The following evidence was given to the House of Commons Select Committee on Members’ Interests on 14 June 1988 and printed with its Minutes of Evidence of Sessions 1987-88 and 1988-89, HC (1989-90) 283, Parliamentary Lobbying, pp 30-43. See also written evidence of May 1988 and a memorandum of May 1990. See copyright notice below.
Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on Members’ Interests, Tuesday 14 June 1988
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, in the Chair
|Mr Graham Allen
Mr John Bowis
Mr D N Campbell-Savours
Dame Peggy Fenner
|Mr Peter Griffiths
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson
Mr Rhodri Morgan
Mr William Shelton
Examination of witnesses
DR MICHAEL RUSH, Head of Department of Politics, University of Exeter, PROFESSOR COLIN SEYMOUR-URE, University of Kent, PROFESSOR PHILIP NORTON, University of Hull, and MR MALCOLM SHAW, Department of Politics, University of Exeter, were examined.
146. Ladies and gentlemen, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Members’ Interests, it is my great pleasure on behalf of my colleagues on this Committee to welcome you here with our distinguished witnesses. This is the first time since this Committee was formed many years ago that we have actually had a public meeting, though I must say that in all our proceedings when we have had witnesses we have subsequently published what they said to us and what questions we put to them, so there has been nothing secret, although, as I say, we have not actually had the meetings open to the public while our proceedings were taking place. For the benefit of those of you who might wonder what we are doing I perhaps might say these few words. We were enjoined by resolution of the last Parliament to look at the question of lobbying and to monitor it from time to time. In a previous report(1) we did make a number of suggestions, which the House accepted, that the register of Members’ interests should be widened to include those members of the press lobby who do additional outside work which might be thought to be relevant to Parliament and that there should be a register of secretaries who, in addition to their duties as secretaries, might be thought to have other additional sources of work, which may be remunerated or not, which could be relevant to Parliament and to the way they carried out their duties. We also thought that research assistants should comply by putting their names in a register which would indicate if they had other sources of employment which might again be thought to be relevant to their carrying out their duties. We also recommended a register of all-party groups; we thought they should, in a register, indicate to what extent they were beholden to outside interests for their support. These three registers, which are distinct from the Register which concerns Members of Parliament, are lodged in the Library of the House of Commons and can be seen only by Members of this House. They are not open to the public, though, of course, the register of Members’ interests is open to the public. That is all by way of background information and now I would like, on behalf of the Committee, to welcome Dr Rush and his colleagues, who are all involved in the Study of Parliament Group, as I understand it.
(Dr Rush) Thank you, Chairman. We are all, as you said, members of the Study of Parliament Group, which is a body which consists of academics like ourselves who are interested in the study of Parliament, and officers of this House who are also interested in Parliament, as it were, from the point of view of studying it. It has been in existence for over 25 years now but I perhaps should make it clear that we are coming here as individuals and not as members, strictly speaking, of that group. We are not speaking on behalf of that group today; we are speaking as individual academics, but the work we have undertaken is a research project under the auspices of the Study of Parliament Group. I am the co-ordinator or convenor of the group that is working on the project. I have in particular, as far as this project has been concerned, been working on pressure groups and outside interests and select committees. I also happen to have some knowledge of proposals that are currently before the Canadian Parliament for registers of outside interests, both of professional lobbyists and other outside organisations. Mr Shaw is working on that part of the project which is directly concerned with pressure groups and outside interests and MPs but also has some knowledge of American experience of regulating lobbying. I should perhaps add it is not the reason why but he is in fact an American. Philip Norton is working in particular on the activities of pressure groups and outside interests on legislation and Professor Seymour-Ure is working on the relationship between pressure groups, outside interests and political consultants. Could I add one general point on our submission. We have given you a written submission and I do not think there is very much we would wish to add to that or, indeed, repeat what we say in that. Perhaps I can add one further point. It might be useful to make the point that a distinction could perhaps be drawn between two aspects of what we in the work we are doing would tend to call pressure politics, that is, bodies outside Parliament, whether professional lobbyists or other organisations, seeking to influence matters that come before Parliament–some distinction between the workload those activities produce, whether it is the workload on individual Members or the workload on their other work in Parliament, and the whole question of access, the constraint that these activities place upon access to Parliament, in terms of getting access to documents and Members, access to committees and so on. Whilst obviously they are matters that are very closely related, they can also be seen in some respects as distinct problems.
147. Thank you very much for those introductory comments. We are most grateful to you, as I say for coming and giving up your time in this way. Before inviting you, through questions and so on, to go into the two matters you have raised and any others which may strike the Committee as important, there are one or two things I would like to get quite clear. I know you have to some extent covered ground in your written submission but not everyone will read your written submission quite as closely as we will, and I think for a better understanding–if I may say so–by a wider audience it might be of help to us all if we could establish one or two points. Would it be right to say that the message that comes across from the memorandum you have submitted to us is that lobbying of Government and Parliament has increased and will go on increasing that it will tend to become more skilful and that Parliament, and I suggest perhaps Government and the Civil Service, will need to be developing new means of dealing with this situation? I do not need a yes or no but any sort of comment you would make on that, and you might like to go on and say whether these changes are good or bad, but the first thing is, is that a fair summary of what you have said?
(Dr Rush) I think the short answer is yes. Perhaps one could add that I do not find this particularly surprising but the organisations that were covered in our survey do draw a distinction between the government of the day, Parliament, the Civil Service and so on but they spread their activities very widely. They do not necessarily focus all their attention on one particular area. They are active in many areas and it has implications which go far beyond just dealing with Parliament and they choose various means and channels of influence which seem to them not just the most appropriate at the time to influence whatever they are trying to influence but very often–this seems to be another message which is coming through–they tend to–I think the best term to use is hedge their bets. They will go to various points of influence or points of access to see who they want to see, to influence what they want to influence, even though it may be quite obvious in certain cases that the place to go might be a particular government department or the government of the day at a particular point in the lobbying process.
148. Would they, when they describe the different ways in which they approach government officials and Members of Parliament, consider themselves to be lobbyists when they actually do this or are they are just imparting information?
(Dr Rush) Of course, most of the organisations we are talking about are not professional lobbyists for a moment; only about a fifth of the organisations we surveyed use professional lobbyists. Most or many of them regard themselves not necessarily as lobbying organisations but organisations that have usually an identifiable interest, very often not even regarding themselves or their activities as political. By political I do not, of course, mean partisan.
149. What is the difference between those people who do not regard themselves as partisan but nevertheless have what they regard as a legitimate interest which they feel they ought to let the Government or Members of Parliament be more familiar with and those who are professional lobbyists? What is the distinction between what they are doing and lobbying?
