‘In-house lobbyists should be covered by regulator,’ Cameron admits in committee grilling

Former Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted in an official hearing into the Greensill scandal that the legislation he devised to regulate the lobbying industry while in office does not go far enough, and should include in-house professionals.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron faced a grilling by MPs in two select committees yesterday
Former Prime Minister David Cameron faced a grilling by MPs in two select committees yesterday

Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, David Cameron said there may be a case for including in-house lobbyists in the official register mandated under the Lobbying Act.

Currently, only those people working for public affairs agencies who carry out lobbying activities for clients are covered by the legislation.

But the former prime minister qualified his admission by telling the committee the act should only be amended if it could be done “without excessive bureaucracy or damaging the interests of charities”.

‘More like stalking than lobbying’

In a bruising encounter with MPs sitting on two Parliamentary select committees on the same day – including the Public Accounts Committee – Cameron was told by Labour’s Angela Eagle that his 56 messages to government officials were “more like stalking than lobbying”.

On reflection, Cameron said it would have been more appropriate to send a single message to officials, but he rejected the suggestion by his predecessor, Labour's Gordon Brown, that there should be no commercial relationship between former prime ministers and the government.

Cameron said there was a case for extending the period of time before a former prime minister could contact a government department for commercial reasons.

But he said: “While it's very important we regulate lobbying properly and look at the rules, we must not get to a situation where the public sector is cut off from the private sector.”

‘Should have known better’

Labour MP Rushanara Ali told Cameron he had demeaned the office of prime minister and that the scandal had been “bad for democracy”.

She added: “You were the architect of the Lobbying Act, you should have known better.”

In March, the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists opened an investigation into Cameron for unregistered lobbying activities, but later concluded that his actions were outside the scope of existing legislation and took no further action.

Change ‘failed’ Lobbying Act

Following Cameron’s appearance on the committees, the PRCA said the government should adopt its suggestions “to address the failings in the Lobbying Act”, which include preventing former ministers taking lobbying roles for five years, clamping down on misuse of Parliamentary passes, and forcing serving ministers to open their official diaries to scrutiny in a timely fashion.

Liam Herbert, chair of the PRCA’s Public Affairs Board, said: “We welcome the fact that Mr Cameron now agrees with us that his own Lobbying Act does not go far enough and should be extended to cover all lobbyists, including those who work in-house for companies such as Greensill.

“It is simply wrong that only consultant lobbyists are included within the scope of the act – this does nothing for transparency and creates an unlevel playing field. The Government needs to act now to protect public confidence in the democratic decision-making process.”

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