Lobbying and Paid Advocacy

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 22nd March 2010.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party 3:33 pm, 22nd March 2010

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about paid advocacy and lobbying. These issues are, rightly, of great concern to this House and to the public. The highest standards are expected of Ministers, former Ministers and Members of this House. The public are entitled to be completely confident that, when Ministers make a decision, it is made in the public interest and that there is no impropriety whatever.

Allegations have been made in respect of ministerial decisions in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in respect of food labelling, ministerial decisions in the Department for Transport in respect of National Express and the east coast main line, and a decision in the Department of Health in respect of that Department's advisory group for a programme board for people with mental health problems and learning difficulties in the criminal justice system.

I can tell the House that Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and in the Department for Transport are clear that those decisions were made properly in the public interest. Civil servants in the Department of Health who took the decisions on the advisory group are satisfied that they made the correct decision in the public interest and were not responding to any inappropriate or undue influence. In each of the cases raised, the Departments concerned have looked into the allegations and confirmed that they are satisfied that the decisions have been made without the impropriety alleged.

The Prime Minister today sought the Cabinet Secretary's assurance that the Departments had looked into those claims. The permanent secretaries made inquiries, as they would into any such serious allegations, and they have assured the Cabinet Secretary that they were satisfied that there had been no improper influence on Government policy or ministerial decisions. They are setting this out in public statements today.

I want to reassure hon. Members and the public that Ministers act in the public interest. They make decisions in the public interest. That is a fundamental part of the duties of their office. Ministers are bound by the ministerial code, which is based on an acceptance that ministerial office brings with it serious responsibility and a duty to the nation. The code was strengthened and updated in July 2007. Allegations of a breach of the ministerial code are investigated by Sir Philip Mawer, the independent adviser on ministerial standards. Ministers have to act within the ministerial code, and, if they do not, they cannot continue as Ministers. That requires them to act in the public interest and not in any private interest. From 1 October last year, the Government now publish, for the first time, on a quarterly basis, details of Ministers' meetings with outside interest groups. It is therefore fully transparent which organisations a Minister has met and what the meeting was about.

The position on former Ministers is that they must not take any proposed employment of any kind unless it has been approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments. That has been the position since 2007, when we strengthened the process by making it a requirement for two years after leaving ministerial office instead of one year, and making it a requirement to get approval rather than just to notify, as was previously the case. Former Ministers are also governed by the rules that apply to all Members of this House or, if they are in the House of Lords, the rules that apply to all peers.

Members of this House are required to abide by the code of conduct for Members of Parliament, which was reissued, updated and strengthened in June last year. Fundamental to the code of conduct is the requirement for hon. Members to abide by the seven principles of public life. The rules that embody those principles are stringent and extensive, and breach of the rules is dealt with, following a complaint or a self-referral, by an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and, if necessary, by action by the Standards and Privileges Committee. Any allegation that a Member of this House has broken the code of conduct will be thoroughly investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards so that the House can, if necessary, impose the appropriate sanction. We have high standards, clear rules and a clear remedy for breach, and that is how it should be.

Members of Parliament are paid a salary. If an hon. Member takes on any other work for which they are paid, they are, since June 2009, required to register every payment made to them, including the amount and what they were paid for. That ensures that, if any hon. Member is getting paid over and above their MP's salary, the public know who is paying them and for what. Failure to register a payment is a breach of the code of conduct.

The rules relating to civil servants state that they are required to abide by the civil service code, which has now being put on a statutory footing in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. Breach of the code is dealt with by the Cabinet Secretary and the civil service commissioners.

I turn now to those who seek to be MPs. Following the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government have issued guidance to all candidates standing at the next general election about the voluntary disclosure of their financial interests, including their tax status.

Following the report of the Public Administration Committee in January last year, the Government have been working with the lobbying industry to establish a register of lobbyists. Building on that work, and in the light of the latest allegations, we think that that should be put on a statutory footing. There should be a legal register of lobbyists, which would require people to register as lobbyists and to register the identity of the clients on whose behalf they were acting. This is necessary to give the public confidence that that is the law and that it will be complied with. I commend the statement to the House.

