Following the Patrick Mercer scandal (and the House of Lords events) we’ve heard a lot about lobbying, and in some sections of the media, it’s being presented in wholly negative terms. Wicked and unprincipled industrial interests subvert democracy to undermine the interests of the people.
This is a huge misconception. The whole essence of representative democracy is that people, or groups of people, can make representations to their elected representatives. That’s what we’re here for. And if we’re making regulations that impact on industry, surely we have an obligation to talk to the industries involved, to ensure we understand what the impact of our decisions is likely to be.
I serve on the industry committee in Brussels, so of course I expect to hear from industries affected by our decisions. That doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with them – I use my own judgement. And we hear from those who take an alternative view. It’s not just industry. We hear from NGOs like Greenpeace, WWF and RSPCA. (Too many people think that these organisations are concerned with fluffy animals – but the RSPCA is mainly interested in persecuting people who pursue country sports, while WWF has become a head-banging campaigner for Climate Alarmism).
I well remember the chemicals directive REACH, where we had industrial lobbyists coming in through one door and animal welfare charities coming in through the other, but agreeing with each other that they didn’t want the extra animal testing proposed in the directive.
I have learned a huge amount about a great range of issues (especially energy, on which I am the UKIP Spokesman) from lobbyists, and I have had opportunities to visit energy-related installations from coal mines to nuclear power stations. I have tabled Written Questions to the Commission on behalf of industrial interests in the region. A recent example would be Welvent, an agricultural storage company in Lincoln
The problem is not lobbying (and the proposal for a lobbyists register would do little more than protect MPs and Peers from “stings” like the recent Panorama investigation). The problem is paid advocacy – that is, parliamentarians accepting money in exchange for promoting a particular industry agenda. That is clearly corrupt, and subverts the democratic process. I have asked many parliamentary questions, but I have never been offered, nor accepted, a brass farthing for doing so.
Or maybe I was offered, at least. Some years ago I received a call purporting to be from the office of a Russian businessman. Could I give him some advice about the European parliament? As I simple courtesy, I suggested that I could give him fifteen minutes if he chose to stop by my office. Several phone calls later, it seemed he wanted a longer-term and more formal relationship. Money wasn’t mentioned, but I think it was implied, and at that point I terminated the conversation.
Later, I found that several colleagues had received similar calls, and we guessed it was probably a media scam. Of course if an MEP had accepted such a deal, it would have been all over the papers. Sadly, however, they don’t publish a list of the good guys who turned them down, because good news is no news at all.