Bill against lobbying deals ‘must be tougher’, anti-sleaze watchdog warns

 

A tougher crackdown on lobbying than that planned by the Government is needed to help restore public trust in politics, the anti-sleaze watchdog will warn in a report published today.

The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life expresses concern that the Coalition’s proposed register of third-party lobbyists will not allay people’s fears about “the confluence of money, influence, power and vested interests”.

Its criticism will increase pressure on ministers to beef up the Lobbying Bill during its passage through the Lords, which resumes today. Critics claim only one per cent of lobbyists would be covered by the register.

The anti-sleaze committee calls for:

* Restrictions on former MPs working as lobbyists for two years after leaving Parliament;

* Compulsory “ethics training” for new MPs and peers;

* Tougher rules to prevent a conflict of interest when officials move jobs between government and business, or are on secondment;

* Swift disclosure of the subject of meetings between ministers and outside groups or companies;

* Clearer rules on ex-ministers taking jobs in the private sector;

* Special advisers to ministers to be subject to tighter rules about their contacts with outsiders;

* Gifts and hospitality offered to public servants by lobbyists to be rejected;

* MPs receiving outside payments to be banned from initiating parliamentary proceedings or approaching ministers in the interests of those paying them;

* MPs to disclose family members involved in public-sector lobbying.

Lord (Paul) Bew, the crossbench peer who chairs the committee, called for a “change of culture” in public life.

The committee warns: “Recent individual examples of abuse (real or perceived) have contributed to a growing public cynicism which has led to a lack of trust and confidence in political decision making. Whilst this committee generally welcomes proposals that third-party lobbyists should be obliged to register and disclose the names of the clients on behalf of whom they act, we doubt that a register of third-party lobbyists is the key to reform.”

It warns that “the revolving door” in which people switch from the public to private sector, and secondments between them, raises the risk of potential conflicts of interest.

“Hiring people either permanently or temporarily with contacts or knowledge gained from their time in government or the public sector can be seen as an attempt to buy access and influence,” it says.

There were more than 200 secondments to the Treasury between 2007 and 2011, largely from major accountancy firms, provoking claims that they helped clients to exploit tax loopholes. More than 50 people were seconded to the Department for Energy and Climate Change between 2008 and 2011, including some from energy firms.

Several former MPs have gone on to work for lobbyists, and the committee says: “It is important for public confidence in Parliament to ensure that, during their time in the House, members are not perceived to be influenced in their behaviour by the hope or expectation of future personal gain.”

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