Home > Lobbying > Labour now calls for a statutory register of lobbyists

Labour now calls for a statutory register of lobbyists

Following the ‘MPs for Hire’ controversy, the Labour Party has announced that it will include a commitment to a statutory register of lobbyists in its manifesto. The proposal is welcome, but it leaves open a number of questions.

In October last year, the government rejected the House of Commons Public Administration Committee’s call for a statutory register of lobbyists. Instead, the government preferred a system of voluntary self-regulation. In October, the government welcomed ‘the constructive start’ that had been made by the industry in establishing a new self-regulatory body, the Public Affairs Council. As far as I know, that body has not even been set up yet. So why did the government change its position (which one PR specialist describes as a ‘screeching’ u-turn)?  It cannot be that the new system of self-regulation failed, as it had not been set up. There has also been no formal investigation to decide whether any wrongdoing took place. Instead, the change of position looks like an attempt to curb the negative headlines.

Personally, I was always sceptical of self-regulation and preferred a statutory register – so the change of position is welcome as far as I am concerned. However, many of the restrictions on lobbying have been introduced as a response to a scandal. The laws and regulations are a series of landmarks marking the controversies of previous years.  Such legislation runs of being rushed and ill-thought out. The danger lies in focusing on the most recent problems, rather than looking for a long-term solution.

While I’m in favour of a statutory register, it is important to be realistic about what it can do. In other jurisdictions it has not stopped lobbying scandals. There are also difficulties in deciding what should be covered in the register and who it applies to.

While a statutory register is a step in the right direction and shows the government to be acting, there are no quick fixes to the problems posed by lobbying.

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