Former minister's paid speech on how to lobby government 'completely unethical', says lobbying chief

Esther McVey on Downing Street
Former Housing Minister Esther McVeyDavid Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Esther McVey's £3,000 speech on the "ins and outs" of lobbying has been slammed as "completely unethical".

  • The former housing minister explained to a construction trade body how to lobby the government.

  • The head of an industry body said "it is astonishing even to have to say this - this is not the 1990s."

A former housing minister's £3,000 speech to a construction trade association on the "ins and outs" of how to lobby the governnment has been criticised as "completely unethical" by the head of the UK's professional lobbying association.

Esther McVey, a housing minister until February 2020, gave a speech to the Council for Aluminium in Building on how to lobby the government for which she was paid £3,000, Insider revealed Thursday.

Her actions have been condemned by the industry body, which said it demonstrated how lax the approvals process was.

Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations and Communications Association, told Insider: "It is manifestly inappropriate for a former housing minister to take payment for a speech to the housing industry on how to lobby her successors.

"It demonstrates the urgent need for [the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments] to be given real teeth, so that its guidance is turned into something that is binding

"It is also completely unethical for MPs to be paid for giving speeches on how to influence the democratic process. In fact, it is astonishing even to have to say this - this is not the 1990s."

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) examines the work taken up by former ministers, with a key focus being on ensuring that ex-ministers do not engage in paid lobbying of the government given their knowledge and contacts of policy matters.

But McVey made no application for advice from ACOBA ahead of doing her speech, or joining the speakers' agency through which the speech was organised and she was paid.

An ACOBA spokesperson told Insider they would not be taking any action, saying McVey's speech fell within an exemption for "one-off activities".

The guidance does, however, say advice should be sought if an ex-minister intends "to enter into a longer term arrangement, e.g. joining a speakers' agency, planning a series of remunerated speeches or writing a regular newspaper column."

McVey has not yet declared whether she had sought ACOBA's advice when she registered the earnings from the speech in the House of Commons's register of members' interests.

Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner MP, wrote to ACOBA chair Lord Eric Pickles on Friday, asking for him to investigate McVey's actions.

Rayner said they are in "stark contrast" with the rules of the House of Commons as well as the business appointment rules, which are set by the government and ex-ministers are bound to.

"While in this instance, the paid remuneration was as a speaker, Ms McVey appears to have in effect given paid advice on how to lobby government and officials to a trade body whose interests are clearly related to her former ministerial responsibilities, within two years of leaving office," Rayner wrote.

"For a former cabinet minister to disregard their obligations to you undermines the entire system," she added.

The Committee for Standards in Public Life recommended in 2018 that the House of Commons rules should be updated to explicitly ban MPs accepting paid work as an advisor on how to influence Parliament and its members, including ministers.

The House of Commons Standards Committee is currently in the consultation stage of changing the rules to ban MPs from "providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy, or strategy services", a rule already in place in the House of Lords.

Following the Owen Paterson scandal, in which the former minister was found to have engaged in paid advocacy, Boris Johnson eventually decided to back the Committee for Standards in Public Life's recommendations.

Read the original article on Business Insider