§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacKay.]11.41 pm
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I mean no discourtesy to my hon. Friend, but I believe that I have the floor.
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the report on parliamentary lobbying. It is true that the report has been on the table for nearly two years, but a delayed debate is better than no debate. l imply no criticism of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. After we had completed part of our report on lobbying, we were interrupted by having to consider one or two complaints, which lasted a long time. We then went back to work, but, by that time, the election was nearly upon us.
I do not think that anything fundamental has happened in the past two years which would alter or allay the concerns which gave rise to the Committee's inquiry and report, so let me try briefly to summarise those concerns. The first and most basic is that, over the past 15 years or so, we have experienced a significant growth in all types of lobbying activities. There is nothing new or intrinsically wrong with lobbying; it is probably the second oldest profession and, to my mind, it dates back to the time when King John was lobbied by the knights, who got the best of the bargain.
Lobbying can be seen as the sign of a healthy democracy in that organisations, interest groups, charities and individuals want to bring their views and problems to the attention of Members of Parliament, Departments and Ministers. What is new, however, is the increased organisation and professionalism of that process. Much lobbying is conducted by or on the advice of professional consultancies, which charge substantial fees for their services—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must resume his seat or leave.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am obliged to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As I was saying, much lobbying is conducted by or on the advice of professional consultancies, which charge substantial fees for their services and are in competition with one another for the available business.
Because of that competitive environment with large sums of money at stake, there is naturally a concern that traditional lobbying, which is undoubtedly an aid to healthy parliamentary democracy, may evolve step by imperceptible step, into forms of covert pressure and persuasion that could ultimately damage our democracy—[Interruption.] There seem to be two debates going on at the moment, and I do not know what is happening below the Gangway. However, I hope that hon. Members who are paying attention to this debate have heard what I have said.
The next area of concern is the increasing use made of the facilities of the House for promotional or lobbying activities. I will say no more about that tonight. It is a matter more for the domestic Committees than for the Select Committee on Members' Interests. To some extent, that issue is already being tackled by measures such as the 782 limitation on passes for the staff of hon. Members. However, the issue figures prominently in the evidence that the Committee took during its inquiry, and that concern should not be discounted.
The next concern is perhaps felt more keenly outside the House than inside. The dividing line between professional lobbyists and politicians is no longer perceived by many people outside this place to be clear. There is no law or rule of the House that prevents a Back-Bench Member from accepting paid consultancies, some of which involve work closely akin to that of professional lobbyists.
Those links with the commercial world outside Westminster bring great benefits to the House in many ways. However, we must also recognise that the House is unusual among Parliaments in the developed world in allowing hon. Members such freedom. Some do not allow outside interests. I declare that I have a range of outside interests and that might prejudice me in favour of the report that we considered previously and the report that we are debating now. However, people will know where I stand, and if they think that I am influenced by outside interests, so be it.
If that freedom is to be justified, freedom must be counterbalanced by adequate safeguards. Our rules for registration and declaration of financial interests are, as we have agreed tonight, the most important safeguard. To apply similar rules to the professional lobbying firms would, in the Committee's opinion, reinforce those safeguards and provide a cross-check for the register.
The Committee's report is more in the nature of a Green Paper than a White Paper with a fully finished set of proposals. In the light of the concerns that I have mentioned, the report suggests that the House should decide, in principle, that a register of professional lobbyists should be established. Such a decision, which I am disappointed that we cannot take tonight because we are debating the matter on an Adjournment motion, would be a green light to the Select Committee to enter discussions with the lobbying profession about the details. We have drafted guidelines and a code of conduct in the annex to the report, which are intended as no more than a cock-shy.
The report reaches three firm conclusions about the proposed register. First, like the Register of Members' Interests, it should be founded on a resolution of the House and not on statute law. Its enforcement would therefore be a matter for the House and not for the courts.
Secondly, the register should, at least to start with, cover only professional lobbyists—that is, firms or individuals who are paid to lobby on behalf of clients or to advise clients on how to lobby on their own behalf. The report refers to a group of professional lobbyists including some household names which are in sympathy with the concept that we should enter discussions with them about setting up a register.
If there were professional lobbyists, that would exclude two much more numerous classes: for example, those in the public affairs departments of some of the country's big firms, who lobby on behalf of their immediate employers rather than on behalf of outside clients. Hon. Members understand who we mean. The other group involves charities, professional bodies, industrial associations and similar pressure groups that lobby on behalf of the industries or groups that they represent.
Thirdly, the register should list firms and their clients, but it should not follow the equivalent registers in the United States and Canada—we went to Canada to 783 examine the Canadian system—in attempting to record each individual lobbying project or act of lobbying. If that were the case, one would probably have a list as long as one's arm.
