CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 843-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

PuBLIC administration committee

 

lOBBYING: SIX MONTHS ON

 

Thursday 2 July 2009

MS TAMASIN CAVE, MR PETER FACEY and MR OWEN ESPLEY

MR MARK ADAMS, MR FRANCIS INGHAM, MR KEITH JOHNSTON
and MR ROBBIE MACDUFF

RT HON ANGELA SMITH MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 95

 

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

 

1.

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

 

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Committee

on Thursday 2 July 2009

Members present

Dr Tony Wright, in the Chair

Paul Flynn

David Heyes

Kelvin Hopkins

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger

Julie Morgan

Mr Gordon Prentice

Mr Charles Walker

________________

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Ms Tamasin Cave, Co-ordinator, Alliance For Lobbying Transparency, Mr Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy, and Mr Owen Espley, Corporate Power Campaigner, Friends of the Earth, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: We are delighted to welcome our first witnesses, Tamasin Cave from the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, Peter Facey from Unlock Democracy, and Owen Espley from Friends of the Earth. We produced our report six months ago, as you know - you helped us with it. Six months on, we want to review where we are because we said that certain things should have happened after six months. It is really a stock-take session. We would like to start off by asking all of you where you think we are at now, what progress has been made, if any, and what the outstanding issues still are.

Ms Cave: We obviously are a little disappointed and frustrated with the lack of action on this. You put down a very good transparency reform in January and, given the current climate, we think the Government should have acted on it before now, so there is a general frustration about it.

Mr Espley: On the one hand we have seen very little concrete progress in terms of steps going forward; on the other hand we have seen a public debate which is focused around accountancy and transparency. The Guardian did a survey of some of its readers and 98% favoured lobbying transparency proposals as one of the strongest proposals around this area of accountability and transparency in politics. We have also seen growth of that public support and interest in these issues. Since January, the climate has got better and better at introducing these kinds of reforms and, on the other hand, we have not really seen much concrete progress in getting there.

Mr Facey: I would agree with that.

Ms Cave: It is heartening to see that between your EDM Mr Prentice and Michael Meacher's nearly 201 MPs now support the introduction of a statutory register, so there is obviously growing parliamentary support for this as well.

Q2 Chairman: You have been following presumably what the industry has been doing about this since we made our report. Have you been involved in that in any way at all?

Ms Cave: Not formally, no. We were not invited to participate in the round table event, although I was invited to observe it, which was useful. I thought it was a very positive event, in that a lot of people came down on the side of statutory regulation. But, no, we have not, although we did respond to the working party's proposal. I can send you our response.

Q3 Chairman: To the proposal for this Public Affairs Council.

Ms Cave: Yes.

Q4 Chairman: What has been your take on what they have been doing?

Ms Cave: You would expect this from us, but we fundamentally believe that transparency measures should be dealt with on a statutory footing. I think it was a mistake for them to try to bring a transparency measure into an organisation that requires paid-for membership, so you have something that looks fairly undemocratic. Under their proposals, if I understand it, if I wanted to lobby a minister I would have to get the kite mark, I would have to join this Public Affairs Council - which means that I would have to join probably the CIPR[1], which would cost me 260 I think. To me that seems fundamentally flawed. I think it was a mistake to try to bring in a voluntary register for lots of reasons - for all the reasons that we laid out to the inquiry before. It needs to be independent of the industry; it needs to be effectively monitored and policed, and that requires funding; it needs to cover all of the industry. This working party does not have the support of, for example, the Law Society and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations are not keen on the proposal either. I think they underestimate the challenge of getting enough people to sign up to make it work in terms of the transparency,

Q5 Chairman: You have been saying all this to them along the way, have you?

Ms Cave: We have responded to their paper.

Q6 Chairman: You have responded in the way you have just described.

Ms Cave: Yes.

Mr Facey: We welcome the fact that the three bodies have come together. We think that is a positive move. We are not against it, we think that is positive, but it is the merging of the two elements. A new body representing, I suppose, those people within business and in lobbying agencies is a good thing. Yes, it would be stronger if it involved the voluntary sector and lawyers, et cetera, but that is separate from the issue of having a register of transparency itself. That is our concern. It is not that this new body is not positive in itself. Any moving together of people to come up with common codes of ethics is a good thing, but let us keep the two things separate: transparency on one side and a code of ethics on the other. It may be that there are different codes of ethics for different sectors; it may be that there is eventually something which covers all sectors, but certainly that is not a replacement for a statutory register of lobbying. Now that transparency is becoming more pervasive across the whole of politics - MPs are now going to have more transparency than they had when we met six months ago - the arguments of those of us involved in lobbying to have transparency are even stronger than they were six months ago.

Mr Espley: It is also worth noting that, having decided to go down the line of attempting to deal with the transparency, to tackle transparency as within that kind of body, they have ended up with the conclusion that it ends up having to be public bodies which have to implement the sanctions to make that effective in and of itself. I think that is one of the inevitable contradictions in attempting as private bodies to bring transparency across the sector, that it is only really possible when it is the public bodies on a statutory basis which are able to sanction it effectively across the whole range of actors.

Q7 Chairman: I have asked you about your involvement with the industry enterprise. Have you had contact with government? Or shall I put it the other way round: has government had contact with you about their response to what we were saying?

Ms Cave: Yes, Peter and I met with Tom Watson and Leo O'Rourke, who I understand has also left the Cabinet Office now. That was at the end of March and we had discussions about your report. I also had a meeting with Francis Maude.

Q8 Chairman: But nothing since then.

Ms Cave: No.

Mr Facey: I have to say that the talks we had were instigated by us, not by government. The conversations we had were very fruitful. We were promised at the time that there would be very soon proposals coming forward and since then we have heard nothing.

Q9 Kelvin Hopkins: Pursuing that further, what feelings do you have about the possibility of legislation before the end of this Parliament, perhaps in the next year? Given that it has been seven months since the report was published and the Minister most involved has now left the scene, how hopeful are you and what pressure are you putting on to make sure we get some kind of progress before the end of the Parliament?

Ms Cave: There are things that have been pushed through now incredibly quickly - and I am not saying it should be done incredibly quickly. I do not know if it is realistic or not.

Q10 Kelvin Hopkins: In questioning in the House I have suggested that it might be beneficial to the Government to bring forward legislation on this now, because Members of Parliament are in some difficulty over their expenses and anything that looks like transparency and opening up to the world, saying that this is what we do and this is the money we receive and these are our contacts with lobbying organisations, would be beneficial. Have you made that point?

Ms Cave: Absolutely. I heard Gordon Brown on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago, when he talked about: "The future is how can we open up areas of public life that have been too secretive in the dark recesses of power. Too much information is being withheld from the public." This seems to answer that quite concretely.

Mr Espley: You asked about what pressure we are bringing to bear. As Friends of the Earth the way we try to bring pressure is by inspiring our supporters and the public to take actions. That is one of the things which we have been doing, in this case by enabling them to write to their MPs in support of that EDM, because there is public concern out there around the issues. Whenever we have contacted our supporters about it, this is a very popular issue that they want to take action on. It is important that we remember that public voice and that public appetite which there is for these kinds of reforms.

