MPs to investigate lobbying and firms' links to ministers

 

A parliamentary investigation into lobbying firms, including Bell Pottinger, and their links with ministers is to be launched.

Senior staff at Bell Pottinger, including its head of public affairs Tim Collins, right, – who was caught on tape boasting of his links to David Cameron and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague – and Lord Bell, who chairs its parent company Chime, are likely to be summoned by an influential House of Commons committee.

Almost two-thirds of MPs said they backed the immediate introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists recording all their dealings with government members. But there is far less support for the move among Conservative MPs. The inquiry by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee will follow the publication of the Government's proposals for increasing scrutiny of Britain's £2bn a year lobbying industry – expected next month.

Members said last night they would ask for Bell Pottinger executives to give evidence to Parliament. The Labour MP Paul Flynn said: "Bell Pottinger will be key witnesses. I'm living for the day when we can ask them some searching questions."

Tristram Hunt, a committee member, said: "Transparency is the key. Lobbyists can play a useful and effective role in the legislative process, but everyone should know where the ideas are coming from and who is paying for them."

A poll of 150 MPs by ComRes revealed overall support for greater scrutiny of lobbyists, but far less enthusiasm for the move among Conservatives.

Sixty-four per cent of MPs said they backed a statutory register, against 20 per cent who opposed its introduction. The move was backed by 94 per cent of Liberal Democrats and 86 per cent of Labour MPs. Among Tories, only 44 per cent were in favour and 35 per cent against.

Almost two-thirds of the MPs (66 per cent) polled in October thought all contact between ministers and lobbyists should be logged and 58 per cent believed lobbyists should disclose all the fees they earn. But there was clear consensus across the parties that most lobbying was bona fide and that most practitioners behaved honourably.

Eighty-one per cent believed lobbying was a "legitimate activity that improves the democratic process" and 77 per cent said most lobbyists were "highly professional".

The Government promised to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists.

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