Friday, 4 January 2013

Cash for Access: a Question of Equity?

A new year dawns. The first thing I'd like to do is wish all my readers the very best for 2013. This salutation naturally extends to all Spencers' clients and staff. It goes further, too, to anyone unfortunate enough to be the victim of an accident.

Next, though, some less than upbeat words. Here we are, in the first week of 2013, and already the media is reporting on a story which has ethical laziness written all over it. I am referring, of course, to the latest cash for access scandal.

It seems that a number of all-party parliamentary groups have been sponsored in return for invitations to Westminster events. At the events, high-placed individuals from arms manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and foreign governments get to meet MPs, peers and policymakers. Can those in receipt of financial donations really say they remain unmoved by the representations, over cocktails, of big business, keen to mould policy to its own advantage? Perhaps. But the fact that we have to ask the question, of those in positions of power and trust, cannot be right.

On Wednesday, The Times disclosed a number of worrying contributions to, for example, The Associate Parliamentary Health Group and The Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum. I won’t go into the specifics - not least because it seems fair to see what those allegedly in receipt of the funding have to say about it - but I will say that, if true, this matter once again raises grave concerns about ethical standards in British public life.

There is an old principle in the law: 'He who comes to equity must come with clean hands'. The focus of the doctrine is on the notion that a petitioner seeking an equitable remedy - that is, one beyond the letter of the law - must not have acted wrongly in the first place.

If you will allow me to extend or, rather, reverse the metaphor, this saying has resonance with the yet another cash for access story and the ongoing failure to adhere to unimpeachable professional standards in this country.

In other words: will 2013 be the year in which those in positions where they can dispense equity – those in positions of power - finally act with clean hands? I hope so.