UK Politics

Lobbying register 'should name ministers' spouses'

Houses of Parliament
Image caption All sorts of organisations lobby MPs

A register of lobbyists should make it clear whether they are married to ministers, says a standards watchdog.

The government is consulting on plans for a statutory register of lobbyists - people who try to influence politicians on behalf of a third party.

It says it should state which lobbyists used to be civil servants or ministers.

But the Committee on Standards in Public Life says it should include ministers' close relatives and all ex-MPs - even if they were not ministers.

Setting up a statutory register of lobbyists was in the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

But the issue has been given added urgency following a series of stories - including questions about the influence of Liam Fox's friend Adam Werritty and undercover recordings of public affairs company Bell Pottinger boasting of its power to influence Prime Minister David Cameron.

'Excellent contacts'

The committee's response to the consultation notes: "We suggest that the information about lobbyists in the register should also identify former legislators, even where they have not been ministers, and any individuals who are close relatives of ministers.

"There has been at least one case in the relatively recent past where the wife of a serving minister was employed as a lobbyist. Such employment should also be noted in the minister's register of interests."

In 2007, the Sunday Times reported that the previous year the then Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton's wife, Heather Rogers, was director of a firm which lobbied his department on behalf of a client which won contracts to retrain unemployed people.

Last year the Times reported that Chris Huhne's partner Carina Trimingham had contacted lobbying firms saying she had "excellent contacts... from Cabinet members to more junior ministers". The couple responded to the report by saying she would not have accepted work that touched on his departmental responsibilities.

The committee also presses the government to include all contact with ministers "which has a bearing on their official duties" on the register.

The government says meetings between ministers, businesses and other organisations are already published - and "duplicating" that information, by getting lobbying firms to register them separately, is "unnecessary".

But the committee says that list only covers official meetings - whereas lobbying "can also occur in a range of the private or political party contacts that ministers have with interested individuals".

It also suggests that, as the consultation paper says, the register aims to provide "authoritative and easily accessible information", people should not have to look at both the ministerial meetings list, and register, to get a "complete picture". Instead a single database should be considered for the information.

And it has a dig at the three main parties over party funding - another long-running contentious issue that has reared its head again in recent weeks after the Conservative co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas was taped by undercover reporters saying that big donations secured "premier league" access to senior ministers. He has since resigned.

The committee held an independent inquiry into the contentious issue for months last year, but its recommendation - that more public money should be used to reduce a reliance on "big money" donations - was met with a lukewarm response.

"Reform of the arrangements for financing political parties along the lines of the committee's recent report would be much more significant in reassuring the public that improper influence is not being exerted on policy decisions, than the proposal for a register of multi-client lobbying firms," the committee said.

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