Lobbying is of ocurse an important part of a healthy democracy. We’ve all asked that a specific something happens. But professional lobbying – an industry apparently worth £2billion in the UK – can subvert our democracy by giving those with the greatest resources and money undue influence and privileged access to politicians.
According to Unlock Democracy three quarters of people want lobbying to be more transparent, over half of Conservative, and two thirds of Liberal Democrat voters think lobbyists have ‘too much influence’ in politics. I agree with them. We all remember ‘cash for questions’ one of the more extreme cases we’re aware about.
How many are we not aware are happening?
so it is good news that the government intends to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, but its plans will fail to deliver on this promise. The proposals are flawed in two key respects:
Lack of universality
The current plans will only require lobbying agencies working on behalf of third parties to register. This would exclude some 2,500-3,500 in-house lobbyists – three quarters of the industry – whose activities are identical to agency lobbyists. How bonkers is that!
2. Lack of meaningful information
The government proposes that lobbyists only reveal who is lobbying. Information on a register will only be meaningful if lobbyists’ are required to reveal their dealings with government – whom is being lobbied and what they are being lobbied on. We also think the amount of money spent on lobbying should be declared. Eminently sensible and should root out most abuses.
Clearly lobbying can help to inform decision-making but it must be conducted transparently. A robust public register of lobbying needn’t create an obstacle to this and shouldn’t place an undue burden on lobbyists (with sensible exemptions for small businesses and smaller charities).
What do you think? More cash for questions or lfinally taming of the lobbying beast?