Comment: Who let the lobbyists in?

The release of information on parliamentary rooms booked out by MPs for entertaining provides a valuable insight into the space between politics and the private sector.

By Tamasin Cave

Now we know the extent to which MPs are facilitating access to the House of Commons facilities for commercial lobbyists, as information from the Commons banqueting office is made public.

The rules state that dining rooms must be ‘sponsored’ by an MP on behalf of an outside interest, with the MP in attendance, although David Cameron has already been pulled up on this.

Among those consultant lobbying firms out to impress their clients – almost treating the Commons as a private dinning room – are Edelman, which hosted seven functions in 18 months; Lexington Communications – two lunches, a tea and a dinner in 2005-06; and Political Intelligence, which notched up ten dinners and receptions in just 26 months. Two of these were hosted by former Lib Dem MP Richard Allan, who stood down in 2005 before becoming a lobbyist for Political Intelligence.

Other lobbying firms using parliament’s facilities include Citigate Public Affairs (a reception for 80); Connect Public Affairs (tea for 50); Grayling Political Strategy (a reception for 100 on the Terrace) and Weber Shandwick (registered as Weber Sandwich), which held a dinner for 14 on March 23rd 2006, courtesy of Labour MP Jamie Reed.

Until his election in 2005 Reed was working for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL), a Weber Shandwick client. Earlier in the month – after the government announced an energy review in early 2006 that reintroduced the prospect of new nuclear power – the pro-nuclear MP hosted a large reception for another lobbying firm heavily involved in the push for nuclear power in the UK, Sovereign Strategy.

MPs sometimes have a clear material interest in the groups they are hosting – something allowed under Commons rules as long as it is declared. Ian Taylor, for instance, held a reception on September 25th 2008 for Avanti Communications Group of which he is a paid director. The reception was held three days after Taylor enjoyed “a night’s accommodation and a day’s shooting” from Avanti Communications. Tim Yeo’s sponsoring of an event for the Environmental Investment Network has also raised eyebrows on the web.

How much more do we need to know of the lobbying industry’s activities before we demand full transparency from the industry – as recommended by the Public Administrations Select Committee in 2009 and rejected late last year by the government?

Tamasin Cave of SpinWatch is coordinator for the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, a coalition of civil society groups campaigning for the introduction of lobbying transparency regulations in the UK.

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