LETTER:Loopholes in the Nolan report

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The Independent Online
From Mr Terence Fane-Saunders

Sir: With reference to the Nolan Committee's report on standards in public life, there is a real danger that media pressure and public excitement could stampede Parliament into unwise, unworkable and fundamentally unfair measures.

The committee has recommended "a total ban on all forms of advocacy in the House by Members pursuing the interests of those with whom they hold consultancy, or sponsorship agreements".

We have no objection to this, and believe it should be extended to arrangements between Members and public relations and lobbying companies.

However, the committee has recommended the "outlawing [of] agreements which commit Members to giving parliamentary advice for payment to multi- client lobbying organisations, or to the clients of such organisations". This would be a poor ruling, inequable, unnecessary and possibly unworkable.

This is inequable because it favours large businesses over smaller ones. There is not, at this stage, a recommendation that individual businesses should be prevented from retaining Members of Parliament to provide parliamentary advice. However, smaller businesses which might not be able to afford this kind of an arrangement on an individual basis would now be denied the opportunity for access to this advice on a shared basis, through their consultants.

The report appears also to suggest - perhaps as a result of poor phrasing - that larger companies would also be prevented from paying a Member for parliamentary advice on an individual basis if (even though quite separately) that company is a client of a multi-client lobbying organisation. This is patently irrational.

It is hard to see the moral distinction between providing parliamentary advice, for payment, to an individual organisation and providing the same type of advice to several organisations through an arrangement with their PR consultants.

This ban would be unnecessary if the ban on advocacy were extended to cover all such relationships. This is where any potential abuse might lie. If the advocacy factor is stringently excluded, the provision of knowledgeable, expert advice on parliamentary affairs could be of considerable public benefit, helping to ensure that industry deals with Parliament in an appropriate, knowledgeable, ethical and professional manner.

The ban called for by the committee is also probably unworkable, as many obvious loopholes spring to mind, and these may prove hard to eradicate. For example, will there be a ban on the immediate families of Members taking payment? There are many cases where husbands, wives or children of Members work for firms of this kind.

We hope the Government will not be stampeded into a bad law.

Yours sincerely,

TERENCE FANE-SAUNDERS

Chairman & Chief Executive

Chelgate

London, W1

15 May

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