Labour demands tighter lobbying rules to tackle 'cronyism' amid Cameron controversy

4 April 2021, 22:30 | Updated: 4 April 2021, 22:38

Former Prime Minister David Cameron is under fire for his use of contacts to lobby the government on behalf of Greensill Capital.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron is under fire for his use of contacts to lobby the government on behalf of Greensill Capital. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Labour is calling on the government to introduce new anti-lobbying legislation amid continuing controversy over David Cameron's activities on behalf of collapsed finance company Greensill Capital.

Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said ministers should include legislation in next month's Queen's Speech to expand the register of lobbyists to cover so-called "in house" lobbyists like David Cameron.

It comes amidst ongoing questions about former prime minister actions during the pandemic, amidst reports that he used his government contacts to lobby Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support ailing finance company Greensill Capital.

Under the existing rules, Mr Cameron did not have to make a declaration when he went to work for Greensill after leaving office as he was not an outside "consultant" lobbyist.

Read more: Police attacked with petrol bombs during another night of riots in Northern Ireland

Read more: 'Traffic light' system for holidays abroad unveiled - but 'don't book this summer'

David Cameron allegedly sent texts to Rishi Sunak (pictured) asking for financial help for a firm he worked for.
David Cameron allegedly sent texts to Rishi Sunak (pictured) asking for financial help for a firm he worked for. Picture: PA

Greensill's application to the the government's Covid Corporate Financing Facility was rejected by officials and the company subsequently filed for insolvency, rendering the former PM's reported tens of millions of share options worthless.

The firm was the main financial backer for Liberty Steel, which owns 12 plants in the UK and employs 5,000 people but now faces an uncertain future.

In late March the former Conservative leader was cleared of wrongdoing by the lobbying watchdog that he set up, however Labour are now calling for the rules to be tightened to cover this type of lobbying.

Read more: David Cameron cleared of breaking lobbying rules by watchdog

Read more: UK weather: 'Arctic winds' will see temperatures plummet on Easter Monday

Greensill Capital's collapse has put 5,000 jobs at Liberty Steel in question.
Greensill Capital's collapse has put 5,000 jobs at Liberty Steel in question. Picture: PA

Labour's Rachel Reeves said: "Given the cronyism consuming the Conservative party, it's crucial that the scope of the lobbying register is expanded to include in-house lobbyists.

"Otherwise it's clearly one rule for them, and another for everyone else.

"The former Conservative prime minister's conduct and the immense access Greensill was given illustrate perfectly both the toothlessness of current rules, and Tory ministers' complete disregard for any self-driven integrity when lobbying.

"A Labour government would create an integrity and ethics commission to restore transparency and accountability back into the heart of government, introduce a fairer framework for commercial lobbying, stamp out crony contracts while freeing up civil society to campaign."

Read more: Labour urges firms with Conservative Party links to publish Covid-19 contract profits

Read more: Matt Hancock 'summoned to High Court to justify reopening priorities'

Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves is calling for the government to tighten lobbying rules.
Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves is calling for the government to tighten lobbying rules. Picture: PA

Labour have also called for a "full, transparent and thorough investigation" into the controversy around Greensill.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds wrote: “The irresponsible behaviour of Greensill Capital and its almost unparalleled access to the heart of government raises serious questions about what kind of businesses the government is engaging with."

Directly lobbying ministers or senior civil servants is illegal if someone is not a registered lobbyist, under the current Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.

However, individuals lobbying on behalf of their own organisation or firm are not required to register.

A government spokesman said: "The Government has significantly increased transparency since 2010 - routinely publishing details of contracts, spending and meetings, and introducing a statutory register of consultant lobbyists.

"The Government will be going further to review and improve business appointment rules, and increasing transparency even further in procurement through our procurement green paper, to ensure we maintain the highest standards in public life."