This week’s vote on the Nolan report has been hailed by some as a
glorious result for Parliamentary democracy. It is nothing of the sort.
Parliament has been bounced into an ill-conceived cosmetic exercise by a
combination of party political jockeying, incompetence and a media witch
hunt. It has made the Government look foolish, done nothing to improve
Parliamentary standards, and very little to reassure the public.
In the end, the illogical proposal to put a ban on MPs’ links with
multi-client consultancies did not materialise - although most lobby
firms, sensing which way the wind was blowing, had already dropped their
Instead there are to be restrictions on what MPs may do in the service
of their outside interests. MPs will be allowed to advise them, but not
advocate on their behalf in the House.
But, as Bernard Ingham points out this week, this new rule would be easy
to circumvent if MPs and their external paymasters were so minded. So it
is just as well that they are not. Amid all the posturing and rhetoric,
let us not forget Nolan’s conclusion that ‘much of the public anxiety
about standards in public life is based upon perceptions and beliefs
which are not supported by the facts’. Despite the best efforts of the
Sunday Times to persuade us otherwise, the vast majority of MPs are not
crooks, and lobbyists are not offering them bungs to do their dirty
The most unpleasant result of all this media scaremongering is that
lobbying, and professional lobbying in particular, has been brought into
disrepute. At least one newspaper has triumphantly greeted the Nolan
vote as a victory for its own ‘investigations’ into lobbying - as if
lobbying itself is a crime. It is not. It is a fundamental part of
Putting obstacles in the way of lobbying does not aid the working of the
democratic process, it hinders it. It removes Parliament one step
further from the concerns of the people it is supposed to represent -
and the industry it is trying to help flourish.
Every individual has the right to lobby Parliament - a right as ancient
as the Magna Carta itself. Professional lobbying is an extension of that
right, whereby individuals or groups hire expert consultants to help put
their case to Parliament - in the same way that one hires a lawyer to
deal with the courts.
To the surprise of the profession’s detractors, the one positive result
of Nolan is that client companies will now increasingly turn to
professional lobbyists as they distance themselves from direct links