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Photo of George Young George Young Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for an advance copy of her statement. However, it leaves a number of unresolved issues. The fact that the Leader of the House has had to come to the House to explain the situation is a clear indication of the seriousness of these allegations, which threaten to become, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron warned, the next big scandal in Westminster. Does she agree that the sight of former Cabinet Ministers offering to lobby Government on behalf of corporate interests for private gain, in one case as a kind of "cab for hire" for up to £5,000 per day, will have deeply appalled the public and further undermined trust in politics at a moment when we all hoped that we were turning the corner.

The public will now expect the Government to treat these revelations with the seriousness they deserve, but rather than clarifying the facts, Downing street appears to be doing the opposite. Does the Leader of the House not recognise that the Prime Minister's decision to rule out a proper inquiry before the television programme has even gone out was simply the wrong response, particularly as the Secretary of State for Transport has just confirmed in another place that he spoke to Mr. Byers about the east coast franchise? Does she not agree with me that the allegation that public policy was in some way altered by ex-Ministers lobbying for corporate clients to the possible disadvantage of the taxpayer and the consumer needs to be fully and impartially investigated and that the Cabinet Secretary should carry out an appropriate review, as requested by my right hon. Friend Mr. Maude?

The House will have heard what the Leader of the House said about the internal departmental review, but does she not agree with her colleague, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, who said on the radio at 1 o'clock that

"the Cabinet Secretary will want to assure himself that nothing has gone wrong at the Departmental end".

Should not the results of this review be put in the public domain? In ruling out an inquiry, has the Prime Minister followed due process? Who exactly has he consulted in the course of the last 24 hours to satisfy himself so quickly as to the veracity or otherwise of these claims?

Does the Leader of the House recall that I asked her for a debate on the Public Administration Committee's report into lobbying back in October at my first business questions? With the benefit of hindsight, does she regret never finding time for that debate? Why did the Government drag their feet on this report for months? The Committee published its original report in December 2008, but the Government did not respond for almost a year, instead of the recommended six weeks. The original PAC report clearly stated that

"with the rules as loosely and as variously interpreted as they currently are, former Ministers in particular appear to be able to use with impunity contacts they built up as public servants to further a private interest."

In reply, the Government did not agree with

"the general assertion that former Ministers in particular are able to use improperly and with impunity contacts they have built up while in office".

Does she now regret that response and, in paragraph 31, rejecting statutory regulation, which she accepted a few moments ago?

Moving forward, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree with me that the advisory committee on public appointments should be placed on a statutory basis? If she does, what explanation does she have for the Government not supporting the amendment to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill tabled on 2 March in my name and that of my hon. Friend Mr. Tyrie, which would have done exactly that? Does she agree that we need to review the two-year time limit for ex-ministerial appointments, giving a longer horizon than is currently the case?

The country will expect the Government to deal with these issues thoroughly and promptly. If they are not finalised before Dissolution, does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it will be the first responsibility of an incoming Government to instruct the Prime Minister's adviser on the ministerial code to undertake a full review of this episode so that Government can learn the lessons of what has gone wrong and then change the rules to prevent a recurrence of this scandal in the future?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The shadow Leader of the House referred to the "cab for hire" quote. I think I can say on behalf of all hon. Members that that is not what anyone in this House of Commons wants to see, and it is certainly not what the public want to see. The matter is to be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The right hon. Gentleman said that public policy had been altered in respect of transport. I refer him to what I said in my statement, and to today's statement by the Secretary of State for Transport in the House of Lords. Public policy was not altered in any way. It is absolutely refuted and strongly denied that there was any alteration of public policy. The Secretary of State for Transport said that

"there is no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that Stephen Byers came to any arrangement with me on any matter relating to National Express."

He went on to say:

"I told Mr. Byers that such a move would undermine the rail franchise system and would not be in the best interests of taxpayers."

