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

Supplementary memorandum from SpinWatch


  This submission has been put together in response to the Committee's request for more evidence regarding the scope, scale and nature of the problems associated with secretive and deceptive lobbying and public affairs activity. Some of the evidence below is taken from second-hand sources, particularly media reporting. However, other parts of the evidence have been gathered and synthesised by SpinWatch, which is a small, public interest, non-governmental organisation.[84]


  It should be acknowledged that researching, documenting and exposing deceptive lobbying and misleading public relations is inherently difficult. Those involved would doubtless prefer such activity does not attract public attention and scrutiny, even if no laws are broken. As such the evidence we are submitting, while clearly demonstrating there is a problem, is necessarily indicative rather than conclusive. Although this is a rather obvious point we think it is worth restating, given some of the assumptions, expectations and lines of questioning taken by some members of the Committee during the hearings on lobbying.

  Nevertheless, we believe there is a compelling case for a mandatory lobbying register—supported by the evidence here. A key reason why we believe that a mandatory lobbying register is necessary is that in our view accountability is premised on transparency and openness. Elected representatives and public servants cannot be accountable to the people if their activities are not widely known and understood. Without relevant and reliable information in the public domain voters may struggle to understand policy-making and decision-making processes. Having an official record of relations between government, elected representatives, public servants and outside interests would also go some way towards mitigating misinformed and sensationalist media reporting of "scandal" and "sleaze".

  In this paper we want to lay out a number of examples of problematic links between decision-makers and outside interests. These examples are intended to illustrate how a lobbying register would make a real impact in opening up such contacts and channels of influence. Much of the data on the nuclear lobby in Britain has been compiled through the NuclearSpin project. This research suggests the role of lobbyists and public affairs specialists in securing a key policy change by government is significant. We believe this is but one instance of a wider trend in British public life, which requires greater scrutiny and critical publicity.

  In our view the evidence of the problem of lobbying to which regulation is at least part of a solutions is as follows:

    1. The public think there is a problem

    2. Evidence of increased power and influence of big business

    3. Evidence of lack of transparency and deceptive tactics in lobbying

    4. Evidence of privileged access for lobbyists

    5. Evidence of conflicts of interest particularly in relation to outside interests and "revolving doors".

  Before turning to the evidence, we suggest that the debate on lobbying can learn from the US case.


  The experience of the United States is instructive here as it would appear that the media use the information made available through the provisions of the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) to scrutinise decision-making, rather than launching personalised "witch-hunts". Of course it should not be suggested that the US provides direct lessons in terms of the precise kind of regulation which is appropriate. It is clearly the case that lobbying regulation needs to be fashioned in the context of specific national and political variations in the UK. Nevertheless, there are some general lessons we can learn from the US experience. In the US, data on lobbying activities and expenditures are readily available. In 2007 $2.79 billion was spent to lobby US decision-makers.[85] Data submitted by lobbyists under the LDA allows informed analysis of spending by different interest groups, and enables interested parties to discern trends and patterns of interest representation. This information is easily accessible to decision-makers, interested citizens and the media. Quite clearly this is not "voyeurism" but a relevant and reliable tool that enables proper scrutiny of the role of lobbying and thus helps to improve the quality of democratic decision-making.

  However, it is important to recognise that the LDA has led to some critical media reporting. The infamous Abramoff lobbying scandal in the US offers a salutary lesson in how financial transparency can help to identify and address problematic cases of lobbying. Under the provisions of the US LDA, Abramoff was obliged to disclose his clients and the related lobbying budgets. This publicly available information made it possible to identify Abramoff's extraordinary revenues and the fact that he represented clients with competing interests on the same policy issues. Without this publicly available information Abramoff might not have been brought to book for his corrupt lobbying. While we are not alleging that scandals on a similar scale are taking place in Britain today, we would point out that currently it is impossible to absolutely vouchsafe the integrity and probity of all of British public life. A lobbying register that made it possible to check what clients a lobbyist represents and how much they receive for so doing would help eliminate unhealthy and unfounded suspicion of British public life.

  In our view an official, mandatory register of lobbyists would make a telling contribution to openness and transparency in British public life. We firmly believe that Parliament, or any independent body set up to monitor and enforce a lobbyist register (the model of the Information Commissioner clearly recommends itself in this context) should be pro-active in ensuring compliance, offering clear and consistent advice and guidance to those covered by such a register, and to those interested in learning more about the register. It is important that a mandatory register commands the respect and confidence of the political community. If this can be established then a lobbyist register can make a tangible contribution to restoring trust in our system of governance.

1.   The public view

  It is clear from a wealth of opinion poll evidence that there has been a decline in trust in the political process (affecting not just Ministers or government, but also Parliament and politicians generally). It can certainly be argued that some of this change in the public mood might be driven by media reporting and not be a straightforward index of mounting corruption. Nevertheless, it is difficult to lay all the blame for this at the door of the media. In any case, the issue of lobbyists' apparent special relationships with and privileged access to decision-makers is not going to go away. Even if it were only a matter of perception this would still need to be addressed. As we noted in our first submission to the Committee the evidence from the Power Inquiry does show that the public believe that lobbyists are able to gain privileged access to Ministers and other decision-makers.[86] The popular view is that this is unfair and that it ought to be tackled. It is our contention that transparency and enhanced ethics regulation is the most obvious and most effective way to address these concerns.

