PLATFORM: Parliament must pass judgment on lobbying - Lobbying is not a closed shop and the question of passes should be handled in the same way as any other profession, says Fred Silvester

In the debate on enforcing proper standards among lobbyists, the question of Parliamentary passes has always been a red herring. I am told that there are perhaps 50,000 records on the database of past or present pass holders. It is hardly an exclusive club! Passes were originally introduced as a security measure to help the police identify frequent users to the Palace. Only more recently have they been interpreted as privilege.

In the debate on enforcing proper standards among lobbyists, the

question of Parliamentary passes has always been a red herring. I am

told that there are perhaps 50,000 records on the database of past or

present pass holders. It is hardly an exclusive club! Passes were

originally introduced as a security measure to help the police identify

frequent users to the Palace. Only more recently have they been

interpreted as privilege.



Constant preoccupation with passes hinders a solution of the main

issue.



It would make good sense to allow frequent users, whether lobbyists or

not, to have a pass through the security check into public areas, but

the proposed lobbyist pass is of a different order. Many MPs object to

the idea because it would imply that some companies or lobbyists ’are

recognised by Parliament’. In this they are right. Companies would use

’recognition’ as a marketing tool just as some now do with the APPC

logo.



The key to any solution is that Parliament must take responsibility for

its own actions. The conclusion of the 1991 Report of the Select

Committee on Members’ Interests remains true -’any voluntary system

would lack sufficient authority to be successful’. The Select Committee

recognised that even if there were a Parliamentary Register it would be

difficult to capture peripheral or part-time lobbyists, and there would

need to be a ’strong inducement’ for lobbying companies to register.



Currently, we have two competing codes of conduct in the UK. Their

existence has not prevented scandal. Yet, PR Week’s editorial on 21

November seems to suggest that there should be a ’requirement to

register with professional bodies like the APPC or IPR before setting up

as a lobbyist.’



Such a requirement is both impracticable and ineffective. Lobbying is

not a closed profession like medicine or law governed by Act of

Parliament.



It is a business. It takes many forms. New people enter all the time and

their skills from previous employment are always going to be of

value.



In such a world there are only two effective means of control: clients

and Parliament itself.



Clients must satisfy themselves that the people they deal with are

honourable, just as they satisfy themselves about other qualities of

efficiency, imagination or success. They cannot delegate this, and

certainly not to a body made up of lobbyists who are in competition with

one another. Those lobbyists without high standards of behaviour must go

out of business.



As for Parliament, we should learn from the saga of Members’

Interests.



It was never lobbyists’ job to decide whether MPs should be employed by

lobbying companies or pressure groups, but for a long time people

pursued this route. In the end, Parliament, rather uncomfortably had to

accept that the responsibility was its own. The same is now true of

research assistants. Parliament, not lobbyists, must decide whether in

these post-Nolan times it is wise to permit any financial or contractual

connection between lobbyists and pressure groups and research

assistants.



We need a Parliamentary Code which sets out the terms on which

Parliamentarians and civil servants are prepared to deal with lobbyists.

The House will then be able to deal with those MPs, Lords or officials

who act in breach of those rules. This will be effective because it will

focus on those whom the House can control and not on those it cannot.

Should any lobbyists seek to bypass the rules, publication of their

names will expose them to a nutcracker squeeze between MPs and officials

not willing to deal with them and clients withdrawing their business.



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