-house team, whether that is a corporate, a charity or the public sector itself. It will exclude lawyers who lobby. It will exclude management consultants who lobby, accountants who lobby. It will not cover very many people. So we think that that is not only unfair to the people who will be covered, but that it will also fail to meet the Government’s objectives, which we share.
Two further final comments. As Jane said, we did help to found UKPAC in 2009. We left it in December of last year. We left it with regret because of its inability to put together a comprehensive and accurate register of public affairs individuals and because of, in our view, the lack of confidence the industry has in it. We believe it would be a very grave mistake if the Government were to give UKPAC the responsibility for holding any register that it creates.
Our final comment would be that, in our view, the Government ought to listen to the criticisms made of its plans, I hope constructive in many regards. It ought to amend its plans to take those on board, broaden the scope of the register, and then get on with implementing it rather than wasting any more time. Thank you.
Helen Johnson: I am Helen Johnson. My day job is managing director of a small public affairs and policy consultancy, but I am here today in my capacity as Chair of the APPC, which I stress is both part-time and unpaid, but I am here as a volunteer and not as a pressed woman.
The APPC is the self-regulatory and representative body for political consultancies only. So that is firms or agencies with third party clients and, therefore-you will have seen the proposals-we have a particular interest in the proposals on the table.
We currently have 68 member firms across the whole of the UK.1 We employ a total of 1,152 political consultants and we are providing consultancy services to currently 1,877 clients. We were formed in 1994, specifically to encourage openness and transparency and to promote high standards of ethical behaviour in dealings with institutions of government. We have been operating our own register of consultants, staff and our clients now for nearly 17 years. Our register, like the PRCA’s, is updated quarterly, published on the APPC website, and we also require all of our members to adhere to a code of conduct, which is enforced through various compliance mechanisms, including being written into consultants’ contracts of employment. We have an independently run complaints and disciplinary process too.
We were very pleased and proud to be founder members of the UK Public Affairs Council and, along with the CIPR, we continue to be supporters of the Council going forward.
I should emphasise from the outset that there is a wide spectrum of views and opinions on a whole range of issues among APPC members. That is probably inevitable with 68 firms in membership. We are still consulting on our detailed response to the Government’s proposals. I will do my best to share with you the APPC view but I am aware that some of our members will have written to the Committee separately, or will be responding to the proposals separately, and may be expressing different views from the ones that I do today.
We are absolutely not opposed to statutory registration. We have been running our own client register for nearly 17 years. We do that because we believe it is the right thing to do and we believe it should be the norm for anyone lobbying in a professional capacity. We welcome the consultation as a starting point but we are disappointed in what is being proposed. The primary reason for that, as you have already heard from Jane and Francis, is the starting premise that the register need only extend to lobbyists who are acting on behalf of a third party. Not only do we think that is flawed, we think ultimately it is pretty pointless for a number of reasons.
By and large, we are the sector, as you have heard, that are already self-registering. We are the sector that are already registered. Secondly, again the vast majority of lobbyists are not working for multi-client firms, as you have heard. They are working in-house or for charities or think-tanks, unions, law firms, and so on. Thirdly, in the case of the APPC, with the exception of the proposal to list previous public office, we already declare voluntarily on our register more information than the Government is proposing we should do through a statutory vehicle, which seems at best to be a duplication of what we already do and at worst an unnecessary regulatory burden. By and large, also I would say, it is not firms like ours that are doing the lobbying. For the most part we are advising our clients, they are doing their own lobbying, so that does call into question who is the lobbyist here in many of these situations.
The net result with the proposals on the table at the moment is that you end up with a statutory register not of lobbyists but of a particular subset of lobbyists and a minority of lobbyists at that. At best, as I said, that would duplicate information already available. At worst you could end up with less information in the public domain than currently, which of course then decreases transparency rather than increases it. If a register is to be introduced, it has to apply universally to all those who lobby on a professional basis. We feel that anything falling short of that will fail to deliver the increased transparency that the Government is looking for.
Getting the definition of lobbying right is absolutely key in this respect, and I would just finish on this point-as bizarre as it may sound, as the proposals stand currently it is not clear that the current Chair of the APPC will be required to add herself to this statutory register. Thank you.
Q168 Paul Flynn: How many of your members have you expelled in the 17 years you have been going, Ms Johnson?
Helen Johnson: Let me just turn to the relevant piece of information there. We have a number of procedures in place.
Paul Flynn: The question is how many have you expelled?
Helen Johnson: I am looking for the information. We have suspended-
Paul Flynn: Perhaps Mr Ingham can tell us. How many have you expelled?
Helen Johnson: We have suspended, Mr Flynn, two members that have been brought to my attention and one member was persuaded, for want of a better word, to resign for failure to comply with the requirement to complete registers. We have a range of sanctions attached to our code of conduct, including reprimand, public reprimand, public apology, remedial action and so on and so forth. Our disciplinary process has a range of sanctions attached to it, but in terms of suspension, the information I have been given, and this obviously pre-dates my chairmanship is that we have suspended two.
Q169 Paul Flynn: One expulsion and one suspension?
Helen Johnson: Two suspensions.
Q170 Paul Flynn: What was your total membership in that period?
Helen Johnson: Total membership?
Q171 Paul Flynn: Yes. How many organisations, groups, individuals, do you have in your organisation? That is about 0.1%, I would think.
Helen Johnson: We currently have 68 firms in membership who between them employ 1,152 political consultants. I could not, off the top of my head, tell you how many members we had at the time of those suspensions.
Q172 Paul Flynn: Yes, okay. The behaviour of the other 99.9% has been immaculate in that time, not requiring any interference from you?
Helen Johnson: We have a complaints and a disciplinary procedure that by definition requires that someone brings a complaint to us. I do not have the full complaints history in front of me.
Q173 Paul Flynn: I just want to probe how effective you are as bodies that discipline your own members.
Helen Johnson: No, that is fine.
Q174 Paul Flynn: Mr Ingham, how many have you expelled?
Francis Ingham: Since I have been the Chief Executive over the last five years we have handled five complaints, I would say. None of those have led to expulsion.
Q175 Paul Flynn: So, it is none. Okay, thanks very much. Ms Wilson?
Jane Wilson: One in the last 12 years.
Q176 Paul Flynn: Out of how many members?
Jane Wilson: 9,500 members.
Q177 Paul Flynn: Do you think the fact the three organisations are fighting like cats in a sack is any recommendation that you should have self-regulation when you clearly can’t regulate yourselves or even come to an agreed form of single association? Is it not right that you need someone to bang your heads together from outside?
Jane Wilson: No. I think it is a leap to go from saying a small number of members have been expelled to saying that we can’t self-regulate. We do have a process that goes, like Helen’s, through conciliation. We have reprimands, we have suspensions. We had eight cases between 2000 and 2008. Since then we have seen a massive increase in the amount of cases coming forward and we have a fully independent-I do not see the evidence that-
Paul Flynn: It seems clear-that is okay, I will not reach any conclusions.
Chair: Paul, you must let the witness finish otherwise I will not let you finish. Jane, carry on.
Jane Wilson: So I think there is a leap. Certainly between 2009 and 2010 there were 120 hours spent on our disciplinary procedure; 2010 and 2011 there were over 400 hours. We have cases ongoing at the moment. We do take this incredibly seriously and to say that we have found people to go through the process and it has not resulted in expulsion does not mean it is not working. It perhaps means that some of the complaints are unfounded. It perhaps means that those who are within our codes are behaving well.
Q178 Paul Flynn: I am trying my best to understand your answer to the question. In your period of existence how many members, how many have been expelled?
Jane Wilson: In the past 12 years, one expulsion.
Q179 Paul Flynn: That is the answer, okay. What percentage would that be of your membership?
Jane Wilson: It is about 9,500, so it is 0.001%, I guess.
Q180 Paul Flynn: 0.001%. That is a remarkable organisation of saintly people, isn’t it?
Jane Wilson: But remember those are-
Paul Flynn: That is the extent of your discipline, that you have expelled 0.001%.
Jane Wilson: No, that is not the extent of our discipline. That is one part of the disciplinary procedure.
