Last July, the IPR, PRCA and the Association of Professional
Political Consultants (APPC) considered Shandwick International
vice-chairman and Lib Dem peer Lord McNally’s call for legislation to be
passed on a joint code of conduct for lobbyists.
Seven months later, parliamentary regulation of lobbyists appears to
have been ruled out in favour of closer co-operation between the three
professional bodies and self regulation.
It was through the pages of PR Week, that McNally, championed the cause
for a single code of conduct and statutory legislation. He believed that
lobbyists had been forced to operate in the shadows for too long, with
only the vaguest of guidelines on the rights or wrongs of access from
which to work. It was precisely this culture, McNally argued, which gave
rise to the ’cash for access’ affair. In essence, the McNally school of
thought ran - if the lobbying industry were treated as a legitimate part
of UK democracy, it may start to behave like one.
So what has happened in the interim? Simon Nayyar, chairman of the
PRCA’s public affairs committee, dismisses the notion that any support
for statutory legislation was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the ’cash
for access’ affair.
’If it were the mood of Parliament, then we would support statutory
legislation. But it was not the mood last year and this continues to be
the case,’ he says.
His view is supported by Colin Farrington, the new director-general of
the IPR. ’We will be guided by Parliament, but realistically, the way
forward will probably be a form of self-regulation.’
Nayyar believes the cost implications of setting up a register of
lobbyists helped dissuade Parliament from going down the legislative
Since the ’cash for access’ affair, the APPC and the PRCA have revised
their own codes of conduct for members.
The IPR revised its code in April 1998, in response to the ’cash for
questions’ affair. The PRCA, the first UK communications trade
association to introduce a national public affairs code of conduct and
register for its members, has made several key revisions. The new code
is much less ambiguous on areas such as corporate hospitality and
gift-giving, and disclosure of clients is much more rigorously enforced.
The only exception to this rule is where disclosure would have security
implications or is market sensitive. In this case, members now complete
a preliminary return, followed by a full return six months later.
The PRCA’s revised code of conduct extends its remit from Westminster to
the Scottish parliament, the Welsh, and Northern Ireland assemblies and
any future regional assemblies. Nayyar is, however, the first to admit
the revised code is not foolproof. ’We are not satisfied that the code
we have is appropriate for all future circumstances, which is precisely
why it is under constant review,’ he says.
In December 1998, the APPC introduced its new practice guidelines.
Members are now obliged to incorporate the association’s code of conduct
into staff contracts and handbooks. The new guidelines ensure that a
staff member in each agency is responsible for compliance with the code.
Member agencies are also required to report to the APPC every year on
the measures they are taking to ensure the guidelines are being adhered
The APPC also amended its code of conduct. Changes include clarifying
the rules governing conflict of interest, and enabling agencies which
are less than a year old to join the APPC if they can prove they have
had regulatory experience. In addition, the code now extends to Wales,
Scotland and Northern Ireland, regional government and EU
Nayyar and APPC secretary Charles Miller agree that their two codes are
broadly similar. ’It makes increasing sense for the three professional
bodies to have a broadly uniform code, which is transparent, coherent
and clear. The PRCA is keen to share best practice with the APPC and
IPR,’ says Nayyar.
IPR president Philip Dewhurst, confirms the IPR’s code of practice for
members includes a requirement for members to submit a full list of
their clients and the names and interests of any MPs involved in their
Previously, disclosure was not mandatory.
Dewhurst says the IPR has attended several joint meetings with the PRCA
and APPC and adds that new director- general Colin Farrington is keen to
co-operate further. ’As a former senior civil servant, Colin is well
aware of the workings of Government and Whitehall. Working with the two
other professional bodies is at the top of his priority list.’
