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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tougher rules needed on lobbying

The Guardian's editorial on the changes needed to lobbying laws is spot on. They argue that public trust is damaged when a former PM and ministers are caught up in a cronyism scandal, and must be repaired.

The recommendations of Lord Evans, chair of the committee on standards in public life (and a former head of MI5), includes a ban on ministers and senior civil servants lobbying for five years after leaving office, that the public appointments watchdog should get new powers, including the right to prevent ministers taking certain jobs and a proposal for new penalties for rule-breakers.

Lord Evans also comments on the appointment of non-executive directors to government departments and proposes releasing lobbying details every four weeks, instead of quarterly. The Guardian says the public, and parliamentarians, should know as much as possible about who is seeking to influence their representatives. They argue that the rationale for change is very strong:

Lobbying is part of how liberal democracy works. Civil society organisations and charities do it when they sign politicians up to campaigns and pledges. Members of the public do it when they approach MPs and others about issues that matter to them. But such contacts need to be conducted in a way that is open, transparent and accountable.

This is even more important where corporate lobbyists wielding significant economic power are concerned. It is wrong for relationships to develop between politicians and businesses that could lead to private interests being placed before the public one. It fosters cynicism and undermines public trust when a former Tory prime minister is revealed to have bombarded ministers with messages on behalf of a company in which he was closely involved. It is extremely concerning that one of the UK’s most successful civil servants, Jeremy Heywood, was also a key figure in the Greensill drama. Gone for now at least are the days when the civil service was thought to be above such goings-on.

It is hard to disagree with the editorial that the Prime Minister should indicate his acceptance of these recommendations now to avoid any suggestion of self-interest in delaying implementation.
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