Q181 Paul Flynn: Okay, what are the other parts?
Jane Wilson: The other parts would be yearly reprimand or suspend and there is a hearing process that takes place. But remember those who are within our code of conduct, and Francis’ and Helen’s code of conduct, have chosen to do so. When they join up they sign up to behave in an ethical and transparent way. They sign up to a code of conduct. I do believe in all of our organisations people are taking it more seriously. The register as it is proposed is not one that is about code of conduct; it is about registration.
Q182 Paul Flynn: 99.9% of your members that abide are worthy of a hagiography, I would have thought, on this. It is remarkable to hear of such virtue. Ms Johnson, I believe our paths have crossed in the past involving an all-party parliamentary group here.
Helen Johnson: Indeed.
Q183 Paul Flynn: There was an all-party parliamentary group on rheumatoid arthritis that became an all-party group on inflammatory arthritis. Were you involved in that change?
Helen Johnson: No, I was not involved in that change. My firm was involved in providing secretariat support to that all-party group with effect from the beginning of January 2006.
Q184 Paul Flynn: What happened when it changed to the other group? Were you involved then? You were not involved at all when it changed?
Helen Johnson: I was not involved in the group prior to that change at all, no.
Q185 Paul Flynn: When you were involved in the group were they supported by pharmaceutical companies?
Helen Johnson: I was not supported by pharmaceutical companies. What happened with the funding and support for that group was the secretariat to that group was provided by a charity called the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and they received funding and support from a range of sources. It was the charity NRAS who paid for me to help support that secretariat, as declared in the all-party group register.
Q186 Paul Flynn: It was NRAS that was supported by Abbott, by Wyeth, by Roche, and by a whole range of bodies. The point I want to put to you is whether the role of lobbyists and people in that group is a benign one, because in my view the role of that group, which I do not think exists any more, was undermined because it became a mouthpiece, not for patients but for the drug companies. I am just curious whether your involvement changed it from that.
Helen Johnson: My involvement, my firm was retained to support the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and not anybody else. I can’t speak for the funding arrangements that that charity had with its supporters. I am not party to those; I am not familiar with those. My firm was appointed to help support the group on behalf of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
Q187 Paul Flynn: Who have now formed a different mechanism. They now have sort of friends of the NRAS. I think they have come out of the all-party group. You have no involvement in that?
Helen Johnson: The all-party group was disbanded at the time of the general election in 2010. My understanding is it was not reformed. I do not know necessarily the reasons for that and, no, we are not involved in supporting that work at all at the moment.
Q188 Paul Flynn: Can I ask the others about how lobbyists are involved in all-party parliamentary groups here? This is an instance where a group was set up by well-meaning patients and was reasonably successful but then was infested by money and-corrupted is possibly too strong a word because there were still good people involved. But certainly their aims were undermined by the influence of the drug companies who came in to advance the cause of their drugs rather than what was necessarily beneficial for the patients, and the organisation has now collapsed and does not exist. Is it your view, Mr Ingham and Ms Wilson, that this is what happens with other all-party groups here, which is a subject being investigated by a Committee?
Francis Ingham: I believe we have submitted evidence around all-party groups. Let me say this about our members and how they declare their interests. They all declare their clients four times a year, so if they are working with an all-party group they will declare that four times a year. It is in the public domain, anybody can see it. They declare the names of all of their staff who work in public affairs. Anybody can see that as well. As Helen said, our register, like the APPC’s register, has been there for years. If you believe that the involvement of private companies or of consultancies is corrupting all-party groups, then the parliamentary authorities ought to take action here. The responsibility for appropriate behaviour of party groups does not rest with me and my members, it rests far more so with the parliamentary authorities. If you wish to regulate all-party groups more so, then feel free.
Q189 Paul Flynn: In the general approach you all take, it seems to me the whole of the lobbying industry wants to widen the scope of regulations that have come out. Should all my 60,000 constituents be registered, because most of them lobby me?
Francis Ingham: I do not think they lobby you professionally.
Q190 Paul Flynn: A lot of them do. Over the years I have had as many as 10,000 lobby me on one single issue and there is 62,000 of them.
Francis Ingham: Within any sensible definition of lobbying you would not include everybody’s constituents, because it would be so wide as to be utterly meaningless.
Q191 Paul Flynn: Is that not what you are trying to do? You are trying to take a proposition, which is manageable, about corporate lobbyists and spread it so that it becomes not more effective. It actually becomes weaker if you have to apply it to tens of thousands of charities and trade unions and other bodies that we do not see as a problem. The problem appears to be corporate lobbyists.
Francis Ingham: Let me say this, having worked for the CBI and for charities. If you go to the CBI, you will find a floor of over 100 lobbyists; none of them would be included in this register that is proposed. Having worked in the charitable sector, you will find thousands of lobbyists. None of them would be included either. If you want transparency about the lobbying industry you would make it wide to include everybody who lobbies professionally, not somebody who drops you a line saying, "Please don’t close my hospital; I live there and I like it", but somebody who does stuff for money or in a board role within an organisation. That seems to me very well defined, not at all broad to dilute it in any way whatsoever.
The problem with this is that the register that has been proposed by the Government will have less detail than the current voluntary registers and include fewer people. I do not see how you can make a call for greater transparency by reducing the amount of information that is required and reducing the number of people who are required to give it.
Q192 Paul Flynn: The public’s concern about lobbying is largely involving corporate lobbyists and large sums of money or important decisions taken at a very high level, and there is not any evidence I know of public disquiet about people collecting to repair the village roof.
Francis Ingham: If you have any primary research to back that up I would be delighted to see it, but that is not my understanding of the situation.
Q193 Paul Flynn: Why do you think there is public concern about lobbying?
Francis Ingham: I think there is unwarranted public concern that there are relationships between the lobbying community and parliamentarians or former parliamentarians or former ministers that is inappropriate, but if you go back to the Byers and Huhne and so on material there was not a single lobbyist involved in that. Every one of these scandals around lobbyists are of people being stung, frequently parliamentarians and former ministers, with not a lobbying company in sight. This idea that my people who already register, put all their clients in the public domain, sign up to a code of conduct, sign that into their contracts, are the problem is completely disingenuous.
Chair: Last one, Paul.
Q194 Paul Flynn: I will make it the last one. There is a conclusion there. I ask you briefly, would you regard the experience of Canada, with Karen Shepherd in Canada running the reforms there, as a model to emulate?
Francis Ingham: Not necessarily. I think that our Parliament is quite able to come to its own decision about what kind of model. Why do you feel the need to imitate somebody else’s?
Paul Flynn: Because it is better, possibly.
Q195 Chair: Thank you, Francis. Helen, do you have a comment on that?
Helen Johnson: I would endorse all the comments that Francis has just made, but the only additional point I would make at this point is coming back to the Government’s proposals. It seems to us that the Government has started by asking itself the wrong question. It started from trying to define who is a lobbyist and therefore who should be in and who should be out, who should be on the register, who should not be on the register. The starting point should be what is the activity that we are concerned about? Where is the public concern? Where is the parliamentary and the government concern?
If lobbying is a problem, we need to know what that problem is and what activity it is that is causing concern, and we need to define lobbying. Once we have defined what lobbying is, it is very easy to define who a lobbyist is and who should or should not be on the register. It should be anyone who lobbies in a professional capacity.
Jane Wilson: I wholeheartedly agree with both those points. We need more clarity, particularly on the act of lobbying. In the same breath you mentioned charitable organisations and charities and somebody who wants to fix a village roof or the roof of the village church. Those are two very different things and we must not get confused, just because something is a charity, is set up as a charitable organisation, an NGO or a not for profit, that it is in itself, one, without controversy and, two, incapable of huge influence in its lobbying activities. Some of the best lobbyists in the business do work for charities, because it is an important but tough job.
Q196 Paul Flynn: As professional persuaders do you not think you are likely to put yourself in a position of being implausibly sanctimonious?
Jane Wilson: Am I putting myself in the position? No.
Paul Flynn: All of you. Particularly you-
Jane Wilson: I am not trying to be sanctimonious, plausibly or implausibly so.
Paul Flynn: This is better than the lives of the saints.