(Dr Rush) I think the distinction between them is that the outside organisations which wish to influence a particular policy or detail of policy see it as something that merely affects their interests, and usually we have come across very little evidence of illegal activities or whatever, we are talking about legitimate democratic activities. They regard what they are doing as basically legitimate, seeking to make their views known to anybody who will listen, often selectively, but to where they think those views will be listened to and, they hope, have some effect. But some of these organisations will, of course, engage professional assistance because they feel that it may be in their interests to have expert advice, or expert advice as they see it, to advise them how best to go about what they are doing. Clearly the professional lobbyists–by which in this case I think we normally mean political consultants–are there to provide that sort of service. Some of them specifically deal with Parliament, give advice on and assistance in relation to influencing Parliament. Others are broader public relations firms and organisations.
150. Before I turn the questions over to my colleagues, is there overall–and I am asking for an overall judgement at this stage–as a consequence of the work you have done anything which would lead you to believe that there is a difference in the moral quality of the representations made, shall we say, by a vested interest–it could be a charity or a commercial interest–and those who are paid professional consultants, that is, in the manner in which they approach their prospective objectives? It may be that a consultant is employed by, of course, a charity, but is there anything you believe to be reprehensible in this general practice?
(Dr Rush) In principle I see no reason why somebody, whether an individual or an organisation, wishing to influence public policy should not seek the best possible advice available and I do not see it as inappropriate to pay for that advice, but I do not know whether any of my colleagues might wish to say anything.
151. Do any of your colleagues at this stage wish to say anything before I ask Mr Griffiths to come in?
(Professor Seymour-Ure) I think you then drift off into questions that are on the boundaries between areas about facts and familiar problems associated with the old quotation about the law being open to all, like the Ritz Hotel, and on the other hand, what one would regard as unethical. Another thing, it might drift off into problems about whether you actually know the basis on which, so to speak, somebody is trading. As I understand it, these are some of the concerns that occupied your colleagues in a previous inquiry.
Chairman: The general line of questioning I pursued with you was in order to establish a broad base which could lead to further questioning on the points you indicated.
152. The fourth line of the introduction of the evidence that was given to us goes rather further than Dr Rush’s comments to us this afternoon. It says “… a widespread realisation over the last thirty or more years that it is possible to influence public policy, whether at the local, national or even international level …” Can I ask, Chairman, does that mean that you are aware of public policies which have been changed as a result of lobbying as opposed to simply providing Members of Parliament with useful information on which to make their own decisions?
(Dr Rush) I do not think there is any difficulty in finding examples in which public policy has been influenced by lobbying or by outside interests making representations. Obviously in recent years one of the most dramatic, I suppose, though one can never always pin down exactly why something happened in terms of policy formation–I would be hard put to it to be persuaded that the Shops Bill was not affected by lobbying from outside interests.
Sir Michael McNair-Wilson
153. What I find so difficult to understand here is that the word “lobbying” is now being used as if to describe some machiavellian ploy to influence Members of Parliament, as if they were innocent lambs who were unable to decide for themselves (a) whether they wanted to receive the information and (b) whether the information was going to help them to understand a subject better than they understood it before. I think the weakness all Members of Parliament suffer from–I certainly know I did when I first came in to the House, and still do probably–is a lack of precise information. If I am interested in a subject and somebody offers me information on that subject, I am grateful for it. I have my own critical faculties to decide whether or not to accept what is given, but I cannot see anything inherently wrong in being supplied with that information or a body or individual, whether it be a constituent or some other organisation, coming to me and saying “I have this information for you. Do you want it?”, and for me to accept it, and take it at whatever value I like. Therefore, I feel the word “lobbying” carries with it a certain implication of something that is slightly corrupt and not quite as it should be, whereas I suspect what we are really talking about is pressure groups providing information. I think that is wholly to the benefit of parliamentary democracy?
(Dr Rush) I could not agree more. It would not be for me to lead the Committee into academic digressions about problems academics have about words like lobbying, pressure groups, interests and what have you. Arguments have been going on for longer than I have been an academic over the use of such words. I think you are perfectly right.
(Professor Norton) Could I add something? I come back to the opening comments. There is an important distinction which has been drawn out and identifies the two problems mentioned at the beginning–quantitative and qualitative aspects. Qualitative refers to the actual lobbying that was done. The problem there for Members is not an evaluative one in terms of being able to judge how valuable it is. It is the sheer amount that comes in. That is the problem of lobbying, the amount that is coming in affects the workload. That I see as the problem for Members. The qualitative aspect has not so much to do with lobbying of the professional lobbyist; it has to do with the way in which the lobbying is done, and certain questions arise because little is known about it. It is not so much passing moral judgment but that little is known about that qualitative aspect; that relates to the facilitating role that lobbyists fulfil, rather than lobbying per se. As to material being received by Members there are two distinct problems. One relates to workload, the other really relates to access.
154. When you use the concept of qualitative, you are implying there that the lobbyist may be offering some benefit of some kind along with his or her information. Again it comes back to the Member of Parliament, does it not?
(Professor Norton) Yes.
155. He or she is either an honourable person or not?
(Professor Norton) I was not myself inferring anything untoward in that. I would take a far more positive view about the facilitating role of consultants because the assumption is there are problems in terms of the workload of Members, that consultants somehow are responsible for the increase. In fact, they are the effect, not the cause. There has been an increase in lobbying, therefore people turn to lobbyists though only a very small minority of people in the survey of companies hire lobbyists but most are lobbying. If you had more professionals hired you would probably reduce the workload on Members. They would advise people not to adopt the mass mailing approach, the scatter-gun approach, which most groups seem to adopt, those who try influencing legislation. Two-thirds of the groups circulate material to either all or a vast number of Members, which is silly. They should target them. The role of consultants facilitates targeting them. If you have more consultants employed properly you reduce the workload, so they are not necessarily part of the problem in terms of workload but they might be part of the answer.
156. Of the two reasons you give for the quantitative increase, one is that more people are paying greater attention to Parliament because there is a perception that government is less responsive to outside representations than in the past. Secondly, you cite the development of the Select Committee system set up by the present Government?
(Professor Norton) There is a third element, Mr Chairman, the perception of increased independence on the part of Members, and they are far more active on behalf of the outside interests.
Chairman: Thank you, that is a nice compliment.
157. Dr Rush, you said before that the fortunes of the Sunday Trading Bill were affected by lobbying. I wonder if you could tell us how you know that? What evidence is there for that?
(Dr Rush) The evidence in many such cases, as with many aspects of policy determination, is in terms of circumstantial evidence.
158. If that is the case, can one of you four gentlemen tell me to what extent perhaps one of you had particular experience of that bill and what happened during the course of its passage through the House? Could one of you tell me how you feel it was affected by lobbying, whether you think that lobbying was successful and whether you think that lobbying was in every way legitimate in the sense that it did not cross any boundaries of what might be thought to be acceptable practice?
(Dr Rush) It so happens that one of the case studies we have commissioned for the research we are doing happens to be on the Shops Bill and the person who undertook that work did conduct a survey of Members who said they were influenced by outside organisations in the way they voted during the passage of the Bill.
159. They admitted that they were affected by what was said?
(Dr Rush) Yes.