As a result, the proposed register would be quite limited in scope and should not impose an undue administrative burden or costs on the Department of the Clerk of the House.
Hon. Members who have read the report will have noticed that it did not pass through the Committee without controversy. There was a minority view, which might be expressed during this debate, that the House would gain nothing from the establishment of a register of lobbyists. It is argued, in particular, that registration by the House would confer recognition and respectability on the lobbying firms which they might not deserve but which would boost their credibility with potential clients.
I remember that we came to the conclusion that that would be one of the drawbacks, but some hon. Members subsequently changed their minds. The House would be put to great trouble, so it is argued, and expense in establishing and maintaining the register, but its effect would be to encourage the development of professional lobbying rather than to control it.
Those are the arguments, which I have fairly set out, against our proposal. I understand the arguments, but I do not regard them as outweighing the arguments for taking action. There seems to be a clear case for more openness about lobbying activity.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
My hon. Friend referred to openness in lobbying. Paragraph 10 on page li of his excellent report states that the Committee took evidencefrom three of the larger trade unions.In particular, it took evidence that the Confederation of Health Service Employees had six sponsored hon. Members and that the Transport and General Workers Union had 33 sponsored hon. Members. Paragraph 11 states:Those questioned made no secret of what they expected from their MPs.Paragraph 12 states:The TGWU official told us 'Clearly if a Member of Parliament…has failed to do that…it would be perfectly legitimate for us to say, "Look, the relationship isn't working".'''Paragraph 15 states:What is more a paid lobby of 33 MPs is so huge as to make one wonder whether it does not constitute a political party in its own right".Would my hon. Friend be prepared to comment on that section of his report?
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. If I were to embark on any comment, it might disturb the thread of my argument, and I prefer any points to be made in another way by other hon. Members. A little discretion at this point is important for me. I heard what my hon. Friend says. I understand and I am obliged to him.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has raised an important issue. After that evidence was given by, I think, Mr. Regan-Scott, the trade union official involved, the union dissociated itself from that comment. It is simply untrue. I must assume that he got out of bed the wrong side that morning.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. One can see how these matters lead to important difficulties, and I do not want to rehash strongly held points on either side of the argument. I want to stick to the general matter of the need for lobbying. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewksbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) might feel that my remarks only justify his point.
Let me repeat that there is a clear case for more openness in lobbying and greater transparency. Members of Parliament and Ministers might be well aware who the lobbyists are and who the lobbyists' clients are, but, even if that is so, and I suspect that there are many gaps in most hon. Members' knowledge, the public also have a legitimate interest in knowing more about those who make a living out of influencing the decisions of Government and the Parliament which they elected.
Several countries with comparable systems to ours have come to the same conclusion and have established a system for registering lobbyists. The report contains much evidence about that, particularly about the Canadian arrangements which are based upon an Act of Parliament and which came into operation in 1989. A committee of the Canadian House of Commons recently reviewed the operation of the Act. It stated:Overall … the Act has added a measure of transparency to the activities of lobbyists. The public now has an opportunity to know who, for pay, is attempting to influence certain government decisions… The disclosure of lobbying activities is intended to increase public understanding of, and faith in, the operation of government. Ensuring that there is less secrecy surrounding lobbying activities will have the added benefit of discouraging lobbyists from engaging in unseemly behaviour.That leads me to the second consideration that weighs strongly with me. Lobbying in Britain today has reached such a level of significance that some basic ground rules are necessary to show the dividing line between what is acceptable practice and what is unacceptable. At one time, it was reasonable to hope that the profession might develop its own standards and guidelines, and the machinery to police them. During our inquiry, it became clear that that hope was unlikely to be realised. If there is to be a code of conduct, it would have to be either imposed by statute—I do not think that the Government or the House would support that—or introduced by the House with registration as the carrot and the powers of the House to punish contempt as the stick to punish any who may transgress against the code.
That is the course recommended in the Committee's report. I await with interest the views of hon. Members on that central recommendation.
§ Mr. Newton
The confusion is that I was told that it would be appropriate if I were not called next, in order to preserve the practice of going from one side of the House to the other. I had originally intended to speak at this 785 point, but the reason for my hesitation is that I received a stare of a different sort by a route that perhaps I should not describe—it was not entirely the usual channels.
I am pleased to be able to respond to the requests, most notably those from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who must feel as though it is his birthday, having got two things that he wanted on the same evening after pressing for so long.
