Corporate influence on the UK Government

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A investigative television programme on Channel 4's Dispatches in the UK is reporting on how corporate lobbyists recruit politicians to gain access to Government Ministers and the Chairs of influential Parliamentary committees.

A former Minister, Stephen Byers MP, has been secretly filmed at a bogus lobbying company set up by the journalists describing himself as like a 'cab for hire' at £ 3,000 - £ 5,000 per day. He claimed he had been able to get labelling regulations changed for a supermarket client. Since realising he was being filmed, he has claimed that he had been exaggerating and the Ministers he claimed to have lobbied have said that he had not contacted them and they had not changed regulations.

The Guardian reports on this today and states that Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons, told MPs, "I want to reassure honourable members and the public that ministers act in the public interest. They make decisions in the public interest. It is an absolutely fundamental part of the duties of their office."

I commented on the article as follows:

Having seen how Ministers behaved when drafting the Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations, I question this statement. 

All leading health worker bodies, mother support groups and the UN Committee on the Rights for the Child have called on the Government to bring the law into line with minimum international standards to protect breastfeeding and babies fed on formula. The Government's own Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, Trading Standards and LACORS also called for stronger measures.

The Government followed the industry line of doing the minimum possible. In part they were concerned at upsetting the European Commission by going further than its weak Directive - but other countries did go further. They were also concerned about legal action - and were taken to the high court by the industry in 2008 as it successfully tried to delay some of the measures coming into force.

So putting corporate interests before the public interest is not necessarily due to dodgy dealings - it may be down to lack of courage.

An Independent Review Panel has just reported and noted the problems with enforcing the law and calling for the Government to take steps. It now has the justification to strengthen the law. The Panel even suggested the Government could cite the precautionary principle to do so. 

The question is will they, or whoever forms the next government, act to protect infants and mothers? And if not, why not? See:

There are reasons to be concerned about corporate influence or at least mindset. The head of the Food Standards Agency came from the dairy industry.

And the Independent on Sunday reported in 2008: "Rosie Cooper, a parliamentary private secretary to the Health minister Ben Bradshaw, is undergoing a year-long Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with Nestlé."

She and other MPs also enjoyed a trip to South Africa at Nestlé's expense. Nestlé, the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted on the planet, over the way it markets baby milk. A company the Department of Health in South Africa was taking to task at the time over the claims it is using on the labels for its baby milk, which mislead mothers.