Editorial: A peer witch-hunt isn’t necessary

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 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

Taverne.



The APPC’s code of conduct specifically prohibits member companies from

employing MPs or sitting peers, or paying them retainers or

commission.



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

those clients.



And as there is no necessity for peers to resign their other business

relationships, why should they be prevented from having links with lobby

firms?



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.



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