. 104
( 155 .)


Between the ˜insider™ groups and government there are channels for regular,
informal consultation. In addition, client groups are often represented on
committees of inquiry, task forces or working parties set up by government
departments, or on the numerous advisory bodies, many of them created by
statute, which give advice on speci¬c areas of policy “ on food standards, it might
be, or building regulations, or waste management, or support for exporters.
Government legislation often bears the stamp of successful pressure by
outside interests and is sometimes virtually the product of negotiation with
a¬ected groups. (As to prelegislative consultation see chapter 7.) Some policies
are not so much in¬‚uenced by pressure as produced in a joint e¬ort by a
government department and one or more groups with which it shares
a common interest. For example, a continuous dialogue takes place between the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural A¬airs and the National
Farmers™ Union on questions of agricultural policy. (Retiring Presidents of the
NFU have an excellent prospect of being awarded knighthoods.) The close rela-
tionships between departments and pressure groups have led observers to speak
of a ˜colonisation™ of government by groups, or of ˜policy communities™ com-
posed of government departments and insider groups.
Economic policy-making was for some years characterised by discussions in
a ˜policy community™ consisting of government and the two sides of industry.
The two peak producers™ organisations, the Confederation of British Industry
(CBI) and the Trades Union Congress, were granted a privileged association
with government involving regular and wide-ranging consultations. The rela-
tionship was institutionalised, notably in the establishment in 1961 of the
National Economic Development Council (NEDC), a non-statutory tripartite
body which was expected to reach agreement on plans for economic growth. It
was composed of ministers, representatives of private industry nominated by
the CBI, and union representatives nominated by the TUC. Representatives of
employers and unions also took their places on a number of other public bodies,
such as the Health and Safety Commission and the Advisory, Conciliation and
Arbitration Service.
551 Parties, groups and the people

In the continuous discussion with pressure groups, and more especially in
the institutionalised arrangements with organised capital and labour, some
discerned a ˜bias towards corporatism™, or a ˜sharing of the state™ between elected
governments and the governing institutions of the two sides of industry.
This was the thesis of Keith Middlemass, who concluded (Politics in Industrial
Society (1979), p 460) that ˜the nineteenth-century concept of the state is wholly

The modern state is composed not only of government and the state apparatus but includes
the governing institutions; the degree of their inclusion serves as a means of distinguish-
ing them from other institutions and interest groups merely contiguous to the state.

From 1979, Conservative Governments showed a marked disinclination for
the ˜politics of pressure™, expressed, for instance, in a lecture by a government
minister (Mr Douglas Hurd) to the Royal Institute of Public Administration in
saying that ministers ˜need to shake themselves free to some extent from the
embrace of pressure groups and interest groups™ (The Times, 20 September
1986). There was, in particular, an abandonment of the tripartism of govern-
ment, business and trade unions in economic policy-making and a distancing
of the relationship between the Government and the Trades Union Congress.
The main tripartite organisation, the NEDC, was abolished in 1992, the
Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that ˜the era of corporatism is long passed™:
HC Deb vol 209, col 777, 16 June 1992. (See further M Harrison (ed),
Corporatism and the Welfare State (1984); Casels, ˜Re¬‚ections on tripartism™
(1989) 9(3) Policy Studies 6; P Williamson, Corporatism in Perspective (1989).)
There has been no revival of institutional tripartism under Labour governments
since 1997, but the trade unions have still a (somewhat diminished) consulta-
tive role and the Government has nurtured its contacts with the business
community. Under all governments, the Department of Trade and Industry is
in continuous consultation with business interests.
Pressure groups may fail to attain a favoured, consultative relationship with
the government because they are not considered su¬ciently representative or
su¬ciently ˜responsible™. Again, as we have seen, a group may have objectives
which are more congenial to a government of the left than of the right, or vice
versa. A group is best placed to exert in¬‚uence if by withholding its cooperation
it can in¬‚ict a political cost on the government and if, in addition, it respects the
con¬dentiality of discussions, shows willingness to compromise, and is assured
of the support of its members for any bargain struck. While groups “ especially
˜outsider™ groups “ sometimes adopt a confrontational style and mount public
campaigns of opposition to government policies, or resort to direct action, the
more characteristic mode of pressure politics is the continuous, close, hidden
exchange between group representatives and civil servants from which both
sides reap bene¬ts.
552 British Government and the Constitution

