Lobby bodies can't agree how to clean up their act

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The Independent Online
PARLIAMENTARY lobbyists will this week unveil measures to clean up their act, but MPs are not convinced that new codes of conduct will be enough to end scandals at Westminster.

Two rival reforms are being launched by groups with lobbying interests, vying for respectability in the lucrative world of political who-knows-who.

Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington, who has campaigned for greater openness in this semi-secret area, said yesterday that if self-regulation did not work, Parliament would have to introduce statutory controls.

The two largest public relations groups - the Public Relations Consultants Association and the Institute of Public Relations, representing between them more than 5,000 companies and individuals - will launch on Tuesday a Code and Register for Professional Parliamentary Advisers.

A final draft, seen by the Independent on Sunday, includes a requirement for lobbyists to enter their names on a public register, identify the clients for whom they are working and name any MP who receives from them 'a pecuniary interest or benefit'.

But the register will not give details of how much MPs are paid, nor what they are paid for. Mike Beard, president of the IPR, conceded:'We are not going to satisfy everyone.'

The issue of payments to MPs has become important since the Sunday Times persuaded two Conservatives - Graham Riddick and David Tredinnick - to accept pounds 1,000 each for tabling a parliamentary question in July. The Commons Committee of Privileges is to investigate the affair when Parliament returns on 17 October.

Another newly-established body, the Association of Professional Political Lobbyists, which claims to have signed up or have applications from companies representing 85 per cent of the fee income in political lobbying, derides the public relations groups' register as 'a cricketers' golfing society'.

The APPL's own code of conduct will go further. It lays down that lobbying firms shall 'not place themselves in a position of potential political conflict of interest by appointing any MP to their main or any subsidiary or associated board or by paying any retainer or commission to an MP or person acting on their account'. Three professional lobbying companies have financial links with MPs and would be obliged to sever these.

But many MPs are sceptical. Mr Campbell-Savours said: 'At the end of the day, we will judge these codes and the register on results. If they do not meet the objectives of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, there will be calls for a statutory framework.

'My test will be complaints. If there are complaints that these codes are being breached, and if there are scandals reported in the press, they will be inviting a re-examination by the Select Committee. The committee was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt to clean up their own show.'

Bill Michie, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley and a member of the Members' Interests Committee, expressed disappointment that the two lobbyists' groups had been unable to agree a common standard. He added: 'MPs should not have paid lobbying functions - then we would have no doubts or worries at all.'