MPs call for more lobbying transparency
New report cites jobs taken by George Osborne and Ed Davey.
MPs have called on the government to inject more transparency into the lobbying process to avoid the perception that companies are "covertly capturing decision makers".
In a new report, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee welcomed the government’s recent action to extend the definition of lobbying to cover informal social contact as well as formal lobbying by former ministers and civil servants. The Cabinet Office recently amended the Business Appointment Rules to cover lobbying on a "social or party political level".
The MPs stressed that there was nothing wrong with businesses arguing their case in Westminster. But they expressed concern over limited public information made available about formal meetings between ministers and public affairs professionals.
The report states: "The new lobbying rules will still never be effective without clear and transparent monitoring and reporting of lobbying contacts. Even for formal meetings between lobbyists and Ministers and Crown servants, there is only limited public information made available about the details of meetings.
"In their current form, the effectiveness of the Rules relies too much on individuals’ own willingness to abide by the Nolan Principles, which are much too broad for this purpose, and not specifically addressed to the problem of lobbying…
“There should be nothing wrong with business and other interests making their case to government Ministers and civil servants. Indeed it is a right for people to do so and it should improve policy and administration. However, the Government must accept that the transparency of such exchanges is essential to avoid the perception that private interests are covertly capturing decision makers. “
The committee also slammed the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments as “toothless” and attacked former chancellor George Osborne for accepting the post of editor of the London Evening Standard without first clearing it with the committee.
The committee said there was a need for a significant overhaul of the ethics watchdog, citing other cases of potential conflict of interest including the former energy secretary Ed Davey’s job as an adviser to MHP Communications.
The report described MHP as “the lobbying firm that conducts the bidding of EDF, the French energy giant to whom Mr Davey awarded the controversial contract for the Hinkley Point C power station”.
The PRCA welcomed the report. Director general Francis Ingham said: “All too often, the public affairs and lobbying industry is seen by politicians as a convenient air raid shelter when they discuss transparency. Today’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report goes some way to moving past this distracting and misleading smokescreen.
"We, like everyone else invested in democracy and transparency, fully support a transparent and open system: but such a system only functions if it works both ways."