Submission to the Public Administration Committee: A statutory lobbying register

Unlock Democracy welcomed the government’s commitment to introduce a statutory register of lobbying interests. However, we are disappointed that proposals that took so long to produce are so limited in scope. The Public Administration Select Committee published its report recommending a register in 2008 and it was part of the Coalition Agreement and yet two years into the new Parliament we are only just at the green paper stage. We are particularly concerned that the lack of senior ministerial leadership on this issue had allowed the policy area to drift.

Unlock Democracy is not opposed to lobbying - indeed we lobby Parliament, the UK and devolved governments and local government. Lobbying is a part of the democratic process, the problem is when it's done in secret so the public have no way of knowing who has been putting pressure on the government to do what, or how much money they are spending on exerting that pressure.

The perception that companies and wealthy individuals can buy access and influence is undermining trust in our political system. There have been a number of scandals in recent months that have demonstrated this, from the Fox/Werrity affair , to the allegations of Bell Pottinger  boasting about their access to the Prime Minister and McKinsey’s alleged influencing of the Health and Social Care Bill .

We believe that the government’s proposals are fundamentally flawed and will do little to promote transparency in lobbying. Our main concerns are that the definition of lobbying is too narrow and that the level of information recorded in the register would reveal little about the network of relationships between government and those who lobby. 

Unlock Democracy wants an open and transparent lobbying system. We believe that the purpose of any lobbying register should be to capture lobbying activity rather than individual lobbyists. This means that:

  • both in-house and agency lobbyists should be covered by the register
  • the register must include information not just on who the lobbyist’s client is, but also who is being lobbied, the policy area that is being lobbied and the amount of money that is being spent on lobbying.

This does not have to be an arduous or overly bureaucratic process. Unlock Democracy has completed a mock registration form for the first quarter of 2012 to demonstrate how this could be achieved without putting an undue burden on the organisations concerned.