My role in this debate, as may be the case for the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), is one of listening to the views expressed on an occasion when, as with the main report on Members' interests a year ago, the purpose is to gain some idea of the feel in the House as a whole on the recommendations made by the Committee about lobbying. For that reason, I do not intend to say a great deal. As I said, I am in listening mode.
In fairness to the House, I am a little sceptical about the strength of the case for what is proposed in the report. I make that observation as a personal one, rather than as a great statement of Government policy. Obviously, we will consider what is said tonight.
Perhaps I can best give my reasons for approaching the recommendation in a slightly sceptical way by adverting not only to the two points that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) properly emphasised or rehearsed as reasons for the reservations expressed by some Members of his Committee—that is, the question of the considerable additional bureaucracy that almost certainly would be required to maintain such a register, and the possibility that the establishment of such a register would effectively be seen as giving a seal of approval to specific activities by specific firms in a way that might not be precisely what the House would wish. It may be that one could prevent people from putting "Approved lobbyist to the House of Commons" on their notepaper, but I am not sure that the House would generally regard that outcome with great enthusiasm.
I must confess to having to question whether the real beneficiaries of this proposal would not be such lobbyists by that sort of route, rather than the House in gaining some great improvement in its protection from lobbying, or, indeed, an enhancement of the standards of lobbying. As I said, I shall ask questions, rather than give views that are set in concrete. Those questions will need considerable examination before the House would wish to go down this route.
I am reinforced in my view by considerable doubt about whether the distinction, which I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden to be seeking to draw, between professional lobbyists and others who are engaged in almost the same line of business could be sustained for long. It is worth my placing on the record the second half of paragraph 2 of the report, in which the question of definition is approached.
The report says:We also use the expression 'professional lobbyist', by whom we mean someone who is professionally employed to lobby on behalf of clients or who advises clients on how to lobby on their own behalf. There is, in addition, another category of paid lobbyist, much larger numerically: those whose job it is to make representations on behalf of their employers or particular interests such as charities, professional bodies, industrial or commercial associations, or other pressure groups. We readily appreciate that some of those to whom we refer as 'lobbyists' or 'professional lobbyists' will 786 not recognise themselves as such, or consider that their actions amount to lobbying. We recognise, too, that apart from political consultants of various kinds, members of some other professions who arc most unlikely to consider themselves as 'lobbyists', solicitors or accountants, for example, may act in a representative capacity or give advice the nature of which amounts to 'professional lobbying'.That paragraph gives a pretty clear indication of some of the definitional problems that would arise in a restrictive approach to the register and of the immense practical problems that would arise if a more broadly based definition was adopted. It could easily produce a position in which almost every paid worker of every large voluntary organisation or national charity in the country, together with the public relations managers of many larger firms and a whole range of other people, extending at the extreme to solicitors or accountants, who are specifically mentioned as undertaking activities that amount to professional lobbying, would be on the register. The difficulties of a register that was as widely drawn as that, if it proved difficult to sustain the narrower definition, as I suspect that it would, would be immense.
I make a last point about the questions that the House would need to think through before it went down that path. The Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden very fairly acknowledged, said in effect that it would be much better to have a voluntary code of registration by the industry itself rather than a register that was imposed, as is raised as a possibility by the report. I rather share the view that such a voluntary code would be better.
As it could be argued that the main beneficiaries of the proposal would be those who wished to engage in this activity rather than those of us who are subject to it. I am inclined to think that the most appropriate course would be to make a further effort, if that were possible, to promote the establishment of a voluntary code by the industry. I recognise the reasons why the Committee shied away from that. However, the House as a whole may wish to consider whether the right next step would not be for the industry to make a further effort, with encouragement from the Select Committee, rather than for the House to go down the path that raises the difficult questions on which I have touched. I conclude where I began: I am listening, although I felt it right to express those causes of scepticism.
§ 12.2 am
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
I was somewhat amused to hear the Leader of the House say that this was an issue that needed considerable consideration—a view with which I wholeheartedly concur. As the report has been around for two years, it has had quite a lot of consideration already. We are tonight only, after all, at the very preliminary stage of considering the issues raised in the report rather than proceeding to recommendations. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity for the House to make some observations on the report. I shall be as brief as possible so that hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate will have the opportunity to do so.
I of course take the point made by the Leader of the House about the danger that having a register would confer status on the so-called "professional lobbyists" rather than act as a check on their activities. However, the 787 report makes it clear that these issues exercised the minds of the members of the Select Committee from the beginning and were given much consideration.
I have to admit that it seems to me that, just as with the establishment of the very first register and the decision to establish a register of the interests of Members' staff, it is inevitable that, sooner or later, a register of this kind will be set up—and it may as well be sooner rather than later. I expect that, once it has been established, people will look back and wonder why we took so long to recognise the necessity and inevitability of such a scheme.