Mr Facey: I think you are right. This is no longer a separate issue; this is now part of a wider debate about public transparency. If government takes action on other bits and does not take action on this then it will be seen, whether it is true or not, in some ways to be ducking the wider issue. Because it has never just been about MPs expenses in terms of transparency; it was the wider argument about having a politics which was transparent, which is why some of us ran campaigns about stopping Parliament excluding itself from the Freedom of Information Act. When we helped run that campaign, we had no understanding of what was going to come out afterwards, and it is the same here. This is part of a wider agenda. I think there are opportunities. The Government is saying it is bringing about the Constitutional Renewal Bill. This is not a complicated thing to legislate for. This is not like some of the other areas, where you are imposing things which are quite complicated to do. This is simply another element of transparency and a register. There are plenty of ways we could do that, and it certainly is possible to do it before the next election, given that there is now a general climate that transparency has to be the foundation of our new politics.

Ms Cave: New rules were introduced yesterday on MPs outside interests, so that we now know the hours worked and the exact amount of money, so that we now have a degree of transparency on second jobs, but without a statutory register of lobbyists to complete the picture, there is a problem. As Spinwatch we have been looking at MPs who still have financial ties to lobbying firms or firms that lobby, and also peers - there is a greater number of Lords who do. The changes that were brought in yesterday certainly do not clarify what is going on. For example, you have an MP on the register of interests and he lists that he works for a PR firm, well that PR firm is also a public affairs firm but they are a public affairs firm that does not reveal their clients - presumably they are not a member of the APPC[2] because they pay MPs. Without a statutory register, the public has no way of cross-checking who is working for whom. And there are other examples. When an MP lists that they are a partner in a law firm, what is not revealed is that law firm lobbies - they claim pro bono - for the private equity industry. Again if you had a statutory register they would be on it and we would see who they are lobbying for, so you would be able to cross-reference. There are problems of conflicts of interests there with the MPs being involved in legislation on that topic.

Q11 David Heyes: We published our report in January and we had rather hoped that we would get a government response by early March. In early March we got a letter from the then minister to say that the reason for the delay in the response was because he wanted to take account of a range of views and that was the blocking factor. It is disappointing to hear that you obviously at that stage had not been included on his list of range of views and you had to go out proactively. Talk me through that. How did it come about?

Ms Cave: It is quite funny, actually. We wrote to the minister -----

Mr Facey: A number of times.

Ms Cave: A number of times. It was - I hate to say it - via Twitter. Tom Watson is a big twitterer and he has a huge community of techies who twitter with him. I happened to bump into one of these techies, who said to Tom Watson, "I hear the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency are trying to get a meeting with you," and he twittered back and I think it was about three hours later that I got a call.

Q12 Chairman: You got his soft spot, you see.

Mr Facey: I think the minister had met with the industry, had met with people from NCPO. It is disappointing that he did not meet with one of the alliances which has been calling for reform. He certainly, when we brought it to his attention, was willing to do it and was happy, and it was a fruitful meeting, but it was not them coming to us. I have to say that I did not get the impression that there was an undue amount of haste going on in terms of it and it was because there was legislation ready and they just happened to forget us. If that had been the case, to be fair I would be a lot more forgiving, on the grounds that I would rather them have legislation than meet us. If it was a choice between bringing forward a new statutory system or having a meeting with me in Tamasin, then we would have chosen the statutory system, and, thank you very much, we will forget our meeting with Tom Watson.

Q13 David Heyes: Is that still your expectation now that we have a new minister in place?

Mr Facey: I am hopeful. I have not heard anything from government which says that we are not going to do this. I will be honest, given my experience in terms of constitutional and democratic reform, government saying they are going to do something is no longer yet now my expectation that it will happen. There will be lots of things which I have been told will happen very quickly and each time it tends to move forward, so I am a lot more cynical than I was a few years ago. Nothing government have said gives me any indication that they are not intending to do it, but then again I have not been told any firm dates when they are going to do it either.

Q14 Chairman: When you went to Francis Maude, what did he say to you?

Ms Cave: He listened to me - a lot actually! I talked a lot. We talked about various things that came up in the course of the inquiry, it was about the problem of definition, and Francis Maud has obviously been involved in the industry, so he knows it quite well. We talked about the various definitions that they have created in Canada and in the US. We talked around the issues.

Q15 Chairman: Did he give you any kind of commitment about ----

Ms Cave: No, he did not at the time, but I have since had a statement from the Conservative Party that, if the industry can sort it out, they seem to be favouring self-regulation over statutory.

Q16 Mr Prentice: Did Francis Maude have a view on the Committee's recommendations, the mandatory register? Did you say, "Francis, can we just go through the Committee's recommendations and what is your view?"

Ms Cave: If I remember rightly, he did not give me a firm answer.

Q17 Mr Prentice: And you did not ask him?

Ms Cave: I think I might have done, yes, but I do not think he gave me a firm answer. It was quite some time ago, you will remember. There is support among the other parties. For example, the Lib Dems have now come up in favour of a statutory register, as have the Greens, UKIP.

Q18 Mr Prentice: We had the big scandal with Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Truscott, the first peer to be suspended from the House of Lords ever I think. A big constitutional convulsion. What can we learn from what happened at the House of Lords? Is there anything we can learn from that?

Mr Facey: Because of the MPs expenses scandal, in some ways the scandal of the Lords was missed to a large degree, certainly by the public and by journalists. In some ways, in my opinion, it is ten times worse than what happened in the Commons. We are talking about people who are Members of our Parliament, who are legislators, who effectively hire out their services to advise others on how to get laws passed and effectively use themselves being a parliamentarian to do it. Whatever you think about second jobs of parliamentarians, it must be incompatible to be a parliamentarian and to be a public affairs adviser or lobbyist, whatever you want to call them. The fundamental lesson of that scandal is that has to be outlawed. As an organisation, we are not in favour of banning MPs' second jobs and we have made proposals to the Committee on Standards in Public Life about it, but this is a particular area where the activities they could legally do are incompatible, let alone what they were done for, which was a breach of the rules.

Ms Cave: As Springwatch we made a complaint against one peer, Baroness Cumberlege, who we believed was offering services that sounded and looked like lobbying, and our complaint was dismissed, despite the fact that she was found to be breaking two of the House of Lords' rules. We were not accusing her of going against the no paid advocacy rule - it was not paid advocacy - but what she was doing - which is allowed under the rules - was giving advice to clients as to how they can best lobby and she was also facilitating access through her company to the House. Her firm is involved in the Health industry, so it was to former health ministers and senior civil servants in health. The complaint highlighted what we believe is a false distinction between advocacy and advice. You will talk to any lobbyist and they will say, "No, we do not conduct face-to-face meetings, we tell our clients how they can go about doing it." I do not know whether we need to have a more public debate about what constitutes lobbying, but certainly I would agree with Peter that that kind of advice-giving on parliamentary matters should be banned.

