The Association of Professional Political Consultants is set for a
tricky debate this week over the relationship between members of the
House of Lords and lobbying firms.
The debate has been prompted by APPC member GPC Market Access’ purchase
of Prima Europe, which did not formerly belong to the association. One
of Prima Europe’s directors is the Liberal Democrat peer Lord
The APPC’s code of conduct specifically prohibits member companies from
employing MPs or sitting peers, or paying them retainers or
The straightforward conclusion is therefore that GPC should be expelled
from the APPC if Lord Taverne is to remain with the company.
But despite the Guardian’s best attempts to persuade us that these
issues are black and white, this case raises some awkward questions.
The code, and indeed the APPC itself, was set up in response to public
and media concern following the ’cash for questions’ furore which dogged
both the last government and the lobbying profession. To maintain public
confidence it is right that lobbyists take self-regulation seriously and
are seen to uphold a code of conduct, but they must avoid being
hamfisted in applying it.
The case for banning MPs from having paid connections with lobby firms
is fairly clear: they are salaried politicians whose chief role must be
to work on behalf of their constituents. But there is far less clarity
about the position of peers, many of whom hold paid positions in
business as well as sitting in the upper House - an activity which
attracts a modest allowance but no salary.
Peers who sit on the boards of public companies, or are involved with
charities, frequently play an ambassadorial role for those organisations
or act as advisers on Parliamentary and political affairs. As such, they
may be involved in lobbying or PR activities at some level. They may
also act as advisers to more than one organisation.
There is therefore no more likelihood of a potential conflict of
interest arising from their holding a position with a lobby firm with a
number of clients, than from their having a direct relationship with
And as there is no necessity for peers to resign their other business
relationships, why should they be prevented from having links with lobby
To save GPC embarrassment, Lord Taverne may decide to resign from the
company voluntarily, but this would only postpone the need to resolve
this issue. The APPC needs to consider very carefully how to apply its
own rules in this case. The law must be respected, but it must not be
made to look an ass.