160. Do you know what form the lobbying of those Members took?
(Professor Norton) Perhaps I can answer that because the research was undertaken by one of my graduate students and also by one of my undergraduate students, so I have a monopoly on the two pieces of research undertaken. A survey was carried out of 72 Conservative Members who cross-voted on the issue.
161. When you say “cross-voted”, you mean voted against?
(Professor Norton) Voted against Second Reading. The figure that was actually given was 68 on division but it was 72. There was a survey of those as well as talking to the interests involved. Both pro and anti the Sunday Shops Bill, hired consultants operating on both sides, but the main organisation was a coalition group which adopted the technique of telling supporters in the constituencies to write to their own Member or go and see their Member, and it seems to have been stunningly effective. The Home Office received something like 50,000 letters against Second Reading and 20,000 in support, and I suspect that the number of letters received by Members in aggregate was probably not that dissimilar. So what they were doing was saying, “The most effective thing is to go and see your local Member and make your views known,” and my perception is that that is the most effective way of doing it.
162. Would you say that a national lobby through an organisation that they might employ or organising it directly to ask their Members, to approach it at a constituency level, is a more effective way of getting a response from a Member of Parliament than perhaps organising a national initiative whereby Members are approached in Westminster by national organisations directly? Would you say the constituency and local approach to lobbying is more successful and is more listened to by Members?
(Professor Norton) I think I would have to clarify the different types of national campaigns that can be adopted. If you mean by targeting individual Members who have constituents or one or two people coming along to see you individually at Westminster and make their case, that can be, I suspect, as effective as locally, though I suspect very little can improve on the constituent going to see you there.
163. You think that is the best way of approaching a Member?
(Professor Norton) It would depend partly on the issue. Certainly in relation to the Shops Bill or student grants constituency lobbying was clearly the most effective way to do it. At the national level, however, that is, seeing Members individually, there is a case for that. If it is mass lobbying of Members, I regard that as one of the less effective ways of getting the message across. It is not efficient. Occasionally it might be effective but it is not efficient. One of the things I have found in looking at returns from outside groups who lobby is that they are moderately effective but generally quite inefficient.
164. Did you during the course of your inquiries carried out by your students ever establish any unacceptable practices by these persons involved in this lobby on either side or not?
(Professor Norton) If any came to light, I certainly do not recall.
165. So none was reported to you in the course of the research?
(Professor Norton) No.
166. Do you believe that at the end of the day the Members who did vote were voting because they necessarily believed in a particular position or because they were under pressure at a local level?
(Professor Norton) That would be for the Members to determine. I believe they would vote in a way they decided they personally should vote. This is a matter for the individual Member.
167. That might be a different thing altogether.
(Professor Norton) But I do not think one can say if they were “coerced”. It is a case of being allowed to be coerced. Some Members are more amenable to pressure than others. You have 650 individuals who respond in 650 different ways, so a lot depends on the individual Members.
168. Do you have evidence of the fact that people were voting against what they believed in because of lobbies at a local level?
(Professor Norton) There is plenty of evidence that Members, on issues like capital punishment, will vote in a particular way because they have a feeling from their constituencies that that is how they want them to vote. Then it is up to the individual Member to make the judgment to vote in line with what people in his constituency think or what he believes to be his personal judgment, and that is what they are offering to their constituents and that is the way a Member decides.
169. Have you been noticing the comment in reports published about the claims that Sir Basil Feldman has links or is involved in Sunday trading? Have you any comments to make on that particular matter?
(Professor Norton) I have heard but no, I have no comments because I have insufficient details to make any substantive comments.
170. I think the point that emerges clearly about the question of whether Sunday trading should be extended is the fact that Members not only received vast volumes of correspondence from those opposed to the extension, which certainly seemed to outnumber those who were for the extension, but also received a great many people who came either collectively or as individuals to the House to lobby on a mass or individual basis, and thirdly, this was followed by strong constituency pressure. None of these things was illegal or immoral or anything like that but it was an example of a well-planned, coordinated campaign. I think that is what emerges, does it not, from the study?
(Dr Rush) Yes.
(Professor Norton) Could one add that what we are talking about is an increase in the lobbying and the extent of it? It is not that it has not gone on before. One can look back at the 1950s and capital punishment and some of the lobbying which went on at constituency level. It is not that it is new; there is just more of it.
Dame Peggy Fenner
171. I observed with interest that in your introduction the first reason that you advance for the increase in lobbying is “part of the product of a more prosperous, better educated and more assertive electorate, more inclined than previously to make representations about their perceived interests.” I enjoyed that because it happened to be before all these other things which my colleagues have quoted and I find myself wholly in agreement with that. I think we have a much more alert electorate but also clearly it is because their perceived interests they feel very often are being interfered with by the Government. I stand on a platform of less government but you and I will be aware that in a sophisticated society governments have little they can do about making legislation, for example, for safety in terms of the combustion engine, but my predecessors sitting here would have had lobbies from motorcyclists about wearing helmets and leg protectors and so I think that as well as the fact that the electorate is more articulate and wants to pursue its perceived interests and wants to see this input, which is wholly understandable, would you conclude from that–because you do say it is the perception that government is less responsive to outside representations than in the past–first, that the results of the voting on the Shops Bill would shatter that illusion, and secondly, that it could be more advantageous to have more green papers on legislation?
(Dr Rush) On the first question, the point about perception, I think, is that it does not necessarily always matter whether these things are true or not: if a perception exists then people will act upon what they believe to be true; whether it is the truth or not they are likely to act upon it. It may well be that perhaps, particularly in relation to trades unions in which there is widespread perception that the present Government is less responsive to representations from trades unions–it matters, of course, in one sense whether it is true or not, but in another sense if that perception is widely believed, then people may extend it to other areas as well. Therefore, I think perception is important. I take your point that, whether governments are wishing to do less or not, governments are still responsible for so much, immensely more now than was true thirty, forty, fifty or a hundred years ago. I am sorry, I have forgotten your second question.
172. Green papers, given that they consult?
(Dr Rush) Yes I think I have to say yes, speaking personally, in so far as the more proposals are published in a form which allows for discussion before governments of whatever complexion commit themselves to a particular policy, the better. That seems to me something only to be welcomed.
173. I think, Dr Rush, what you and your colleagues said earlier–and would all agree–is that lobbying is perfectly correct and proper procedure. We have indeed downstairs the main lobby, the Central Lobby, also the Members’ Lobby. However, I think it was your colleague Professor Seymour-Ure who used the phrase “upon what basis they trade”. One of you gentlemen used that and that seemed to me the nub of the matter, so my first question is this: would you agree that for lobbying to be a correct and proper procedure the reason for that lobby taking place should be known and that in any lobby that is made to a Member of Parliament the originator or person behind or purpose of the lobby should be declared fairly early on in the lobbying process?
(Dr Rush) I think initially I am going to have to say yes but, having said that, you may well run into severe practical difficulties, whether talking about organisations or talking about individuals. At what point in that process would you expect that matter to become known?