2.   The increased power of business

  The context of such public concerns relates to changes in governance over the last two decades. Almost all writers on corporate power or interest groups now agree that corporations have increased their power over political decision-making in the past twenty years. For example, the leading political scientist Wyn Grant noted in 1995 that "business interests have tended to strengthen their privileged position in the 1980s and 1990s". One reason for this, he notes, was a government which "sought to promote business interests".[87] Since then relations with business have only been enhanced by recent administrations, of which Grant notes "consultation is close, frequent and intense. Concessions are often given, if less frequently publicised". Grant notes and does not demur from the judgement that the Blair Government "was the most pro-business government Britain had ever had".[88] Other writers from across the spectrum of political science go further. Colin Leys refers to "market driven politics", Philip Bobbitt, a former US presidential advisor, describes British governance as an example of the "market-state", while Colin Crouch refers to the contemporary period as the era of "post-democracy"[89]. Each description acknowledges the increase in the power of business.

  The academic literature on lobbying is extensive. Much of it situates itself in the context of studies of the "group theory of politics" as an early US account put it.[90] UK studies have tended to focus on interest and pressure groups.[91] There are surprisingly few book length or even extended empirical studies of lobbying in the UK. Those that do exist include the classic early account by Samuel Finer, Anonymous Empire (published in 1958) and an edited collection in response to the emergence of "sleaze" as a political issue in the 1980s.[92] Other accounts have either been written by lobbyists themselves, with a tendency to paint a rosy picture,[93] or by journalists, who tend to highlight cases of apparent misbehaviour.[94] One reason for this apparent gap in the literature in the UK—compared with the US for example—is that lobbying has been less of a problem in the UK in the past. All observers agree that lobbying has hugely expanded in the UK in the past two decades.[95] This has been as a direct result of the business-friendly policies pursued by successive governments. It is the enhanced role of business in government more than anything which has made the issues of transparency and conflict of interest more prevalent and pressing.

  Some political scientists have recognised the importance of lobbying. Jordan, for example, states that a proper understanding of contemporary British politics is impossible without examining lobbying.[96] Austin Mitchell MP remarked in the early 1990s that "in reality, lobbying has increased, is increasing, and is not going to be diminished ... our vaunted constitution is really a framework of lobbying; for the constitution is, essentially, whatever governments can get away with. Lobbying, persuasion and opinion manipulation are the tugs at the sleeve of power".[97] Since then the lobbying industry has indeed grown significantly, but there has been little in the way of book length academic studies on it.

  The British lobbying industry is estimated to have doubled in size since the early 1990s and there are said to be 3000 full time lobbyists (consultants and in-house) in the UK.[98] This may be something of a conservative estimate. A survey published by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in 2005[99] indicated some 47,800 people employed in public relations in the UK. Just over 80% of these were identified as working "in-house" (ie working directly for corporations, charities and public bodies) with an even split between those employed in the public and private sectors. If we accept there is something of a blurring between lobbying and PR, and if we include lobbyists working in-house, rather than in consultancies, then the number of professional communicators engaged in lobbying and related activities is quite significant. That there is no reliable register of what these people are doing in public affairs is properly a matter of public concern.

3.   Transparency and deceptive lobbying

  There are two main issues here. The first is that lobbyists do not routinely disclose all their clients and those lobbyists who do disclose (either through the APPC or on their websites) do not always disclose all their clients. The second issue is that lobbying is often deceptive in that lobbyists will try and disguise their clients or will engage in misinformation. In one of the Committee's hearing Tony Wright noted that—"Most people assent to the proposition that lobbying is integral to an effective democracy| We could not do our job unless we were being lobbied all the time by every outside interest group who know more about these issues directly than we do." We agree that lobbying is both integral and necessary. But some lobbying may also be less than open and honest. The best way to protect against that is through a register and enhanced ethics rules for lobbyists.

  A key question that must be addressed if the principle of a lobbyists register is accepted is the definition of lobbying for registration purposes. The Committee has heard evidence recently that there is something of a blurring between lobbying, public affairs, government relations and public relations. In some respects this is reflected in the evidence we draw upon below. While the precise details of a lobbyist register are matters for further deliberation, it is important to note at this point that the traditional notion of the lobbyist as political fixer, go-between and mediator of relationships between outside interests and the political class needs to be updated. The distinction between public relations and lobbying activity can be difficult to discern. Some political campaigns may require a degree of publicity to build support and political pressure. Others are strategically premised on secrecy and discretion. The former may require conventional media-relations and PR capacity, whereas the latter suggests a low profile, but perhaps high-powered approach.