Q19 Mr Prentice: What about these peers who have close associations with lobbying companies. There are quite a lot of them.

Ms Cave: Yes.

Q20 Mr Prentice: You would like to see an outright ban, would you, so that peers should have no association with lobbying companies?

Mr Facey: I am in favour of parliamentarians, whether in the House of Commons or House of Lords, giving advice to outside people in terms of interests where they are concerned about particular subject areas, particular causes they care about. That is part of the role of a parliamentarian. The thing which I find distasteful, worrying, extremely dangerous in terms of the present era of politics is that you have people who receive money for doing that. I started talking about the age we now live in as the age of Paxman. In the past, Jeremy Paxman held a view that politicians were lying. Now that has become an accepted fact in terms of the public at large. In that era, to have a situation where parliamentarians are effectively paid to advise somebody - and there is this distinction between advice and activity - may work within the House of Lords; it certainly does not work within the public. I do not think the public understand that distinction. As long as that continues, the perception of corruption around it will be damaging to the body politic. MPs should not be paid, nor should peers, to give advice to people on how to make changes in the law.

Q21 Paul Flynn: How do you react to the letter from Mr Peter Bingle, who gave evidence to this Committee as the chair of a major lobbying firm, who was quoted in The Guardian as saying that he invited his clients "to help the Tory party to write those sections of the election manifesto which are important for you"? Do you fear that any future Conservative government would be soft on lobbyists?

Mr Facey: I do not think this is a party issue, to be fair. I am not sure any party up until now has been particularly hard on them. The Conservative party tells me in meetings that it is wedded to the principle of transparency, and seeing what we are calling for is transparency, I have no indication they would not carry that out. I think this whole area is difficult when you have not only sectoral interests but also funding issues. The combination between not just lobbying of Parliament but lobbying of parties, and of donations and funding, is one of the reasons why we need to have transparency across the board, because if you have areas which are blank then you are going to have the perception that people are simply shifting it and therefore you are going to have routes into influence and people who are doing those deals and the perception of corruption will continue. I am not saying transparency there is enough, but transparency has to be the first stage.

Q22 Paul Flynn: You described it as the Paxman age. It is an age of distrust of politicians.

Mr Facey: Yes.

Q23 Paul Flynn: Out of which we can build fundamental reforms.

Mr Facey: Yes.

Q24 Paul Flynn: I think we have a rare opportunity to have really radical reforms.

Mr Facey: Yes.

Q25 Paul Flynn: Would you regard the response to our report from the lobbying industry as support for radical reform?

Mr Facey: I do not think they will be surprised to hear that we probably do not regard it as support for radical reform. They themselves still believe in self-regulation. We still fundamentally believe that self-regulation cannot produce the complete air of transparency that we think is necessary across the board.

Q26 Paul Flynn: What do you think of the suggestion they are making? Do you have any views on this?

Mr Facey: As we said earlier, we welcome some parts of it, but we do not welcome the mixing up of the two elements.

Q27 Paul Flynn: It is a piece of skilled lobbying again, is it not?

Ms Cave: I think it does confuse the issue. It has various small points that I disagree with. For example, I think it totally underestimates the challenge of getting in-house lobbyists to sign up in effective numbers. It points out in the document that public concerns lie with multi-client consultancies, which I think directly contradicts something you said in your report. I agree with your report, in that public concern lies with the large multi-national companies: BA, BAA, Tesco, BAE; it is not with Hill & Knowlton yet. There is a confusion in there. If you take, for example, the challenge of in-house lobbyists, I think nine out of ten do not sign up to the CIPR at the moment and in-house lobbyists outnumber consultants by four to one. There is a huge, huge challenge, I think.

Paul Flynn: Can you give me any example where you think a decision by government has been distorted because of the weight of lobbying on one side compared to the ways that other organisations can make representations to government?

Q28 Chairman: Perhaps I could just say that I do not want to revisit the lobbying inquiry at this point. We are doing a stock-take on where we have got to. Could you briefly respond to that?

Ms Cave: I read something that I found quite worrying the other day in City AM which is that the hedge fund industry is gathering together a war chest to fight EU regulations. Given that half of the Shadow Cabinet are directly funded by the hedge fund industry or private equity, it is not like they need this extra representation. That kind of lobbying needs to be out in the open. Certainly they have the figures in the United States. We have no idea in this country how much money is involved and I think we should.

Mr Facey: I think the fundamental issue is that because there is not transparency I cannot answer your question.

Q29 Chairman: The climate is very different from when we reported. When we started doing this work, it seemed a sort of esoteric thing to get into. There were arguments on the one hand about proportionality and were we going into something that was not really an issue. I do not think that anyone seriously makes that argument any longer. Then there was an argument that was all technically complex to get to grips with. And I do not think anyone makes that argument any more now: it is a matter of will. One service that you could perform would be to go away and draft a piece of legislation that would cover the issues that we are talking about, so that you could show how doable it is.

Ms Cave: We did draft a document which we sent to Tom Watson and Lee O'Rourke which was an expansion of what we gave to the inquiry.

Q30 Chairman: Was it in the form of a bill?

Ms Cave: No, it expanded things like definitions and possible information to be included.

Mr Facey: That is a suggestion which we can take up. We would be quite happy to do that. I am not saying that as parliamentary draftsman we would be the best, but certainly we can do something which can be debated and taken forward.

Chairman: I think it would be a significant contribution to the developing argument if you were to produce a document - and I am sure people would help you - to show exactly how all these general principles could be converted into a piece of legislation. There we are, some work to do. Thank you very much indeed for coming along this morning.


Witnesses: Mr Mark Adams, Managing Director, Foresight Consulting, Mr Francis Ingham, Director General, PRCA, Mr Keith Johnston, Policy and Communications Manager, Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, and Mr Robbie MacDuff, Senior Public Affairs Consultant, gave evidence.

Q31 Chairman: We move on to our second session, which is with representatives of the industry, and we are delighted to welcome Mr Adams, who is convenor of the Public Affairs Council working party, Robbie MacDuff, Chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, Keith Johnson, Chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, a government affairs group, and Francis Ingham, Director General of the Public Relations Consultants Association. You have come from all the industry associations who have been together working on this document, which is a response to what we have been saying. Would it be better if Mark Adams spoke first and told us about the work you have been doing?

Mr Adams: Thank you very much, Chairman. We welcome the fact that you are holding this review session, just as we welcomed the original report because it was building on work that the industry had started. We are very grateful for your recognition of the work that we had done in the guiding principles, which you approved of in your report, and we have been working hard for a number of years to raise professional standards in our industry. Specifically, within the just under six months since you reported, we formed the working party that you see represented here, not just with the three industry bodies but also importantly with three independent members. Your report talks about the need for the industry to bring in outsiders to assist in the process and we were very pleased with the contribution of our three independent members, Sir Philip Mawer, Professor Justin Fisher and Philippa Foster Back who have made a contribution to our issues paper that we published at the start of May. That identified what we think are the key issues that we have to address if the Public Affairs Council, the single umbrella body that you called for, is going to work effectively. There are a lot of complex issues that we have had to address, and the three organisations represented on the working party are membership bodies that have inevitably to consult their membership before we move forward, but we strongly believe that we have done what you asked us to do to make concrete and consistent progress in the six months since your report was published.