Jane Wilson: I do believe that humans are flawed creatures, whether you are a professional working in lobbying or whether you are a parliamentarian or whether you-
Chair: We will leave the philosophy for another day. Thanks very much.
Q197 Mr Chope: Can I ask Helen Johnson, first of all. You said there needs to be a definition of lobbying. What is your definition of lobbying that you would like to be endorsed by Parliament?
Helen Johnson: This is not something we have a definitive APPC view on at the moment. I should make that clear. There is a distinction between lobbying and public affairs. What APPC members declare on the register at the moment is all of the clients on whose behalf they provide public affairs consultancy services. That might include advising clients on the political system, how it works, who the members of a particular committee are and what their interests might be. It might include preparing briefing materials, organising events, parliamentary monitoring, report writing, policy analysis and so on.
It might also include lobbying, which you can define either narrowly or more broadly. A narrow definition of lobbying, we believe, would be triggered in some way by direct contact or interaction with institutions of government or legislators. We would assume that if we were meeting with a Member of Parliament, meeting with a minister, writing a letter to a Member of Parliament in a professional capacity, that would be lobbying. There is an argument that the broad definition of lobbying should include advising clients on how to make that direct contact themselves, which is what we would be doing. As I say, by and large the services we are providing are advising the clients and supporting the clients. When it comes to meeting with Members of Parliament and ministers, in the majority of cases the clients are doing that themselves. I am not doing that on their behalf.
A lot of work has gone into trying to define lobbying over a period of many years. All of our three organisations have sat down to try to agree that. It was a primary job of setting up the UK Public Affairs Council: could we agree a common and workable and practical definition of lobbying? You will have seen in the proposals that the Government has rejected the UK Public Affairs Council’s definition of lobbying but has not proposed an alternative. So we have to get that definition right. I think we are all agreed on that. At the moment it is an open question as to what that definition should be, because the Government has certainly rejected so far previous attempts to put a definition on it.
Q198 Mr Chope: What you have said is your attempt at a definition. That is very helpful, what you said about direct and indirect lobbying. Is that a definition with which Jane Wilson would agree?
Jane Wilson: Yes, I would agree. It is seeking to influence public policy and doing so in a professional capacity, regardless of who you work for and what kind of organisation they are.
Q199 Mr Chope: That is not an identical definition to the one that was given by Helen Johnson. That is your alternative?
Jane Wilson: I support what Helen said. I would add to it that I think you can probably start from that position. But I do think a proper working definition is important and the lack of one in this document is the fundamental flaw, because the definition itself and the work that is done on the definition will influence every other decision that is made of who is included, the scope of the register and ultimately who runs it. It will influence the size, it will influence the funding. I do think it is a shame that that work on the scope, the size of the problem, what the problem is we are trying to solve, was not done because that would have led us to a definition. So we are going to propose a more robust definition that is more appropriate to statute, and perhaps the Government wants to look at a working group just to work on the definition to tighten it up beyond just this bigger consultation process on the register itself. It is that important.
Q200 Mr Chope: Mr Ingham, do you agree with the definition that has been given so far?
Francis Ingham: Yes, I do. We have consultancies in membership, we have in-house teams in membership, and we have individuals. So either they provide advice on how others ought to interact with the Government or they interact with government directly themselves. Having been one of the founder members of UKPAC and having agreed with that definition that is on the UKPAC site, clearly we do not resile from that either. I think there is broad agreement within the public affairs industry it is those two elements, and there is a broad despair within the industry that the consultation paper does not provide a definition of its own.
Q201 Mr Chope: Jane Wilson, you said in your evidence at the beginning that a statutory register was essential. Why do you believe a statutory register is essential?
Jane Wilson: If we are to go for a statutory register, a statutory register that is universal is essential. I think it is important that if we want more transparency in the decision-making process, if we want more transparency and to make it clear who influences and what the influences are on government decision-making in public policy, then a statutory register would go some way towards doing that.
Q202 Mr Chope: You are not saying a statutory register is essential. What you are saying is if there is a statutory register these essential elements should be in it?
Jane Wilson: Yes, and it would have to be universal.
Q203 Mr Chope: In a scenario where you have focus groups and the focus groups are being asked about issues relating to public policy, would that come within your ambit of lobbying when the purpose of those focus groups is to help a body or organisation that is wanting to influence public policy?
Jane Wilson: It depends what you do with the information. The act of having a focus group is an information-gathering exercise. It is what you then do with that information, how you seek to influence using that information. Yes, I think that does fall under the act of lobbying when you then do something with it and use it to influence.
Q204 Mr Chope: You think the people who are on those focus groups should be informed about who is funding the focus group, effectively?
Jane Wilson: I think usually that is the case. I have certainly never been involved in a focus group where it has not been clear who is running the focus group.
Q205 Mr Chope: As Members of Parliament, we quite often get surveys, some from public relations organisations, which we are asked to fill in, and sometimes those surveys are funded by the Government. The Government is basically using intermediaries in order to find out the views of Members of Parliament. This may seem bizarre. It certainly seems to me to be bizarre, but that is what happens. There is a total lack of transparency. Members of Parliament do not know when they fill in these survey forms that the questions are being asked not by their own Whips directly to them but indirectly through the taxpayer-funded Government. Do you think that is satisfactory?
Francis Ingham: I think it is bizarre.
Jane Wilson: Kafkaesque.
Q206 Mr Chope: Do you think there should be transparency there? Do you think this is something that should be caught by a register?
Helen Johnson: I am not sure I can comment on what the Government is or is not doing in its activities. Coming back to ourselves again, it is certainly a requirement of our code that any of our members interacting with legislators, with people in public office, with government departments, with officials in those departments, are very clear on whose behalf they are calling up or writing, and that they are transparent about that, so that there should not be any question as to who you are meeting with and indeed why.
Q207 Mr Chope: Would the world be a worse place if there was no legislation on this at all?
Chair: We are heading back to philosophy again, I suspect.
Mr Chope: Do you think our country is going to suffer if we do not have this legislation carried through?
Francis Ingham: I think in order to provide greater public confidence in the lobbying industry it will be a good thing to have legislation that is universal and transparent. When we left the UK Public Affairs Council in December, we said that we believe the Government ought to introduce as a matter of urgency a statutory register because the existing voluntary registers are never going to be universal. There will be plenty of charities and think-tanks and lawyers who do not register as lobbyists but who are lobbyists or lobbying organisations, and if lobbying transparency matters to the Government, then it ought to go the whole hog and introduce a statutory register.
Helen Johnson: I know previous witnesses have discussed this with the Committee, but we have to be clear about what a list of names of staff and clients can deliver in terms of transparency. I am not entirely sure that that case is fully made as to why a register, as currently proposed, is the right solution to whatever the exact problem is perceived to be. If there is no registration, if there is no statutory register, we will continue, as APPC members, to do what we have always done, which is to complete our register on a quarterly basis, to list which of our clients are fee-paying, to list which ones are pro bono, to list our monitoring only clients, to list our clients across the whole of the UK, not just those who are lobbying at Westminster and Whitehall. We will continue to do that and to publish that information.
Francis Ingham: The same would be true of us and our consultants, members, in-house teams and individuals as well. We will keep on doing that.
Q208 Tristram Hunt: I think we are agreed the Government’s plan is pretty hopeless in terms of, for example, your example of the CBI not being included. Do you see any difference between the CBI or trade unions or charities, or do you think if you are going to include big corporates you also have to include organised labour?
Francis Ingham: I think you need to include everybody who lobbies. Let me say I spent a couple of very happy years in the CBI. I was a lobbyist there. Not in a confessional sense but I was a lobbyist there. We lobbied in the interests of our members, which we would categorise as UK business. It was not an indifferent activity but what we believed we were doing we believed to be beneficial to the country. The TUC would lobby in a slightly different way at the same time. We would lobby from different perspectives. We were both doing something we thought was beneficial to the UK but with very different objectives in mind. I think we both ought to have been covered, or going forward ought to be covered. I make no distinction between a commercial company lobbying for something that is in its interests and a charity lobbying for something that it believes in either. They are to me the same thing. They are undertaking the same activity and they ought to be covered by the same rules of transparency and ethics.
