This proposal has been developed by members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) Public Affairs Group Committee with experience of the Westminster Register for Consultant Lobbyists and the Scottish Parliament Lobbying Register.
Following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the UK Government and devolved administrations are now responsible for policy areas that previously were debated and decided in Brussels. As a result, there will be an increase in lobbying activity in Westminster,
Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as those with interests in these areas seek to influence the policy making process.
Public trust in the institutions of government and politics is low, as is understanding about the purpose and process of lobbying. This stems from a lack of transparency in the political process. This paper sets out the CIPR’s position to improve transparency and accountability in the political system in order to rebuild trust.
Lobbying is the act of seeking to inform and influence public policy and legislation. When conducted ethically and transparently, it is a legitimate and important part of the democratic process. It can be carried out by consultants, freelancers or in-house professionals.
In 2015 the UK Government launched the Register for Consultant Lobbyists in an attempt to address the issue surrounding the lack of transparency in lobbying. An organisation is required to join the statutory register if it engages in lobbying activities as defined by the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act (2014).
This was a first step in the right direction, but it is now time to go further to build trust and confidence in lobbying and its role in the political process.
The current register only captures limited lobbying activity (oral, written or electronic communications sent personally to a Minister or Permanent Secretary) conducted by consultant lobbyists. Lobbyists working in-house for businesses, charities or other organisations are not required to register.
The CIPR has long taken the view that the register should be expanded to capture all lobbying activity (defined as: oral, written or electronic communications with the objective of influencing, and in relation to Government or Parliamentary functions) regardless of who is undertaking it. It should be a register of lobbying, rather than a register of lobbyists. As a result, the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) should be expanded into the Office of the Registrar of Lobbying (ORL) with the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists becoming the Registrar of Lobbying.
Under this new system, for example, a chief executive of a charity meeting with a Minister about a relevant policy area would be required to register. Constituents would not be required to register on personal interests, but businesses lobbying their local politicians should be captured by the requirement.
The register of lobbying should be underpinned by a code of conduct, against which all those individuals undertaking lobbying activities can be held to account. The CIPR believes only codes which are administered externally should be allowed, as a matter of public assurance, and these should be linked to an appropriate mechanism for accountability. There must be a clear and transparent process for making and for dealing with any complaints, with appropriate sanctions.
Lobbying is a two-way activity, and those being lobbied also have a responsibility to ensure it is carried out in an ethical and transparent way. Ministers are required to publish their diaries, but publication is often not timely or contains only limited information. We believe those being lobbied should be required to publish their diaries in a timely manner, with meaningful information about what topics were discussed and with whom. Technological/digital solutions should be explored to minimise any administrative burden on the registration of lobbying activity or the publication of diaries.
Those being lobbied must also declare interests on the Parliamentary Register of Interests (or other register as appropriate) and comply with the Nolan Principles on public life.
There should be a review of the length of time between Ministers leaving office and taking up employment as paid lobbyists.
The CIPR is calling for:
- The registering of 1) all lobbying activity (oral, written or electronic communications with the objective of influencing, and in relation to Government or Parliamentary functions), 2) who carries out the lobbying activity, 3) who has been lobbied (Ministers, MPs, Peers, Regional Mayors, Senior Civil Servants, and special advisers)
- The Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) to be expanded into the Office of the Registrar of Lobbying (ORL). The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists should become the Registrar of Lobbying.
- Technological/digital solutions should be explored to minimise any administrative burden on the registration of lobbying activity or the publication of diaries.
- A review into the length of time between Ministers leaving office and taking up employment as paid lobbyists.
- Lobbying regulations to be regularly reviewed, at no less than five yearly intervals.
In return CIPR will:
- Redouble efforts to promote transparent and ethical lobbying practice.
- In the short term, invest in the UK Lobbying Register (UKLR) to improve it, make it attractive and seen as standard.
- Form a standing committee to lead and oversee work on lobbying regulation and professional standards, ensuring appropriate representation from in-house, consultant and freelance practitioners from across the four Parliaments/Assembly.
- Support future public affairs professionals through our partnership with I Have A Voice.