PLATFORM: Cracking a code for lobbying probity - The UK lobbying industry may face drastic restrictions unless it cleans up its act and trade bodies are taking steps to ensure that this happens. By Stephanie France and Sue Hickmet

Last July, the IPR, PRCA and the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) considered Shandwick International vice-chairman and Lib Dem peer Lord McNally’s call for legislation to be passed on a joint code of conduct for lobbyists.

Last July, the IPR, PRCA and the Association of Professional

Political Consultants (APPC) considered Shandwick International

vice-chairman and Lib Dem peer Lord McNally’s call for legislation to be

passed on a joint code of conduct for lobbyists.



Seven months later, parliamentary regulation of lobbyists appears to

have been ruled out in favour of closer co-operation between the three

professional bodies and self regulation.



It was through the pages of PR Week, that McNally, championed the cause

for a single code of conduct and statutory legislation. He believed that

lobbyists had been forced to operate in the shadows for too long, with

only the vaguest of guidelines on the rights or wrongs of access from

which to work. It was precisely this culture, McNally argued, which gave

rise to the ’cash for access’ affair. In essence, the McNally school of

thought ran - if the lobbying industry were treated as a legitimate part

of UK democracy, it may start to behave like one.



So what has happened in the interim? Simon Nayyar, chairman of the

PRCA’s public affairs committee, dismisses the notion that any support

for statutory legislation was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the ’cash

for access’ affair.



’If it were the mood of Parliament, then we would support statutory

legislation. But it was not the mood last year and this continues to be

the case,’ he says.



His view is supported by Colin Farrington, the new director-general of

the IPR. ’We will be guided by Parliament, but realistically, the way

forward will probably be a form of self-regulation.’



Nayyar believes the cost implications of setting up a register of

lobbyists helped dissuade Parliament from going down the legislative

route.



Since the ’cash for access’ affair, the APPC and the PRCA have revised

their own codes of conduct for members.



The IPR revised its code in April 1998, in response to the ’cash for

questions’ affair. The PRCA, the first UK communications trade

association to introduce a national public affairs code of conduct and

register for its members, has made several key revisions. The new code

is much less ambiguous on areas such as corporate hospitality and

gift-giving, and disclosure of clients is much more rigorously enforced.

The only exception to this rule is where disclosure would have security

implications or is market sensitive. In this case, members now complete

a preliminary return, followed by a full return six months later.



The PRCA’s revised code of conduct extends its remit from Westminster to

the Scottish parliament, the Welsh, and Northern Ireland assemblies and

any future regional assemblies. Nayyar is, however, the first to admit

the revised code is not foolproof. ’We are not satisfied that the code

we have is appropriate for all future circumstances, which is precisely

why it is under constant review,’ he says.



In December 1998, the APPC introduced its new practice guidelines.

Members are now obliged to incorporate the association’s code of conduct

into staff contracts and handbooks. The new guidelines ensure that a

staff member in each agency is responsible for compliance with the code.

Member agencies are also required to report to the APPC every year on

the measures they are taking to ensure the guidelines are being adhered

to.



The APPC also amended its code of conduct. Changes include clarifying

the rules governing conflict of interest, and enabling agencies which

are less than a year old to join the APPC if they can prove they have

had regulatory experience. In addition, the code now extends to Wales,

Scotland and Northern Ireland, regional government and EU

institutions.



Nayyar and APPC secretary Charles Miller agree that their two codes are

broadly similar. ’It makes increasing sense for the three professional

bodies to have a broadly uniform code, which is transparent, coherent

and clear. The PRCA is keen to share best practice with the APPC and

IPR,’ says Nayyar.



IPR president Philip Dewhurst, confirms the IPR’s code of practice for

members includes a requirement for members to submit a full list of

their clients and the names and interests of any MPs involved in their

business.



Previously, disclosure was not mandatory.



Dewhurst says the IPR has attended several joint meetings with the PRCA

and APPC and adds that new director- general Colin Farrington is keen to

co-operate further. ’As a former senior civil servant, Colin is well

aware of the workings of Government and Whitehall. Working with the two

other professional bodies is at the top of his priority list.’