Mr MacDuff: Separately outwith the work of PAC, the APPC as a membership organisation, as Mark has said, has undertaken a number of actions. We had an online survey immediately following the publication of your report, where our members had to respond by 16 January on a number of questions. We wrote to the then minister on 8 January and the APPC met with Tom Watson on 5 February. Since then, we have been having members meetings and management committee meetings to drill down on the views of our members and also on issues around the issues paper that PAC has published.

Mr Johnston: Certainly the chartered institute has also undertaken its response. It has put together a working party to consider a response from the institute and we will be taking steps to review our transparency requirements. The Professional Practices Committee of CIPR will be reviewing that, as well as introducing lay members into our disciplinary processes.

Mr Ingham: We consulted initially with our members and there was a broad welcome for the idea of an umbrella body and for greater co‑ordination of how we deal with issues facing the industry between the relevant bodies. As one small example of the way we have taken a concrete step towards making that easier, the public affairs register, which all of our public affairs practitioners filled in previously twice a year, has now been changed to quarterly so that it is in line with the APPC which will make co‑ordination rather simpler.

Q32 Chairman: Let us take stock of this. I was at a meeting last night with the heads of public affairs of a whole range of leading British companies. These are people who have nothing to do with your organisations at all and on the whole are wanting to have nothing to do with your organisations at all. They said that they would much prefer to have simply a statutory regulator, that they knew what the rules of the game were they signed up to. Are you not simply offering the continuation of the existing industry bodies of the multi-client lobbyists with this thing on top of it?

Mr Adams: No. Very importantly, Chairman, the working party is trying to identify that there is a way of making this universal, so that all those engaged in lobbying can take part in it. That is obviously a challenge. I would like to stress that we do not underestimate the challenge of achieving that. The three organisations do already represent more than just the multi-client consultancies. The PRCA and the APPC currently only represent agencies, but the CIPR represents in-house lobbyists as well, and we have had discussions throughout the process with a whole range of other organisations who ideally we would like to take part in a Public Affairs Council and ensure greater universality.

Q33 Chairman: Is it the case on your model that anybody lobbying in this country on a continuous basis would have to attach themselves to this Public Affairs Council?

Mr Adams: If we are going to make this a system that is universal, in the way that a statutory system would be universal, if we are going to try to offer a voluntary approach that is universal, then inevitably there is going to be a process that people need to go through. We have not set out here a model that means anyone who ever wants to lobby ministers or Parliament needs to go through a Public Affairs Council. That clearly is not the approach that we endorse here but we are saying that commercial lobbyists, those who are involved professionally in lobbying, should, in our view, take part in an umbrella body, and certainly our understanding of your report is that you too share the view that all those involved commercially in lobbying should come within some kind of regulation, either self-regulatory or statutory.

Q34 Chairman: But you cannot combine the voluntary principle with the universal principle, can you?

Mr Adams: As I have said already, we recognise that one of the challenges for us is demonstrating that this is as universal as we can make it. Inevitably, the only way that you achieve universality is through statutory compulsion, and we have said consistently in our issues paper and in our response to the Committee that we do not believe that point has yet been reached. We think you were very fair in giving the industry an opportunity to come up with a self-regulatory approach that works. We think we are making good progress on that and we think that we should be given the chance to see if that can work.

Q35 Chairman: How independent would it be?

Mr Adams: From the fact, Chairman, as I have already said, that we have three independent members of the working party, we recognise that the Public Affairs Council when it is formed will have to have some kind of independence. Each of the bodies involved who might wish to add something already have independent elements in their own procedures and I suspect that the Public Affairs Council will build on the independence already in the existing systems.

Mr MacDuff: From the APPC's perspective, we would argue very strongly that there should be a very focused degree of independence for the Public Affairs Council, but long before, Chairman, you conducted this inquiry, we began to look at our own disciplinary procedures in the APPC and we now have a fully independent process for our disciplinary procedures. We have appointed independent advisers for the first stage of the complaint made against any of our members. At the moment we have Sir Roger Sands and Sir Michael Partridge signed up as independent advisers, we have appointed expert advisers to advise the independent advisers if they so request advice, and we have the Professional Practices Panel. The last time it met it comprised of Lord Butler, a leading barrister and a company secretary from a FTSE-100 company. The management company of the APPC has no involvement in any part of the disciplinary process for our members any longer.

Q36 Chairman: I can see the advantages for you, in a way, but what advantages for the public interest come from proceeding down this route rather than simply setting out a new independent regulatory body for the industry?

Mr Adams: I think the industry takes the view that generally self-regulation is preferable to statutory regulation and that if the objectives of statutory regulation can be achieved in a voluntary way that would be preferable.

Mr Johnston: Perhaps I could just add that the costs would be borne by the industry rather than by the taxpayer.

Q37 Julie Morgan: Do you think that concrete and consistent progress has been made?

Mr Adams: Yes.

Mr Johnston: Yes.

Q38 Julie Morgan: You feel you have made the progress that this Committee would have wanted?

Mr Adams: Obviously we await the judgment of the Committee, but we responded very speedily to your report. Robbie has already outlined what the APPC did in the days immediately afterwards, and the CIPR and the PRCA took similar steps. We have had three meetings of the working party that led up to the drafting of the issues paper that we published, as I said, at the start of May. We were due to meet today to consider our responses to that consultation until you invited us instead to present evidence to yourselves, but we will be meeting in a couple of weeks' time to consider our response. We think, given the complex issues that need to be covered and that we have set out in the issues paper, and given the fact that the three organisations are membership organisations that need to consult our members, we most certainly have made the progress that you have asked us to make.

Q39 Julie Morgan: When do you think you will come up with a definite proposal?

Mr Adams: In a sense, that is very difficult to predict. The responses we received were certainly helpful to us but broadly in agreement with the approach we have set out. We have obviously studied those carefully. The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency had a number of very good points that they made but they themselves welcomed the creation of the Public Affairs Council. We were very pleased with the relatively unanimous agreement for the overall approach that we are adopting. I would think on the basis of that we can now move speedily to something that the Committee has asked for. There is of course a bit of a trade-off here, because on one level we could form the Public Affairs Council tomorrow, just out of the three existing bodies, but we rather took the view that we want to get this right, so that we create something that can be offered to all as a universal approach, and getting it right will take a bit more time.

Q40 Julie Morgan: I think you are proposing a kite mark for organisations. Could you tell me a bit more about that?

Mr Adams: The kite mark of course picks up on a recommendation that the Committee made in its report, which we thought was a very good recommendation. Clearly for us and for our members it is important that we have a recognised standard of professional standards across the industry. The members of the three organisations effectively already have that through their membership of those organisations, because that commits their members to certain standards. We do not yet know exactly how we will transfer the kite mark approach for the Public Affairs Council, but that clearly is an important recommendation that you made that we are keen to see implemented.

