The coalition government’s proposals to introduce a compulsory lobbying register have been dealt a severe blow after a powerful committee of MPs concluded the plan is too limited and should be scrapped.
The political and constitutional reform committee’s (PCRC) report published today states that the government’s plans to introduce a statutory register of ‘third party’ lobbyists ‘only scratch the surface when it comes to tackling public concern about undue access and influence over the policy making process’.
The planned register, the committee warns, is ‘unlikely to prevent lobbying from becoming the “next big political scandal”.’
The news comes as the Bureau reveals the scale and size of the financial services lobby. Our investigation exposed the cosy relationship between financial advocates, regulators and the government. It also compiled a database listing 129 organisations as being involved in lobbying for the financial sector. Many of these would not fall under the government’s proposals.
Related article: Revealed – The £93m City lobby machine
In January, the Cabinet Office consulted on its plans to issue a compulsory register for ‘third party’ lobbyists. By doing so, the government appears to have ruled that only public affairs consultants will be required to register. This would leave in-house lobbyists, law firms and industry bodies outside the scope of the proposed new rules.
But the PCRC argues limiting the register to public affairs firms ‘would do little to improve transparency’ suggesting that just 1% of ministerial meetings are with ‘third party’ lobbyists.
‘The Committee recommends that the Government scraps its plans to introduce a statutory register of third party lobbyists,’ it said today, ’and instead introduce regulation to cover all those who lobby professionally, in a paid role, including those who lobby on behalf, of charities, trade unions, and think tanks.’
The committee’s 34 page report reiterated the importance of defining lobbyists appropriately in forthcoming legislation.
It also called on the government to publish information about ministerial meetings swiftly after meetings occurred and crucially improve the level of detail in meeting disclosures, so the actual topic of a meeting is revealed, ‘rather than obscure terms like “general discussion”’.
Related article: Whose side is the City’s watchdog on?
The PCRC intervention comes as public concern is growing that politicians are being undulyed swayed by big business.
Tamasin Cave, Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, said: ‘This is very a welcome report: yet another Parliamentary inquiry has endorsed the need for a strong statutory register encompassing all lobbyists, to allow real public scrutiny of the influence industry.
‘However, we believe that a register, as well as revealing who is lobbying whom, should record how much is being spent trying to influence politicians. When we learn that the financial services sector has a fighting fund of nearly £100m a year, knowing lobbying budgets matters.
‘We now have consensus among MPs, lobbyists and transparency campaigners. And with every lobbying controversy, the public’s desire to know who is influencing our politics grows.’
To see the Bureau’s database of financial lobbyists click here.
Written by Nick Mathiason