Farrington himself says: ’It is important to work together and perhaps
eventually come up with a joint code of conduct. The only problem is
what happens to those lobbyists who are not a member of the APPC, IPR or
Miller is also happy to co-operate further with the other professional
bodies, but says: ’There is no time frame for adoption of a joint code
and, in fact, I don’t believe there will ever be one. Government expects
different ethical safeguards from third party consultants to what it
expects from in-house staff. It would be impossible to draft a code that
would not be regarded as irrelevant by in-house practitioners.’
Self-regulation has met with approval from some public affairs
Mark Adams, head of the corporate affairs business unit of Text 100,
says: ’The PRCA and IPR codes are fine. There is nothing underhand about
what we do and the work that the IPR and PRCA did in identifying a code
was very good. That should suffice.’
However, Michael Burrell, managing director, Westminster Strategy
’I am an advocate of a statutory code of conduct and parliamentary
register of lobbyists. Lobbying is a key part of the democratic process
and it must be, as well as be seen to be, absolutely open and
Outside the industry, opinion is equally split. Labour MP and former
journalist Denis MacShane, says: Sometimes you can’t draw a distinction
between who is lobbying for what. A pressure group may be funded by a
pharmaceutical group, for example. It is for this reason I back an
up-front code of conduct.’
Former Evening Standard news editor, Peter Atkinson, now a Conservative
MP for Hexham, says: ’I remain sceptical about a code of conduct as in
practice, they rarely work and there is no practical way of enforcing
them. My advice for those wanting lobbying help is to keep away from
these modern courtiers and put their faith in established companies. It
will save them money and possibly embarrassment later.’
Seven months after the cash for access affair, the PRCA, APPC and IPR
have taken great steps towards tightening up their own codes of
Whether this will lead to a joint code of conduct is too early to tell,
but the will at least is there.
LOBBY LETTERS: An inside view of an MP’s mail bag
My post - about 400 letters a week -is separated for me into seven
The most important is the constituency pile, followed by the diary
Third is my personal pile, fourth my pile as Chairman of the Agriculture
Committee, fifth is from outside organisations sending me something
which may interest me, and sixth is the pile of letters which may
interest me if there’s time. Then there is a seventh pile. It is by far
the largest and for most MPs, it is all filed immediately in the waste
It is, of course, the ’junk mail’ pile and is a monument to failure.
Failure to understand how busy MPs are and to understand how small their
staff is (my office is one and half secretaries and me), and failure to
understand how to grab an MP’s attention.
So where do people get it wrong? Staff newspapers - of all the rubbish
to send MPs, these publications must be about the daftest. They all
remain unopened and will continue to do so.
Voluntary and professional bodies often ask me to help them, but don’t
even take the time to sign their letters. If they want several minutes,
possibly hours, of an MP’s time, it’s not unreasonable to expect ten
seconds of their time to sign the letter.
The Government can get things wrong too. One office in the Midlands
recently showed worrying lack of attention to detail with the salutation
’Dear Mr Luff MP’. This beat a company that addressed me as just ’Dear
Meanwhile other Government departments shower me with bumf. Does the
DfEE really think I will read a 32-page press release entitled ’New Deal
for Young People and Long-Term Unemployed People aged 25+:
Of course there are many companies and associations which communicate
well. They try to do one or all of the following: relating their issues
to the MP’s constituency, ensuring the subject is of interest to the MP,
keeping the communication short and personally signing a good covering
Remember these four guidelines and your concerns will reach the fifth -
or even the first - pile. Do none, and you are simply wasting time and
money by filling Westminster’s waste baskets.
Peter Luff is MP for mid-Worcestershire and patron of the Government
Affairs group of the IPR.
PET POWER: Pushing for an alternative to quarantine
The UK quarantine laws are among the most severe and expensive in the
world. Introduced in 1901, they compel cats and dogs to spend six months
in detention upon entry into the UK to ensure the are not carrying
Lady Mary Fretwell, wife of the former British Ambassador to Paris,
formed a grassroots lobby group Passport for Pets in November 1994, with
the intention of changing the law.