Q41 Chairman: Reading your document, it seems to me that you are confusing two things that we recommended. We recommended two different requirements. One was that we wanted some proper ethical regulation of the industry - and that is why we gave you that challenge - but we also then advocated a mandatory register of lobbyists to achieve the point about transparency. You seem to have wrapped these up together and sort of suggested that the requirement for a mandatory register in the interests of transparency can be subsumed under your proposals for this Public Affairs Council. We never suggested that was possible.

Mr Adams: One of the things, Chairman, it is important to say is that the PRCA and APPC already have a register and we felt if we were creating a Public Affairs Council that brought the bodies together it would be a rather strange step for us to say that we are now not going to have a register. We do not want to sit around and wait forever to see if the Government take up your recommendation on a statutory register. We have always believed in openness and transparency. We believe that the Public Affairs Council when it is formed, in the absence of a statutory register needs a voluntary register that allows us to declare consultants and clients.

Q42 Chairman: But a register, by its very nature, has to be mandatory, otherwise it cannot achieve the objective of transparency. It cannot be something that people might or might not sign up to if they happen to belong to this organisation or not. That simply does not meet the case, does it?

Mr Adams: You are going back to the point on which I think we are already agreed, that universality is the challenge here. If everyone takes part in the Public Affairs Council then clearly we will achieve the objective of total openness and transparency. But the members of the three organisations represented here are already very open and transparent and, as I have said, we felt that that spirit of openness and transparency should continue within the Public Affairs Council.

Mr Ingham: In a sense, we want to build on what exists already. APPC and PRCA members declare all their clients in the public domain, they declare holders in public office, there are restrictions on who they can use, and they specifically cannot pay parliamentarians - many of the things that you called for. One of the things we have tried to do is to build upon that and create something that is more comprehensive, rather than create some entirely new mechanism that has no background.

Q43 Chairman: No, but what I am putting to you, which you concede, is that there are two different things we are talking about here. It is how you get a system of ethical regulation of an industry. That is what we asked you to go away and think about - because we thought it was a bit of a mess at the moment - and that is what you have done. But we did not give you any suggestion that we thought a voluntary register would be good enough to meet the transparency requirements. You are trying to smuggle that under this first objective that we gave you.

Mr Adams: No, Chairman. We take the view that openness and transparency are an important part of the higher professional standards. As we have said, given the organisations already have a voluntary register, it would be in our view slightly odd if we moved forward with a Public Affairs Council that dropped that requirement that is currently placed in our members.

Q44 Paul Flynn: Openness and transparency but you still want to keep the detail of your meetings secret.

Mr Adams: We did comment on your recommendation about records of meetings. We rather take the view that that is principally the institutions of government. If the institutions of government are holding meetings with outside interests, it is really a matter for them the records that they produce of them. The only comment we made was that, in our view, that would be a very cumbersome process, that every single meeting between any minister or official ----

Q45 Paul Flynn: You do not keep records of meetings. The information we had was that it would be a very simple process. Your organisations have somewhere on the computer systems details of their meetings. It would be a cut-and-paste job. Why would it be cumbersome?

Mr Adams: As it happens, I do not think we have collected any evidence from our members on exactly what records they take.

Q46 Paul Flynn: You want secrecy there. You do not want transparency on the details of who you meet, where you meet them, what is discussed.

Mr Adams: We would be very comfortable if the Government came up with a system that gave information of the meetings that ministers and officials take part in.

Q47 Paul Flynn: Would it be fair to say that you got together when you saw our report and realised that you were unpopular, that public opinion was against you, the smoking guns became available, the scandal in the Lords was published and various other things came about, and you decided what was the minimum that you could get away with in order to appear to be complying with the Committee, and you came up with this idea of a Public Affairs Council? Could you tell us how it works? The idea is that it is going to be independent, in that there is one person on there who is independent, I understand. All the rest of the members of the council are people who are regulating themselves, are they not?

Mr Adams: We have not yet determined the exact governance structure for the Public Affairs Council.

Q48 Paul Flynn: What is your suggestion?

Mr Adams: We have picked up on your recommendation that there needs to be a strong element of independence. Robbie and other colleagues have already referred to it.

Q49 Paul Flynn: And you have one independent person.

Mr Adams: No.

Q50 Paul Flynn: All the rest are regulating themselves.

Mr Adams: No, we have not decided how many independent people will be on whatever the council governing body is. We have three independent members of our working party. I can see a strong case for a number of independent members, but the precise governance structure is one of those things that we clearly have to resolve.

Q51 Paul Flynn: How will we control or regulations on the revolving door issue which we were very concerned about unless we have greater transparency? You are giving lip service to transparency, but you seem very tentative at creating any firm proposals that could create genuine transparency.

Mr Adams: I think our issue paper does set out proposals for transparency. That is exactly why we do want to maintain the voluntary register that the organisations already have within the Public Affairs Council.

Paul Flynn: Would you have someone like Kelvin Hopkins, who has emerged from the expenses scandal as a candidate for sainthood?

Mr Walker: Build him up to knock him down!

Q52 Paul Flynn: Would you have someone like him as the independent person and a number of other people to run your council? If the entire council is going to be taken seriously there will need to be people who are saintly and independent.

Mr Adams: If Mr Hopkins wishes to act as an independent adviser to the Public Affairs Council I am sure his application would be received ----

Chairman: We accept your offer on behalf of the Committee.

Q53 Mr Liddell-Grainger: We have had a situation in the House of Lords since we have seen the report. What is your recommendations now to your members on the way you interface with peers especially, given what has happened with the two peers who have been suspended?

Mr MacDuff: On the part of the APPC our code says very clearly that none of our member companies can have any financial dealings with any parliamentarians or those who advise them. In fact, I think it is worthwhile remembering, as we all do, that these were journalists masquerading as lobbyists. It was not a lobbying company.

Q54 Mr Liddell-Grainger: That is not what I am asking. We know the background to the story. I am just asking you how you are now dealing with it.

Mr MacDuff: Our code prohibits us having financial relationships with parliamentarians, including parliamentarians invited to speak at a conference or a seminar. We are not allowed to pay them.

Mr Ingham: The same goes for the PRCA as well.

Chairman: I am anxious, again, not to go back into the whole lobbying issue, since we have done that. We are looking now to how far we have got with some of the clean-up.

Mr Walker: Oh gosh, then I will probably be ruled out.

Chairman: In that case ---

Q55 Mr Walker: Only one question. I am allowed one question. I missed the first evidence session about what influence you bring to the table on behalf of your clients, because we saw Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth get together with government and the opposition parties to secure an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - which is an amazing exercise of influence. Clearly you do not have the same level of access on policymakers as Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace.

Mr MacDuff: I enjoyed the campaign that Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have undertaken. In fact, in the past I have worked with Friends of the Earth on a joint account on catalytic converters. I think that is a very high profile case, a very effective case. The work we do for our clients is very effective too, although perhaps less high profile.

Mr Walker: You have not been as successful, have you, for, say, the nuclear industry? One of the criticisms levelled against you was that you had been allowing the nuclear industry unfettered access to ministers, but it seems to me that we have huge reductions in carbon emissions and very few promises on any new nuclear power stations to help meet those reductions.