174. Let me put a hypothetical case to you. If I meet in a bar in the House of Commons a gentleman who starts talking about aeroplanes and extolling the virtues of one or the other, I would expect him to tell me if he represents or is paid by an aeroplane company to approach me. Would you agree with that?
(Dr Rush) Yes.
(Professor Norton) Very much so, yes.
175. So the first one of the precepts of correct lobbying is declaration of interest.
(Dr Rush) Yes.
176. In your researches and studies have you come across any cases where lobbying has been undertaken without a declaration of interest?
(Dr Rush) That is a very difficult question to answer, if only because we did not in our questionnaire direct our questions specifically to test that sort of problem. What we did do was to ask our respondents whether they were aware of abuses, but more often than not when examples of abuses were cited they tended to be complaints about things like access or getting hold of parliamentary papers or managing to get letters whether to all 650 Members or to a selected number, managing to get easy access of personalised letters or circulars to Members which in one sense can be seen as problems involving abuses but I think the answer to your question has to be no.
(Professor Seymour-Ure) One point–this is only anecdotal evidence but it is very difficult to get any other than anecdotal, specially perhaps in relation to this kind of question–is that one or possibly more people working for political consultancies have certainly suggested that it was probably not always clear, when they were dealing with people to whom they were representing a client’s point of view, that they were the employee of a consultancy rather than an employee of the client. But I certainly do not have any more specific sort of evidence than that.
177. Finally, moving into a slightly different aspect, are you aware of a new style of lobbying undertaken perhaps more by the professional consultants which is taking on to their payroll someone who has retired from the Civil Service and has contacts with people who are presently employed in a ministerial department and using the contacts direct, not via Members of Parliament, but through to employed civil servants? Have you come across this?
(Dr Rush) I am certainly aware of it. But our research is directed specifically at Parliament and, therefore, though our interest in pressure groups and so forth spreads more widely than that in general, we are certainly aware of it but it has not come up in our research as such.
178. I understand that. Do you have a view on it?
(Professor Norton) I have great reluctance to tread on the toes of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee. I was busy reading its report last night in case the question came up. Unfortunately, I did not finish it in time to reach a conclusion. There are two points to be made. One is the general point in relation to former officials being taken on. To put it in perspective, I have to say as far as one is aware there is a small proportion of those actually employed and what is noticeable about the range of those who undertake lobbying as a paid activity is the diversity of their backgrounds. They really are drawn from different areas of the political domain and from the non-political domain. But on the point of the morality of it, if you like, I can see the force of the argument that there should perhaps be a period after leaving government service during which one should not be retained by a body which is then going to lobby the particular organisation of which one has been a member and where one may have access to certain material which is otherwise not available. I can see the argument, if you like, for that breathing period before one lobbies in relation to that particular department. I see no objection to somebody with knowledge of government giving general advice to another body.
179. If that advice goes further and he is phoning up his old pal, is that why you think there ought to be a breathing space?
(Professor Norton) Yes.
180. Could I just pursue that particular question? You very carefully said it would be wrong for the political implication, you did not say it was the commercial implication. Is it right, for example, for someone who has been heading the insurance division of the DTI then to move into the insurance industry?
(Professor Norton) You mean in relation then to activity in relation to the department?
181. Who would then be lobbying?
(Professor Norton) Yes, sorry, anybody who had worked in a government department in whatever capacity might be privy to certain information and would be subject to that breathing space.
182. Can I then move on? I think there is perhaps some danger in looking at the table of surveys that you will get the scene the people you are surveying think you should have. If you just took it at purely objective face value, you would end up with the Communion of Saints out there. As you pointed out in your report, there are allegations, as you say, of more serious, possibly illegal, abuses. They may be anecdotal in terms of evidence, I understand that, but I would like to pursue that a little bit because I believe lobbying is good, beneficial, helpful to Members of Parliament and so on, but can be abused. As you have rightly pointed out, there is an increase in lobbying and, for the various reasons you have given, if there is an increase in lobbying then there are various pressures on the lobbyists and I would like to pursue two of those. One is the pressure on the lobbyist to make himself out to be something other than what he is, both in terms of the expertise he claims to have on board and in terms of the results he claims to be able to achieve. I wonder in that context whether you can give some assessment of how success is measured in the industry, whether there is any evidence that the more genuine–if I can put it that way–lobbying firms do achieve more and those who just have someone who has been part-time somewhere around this place for a couple of weeks and, therefore, is their “lobby expert”, do not show up so well? That is part one. Part two is the question of whether the pressures of lobbyists lead to abuses. Would you like me to come back to that when you have answered the first part?
Chairman: You had better take it in two parts so that we can follow it a bit more clearly?
(Mr Shaw) Can I come in on the first part and say that what constitutes success for a lobbyist is not always clear cut. If he succeeds in getting his client’s information in front of the right people in a neutral way, this can be considered as having discharged his obligation. I am reminded in this of the practice which occurs in the United States sometimes of linking fees to lobbyists with the success with which they take the message through. If the desired course of action occurs, that is, a particular provision is introduced in legislation, for example, then the fee is increased compared with what it otherwise would be. There has been pressure for outlawing this kind of lobbying. If we look at the matter of what might be considered bad practice, that might be an example.
(Professor Norton) Could I follow on that because there are really two problems you have identified in the first question, though the first relates only to access. One is in a sense a problem for Parliament which is not so much related to the principle of lobbying, which I see nothing wrong with, but the methods that might be employed in terms of access to facilities, and this is where the problem of access comes in. Another problem inherent in what you are saying is a problem for clients in terms of lobbyists making out they know more than they do, especially in relation to Members. It is not a problem for Members who are used to this and more experienced. It is more applied to success and a firm can say, “We lobbied on this and this policy resulted, therefore it was our lobbying that produced it.” We have no way of proving that at all, so there is a problem there, but that is a problem perhaps for the industry to sort out. The better firms can get their own register or whatever. There are two distinct problems to sort out, one relating to access and the other relating to firms themselves and the relationship with clients. There are two distinct points. You have identified both and I think access comes into that first problem.
(Professor Seymour-Ure) But in so much to do with lobbying there does seem to be a tremendous variety and when you add to that the difficulty of getting hold of the thing in the first place, it makes it even more difficult to tell what seems to be a success. I was struck that people in some circumstances regard it as a success if they get called to give oral evidence before a committee. One case quoted to me was a firm that was rather small and it felt that if it was in the company of firms that were rather large it was a good thing, and that is part of a longer-term kind of strategy of gaining a positive image in the market and so forth. Then you get other sorts of objective which are totally specific in relation to stopping or reversing pieces of legislation or just creating a climate in which legislation is likely to be done. A lot of the same sorts of examples get quoted and they are often disputed, because there have been lobbying firms working on either side of the case in point; and whichever way it goes, the ones that worked on the side which turned out to do well obviously want to believe it was because of their efforts and those on the other side want to consider it was fortuitous. You are dealing with anything from Kentucky fried chicken, to prevent it not being made illegal to sell takeaway Kentucky fried chicken after eleven o’clock, which was something that exercised them in 1982 and which they were successful in, through to the reversal of legislation about the sale of alcohol at Tottenham Hotspur in the boxes as opposed to on the terraces. So there is a variety of things to which the notion of success can be applied.
