MP offer to breach lobbying laws exposes need for urgent reform
An undercover investigation resulting in a Conservative MP offering to breach lobbying rules by offering services in return for payment highlights the urgent need to reform those rules, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR).
As part of their investigation, The Times filmed Scott Benton MP offering to lobby ministers and promising to leak a white paper on gambling reform before it was published. MPs are banned from acting as paid lobbyists or offering advice on parliamentary matters.
Following a number of high-profile stories regarding parliamentarians or former parliamentarians taking payment to lobby the government, there have been several reports and inquiries recommending reforming lobbying laws. To date, the government has taken no action. The CIPR's Lobbying For Good Lobbying campaign wants to see lobbying laws that ensure greater transparency and openness. The Institute is hosting a briefing day in Parliament for MPs on April 25 and is asking people to write to their MP to ask them to attend.
It is hugely frustrating to read of yet another MP who apparently believes they can use their position to act on behalf of an external body for payment. The rules that are in place and the penalties for breaching them are either not clear enough or not tough enough. The CIPR is clear; parliamentarians should not be paid to work as lobbyists but the scandals of the last couple of years have resulted in insufficient changes to lobbying laws and, for some MPs, damaging headlines alone have not provided enough of a deterrent to stop them offering their services.
The public deserves better than to have to rely on investigative journalism to expose these examples of the rules being breached time and time again. We need a better system of transparency to restore some of the serious damage this is having on trust in Parliament. I hope MPs will join us on April 25 for our Parliamentary event to discuss this topic further.
Mr Benton also appears to have a naive view of how professional lobbying operates or has presented an inaccurate picture of it for his own gain. Public relations firms are highly skilled at lobbying effectively and strategically. It is the job of politicians to listen to voices across policy discussions, not just those of colleagues that happen to be within earshot. This country has moved on from the days of who-you-know-politics and it is frankly unethical and disingenuous to the public as well as to businesses who have a legitimate reason to have their voice heard by government to be told otherwise. Mr Benton should apologise and consider his position.
About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations
Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the world's only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners with over 10,000 members.
The CIPR advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).