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
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
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
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
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’
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
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.