Sir Philip Mawer is Brown’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests and was previously parliamentary commissioner for standards, dubbed the ‘Commons sleaze buster’ by the press.
Addressing a gathering of lobbyists, MPs and lords this week, Mawer declared: ‘We certainly need to do more about the Government’s relations with lobbyists…. We cannot remain where we are. ’
With many lobbyists keen to avoid statutory regulation, Mawer warned self-regulation would only work if ‘three critical things’ were factored in: absolute transparency, wide-ranging coverage and tough enforcement.
‘Where were are is not satisfactory despite the best efforts of the APPC, CIPR and PRCA,’ he said. ‘The question is whether the industry can move fast enough [on self-regulation]… That’s something it needs to prove.’
The round-table meeting was convened by the APPC, CIPR and PRCA to thrash out a collective response to the public administration select committee’s recent proposals. The Commons committee has called for a register of lobbyists and a ‘single umbrella organisation’ to promote ethical behaviour (PRWeek, 9 January).
At the meeting, PRCA public affairs committee chair Rod Cartwright warned against setting up a ‘burdensome register’ while CIPR government affairs group chair Keith Johnston said: ‘Let’s see if we can make a self-regulatory system work’.
But senior figures in Westminster suggested the recent ‘cash for amendments’ story in The Sunday Times had made regulation inevitable.
Lord McNally, the Liberal Democrat leader in the House of Lords, said a register of lobbyists would highlight bad practice: ‘We’re looking for rule-breakers, rule-benders, people who play outside the game.’ Former cabinet secretary Lord Butler said a voluntary register would only work if there was a commercial advantage to registering – and ‘penalties’ for not registering.
John Grogan, the Labour MP whose interest in lobbying sparked the select committee’s inquiry, said: ‘The Government has to do something… In the current climate it would look weak if it left the situation as it was.’