Q209 Tristram Hunt: But I think trade unions regard themselves as very different organisations to that. They have, yes, on the one hand a concern about a piece of legislation about health and safety or whatever, but also they have a much broader civil society role and political role. Without disparaging, I think they would feel uncomfortable being placed in the same sort of bracket as whatever Tim Bell’s latest company is called. They would regard themselves as a very different type of organisation to a sort of textbook, classic lobbyist, and their members certainly would.
Francis Ingham: Yes, but once you go down the route of saying that there will be a special case here, if you believe you are lobbying in a good cause and you are not caught by this, then very quickly it becomes highly subjective and very narrow and probably you end up just with public affairs consultancies being on a register, which already, by and large, exists. So it becomes a rather fruitless, pointless exercise.
Helen Johnson: I would endorse what Francis said, and clearly I am not in a position to speak for the trade unions. If it is minded to do so, perhaps the Committee might want to speak to the unions. From comments and discussions I have had informally, there is some acceptance within unions, and certainly within the charitable sector and indeed other firms, that they do lobby as part of their work or a proportion of their work and they should be subject to a statutory register too. It may be worth speaking to some of those other groups.
I am also happy to share my career history because it is relevant to the point around lobbying activity. I started my professional career as a lawyer. I then went and worked for the pharmaceutical industry and then I became a lobbyist in my own firm, so I have spent the last 20 years being a social and professional pariah from that perspective. When I was working in a law firm, one of my functions was to lobby government. When I moved in-house into the pharmaceutical industry, I became an in-house lobbyist subsequently and would lobby government. Now I head up my own small firm and I actually do less lobbying and have less interaction with Members and government than I had in either of my two previous professional capacities.
It seems to me and my members to be a nonsense that we are trying to decide who should be on a register based on who their employer is or based on the type of organisation that they work for. I think we come back to the point it should be about what is the problem around lobbying, what is the activity we are concerned about. Once we have defined the activity we are concerned about, anybody who engages in that activity in a professional capacity on a professional remunerated basis should be on the register if it is to be introduced.
Q210 Tristram Hunt: Do you think think-tanks will be caught by this? Think-tanks are not influencing policy for clients but they are seeking to influence policy for broader, often political objectives. They might have a broad base of funders who will not be asking for direct action but there is a climate of opinion that think-tanks seek to shape, which are often implicitly potentially in the interests of those who provide core funding.
Francis Ingham: Absolutely, they should be.
Q211 Tristram Hunt: Forgive my ignorance, on the Government’s current plans are they-no, they are not at all?
Francis Ingham: No, they are not.
Q212 Tristram Hunt: But you think they should be?
Francis Ingham: Yes.
Q213 Tristram Hunt: So something like the Institute for Public Policy Research should be?
Francis Ingham: Yes.
Q214 Tristram Hunt: Why?
Francis Ingham: Because they lobby professionally. Their remit is to influence public policy and to influence government decisions. It seems to me absolutely obvious that they are professional lobbyists and they ought to be on such a register.
Q215 Tristram Hunt: But they would not be going for a meeting to worry about a piece of health and safety legislation. They would be publishing or holding conferences or writing articles to shape a broader political discussion rather than a concern with a particular-any decent think-tank is involved in a conversation of ideas rather than narrow public policies.
Francis Ingham: I suppose it is quite sad to admit this, but I do read think-tank publications quite frequently. They do relate both to the broader public sphere, I accept, but they also make detailed recommendations for how public policy ought to be changed, clearly linked to specific changes and, in my view, do come under the definition of lobbying.
Q216 Tristram Hunt: How on earth is this going to work? Who is going to run it, because the Cabinet Office is not going to run the statutory register, is it? So who is going to run the statutory register, do we think?
Francis Ingham: We would say an independent body funded via the industry. We do not think it is appropriate-
Q217 Tristram Hunt: So no existing body at the moment?
Francis Ingham: Absolutely. It should not be us, it should not be either of my colleagues’ organisations, it should not be the UK Public Affairs Council. It ought to be an independent body, independent of the industry but funded by the industry.
Q218 Tristram Hunt: Is that your view too?
Jane Wilson: I agree it should be an independent body. I believe the funding mechanism, it should be funded by industry, and that is where you can have good cause exemptions because if this is-we want it to be a low burden. We do not want this to be red tape for the sake of it and lots of bureaucracy, but you could have good cause exemptions for organisations that are not for profit, organisations that are registered charities. It is quite easy to work those out because they will either be a registered charity or they will not. We could have revenue thresholds for payment. One of my colleagues, Lionel Zetter, who is on the board, believes it should be wide and shallow, which will spread the burden and spread the cost.
On who runs it, I believe it should be a non-government organisation. I do believe UKPAC could be considered, depending on what the final recommendations from government are on scope, definition of what it is there to achieve. I do believe it could be considered because it has run a register, albeit a limited register, albeit one that has limited finances, and one that had limited support of our organisations initially.
Q219 Tristram Hunt: Within that you would not be averse to a differentiation of lobbyists; on one hand we have charities, on one hand we have in-house lobbyists within corporations, on one hand you would have think-tanks-you would have trade unions?
Jane Wilson: I think I would. I am not sure hierarchy would work or how it would work. I would be interested to hear views on how that could happen, but I think you could state the type of organisation you are, "I am a publicly listed company. I am a charity. I am not for profit. I am a think-tank". So you probably could have categories but I would not necessarily call it a hierarchy. That does suggest-
Tristram Hunt: No, hierarchy is not-colour-coded or something, something non-judgmental.
Q220 Simon Hart: During the course of our investigation into this particular topic we have had a number of witnesses and we have asked largely the same questions every week. One question we keep asking, for which we have not had an answer so far-and perhaps we should have Paul Flynn as a witness because I suspect he might have one-is precisely what is the extent of the problem, whatever the problem is, and is there any evidence to support the claim that there is a public appetite for this register? If there is evidence, rather than opinion, that there is an appetite for a register, what are the concerns that are uppermost in the public’s mind that leads to the demand? David Cameron described it as the next big scandal; nobody quite knows what he meant by that. I am interested to know if you know what he meant by the next big scandal and what this public evidence is.
Jane Wilson: I have not seen any evidence of the demand from the public. I think if there had been evidence it would have been in this document and it is not. It is not in the impact assessment, which I would have expected it to be in. If one does an impact assessment on a problem, it is always good to have the problem there and some evidence of why you are doing it. This does feel like a compromise to deliver an election pledge, a coalition pledge. It feels like the lowest possible compromise to do so. Whether it is or not is not for me to say.
I have not seen that evidence, but I do think there probably is, in this country at the moment, a general feeling in the public that it wants more transparency in government, media, establishment processes in general, so that is the conduct of our parliamentarians, of our Government, of those who seek to influence, of those who do or do not pay taxes at a corporate level and what those levels are, those who are in the media and how they relate to the police and how they relate to government. I think this is one part of that bigger sense that there is an issue, or not an issue but a demand, a direction of travel for more transparency. The proposals as they currently stand do not take us forcefully in that direction of travel. They sort of say, "Well, if we have to do something let’s just do this". That is not a good thing.
Helen Johnson: Yes. I would absolutely endorse what Jane said. Clearly I can’t speak for what was in the Government’s mind when it developed these proposals, but it seems to us that the public concern, if there is one, is much broader around how people in public office behave and how they interact with other interests, external interests, and how those interactions are perceived, whether they are open, whether they are transparent, whether they are subject to inappropriate influence. I think the point has already been well made that for a number of reasons the proposals on the table are not going to take us forward in terms of addressing public concerns there.
Q221 Simon Hart: If I could just interrupt, on that particular point do you agree with a claim, which has been made by earlier witnesses, that if one of your members is faced with the choice of having to sign up to a statutory register, which carries no particular codes of practice, the consequence of that might be that they then surrender the membership of your organisations for which there is a code of practice, and the consequence of that is the opposite to that which the Government is attempting to achieve? You have less accountability and transparency rather than more. You have the warm feeling of having imposed a statutory register and tick the coalition Christmas list, but have you achieved the objective?