Chairman: This is when I say, Charles ---

Mr Walker: "Nice try"?

Q56 Chairman: "That is not entirely relevant" - but it was terribly interesting. Perhaps we could bring it back to base. I asked you at the beginning about the extent to which you were engaging with other people. I really would like to know, beyond your organisations - and I told you of the reactions from some in-house lobbyists to all this - are you taking to them? Are you involving them in the process too?

Mr MacDuff: Mark will speak for the working party, but the issues paper was sent to 105 organisations in the spirit of openness and transparency and consultation hoping that they would engage with that process, and we held a round table seminar to discuss the issues paper as well, to which all of those organisations had been invited.

Q57 Mr Prentice: What discussions have you had with the Government? Our report was published in early January. We were told at the beginning of March by the then minister Tom Watson that there would be a bit of a delay because the Government wanted to check things out with various people. How many meetings have you had with government ministers? How many letters have you sent to them?

Mr Adams: It is fair to say I think there has just been one meeting of the working party with the then minister but there have also been individual meetings of each of the organisations separately with the minister.

Q58 Mr Prentice: So the Government is engaging with the issue. Is that what you are telling us?

Mr Adams: It is certainly our understanding that the Government has been engaging with the issue.

Q59 Mr Prentice: Given that the Government is supposed to report within two months to a report from a select committee, are you surprised that the issues seem to be so intractable, that the Government is taking so long to formulate its response?

Mr Adams: It is fair to say that the bit of the report that we are discussing today that relates to us is only one part of it. There are other recommendations that you would make direct to the Government that really are nothing to do with our industry. It really would not be fair for me to comment on exactly where the Government has got to on those other issues. The former minister Tom Watson has published an article, I understand today, in which he has said that he is disappointed that he did not have a chance to publish the report but he did say, "Had I published a response, I would have said how impressed I was with the efforts the industry was making to increase transparency and accountability." We are very pleased with what Mr Watson felt of the progress we are making.

Q60 Mr Prentice: It is still your view, despite the progress you have made in bringing everyone together and your proposals for the new Public Affairs Council, that there should not be a mandatory register of lobbyists. That is what you are telling us. You have made progress and a mandatory register would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. That is still your position, is it?

Mr Adams: I do not think that is.

Q61 Mr Prentice: It is not?

Mr Adams: No. For reasons I have already explained, we think that if there is going to be a Public Affairs Council and if the Government has not by then already taken action to set up a statutory register, it would be rather odd if we did not continue with our current voluntary system.

Q62 Mr Prentice: I understand that.

Mr Adams: It is probably more for Robbie. I know each of the organisations have consulted with their members and on the whole the view taken is that the industry could support a statutory register in a number of circumstances. The thing that the industry is very clear on is that if there is going to be a statutory register it must apply to everyone. It cannot just be aimed at multi-client consultancies; it cannot just be aimed at big business; it needs to include everyone involved in the business of lobbying.

Q63 Mr Prentice: That is a powerful case for a mandatory register, is it not?

Mr MacDuff: From our online survey that we undertook with our members back in January, 55.3% of our members would support a mandatory register only if it applies to all lobbyists. That is the slightly wider definition, including in-house lawyers, management consultancies.

Chairman: That was the Committee's view, as you know.

Q64 Mr Prentice: When we published our report back in January, Mr MacDuff, you told one of the PR magazines that you encouraged the Government to reach conclusions on the most effective regime for oversight of the lobbying industry that is sensitive to UK political traditions. What did you mean by that: "sensitive to UK political traditions"?

Mr MacDuff: By that I meant the fact that every citizen has the right to lobby, therefore we would not want to see disproportionate activity undertaken that would bring in a different regime for commercial lobbyists.

Mr Prentice: I see.

Q65 Kelvin Hopkins: One of the differences, it seems to me, between what you are proposing and what our report proposes is that you are dealing with lobbyists. Our report effectively will regulate those who are being lobbied as well. I think that is quite fundamental. If we have a wilful prime minister in an immensely powerful position - shall we say Tony Blair, who could not wait to embrace the corporate world that is now apparently reaping the benefit - your voluntary approach would not deal very well with somebody like that. They would say, "Voluntary? Huh! That does not matter." Under our much more rigorous statutory system he would be much more restrained. Is that not a big difference?

Mr Adams: I agree. You are making the point that we have consistently made that there are effectively two sides: those who are lobbying and the lobbied. We felt, given we are those involved in lobbying, that it was for us to address what we need to do, but clearly if the system is to work effectively there are things that government and Parliament need to do as well.

Q66 Kelvin Hopkins: Our scheme would encompass both and solve the problem in one go rather than say, "Well, you look after your end of things and we will look after our end of things." Our proposals would deal with the whole problem.

Mr Adams: We certainly are very interested in what the Government will say on their end of the bargain, but, as I have already said, we do believe in principles of openness and transparency and we do very obviously understand that there will be limits to the amount of openness and transparency it is just possible to inject in the system. But I think the industry is moving in the right direction and in a direction that backs up the recommendations you made in your report.

Q67 Kelvin Hopkins: You were in a perfect position to observe all this as the private secretary to two prime ministers. You saw what happened in Downing Street. My concern throughout our investigations has been at what has been happening in Downing Street, with corporates approaching prime ministers. We saw with Tony Blair the corporates almost being given open house. Is that not something that your system could not deal with and we have to have something more statutory?

Mr Adams: I think it is right that all governments of whatever flavour consult a wide range of interest groups from outside, whether they be in the corporate world, the NGO world or wherever they are. I think that is something that our industry very obviously approves of.

Q68 Mr Prentice: Your working group, I read, took a provisional view that there was no need to publish career details of lobbyists because it would be "cumbersome" - there is that word again - and difficult to interpret. What is the problem about publishing career details of lobbyists?

Mr Adams: As I think Francis has already said, we were keen to build on what is already there in getting the system going, and the current registers of both the PRCA and the APPC do not currently include that. I do not think there is any great secret about them. After all, we are consultants. The thing that makes us of interest to our clients is the fact that we have expertise that we have gained in the course of our careers. I suspect that if you go to the websites of most of our member companies, you will be able to find a page - it is certainly on my company website - that describes our consultancy staff and gives a pretty good outline of exactly their career details. Mr Hopkins has already referred to mine. I do not think there is any great secrecy about it.

Q69 Mr Prentice: I understand all that, but why did the working party say that it would be difficult to interpret?

Mr Adams: As I say, I think we took the view that given we are building on what is already there, as it happens - and this is an issues paper, these are not settled decisions - I suspect that one of the areas that we will want to look at and on which we may have good news for the Committee. I know one of the things that has emerged from the consultation is the suggestion that doing that is not as difficult as was suggested when the issues paper was drafted. I think that is one thing we can take away and look at again. The Chairman's point, in a sense, was why are we doing that at all, because you were asking that to be done on a statutory basis. I am pleased, Mr Prentice, that you are encouraging us to do it because we do believe strongly in our voluntary register, and let us take it away and see if we can build on the point you have made.