  Many of the largest lobbying firms in the UK offer a range of communications services to clients. Indeed, the recent controversy over the lobbying activities of well-known PR firms such as Burson Marsteller and Edelman point to a clear regulatory gap in the current system of lobbyist self-regulation. In the case of Burson Marsteller, the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) accepted that the interest in question (Microsoft, and their efforts to shape politicians, regulators and media sentiment[100]) had not been a public affairs client when Burson filed its self-declaration for the APPC's register. For many observers the effort to imagine such communications activities as unrelated to lobbying requires a certain suspension of disbelief. In the case of Edelman, it was again media reporting rather than industry vigilance that exposed the problems associated with the lack of full transparency in public affairs.[101] Arguably, two newspaper articles on the same Sunday in September 2007 have done more recently to publicise and scrutinise the role of lobbyists in British public affairs than the much-vaunted self-policing system the industry expects us to rely on to secure the probity of public life.

  In evidence to the Committee Mike Granatt stated: "I am sure that there are companies here that manage to sign up to the APPC code, for example, by splitting their operation in half so they have one half that deals with one sort of business, one half they say deals with public affairs business and signs up to the APPC code, but they do not for the other half of their business declare who their clients are, and I think their interests are exactly the same." Eben Black of DLA Piper echoed this observation, claiming: "We suspect within the industry, quite frankly, that the APPC register is more honoured in the breach than it is in actually being kept to by members." Such evidence establishes that the self-regulatory model does not work and that transparency will not be possible without binding regulation. We should note in particular that any register would have to define lobbying and that this is the mechanism to catch all lobbying activity as opposed to activity labeled "lobbying" by the industry.

  Transparency and ethics in lobbying are both raised in the case study of the policy debate on nuclear energy which follows.


  When the three industry representative bodies (APPC, CIPR, and PRCA) gave evidence to the Committee they were asked about the role of lobbyists in shifting government opinion on nuclear power since 2003. "Has the lobbying industry made a difference in the change of position in the development of civil nuclear power?"

  Evidence of lobbying and PR activity from the nuclear lobby suggests yes. In October 2004, Nirex, the government agency established in 1980 to oversee the storage of radioactive waste, which was then charged with finding a long-term repository for the waste, wrote a public relations and media strategy document.

  Both "Government" and "Parliament" were listed as "target groups".

  The strategy for Parliament and government was to "divide and rule" MPs. The strategy stated that it was necessary to "Bolster and if possible enlist those MPs who support our policy", "Convince those MPs who are indifferent or soft against" and "Isolate or convince those MPs who are against."[102]

  Nirex proposed that third parties—or "indirect methods"—should be used to put forward the nuclear industry case. "'We must first establish what are the best lines of action to be followed particularly whether `direct' or `indirect' methods would be better'". Indirect methods included using "local and regional media to progress arguments, not necessarily by Nirex".

  The internal strategy document went on to note "We have to be sure that `opinion leaders are carefully recruited and groomed'." The document also talked about "recruiting" people and then to "provide them with a programme of appropriate communications messages and platforms." This is classic third party technique—apparently much used by the nuclear industry as part of their public affairs campaigning.

  It has been admitted as much by BNFL. Philip Dewhurst was BNFL's Group Corporate Affairs Director from April 2001 until December 2006. He was also the Chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association. In 2006, he told PR Week that BNFL was spreading its pro-nuclear messages "via third-party opinion because the public would be suspicious if we started ramming pro-nuclear messages down their throats."[103]

  One of the ways that BNFL has done this is through its employees. BNFL has been paying the wages and travel expenses of the workers organisation, Nuklear 21, which has been lobbying for new nuclear new build. "We have tended to lobby party conferences and fringe meetings and get ourselves down to Westminster, talking to MPs," according to Howard Rooms, a trade unionist from BNFL's plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, and coordinator of Nuklear 21.

Working closely with Nuklear 21 have been John Robertson, chairman of the All-Party Group on Nuclear Energy, and Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland and former BNFL spokesman. BNFL's strategy has been extremely clever. Instead of the sinister nuclear lobby, you had workers and MPs fighting for jobs.[104]

  The industry has also been trying to get others to promote its cause too. In the summer of 2005, the Nuclear Industry Association and BNFL approached key academics and independent researchers to attend a media training workshop, along with staff from BNFL and NIA, to be run by lobbying firm Weber Shandwick. One of the recipients of an email announcing the training said: "If, as we expect, the energy review is announced before Parliamentary recess in July we need to be well prepared to hit the airwaves confidently then".[105]

  Documents uncovered by SpinWatch's project, NuclearSpin, show that the issue of climate change has been used by the industry to try and persuade the Government to change its mind on nuclear energy. For example, climate change features in a series of "race-cards" that the PR company, Strategic Awareness, developed for BNFL. The cards were key messages for senior BNFL staff to use to push for nuclear in public. They argue for the need to make the debate "personal" and "real", using "simple, straightforward language", while "emphasising how nuclear protects values." On the link with climate change they said: "CO2 emissions = climate change = irreversible damage to our environment."[106] The PR company Weber Shandwick also worked on a "Nuclear New Build" strategy for BNFL. Part of the strategy related to the question of climate change: "Nuclear power is essential in combating CO2 emissions", argued Weber Shandwick. [107]This link now appears to be accepted as fact in the minds of many.