Helen Johnson: I think that is a possible unintended consequence, but it depends on the definition and scope of the register that we end up with. It depends on things like funding and the regulatory burden. Let me just make two points on that. Firstly, we still have firms looking to join the APPC. We have four applications for membership pending at the moment, so even with the suggestion of a statutory register on the table we still have a group of firms who want to be part of our framework, sign up to our code, and to demonstrate that they are being open and transparent before government forces them to do so. So I would make the point that there is still an appetite to demonstrate openness and transparency voluntarily.
Secondly, if I just take the example of my own firm on the unintended consequence. My firm has four client-facing members of staff. Our subscription to the APPC is an annual subscription of £428, £107 per member of staff. If the statutory register imposed a fee on me of, for example, £1,000 as an annual fee, I might look at, "Well, if I have to pay £1,000 to the Government, do I also want to pay my £428 to the APPC?" Clearly I have to comply with the statutory requirement, so I will save my £428, pay my £1,000 to the Government, and the risk then is exactly as you suggest, Mr Hart. I have taken myself out of the code of conduct piece, which is absolutely critical to supporting what a register may or may not be able to deliver. I think what we are probably all very clear on is that a list of names of clients and staff does not do anything at all to address how people behave, whether they are ethical, whether their interactions are appropriate or follow some degree of appropriate practice. That is where our codes of conduct are so critical, and it is vital that we do not have people taking themselves out of that framework because they are trying to comply with a statutory requirement instead.
Francis Ingham: I would endorse that broadly. My consultancy members frequently make reference to the fact they have signed up to a code of conduct when they are pitching for new business or to retain existing business because it reassures clients that they are engaging an ethical company. My in-house members like to sign up to a code of conduct, not for those commercial reasons, obviously, but because they like to reassure the broader market or the people with whom they interact.
There is that unintended consequence problem that might be there. But I would hope that on a statutory register we could in some manner identify those people who also had signed up to a code of conduct and those who had not. That is certainly feasible. But what I would not want to see, obviously, is a reduction in ethical standards within the industry as a result of this.
Regarding the document itself, it is a kind of grubby little document really. It has "compromise" stamped all over it, and the fact it has taken so many years to get to this point I think probably indicates the level of compromise involved in it.
Q222 Simon Hart: One last question, if I may. An earlier line of question was, I think, suggesting that because as organisations you had a relatively low expulsion rate per member, that somehow was an indication of weakness. I wondered whether you saw that as an indication of weakness or an indication of strength when taken against perhaps other institutions, whether it is the General Medical Council or the Market Research Society or these other self-regulatory bodies as opposed to statutory regulatory bodies, who have a similar low rate of expulsion but argue that that is a sign of effective regulation rather than ineffective regulation. I wondered what you thought.
Francis Ingham: No, I understand the question. I view it as a sign of strength. You only sign up to being a member of the PRCA or one of the other bodies if you believe you can adhere to its code of conduct, because otherwise your membership of it will be short-lived and your expulsion will be public. So there is a kind of self-selecting element here. I do not think that is a terrible thing either. Companies, when they sign up, if they have had loose ethics in the past realise they have to amend those ethics and behave in a different manner. It improves standards within the industry. Clients and other people with whom our members interact know that if these people behave in a bad manner they have a form of redress. I think that is important, and I do think it has been effective. The fact we have a low expulsion rate is not something I am at all ashamed of. I am quite proud of it actually.
Q223 Simon Hart: Do the three of you support the proposal for a statutory register simply because it is a little bit embarrassing not to? We all say, of course, we support the Government’s general principles when it comes to it, knowing full well that we do not really but we feel we have to say so. Yes or no?
Francis Ingham: I think public debate has moved on a little bit too much for this to be anything other than inevitable. I want to make it the right register that is created rather than the wrong register. I think the right register could be very helpful. The wrong one could be very damaging.
Jane Wilson: I endorse that view.
Helen Johnson: I would agree with that. It would be bizarre for us to not be happy with the idea of registration, given that we have already been doing it for the last 17 years and are very happy to continue to do so.
Jane Wilson: As long as it is registration because we think it will lead the process of democracy and transparency and not because we think we as a profession are doing something wrong or illegitimate. That is a very important point.
Q224 Mrs Laing: Can we explore what lobbyists actually do and how you and your members interact with Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords and ministers? I am particularly interested in the cost to the public purse of lobbying activities. First, are you aware of how often your members send out an email or a circular letter to all Members of Parliament? Nowadays, presumably, instead of having to address 650 envelopes, they simply make up a database once and then by pressing a button send emails to every Member of Parliament on whatever issue they wish to influence a few Members of Parliament. Are you aware of the fact that all of those emails have to be answered and that whenever an invitation is sent to all 650 Members of Parliament for events that are usually attended by perhaps 10 Members of Parliament, the other 600-odd Members of Parliament have to reply to those invitations? In my office I say to my secretary, "That pile there that has come in, don’t reply to those invitations because it is going to take you two hours to do that and I have this other work that requires to be done". She says, "I can’t not do it, because if I don’t reply, they will phone".
I suspect that there are literally hundreds of people in this building and that building over there who are spending several hours a week replying to invitations and emails from your members. Are you aware that this is a cost to the public purse? But I am giving you the opportunity to justify it.
Jane Wilson: I am not aware of the extent to which that takes place but one thing I would say is, because we have public relations and public affairs and other disciplines within the CIPR, I would think that is a really bad practice. I would urge through our professional development, through our Public Affairs Diploma, through our workshops and training, and also the workshops and training and courses that PRCA would do, there is plenty of evidence there that shows that those kind of scattergun approaches are not good. They are not productive. It is not best practice. So if that is happening on a regular basis-and I take your word, Mrs Laing, that it is-then I would urge my members not to do so, but I have no evidence to suggest that it is our members that are doing it.
Francis Ingham: I have no idea if that happens on a regular basis or not. I would not advise my members to do it because I do not think it is terribly productive. We have never invited parliamentarians to an event, but if we ever do you are very welcome to ignore the invitation. We will not ring up and chase about it.
Q225 Mrs Laing: This is very interesting, because you reacted immediately and very positively-or negatively as the case may be-to what I have just told you, but I assure you it is the case. If this message could be got over to your members it would be enormously helpful and I promise it would save the public purse a lot of money. Sorry, Helen.
Helen Johnson: No, I completely agree with everything Jane and Francis have said. I am not aware of the extent to which our members might be implicated in the practice that you are sadly on the receiving end of but completely agree that it is poor practice and not an effective use either of their resources and certainly not of yours.
Mrs Laing: I am extremely pleased to hear that, and if only some lobbyists would learn that lesson, because I seriously object to the amount of money that it is costing for people to have to deal with these things, never mind my own time. That is not the important point; the point is that matters have to be dealt with.
Chair: While we have been sitting here I have had two messages from the Labour Whips, no doubt other colleagues in other parties have had messages. Perhaps we can include them in the list of lobbyists and stop them sending us these things
Mrs Laing: I know the answer to that. It is leave your pager at home and let the battery run down. Did I say that? There might be somebody listening.
Chair: The transcript will be in the public domain. You are in trouble now.
Mrs Laing: It is all right, I think I have already told them that.
Chair: Sorry to interrupt.
Mrs Laing: It is absolutely right. But it is not appreciated that when MPs say we get hundreds of email every day it is not an exaggeration. It makes it more difficult to do the work you want to do because before you can get to the email that matters you have to open the other ones. If an email is from Jane Wilson, you don’t know whether it is your friend Jane Wilson or your constituent Jane Wilson or Jane Wilson representing a particular interest. Before knowing whether that is something that requires immediate attention, you have to open it and read the email. People might say, "Well, yes, okay it only takes 30 seconds to do that". Yes, it only takes 30 seconds to do one but if you are dealing with 100 of those every morning before you can get to the work you have to do, it does matter.
Chair: Is there a question there?
Q226 Mrs Laing: Sorry, that was me responding with thanks to the response that I had. Can we go on to other ways in which lobbyists generally engage with parliamentarians and, in particular, with all-party groups. Once again, looking at the costs to the public purse, for example of holding meetings of all-party groups here in the Palace of Westminster, let me put the question this way to allow you to consider it. If all-party groups were restricted so that lobbying companies could no longer operate all-party groups, or let us say provide the support and secretariat for all-party groups, how significantly would it affect the activities of your members?