Chairman: We are familiar with people making exaggerated claims. It is not unknown for colleagues in the House of Commons to do so!
183. We also like to think such decisions are made according to our judgment!
(Dr Rush) Could I make a brief comment in response to Mr Bowis’s point about surveying. There are two points. First, yes, the survey figures fairly prominently in our written submission because we felt that would provide you with something fairly concrete and with a good deal of information we think is relevant to you. It is a major part of our research but it is not by any means the only part. Having said that, let me add something that we did not bother putting in the submission. There is a lot that is not in there; it is a long questionnaire. Here I am not talking about the professional lobbyists but the organisations outside, pressure groups. When we said, “How successful do you think you are in influencing select committees?” they were not claiming enormous success. Seven per cent claiming they were very successful in influencing legislation is not a high rate. Some success is claimed by between 40 and 50 per cent. It is not claiming an enormous amount. It is not claiming that because they are listened to they are necessarily successful. They want to be listened to.
(Professor Norton) This comes back to my point about the distinction between effectiveness and efficiency. Fifty per cent thought they were moderately successful or quite successful in having influence but the cases would not necessarily bear that out, and there seems to be evidence to indicate that although they may be moderately effective they are inefficient in the way they go about it. They almost achieve results despite themselves.
184. This is exactly the point I wanted to ask because I asked originally about success. That is where we started, and the phrase has just been brought up about on the one hand, efficiency, and on the other hand, effectiveness. One can use mass assault and that is successful but it is a very inefficient use of resources. Is there a suggestion that in some cases the more efficient form of lobbying offered by professional lobbyists would be more effective than the less efficient operation organised by a broader pressure group, because if that is so, is there some special expertise which is owned or held by the professional and which is not available to the broad lobbying body, other than simply administrative expertise?
(Professor Norton) Yes and no, in the sense that probably there is a certain amount which is not available to the mass of individuals because they are not particularly interested in what Parliament is doing, and if the group is formed outside it does not necessarily have any idea of how to go about it. That is not to say that there is a body of knowledge which is confined to professional lobbyists. It is available to anybody who takes the trouble to find out, read up on Parliament, spend time talking to Members. If one talks to Members one gets a good idea of the efficient way of going about it, so there is not a closed circle of people with knowledge. There are a lot of people with experience of this place who have some idea of how to go about it but anybody who spends time coming here and finding out would find out quicker by turning to somebody who has that experience to offer. So it is not a closed circle. It is not information which is widely available because people would not actually need to have that information. But on the first point you are absolutely right. By turning to people who know the best way to proceed, that is efficient. It seems to be the perception of many of the Members that that is efficient but certainly in relation to legislation they see it to be the achievement of those who facilitate this and are impressed when people are hired who know how to go about things, so the Members then get what they need, which saves the time of the Member and saves the time of the person who wants to make representation, so the role is a facilitating one and, therefore, you get to the efficiency of achieving the message being put over. It is then the quality of the message that will determine how the Member responds.
(Professor Seymour-Ure) This is especially true if the client is in a hurry, as they usually are.
185. There is another aspect of this in terms of whether it might lead to abuse, and it does relate to your phrase “serious, possibly illegal abuses”, ie raising instances of either of those. All I would say is one has seen cases which make one stop and think. We had one this morning in a Committee here where a document had been leaked from the European Department and it was central to some legislation now going through this House. It had been passed by the firm concerned to Japanese commercial interests with a letter saying that under no circumstances should Members of Parliament in Britain be told that this had been passed. In fact, it was read out in the Committee this morning and rather undid the affections of that construction but I am not overstating that case, I am not suggesting it is illegal, but it can lead to the leaking of documents, undue pressures on civil servants and undue pressures on even Members of Parliament and so on which could undermine the confidence that Members of Parliament have in the fair play aspect, because I think if we look at it obviously as being basically open and expect them to provide us with information, they may not be giving us half the information. Is that a danger? Is it rare? Is it from your anecdotal evidence and experience something we need to watch?
(Professor Norton) I think “yes” is the answer to most of the latter questions. Obviously with anything like that one needs to watch wherever it is coming from. I am not sure it is specific in any sense to professional lobbies. Any body might indulge in what you regard as unacceptable behaviour. One needs to watch it. For those who engage in it, as you indicated, it could be counterproductive. It might work the first time round, then it puts the Member on his or her guard because of the conduct that has been indulged in, so it might work once but not necessarily later on for the reason you have given, because one loses one’s credibility. So there is that aspect to it, but that is no reason why one would not be on one’s guard and perhaps generate procedures that would clarify, say, what is acceptable, what is not. Those engaging in that behaviour would know what was within the bounds of acceptability from the point of view of the House and what was not.
186. In your mind there was something different in that expression?
(Professor Norton) Which expression?
187. On page 7 of your note, “Allegations of more serious, possibly illegal abuses were … vague …”.
(Professor Norton) I am not sure in what way I am deviating.
188. No, I am trying to see whether this is as serious as the phrase you used would appear to suggest or whether it is–
(Professor Norton) We were careful in our phraseology, we had quite a discussion because it was anecdotal. I think that comes out in the submission. There is a correlation between those who perceive some misuse of access and those who really do not know their way around, so they are not really familiar with the techniques to employ and have a rather vague perception, so they feel there is some sort of misuse. It is very difficult to go beyond that, there is nothing concrete. We, therefore, were very careful how we phrased it.
(Mr Shaw) The responses of the survey suggest there were very few respondents who suggested anything of that kind was going on.
189. Do you conclude from your study that it is not possible in this country to buy yourself a Member of Parliament either through lobbying or directly by a client?
(Dr Rush) I certainly cannot quote examples–maybe there are others who can, I certainly cannot. Why should it not in principle be possible to buy a Member of Parliament in the sense that you pay a Member of Parliament a sum of money, whether that is openly paid as some form of retainer, whether it is sponsorship for a trade union or whatever? It depends what your definition of buying a Member of Parliament is, but if you mean that, were it not for the fact that the Member was being paid a sum of money or being given some other sort of inducement, he or she would not otherwise do what they were doing–in other words, they would do things that you wished them to do and possibly vote in a certain way or undertake instructions to make representations, whether it be informally to Ministers or through the formal procedures of the House–in principle certainly that is possible. To what extent it exists I have no knowledge.