Even though the report is two years old, one thing shines through. Of common concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House is the extent to which Members of Parliament are vulnerable, and becoming increasingly vulnerable, to the activities of lobbyists. This vulnerability derives primarily from defects in the services provided for Members. I realise that there have been substantial improvements, but we all know perfectly well that, given the work load and the volume and complexity of legislation, Members are simply not adquately staffed to enable them to give issues the scrutiny that they merit.
Nor is the House itself staffed on the scale commensurate with the requirements. In a sense, this is rather like the old issue of gentleman and players. The House is still behaving like a bunch of gentlemen, dealing in a rather amateurish way with legislation, while hon. Members are continually and increasingly receiving the attentions of people who in this area are very much professionals.
Running through many comments on this issue, although not necessarily through the Select Committee report, is the fact that particular danger and particular vulnerability to the professional lobbyist arise in respect of the provision of finance or services. That does not seem to me to be the case. It seems to me that the greatest danger to which hon. Members are exposed, the matter in respect of which they are most vulnerable, is the insidious service which can be provided to Members who want to scrutinise legislation conscientiously.
I refer to apparently high-quality information, which seems to make an almost incontrovertible case and is presented in an easily accessible manner to a Member of Parliament who is not adequately resourced to check its quality properly. Professional lobbyists can make a case which seems so outstanding that the arguments must carry. Members are not adequately staffed to counter those arguments to the necessary extent.
Members of Parliament are particularly vulnerable to the so-called professional lobbyist, partly because it is less likely that there will be a clear indication as to the identity of the person on whose behalf he is working. Referring to paragraph 2 of the report, the Leader of the House mentioned the concern about whether problems would be caused for trade unions, charities and other non-profit-making organisations. However, paragraph 53 makes it clear that none of those organisations objects to being included in a register or to the provision of a register. Indeed, they believe that lobbying, even of the kind that they undertake, should be fully in the open. They are not prepared to see themselves and their circumstances used as an argument against the existence of a lobby.
The second matter in respect of which Members of Parliament are particularly vulnerable to the professional lobbyist is a refinement or extension—I do not know which to call it—of the issue of lobbying. I am thinking of 788 a group of individuals or companies who put their professional services at the disposal of a range of clients. That could make less clear the pattern of interests being built up and represented.
A third danger could arise from the extensive development of lobbying firms, and it could take the form of a quid pro quo arrangement. Someone could say, "You did not support me on this issue, but perhaps you would like another client better. Surely you will not turn me down every time I come to you with a perfectly sound case." I am sure that all hon. Members can imagine professional lobbying companies, many of them skilled, putting such a case effectively because they represent a range of interests. Such a company is much more likely than one which represents just one interest, such as a trade association, to build up a more general acquaintance with hon. Members.
By such means, a person who is associated with a professional lobbying enterprise is likely to gain access to this place. He could be an associate of a member of staff or use some form of pass which would afford greater access than the House would wish to see and which is not readily available to members of the public.
I welcome the report's approach. There is merit in the suggestion that the firm rather than the individual lobbyist should take responsibility. That is a practicable and workable suggestion. We have recently seen the value of a proposal for a proper clients list published by those who lobby. The report contains words which were probably uttered by the late Robert Adley. In a passage about the growth of lobbying the report states:I personally think it poses quite a grave threat to the working of Members of Parliament and the extent to which it has grown over the last few years is quite frightening.That was reported two years ago, and the words have gained increasing force.
§ Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
I support the proposal to establish a register of lobbying interests. Such a register is essential to ensure transparency so that people who have direct professional contact with hon. Members can be identified by the public. Relationships must be open and above board, and that can be proved by comparing the Register of Members' Interests and the proposed register of lobbying interests.
The Select Committee report highlights the almost exponential growth in the turnover of the mushrooming number of professional lobbyists. It has risen from an estimated £3.25 million in 1983–84 to an estimated £9 million in 1991. Growth is at the rate of 20 to 25 per cent. a year, and that points to the urgency of the need to establish a system by which we can keep a check on what is going on.
No one associated with the report or taking part in the debate would, I hope, deny the importance of lobbying or the fact that the right to lobby elected representatives is fundamental to democracy. An explanation of its growth is that the increasing complication of our legislative process has led to a multiplication of lobbying interests to deal with some of those complications.
In addition, over the years, support facilities for hon. Members have become increasingly inadequate, despite the welcome interest in our office costs allowance. Our constituency work load has increased enormously at the same time as we have been arraigned by complex legislation, which we must consider at short notice. In 789 those circumstances, the support provided by a good briefing, whatever its source, can offer help and relief to anyone contemplating legislation in the Chamber or in a Standing Committee on a Bill or statutory instrument.