Francis Ingham: Very marginally I would have thought. It would not be something that as an organisation we would have any degree of fight against really. All-party groups are highly variable in their quality and in the return on investment, if you want to put it that way, made in them by outside organisations. I think their behaviour, their performance could be improved considerably. I do not think as an industry we would fight tooth and nail against having consultancy involvement in them. But I think some of what they do can be valuable; I just think that most of what they do is not valuable.
Q227 Mrs Laing: That is very helpful. How could the performance be improved? Forgive me if that is too wide a question, but you said so yourself.
Francis Ingham: Yes, sure. It is quite a wide question. I have rarely read a report that had any particular insight included in it. In my experience they have fairly low levels of attendance and engagement but are presumed to speak with more authority than they really have. That is partly a problem here rather than the public affairs community.
Mrs Laing: That is very helpful. Thank you.
Chair: Did Helen or Jane want to come in on that?
Helen Johnson: I will happily add a word about all-party groups. I think they can serve a very useful function and purpose. I think it is important that there are those forums for members to come together and discuss single issues or particular issues that they are particularly interested in. I think the external organisations have an important role to play in bringing insight and intelligence about those issues to the table, to the all-party group meetings. I would endorse what Francis said, that I think some groups are perhaps more effective than others. Some are certainly more active than others in terms of the number of meetings, events, inquiries and so on that they hold. That is clearly a matter for the officers of those particular groups as to how they want to run and organise them.
So far as the role of consultancies and lobbying firms in that process is concerned, I am perhaps interested to know what the concern is and whether it is a concern that they have some kind of undue influence over the direction of the group or that they are somehow inappropriately steering the direction of the all-party groups. Again, I would hope and trust that the officers of the group are able to set their own sort of programme of work and be able to determine that for themselves rather than have it directed by a third party. The point that I made right at the start of the session is, of course, that all financial and administrative support from whatever quarter has to be declared in accordance with the parliamentary rules on the register, so there is a level of transparency there. But if the concern is over something inappropriate going on or some kind of conflict of interest affecting those groups then I think that is something that perhaps needs to be looked at probably separate from-it would not be addressed by what the Government is proposing at the moment.
Jane Wilson: Yes, I agree too that the effectiveness of any group is dependent on its composition and the level of engagement of the Members themselves. If there is an undue influence from any external force then I do think that is an issue that has to be dealt with. [Interruption.]
Mrs Laing: It is the Whips again.
Jane Wilson: Is that an ad? Have we just heard a sponsor? Do we have to declare a sponsorship?
Chair: You will have to think about it and I will tell you at the very end.
Jane Wilson: I know what it is, I know the brand.
If there is an undue influence externally then I think that is something that has to be dealt with here. If the existence of those groups is wholly dependent on external support, either funding or administrative assistance, and if those groups are deemed to be important then that is an issue, but that is an issue for this institution.
Q228 Mrs Laing: That is very helpful, thank you. If I may go on to the register that we have just been discussing: can you foresee an instance, or has there ever been an instance of which you are aware, where your members would be reluctant to disclose or would not wish to disclose they are acting on behalf of a particular client or where they would not wish to disclose where they had had a meeting, for example with a minister or with Members of Parliament?
Francis Ingham: Yes. We have in the past had the very, very occasional exemption where a member can provide advice from a credible source, for example police or the Ministry of Defence or something of that nature, that to reveal a client would be a dangerous thing to do. For example, if you were working for the RUC in some manner, putting that on a public register would put potentially the lives of your staff in danger, or something like that. In that case we have very occasionally given people an exemption, but we would never give somebody an exemption from revealing a client purely because they were embarrassing, purely because they were working on behalf of an organisation that might embarrass them. They would never, ever get an exemption for that, and I do not believe they should, under any statutory register.
Jane Wilson: I agree. Those would be the cases where there were personal safety issues or high-level security issues.
Helen Johnson: We have exactly the same exemption. I can think of one case where on the advice of the police force we did not declare-it was not a client but the name of one of the political consultants working in one of our member firms was kept from the register because of concerns about that person’s safety. But that would be the only situation. As I have already said, our members are already declaring a much broader range of services and clients than just what you might call pure lobbying, if we can call it that.
Q229 Mrs Laing: In that case, would the register have to have an exemption in it or a point where information could be registered but not publicly disclosed?
Helen Johnson: What we have at the moment is management committee discretion on that point. It is not formally written into our codes or our procedures. I think from a Government perspective, from a legislation perspective, there is probably an example around some of the life sciences industries and so on. There are Companies House exemptions whereby certain directors do not have to be disclosed on Companies House registers and it might be that there is a parallel there that government could look at for this register of lobbyists.
Q230 Stephen Williams: Can I come back to this question of transparency that we have all mentioned, and what the register is designed to expose to that transparency. I suppose this might be a question that is appropriate to start off with Helen because of your association of political consultants. We will all know and can think of examples of Members of Parliament who left the House in 2010 who have become lobbyists. We have probably also met since 2010 people who used to be lobbyists who are now Members of Parliament. What is your estimate of the flow of traffic over the last few years?
Helen Johnson: I am afraid I can’t answer that, Mr Williams. I have no idea as to what the flow of traffic would be. If it is helpful I can go back and dig through records and find out for you, but I can’t answer that today.
Q231 Stephen Williams: So if you speak for four-fifths, by turnover anyway, of the trade of political lobbying and you have no idea how many ex-elected politicians are now lobbyists or how many current elected politicians who have had a very recent and financial connection with lobbying are in that trade, then that does demonstrate the need for a register and transparency, doesn’t it?
Helen Johnson: We would have that information in the sense that we would be able to go back through our registers. I just can’t give you a figure today off the top of my head, I am afraid. But we would have that information and I am sure we can send that into the Committee if that would be helpful.
Q232 Stephen Williams: Can we come on to who would actually be on a register, because obviously it is a register of people, I suppose, who are engaged in lobbying. How could you test what boundary you have to cross to be engaged in lobbying or whether your influence over, say, an elected politician is of the nature that you can influence their opinion but you are not actually a lobbyist? To give an example of, let’s say, a trade union general secretary who phones up a Labour MP-probably the most typical example-and says, "We don’t terribly like what your stance is on public sector pay; we want you to change your behaviour", is that lobbying or is that influencing or is it blackmail? What is it?
Helen Johnson: I am afraid I keep not answering your questions very straight, but it comes back to what the definition of lobbying is, so far as this register is concerned what the definition of lobbying is that we end up with. Once we have got that, whoever engages in that activity would be a lobbyist. But I think what you are alluding to, perhaps, is whether there could or should be some kind of threshold or some kind of de minimis rule applying whereby perhaps certain people would be taken off the register if they lobbied as only a small proportion of their time, 20% or 10% or whatever it would be, or if they only lobbied once or twice a year. I know I have heard people talking about you could have two wildcards a year and only if you lobbied on a third occasion would you have to go on to the register. My concern is that to try to set any kind of threshold based on percentage of time, numbers of occasion of lobbying or whatever it happens to be is fraught with difficulty. I think any kind of threshold or level on whatever basis has a risk that you then start having people trying to take themselves under that threshold and therefore outside of the registration regime that we are talking about. I come back to the point that we have to define the activity correctly and then that will determine who should and should not be on the register.
Q233 Stephen Williams: I don’t know whether the other witnesses want to answer my first question, though it was really for Ms Johnson.
Francis Ingham: Well, there is no point talking for its own sake. I endorse pretty much what Helen has said. The definition is critical. In my view, if you are a general secretary of a trade union you should register as a lobbyist just as if you are the chief executive of a trade association or something you ought to register. That seems pretty clear to me, but it is a grey area.
Q234 Stephen Williams: That is a clear answer. Jane?