Further to that, the permanent secretary to the Department for Transport has said:

"I have looked into the allegations made over the weekend about improper influence by former ministers on departmental policy making and decision making in relation to National Express rail franchise business. Having made inquiries, I am satisfied that there was no impropriety on the part of ministers or officials in the Department. The Secretary of State for Transport has also made a statement in the House of Lords which rejected any allegation of impropriety."

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why we had not found time for a debate on the register. We found time to debate a motion that I had tabled and to which the House agreed, although it was not without controversy. We found time to ensure that information about every penny earned by Members of Parliament over and above their pay as Members would be available, so that the public would be fully in the picture in regard to who was paying Members of Parliament over and above their salaries, and for what.

We found time to amend the code for Ministers to ensure that, without waiting for Freedom of Information Act requests-incidentally, it was this Government who introduced the Freedom of Information Act-Ministers must publish quarterly information about all organisations that they have met, and specify the subject of those meetings. That will now be in the public domain. We also found time to amend and tighten the rules relating to former Ministers, extending the one year that had obtained previously to two years, and introducing a requirement for not just notification but approval before any job is undertaken by a former Minister.

I understand that there was no proposal for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments-if that is the committee that the right hon. Gentleman meant-to be put on a statutory footing by any Member in any part of the House during the passage of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. However, it is worth looking into. The current arrangement appears to be working well at present, but if hon. Members want that- [Interruption.] Well, we will consider it.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of her statement. However, I think it very unlikely that it would have been made today had it not been for the revelations in the press.

The depressing fact is that the House of Commons always has to react to what happens, rather than taking the necessary action in advance. We did the same in the case of the expenses system. We did not react in time, and we have seen the consequences. We have done the same in relation to party political funding: we have not taken the appropriate steps, and we see what is happening as a result. Now there is the issue of lobbying, which we all knew would eventually hit the newspapers.

What will our constituents think when they read that right hon. and hon. Members of this House think that they should be paid, on top of their parliamentary salary, more for two days' work than a pensioner gets in a whole year? That is the reality of the situation. And what is that for? It is for asking a few cosy questions of their chums in government or, in the case of Margaret Moran, of what she describes as the "girls' club"-I am not sure what that comprises. We are talking about questions being put not on behalf of constituents or the national public interest, but for the partisan commercial interest of whoever is prepared to pay the cab fare, and that cannot be right.

On the individual decisions, I note, as the right hon. and learned Lady has done, that the Transport Secretary has just answered an urgent question in another place. That was done in another place because the Transport Secretary cannot come here to answer elected Members on a key matter of public interest, and neither can the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills-neither of them are Members who have been elected to their current office. In order to dispel any lingering doubts, will the Leader of the House arrange for every record of meetings on this matter, as well as letters, e-mails or any other contacts, to be made openly available so that we can judge whether there has been any influence on policy?

The Leader of the House referred to the ministerial code and the work of Sir Philip Mawer, who was asked to investigate. We must remember that he can investigate only at the request of the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister is the only one who governs the ministerial code. I have very little confidence in the Prime Minister in this respect, because I happen to know that my hon. Friend Norman Baker has sent three letters to him with complaints about a former Minister who may have breached the ministerial code and he has not yet received a reply. So what confidence can we have in that code? Should the code be adapted so that Ministers and civil servants are required not even to entertain approaches from Members of this House if they are made on behalf of commercial interests-if they are made on behalf of paid advocacy? There is no reason why Members should have access to Ministers on that basis; they are not working on behalf of their constituents, so why should they have that privileged position?

The Leader of the House has said that she is interested now-suddenly-in what the Public Administration Committee said about the statutory register for lobbyists, but she has had that report for some time and parliamentary vehicles were available for that to have been enacted. Why was it not? We have had plenty of time to debate lots of other things, so why did we not have a debate and an amendment-a Government proposal-on this subject? Why did she not accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend David Howarth to the Companies Act 2006, which would have required companies to register when they decide to hire a Member of this place in order to do their business? Why did the Government resist that amendment and not let it through?

