Blair sets out controls on lobbyists

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has laid down tough new controls on the activities of lobbyists, drawn up after the Hinduja passport affair.

Records must be kept of all formal meetings between ministers and lobbyists, according to the new Ministerial Code.

The code formally lays down for the first time that the Prime Minister is "the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a minister" and controls the sanctions on those who break the rules.

The assault on "sleaze" also includes a code of conduct limiting the power of ministerial special advisers for the first time. Party political appointees are ordered not to "take public part in political controversy" and to "express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks". They can brief the media on their minister's views, but purely party political briefing must be left to the party machine. Special advisers cannot speak at party conferences. There are no controls, however, on private, off-the-record briefings.

The codes, which also include guidelines on ministerial travel and special advisers' pay, have been revised to incorporate a string of recommendations from the Committee of Standards in Public Life.

New limits on lobbyists require that "the basic facts of formal meetings between ministers and outside interest groups should be recorded, setting out the reasons for the meeting and the names of those attending and the interests represented".

The rules come in the wake of huge controversy about the contacts between senior members of the Government and the Hinduja brothers. But the new code would not have required that a record was made of the disputed telephone call between Peter Mandelson and the former Home Office minister Mike O'Brien which led to Mr Mandelson's resignation as Northern Ireland Secretary earlier this year.

The code makes it clear that ministers should give their departmental permanent secretary full details in writing of all interests "which might be thought to give rise to a conflict". Personal interests, and those of spouse and children under 18 should also be listed.

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