(Professor Seymour-Ure) I came across a breach of privilege allegation in 1943 where a company in conflict with the Board of Trade elicited the support of a local Member and included a cheque for £5 as an earnest of good faith. Presumably in practice anything that might be described as buying a Member of Parliament is going to bump up against some fairly specialised, sometimes rather arcane, distinctions about what is and what is not legitimate or illegitimate as a way of trying to influence Members. These are likely to change over time. I believe there is quite a history of arguments about the relationship between trades unions and trade union sponsored Members and how far it is all right for unions to require or expect particular voting behaviour from sponsored Members. Occasionally there have been breach of privilege questions of that kind which I do not think ever resulted in specific cases being taken very far. These are surely always going to be likely to change over a period of time, but in an acute sense I should have thought it was most unlikely that anyone would have come across it attempts to buy Members.
(Professor Norton) It comes very much to what one regards as buying. There is no consistency, as I am sure you are aware, Chairman, in Erskine May in terms of what is acceptable in terms of receiving a retainer from outside. In one part it is quite acceptable as long as you declare. In another part it is breach of privilege. There is clearly a grey area because it is not clear when one moves into what is unacceptable in terms of “buying” a Member. In relation to the question asked, in relation to our survey, we would have to say there is no evidence we have come across at all of anyone being bought, which is not to say one cannot do it. I suspect one can say that about any walk of life in any society. It would be very difficult to say categorically that no one could be bought.
(Dr Rush) We did ask in our survey two questions which to this extent are relevant. We asked particularly did the organisation pay a retainer or professional fee to any Member of Parliament and in round figures 7 per cent said yes. We then asked “Do you provide any secretarial facilities or any other form of assistance to one or more Members of Parliament?” In round figures 11 per cent said yes. We would not regard those as such as buying Members of Parliament or in any sense illegal activities. Applying differing morals, you might regard them, if not as illegal, certainly as immoral. That is very much a matter of judgment.
190. Where it is a question of payment by an outside organisation in respect of a secretary, that should be declared, of course. It is argued that the declaration which would be made by the secretary, if she or he is paid by an outside body, is not open to the public but only to Members. Would you think that that in itself is sufficient?
(Dr Rush) We did suggest in our submission that the new registers which you had recommended in your last report, which have been set up, should in some form or other be made more available. Whether the registers themselves should be made publicly available is one possibility. Another possibility would be, as we suggest, that a report be issued each year as to what essentially those registers tell us, as it were, in the sense of how many secretaries, research assistants and so forth have declarable interests, and so on; and indeed if it were thought appropriate by a body like this Committee, whether they knew of any abuses that they wished to bring to the attention of the House.
191. We would like to come to that question of the register in a moment. But, as we have been discussing for the most part of our proceedings this afternoon the question of lobbying, I would like to refer to your written evidence, namely, that you think that developments in the area of lobbying “justifiably or otherwise have given cause for concern and if, for no other reason further consideration should be given to establishing a register of professional lobbyists”? Further on in your report you say: “Requiring outside organisations who wish to lobby Parliament to register presents some difficulties, both in the compilation of a register and in its operation.” You will be aware that this Committee in the last Parliament rejected the idea of a register of lobbyists, mainly because it did not want to create what I think was described as “an exclusive club”. So my question really is, is there not a risk that a register, even an open register, would create the impression, particularly in small companies, that the only way to approach Parliament is through some kind of approved organisation?
(Dr Rush) Indeed it might. It certainly could give that impression, which would perhaps be unfortunate. Our reason for saying that further consideration should be given to a register is that it seemed to us that one of the major issues which has certainly been receiving a lot of publicity in the media is the activities of professional lobbyists and, therefore, even if the Committee were to come to the same conclusion that it came to last time, that there should not be such a register, it certainly seemed to us that a very considerable amount of attention, a very good airing, should be given to that proposal, even though it was dealt with very thoroughly last time. We were not necessarily suggesting such a register should be adopted on this occasion.
192. I was quoting but you have not actually specifically said as much. Can I say we were strongly criticised by some people for not adopting that suggestion, some Members who would wish to have a register. Some practitioners–I forget the exact organisation; it is not the Institute of Public Relations but the other group–argued that we should, in fact, have a register and there were, of course, people writing in the press to express criticism, so we were accused of failing to grasp this nettle. You tentatively approach this subject later on in your document when you say that one of the reasons is that “organisations are constantly being formed and disbanded and, more importantly, there are many organisations whose raison d’être is not that of lobbying, but who may find themselves in a situation in which they might wish to lobby Parliament, and a requirement to register might restrict their right to do so.” Then you pose the question: “Would organisations not registered be barred from lobbying? And, if so, how?” You have put precisely, I think, the difficulty with which we were faced. I am not attempting to defend the decision of the Committee, of which I was Chairman. It is an open book as far as we are concerned. We are looking at it afresh but I do recall that one of the respected practitioners in this field of public relations and public information working for an in-house organisation explained in some detail the difficulty he would be put in. Most of his time, he said, he was not concerned with talking to Government or even trying to persuade Government to change its course, but there could be occasions, and had been, when that was his purpose?
(Mr Shaw) Most of the organisations we talked with when describing pressure groups are not involved in lobbying as their principal activity. The British Medical Association is not a lobbyist. That is not the main thing they do. I think the real problem in a register of lobbyists is that you have enormous boundary problems on the definitional side of who is engaged in lobbying and who is not, and, in fact, the procedure of lobbying is so variable that what constitutes lobbying is also difficult. In some national legislatures only the lobbying that occurs among civil servants on the government side is subject to control. In other cases it is only legislative lobbying. Some lobbying is indirect. You get into all kinds of loopholes and I think it is a very difficult thing to make concrete.
193. But as you rightly draw to our attention: … “there may be a case for following the Australian practice of requiring professional lobbyists to register if they wish to lobby Ministers or civil servants.” You go on to point out that: “… the Australian legislation does not require lobbyists to declare an intention to lobby MPs or Parliament.” It is only if they actually do it, but you also remind us that: “Legislation currently before the Canadian Parliament requires professional lobbyists to register and provide details of their clients, and other outside organisations which seek to lobby holders of public office, including Senators and MPs, to register the names of their officials.” We also have the situation in the United States, so it is obviously a question that the practice differs in different countries. We have been strongly attacked for not introducing a register. We are very keen to have people express their views very strongly to us so that we can come to a conclusion with fresh minds.
(Dr Rush) Can I say that both in our submission and in the Canadian legislation in particular there are two registers proposed. One is for professional lobbyists and one is for what the draft Bill currently before the Canadian House–which has just completed its committee stage so it has not yet gone through the Canadian Parliaments–terms outside organisations, which are essentially the other organisations to which we have been referring constantly during the afternoon.
194. Would you agree that it is almost impossible to have a register unless those who register are accorded some sort of privilege or other, because if they are given no privilege then why should they register? You could say, of course, “If you do not register you are not allowed to lobby,” but you cannot say that, in fact, because I have a constituent coming to see me at six o’clock who wishes to lobby on his own personal circumstances, so would it not seem that unless you give some sort of access or privileges or some sort of card or something, then the purpose of having a register is meaningless?