Oddly enough, I gave evidence to the Select Committee inquiry before being elected. I drew a distinction between those companies that lobby, professionally, on behalf of a range of clients and sell their professional services, and those people who, like me, might pop into the House to organise a nurses' lobby, talk to sponsored Members or contact Back-Bench groups on a particular subject which was exercising the mind of the organisation for which they worked—in my case, the Confederation of Health Service Employees, COHSE. Professional lobbyists, however, are likely to be here day in, day out, dealing with the same hon. Members.
The lobbying to which I have been subjected since I was elected varies depending on whether the lobbyist is a professional one, with a list of clients or a member of a particular trade union or professional association. My entertainment budget in my old job was extremely modest and hardly compares with that of some professional lobbyists, judging from the lunches and dinners to which I am invited on a regular basis. Those lobbyists also end up at our party conference and various other venues to establish their contacts.
I agree with the distinction between lobbyists that the report has drawn. The register would be a welcome means of improving openness. It would also cast some light on the important issue of privileged access to Westminster, which some lobbying organisations may be acquiring for profit. If we are to protect the reputation of Parliament, we need to support the report's recommendations.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
We are talking about bodies that are paid to influence Members of Parliament and Departments. We are not talking about the sacred right of ordinary people to write to their Member, get hold of him at his advice surgery and lobby him at Westminster. The hon. Member can then decide whether to take up the matter raised. That right to lobby remains inalienable. We are talking about those who are paid to lobby, however, and who do so because they have an interest in the revenue gained.
When I was first elected to the 1974–79 Parliament, the then Labour Government were in the process of legislating to take into public ownership the ship repairing, aerospace and shipbuilding industries. They had a perfect right to do so. That policy was, however, opposed by the Conservative party.
An organisation, International News Services, was employed by a particular ship repairer to ensure that ship repairing was excluded from the legislation. That organisation made use of fake shop stewards—all the genuine shop stewards who opposed the firm's policy and who believed in public ownership were sacked. It also hired the private Dining Rooms of the House. It is a continuing scandal that those rooms are hired secretly—a practice that should end. Nobody knows who hires them. They are used mostly by PR organisations who pay Members to get the facilities and all the panoply of the Palace of Westminster.
790 I object to that, but if people want to do it they should not be ashamed of it and do it in secret. It is time that those bookings were published. International News Services books those dining rooms and encourages Members of Parliament to attend dinners and lunches. It hired a yacht on the Thames and encouraged Members to go down into the Thames—[Interruption.] I should say that it encouraged Members to go to the yacht moored in the Thames, if hon. Members want to make little jokes about the matter. It also sent people to Heathrow because the Labour Government did not have much of a majority. When John Stonehouse disappeared, the majority disappeared entirely.
When meeting certain Members from Northern Ireland, representatives of International News Services would bundle them into a cab and try to take them to a dinner and get them intoxicated so that they were not available to vote at 10 o'clock. They used to bring people to the House. I was with a group of Labour party Whips, who asked a group of people what they were doing here. The International News Services representative, a man called Alan Turnbull, went into the Strangers Bar and shouted. A Conservative Member came and he said that those five people were with that Member. Those five employees of Bristol Channel Ship Repairers turned round and said to the two Whips, "Watch out, we're going to get you for this." So threats were uttered.
If Members went on the Terrace, half a dozen alleged shop stewards—who were not shop stewards at all—would come and say, "What about Bristol Channel Ship Repairers?" That was the background.
When I raised the matter on points of order on the Floor of the House, the then Speaker referred it to the Select Committee on Administration. The Chairman of that Select Committee was an employee of International News Services. The Chairman of the Standing Committee that dealt with the legislation was a parliamentary adviser. an employee of International News Services.
So the tentacles of lobbying ran deep in the 1970s, and that caused me concern. My interest has been encouraged ever since because, although the methods have become less blunt, the tentacles still exist.