Farrington himself says: ’It is important to work together and perhaps

eventually come up with a joint code of conduct. The only problem is

what happens to those lobbyists who are not a member of the APPC, IPR or

PRCA?’



Miller is also happy to co-operate further with the other professional

bodies, but says: ’There is no time frame for adoption of a joint code

and, in fact, I don’t believe there will ever be one. Government expects

different ethical safeguards from third party consultants to what it

expects from in-house staff. It would be impossible to draft a code that

would not be regarded as irrelevant by in-house practitioners.’



Self-regulation has met with approval from some public affairs

practitioners.



Mark Adams, head of the corporate affairs business unit of Text 100,

says: ’The PRCA and IPR codes are fine. There is nothing underhand about

what we do and the work that the IPR and PRCA did in identifying a code

was very good. That should suffice.’



However, Michael Burrell, managing director, Westminster Strategy

disagrees.



’I am an advocate of a statutory code of conduct and parliamentary

register of lobbyists. Lobbying is a key part of the democratic process

and it must be, as well as be seen to be, absolutely open and

transparent.’



Outside the industry, opinion is equally split. Labour MP and former

journalist Denis MacShane, says: Sometimes you can’t draw a distinction

between who is lobbying for what. A pressure group may be funded by a

pharmaceutical group, for example. It is for this reason I back an

up-front code of conduct.’



Former Evening Standard news editor, Peter Atkinson, now a Conservative

MP for Hexham, says: ’I remain sceptical about a code of conduct as in

practice, they rarely work and there is no practical way of enforcing

them. My advice for those wanting lobbying help is to keep away from

these modern courtiers and put their faith in established companies. It

will save them money and possibly embarrassment later.’



Seven months after the cash for access affair, the PRCA, APPC and IPR

have taken great steps towards tightening up their own codes of

conduct.



Whether this will lead to a joint code of conduct is too early to tell,

but the will at least is there.



LOBBY LETTERS: An inside view of an MP’s mail bag



My post - about 400 letters a week -is separated for me into seven

piles.



The most important is the constituency pile, followed by the diary

pile.



Third is my personal pile, fourth my pile as Chairman of the Agriculture

Committee, fifth is from outside organisations sending me something

which may interest me, and sixth is the pile of letters which may

interest me if there’s time. Then there is a seventh pile. It is by far

the largest and for most MPs, it is all filed immediately in the waste

paper basket.



It is, of course, the ’junk mail’ pile and is a monument to failure.



Failure to understand how busy MPs are and to understand how small their

staff is (my office is one and half secretaries and me), and failure to

understand how to grab an MP’s attention.



So where do people get it wrong? Staff newspapers - of all the rubbish

to send MPs, these publications must be about the daftest. They all

remain unopened and will continue to do so.



Voluntary and professional bodies often ask me to help them, but don’t

even take the time to sign their letters. If they want several minutes,

possibly hours, of an MP’s time, it’s not unreasonable to expect ten

seconds of their time to sign the letter.



The Government can get things wrong too. One office in the Midlands

recently showed worrying lack of attention to detail with the salutation

’Dear Mr Luff MP’. This beat a company that addressed me as just ’Dear

Luff’.



Meanwhile other Government departments shower me with bumf. Does the

DfEE really think I will read a 32-page press release entitled ’New Deal

for Young People and Long-Term Unemployed People aged 25+:

Statistics’?



Of course there are many companies and associations which communicate

well. They try to do one or all of the following: relating their issues

to the MP’s constituency, ensuring the subject is of interest to the MP,

keeping the communication short and personally signing a good covering

letter.



Remember these four guidelines and your concerns will reach the fifth -

or even the first - pile. Do none, and you are simply wasting time and

money by filling Westminster’s waste baskets.



Peter Luff is MP for mid-Worcestershire and patron of the Government

Affairs group of the IPR.



PET POWER: Pushing for an alternative to quarantine



The UK quarantine laws are among the most severe and expensive in the

world. Introduced in 1901, they compel cats and dogs to spend six months

in detention upon entry into the UK to ensure the are not carrying

rabies.



Lady Mary Fretwell, wife of the former British Ambassador to Paris,

formed a grassroots lobby group Passport for Pets in November 1994, with

the intention of changing the law.