Mr Prentice: I hope you do all these things in advance of the legislation that will be required for a mandatory register.

Q70 David Heyes: You have each had access to government. You have each had the opportunity of sitting down and discussing with the Cabinet Office and being listened to. What is the consensus view on that? Were those discussions adequate? Were you able to say what you needed to say? Did you feel you were adequately listened to?

Mr MacDuff: From the APPC perspective, I think we were listened to - and let us just remind ourselves that we wrote to the minister requesting a meeting rather than the other way round, but the minister listened to us. For us, the meeting was beneficial because we could explain some of the details of the industry to the minister. I think that that was the most positive thing that came out in the meeting.

Mr Ingham: I think we listened to one another really. I mean, all the things that we took away from PRCA, from our meeting with the then minister, was that there was a desire within government for a greater degree of co‑ordination between the three current self-regulatory bodies and to deliver what this Committee has asked for. I think the paper that we put together and the progress we have made is the constructive progress within six months that your Committee asked us to make.

Q71 Chairman: As a result of your consultation process about the paper that you have produced, how different is your final paper going to be from the one that you have seen so far?

Mr Adams: As I said earlier, we were quite pleased with the broad agreement that we have seen.

Q72 Chairman: It is going to be broadly the same.

Mr Adams: So I suspect that what you see by way of the flavour of what we are suggesting will be broadly what you see in our final report.

Q73 Chairman: When shall we have the final report?

Mr Adams: Our next meeting, as I say, was due to be today. It is now in a couple of weeks' time. We are committed to publishing the responses we have received, so I expect that meeting will formally agree that that is what we immediately do. We will start work immediately on the report. Certainly it is going to be a matter of months rather than longer before we publish our final outcome

Q74 Chairman: We shall look with interest at what your mature structure is and obviously we shall want to interrogate it against what we said in our report. When we did our inquiry and when we first spoke to you, it was not clear at that time that there was a mood for action to be taken in this area, but I think we have all recognised that the climate now is for action to be taken in this area and action that really stands up to some of the basic principles of public life. What is certain is that if nothing happens immediately, something is going to happen, so I think you had better adjust yourselves to that.

Mr Adams: Thank you for the compliments.

Chairman: Thank you very much for coming along.


Witness: Rt Hon Angela E Smith MP, Minister of State, Cabinet Office, gave evidence.

Q75 Chairman: Our final witness is Angela Smith, the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office. We are delighted, Angela, you have been able to come along. You are only recently in post and we quite understand that there are many things, therefore, that you will not be able to say to us, but we did want just to formally make contact six months after our report to see what was happening inside government. Could you give us a brief update on how things are?

Angela Smith: I will be as helpful as I can. I am fairly new in post and newer to this particular portfolio. First I owe the Committee an apology that you have not had a response before now. I am very sorry. I know Tom Watson did a great deal of work on it. He exchanged letters with you back in March. I would like to get the response to you as soon as possible and I would aim for before recess. A caveat I would put on that is that I have been listening to what has been said this morning and if I need to follow some things through or have any further meetings with either of the groups - which I sense that they might like - that might delay it slightly, but I would be aiming very much to get it to you before the summer recess. That is the objective but apologies if it is slightly later. That is where we are trying to be.

Q76 Chairman: Thank you. Is there a draft sitting on your desk? When you arrived, was there one sitting there for you?

Angela Smith: Yes, there is a draft and there are some suggestions and some thoughts around the issues, so work had been done. Obviously you need to look at these issues. Since the Committee first met and first reported, the climate has changed somewhat. I think we need to look at everything in the round and I want to ensure that both the Secretary of State and I are entirely happy with the recommendations, but, yes, there is a lot of work being done already. We are not starting from square one, I can assure you on that.

Q77 Chairman: Are you able to help us on whether you accept certain of the principles that we offered in our report, which is the principles to do with a register of lobbying and, secondly, radical reform of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments to deal with the revolving door issue?

Angela Smith: I do not want to pre-empt the report because there are still discussions. It is the first report for 15 years to Parliament on this issue, so it is going to inform thinking enormously. I would say that, even if the Government does not accept all recommendations in their entirety, it does mean the Government has to go back and examine all these issues and assure themselves and look at these issues. You made the point earlier about ethical regulation and a register of lobbyists being two separate issues. I would entirely agree on ethical regulation. That has to be looked at. There may be some differences in our proposals, but obviously we will bring forward proposals on that issue. I have to say I am not entirely persuaded of the case of a mandatory register at this stage. I bring with me some experience as a former lobbyist - some of the Members of this Committee will have been lobbied by me in the past in a former life - and I would worry that, if there is a register of lobbyists, people may think they are the only people who can lobby government; that is, all the smaller organisations and individuals that lobby around an issue would not feel they were a part of that register. I think I would need to look at those issues first to ensure that we were not giving the impression, either accurately or inaccurately, that we were excluding some people from approaching government. That would be a concern I would have around it.

Q78 Chairman: I think we tried to deal with that, if you go back to our report.

Angela Smith: I am still looking at a lot of the evidence, but that is one of the concerns I would have.

Chairman: Let me assure you that that is not a difficulty. We will be able to overcome that quite readily.

Q79 Mr Walker: Minister, you have read our report. I had some concerns about the report, but I went along with the Committee as I do not like to be a curmudgeon, but I am concerned that it did come across as: private sector bad, private lobbyist bad, but NGOs and third sector good. Some of the worst lobbying and most aggressive and unpleasant lobbying to which I have been subjected since I have been a Member of Parliament has been from the so-called third sector organisations and NGOs. I think it is very important that we recognise that bad lobbying can come from many directions and it is not just the sole preserve of agencies and the private sector, and I am not sure that our report reflected that as much as I would have liked it to have reflected it.

Angela Smith: I think it did come across in the report that there should be a framework within which lobbying operates and there should be an ethical framework. That to me would apply across the board to any organisation, whether it is a third sector organisation, for which obviously I have responsibility, or the private sector. I do not think that was an issue for me in reading the report. I just saw an ethical framework that would apply to all.

Q80 Mr Walker: To make the point which I made a little earlier, I am concerned that policy on climate change, for example, and the 80% reduction seems to have been set in discussion with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - and they do a fantastic job, they really do - but at the same time there is a huge amount of complaint about the nuclear industry and concern about the nuclear industry having relationships with government. It would seem that both parties should have relationships with government and government should not perhaps favour third sector charities over industry in this case.

Angela Smith: I am not an expert on that particular issue, but I think in any case government receives representations from both sides. At the end of the day government of whatever colour has a duty to make a judgment on which case it gives the most weight to.

Q81 Mr Walker: But the nature of the discussion should be recorded. It does not matter who you are having the discussion with, be it the private sector, Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, as a taxpayer who is going to be paying for the 80% reduction by 2050 I would like to know the nature of those conversations. I do not care who you are having them with, it would just be important for me to know what the nature and base of those conversations are.

