MPs should not work for lobbying firms, Sir Norman Fowler, the former chairman of the Conservative Party, said yesterday.
Giving evidence to the Nolan committee on standards in public life, Sir Norman launched a strong attack on MPs retained by lobbyists. While he stressed his words were not directed against a particular MP, they will nevertheless be seen as an implied rebuke to Dame Angela Rumbold, a vice-chairman of the party who recently resigned from the board of a lobbying firm, and other, mainly Tory, MPs who enjoy close ties with lobbying companies.
Sir Norman said there was a distinction between MPs who were paid to act as advocates in Parliament "and advisers who simply employ their skill and judgement to tell outside companies of the position as they see it". He continued: "The division is perhaps difficult to define exactly, but what is reasonably clear is the position of the Parliamentary lobbyist."
They "take up the cases which they are employed to pursue. They do not have to be politically consistent and a lobbying organisation can be employed to put the case, for example, in favour or against privatisation. Commercially, that might be justifiablefor a lobbying organisation. It is difficult to see how the role of an MP is compatible with that."
Asked how that would square with the likes of the Police Federation, which employs MPs to put its case, he acknowledged there would be a conflict but "there have got to be tight rules, not codes". Firm regulation was needed as to what was and what was not allowed.Sir Norman emphasised he was "talking about rules for the future". He was not criticising past conduct or propriety of his colleagues.
In a session that surprised many observers with his robust line, Sir Norman also made plain his feelings about the rules governing ministers taking up appointments after leaving office. They should wait two years before joining a company which had been dealing with their departments. Within that time, their new posts would have to be approved by an independent commitee, along the lines of the Civil Service committee which currently vets senior officials leaving Whitehall for industry.
Again, Sir Norman stressed he was not commenting on past moves by former Cabinet colleagues. They were intended to be a guide to the future.
Sir Norman's views on ex-ministers taking jobs were echoed by a former Cabinet colleague, Lord Younger. The former defence minister agreed that two years was a "reasonably satisfactory" timespan which was already "working well" for senior civil servants.
On some areas, however, the two struck a less conciliatory line. They both firmly defended the right of MPs to hold outside interests and denied appointments to quangos were politically biased.
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