The trade body which represents the UK's public relations and lobbying industry is to investigate Bell Pottinger over claims made by executives during a business pitch to undercover reporters. The reporters were posing as representatives of the repressive Uzbekistan regime, which has a long history of human rights abuses.
The Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, was also under pressure last night to investigate claims by lobbyists that they had privileged access to the heart of Government.
Contrary to earlier denials, Downing Street has admitted that lobbyists did influence government policy "where we think they have legitimate concerns".
Jon Trickett, the shadow Cabinet Office Minister, wrote to Sir Gus asking him to investigate Bell Pottinger's boast that it exploited its access to David Cameron on behalf of its client, Dyson.
The revelations about the company's use of the "dark arts" prompted a leading lobbyist to complain to the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA).
The PRCA said its Professional Practices Committee would investigate the complaint. Sanctions available to the body, if a firm is found to have brought the profession into disrepute, include suspension or termination of membership coupled with a published censure.
Mark Adams, head of public affairs at Lansons, said: "The Independent has published serious allegations about Bell Pottinger. I am a strong proponent of self-regulation for the lobbying industry and that requires that these claims are investigated.
"Ideally Bell Pottinger will clear their name and demonstrate they have done nothing wrong. But if they have behaved in an unethical manner, then the appropriate sanctions should be taken against them."
Lord Bell, chairman of Chime Communications, which owns the Bell Pottinger subsidiaries in question, has said: "There is absolutely no suggestion of any impropriety."
The firm claimed its links enabled the Prime Minister to raise worries about copyright infringement with the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, during a visit in June.
Mr Trickett called for Sir Gus to examine all contacts between Downing Street and Bell Pottinger at that time, as well as the details of the Prime Minister's discussions with the Chinese leadership about Dyson.
Last night Mr Trickett called for meetings between ministers, civil servants and lobbyists to be recorded. He criticised a loophole that enables senior politicians to avoid declaring such encounters by describing them as "private". It allowed Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, not to register a dinner at London's Savoy Hotel which was organised by Bell Pottinger.
Mr Trickett told The Independent: "The whole question of what has to be registered, and what does not, is a grey area. There has to be a proper code of conduct for both sides. Lobbyists should have to register who their clients are and any contacts with public officials."
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