In 1995, the Agricultural Select Committee reported on possible reform

to the quarantine laws. At the time, the then Conservative government

was unsupportive.



Following this setback, Fretwell approached Wilf Weeks, chairman of GJW,

for strategic advice. Weeks, who offered his services at a reduced rate,

says: ’There needed to be of course an emotional side to the campaign,

but we realised if it were to be won, we needed to get the endorsement

of scientists.’



Animal welfare groups and medical experts were brought in to broaden the

base of the campaign and leading vets and scientists confirmed that

there was a safe alternative. This consisted of a modern, inactivated

vaccine, an anti-body test to check the level of protection and an

identification either by microchip or tattoo. This information would be

then recorded in the pet’s passport, which allows the pet freedom to

travel abroad with its owner or to enter the UK for the first time.



The campaign was boosted in late 1996 when the RSPCA and Vets in Support

of Change came out in support of amending the quarantine laws. Weeks

harnessed their support by publishing a joint brochure, entitled

Quarantine Reform Campaign - The Case for Change. This was distributed

to interested parties, such as MPs.



The media also played a key role in the campaign. Weeks and Fretwell

encouraged expatriate animal owners to voice their concerns. The result

was extensive media coverage, particularly through the Express on

Sunday.



In September 1998, a significant breakthrough occurred with the

publication of the Kennedy Report, the Government’s Advisory Group on

quarantine.



The report contained scientific analysis, which confirmed that a

passport system was a safe alternative to quarantine.



On the back of the report, the Government has carried out a period of

consultation, canvassing the views of relevant organisations, such as

Guidedogs for the Blind and the British Ports Association and the Army

Families Federation. Weeks says there is 91 per cent support for

Passport for Pets.



Although the Kennedy Report favoured changing the laws on quarantine, it

proposed the new system should have an introductory period of three

years. Weeks predicts that should the Government comes out in favour of

Passport for Pets, there will be limited implementation before full

implementation takes place. The next challenge will be to persuade the

Government that full implementation should take place sooner rather than

later.



SUAM: United in its stand against BSkyB takeover bid



Given that football is the nation’s favourite sport, it is hardly

surprising that many fans take a keen interest in the business affairs

of the club they support.



When Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB announced its pounds 623 million takeover

bid for Manchester United last September, fans feared BSkyB was more

interested in making money than in keeping the spirit of the club

alive.



The takeover bid is currently being investigated by the Monopolies and

Mergers Commission (MMC), on the grounds that Sky would be both the UK’s

biggest buyer of televised football and the owner of Europe’s largest

football club.



Ad hoc lobby group, Shareholders United Against Murdoch (SUAM) has been

set up to fight the takeover. Paul Richards, a senior counsellor at

Chelgate, is managing media relations for the group.



He says: ’We run on a shoestring, funded by individual donations.

Supporters give their time free and all our experts give their time pro

bono, as do I. But we are up against Murdoch’s millions. It’s a David

and Goliath situation.’



To date, Richards and SUAM have targeted their efforts at shareholders

who, Richards feels, have nothing to gain. ’They will lose their

share.



They may gain financially in the short term but they will lose a stake

in their club for ever.’



The group has had no direct contact with the Manchester United Board or

BSkyB, but has written to all shareholders, lobbied MPs - a House of

Commons early day motion against the bid attracted 140 signatures -

presented evidence to the Office of Fair Trading and is now giving

evidence to the MMC.



SUAM has also established its own web site - www.stopmurdoch.com - which

details the background of the bid, the next SUAM meetings and how

supporters can contact the MMC with their views. ’This has been a

traditional campaign but it is more like guerrilla warfare,’ explains

Richards.



In a rare interview Martin Edwards, chairman and chief executive of

Manchester United Football Club seems reassured that BSkyB will let him

continue to run the club unhindered. He is reported as saying the offer

document sent to all shareholders confirmed that Sky would leave the

present management in charge as they were good at their jobs. ’They

approached us; I wasn’t looking to sell the club, but it seems like we

can have our cake and eat it,’ he says.



The MMC is due to submit its report to Stephen Byers, Secretary of State

for Trade and Industry, on 12 March.



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