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30 January 2024

Caroline Lucas: Create ‘firewall’ between politicians and fossil fuel industry

30 January 2024

Lobbying rules need to be overhauled to create a “firewall” between UK politicians and the influence of fossil fuel companies, Caroline Lucas told the Commons.

The Green Party MP said governments have for years colluded in “frankly criminal” decisions that have led to more fossil fuel extraction despite warnings from scientists about climate change.

The MP for Brighton, Pavilion warned of a “revolving door” between parliamentarians and ministers and fossil fuel companies and said the industry should be banned from donating to MPs and political parties and from paying for their events or gifts.

Speaking during an adjournment debate in the Commons, the former party leader said: “We have to ask ourselves the question: why this Government and other governments before them have presided over and colluded in the frankly criminal decisions that have seen yet more oil, gas and coal continue to be explored and exploited.

“And I believe that the answer to that question can be traced largely back to one consistent factor: the role of the fossil fuel industry in our politics.”

She added: “Of course lobbying happens, but I think there’s a line that gets crossed where money starts to change hands and there are perceptions – never mind what the reality is – there are perceptions certainly of members and groups potentially pursuing interests that are to their own advantage rather than to the public good.”

She said over the decades when climate scientists have been warning of the “rapidly shrinking window to avert a climate emergency” that lobbyists “have been denying the science” and then “delayed and weakened and sabotaged climate action”.

She said the money comes with “strings attached”, adding: “I think there can be no conceivable justification for allowing the fossil lobby to directly or indirectly buy favours with politicians.

(The fossil fuel industry's) dirty fingerprints can be seen all over our politics and it's time to clean things up

“So no donating to MPs or to political parties.”

“Certainly no fossil fuel company sponsorship of political party conferences,” she added.

She said the fossil fuel industry’s “dirty fingerprints can be seen all over our politics and it’s time to clean things up”, calling for a “firewall between the industry and decision-making”.

“It is time to close the revolving doors, no side jobs, not cosy secondments, no blind trusts putting things into the name of your spouse or raking in money through shares or second jobs, and of course tougher sanctions for breaches of the rules,” she said.

Among other changes recommended, she said there should be no industry representation on Government panels, research or advisory bodies, no staff exchanges and longer periods of time between people serving in Parliament and joining fossil fuel companies.

She said: “These companies should have no place in our politics, it is undemocratic and it is deeply dangerous for climate action given their priority is putting forward policies that are actively and significantly undermining the UK’s climate commitments.”

She may disagree, but in a democratic society public policy is best informed by engagement and political debate. Elected representatives have to meet a wide range of people, not just people they agree with. This is democratic engagement

Responding for the Government, Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart said: “The Government’s firm belief is that lobbying activity has an important and legitimate role to play in the policy development process, so long as interactions between lobbyists and political actors are properly declared.

“We support the existing rules which apply to the lobbying industry, to Government and to Parliament, both to individual members and informal groups and APPGs (All-party parliamentary groups), and shall continue to drive forward reforms to improve transparency.

“She may disagree, but in a democratic society, public policy is best informed by engagement and political debate. Elected representatives have to meet a wide range of people, not just people they agree with. This is democratic engagement.

“Such debate should be supported by an independent free press and then at the ballot box we should trust the people.”

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