Wednesday, 26 June 2013

‘Nothing short of corruption’: Lobbying Debate Highlights Healthcare Links in Parliament for First Time

The House of Commons have just hosted a second debate on lobbying, following the recent scandal to envelop parliament and once more soil the already tarnished reputation of UK politics.

In the debate, which was on the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists, the Labour MP for Easington, Grahame Morris, chose to highlight the breadth of healthcare interests held by MPs and Lords; the first time this research has entered into parliamentary discussion.

In the debate, he asked the leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley how he thought the public would react ‘when they find out that, one in four Conservative peers…have recent or current financial links with private health care? Will the Bill address that?’

Andrew Lansley, whose office was part-funded by an individual investor in healthcare when he was shadow health secretary replied with this: ‘I have no idea of the specifics of what the hon. Gentleman talks about or of what precisely he means by what he said, but what I would say is that transparency is important. If Members of this House have financial interests in companies, they should be very clear about them in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and they should be very clear that they do not act in Parliament in a way from which they could personally benefit through their relationship.’

Andrew Lansley like so many of his fellow MPs fail to recognise that to simply register your interests is not enough, it is the interests themselves that is the problem. What does Andrew Lansley think Mr Morris meant by informing him of these vested interests?

The specifics are easy to understand, parliament is riddled with corporate interest. The implications are that our so-called ‘public servants’ represent corporations, who help write policy and then lobby to ensure MPs and Lords vote on legislation that will open up revenue opportunities for them. This happened in the Health and Social care bill, and companies connected to MPs and Lords have since made money thanks to their vote.

Reform

In addition to the extraordinary amount of vested healthcare links, Mr Morris brought to the House's attention, the influence that think tanks have on policy and their lobbying. Mr Morris chose to focus on Reform, a free market think tank seen by the Conservative Home blog as being a part of the Conservative movement.

He rightly pointed out Reform’s links to big corporations and that so many of these businesses also employ MPs and Lords. His reasonable assessment of Reform caused the Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins, to offer a word of caution. Mr Collins who has worked in both marketing (M&C Saatchi) and political communications (Lexington) before becoming a MP said the House needs to ‘take care, in defining who lobbyists are’, he suggested and that ‘Reform’ are ‘an independent think-tank with a cross-party board‘. This according to Mr Collins is ‘very different’ from someone who is a paid-for corporate lobbyist working for a professional lobbying company or an individual company.’

The warning was enough to make a slightly uncertain Mr Morris retract slightly ‘Perhaps I could have selected a better example. If I was wrong, I acknowledge that.’

In fact Mr Morris had chosen the perfect example.

Corporate policy writing

Damian Collins assertion that Reform’s setup is somehow different to a ‘paid-for corporate lobbyist working for a professional lobbying company or an individual company’ is wrong. Until recently, Nick Seddon was the deputy director of Reform, having moved from his previous position as Head of Communications at private health company Circle Health.

When at Reform, he lobbied Sir Stephen Bubb, who was the head of the Choice and Competition part of the NHS Future Forum, set up during the health bill pause. His role was clearly to push for competition to remain in the bill but that was not all he did.

Seddon wrote articles regularly including in the Telegraph. As a former head of communication you might expect this, but his articles were part of a network, which included Reform, the Telegraph and a healthcare lobby group who joined forces to ensure the Telegraph’s editorial hosted pro-market opinion pieces direct from the lobbyists, which included Seddon.

Presumably Nick Seddon’s work for Reform was remunerated, which firmly places him in the ‘paid-for corporate lobbyist’ camp.

Now Reform to the discredit of the Charity Commission are a charity, so Damian Collins is right on a technicality that they are not a company, but they are certainly professional and they certainly lobby.

Over half of their corporate sponsors are private healthcare companies, they write reports that are used as vehicles to lobby assisted by their corporate partners. These reports that are often big on recommendations and small on research promote one thing consistently. Privatise. The government often base policies on Reform and proudly launch the policy at Reform events.

The answer to all this was for Cameron to hire Seddon into the health policy unit up until the next election. This move is evidence enough that Cameron has little intention to draw in lobbying.
Collins claim that Reform are independent is also false. The use of the word ‘independent’ is frequently used by think tanks in order to appear politically balanced in order to gain charity status. But research into the power base of Reform, shows they are entirely linked to the right and almost entirely to the Conservative party.

The think tank writes policy with the input of the corporations under the tagline that ‘
their expertise is often left out of the Whitehall policy discussion.’ This clear falsity has been discredited several times through research into a few of the individual companies that make up Reform’s corporate partners. These companies in fact represent some of the biggest businesses in the U.K. and are not left out of Whitehall discussion; in fact many of them also employ Lords and MPs.

Rules

One of the problems not discussed in the debate was the fact that Members of both the Commons and the Lords can vote regardless of whether their financial interest conflicts with the legislation they are about to vote. They can also amend legislation despite these interests and they can become patrons of organisations, without having to register their interests. These loopholes do not exist at local level whereby councillors with such interests are banned from voting and debating at the discretion of the chamber.

So praise indeed to Grahame Morris who has raised the issue of healthcare vested interests into parliament for the first time. As Grahame Morris rightly pointed out, “The links with private health care companies are wide and extensive in this House“ and not just with the Conservatives. So extensive are the interests they amount to over 200 parliamentarians with these links, which represents every part of the healthcare chain.

This is ‘democracy’ in Britain today, and a situation that according to Grahame Morris is ‘nothing short of corruption.’

Petition

There is a petition to highlight this point and to stop MPs from voting when they have a financial interest that conflict with the legislation. I urge you to sign it.


2 comments:

  1. I watched the debate you refer to and was totally stunned by Lansley's response to Grahame Morris' question. I'm sure even someone not familiar with the extent of the corruption he was referring to would have recognised it was obvious he was dissembling and being dishonest. It was a shame that Mr Morris backed down over the response to his perfectly legitimate mention of Reform but I can imagine how intimidating it must be in that place for anyone prepared to stand up and speak the truth. As for the concept of competition remaining in the Bill, its integral to it and I have very recently experienced the results of it.(See: http://wp.me/p3mYc5-7k)
    And you're right about the way this government, notably the conservative factions of it, rely heavily on the (flimsy) appearance of 'independence' of the organisations they rely on for 'research'. The Grant Thornton report is a recent classic example :- http://wp.me/p3mYc5-5J
    This new definition of independence is not only being applied to regulatory bodies like Monitor, as your research has amply proved, but also to the recently reorganised CQC Board: http://wp.me/p3mYc5-78

    Your research is vital to exposing this corruption, Andrew, its very much appreciated and I will be sending a donation this week to assist in a small way. Thank you for your efforts.

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    1. Well thank you very much for the donation that helps a great deal and will be used wisely.

      Yes the independence used by Reform, 2020health and phrases like 'Free' when applied to schools reliant on private equity are intolerable to a honest debate. I am very grateful that Mr Morris raised the issue as it projects the issue right into the heart of government debate and is visible from here on in. And yes it must be intimidating stating such matters in front of those lot. Well done I say. Thanks for the links - will read through them today.

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