Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall - Public Administration Committee Contents

Memorandum from SpinWatch

  The inquiry by the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) into lobbying represents a long overdue review of the relations between Westminster and outside interests. The undersigned organisations are concerned about the growing influence of lobbying on decision-making in the UK and believe only increased transparency can begin to restore trust in policy making and make Ministers, elected representatives and officials more accountable to the public.

  At present there are very few ethics and transparency rules governing lobbyists. Lobbying continues to be shrouded in mystery. The register of member's interests and codes of conduct for Members of Parliament, Ministers and officials and advisers are necessary but insufficient to make lobbying transparent and accountable, since they do not require any disclosure by lobbyists themselves.

  The current approach of the lobbying industry is to rely on self-regulation. This has demonstrably failed to ensure transparency, does not cover all of the industry and suffers from a lack of effective oversight.

  In addition, the rules governing the conduct of Ministers, civil servants, MPs, Lords and their staff are in need of re-examination. Recent issues about the use of parliamentary passes, the role of All Party groups, the "revolving door" and the outside interests of parliamentarians have revealed some lack of transparency and shortcomings in the ethical regulation of the conduct of the Houses of Parliament.

  Gordon Brown has indicated a desire to listen to the views of the public and encourage a more participatory democracy. A system that allows disclosure of all lobbyists' activities is a significant first step in promoting confidence in policy making, improving transparency and boosting participation.

  Parliament should take determined action to improve transparency around lobbying and the ethical conduct of Ministers, civil servants, MPs, Lords and their staff. The aim must be to ensure that lobby groups are not granted privileged access and undue influence on policy-making and that public servants are not put in the position of real and apparent conflicts of interest.

  The undersigned organisations recommend the PASC call for the enactment of Lobbying disclosure legislation that must include:

    —  A mandatory system of electronic registration and reporting for all lobbyists with a significant annual lobbying budget. This must include disclosure of resources expended in lobbying campaigns, which itemises expenditure by outside interests (clients and their agents) on each piece of legislation they have lobbied on. Reports must be made available in a fully searchable, sortable and downloadable online database.

    —  Enforceable ethics rules for lobbyists (for instance prohibiting employment of officials or their relatives for lobbying purposes).

    —  Enhanced ethical rules on members interests, on the role of All Party groups, and stricter regulation of outside interests.

    —  Recording of formal and informal meetings between elected Members, officials and lobbyists and logging of correspondence (to be made available in a fully searchable online database).

    —  An extended "cooling off" period—one year—before Ministers, elected Members and senior officials across the public sector can start working for lobby groups or lobbying consultancies.
Action AidCampaign Against Arms Trade
Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom The Corner House
Corporate WatchFood Ethics Council
Friends of the Earthnef (the new economics foundation)
SpinwatchUnlock Democracy (Charter 88)
War on WantWorld Development Movement

September 2007

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