The fact is that we are tougher on the lowliest parish council member than we are on Members of this House. It seems to me that paid advocacy in Parliament for commercial or partial interests is not compatible with the duties of a Member of this House.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The hon. Gentleman says that we are taking action after the event. I have set out the action that we have already taken to make sure that details of meetings with Ministers, which previously were completely secret and not known to the public, are all routinely put in the public domain. I have explained to him that we have taken action to extend the period of time in which former Ministers must seek permission for a job they do. I have also set out to the House that whereas previously Members could be paid by companies or any organisation and it was shrouded in secrecy, we brought a motion before this House that now requires Members to register all the income they receive for work done in addition to their work as Members of this House. I ask him to recognise that we are not taking action after the event; we have taken action before the event. The allegation about my right hon. Friend Mr. Byers will be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

As far as the civil service code is concerned, we have put that on a statutory footing. As for people being paid on top of their salary, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and the step that we have taken is to ensure that instead of its being shrouded in secrecy, it is known to the public. He should recognise that the House took that decision. Previously, that information was shrouded in secrecy and now all members of the public can see it.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to put in the public domain information about meetings held by the Transport Secretary prior to the National Express decision. Because since 2007 we have decided automatically to make public the meetings that Ministers have, that information should already be in the public domain for decisions that were made in July and November last year. The hon. Gentleman is asking me to put information in the public domain-not only the fact of the meeting but what the meeting was about must be put in the public domain.

The hon. Gentleman says that we are suddenly interested in the report of the Public Administration Committee. That is not the case-

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

So you are not interested then?

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v

Hello Mr. Bone, Why does...

Submitted by victor deMouchet-Nokes Continue reading (and 1 more annotation)

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

No, what has happened is that there have been ongoing discussions about establishing a register of lobbyists so that there can be more transparency about who is acting on whose behalf. Because of the public concern that has arisen out of the most recent allegations, we think that it is right to move that forward on to a statutory footing to reassure the public that there is a statutory register. The law will require those who are lobbyists to register the fact that they are lobbyists as well as who their clients are.

Mr. Heath asked why companies should not have to register when they hire an MP. I would answer that it is the responsibility of the MP to register that they have been hired. That is certainly an important first step, which did not exist before last June, when it came into effect. We have just started to register that information.

I would share with the hon. Gentleman-I think all hon. Members would do so, too-a sense that we do not want anybody in this House to bring the House into disrepute. We do not want anybody to bring Government into disrepute or to throw a cloud of suspicion over a Government who are acting in the public interest. That is why it is important for me to be so emphatic, so that we reassure the public that whatever actions have been taken by individual Members of this House, they will be investigated. I can assure hon. Members that when it comes to decision making by Ministers, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills or the Secretary of State for Transport, they have taken those decisions as Ministers of the Crown in the public interest.

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Several hon. Members:

rose -

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Although I recognise the steps that have already been taken and what my right hon. and learned Friend has set out, may I ask her this question? Why should any hon. Member be involved in lobbying for commercial interests? No one has been elected to do that and it is understandable that if we are to continue to clean up Parliament, such lobbying should be totally outlawed. There is no justification for it and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend recognises the strength of public opinion on this issue.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I certainly do. I think that I have made my views on this known to the House on a number of occasions. I know that my hon. Friend will be aware of them. It was a very important step for the public-who, after all, are the people who vote for us to be in this House of Commons-to know whether a Member of Parliament whom they have been sending to the House of Commons is doing work that is different from or over and above the work that they were elected to do. Their constituents should know that. Before we took that step, it was not possible for the public to know that. The fact that it has made a difference has been attested to by the fact that a number of Opposition Members, including possibly some shadow Cabinet members, have decided to relinquish outside interests rather than fully registering them. It shows that it has made an important difference.

