Allegations against members

Lord Soley

I am not going to comment on the allegations against the four Members named in the press as they have yet to state their defence but already immense damage has been done to the reputation of the House. So while we wait for further reform of the Lords (which in my view ought to be incremental) we must act to clarify the rules on lobbying.

The key for me is transparency. If everybody knows what you are doing for an organisation, how much you are being paid and what the organisation/s are then people including colleagues in the House will make their own judgements on the value of your comments and actions. I also advise those thinking of acting for an organisation to only do so if they have relevant knowledge and experience or a clear agreement or passion for what the organisation stands for or an interest in the subject area. For example I would be unlikely to take a lobbying position for the fashion industry not because it does anything wrong but because I have no great interest in it as my family will confirm!

I have asked the library of the House to prepare a short paper on what rules apply in other Parliaments. In my view it would be a mistake to have no lobbying at all. Good lobbying can be very helpful in achieving good legislation but the transparency rule is important. 

Lobbying is hard to define in a precise way. Is a practising lawyer a lobbyist when they speak on the need to change legislation?The House of Lords would be a very odd place if we said that all the lawyers,doctors, businessmen etc had to give up their paid jobs because they were members of the House.

 Lawyers have a particularly odd position in this respect. They are very adept in both the Lords and Commons at amending legislation which they then use in the courts. Would our legislation be  better  if that wasn’t allowed? I don’t think so but they don’t always state their interest as clearly as they should largely because they take it for granted. Should people who work for the NHS not amend NHS legislation? Again, I think that would be a mistake.

I hope the result of this sad affair will be an expectation of transparency and significant punishments including exclusion from the House where the rules are breached. In the meantime we need to think hard about what other rules we need.

Two final general points. Some comments on these posts query whether governments should be able to appoint ministers who are not members of the Commons and not currently members of the Lords.  I think they should.  All the significant government posts in the US are by appointment. Our system is different because the executive is drawn from the legislature but I don’t think that should mean you can’t have people brought in  from outside. Variety is the spice of life!

I like the point made by my colleague Baroness Murphy in response to Lady Tizzy about slavery but even this has a complex side. The anti slavery group in Parliament supported the illegal activity of the Royal Navy in entering the harbours of other nations and burning the slave boats and intercepting slavers on the high seas – actions that were declared unlawful by a number of courts including the House of Lords. The RN got round this difficulty with an interesting example of spin (Yes, spin has been with us since Cleopatra set her lovers against each other!) they simply redefined slavers as pirates and carried on breaking the law – Alaistair Campbell eat your heart out!

8 comments for “Allegations against members

  1. Bedd Gelert
    29/01/2009 at 2:32 pm

    The problem is that as soon as dosh is involved, the dynamics of debate change, whether the interest is declared or not.

    And there are many people in this country with an awful lot of dosh, and interests to protect. I mentioned in a previous post about Iain Dale who went on a trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories as a guest of the ‘Conservative Friends of Israel’.

    He asked us to believe that because his trip was ‘paid for’ that he couldn’t be bought for such a trifling matter – after all he wasn’t getting any cash. But this is a fatuous argument.

    He has been speaking in a very pro-Israeli fashion, which he might well have done otherwise. But for all his faults, he is a relatively polite and fair-minded chap, and I get the feeling he is now rather less backward about coming forward in Israel’s defence and whilst he is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, I do get the feeling he feels ‘honour-bound’ not to criticise the IDF.

    Do you really expect us to believe Labour policy in future when they say one thing and do another on the Kyoto treaty ? You are probably going to try the old “I’m only supporting things I believe in..” in the same way as those imbeciles who say ‘I would have bought this BMW anyway – I’m not influenced by advertising in any way.”

    Many people believe that, but it doesn’t stop companies like WPP and Publicis and Saatchi investing millions [billions?] annually in advertising and PR. You say that Parliament needs experts ? What is your expertise in air travel or transport, precisely ?

    Were you once a pilot ? A director for BAA ? Some form of logistics expert for Eurostar ? Did you have your own couriering consignment business, or maybe you were an import / export agent ?

    Or is it really just a case that you are lobbying for something you really really believe in – in which case, why not just do it for free ??

  2. Bedd Gelert
    29/01/2009 at 3:41 pm
  3. ladytizzy
    29/01/2009 at 3:51 pm

    To repeat the much used quote, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?” and I’m not aiming this at you, Clive, unlike some journo’s.

    There is a fundamental point being missed in all these discussions. For you, this is normal practice. For me, it isn’t.