  Much of the information on the lobbying and public affairs work of the nuclear industry in the last few years has been obtained from government using the provisions of Freedom of Information legislation. Downing Street took ten months to reveal the details of how Geoffrey Norris held secret meetings with nuclear bosses at the crucial time when the Government was formulating its policy on nuclear power. Norris, now energy adviser to Gordon Brown, held at least nine meetings at Downing Street with the bosses of nuclear energy companies. The meetings were held with EDF and BNFL (attended three meetings each); British Energy (two meetings); EON (one meeting); and the World Nuclear Association (one meeting).[108]

  Because there are no official records of the meetings this adds to the concern that certain advisers can operate outside the rules of government accountability and transparency.[109] This also leads to serious concerns about privileged access to decision-makers for wealthy and well-resourced special interests.

4.   Privileged Access

  Lack of transparency in lobbying is compounded by the apparent phenomena of privileged access. This means that some interests and some lobbyists are given preferential treatment and are able to access Ministers, civil servants and in some cases MPs more easily than their competitors in policy disputes, and certainly more easily than citizen interests. We give two examples of this below which support this view that certain interests are given privileged access to Number 10 and government Ministers


  The example of the obscure and generally secretive Multinational Chairmen's Group illustrates this. The Guardian recently reported how a small lobbying group of businessmen, including Lord Browne, then of BP, Arun Sarin of Vodafone, Sir John Bond, then of HSBC, and Sir Christopher Hogg, then of GlaxoSmithKline, were able to use their privileged access to then Prime Minister, Tony Blair "to protect the pensions of the ultra-rich."[110] The group "meets informally three times a year and has an annual meeting with the Prime Minister".[111] "This discreet club takes pride in its privacy", reports the Sunday Times.[112] "Outside the small circle of its members, it is little known even within the upper echelons of the Confederation of British Industry, under whose auspices it meets."[113] Details about the MCG meetings only came to light after a long struggle by the Guardian to get hold of documents under Freedom of Information legislation went all the way to the Information Commissioner. The Group—of less than ten—includes the heads of some of the biggest firms in the UK including BP, Diageo, Unilever, HSBC, Shell, Vodafone, GlaxoSmithKline, Rio Tinto and British American Tobacco (BAT). Its tactics include threatening "exit" from the UK if the Government does not do what it wants. To ensure the Government got the message the press were briefed and reported as follows: "Business leaders are warning they're not bluffing. The very real scenario he is facing is of an industrial and corporate Britain without many of the huge multinational players. The spectre of Britain being an outpost|is haunting Blair."[114]

  Documents show that BAT "was able to put private pressure on Tony Blair and a Cabinet Minister who wanted to hold an inquiry into allegations that the firm was colluding with criminals". After behind-the-scenes lobbying, via the MCG, plans for an inquiry, "which could have published a highly damaging report", were "dropped." "Instead", the Guardian reported, "MPs were told that a watered-down inquiry would be conducted in secret. Its activities were `buried' for almost four years, after which it emerged that no action was to be taken. BAT was so pleased with the eventual form the inquiry took that their lobbyists described it, in a private note, as "not a problem"."[115]

The group also "outmanoeuvred Gordon Brown, then chancellor, to shield `fat cat' pensions from his proposals to tax them more heavily":

    The lobbying, allied with protests from other business groups, forced Brown to rethink. Within a few months, he had loosened the proposed cap on their pension pots so that more of their money would escape the tax net. The extra tax will only be payable on pension savings over £1.8 million, not the originally proposed £1.4 million, and will not come in until 2010. He delayed the start date of the new regime to give the rich more time to re-arrange their finances. He also reduced the tax rate from 60% to 55%. The super-rich can thus shelter an extra £400,000 from the taxman—at Brown's original proposed 60% tax, that sum would have incurred a £240,000 tax bill.[116]

  The Guardian states that Downing Street only released the heavily censored documents after Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, ruled that the public had a right to know how lobbyists influenced Ministers.[117]

  In his ruling he said: "In relation to policy discussions with external stakeholders the Commissioner takes the general view that the likelihood of those parties being deterred from freely expressing their views is diminished when they are in effect being given an opportunity to lobby the policy-makers, as in this case."

  He continued: "Furthermore, the Commissioner notes that there is a strong public interest in informing public debate | In addition, he considers that there is a public interest in facilitating understanding of how government formulates policy, and also in increasing public confidence that decisions are properly made." [118]

  It is our belief that a register of lobbying can only help facilitate a proper understanding of how government works, and thereby increase public confidence that decisions are being made properly and in the public interest. In a climate of skepticism and suspicion (which is not simply attributable to the media or watchdog groups) transparency offers the best means of restoring trust and confidence in public affairs.


  The case of the aviation industry also exhibits similar features. A request under the Freedom of Information Act for details of any Department for Transport Ministerial meetings—held between January 2006 and June 2007—with British Airways, British Airports Authority, environmental NGOs and development NGOs revealed a huge disparity in access to senior decision-makers.

  The two companies had many more meetings with the Secretary of State or Under Secretary of State compared to environmental NGOs. With BAA securing 12 Ministerial meetings and BA 6, and the various environmental NGOs managing just 7 between them, the figures themselves suggest that a level playing field does not exist.