(Dr Rush) The only advantage I can see of a register, whether it is of professional lobbyists or lobbying organisations in the wider sense, is that it provides publicity. It opens up the process more so that Members of Parliament or members of the public may, if they wish, be able to see who is lobbying. But I take your point. I could not agree more. If you say, “As a consequence of registering you have some privilege or other, access to Members or access to certain Parliamentary papers,” that is something which I think would be very difficult to control but it would also, I would say, be something to be deplored.
(Professor Norton) On the basic point you are absolutely right. You cannot prevent anyone lobbying. You cannot prevent anybody be it the privileged professional or outside organisation from lobbying. It might be that merely the fact of having the privilege of being on the register might give them an unfair advantage and prevent others from lobbying, and you cannot do that without taking away a right enshrined in Magna Carta 700 years ago.
(Dr Rush) For a professional lobbyist to be able to say on their notepaper, “Registered with the House of Commons” or whatever, that could be seen by them as an advantage, though it is not for me to speak for them.
195. If it is as meaningless as that surely you would find a good many–50,000 or 100,000 or whatever–companies would apply for this? Think of the difficulties. This is some of the reasoning we went through when we decided there should not be a register.
(Dr Rush) I understand the Canadian legislation in no way intends to penalise someone who does not register as such. It has provisions prepared for not giving the information required.
196. So what is the purpose of the register?
(Dr Rush) It would appear purely to provide publicity, to allow those who wish to know who is lobbying and, of course, who their clients are, if you are talking about professional lobbyists in particular.
(Professor Seymour-Ure) Just one very small gloss: one of the things which really struck me when I started trying to look at this in a very amateur way was to discover that government itself is now employing political consultants. That seems to me something quite new, to find the relevant government department is retaining consultants for a variety of purposes, some of which were described in an article in the Guardian, the details of which I do not have in my mind but which is readily accessible. If that is new, and if you add that to the alleged increase in volume of lobbying that is going on, I can see those might constitute two new grounds for looking again at the question of a register, but otherwise I take it the issues are pretty well identical. The difficulty is that we, as academics, are probably not as familiar as many other people in the real world are–I take it they are going to be the same kind of issues that get argued through now, and the last time your Committee looked at it and the time before that. But if there is a sort of group the Government is likely to employ or not employ, I can see there might be a case for getting on a list the Government was prepared to use.
(Mr Shaw) I believe local authorities are also engaging professional consultants.
(Professor Norton) And foreign governments.
Dame Peggy Fenner
197. I wanted to ask a question about Canadian legislation. You said that they are now moving on to outside organisations being required to register. Let us suppose that it is a body that has not had any particular legislation in its field of interest. Is it in the Canadian style that all organisations that think that at any time they might wish to lobby, just register or get their names on a register so that at any time they are legitimate, or would they only register or only be required to register if at a certain time they wished to lobby on any specific proposed legislation? I can see the same difficulties that my colleague Bill Shelton sees in this, that a number of people, specially if it is not costly, will all rush to register because they will believe there is some inherent specialness about registering when really we just wish that their name is embodied somewhere where it can be seen, in order that there can be no secret about it, that it is open lobbying which is free for all. So could you tell me if, in fact, in practice the Canadian style is going to be that any organisation registers in case at any time it wishes to lobby or at any time it wishes to lobby it is going on the register?
(Dr Rush) That is not clear from the legislation. It would appear from the Bill which I have here that they would anticipate something rather like a Members’ Register, an annual register. There is nothing in the legislation which would preclude any organisation that is not on that register from lobbying, so that any organisation which fell under your second point–some legislation came along and they said, “God, we are interested in that, we have something to say”–would in no way be prevented from lobbying. It would appear that it is simply to provide information. It is a rather special area, like the Freedom of Information Act, if you like, providing information and nothing more as far as I can see as to what could be subsequently done with that information. You may be able to deduce from that whether you register lobbyists, register outside interests, if you detect patterns of people who are engaged in these sorts of activity. That may then lead you to various conclusions which may in turn lead you to want to act further in one way, possibly by further legislation. I am not aware they have that in mind. Once more information is made available, then that may lead to people feeling other things should be done.
198. Chairman, I am asking a question on behalf of Dale Campbell-Savours who had to go to a Standing Committee. He asked whether the witnesses would like to comment on the potential merits of a purely voluntary register which had no question of penalties but merely allowed those firms which wished to register and indicate their claimed specialisms and the names of persons who might be seeking to lobby Members of Parliament, so that it would be information to Members of Parliament but there would be no compulsion and no penalties.
(Professor Norton) Could I handle that one? I suspect if there is a case for that there might be a case for doing it not through official channels, because you still have problems of the privilege of being on the register, being able to say “We registered”; if it is going to be voluntary, why should it not be done within the industry itself, a self-regulating organisation? It might, I suspect, be a better means of doing it than actually doing it through formal channels of the House. Could I add, since we have been discussing a register, that one of the proposals we did discuss, which is not in our submission because it really arose from discussing our submission, which it strikes me would actually address several of the problems raised–you would not have the problems that have been raised–is the alternative of some sort of code of ethics which would actually cover, I think, many of the points that have been raised. You would not have problems of demarcation, anybody relevant could obtain a copy, it would not be writing in to get on the register, people would be sending in instead to get a code of ethics, depending on how wide it was, a code for Members or those making representations to Members. Listening to some of the problems raised about a register, it struck me that a number of the problems identified would not be present in the context of such a code.
199. We are grateful for that suggestion. It is a point I was going to raise with you. I will not now but it is on the record and we will certainly look at it. There is however, the matter of the other registers to which, you referred. I said we would come back to that. Then Mr Bowis has a question. We are all conscious of the fact that it is getting towards 6 o’clock and people may have early evening engagements and we want to give you a chance to speak about anything else we have not covered. So we are drawing to a close but it would be interesting to hear from you what you think should be done about the existing registers, such as those for Members’ secretaries, research assistants and so on. You do suggest an annual report. How would this work?
(Dr Rush) We, of course, have no access to those registers so we do not know what sort of patterns of information would emerge from them. But assuming that Members have found them useful, then our suggestion was that by giving some publicity, either by publishing the registers themselves or by publication of some form of annual report which would summarise the conclusions that could be drawn from the information provided in the registers–not just the number of persons who had registered but the range of interests, types of interests that have been registered or recorded by the individuals concerned and various sorts of information of that nature, I think it could possibly be useful in terms of being provided to a wider public, to the public at large.
(Professor Norton) Very briefly, as I understand it, the potential problem with the secretaries and research assistants register is that, as I am informed, the entries are probably fairly cursory and there may be a case for more information as in the register of Members’ Interests, and it strikes me that there is a difference in style adopted by Members filling in the entries. Therefore, an annual report, drawing together in aggregate the material from it would be difficult because of the different ways in which Members do complete their forms. There might be a case for some degree of standardisation which might be encompassed in a code of ethics which gave greater guidance on what should be in there for the purpose of an annual report. Greater standardisation would be beneficial.