    By all means make your normal practice transparent, like I already have to in my business undertakings. If you want to host a do in the HoL for a cause close to your heart and get some money from those who are in a lobbyist’s little black book, I would say that this is a use of your privileged position and requires at least the same level of scrutiny that the BBC and Sky undertook in the recent DEC appeal.

    The rest of us run marathons, sit in a bath of baked beans, and buy raffle tickets to raise money for their cause. Sara Payne had to endure the murder of her daughter and I congratulate her for the tenacity to get her voice heard and be officially recognised. Even so, she needed the backing of the media to get her message across.

    So, please explain – what is ‘good’ lobbying?

  4. 31/01/2009 at 11:06 pm

    If the Government can get rid of the Hereditary Peers, then “IT” or a Conservative Government can get rid or Life Peers. No Parliament can bind.

  5. Bedd Gelert
    01/02/2009 at 10:21 am

    Anne, You are right. What I am astonished about with this whole affair is that while we are hearing a lot of ‘this is a bad business’ style muttering, it is exactly the same muttering that was heard when Jeffrey Archer was banged up, and Conrad Black’s misdemeanours came to light.

    The old ‘elephants making love’ adage comes to mind – an awful lot of noise, but it takes an awful long time for any result to be apparent.

    I think the Lords have seriously and severely underestimated the scale of public disquiet, because the timing is very bad here. Look at the scale of protest, not just in Europe, but across the continent against our ‘lords and masters’.

    My belief is that the House of Lords are hoping that with a bit of ‘naming and shaming’ and slight tweaking of the rules they will be able to carry on as before. I can assure you they will not if the public have anything to do with it.

    The Lords now have a stark choice. Evolution or Revolution.

    Either they act swiftly, strongly and decisively to effect REAL change to stamp out this blatant abuse, or they will face the real spectre of abolition, as the Government of the day lose patience with foot-dragging and intransigence. Think this will not happen ??

    Look at what happened to the so-called ‘powerful tobacco lobby’. Now much denuded of their influence, and with bans on advertising and promotion of tobacco, and bans on smoking in public places.

    You could soon be as reviled as smoking seems to be these days.
    Be afraid, be very afraid – and don’t say you were not warned…

  6. Clive Soley
    01/02/2009 at 5:57 pm

    As I said on many occasions when I was an MP, Heathrow will go the way of the London docks unless it is allowed the extra runway.

    I do feel strongly about it because I represented a west London constituency and I know that the impact of decline or closure will be very serious for jobs and prosperity. I also know that opinion in the area is polarised with roughly equal number supporting expansion as oppose it. Consider this, if I did the job for nothing, which I could, then I wouldn’t have to declare anything! So you wouldn’t know I was “working” for the coalition!

    Many organisations provide briefings and draft amendments for MP’s/Peers on a purely voluntary basis. Organisations like Greenpeace as well as commercial ones. This is NOT wrong. But because it isn’t declared people are unaware of it. Organisations like Greenpeace are very well funded and not at all shy about lobbying.

    The Press Complaints Commission lobbied very hard to prevent their files being seen under the Freedom of Information Act. Sadly, they succeeded. Nothing was declared though!

    I repeat transparency is key. When I was Shadow Housing Minister many years ago I complained because I had to rely on experts in the world of housing because at that time MP’s had very limited resources for research. Things are better now but legislators do need lobbyists and the various companies/organisations to brief them

    Transparency tells everyone what it is you’re doing, who you are doing it for and how much you get. Good!

    PS Lady Tizzy – what does sitting in a bath full of baked beans do to your skin? Do you turn a darker shade of pink and did you REALLY do it!?

    PPS Were you sponsored by Heinz?!

  7. Bedd Gelert
    02/02/2009 at 10:29 am
  8. 04/02/2009 at 1:22 pm

    The sad truth of the matter is that whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, whether or not future interactions in the Lords are wholly commendable, the public perception left by this scandal would last years.

    Even now, after the Cash for Questions scandal[1] and the Scott Report[2] I don’t trust the Conservative Party. Admittedly after the scandals the Labour Party has had in the Commons I don’t trust them either.

    I know it’s unfair but it’s human nature to remember the bad things an individual or an organisation has committed but not the good.

    [1] From Lord Norton’s blog post, I gather that the Cash for Questions scandal broke in 1994.
    [2] I know that had to be before the summer of 1996 because I glanced at as part of my research for a dissertation I was writing that year.

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