Environmental NGOs

Transport 2000 (T2000) Secretary of State
02/03/06T2000, RSPB, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, National Trust, Green Alliance Secretary of State
15/06/06T2000Secretary of State
28/06/06GreenpeaceSecretary of State
17/07/06Friends of the Earth Secretary of State
16/10/06T2000, Sustrans, Slower Speeds Initiative, Car Plus Secretary of State
20/11/06Sustainable Development Group Secretary of State

Organisation Minister Attending

BAAParliamentary Under Secretary of State
07/03/06BAASecretary of State
22/03/06BASecretary of State
25/04/06BAASecretary of State
23/05/06BAASecretary of State
19/06/06BASecretary of State
19/07/06BAASecretary of State & Parliamentary Under Secretary
10/08/06BAASecretary of State
12/08/06BASecretary of State
23/08/06BAASecretary of State
13/09/06BAASecretary of State
18/10/06BAASecretary of State
29/01/07BASecretary of State
30/01/07BAASecretary of State
21/02/07BAParliamentary Under Secretary of State
07/03/07BAASecretary of State
13/03/07BASecretary of State
16/05/07BAASecretary of State

  The lobbying efforts of BAA and BA, and their access to Ministers has not escaped the notice of Parliamentarians. In a debate in the House of Commons on the Planning Bill last year (10 December 2007), John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes & Harlington also drew attention to BAA's lobbying efforts after the inquiry into terminal 5 at Heathrow.[119] He said that decision-making at Ministerial level had been "unduly influenced by the aviation industry".

  According to McDonnell, "the aviation White Paper was drafted and dominated by the aviation industry lobbying the former Chancellor. The consultation paper that will be out for the next few months was drafted and virtually dictated by BAA, with the evidence modeled by BAA—that is the information that we have received under the FOI Act 2000." For a detailed map of the relationships between BAA, their retained lobbyists and PR consultants, and government, please see appendix 1.

  The links outlined in this appendix were established using a number of sources of information and methods. It took ten months, using FOI and other means, to assemble this information. Under a mandatory lobbying register, with online reporting and updated every 6 months, this information would have been easily available in the public domain.

  With the information on a register—out in the open—it would also mean there was less public and media suspicion and speculation. The current strength of opposition to Heathrow expansion, for example, has been fueled in part by the secrecy and accusations of undue influence by the aviation industry. Had the information been in the public domain, via a lobbying register, media reporting could not have proceeded without some recourse to official, reliable information.


  The concern about whether having a parliamentary pass gave someone "extra power" or particular advantage has been raised during evidence to the Committee. Perhaps this question can be answered by two recent cases that highlight how passes can be abused.

  In July 2007, it was revealed that some peers were allegedly handing out exclusive access to the Houses of Parliament to lobbyists and pressure groups, for which they received thousands of pounds a year.

  Parliamentary passes intended for researchers and secretaries were being given out to representatives of the defence, transport, freight and legal industries. For example, an investigation by the Times newspaper found that Lord Howie of Troon, gave a pass to Doug Smith, a Westminster lobbyist who is chairman of Westminster Advisers, whose clients include French multinationals Sodexho and Accor. Lord Berkeley gave a pass to Neil Stevens, from the Rail Freight Group, whose clients include Maersk, the container shipping line.

  Gill Morris, head of the APPC told the paper: "Having a pass to the Palace of Westminster and its facilities has clear advantages."[120]

Three months later, in October 2007, it was also alleged that a Labour peer, Lord Hoyle, had taken money to introduce an arms company lobbyist to the government Minister in charge of weapons purchases.[121] The lobbyist is said to have paid cash for an introduction to Lord Drayson, the Defence Minister in charge of billions of pounds of military procurement.

  The lobbyist, Michael Wood, had access to the Palace of Westminster because he has a security pass as a research assistant to another MP. While "cash for introductions" is forbidden by lobbyists' trade body the APPC, Wood is not a member,[122] showing that self-regulation does not work.

5.   Conflicts of interest: the Revolving Door

  The increasing involvement of business in politics gives added potential for conflicts of interest. There is now a wealth of evidence showing that there is a problem with the so-called "revolving door". This refers to the interchange in jobs between lobbyists, corporate staff and Ministers, special advisers and senior civil servants. The potential for conflict of interest arises especially when public servants take up posts in the industry they were previously responsible for. However, the opposite can also be the case where lobbyists or corporate staff are seconded into government departments or even appointed as Ministers. Given the increasing trend of such movements, it makes sense to consider how such conflicts can be handled. As evidence of the trend we note some recent examples from the nuclear industry.


  Recently two senior ex-government Ministers have moved into lucrative jobs within the nuclear industry. This has happened at the same time as the Government has been undertaking a public consultation on the issue and has recently given the go-ahead to proceed with a new generation of nuclear power plants.

