Lobbyist Michael Burrell is vice chairman of public affairs for APCO and a non-executive director of Connect Public Affairs. He is former chairman of lobbyists Grayling Political Strategy, the former European vice-chairman of the lobbying and PR firm Edelman (2002-2011) , was elected chair of the Association of Professional Political Consultants in 2013 and deputy chair of the European Centre for Public Affairs.
Advice on lobbying standing committees
In October 1995, while Burrell was managing director of Westminster Strategy, part of Grayling The Independent newspaper reported Burrell revealing some of the industry's lobbying tactics:
From "Secrets of the MPs who help lobbyists", The Independent, 03 October 1995:
- Lobbyists are encouraging MPs to disguise their true beliefs in the House of Commons in order to get on to powerful standing committees which amend proposed legislation. Friendly MPs are urged to speak against the interests of lobbyists' clients to be chosen for the committees. Once on the committees the MPs are able to drop their opposition and argue in favour of clients, according to one of Westminster's leading lobbyists.
- This was part of a strategy set out yesterday before a private gathering at a hotel in west London of lobbyists and executives of some of Britain's biggest companies and organisations. Unknown to the speakers, a journalist from the Independent was also present.
- Michael Burrell, managing director of Westminster Strategy, the country's largest lobbying consultancy, gave them a run-down on the legislative process and key steps towards influencing the path of a Bill. After advising them not to ignore Commons select committees - he singled out the Treasury and Civil Service Committee as a body with real power - Mr Burrell moved on to the way Bills reach the statute book.
- It was vital, he said, to "supply information and arguments at the crucial moments", such as when a Bill went to a standing committee for further consideration. Membership of such committees is decided by party whips after hearing the Second Reading debate. Mr Burrell said one tactic was "to get your supporters to speak but not support you. Then they might get on to the standing committee. It's a bit machiavellian."
- He said the House of Lords was "more satisfying than the House of Commons". It was not easy to get results in the Commons "because of the power of the whips, but in the House of Lords you can change things". Mr Burrell named key policy-makers for lobbyists to target in an incoming Labour administration: Ed Balls, a senior adviser to Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor; David Miliband, head of Tony Blair's policy unit; and Frank Field, the influential chairman of the Commons Social Services Committee.
- Asked by the Independent for examples of MPs who said one thing to get on a standing committee, where they then said another, Mr Burrell angrily refused. "It was a joke, it was off the record, the whole thing was subject to Chatham House Rules. Private meetings whose remarks may not be attributed. The basis I agreed to speak was that it was off the record. I did not speak as if I was speaking in public."
- When MPs spoke at Second Reading debates, they were told to temper their true beliefs. Once chosen to serve on the committee they could discount their earlier view. "If your objective is to make sure your case is heard, you are bound to advise it is put in a moderated way. Then there is a good chance the MP will get on the standing committee.
- Mr Burrell has run Westminster Strategy since its foundation in 1986. His clients have included National Westminster Bank and the Corporation of London. Among those represented at yesterday's conference were British Aerospace and Cable & Wireless.
Burrell wrote a letter to The Independent in reply:
Sir: Your front-page story ("Secrets of the MPs who help lobbyists," 3 October) is not a balanced account of what I said at a conference on Monday and, subsequently, to your Westminster correspondent Chris Blackhurst.
After the conference he asked me to amplify comments I had made about the House of Lords. It rapidly became clear that he meant the House of Commons, since his interest was in standing committees which deal with Bills. The committee stage for a Bill in the Lords is taken on the floor of the House, not in a standing committee.
I repeated to him - common knowledge, not a "secret" - that MPs who wanted to sit on a standing committee for a particular Bill would seek to speak on Second Reading, since demonstrating an interest in the Bill in this way was one of the factors taken into account by the party whips when they recommend who should be on the committee.
I said that MPs who wanted to be on a committee would be well advised to demonstrate an interest in the Bill as a whole, rather than just a narrow point, and to speak in a moderate (not moderated) rather than an extremist way.
I was, indeed, angry, not for the reason implied - I have never known an MP who said one thing to get on a committee, and then said another - but because your reporter's question bore no relation to the point I was making.
Chris Blackhurst chose not to report one of the main pieces of advice I gave at this conference, as at every conference I have ever spoken at on lobbying - "Tell the truth".
Yours faithfully, Michael Burrell
- Outstanding Contribution to European Public Affairs, European Public Affairs News awards
- Our People Connect pa, accessed 30 October 2014
- David Singleton,Lobbyist Michael Burrell new role at APCO after quitting Edelman, prweek.com, 06 July 2011, accessed 18 July 2011
- http://www.appc.org.uk/appc-agm-2013/ AGM 2013] APPC, 24th May 2013, accessed 17 October 2014
- Influencing Westminster and Whitehall GovKnow 15th October 2013, accessed 17 October 2014