New research from the Populus MP Panel reveals parliamentarians’ confidence in key industries and sectors and reveals their attitudes to regulation. It shows that, regardless of party, MPs trust the gambling and energy sectors the least and think that more regulation is needed in both.

Gambling and energy the least trusted industries

Overall we found that MPs have moderate levels of trust in most sectors.

Opticians, airlines, charities, food and drink companies, pension providers and radio stations all receive a positive rating for trust, meaning more MPs trust these sectors than distrust them. The highest trust rating goes to opticians, with a mean score of 7.2. The least trusted industries among MPs are the gambling sector, gas and electricity markets, newspapers and magazines, and advertising.

Scores from Opposition MPs are consistently lower than for Conservative MPs, reflecting a higher level of suspicion among Labour, SNP, and other smaller party MPs (with the notable exception of the charity sector). Labour’s scepticism about gas and electricity markets is nothing new, as an energy price freeze figured heavily in the party’s 2015 General Election campaign and its arguments about a ‘cost of living’ crisis. Trust in newspapers and magazines remains relatively low despite the creation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) in 2014, a development prompted by the phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry that followed.

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The levels of trust in each industry are closely linked to MPs’ perceptions of how much regulation is needed. Many MPs think that the two least trusted industries need more regulation than is currently the case – 58% when it comes to gambling and 48% for gas and electricity markets. Around one third of MPs think that newspapers and magazines (35%), food and drink (32%) and charities (32%) need more regulation. However, apart from gambling and the energy markets, the overall picture is that most MPs think current levels of regulation in other industries are ‘about right.’

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How much regulation? Conservative and Opposition MPs disagree

MPs on both sides of the House tend to agree about regulation levels for most industries. However, there are significant differences between Conservative and Opposition MPs on the level of regulation required for the food and drink industry, newspapers and magazines, gas and electricity companies, and the gambling sector.

In all of these cases, Opposition MPs favour more regulation to a greater extent than their Conservative peers. While Conservative MPs have low levels of confidence in the gambling sector, newspaper and magazines, and the gas and electricity markets in particular, most Conservative MPs do not think that these industries need more regulation. Conservative MPs may think increased regulation can do little to improve their confidence, or they may consider that other forms of action, like voluntary codes of conduct or consumer pressure, are better avenues to improving trust.

In any case, there seems to be a consensus that reducing regulation is not the solution. Amongst both Conservative MPs and Opposition MPs there is little appetite to loosen regulation.  Only for radio shows / stations do the proportion of MPs advocating less red tape outnumber those calling for more regulation.

With Prime Minister May’s Government still determining its goals and priorities, and the Labour party in flux, our research suggests that the food and drink, gas and electricity, and gambling industries, as well as newspapers and magazines, should all prepare for the potential of a greater level of scrutiny than is currently the case.

The greatest threat of increased regulation, though, is focused on the gambling and energy industries. Even among Conservative MPs, almost half (46%) think gambling and three-in-ten (30%) think gas and electricity markets need more regulation.

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This is the first in a three-part series about regulation. The second part will explore MPs’ views on industry watchmen; the effectiveness, funding and remit of regulators. Part three will compare and contrast MPs’ views with those of the public.

You may also be interested in our recent work for the Charity Commission, the regulator for the charity sector, which reveals falling public trust and confidence in charity sector.