  Ian McCartney, the former chairman of the Labour Party and former Trade Minister, is now paid up to £115,000 to act as a senior adviser to the Fluor Corporation. Although the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments gave McCartney permission to take the appointment it was on condition that he did not lobby the Government for a year.[123]

  One part of lobbying is gaining privileged access to MPs. In November 2007, the press reported how McCartney was spotted in the Commons "entertaining an executive from a controversial US nuclear company". The person concerned was Flour's UK boss, Ian Thomas, who said that he was there on a "social visit".[124]

  But this is surely part of what lobbying involves—access and influence. Flour is on a shortlist of four seeking to win an £18 billion contract for decommissioning the Sellafield nuclear power site and is expected to be heavily involved in any future nuclear revival.

  Richard Caborn, the former Sports Minister and former chairman of the Trade and Industry Select Committee is another ex-Minister with nuclear interests. In November 2007, the Financial Times reported how Caborn had "joined the growing band of former Ministers and Labour MPs who have taken lucrative jobs in the nuclear industry."[125]

  Mr Caborn, was appointed as an adviser to "Amec, the British engineering services group that is part of a consortium bidding for a £5 billion contract to run Sellafield, the UK's biggest nuclear site." According to the Register of Member's Interests, Caborn is paid up to £75,000.[126]

  Even if these positions are cleared by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, it seems difficult to reconcile MP's commercial interests with the spirit of Rule 10 of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament: "No Member shall act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House."[127]

  These two are not the only MPs and Lords who have taken lucrative positions within the nuclear industry:


  Brian Wilson is a former Labour MP and Energy Minister, who left Parliament in April 2005. On 26 October 2005, he was appointed non-executive director of AMEC Nuclear Holdings Ltd, the nuclear services arm of AMEC plc. The announcement boasted that the firm is the UK's largest private nuclear services business. "It is vital to have a British company of AMEC Nuclear's standing involved in every aspect of the industry," Wilson said. "There is a huge amount of essential work to be done at both home and abroad, including clean-up and decommissioning, and I want to see the maximum level of participation from the UK in that process."[128]


  Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan (Martin O'Neill) was a Labour MP for 26 years, until he stood down at the 2005 general election. He is now chair of the Nuclear Industry Association.[129]

  Lord Cunningham of Felling is one of the Honoury Legislative Chairs of the Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum (TANEF) that "aims to address key industry concerns and foster on-going strong relationships amongst nuclear energy companies and between the nuclear energy industry and governments, legislators and regulators based in the European Union and North America."[130]

  The PR and lobbying company Sovereign Strategy, which has strong ties to the Labour Party, not only lists TANEF as a client, it acts as TANEF's secretariat and registered its website.[131] Cunningham was a non-executive director of Sovereign Strategy from 2002-2005, whilst still an MP. Cunningham is now a partner in the political consultancies Brinkburn Associates and Anderson MacGraw, whose clients remain unknown. [132]

  Sovereign and TANEF were also caught up in a "sleaze row" in 2006 with the revelations that Sovereign Strategy boss—Alan Donnelly—had helped to pay for the refurbishment of then Environment Secretary David Miliband's constituency party headquarters in Newcastle. Sovereign Strategy also represents the US multinational Fluor, which Ian McCartney now works for.[133]

  The Guardian also reported recently that Lord Cunningham is paid £36,000 a year by the City of London Corporation to give political advice.[134] According to the report this includes: advising the Corporation on how to present its case at meetings with Ministers and the Government, the best time to speak to politicians, and general political advice. It also involves calling Ministers to arrange meetings with the authority when it is having difficulty securing access.

  Documents obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act also show that Cunningham has given the corporation confidential advice about two bills going through Parliament which affected the authority. The newspaper reports that Cunningham was hired by the corporation in September 2006. In the first year, the corporation paid £48,000 for this work to him and the lobbying firm, Sovereign Strategy, of which he was a director. In the Lords register, Cunningham declared his financial ties with Sovereign Strategy and Brinkburn, but makes no mention of the City of London Corporation, meaning that anyone reading the register would be unaware that he is currently working for it.

  A lobbying register would help address these gaps in reporting and transparency. Under the obligations of becoming an MP, Members are required to sign the Register of Interests. According to the Office of Parliamentary Standards, every MP since Enoch Powell has filled in the Declaration. Although the Office itself does not proactively police the Register, if a complaint is made against an MP with sufficient evidence, then the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards can conduct an investigation.

  If an MP is found to be in breach of their obligations, penalties include an apology to the House of Commons; the withholding of a Member's salary for a specified period; and suspension of the Member from the House, which includes loss of pay.[135] The Register of Members Interests offers a useful model which a Lobbying Register might follow, especially in regard to the regular updating of this information. The online Register is now updated twice a month.


We believe there needs to be a tightening of rules governing the business activities and outside interests of MPs. Two years ago SpinWatch uncovered evidence that Ken Clarke MP was using House of Commons facilities to undertake his business role as Deputy Chair of British American Tobacco.[136]

  According to Sir Philip Mawer "modest" use of a PA, as well as the House of Commons facilities such as faxes and phones for MP's commercial interests is allowed. However, as Sir Philip says "drawing the line between what is Parliamentary and what is non-Parliamentary is not always easy".

