The need for a wider review|
70. The Commissioner's memorandum concludes with
some observations about the adequacy of the House's rules on lobbying
by MPs and former MPs. As the Commissioner has pointed out, the
inquiry he has carried out into allegations about the conduct
of six individuals does not of itself provide sufficient basis
for specific recommendations for changes to the rules.
The question he has invited us to consider is whether there should
be a wider review of the content and operation of the rules, which
could then form the basis of recommendations for change.
Paid advocacy rule
71. The paid advocacy rule was introduced in 1995
and amended in 2002. The rule prohibits Members from being paid
for participating in Parliamentary proceedings or lobbying Ministers
or officials, if by their participation or lobbying they would
be seeking to confer benefit exclusively on the body or individual
outside Parliament which is or may in the future be paying them.
72. The problem which the Commissioner has identified
is that the relaxation of the rule in 2002, which came about in
response to a recommendation of the Committee on Standards in
Public Life, has provided Members with a defence that the change
or action which they are advocating would benefit, not just the
person or body which is paying them, but a wider business sector,
to which that person or body belongs.
The Commissioner suggests that it would be desirable to find a
way of avoiding the risk of giving the impression that Members
can advocate a policy or lobby a Minister or officials for personal
benefit, while still enabling them fully to represent their constituents
and to speak freely on public policy issues.
Activities of former Members
73. The Commissioner observes that:
This inquiry has shown that, once a Member of
Parliament has left the House, there is nothing to prevent them
using contacts which they have developed as Members of Parliament
in lobbying Ministers or civil servants, including paid advocacy
in the exclusive support of those who are paying them.
He points out that there is no equivalent for former
Members of the mechanism which limits the freedom of former Ministers
to take up paid employment.
The Commissioner recognises that it is human nature for former
Members to wish to maintain contacts they have made while working
in Parliament, including with Members, Ministers and officials.
He accepts that lobbying is a necessary part of the Parliamentary
process. The Commissioner does not advocate imposing such restrictions
on former Members, but he is concerned about former Members making
direct contact with former colleagues who are still in Parliament,
with Ministers or with civil servants on behalf of an employer
which is paying them.
Meetings with officials
74. As noted above, the terms in which the present
advocacy rule is expressed have caused us some concern. Part of
Mr Caborn's attempt to explain his failure to declare a relevant
interest when he met the Chairman of a health authority was that
the rule on declaration applies in terms only to Ministers and
Crown servants and that the reference in the Guide to "public
officials" needs to be read in that light.
75. Although we have not accepted that his literal
interpretation of the rule excuses Mr Caborn's failure to declare
his interest, we do feel that it would be helpful if the rule
and associated guidance were clarified and, in due course, amended.
The precise terms of an amendment to the rule will require careful
consideration. Meanwhile, we suggest that Members would be well
advised to interpret the advocacy rule as potentially applying
to their transactions or communications with any public official.
76. We agree with the Commissioner that there
is a strong case for a review of the rules relating to lobbying.
Such a review could consider the three specific points identified
above, which have arisen from his inquiry into the conduct of
six former Members. We intend that such a review will be carried
out as soon as time permits.
90 Appendix 1, paragraph 729 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 730 Back
Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members,
2009, paragraphs 90, 95 and 96 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 733 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 734 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 735 Back
Appendix 1, paragraph 736 Back
Appendix 2 Back