I go not by my own views but by those of lobbyists. Many years ago, the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, employed a head of press in his office at No. 10, a man called Trevor Lloyd-Hughes, who had been a lobby correspondent here. Trevor Lloyd-Hughes got to know all the ways of this place and No. 10, and when he left he established a public relations organisation with all the connections already to hand. A brochure that he put out to a restricted circulation said that heOrganised lunches and receptions, some within the Houses of Parliament, attended by important people. Arranged for business leaders, including the heads of American. French and British companies, to have private meetings with eminent personalities in London, including Cabinet Ministers, former Prime Ministers, the Queen's Principal Private Secretary, former British Ambassadors, and men at the very top of the United Kingdom diplomatic and Civil Service.According to Sir Trevor, his methods have been successful. He said:We have obtained important tax concessions from the British government over their legislation on North Sea oil revenues. Saved the international motor car and motor cycle industries based in the United Kingdom millions of pounds by 791 persuading the government to exempt them from provisions in the Trade Descriptions Acts. Won British government financial backing for a major development in Turkey.Lloyd-Hughes is often dismissed as a lobbyist of the old school, now gone. But it is worth reminding Members that the constituency agent to a member of the current Government, the right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) produced a brochure offeringContact with ministers and civil servants in departments such as the DTI and Energy in order to enhance their understanding of the needs of your industry and company. Arrangement of luncheons and dinners for ministers, MPs and MEPs to meet and speak to company directors and managers and, if desired, their guests. Arrangement of carefully tailored social events, such as theatre, opera and sporting occasions, affording seniro company personnel the opportunity to brief legislators…on the company's needs and interests.That was in 1989, so Trevor Lloyd-Hughes and his cohorts are not all that far out of date.
The point is that, if certain people, by buying the services of a commercial lobbying organisation, can gain more than the ordinary person, that is wrong. It should not be possible to buy influence. It is one thing to give information and for members of the Government to make a judgment and come down on one side or the other, but Trevor Lloyd-Hughes said in his brochure that Ministers, having agreed on a decision with him, asked him how best to present that decision. That means that the PR merchants are getting to the heart of Government, and recent events do not contradict that assertion. Indeed, they show that a PR merchant had got to a number of Cabinet Ministers and a junior Minister at the Northern Ireland Office, who perforce has had to resign because of the exposure.
How much is going on behind the scenes? That is the question that lingers in people's minds. The register would achieve two things. First, it is true that to be on a register with the imprimatur of the House of Commons would confer a cachet and prestige. Therefore, removal from the register would be an important penalty, as it would remove the cachet and the prestige.
The code of conduct that would accompany the register would be scrupulously obeyed, because the danger of removal from the register would bring with it removal of the advantages conferred by registration. Although I accept that a cachet and prestige would be conferred, that would also mean a power in our hands, because removal would become a formidable weapon to enforce the code of conduct that we think desirable.
The aim of a register and code of conduct is to ensure openness, so that people know what is happening. The reality is that ordinary citizens cannot buy influence—they can achieve it only by pressure. People often underestimate their ability to put pressure on Members of Parliament.
The recent campaign by sub-post offices has been a masterly success. They did not employ any public relations companies or commercial lobbying organisations: they just put sheets of paper on the counter saying that the policy of the Department of Social Security could result in closures and asked people to sign a petition against that. They signed in their millions. Every hon. Member received letters from individual constituents. That sort of pressure still remains the best way to influence Members of Parliament.
However, there are disturbing trends that I do not like, and which I suspect a large number of hon. Members do 792 not like. It is one reason why, two years ago, a Committee with a Conservative majority produced a report recommending a register. If people want to find reasons for a register, they need only look at Mark Hollingsworth's book "MPs for Hire".
When I entered Parliament, an hon. Member could not say that Members of Parliament were available for hire. One did, and he was reported to the Select Committee for breach of privilege, and the Committee said that it was. I am referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who wrote in Labour Weekly that Members of Parliament were available for hire.
Now it is a matter-of-fact phrase—people do not jib at it. Indeed, there have been scenes on television programmes of Members of Parliament saying, "Yes, I am open to offers for lobbying services." People take the view that Members of Parliament are, after all, for hire. That is another reason why we need a register.
Some of the lobbying organisations are very arrogant indeed. Lloyd-Hughes claimed, for example, that he could set up all-party groups and have parliamentary questions tabled. It is interesting to examine the all-party groups. The secretariats for some of them are provided by commercial lobbying organisations. It is a strange business that such organisations can provide a secretariat for a lobbying group that is involved in the very subject for which the commercial lobbying organisation is receiving money.
The report revealed that Ian Greer Associates, one of the biggest and, some would say, most powerful and influential lobbying organisations in this place, paid between £4,000 and £10,000 to Members of Parliament who introduced new business to the organisation. That is in the report. It is not anything fresh. The Committee asked Ian Greer Associates about declaration of the money. Ian Greer simply refused to give the High Court of Parliament any information. We asked whether he had advised the Members to declare the money. He said that he had not got round to doing that, but in retrospect he thought that perhaps it might have been a useful thing to do.
