BAA and Tesco chiefs attack plans for transparent lobbying

Some of the UK's top in-house lobbyists have objected to the idea that their meetings with government officials should be recorded and transcripts made available to the public.

MPs on the public administration select committee are considering calling for such a system in a bid to make the lobbying process more transparent.

Last week, the committee questioned BAA corporate and public affairs director Tom Kelly, Tesco executive director, corporate and legal affairs, Lucy Neville-Rolfe and AstraZeneca chairman Chris Brinsmead as part of its ongoing lobbying inquiry.

Committee chair Tony Wright said: 'If we had a record of who meets who and what they talk about ... that would be pretty straightforward.'

But Kelly, Neville-Rolfe and Brinsmead all voiced objections.

Kelly suggested that media would seize on records and argued that this could deter ministers and officials from holding valuable meetings with the private sector.

He said: 'There is a danger with the way that these matters are sometimes reported in the media. If such procedures ended up as a disincentive to government ministers and officials having those conversations that they should have, then I think that would be disadvantageous to the country as a whole.'

He added that making records of such meetings available could mean that ministers and officials end up 'less well informed about the areas they are covering'.

Neville-Rolfe said she would be concerned about 'commercial confidentiality' and the accuracy of any records kept. And Brinsmead warned that it would be 'awfully bureaucratic if you were to try and record every conversation and phone call'.

He added: 'I think it would just be a nightmare but I don't think there's anything wrong with being recorded generally.'

The three witnesses were also asked why they employed lobbyists. Brinsmead said it was 'an issue of capacity' whereas Neville-Rolfe said it was for the 'specific local knowledge' that external lobbyists had to offer.

Kelly said: 'I believe it is valuable to have an extra pair of eyes, detached from the day-to-day policy making, to give a real view of what the perception really is.'

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