  The rules currently seem—at best—opaque, as does the process by which Sir Philip conducts his own investigations as his meetings are not minuted and cannot be scrutinized by the public.[137]


  The evidence taken by the Committee to date suggests there are significant and worrying gaps in the oversight of lobbying by the self-regulatory bodies such as the APPC. There is also the obvious issue of those lobbyists who choose not to join trade and professional associations that promote codes of conduct. There is simply no way to assure that such lobbyists behave ethically or transparently. There is also the problem of oversight and compliance by those companies notionally covered by a code of conduct. The Committee has heard evidence that it is likely that the code is often breached. This raises serious questions about the reliability and credibility of the self-regulatory model.

  A related concern is the question of transparency and accountability. With the accuracy of the self-regulatory register under question, elected members, public servants and the wider public are entitled to query if the information currently in the public domain is a true reflection of lobbying activity: is the information available complete, accurate, or sufficient to secure transparency and accountability around lobbying? We believe it is not possible to answer affirmatively to any of these questions at present. Currently there is a dearth of information in the public domain regarding how lobbying interests seek to shape policy and legislation. A mandatory lobbying register is the only viable means to secure compliance, transparency and public trust. It appears to us that the status quo is an unattractive option. Given the secrecy that surrounds lobbying it is likely that there will continue to be suspicion around attempts by outside interests to shape policy. This suspicion is damaging for the entire political class, and undermines confidence in public affairs and elected representatives. The gravity of this erosion of trust requires serious remedial action, of which a lobbying register is an important element.

  A common objection raised against a mandatory register of lobbyists is that it would be too costly and cumbersome to manage. We think these concerns are overplayed. The lessons from the introduction of Freedom of Information are perhaps instructive here. One of the main issues that has to date been pursued through FOI requests has been the question of relations between ministers, officials and outside interests. If all such information was made available routinely through a lobbyist register then it is very likely that FOI applications for such information would be unnecessary, thereby saving the public purse and public officials time and effort.

  Another criticism of a lobbying register is that it involves disproportionate record keeping on the part of outside interests. We would note that for the global professional lobbying and public relations firms there appears to be little problem complying with the register under the lobbying Disclosure Act in the US. In fact the LDA shows that all sorts of outside interests, from multinational corporations to non-governmental organisations, can easily meet the disclosure requirements. In addition, it would appear that some lobbying organisations already privately maintain databases with information about contacts with elected representatives. The APPC in Scotland keep an internal register of contacts between members and MSPs at cross party group meetings, and a record of the capacity in which member lobbyists attend such meetings: this information is apparently circulated to officials in Scottish government but not published or made public.[138] This example illustrates that detailed record keeping is already taking place and could be made public.

  A mandatory register of lobbying can only help facilitate the understanding of how government works and increase public confidence in the political process. The House of Commons already has the Commissioner for Standards. It appears to us logical to extend such vigilance to outside interests. The creation of an independent body to oversee a lobbyists register is both timely and necessary.

The long term damage to the political system of a drip-drip feed of lobbying scandals should not be underestimated. A mandatory lobbyists register is not a sledge-hammer to crack a nut: rather it is potentially an essential tool for restoring trust in politics.

April 2008

83   This briefing has been compiled by Professor David Miller, Dr William Dinan, Andy Rowell and Tamasin Cave of SpinWatch. Back

84   We have received project specific funding for some of our work, in particular the NuclearSpin project, which was funded by Greenpeace and the JMG Foundation. Back

85   Opensecrets Lobbying database, Centre for Responsive Politics. www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists/index.asp Back

86   Power Commission (2006) Power to the People March, London: The Power Inquiry. Back

87   Grant, W (1995) Pressure Groups, Politics and Democracy in Britain, 2nd Edition, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf. p 161. Back

88   Grant, W (2000) "Globalisation, Big business and the Blair Government", CSGR Working Paper No. 58/00, August. Back

89   Leys, C (2003) Market Driven Politics, London: Verso; Bobbitt, P (2003) "Marketing the Future of the State", New Statesman, 17 January; Crouch, C (2004) Post-Democracy, Cambridge: Polity. Back

90   Milbraith, L (1963) The Washington Lobbyists, Chicago: Rand McNally and Co. p 13. Back

91   For example, Grant, W (1995) Pressure Groups, Politics and Democracy in Britain, 2nd Edition, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Back

92   Finer, S (1958) Anonymous Empire, London: The Pall Mall Press.; Jordan, G (ed) (1991) The Commercial Lobbyists: Politics for Profit in Britain, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. Moloney, K. (1996), Lobbyists for Hire Dartmouth Press: Aldershot. Back

93   For example Miller, C (1990) Lobbying: Understanding and Influencing the corridors of Power, 2nd Ed. London: Blackwell; Greer, I. (1997) One Man's World, The untold story of the cash-for-questions affair, London: Andre Deutsch.; John, S (2002) The Persuaders: When Lobbyists Matter, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. Back

94   For example, Hollingsworth, M (1991) MP's for Hire, London: Bloomsbury; Leigh, D and Vulliamy, E (1997) Sleaze: The Corruption of Parliament, London: Fourth Estate. Back