So a person who was, it could be argued, buying influence by obtaining business through Members of Parliament and paying substantial sums of money for it, refused to provide a Select Committee with information about the numbers and names of people involved. That is an arrogant attitude.
The other thing that grieves me is that we are here supposedly to represent the people who sent us. It seems wrong to me that people should seek to obtain financial advantage from commercial lobbying organisations over and above their salary. I consider the salary of a Member of Parliament adequate. I know that some Conservative Members of Parliament regard it as a foolish attitude to say that £30,000 a year is adequate, but I find it so.
I believe that it is wrong that Members of Parliament should have outside interests, particularly interests related directly to their activity here. That is another reason why we should have a register. Large sums of money change hands in such circumstances. We can only guess what they are, but the Committee ascertained that amounts of between £4,000 and £10,000 were paid by Greer Associates for the introduction of new clients.
I heartily recommend the book by Mark Hollingsworth. It points out that, for example, Ian Greer attended a private meeting of the Tory trade and industry 793 committee in March 1989. Some Conservative Members jibbed at that, because it was a private meeting. Ian Greer was there apparently because the chairman of Plessey was to speak and Greer was employed by Plessey against a GEC takeover and wanted to do some lobbying in the influential Back-Bench Conservative trade and industry committee. Again, the lobbyist claims that he does not pay money to Members of Parliament.
The book refers to a letter from, as it happens, a Labour Member of Parliament, the former Member for Derby, South, Mr. Walter Johnson. It says:In late 1983, after retiring from Parliament, Johnson wrote in appreciation:'As you will kindly recall, you agreed to pay me a fee of 1,000 for services to your company and that this would be paid in the form of paying a bill for a holiday.I very much regret that I have not been able to help you as much as I would have wished but, as you know, I have always been available if you wanted me, and this position still prevails.'''When people talk about Members of Parliament being available for hire, that is the sort of thing that they cite. The same Mr. Johnson was involved in maintaining Associated Octel's campaign to retain lead in petrol—arguably, not one of the most altruistic campaigns that a Member of Parliament could support.
There is a powerful case for a register, which would help to curb the excessive zeal of some lobbyists. A code of conduct would also help. The Government ought to register the occasions on which commercial lobbyists meet Ministers acting as Ministers. They do not register them at present.
When I was a Minister at the Department of Industry, I received a letter from the self-same Mr. Lloyd-Hughes inviting Ministers to a private dinner to discuss manning arrangements in industry. At least two Ministers accepted, but I was the exception. I would not have lunch with Lloyd-Hughes for all the tea in China. That was at the heart of Government. I have no doubt that that sort of lobbying still goes on, and it should at least be registered by the Government, so that it would be possible to identify the occasions on which commercial lobbying has taken place.
Lobbyists can get to meet members of the Cabinet, Ministers of State, and Under-Secretaries of State—whereas ordinary people find it difficult to do so. Despite that difficulty, fortunately, some campaigns led by ordinary people have sufficient power and verve to be successful, and we want that to continue.
Although we welcome this short debate, it is two years since the report. Some critics say that is because the Government do not regard this issue as important. I have been campaigning for a register of commercial lobbying organisations since 1974. Some lobbyists, to do them credit, are happy about accepting a register.
§ Mr. Cryer
The hon. Gentleman says that they would love it. If they do, it will be that much more hurtful and damaging to lobbyists removed from the register, and that sanction is important.
Because this short debate is two years overdue, the evidence to accompany the report is not available from the Vote Office but only to order. That is one drawback of a report appearing after a two-year gap. I urge the 794 Government to take action and to establish a register and a code of conduct—and let us ensure there are no grounds for outside criticism that Members of Parliament are for hire.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
It is unfortunate that the House has had to wait two years for this important debate. I may point out that many of the abuses to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred will be dealt with under the new registration arrangements, where they relate to Members of Parliament.
I take a different view from my hon. Friend about the way the Government work. I do not believe that lobbyists necessarily corrupt or that the use of lobbying organisations is necessarily wrong. I see a positive and meaningful role for the lobbying industry in this country.
My hon. Friend referred to the role of lobbyists in providing material to right hon. and hon. Members. Earlier this evening, the House debated the THORP issue, and a British Nuclear Fuels lobbyist was in the House and advised me during that debate. His advice was most important, and to some extent had some influence on the debate. It is important that people representing various industries and organisations are available to brief Members of Parliament, because they often provide critically important information that, even with additional research, right hon. and hon. Members would not be able to obtain.
What worries me is that some of these lobbying organisations are shoddy. That was always Robert Adley's case in Committee. He stated repeatedly that some of these people are poor operators and waste people's money by pretending to sell a service when they have no expertise in how this place works.