Jane Wilson: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with that. The issue of transparency is about what an organisation is doing. Whether it is a big supermarket in planning or whether it is an energy company or whether it is an organisation like Greenpeace who is trying to influence energy policy, then what you begin to find out is the sheer volume of the number of people who are engaged in the lobbying process, which will tell you quite something about the level of interest they have in lobbying and the numbers and the cost of the lobbying activity then. You will begin to build up a picture by the numbers of people engaged in lobbying in any one organisation.
Q235 Stephen Williams: Tristram raised earlier the subject of trade unions in general, whether they could be included. If I can give an example of lobbying by a trade union that may not, on the face of it, seem to be to do with health and safety or the welfare of its members. I am just disclosing that I am the chair of the all-party group on smoking and health. UNITE are busily lobbying Labour MPs against plain packaging of tobacco products at the moment. Is that an activity that should be disclosed by them?
Francis Ingham: Yes.
Jane Wilson: Yes.
Helen Johnson: Yes.
Q236 Stephen Williams: Is a register enough in order to ensure transparency? A register will say who is engaged in lobbying, maybe it will say what sort of lobbying activities they are undertaking, but if we receive these invitations, for instance as Mrs Laing referred to, or these round robin emails and newsletters, which may be very interesting and have nice pictures on them, maybe there is a nice reception to go to, you do not know who is paying that lobbying firm in order to circulate that email or the letter. Has the fact that they are on the register as a lobbyist, and they are engaged in this particular activity, joined up all the dots so there is full transparency, both for us so that we know who is trying to influence us and for our constituents who need to know that as well?
Francis Ingham: It would be a register of individuals but also of organisations, I should have thought. Our own register you can search by individuals or by organisations, ditto the APPC’s. If an agency were to be handling this mailout, which I would say is quite rare and not very well advised, on behalf of British American Tobacco, for example, British American Tobacco would be listed as one of their clients on either this-I would hope-statutory register or certainly listed at the moment on our current existing voluntary registers. So there is that element of transparency there.
Q237 Stephen Williams: But if Mrs Laing’s poor secretary receives a newsletter from a trade association of corner shops, for instance, which says that tobacco control is desperately damaging to their turnover and they are all going to go out of business and Mrs Laing then gets very worried about it, should Mrs Laing know that that public affairs agency that is doing that work has been funded by BAT, to give your example?
Francis Ingham: It is not going to have an agent’s imprint on the bottom, I suppose, saying, "Printed and published by X", but if you wanted to look up does BAT retain an agency, you would be able to do so just by going to a document and typing in BAT, search. There is that degree of transparency.
Q238 Stephen Williams: Mrs Laing has already told us her secretary is very busy with this huge pile of invites, which in my office tend to go in the bin. Should any of our PAs, secretaries, whatever, have to think, "I wonder who is paying for this. Shall I check the register of lobbyists to see whether this firm is engaged in a particular activity or who their clients are?" Of course, they may have lots of clients. Or would it just be better if on the invite it said that, "We are undertaking this promotional activity on behalf of our client BAT, Japanese Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco", whoever it is?
Helen Johnson: The short answer from an APPC perspective is going back to our code that in making representations to the institutions of government, political consultants must be open in disclosing the identity of their clients and must not misrepresent their interests. So if there is a concern that on material coming through it is not clear or transparent on the face of that material who the ultimate client is who is funding and paying for that activity, then I completely agree that, firstly, Mrs Laing should be able to find that information out readily and easily and, secondly, if she were to put the question to the agency they should be able to tell her immediately who has funded that activity. If you have examples of where that is not happening, I hope you will make a complaint to the APPC and bring it to my attention, please.
Francis Ingham: We have exactly the same wording, word for word, in our code of conduct, yes.
Q239 Stephen Williams: Helen used the phrase the ultimate payer of the bill, the top client I suppose, but there may be several chains in between that client and the Member of Parliament who the client is seeking to influence. What is the assessment of the three of you of the use of intermediate groups, not just the lobbyists themselves but other groups that may, on the face of it, have an innocuous air to them but in fact are acting for a corporate interest in the background? Oil companies may have done this, tobacco companies certainly do, and many other corporate interests will as well.
Helen Johnson: Our advice to our members is that they should be listing everybody in that chain all the way back to the ultimate client.
Q240 Stephen Williams: That is your current advice to your members?
Helen Johnson: That is our advice to our members. A number of our members are very small firms or sole traders who might be contracted on certain projects by some of the larger firms. In that case the larger firm is required to list the smaller firm as a client or as a supplier, whichever way round it happens to be. Similarly, we have a number of our members who perhaps are working on behalf of coalitions or alliances, a whole range of interest groups in different sectors. What happens there is that the member concerned will name the alliance or the coalition and then look to list the funders or supporters or individual members of that alliance.
Jane Wilson: Exactly the same as our code and the principles of the code are those of integrity, transparency, honesty, ethical behaviour, but I do think those sorts of front organisations-I may be wrong and your experience may be different-are diminishing because we do generally live in a more transparent world. I think social media has done a lot, citizen journalism has done a lot to open this world up, and this is part of that bigger picture of a movement towards transparency, the things that we are talking about today. I do think that is diminishing anyway, but I do think absolutely best practice because why would you want a Member of Parliament to come along to an event or show initial support for something that then turns out to be not what it seems? That is not good business; that is not best practice. So just from a purely effective professional approach position, we would advise against it, not just on the ethical transparent point.
Q241 Andrew Griffiths: Apologies for my late arrival. We have talked about trade unions and we have talked about the trade bodies. Can we talk about the charitable sector and the voluntary sector a little bit more? NCVO say that nobody in their organisation is involved primarily in lobbying and so therefore those organisations, those charities, should not be included on any sort of statutory register and should not be required to be registered. Could you tell us whether you agree with that? What are your views on charitable organisations and also campaign groups? Do you think they should be registered and do you think they should be required to identify where their funding comes from?
Jane Wilson: My understanding of the NCVO position was that-and I have to declare an interest, my husband works for the NCVO-it would not have a problem with considering charities perhaps having to be on a register but Sir Stuart Etherington recently said that this proposal as it stands is not one that he would recommend NCVO members would sign up to. As we have all said previously today, we do not think it is about the type of organisation you work for, it is the act of lobbying, and charities are not without conflicts and they are not without issues of public interest. I do want to know if there is a climate group that may be a charity seeking to influence policy on energy, for instance. I might want to know if there is a church group seeking to influence policy on gay marriage, for instance. So there are a lot of instances where just because someone is working for something that they perceive to be a good cause does not mean they do not have undue influence, and I think there are many NCVO members who would fall into that category.
Francis Ingham: I consider the NCVO claim to be literally incredible. I doubt even Stuart Etherington believes it either. Charities lobby on a regular basis, they employ fulltime lobbyists. I was one of them. The idea that charities do not lobby is absurd. The idea that if they do lobby it is only at the margins is laughable. We have charities who are members of the PRCA who do declare their lobbying activity on our voluntary register. They would not be caught by the Government’s proposal. There ought to be no good cause exemption, because that is incredibly subjective and would narrow down the register to the point of pointlessness. I have to say that I saw Stuart Etherington’s comments. I thought it was more with happiness than with regret that he was reversing the NCVO’s position and I think it will be a very poor register that does not include the hundreds and thousands of charities that register.
Helen Johnson: I completely agree with both Jane and Francis. I don’t think there is anything I can add other than to completely endorse what they have just said.
Andrew Griffiths: Could we move on to meeting with ministers?
Chair: Just before you go on, Andrew. Eleanor, did you want to jump in on that particular point?
Q242 Mrs Laing: May I, please? Just on charities, having asked you a question about the general activities of many lobbying companies and others who send emails to everybody and it is irritating, to put it simply, let me ask you about the activities of particular charities. Can I give you the example that yesterday I happened to have the adjournment debate in the House of Commons and it was on the subject of controlling dangerous dogs, because of an incident that happened near my constituency to one of my constituents. As soon as the order paper was published with that subject and my name on it, I got lots and lots of information from the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club and other charities. I think this is the question, Mr Chair. Would you consider that that is good lobbying activity and ought to be encouraged?
Francis Ingham: I do not think it is very effective from the way you are phrasing this, so clearly not.
