Under fire lobby firm hits back at Times

Lobbying firm Westminster Advisers has defended its chairman Doug Smith, after he found himself at the centre of a media furore regarding the handing out of parliamentary passes from Lords to lobbyists.

Westminster: issue over passes
Westminster: issue over passes

An investigation by The Times this week uncovered four cases of Lords giving researchers’ passes to lobbyists and pressure groups.

The front-page story ­revealed that Smith had received a pass from Lord Howie of Troon. Meanwhile Neil Stevens, communications manager at the Rail Freight Group, received a pass from Lord Berkeley – chair of the organisation.

Westminster Advisers’ managing director Dominic Church admitted that Smith, who was unavailable for comment, had been given a pass. But he said this was not linked to his role at the lobbying firm, whose clients include the National Day Nurseries Association.

He said: ‘Doug is involved in lots of different things, including work for Lord Howie of Troon, which is entirely separate from the work he does here.’

Berkeley admitted Stevens – who declined to comment – had been given a pass but denied any wrongdoing, adding, ‘the RFG is not a multi-customer lobby company, and therefore the rules against people from such companies being given Lords passes for researchers do not apply’.

Following the article, the Government has pledged to review the system of parliamentary passes. Possible options include an outright ban on lobbyists having passes or the creation of a separate lobbyists’ pass.

The two main professional bodies representing the public affairs industry - the CIPR and the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) this week revealed markedly different positions on the issue.

Gill Morris, chair of the APPC – which bans its members from obtaining passes – commented: ‘Ensuring that our members don’t have access to these passes is vital to maintaining transparency in the profession.’

But the CIPR’s rules are more relaxed, with members allowed to accept passes. Director general Colin Farrington stressed: ‘Some of our members value that access to parliament, where they do most of their business.’

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