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Photo of Peter Tapsell Peter Tapsell Conservative, Louth and Horncastle

Despite the seriousness of the allegations levelled against the Privy Counsellors, does the Leader of the House agree that they pale into insignificance when compared with assertions that Mr. Blair has been seeking to make money for himself through ventures in Iraq of all places?

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The Member in question is not the first man to indulge in boastful fantasies while talking to a young woman, but should not this shameful episode convince the House of the need to follow the fine example of the Public Administration Committee, which united to make an all-party, tough recommendation to make sure that MPs could never again be for hire?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I agree with the sentiments of my hon. Friend, and I think that important steps forward were taken by having full transparency. The register of lobbyists will also take things forward on a statutory basis.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party

Why does it always take a crisis before the Government ever take any action on preserving the integrity of the House? With an election just weeks away, why will the Leader of the House not finally agree to have a fair, impartial and independent inquiry into all this?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I would respond to the hon. Lady's question in two ways. First, I do not want to have to reiterate to her all the action that we have already taken to toughen up the system and to make sure that it is transparent, that there are clear rules and that those rules are enforced. I have explained to the House that, in respect of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside, there is going to be an investigation into his conduct by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. If my right hon. Friend's conduct is found to have fallen short of the principles of public life, set out in the code of practice for Members of Parliament, further action will be taken. That investigation is under way.

As far as the question now is concerned, in respect of the decisions taken by the Government, as I said in my statement, the Prime Minister has sought the Cabinet Secretary's assurance that Departments have looked into the claims. One would not expect them to wait after allegations of such seriousness had been made. They looked into these matters right away and, as impartial civil servants, they have given their view that there was

"no improper influence on Government policy and decisions."

I hope that the hon. Lady and the public will be reassured about this.

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Photo of Colin Burgon Colin Burgon Labour, Elmet

Is the Leader of the House aware of the revulsion that is felt by many Labour MPs about the attitude of so-called Labour colleagues? Surely, the answer to all this is to cut the Gordian knot and make sure that all MPs, especially Labour MPs, have no outside work at all when they are MPs. On a lighter note, will she at least say that this could mark the final nail in the coffin of the new Labour project?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

If my hon. Friend looks at the previous Register of Members' Interests, he will find that by far the most registered interests for people earning outside Parliament were not from those on our side of the House. I did not make that point in my statement, but he has provoked me to explain what the reality was. That is why we have argued for greater transparency.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Are we not seeing a tired, worn-out Government who are mired in sleaze? We cannot go on like this; it must be time for change.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I strongly refute the allegation that there has been any impropriety on behalf of Ministers. I have already referred the House to what has been said by the Department for Transport, and I can refer the House to what was said by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The permanent secretary has said:

"I have looked into the allegations made over the weekend about former ministerial influence on policy-making. I am satisfied in the light of these investigations that there has been no improper influence on officials in my Department."

In addition, I can report to the House that the Business Secretary has said that he has not spoken to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside about food labelling regulations, and that he would not expect to.

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Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, on many occasions over the past many years, I have raised the question of Members of Parliament serving two masters and taking money from outside? There is only one solution to the matter, and it is that all Members of Parliament, on all sides of the House, must have one job and one job only-serving their constituents. Is it not high time that we put that in the manifesto and presented it to the people? Opposition Members would treat such a pledge in the manner that we expect, because they have so many lobbyists. No one starves on £60,000 a year, so let's get on with it.

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P

Very true! There should also be a minimum number of days that MP's sit in the House. Very often the Public see part of a debate on TV with only a handfull of MP's present.

Submitted by Paul Rutherford

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's sentiments, and he and I have discussed this on many occasions. I think that the public ought to be absolutely confident that their Member of Parliament is acting in their interests. They need to know who Members are taking money from, and for what.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

If there is any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, that is something that the police will decide independently to investigate. It is not for me as Leader of the House, or indeed for Ministers, to direct police investigations. It is for the police to work out what they want to investigate, and to take that forward with operational independence.

