Ministerial lobbying "all part of democracy"

Posted: 13th July 2015

wind farmLobbying of ministers by MPs on behalf of their constituents is a legitimate part of British democracy and did not give rise to any unfairness or bias in respect of a refusal of planning permission for a controversial wind farm, the High Court has ruled.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government blocked the wind farm proposals despite a planning inspector’s recommendation that consent should be granted. The would-be developers suspected that lobbying by the local MP, who was strongly opposed to the plans, was a crucial factor in the decision.

The MP had written to the Secretary of State about the matter and had discussed it with him face-to-face in the House of Commons. It was submitted that the Secretary of State’s failure to disclose his correspondence with the MP, and to give the developers an opportunity to comment on the same, breached the rules of natural justice and gave rise to actual or perceived bias.

In dismissing the developers’ challenge, however, the Court noted that the Secretary of State was also a parliamentarian and that it was inevitable that he would sometimes be ‘buttonholed’ by MPs in the House of Commons tea room or elsewhere. It would be quite wrong for the Court to place unworkable limits on the ability of ministers to carry out their business as MPs.

The diligent local MP had acted perfectly properly in seeking to put her constituents’ views across and fair-minded and informed observers would have concluded that there was no real possibility of bias on the part of the Secretary of State. The developers had been given a fair opportunity to put their case during the appeal process and there had been no procedural unfairness.