Angela Smith: I do not see any difficulty in principle, but the slight caveat I would make is that every decision government makes, every meeting it has and the nature of every conversation is quite an enormous remit, and how far it is possible to give as much information as possible is something I think we need to look at in responding to the Committee.

Mr Walker: It would be nice to know who you are meeting with.

Q82 Chairman: It is quite a modest suggestion on our part, simply that all the meetings between who lobby government and government should be recorded in diary form; that is, who met whom and to talk about what. It is pretty straightforward.

Angela Smith: I think formal meetings are. Former ministers diaries have been the subject of Freedom of Information requests in the past. I think that is entirely legitimate. There are some times, though, when meetings are not in the diaries and I think we are entitled to know the relationship between lobbyists and ministers and Members of Parliament. As a Member of Parliament I have been lobbied, as a minister I have been lobbied. I think the emphasis has to be on the conduct of the minister and the conduct of the Member of Parliament. The conduct of the minister - and the ministerial code is quite clear on how ministers should deal with lobbyists, in the sense of those seven principles that outline integrity, openness and honesty, for example. It is how people respond and how people behave when they are being lobbied that I think is absolutely crucial.

Q83 Chairman: We have discovered, for example, that the hospitality records inside government, which the Government has now published, have only been published for the board level, when in fact you want them further down the system, to see at what level civil servants are meeting lobbyists. I cannot see there is an issue about that and I cannot see that we have to rely upon FOI requests to get diary records. It should just be routinely published.

Angela Smith: Ministers hospitality is listed. With civil servants, it is not board level; it is now Director General level and above. It is the top 250. I would want to look further at the point you have made in your reports. I have no conclusions but I am looking at that point.

Q84 David Heyes: It is good to hear you say that there is a draft response and some good working papers in the department, and that you may be able to get us a response before the recess. If you fail to meet that target, it would effectively add another three or four months on to the timescale because of the recess. As you said yourself, you are not starting from square one on this. There is a collective memory within the department of the discussions that have taken place so far. It is the reason I asked the representatives of the lobbying organisations if they were satisfied with the discussions that they had had. Generally the response was yes, that they have been listened to, that they have had a chance to say what they needed to say. When you say that you might need more discussions with the groups represented here today, what do you have in mind and why might that further delay a response?

Angela Smith: I did not have anything in mind until I heard them all speak this morning. I really want to get it out before recess, and that is the objective, but I just want to look through the comments that were made this morning and see if there is anything I want to follow through from that. It is only a caveat. I could not stress strongly enough that the objective is before recess.

Q85 Paul Flynn: The strong balance of probability is that we will get a response before recess.

Angela Smith: Absolutely. I would just put a slight caveat in case something comes up, but the balance of probabilities is that you will get it before recess. We will do our absolute best to do that for you.

David Heyes: Then I will not push you any further.

Q86 Chairman: Not only do we have a new minister but I think the civil servant who was working on this has left as well.

Angela Smith: I do not know who was working on it before, so I do not know.

Q87 Chairman: We do know.

Angela Smith: The civil servants I have spoken to seem fairly knowledgeable on the issues. On the questions I have asked and pursued, they have come back with answers and responses to me, so I am not dissatisfied at all with the response I have had from the civil servants.

Q88 Chairman: The official machine is telling you that we can do this before the recess.

Angela Smith: When we said, "Could we do it before the recess?" there did not seem to be any difficulty on that at all. We are doing our very best and I hope to have it to you before the recess.

Q89 Chairman: We remember that Tom Watson did say it was coming soon and that was back in March.

Angela Smith: Yes. I have given you a date. We are doing our best to get it to you before the recess.

Q90 Chairman: I can tell you mean business.

Angela Smith: I cannot say it more strongly. I do not think you want blood or anything like that.

Q91 Chairman: No, no.

Angela Smith: There is that assurance.

Q92 Chairman: As you know, there is this convention which we like to stick by that we get replies within two months, and I think six months on we are entitled to say we would like to have something now.

Angela Smith: You are fully entitled, but as a new minister I am trying to deal with it in the space of less than a month.

Chairman: Yes, I know. We are very sympathetic.

Q93 Kelvin Hopkins: During our discussions and our report I was concerned to distinguish between lobbying for commercial interests/corporate interests and lobbying for what I call altruistic interests. I use the example of nuclear disarmament. I am a national council member of CND and I would love to be on the lobbying register with lots of high profile information and newspaper coverage of what we are doing. Unfortunately we do not get that, but I would like it very much. There is a difference between that and, shall we say, US Nukes Inc going straight to Downing Street to make sure that we buy their weapons. That is the contrast I draw. I would hope the Government's response would not weaken how we propose dealing with the corporate/commercial world. That is the fundamental concern that we have, and certainly I have, in the lobbying industry. I am concerned that we might find proposals for legislation which somehow avoids really taking on that key area of our concerns. That is what I would worry about. As a little parallel, the Freedom of Information Act is the one of piece of legislation that at the last minute had certain caveats put into it: "except when ministers say no" and that kind of thing. I would hope that the Government would take this very seriously and really expose and put upfront concerns about powerful corporate interests.

Angela Smith: There is no question that the Government does not take this seriously. I can assure the Committee on that. You used the word "altruistic" and what you may regard as altruistic might have a slightly different interpretation from Charles's point of view. It is that framework, not only of how it is conducted but how ministers behave and how ministers respond. That is the key thing in all cases but there should be the same response. But I entirely take your point and I would not want to do anything that constrained the role of those small, thoroughly altruistic groups and organisations of which I thought I was one at that time when I was lobbying - although other people may have taken a different idea of whether my objectives were altruistic. We have to ensure there is access to ministers. Lobbying can enhance decision making. There should not be just one route to ministers for information. We should not just say civil servants only can supply information to ministers. It is important that other interests have the opportunity to do so as well.

Q94 Chairman: You said you were not persuaded of the need for a statutory register. We hope in the next few weeks you might just think a bit more about that. Have you been persuaded about the need for some radical reform of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments which we have looked at over the years? It has tried to do a decent job but it is not really equipped for the task that it is now being asked to do.

Angela Smith: There is a review of the business appointment rules at present. We are also, refreshing the membership of the Advisory Committee. I do not know if Members are aware but the new members of the Committee are Dame Juliet Weldon QC, Lord Lang of Monkton, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston CBE and Lord Dholakia OBE DL, who have recently joined, so I think refreshing the Committee is helpful as well. I am not fully up-to-date with all the work of the Committee. I have looked at some of the work they have done and it seems to me that they have taken responsibility for this very seriously and they have been proactive in that, but I am happy to look and see if that fulfils all the objectives the Committee are looking for.

Q95 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. We note what you say about the timescale. I have to warn you, though that the Committee has a habit of revisiting its inquiries, so do not think you are out of the woods altogether if you just give us a reply, because we would quite like you to come back and revisit it.

Angela Smith: I would welcome the opportunity do to so.

Chairman: We are very grateful to you for coming here this morning. Thank you very much.

 



[1] Chartered Institute of Public Relations

[2] Association of Professional Political Consultants