I have met lobbyists from lobbying organisations outside the House of Commons who really do understand how this place works. They have a better knowledge of how Government works than many hon. Members. They understand the pressure points in Departments. They understand how to obtain access to Ministers.
Yes, they use Members of Parliament on occasion. I do not object to that. All I ask is that the whole process should be utterly transparent—this is what the debate in Committee was all about—so that we know when we meet someone who they are, who they represent, what their motive is and what they want. So long as we understand that, surely we are all adult enough to cope with the pressures that commercial organisations might exert on us.
In many ways, therefore, I am a positive supporter of that industry. I see the lobbyist as the advocate. He is the advocate for a particular case, which people outside the House of Commons are often unable to put, because they do not understand the way the case has to be presented to government. I have seen cases presented to Governments by outside organisations whose presentation has been appalling. It has taken a lobbyist to come along, clean it up and present it in a far more effective way—often in an abbreviated form but hitting on the essential issues.
That is only one way of influencing Government decision taking. There are other ways of doing it. The critical way is in Parliament. We are but one route. At the end of the day, we take the final decision on many issues. We vote in the House of Commons Division Lobbies on 795 recommendations put to us by Ministers. Of course, the Whips are there, but we have the right to stand up in Parliament and put our case.
Furthermore, we have access to Ministers, in the same way as any outside lobbying organisation or any industry. It is all part of the balance in the operation of government. It is designed to ensure that all these organisations, Members oP Parliament and others can play their part in trying to influence the way in which decisions are taken.
§ Mr. Cryer
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am sure he agrees with me that, even if we accept that commercial lobbying organisations can provide information to my hon. Friend and every other Member of Parliament, it should not be necessary to pay money to any Member of Parliament in order to obtain representation. A Member of Parliament should form his judgment on the strength of the case, not on the strength of any cheque that is presented to him.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I unequivocally and unconditionally subscribe to the view expressed by my hon. Friend. It is wrong that Members of Parliament should be paid by lobbying organisations. We are sent to the House of Commons to represent outside organisations and our constituents, and to ensure that the case is put to Ministers. However, it is a perfectly healthy part of the democratic process, when no remuneration is involved, for organisations to make direct representations to Ministers, or for them to come to us and ask us to put their case to Ministers. It was because we were of that view that many of us believed that it was possible to knock heads together in the industry and get them to come up with some arrangement whereby they would set up a voluntary register.
I must draw the attention of hon. Members to paragraph 71 of our report. It is an indicator of how far we went to try to find another way of resolving this difficulty. I hope the House will forgive me if I read it:We very much regret that the option of a Register, administered by the industry itself, and with an industry-wide code of conduct and effective disciplinary procedure seems not to be an option at present…since this would have many attractions. If the industry had a more unified and professional structure, it would be in a better position than anyone else to discern abuses and the House need not be concerned with the problems and expense of administration. Although such a Register would inevitably be voluntary in the first instance, it might be possible, given the emergence of a professional body of sufficient standing, eventually to establish a statutory framework, which would assist that body to administer the Register.That was what we set out to do. I know that the Chairman of the Committee held a number of discussions with outside organisations to try to knock their heads together and to achieve an arrangement that would avoid our having to take decisions in Parliament. We were perfectly prepared to accept and to back that arrangement with some statutory framework, but we failed.
In responding to the previous debate, the Leader of the House said, " I think that the Select Committee should think again." I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I just do not think that it will work. I wish that it could be worked out on that basis, but there is not the will among organisations to get together on that basis. That is why many of us were driven into a compromise arrangement. We did not particularly want to go down that route, but, because we could not get them to stand together and take on the responsibility of policing the industry in a way that 796 was acceptable to Parliament, based on the transparency that people such as myself, who support the industry, wanted, we ended up taking this course.
I am sorry to detain the House, but I asked for this debate at business questions for about 20 weeks. Each week, I asked the same question. The Leader of the House was used to my request for a debate.
The Committee made a simple recommendation: that the House should take a decision in principle to establish a register of professional lobbyists. I shall tell the Leader of the House why it is important that that is carried. When lobbying organisations outside realise that we really mean business, which means that the Select Committee is faced by an instruction from the House to get this matter sorted out, they may then decide to agree an arrangement that would preclude Parliament from being involved.
I am saying, give the Committee the power to get on with the job and take it a stage further by giving it the right to establish a register, and it may then be able to come back with a report at some stage recommending an alternative approach acceptable to Members. It would be acceptable to people such as myself, because we accept that, if such an approach is backed up by a statutory framework it will meet many of the reservations that hon. Members have expressed.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.