HC Deb 02 February 1982 vol 17 cc127-30

3.31 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide a public register of organizations who carry out the lobbying of Parliament for commercial gain, the disclosure of expenditure by such organisations and for connected purposes. My Bill requires that all companies, sole traders or partnerships who seek to organise the lobbying of Parliament to try to influence the course of legislation or its application as their sole or major commercial purpose shall be registered. The register would be maintained by the House of Commons Commission and would be available in the House of Commons Library. Hon. Members will recall that the Commission consists of yourself, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the House, a Member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition and three other hon. Members appointed by the House, none of whom shall be a Minister of the Crown. The Commission was established under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, which was the fifth such Act, demonstrating that dealing with the organisation of an aspect of Parliament by legislative means is by no means new.

It has been suggested to me that registration would enhance the professional lobbyists. If that is the case, the threat of de-registration would be potent and would ensure that the lobbyists would conform to rules laid down by the Commission.

My Bill would not—I repeat not—impede or alter the ordinary lopbyists' position—that is, any person has a perfect right to seek to present a case to hon. Members. It would not affect a company, co-operative, trade unionist, council tenant or any ordinary individual seeking to lobby Parliament. Indeed, my concern is that an anti-motorway group or tenants' association does not have the influence that can be brought by the big corporations which can afford to hire the services of professional lobbyists. Nobody should be able to buy influence in the House or in the machinery of government.

Why is a register necessary? If the claims of certain lobbyists are true, they are alarming. If false, those who make them are charlatans. In both cases, they need scrutiny so that the public are not in any way deceived.

For example, Lloyd-Hughes Associates claim: Our success derives from confidence that we can match promises with performance. Notable specific successes have been achieved. Among them, we have saved the international motor car and motor cycle industries based in the United Kingdom millions of pounds by persuading the Government to exempt them, from provisions in the Trade Descriptions Act, severely reduced demands on an American company for back-payments of British excise duties, secured British Government planning permission for an oil platform building site. It has also, apparently, invoked Royal support for its ventures.

The company continues that it had helped to organise the opening by Her Majesty The Queen of a major installation. It masterminded a parliamentary campaign which rescued the United Kingdom shipbuilding industry from Government proposals to nationalise ship repairing as well as shipbuilding, won British Government financial backing for a major development in Turkey and also claims that it is established as official consultants in the United Kingdom to an overseas Government. It issues comprehensive information service, including the issue of regular bulletins to a wide audience, and the creation of an all-party Parliamentary group of Members of Parliament and Peers which now has over 40 members. I understand this is the all-party Namibia group. It has arranged for business leaders, including the heads of American and French as well as British companies, to have private meetings with eminent personalities in London, including Cabinet Ministers …the Queen's principal private secretary, former British Ambassadors, and men at the very top of the United Kingdom Diplomatic and Home Civil Services The introduction continues: It is our considered policy—unlike some other consultancies—not to name our clients, not because we are not proud of their internationally famous names, but because, like consultant surgeons or solicitors, we prefer to apply an ethic that treats such matters as confidential. We normally expect to achieve results without any publicity. But, on occasion, even Ministers or senior officials have asked us to help in creating a particular climate of public opinion to enable them the more easily to assist one of our clients whose case they have accepted. In such event, we also advise on the best and most economical way of achieving the desired result. From its own words, it appears that some Ministers have, in effect, invoked the assistance of lobbyists and, therefore, owe them a favour. If that is true, it is a very dangerous situation.

When I asked the Prime Minister how many meetings with Ministers had been arranged through such lobbyists, I was told that no record was kept. It is time that such a record was instituted. My Bill would require a list of all clients and meetings with Government Ministers and officials to be provided, and would also require a statement of all expenses included in a campaign, through a quarterly report to the Commission.

The Register of Members' Interests does not require the disclosure of fees paid to Members of Parliament acting as parliamentary advisers. If hon. Members act on behalf of lobbyists, fees and expenses would be required to be disclosed. I consider the additional incomes obtained in that way to be unnecesary and demeaning to hon. Members and Parliament.

A parliamentary adviser gives the lobbyists access to the private Dining Rooms of the House which can be booked only by hon. Members. David McDonough and Associates Ltd. issue a brochure explaining the "working lunch concept". It says Our working lunch concept can be an effective weapon in your corporate communications armoury. It continues that it will recommend a suitable place—an hotel, restaurant or club; or perhaps, in appropriate circumstances, the House of Commons. It is good to know that the House is included in such a list of available hostelries.

Charles Barker, Watney and Powell also boast of providing the secretariat of several all-party committees. There is nothing wrong with outside bodies providing secretarial assistance, but where such a body has a commercial reason for doing so, as opposed to a specific public interest, and without any financial gain, the all-party group can potentially be manipulated for the commercial advantage of the professional lobbyist.

Barker, Watney and Powell provided a spuriously authentic form to their brochure by placing on the front cover, in the centre, the official portcullis crest of the Palace of Westminster—without at any time receiving permission to do so. I am glad to report to the House that that has now been stopped.

The brochures suggest that some of the lobbyists are treading the narrow line which can exist between proper representations put forward with excessive zeal and the subversion of the democratic processes. The pensioners, unemployed and potentially redundant, who come to the House to lobby their Members of Parliament would like to invoke the Queen to their aid or change Government policies by maintaining, to quote Lloyd-Hughes Associates, regular relationships with the British Government, Cabinet and other Ministers and their Civil Service advisers at all appropriate levels. Some Ministers have betrayed a marked reluctance to see representatives of the unemployed.

The brochures point emphatically to the need for a register, but there is one more aspect that would be covered by my Bill. In 1976 a Royal Commission was established to examine standards of conduct in public life. The report, production of which cost about £250,000, has never been debated in the House. That is appalling. On page 99 the commission came to the conclusion: Membership of Parliament is a great honour and carries with it a special duty to maintain the highest standards of probity, and their duty has almost invariably been strictly observed. Nevertheless in view of our report as a whole, and especially in the light of the points set out in the foregoing paragraph, we recommend that Parliament should consider bringing corruption, bribery and attempted bribery of a Member of Parliament acting in his Parliamentary capacity within the ambit of the criminal law. Our recommendation is limited to this single point, and we do not raise any questions about other aspects of Parliamentary privilege and related matters. That proposal will be included in my Bill to clarify the position beyond any doubt.

My Bill will ensure proper scrutiny and public accountability and will ensure that it can be plainly seen that no professional lobbyist is placed at an advantage over the ordinary citizen in making his or her representation to Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Ray Powell, Mr. Raymond Ellis, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Martin Flannery, Mr. Christopher Price, Mr. Alfred Dubs, Mr. loan Evans, Mr. Ron Brown, Miss Joan Maynard and Mr. Ernie Ross.


Mr. Bob Cryer accordingly presented a Bill to provide a public register of organisations who carry out the lobbying of Parliament for commercial gain, the disclosure of expenditure by such organisations and for connected purposes:

And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 5 February and to be printed [Bill 60].

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