Sitting on a Sofa with a Politician or Two: FOI and Lobbying

The resignation of Defence Secretary Liam Fox last Friday has revealed a network of ties between lobbyists and politicians. The Prime Minister has now pledged to create a register of lobbyists. According to the Guardian the links are extensive. An FOI ruling in 2008 seem to advance the cause of transparency and the site whoslobbying already tracks this information, though it has recently complained about lack of data.

Yet the problem is not just ‘formal’ meetings, as the Guardian article points out, but the private meetings and other informal ways of accessing politicians, such as use of Parliamentary passes. In 2007 FOI was used to reveal arms industry lobbyists apparently being given access to Parliament by peers. This may not yet be the end of the struggle over passes, as this recent request shows. Minister themsleves seem to be lobbying as well as being lobbied, according to this FOI relating to William Hague and unpaid tax bills for oil companies in Uganda, and charities close to Prince Charles have also been involved in access. The big question is whether more of the formal lobbying will become informal when the register is published.

A good day to bury news? More spads for the coalition

Yes Liam Fox has resigned after a week of speculation. But this has mostly gone unreported—from the FT’s Westminster blog two days ago: “Liberal Democrats will have a new special adviser covering the House of Lords and five more special advisers covering the work of government departments where the party has no ministerial support.”

See here. And here.*

*Shameless plug for previous blog post.

EDIT: since special advisers work for ministers, how can they cover departments where the Lib Dems have no ‘ministerial support’ (ie., DEFRA, DCMS, DFID, NIO, WO)? The answer is that they will probably be responsible to Nick Clegg.  It’s  worth noting that the Lib Dems now have a number of special advisers disproportionate to the number of seats won at the 2010 election. But on the other hand, as the Constitution Unit has suggested,** the Lib Dems are in dire need of extra support.