200. You have not said anything in your comments either here or in your written submission. Have you at any time been tempted to go further and suggest that Members and others closely associated with the House, such as research assistants and secretaries should be forbidden to undertake other employments and particularly lobbying employments?
(Professor Norton) We have not considered that. I can see obvious problems which go somewhat wider than the remit of the committee in terms of Members’ resources and facilities. If you hire research assistants and deny those research assistants the opportunity to have other work, you are not going to be employing research assistants because most Members who have them are not able to employ them on a full-time basis. The effect would be to deny Members research assistants unless you are going to show independence, as the House has shown in increasing the secretarial research allowance in 1986. If you want to go even further, I think that would need to be done. If one were even to think along the lines you have indicated–
201. And Members themselves?
(Professor Norton) In terms of what? Not taking outside–
202. Yes, including lobbying, employment as a consultant.
(Professor Norton) There is an American analogy, I know, in terms of a limit. There are practical problems in that, of course, that would require there to be a self-imposed limit and I can see obvious problems in achieving that.
(Dr Rush) There are some legislatures, Mr Chairman, which have various means by which they seem to control members of the legislature, notably by reducing the amount of a member’s salary in proportion to what he has declared. This happens in the Netherlands and in the United States. I think in the United States there is a limit beyond which a member of Congress cannot go.
203. Is that remuneration from outside sources published or is it gleaned from income tax returns?
(Dr Rush) I think it is published in the Netherlands. I am not sure about the States.
(Mr Shaw) It is in the States.
204. His salary is published?
(Mr Shaw) Yes. There is a salary range that governs from minimum to maximum.
(Professor Norton) The positive answer in this case would be to increase Members’ salaries, which would make it less attractive to take remuneration from outside sources.
(Mr Shaw) We have turned to the subject of money. Of course, in the United States there is a constitutional question in restricting lobbying because of the First Amendment. The US Supreme Court, when it found the basic law regulating lobbying was constitutional, said, “Congress is entitled to know who is being hired, who is putting up the money and how much.” In fact, the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act is specifically concerned with the matter of money. The basic requirement is that “Every individual or association which obtains money for the principal purpose of influencing legislation must keep a record of contributions and expenditures, including the names and addresses of all who contribute $500 or more.” Of course, it is well-known that in the Register of Members’ Interests there is no recording of how much money is involved. In these various connections one would have thought that in any idea of regulating lobbying the question of how much money and where it comes from could well be an important part of the whole matter.
205. Does that work in the United States?
(Mr Shaw) You then get into colossal definitional problems. In fact, there is a Bill before Congress trying to get rid of this phrase “the principal purpose of influencing legislation” because many who are engaged in lobbying say that is not their principal purpose and they do not register. The National Association of Manufacturers, which is the most obvious lobbying organisation in Washington, claims it is engaged in educational and informational pursuits and its principal purpose is not influencing legislation, so that is the sort of definitional problem that arises there.
206. Coming back to where we started in a sense on the question of definitions, we are talking about lobbying and I wonder if we can comment on the definition of a lobbyist, because a lot of what we have been talking about, whether it is a register or regulatory methods, codes of conduct, informative registers, whatever it may be, we are talking all the time about what we see as lobbying companies, consultants or whatever. I wonder where you draw the line, if you do at all, between such organisations and the traditional trade associations, employers associations, the trade unions, even the Committee of Vice Chancellors or whatever. Is there a distinction or should it apply to anybody who is seeking collectively to lobby Parliament?
(Dr Rush) I think you can certainly draw a distinction between an organisation which exists professionally and makes its money, in other words, the people engaged in the organisation earn their living effectively from lobbying, and you may then choose to treat them differently in some way, for example by requiring them to register, but obviously we are talking about lobbying in the wider sense. What we have tended to try to do is talk about professional consultants in our research and our main interest is actually not with professional consultancies; it is with pressure group politics; it is with lobbying in the widest possible sense.
(Professor Norton) As a rider to that, those who probably do the least lobbying are actually the professional lobbyists, because they are advising on how to lobby rather than necessarily doing it for those who wish to lobby.
(Dr Rush) There is also an in-between category in which there are certainly organisations who are not professional lobbyists in the sense that it is their bread and butter; they do not exist for that purpose. But they employ people to act professionally for them; they employ someone specifically within their organisation. Most major companies have somebody, not necessarily specifically to lobby Parliament, but to act not as a public relations person but certainly to react with government and so on, and they are employed specifically for that purpose.
207. It is 6 o’clock and I know one or two other duties call. Is there anything you or your colleagues wanted to say which we have not covered?
(Professor Seymour-Ure) I do not think so. In a humble and amateur way, it just seems to me that organisations are better able to control their members–that has not always been thought of universities and their students, I must admit–than they are to control what people outside do, and it seems to me the sort of rule of thumb one might start with would be that the Commons is going to be more successful in exercising whatever definition of control it feels right if it does so upon those who work within the precincts who are Members, than if it tries to exercise control upon those who are outside. The line drawing problems implicit in the previous question become that much greater outside and problems of sanctions become that much greater to control. In that sense I think the idea of a voluntary register would be very difficult to be against. It sounds splendid.
(Mr Shaw) As a parting shot, I would like to say it is a large, obvious point that legislators are concerned with the general public interest and legislating on behalf of it, whereas pressure groups are concerned with some narrow special perspective on public affairs and because the interaction needs to be got right and people in public office have to act on behalf of the general interest, the defence of throwing light on this process is to reveal where the more parochial narrow kind of interest is being manifest. So it is a matter of illuminating this interaction between the special and the general.
208. That is a point which is contained in your report, the fact that so many people are concerned with getting Members of Parliament or Ministers to change a particular policy, not so much the generality of it but with the specific detail which they believe is inimical to their interests.
(Professor Norton) Very much to reinforce the aspect of that question raised earlier in terms of the lobbying that takes place within the political domain, if one is seeking to initiate something, particularly legislation, one’s first port of call is the Government or officials. Lobbying of Parliament tends to be largely reactive where you want to achieve some change to what is proposed or some minor point of detail. There is that important distinction because the Commons is used as a reactive body, as a body of perhaps last resort, or to exercise a certain judgement over something coming forward from government, and that distinction is a quite important one.
(Dr Rush) Also a distinction that is very clear to certainly the majority of the organisations who were covered in the survey.
Chairman: Yes, indeed. That I noticed in the research you did. Dr Rush, may I thank you and your colleagues, Professor Seymour-Ure, Professor Norton and Mr Shaw, for handling our questions so expertly, for the trouble you have taken, and most of all for the time you have spent with us this afternoon. Thank you all very much, gentlemen.
Footnote to Q 146
© Parliamentary Copyright 1988. Parliamentary copyright material from House of Commons publications is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office on behalf of Parliament.
Prepared by Simon Patrick, 5 June 2001