Pressure groups also look for support in Parliament and have done so
increasingly in recent decades (see Norton (1997) 50 Parliamentary A¬airs
357, 360). Besides lobbying MPs and brie¬ng them with information and
arguments, pressure groups instigate parliamentary questions, draft suggested
amendments to bills and give evidence to select committees. (A great part of
the evidence received by select committees is provided by pressure groups.)
Opposition frontbenchers, lacking the resources of the civil service, often
depend on groups to provide them with the expertise and information needed
for the e¬ective scrutiny of government bills. Many MPs act as parliamentary
advisers or consultants to companies, trade unions or other outside bodies
such as the Countryside Alliance or the Caravan Club. Pressure groups often
have links with all-party groups in the House of Commons through which
they seek to further their interests or causes “ for instance, the all-party groups
on disability, food and health, homelessness and housing need, nuclear
energy, refugees and the retail industry. All-party groups engage the active
interest of MPs in a great variety of policy questions, drawing on the experi-
ence and specialised knowledge of the outside groups. On the other hand,
funding or other support received by all-party groups from outside interests
may compromise their objectivity: the House of Commons has adopted rules
requiring all-party groups to notify the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Standards of ¬nancial and other material bene¬ts (eg secretarial services)
received by them.
Public campaigns and parliamentary pressure organised by groups have
induced governments to legislate, and have succeeded in putting on the statute
book such measures as the Television Act 1954 (providing for commercial
television) and the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979. Groups have often
made a signi¬cant contribution to the content of government legislation, as was
seen, for instance, in the role of the disability organisations in helping to shape
the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Interest groups were acknowledged by
the Government to be ˜active participants in the policy-making process™ that led
to the enactment of the Food Standards Act 1999: the Government ˜placed a
very strong emphasis on consulting a¬ected interests throughout all stages™
(W Grant, Pressure Groups and British Politics (2000), pp 70“6). The Campaign
for Freedom of Information can take much of the credit for the enactment of
the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (considered below). Pressure groups have
also played an important part in the enactment of private members™ legislation,
such as the Abortion Act 1967, the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971,
the Protection of Children Act 1978, the Environment and Safety Information
Act 1988 and the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002. Sometimes,
on the other hand, pressure groups have campaigned successfully against
governmental initiatives, such as the proposed imposition of VAT on books and
newspapers in 1985 and the Shops Bill in 1986.
Interest and cause groups are an important part of the machinery by which
government is controlled in the modern democratic state. They are a means by
553 Parties, groups and the people

which citizens can express their demands upon government between elections
and they help to make government responsive to bodies of opinion and inter-
ests which it might otherwise disregard. They contribute, therefore, to a more
participatory democracy and to better-informed government. An ideal may,
indeed, be constructed of a representative democracy in which the periodic
assertion of the full power of the people in general elections is supplemented by
a continuous interchange between government and a multiplicity of groups
which aggregate and articulate the demands of individuals. In this way the
power to in¬‚uence government is di¬used and government itself, encompassed
by assertive and competing groups, proceeds by bargaining instead of coercion.
This pluralist vision of society does not, however, correspond with reality. For
one thing, not all interests have a representative organisation, and organised
groups are markedly unequal in resources and in¬‚uence. Those which express
the values and objectives of ˜the establishment™ may be readily embraced by
government, while the claims of the deprived and vulnerable go unheard.
Then again, the processes of bargaining with interest groups are for the most
part unstructured and secret; groups may advance their sectional interests by
˜whispering into important ears rather than proclaiming their arguments in
public debate™ (Frank Bealey, Democracy in the Contemporary State (1988),
p 174) and in so doing may misrepresent the majority will.
Sanford Lakoff (Democracy: History, Theory, Practice (1996), p 295) observes
in this connection:

So long as the interest groups are not so dominant as to dictate outcomes, and so long as
they are pluralized enough to exercise countervailing power against each other, the public
interest is well served by lobbying. Where the public interest is inarticulate and undefined,
or where particular lobbies are effective in gaining control over the direction of public policy,
abuses occur.

In urging their own narrow, sectional interests, interest groups may disregard
and obscure the wider issues of policy involved. Wyn Grant remarks (in
˜Pressure politics: a politics of collective consumption?™ (2005) 58 Parliamentary
A¬airs 366, 367“8) that ˜NIMBY™ (˜not in my back yard™) protesters:

often deploy broader environmental or health arguments, but this should not conceal
their main purpose which is to protect their own particular interests. They rarely argue,
for example, that air traffic in general should be restrained, only that planes should not fly
over their house. They do not usually offer constructive alternatives: the phone mast should
be removed, but they rarely suggest where it might go.

Government may be assailed by the contrary demands of opposed pressure
groups and, as Wyn Grant shows, a government faced with such con¬‚icting
claims may itself be divided, di¬erent departments responding according to
their own policy preoccupations.
554 British Government and the Constitution