95   Parvin, P (2007) Friend or Foe: Lobbying in British democracy (Jan) ISBN 978 0 900423 63 7 London: The Hansard Society. http://www.hansard-society.org.uk/files/folders/357/download.aspx Back

96   Jordan, G (ed) (1991) The Commercial Lobbyists: Politics for Profit in Britain, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, p vii, viii. Back

97   Cited in Jordan (1991), p 3. Back

98   Thompson, S and John, S. (2002) Public Affairs in practice: a practical guide to lobbying, pp 4-5. Back

99   Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Reaching New Heights, Annual Review 2005, p 6, based on research conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). Back

100   Mathiason, N (2007) "Microsoft in row over lobby tactics", The Observer, 23 September. Back

101   Newell, C and Watt, H (2007) "John Hutton faces calls for inquiry over Whitehall lobbying by wife's firm", The Sunday Times, 23 September. Back

102   Nirex Report, October 2004. www.nuclearspin.org/images/f/fb/Nirex.pdf Back

103   Rowell, A (2006) "Plugging the gap", The Guardian, 3 May. Back

104   Rowell, A (2006) "Power struggles", The Guardian, 15 July. Back

105   Rowell, A (2006) "Plugging the gap", The Guardian, 3 May. Back

106   "Nuclear Energy Racecards", developed by Strategic Awareness for BNFL. www.spinprofiles.org/images/0/06/Bnfl15.PDF Back

107   "The Case for Nuclear Energy", December 2004, by Weber Shandwick for BNFL. www.spinprofiles.org/images/8/8d/BNFL0002.PDF Back

108   Rowell, A and Cookson, R (2008) "Secret nuclear talks held at No 10", The Independent, 13 January. Back

109   Rowell, A and Cookson, R (2008) "Secret nuclear talks held at No 10", The Independent, 13 January. Back

110   Cookson, R, Evans R and Levene, T (2008) "Ultra-rich lobbying group with influence at No 10", The Guardian, 12 February. Back

111   Gribben, R (2003) "Business heads chew the fat and the croissants with PM" Daily Telegraph, 3 September, p 31 Back

112   Lorenz, A. (2000) "The bosses' revolt" Sunday Times, 4 June, Business Section. Back

113   Ibid. Back

114   Porter, A (2003) "Big guns turn on Blair" Sunday Times 31 August, Business Section, p 5. Back

115   Evans, R, Leigh, D and Maguire, K (2004) "Tobacco firm gained secret access to Blair" The Guardian 27 October. Back

116   Cookson, R, Evans, R, Levene, T (2008) "Ultra-rich lobby group with influence at No 10" The Guardian, 12 February. Back

117   Cookson, R, Evans, R, Levene, T (2008) "Ultra-rich lobby group with influence at No 10" The Guardian, 12 February. Back

118   FOI Act Decision Notice, Information Commissioner's Office, 30 July 2007. (Reference: FS50086299). Back

119   John McDonnell MP, House of Commons debate on the Planning Bill, 10 December 2007. Back

120   Coates, S (2007), "Labour peers named in Parliament access row", The Times, 17 July. Back

121   This case is reportedly subject to a House of Lords inquiry. Leigh, D and Evans, R (2008). "Crisis Lords meetings over sleaze allegations", The Guardian, 31 March. Back

122   Leigh, D and Evans, R (2007). "Peer was paid to introduce lobbyist to Minister", The Guardian, 26 October. Back

123   Employment declared on the Register of Members' Interests, session 2007-08. Back

124   Oliver, J (2007) "Cash-For-Access Row Over Ian McCartney And Nuclear Boss", Mail on Sunday, 11 November, p 50. Back

125   Eaglesham, J (2007). "Caborn takes nuclear job", Financial Times, 16 November. Back

126   Register of Members' Interests, session 2007-08 Back

127   Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament Back

128   Press release from AMEC, "Rt Hon Brian Wilson and Neville Chamberlain CBE appointed non-executive directors of AMEC Nuclear", 26 October 2005 Back

129   NIA website, "Our People" (accessed April 2008) Back

130   TANEF website (accessed April 2008) Back

131   Sovereign Strategy website, "Our Clients (accessed April 2008); Robert Winnet, "Revealed: Minister's Links To Nuclear Lobby", Sunday Times, 14 May 2006, p 1. Back

132   Register of Lords' Interests (as at 15 April 2008) Back

133   Winnet, R (2006) "Revealed: Minister's Links To Nuclear Lobby", Sunday Times, 14 May. Back

134   Evans, R and Henke D (2008). "Ex-minister is paid to secure meetings with government", The Guardian, 13 February. Back

135   House of Commons Guide, Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Back

136   Rowell, A (2005). "SpinWatch Uncovers Evidence to Suggest Ken Clarke Has Abused the Privileges of the House of Commons", SpinWatch, 5 October. Back

137   Sir Philip Mawer, Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP, Letter to Andy Rowell, December 1, 2005; Sir Philip Mawer, Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP, Letter to Andy Rowell, 21 December 2005. Back

138   Jo Nove, Greenhaus Consulting and APPC Scotland, Lobbying Roundtable, Communication & Conflict conference, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, 7 September 2007. Back

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