Q243 Mrs Laing: Sorry, I should explain myself. I was trying to put it as a question. I really wanted to say it was good lobbying activity and that it was extremely helpful in preparing for a debate yesterday to have flooding into my office information from those organisations, charitable organisations, who have been involved in this subject with good intentions.
Francis Ingham: Well, it informed you, it was well intended, but it was absolutely definitely lobbying, and that is why those organisations ought to be on a register.
Mrs Laing: Thank you.
Q244 Andrew Griffiths: Do you think that ministers and civil servants should refuse to meet with organisations that are not on a statutory register?
Francis Ingham: Yes.
Q245 Andrew Griffiths: If they have those meetings, do you think it should also be incumbent on ministers to declare why the meetings are taking place?
Francis Ingham: I would have no reason to think that was a bad idea. Ministerial diaries could be improved considerably; they are frequently late or inaccurate. I think transparency cuts both ways and it would be a good thing for ministerial private offices to be a bit more open about who they meet, as well as the demand for lobbyists to be more open about what they do as well.
Jane Wilson: Yes, I entirely agree that transparency goes both ways. I think it is a very good way to put it. I do think if you use these different pieces of information together you could build up a picture, so with freedom of information, with ministerial diaries, with a register, and actually a statutory register could be a licence to operate. If somebody calls up your office and says, "Can I have a meeting with you?" or speaks to your secretary, they should be able to check the register. If that person or their organisations or their client are not on that register then they should not get a meeting.
Helen Johnson: Again, I completely agree with the point that everybody involved in this process needs to be transparent and we need not just to be looking at the lobbyists but potentially the lobbied and, yes, there is certainly a strong argument there for that information to be disclosed.
Francis Ingham: But I would add that if you are going to restrict people who are not on a register from meeting people who make policy decisions, you need to make being on a register not financially prohibitive because otherwise you make it those three horrible words "cash for access" really, don’t you? You would restrict the ability of people to lobby depending upon the financial strength of their organisation, and that is not necessarily something any of us would want to encourage.
Q246 Andrew Griffiths: Do you have an idea about how much that level should be set at, Francis?
Francis Ingham: No. I think we will put some formal proposals in our response, but I know that some of the examples bandied around seem to me to be extremely high. For a simple register listing people and clients, and maybe if they have been former MPs, I don’t see why that is an expensive operation in any way. It can be done quickly and efficiently without incurring great cost.
Jane Wilson: I agree, and the broader it is the less that the burden is on a few people. We mentioned that is where the good cause exemptions could come in on funding and it could be a mixture of the status of your company or your organisation, so it could be, are you a registered charity, are you a chartered body or are you not-for-profit or are you a trade association. So there could be status but there could also be profitability limits set as well and that would be fairly straightforward to do.
Helen Johnson: I completely agree that the fees have to be proportionate for what it is that people are being asked to pay for, assessed to a level that is not punitive or prohibitive for individuals to register. I notice that the Government has said that it would be committed to keep the regulatory burden and cost to micro businesses as small as possible, and I think that is to be welcomed. We do not have a set view on the amount that would be appropriate. Again, we do not really know what the definition and scope is at the moment, so that is difficult, but I think our inclination is we would be talking tens of pounds per individual to register rather than hundreds of pounds or anything even higher than that.
Q247 Simon Hart: Ministerial meetings are FOI-able anyway. As you said earlier, part of your job is to advise your clients about how to go about their lobbying. You might advise your clients, as I used to do my own members, that perhaps the ministerial meeting was quite a difficult thing to arrange. What was not difficult to arrange was a constituency visit from a constituent who had a particular interest in our affairs to go and see their MP who might also be the Minister, thereby getting round that problem. If we put too many obstacles in the way, will people find a way, as we did, of simply getting into the constituency surgery on a Friday afternoon, having greater impact that way and thereby bypassing the whole purpose of the register?
<?oasys [pc10p0] ?>Helen Johnson: As a very general comment, yes, the more hurdles that are put in place, the more regulations that are introduced, the greater the potential risk is that people will find ways to work round those regulations and identify loopholes. That would clearly be a very concerning consequence if that were to be the case.
Francis Ingham: That is true, but if a member of mine were to organise that sort of meeting, they would probably be breaking my code of conduct on several counts.
Q248 Simon Hart: The fact is that a member of yours-and this is where the whole thing is vague-might be a charity that might have members who want to speak to their MP or a minister on a certain topic and might say, "How do I go about doing that?" A member that is a campaigning charity would say, "Well, look, the thing you need to do is you need to make an appointment at the constituency surgery and go and speak to him or her and these are the points you need to make". That cannot possibly be an unethical approach. That is an entirely legitimate piece of advice you can give to a member of your organisation in order to enable them to undertake democratic activity. I cannot believe that that would fall foul of anybody’s code of conduct.
Francis Ingham: No, I think it depends on which way round it is. If you are a supporter of the Countryside Alliance and you say, "I’m concerned about this, I would like to make clear my views to my Member of Parliament", and the Countryside Alliance say, "Well, there’s your Member of Parliament’s details and this is how best you might approach them", I think that is entirely valid and legitimate. If it is the other way round, if it is the Countryside Alliance going out to friendly supporters and saying, "Look, do you mind dropping a line to your MP saying I am concerned about this and here is a briefing paper for you, and not saying that we have made this recommendation to you", that seems to me slightly different.
Simon Hart: How very interesting. Thank you.
Q249 Sheila Gilmore: Apologies if this area has been covered already, but where on the spectrum would you place some of the organisations that present as research organisations or think-tanks and again send us reports saying that-well, I suppose climate change has been a big one of these on both sides of the argument to some extent, but it seems to be perhaps an increasing practice. If Friends of the Earth sends me a report, I know it is Friends on the Earth and it is very clearly that. There do seem to be a growing number that use that kind of think-tank approach and there are queries that arise out of who funds them and other things. Do you see that as a lobbying activity and should they be required to register?
Francis Ingham: I think we covered this a little bit earlier on. We were all in agreement that they ought to be registered if they lobby on a professional basis.
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Q250 Sheila Gilmore: What does it add for the single issue groups? Obviously what voluntary organisations do is lobbying and they do it very effectively in lots of different ways, but if they have a particular focus what does having them registered add to that?
Jane Wilson: <?oasys [fb ?>Well, you would see to what extent they are lobbying, to what extent their activities are purely lobbying or if they are fundraising or if there is mobilisation of communities. So if they are a small organisation, single issue, but they have four people on the register, that will tell you something about that organisation’s lobbying activities and how they are seeking to influence. I think it is important to be able to say, "Is this an organisation that is just about mobilising communities to do good things or are they seeking terms to influence public policy?" If they are seeking to influence policy, they should be on the register. The fact that they have somebody there doing the act of lobbying, they should be on the register. It gives them clarity in the nature of their activities.<?oasys [nb ?>
Q251 Sheila Gilmore: Yes. It is quite a fine line, though, especially for perhaps more localised organisations, who will not generally perhaps be lobbying but might on two or three occasions because they are fired up about it.
Jane Wilson: The one thing we have consistently discussed is the big flaw in this consultation document is a lack of definition, a lack of work that has been done on the scope of the problem and a problem does exist, a proper impact assessment, and then saying, "Okay, so what do we define as lobbying, first of all, and then how does that affect the scope of a register?" That work has not been done and I think that is the most important thing we have to do to figure out the detail of this issue.
Q252 Sheila Gilmore: That would help those organisations as well because they might genuinely not see themselves as-
Jane Wilson: Entirely. Make it clear. Make the principle of universality but make the detail very clear.
Q253 Chair: Any other colleagues? So, Jane, you have had half an hour. What do you think the ringtone was?
Jane Wilson: Lloyds TSB.
Chair: No, Grand Designs.
Jane Wilson: Oh, Grand Designs; I thought it was a brand.
Chair: So I would like to thank all three of you for being part of our grand design, which is to make something workable from the Government’s proposals on lobbying. I do not know if you have made our task harder or easier, having heard your comments today, but certainly we are much better educated. Thank you very much, Jane, Francis and Helen, for your time this morning. I think it was a very good and productive session. Thank you so much.
 Note from witness: correct as at the date of our last quarterly register, 29 February 2012