In 1995, the Agricultural Select Committee reported on possible reform
to the quarantine laws. At the time, the then Conservative government
Following this setback, Fretwell approached Wilf Weeks, chairman of GJW,
for strategic advice. Weeks, who offered his services at a reduced rate,
says: ’There needed to be of course an emotional side to the campaign,
but we realised if it were to be won, we needed to get the endorsement
Animal welfare groups and medical experts were brought in to broaden the
base of the campaign and leading vets and scientists confirmed that
there was a safe alternative. This consisted of a modern, inactivated
vaccine, an anti-body test to check the level of protection and an
identification either by microchip or tattoo. This information would be
then recorded in the pet’s passport, which allows the pet freedom to
travel abroad with its owner or to enter the UK for the first time.
The campaign was boosted in late 1996 when the RSPCA and Vets in Support
of Change came out in support of amending the quarantine laws. Weeks
harnessed their support by publishing a joint brochure, entitled
Quarantine Reform Campaign - The Case for Change. This was distributed
to interested parties, such as MPs.
The media also played a key role in the campaign. Weeks and Fretwell
encouraged expatriate animal owners to voice their concerns. The result
was extensive media coverage, particularly through the Express on
In September 1998, a significant breakthrough occurred with the
publication of the Kennedy Report, the Government’s Advisory Group on
The report contained scientific analysis, which confirmed that a
passport system was a safe alternative to quarantine.
On the back of the report, the Government has carried out a period of
consultation, canvassing the views of relevant organisations, such as
Guidedogs for the Blind and the British Ports Association and the Army
Families Federation. Weeks says there is 91 per cent support for
Passport for Pets.
Although the Kennedy Report favoured changing the laws on quarantine, it
proposed the new system should have an introductory period of three
years. Weeks predicts that should the Government comes out in favour of
Passport for Pets, there will be limited implementation before full
implementation takes place. The next challenge will be to persuade the
Government that full implementation should take place sooner rather than
SUAM: United in its stand against BSkyB takeover bid
Given that football is the nation’s favourite sport, it is hardly
surprising that many fans take a keen interest in the business affairs
of the club they support.
When Rupert Murdoch’s BSkyB announced its pounds 623 million takeover
bid for Manchester United last September, fans feared BSkyB was more
interested in making money than in keeping the spirit of the club
The takeover bid is currently being investigated by the Monopolies and
Mergers Commission (MMC), on the grounds that Sky would be both the UK’s
biggest buyer of televised football and the owner of Europe’s largest
Ad hoc lobby group, Shareholders United Against Murdoch (SUAM) has been
set up to fight the takeover. Paul Richards, a senior counsellor at
Chelgate, is managing media relations for the group.
He says: ’We run on a shoestring, funded by individual donations.
Supporters give their time free and all our experts give their time pro
bono, as do I. But we are up against Murdoch’s millions. It’s a David
and Goliath situation.’
To date, Richards and SUAM have targeted their efforts at shareholders
who, Richards feels, have nothing to gain. ’They will lose their
They may gain financially in the short term but they will lose a stake
in their club for ever.’
The group has had no direct contact with the Manchester United Board or
BSkyB, but has written to all shareholders, lobbied MPs - a House of
Commons early day motion against the bid attracted 140 signatures -
presented evidence to the Office of Fair Trading and is now giving
evidence to the MMC.
SUAM has also established its own web site - www.stopmurdoch.com - which
details the background of the bid, the next SUAM meetings and how
supporters can contact the MMC with their views. ’This has been a
traditional campaign but it is more like guerrilla warfare,’ explains
In a rare interview Martin Edwards, chairman and chief executive of
Manchester United Football Club seems reassured that BSkyB will let him
continue to run the club unhindered. He is reported as saying the offer
document sent to all shareholders confirmed that Sky would leave the
present management in charge as they were good at their jobs. ’They
approached us; I wasn’t looking to sell the club, but it seems like we
can have our cake and eat it,’ he says.
The MMC is due to submit its report to Stephen Byers, Secretary of State
for Trade and Industry, on 12 March.