Inquiry over Commons pass given to lobbyist

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The Independent Online

Westminster Correspondent

Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has ordered an inquiry into the activities of the lobbyist given a prized Commons security pass by a government minister.

As revealed in the Independent yesterday, Barry Joseph, who advises leading companies including British Aerospace and Racal, was given the pass by Richard Page, a junior minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. Mr Joseph appears in the Commons security system as a research assistant to Mr Page. His pass was renewed last May, three months after Mr Page became a minister. Mr Joseph has not done any work for Mr Page since then.

Under pressure from Labour MPs, Miss Boothroyd said yesterday that she would ask the Serjeant-at-Arms, the senior Commons official responsible for passes, to look into the matter. At the same time, Mr Joseph's fellow lobbyists moved to distance themselves from him. The Association of Professional Consultants, which counts some of the best-known lobbying firms among its members, strongly condemned Mr Joseph's use of a Commons pass.

Charles Miller, secretary of the association and head of the Public Policy Unit, one of the leading firms, said: "What you have suggested Mr Joseph is doing is not typical of professional lobbyists. Our rules bar not just the holding of a sinecure pass but all researchers' passes by our members."

A Commons pass enables Mr Joseph to move freely around Parliament and mingle with ministers and MPs in the numerous lobbies, bars and restaurants. He can also use the Commons library and obtainpublished parliamentary papers without charge.

Mr Miller's association has been trying to clamp down on what it perceives as the abuses of the lobbying profession. These include payments to MPs by lobbying firms and consultants obtaining passes. Any lobbyist holding a pass, Mr Miller said, would inevitably give rise to suspicions that they were conducting business within the Commons.

Other lobbyists are concerned in case the public feels they are all running businesses from the Commons and using facilities at taxpayers' expense.