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Photo of Gordon Prentice Gordon Prentice Labour, Pendle

We on this side of the House are all scandalised by the behaviour of Mr. Byers. It was a disgrace, and absolutely shaming. I want to congratulate my Friend on saying at the Dispatch Box that the Government-hopefully the next Government-will bring forward a mandatory register of lobbyists. However, I did not hear the Gentleman who speaks for the Opposition commit his party to bringing in a mandatory register.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

We will put the mandatory register proposal in our manifesto, and we hope that all parties support it. A reading of the previous Registers of Members' Interests shows that large sums of money have been taken, overwhelmingly by Opposition Members. They held something like 70 per cent. of directorships, whereas something like 30 per cent. were held by Members on this side. We should recognise that the rules that we have brought in are important for all Members of this House.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

But on what terms are briefings given to former Secretaries of State about future Government policy? An example would be briefings given by the Ministry of Defence to the former Secretary of State for Defence. It cannot be within the terms of such briefings that they are available for use for commercial gain by private companies, as the former Defence Secretary himself has alleged.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

Briefings are not given to former Ministers unless they have a particular responsibility to carry out on behalf of the Department or of the Government. If they have such a responsibility, they carry it out in the public interest, and not for any private interests.

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Photo of John Grogan John Grogan Labour, Selby

The noble Lord Whitty recently attacked the influence of lobbying companies representing producer interests in securing important amendments to the Digital Economy Bill. Given that, would it not be an affront to our democracy if that Bill, which has been so heavily influenced by lobbyists, were to be rushed through its Second Reading on Easter Tuesday-possibly as the Prime Minister is on his way to the Palace to seek the Dissolution of Parliament-and then rushed through its final stages in the wash-up?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Digital Economy Bill is of great concern not just to lobbyists, but to consumers and providers of digital services. We will look for an opportunity to bring it back to the House for debate. There is no intention to rush it through, and certainly no intention to serve the interests of lobbyists. The intention is to serve the interests of this country.

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J

Harman is ignoring the massive grassroots opposition to this bill, which gives the government disproportionate powers that can be used against innocent people, and threatens community services such as open wifi. See:...

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Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

Can the Leader of the House say whether the Prime Minister spoke to the Cabinet Secretary or even the Business Secretary before ruling out a Government investigation?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Prime Minister today sought the Cabinet Secretary's assurance that Departments had looked into the claims. Inquiries had already been made, as they would following any such serious allegations. As soon as such an issue is raised, the relevant Departments will immediately look into them. The relevant permanent secretaries at the Department of Health, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Department for Transport have assured the Cabinet Secretary that they are satisfied that there has been no improper influence on Government policy or decisions. That is their assurance, which they are setting out in public statements later today. That is the information that the Prime Minister sought.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Given that the apparent defence of Mr. Byers to these very serious allegations is that he is a liar, does the right hon. and learned Lady regard him as a fit and proper person for elevation to the House of Lords, which presumably is what he is looking for, come the next election?

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Conservative, North Essex

Did Lord Adonis inform the permanent secretary as soon as he had been approached by the right hon. Member for North Tyneside, who was representing the interests of National Express? Is not the real problem that we are relying entirely on a Minister's word that the ministerial code has been complied with? Who enforces the ministerial code? Is it not Ministers themselves and the Prime Minister? Is there not a case for putting the ministerial code for Ministers and former Ministers on to a statutory footing?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Secretary of State for Transport has answered questions on precisely that issue in the House of Lords today. The hon. Gentleman will know that the foremost responsibility of a Minister is to Parliament. Ministers are bound not to mislead Parliament. The Secretary of State for Transport has answered questions at the Dispatch Box. He told the House of Lords that he has acted with total propriety at all times. He has given that absolute assurance to the House of Lords, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will accept that.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

