Greensill 2.0: Is the next lobbying scandal brewing in the House of Lords?

Tara Azar, former Student Placement

Posted on the 16th April 2021

With the Greensill scandal exposing the close connections between government and lobbyists, attention is now turning to the root causes of murky lobbying.

In the House of Lords, peers are allowed to give passes to their secretaries, researchers, drivers and carers. However, the Mirror has found that the list of passholders sponsored by Peers includes more than 100 people who have declared interests as lobbyists or representatives of interest groups.

Let’s look at what this means: unelected representatives are able to decide where passes can be doled out to.

While some of the rules have been recently tightened, even under new rules, the Mirror’s analysis found that dozens of pass holders are paid to work in public affairs, strategy or lobbying. Not to mention the many peers themselves who currently hold paid roles as for consultancies, companies or for lobbyists.

Peers are managing to find loopholes that still allow lobbying to take place, making the institution all the more undemocratic.

The Lords could see a similar scandal erupt as we are witnessing in the Commons. .

With a pass, lobbyists have potentially unfettered access to our politicians – in a way that no ordinary voter can secure. Prior to the pandemic, passholders were able to come and go as they please across the entire Parliamentary estate – including the Lords and Commons bars and restaurants where MPs, peers and ministers can frequently be found.

Although the pandemic has inevitably put a halt on most in-person meetings, there are worries that once restrictions are lifted and things are back to normal that the pattern of secretive lobbying will continue.

Although some lobbying of MPs is alarming, it can be reassuring to know that if there is any wrongdoing on the MP’s part, they can be moved from office (somewhat) democratically.

But with the House of Lords, this is simply not possible. We have no democratic say in their positions.

There is also another potential lobbying scandal brewing – one-party-states in local government under First Past the Post.

Dozens of councils in England and Wales are dominated by just one party – despite often failing to secure even 50% of the vote.

That can mean there is sometimes very little scrutiny of councils’ decisions.

In 2015 researchers found that councils dominated by single parties could be wasting as much as £2.6bn a year through a lack of scrutiny of their procurement processes.

The report for the ERS also measured councils’ procurement process against a ‘Corruption Risk Index’ – and found that one-party councils are around 50% more at risk of corruption than politically competitive councils. This is especially the case when councils work with big, wealthy companies – which they nearly all do.

That’s one reason among many that the ERS promoted the STV system for elections: a fair, proportional way of electing councillors, to put an end to one-party councils.

First Past the Post and an unelected House of Lords are a recipe for disaster when it comes to political equality. When there are few democratic checks and balances, the picture is skewed against ordinary voters in favour of those with the most connections and cash.

In the Lords or England’s one party fiefdoms…who knows how many undemocratic scandals are yet to be unearthed?

To read more about this, see our previous article.

Tara Azar is a placement student with the Electoral Reform Society from the University of Nottingham.

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