Not all groups are truly representative of those on whose behalf they claim to
act; some, as Wyn Grant observes, may be run by ˜a self-perpetuating oligarchy™
whose supporters have little opportunity to in¬‚uence the policies or strategies
adopted by the leadership (˜Pressure Politics™ (2001) 54 Parliamentary A¬airs
337, 345).
It became apparent in the early 1990s that some outside bodies were
by-passing the normal channels of communication with government depart-
ments in seeking particular favours from MPs or ministers, sometimes emp-
loying consultants claiming to provide a privileged access to government and
sometimes endeavouring to purchase information or in¬‚uence for cash (eg pay-
ments to MPs for asking parliamentary questions). Following the ¬rst report of
the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Cm 2850/1995), which censured
these abuses, the House of Commons ampli¬ed its resolution of 15 July 1947
(above, p 527) with a strong admonition to Members not to pursue initiatives
in Parliament in return for remuneration or favours from outside bodies,
strengthened the rules on disclosure of ¬nancial interests and approved a Code
of Conduct for MPs (revised in 2005: HC 351 of 2005“06). The Code prohibits
paid advocacy by MPs on behalf of any outside body, and agreements and
remuneration for parliamentary services must be disclosed. The House also
established an independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who
monitors the operation of the Code, maintains the register of members™
interests, advises on questions of conduct of MPs and investigates allegations of
misconduct. The Commissioner is supported by the Committee on Standards
and Privileges, which considers any complaints against MPs referred to it by the
Commissioner for further investigation. The machinery for maintaining
standards has been strengthened and clari¬ed in the light of experience and in
response to reports of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (in particu-
lar its Eighth Report, Cm 5663/2002).
Some pressure groups have adopted a ˜test case strategy™, assisting individuals
to bring cases in courts or tribunals with the object of establishing prece-
dents which will result in changes in administrative practice favourable to the
interests of a whole class of persons. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
has pursued this strategy with the objectives and mixed results described by
Carol Harlow and Richard Rawlings, Law and Administration (2nd edn 1997),
pp 545“6, 570. The courts have recognised the representative capacity of the
CPAG in acknowledging its standing (locus standi) to bring proceedings on
behalf of unidenti¬ed claimants of social security bene¬ts. (See eg, R v Secretary
of State for Social Services, ex p Child Poverty Action Group [1990] 2 QB 540,
556.) Pressure groups may also be given leave to intervene in proceedings to
which they are not parties, so as to present oral or written arguments to the
court on aspects of the public interest (or the interests of those whom they
represent) that are a¬ected by the litigation. (The organisation Liberty has been
allowed to intervene in a number of cases, eg recently in R (Laporte) v Chief
555 Parties, groups and the people

Constable of Gloucestershire [2004] EWCA Civ 1639, [2005] QB 678.) This
recent development is discussed by Arshi and O™Cinneide, ˜Third-party inter-
ventions: the public interest rea¬rmed™ [2004] PL 69, who remark that
˜third-party intervention can inject otherwise marginalised or absent pers-
pectives, expertise and data into the decision-making process and this appears
to be enriching and enabling the work of the courts™.
Some groups have adopted tactics of ˜direct action™ to press their demands,
their protests sometimes involving breaches of the law. Lord Ho¬mann
referred in R v Jones [2006] UKHL 16, [2006] 2 WLR 772 at [89] to the ˜long
and honourable history™ of civil disobedience on conscientious grounds, and

People who break the law to affirm their belief in the injustice of a law or government actions
are sometimes vindicated by history. The suffragettes are an example which comes imme-
diately to mind. It is the mark of a civilised community that it can accommodate protests and
demonstrations of this kind. But there are conventions which are generally accepted by the
law-breakers on one side and the law-enforcers on the other. The protesters behave with
a sense of proportion and do not cause excessive damage or inconvenience. And they vouch
the sincerity of their beliefs by accepting the penalties imposed by the law. The police
and prosecutors, on the other hand, behave with restraint and the magistrates impose sen-
tences which take the conscientious motives of the protesters into account. The conditional
discharges ordered by the magistrates in the cases which came before them exemplifies their
sensitivity to these conventions.

(Note Lord Ho¬mann™s quali¬cation of these remarks in paras [90]“[94] and
see further on this case, chapter 11.)
All in all we may say with Sanford Lako¬ (above, p 170) that pressure groups,
together with other institutions of civil society, ˜act as a bu¬er against the
expansion of the state™s power and sphere of action™. More positively, they can
provide experience, expertise and a measure of popular participation in the
making and implementation of public policy. We may also note, as does Brian
Harrison, The Transformation of British Politics 1860“1995 (1996), p 178, that
˜without the enterprise, the impatience, the energy, and the dedication cause
groups evoke, democracies would lose much of their vitality, and might not
survive at all™. What we still seem to lack, as the authors of a leading study have
said, ˜is a means of reconciling the empirical world of government-group rela-
tions with traditional notions of democracy, accountability, and parliamentary
sovereignty™ (A Jordan and J Richardson, Government and Pressure Groups in
Britain (1987), pp 287“8).
(See further I Harden and N Lewis, The Noble Lie (1986), ch 6; P Hirst,
Representative Democracy and its Limits (1990); C Harlow and R Rawlings,
Pressure Through Law (1992); W Grant, Pressure Groups and British Politics
(2000); B Coxall, Pressure Groups in British Politics (2001).)
556 British Government and the Constitution

6 Open government
If the principle of responsible government is to be maintained, there must be


. 104
( 155 .)