In her statement the Leader of the House said that partially to avoid "any inappropriate or undue influence . . . details of Ministers' meetings with outside interest groups and individuals" are published. Given that we are told, and we see on the television, that Charlie Whelan has regular access to 10 Downing street and is alleged to have a desk in 10 Downing street, can the Leader of the House assure us that any meeting between the Prime Minister and Charlie Whelan is published?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman about the situation in relation to the Prime Minister's diary. I know that if Ministers meet representatives of organisations, those meetings are reportable on a quarterly basis.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The right hon. and learned Lady will know that I am a practising barrister. I have always declared that and, as such, I have always defended the right of hon. Members to have declared external interests. I make no comment about the three Members referred to in The Sunday Times article because I have no special knowledge at all, but what surely would be wrong and very difficult to justify would be for an hon. Member to use their position as a Member of Parliament to perform parliamentary functions in return for a specific payment. What would be quite impossible to justify would be doing that without declaring the fact. Is that not where the evil lies?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I think that that would count as paid advocacy. No one can be paid for taking a particular action in this House, whether it is making a speech or tabling a question. We outlawed paid advocacy, but I agree that, notwithstanding what my hon. Friend Mr. Skinner said, the public distinguish between people who pursue what was their profession before they entered the House, perhaps as a doctor or even as a lawyer, and people who take on commercial interests once they have entered the House. That is the big dividing line about which the public are concerned. Notwithstanding that, it is important that all payments are revealed, including payments to those who sit as judges on the bench and those who act as lawyers.

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Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

May I reiterate to my right hon. and learned Friend that the overwhelming majority of constituents and, I think, Members here believe that being a Member is a seven-day-a-week job, 52 weeks a year? There is simply no room for other employment, and it should be outlawed. Will she look at the attendance of some of our colleagues who are subject to criticism? They do not turn up to vote-some of them, I forget what they look like. I believe that we should work right up until the final whistle blows on 9 August, or whenever it is, and until we reach that stage everyone should be here every day.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

For those hon. Members who are standing for re-election, it is their constituents who will decide what is appropriate based on what they have done; it is their constituents who will judge their record of attendance and what they have said while they have been here; and it is their constituents, too, who will judge the work that they have done in their constituencies, because hon. Members work not only in this House, but in their constituencies. Ultimately, the electors will have the final say, and rightly so.

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Photo of John Hemming John Hemming Liberal Democrat, Birmingham, Yardley

A few years ago a lobbyist offered me a sum of money to make a speech in support of redundancies at the National Blood Service, which I found very strange, but because the speech would have taken place outside, not inside, the House, I could not get the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to intervene. In reviewing the rules, could we ensure that MPs are able to report lobbyists who ask for improper actions outside, as well as inside, the House?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

I think that any money that is paid to Members for what they do inside or, indeed, outside the House-every single pound that is paid in that respect-has got to be registered so that the public can see and the voters can make their judgment.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

Can the Leader of the House inform hon. Members whether the Prime Minister spoke to the Transport Secretary before ruling out an inquiry into all those shady dealings?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

The Prime Minister sought assurances and received those assurances, but, obviously, permanent secretaries and the Cabinet Secretary would keep all those things under consideration. However, the Prime Minister sought the assurances and received them.

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Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Independent, Castle Point

This is another low ebb for the House-as bad as cash for questions and 1997. Does the Leader of the House think that it is perhaps time for more Independents in this House?

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The Leader of the House has been very precise in her choice of words. She said that the civil servants advised that there had been no improper influence. By inference, there was influence, therefore, and it was proper, so will she tell the House the extent of that influence?

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Minister of State (Government Equalities Office), The Leader of the House of Commons , Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Party Chair, Labour Party, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party

It is an unusual accusation-that I have been precise in the imprecision of my words. I have simply tried to assure hon. Members, including the hon. Gentleman. People would be rightly very troubled if they thought, and were right in their fear, that massive and important decisions such as those on food labelling and the distribution of franchises for rail operators were made because a Minister listened to a former colleague who was being paid. The public would be rightly horrified-we all would be-and I want to assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that that was not the basis on which those decisions were taken. If there is a question of wrongdoing by those other than Ministers, such as those who are being investigated, that is not a matter for me. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that there was no impropriety or undue influence when those very big and important decisions were taken.

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