News report of Spinwatch, a steering committee member of ALTER-EU, about the UK governments' proposals for lobbying reform
(This news story also featured in ALTER-EU's 7th newsletter. If you are interested in receiving more news of ALTER-EU, please contact our coalition coordinator.)
The UK government published its long-awaited proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists on 20 January. They were swiftly and widely condemned by campaigners, lobbyists and opposition politicians alike for being shameful and meaningless - a whitewash.
The plans, which will now be the subject of a three month consultation, are fundamentally flawed in two key respects: they propose that a register should only apply to third party lobbyists – ie agency lobbyists; and that they should only reveal who is lobbying for whom.
The government defines the problem with lobbying in the most narrow terms. It’s worth repeating the rationale for this from the Minister in charge of the policy, Mark Harper: “Ministers already have to say who we meet. If we've met with outside organisations, we say we've met with them. So that’s very transparent…
The gap is that if you meet with a lobbying company you know you've met with them, but if people don't know who their clients are, they don't know who they're representing, then there's a gap there, and that’s what we've sought to address in our proposals."
Not only is this to grossly misrepresent the actual purpose of a register, it is a false statement.
Of the 5000+ meetings declared so far by ministers in this government, only five are with lobbying agencies where the client has not been declared. Other sections of the consultation document also seek to deliberately mislead.
For example, the numbers of in-house lobbyists have been grossly underestimated, distorting industry figures that show that they make up three quarters of the industry. Certain key pieces of information have also been deliberately omitted.
That the statutory register as proposed would simply put the existing flawed voluntary register of lobbyists, operated by the industry, on a statutory footing. A partial system of minimal disclosure is what the industry has been lobbying for.
It has since been revealed that the government has been holding secret meetings with the industry for over a year to discuss its plans. At the same time refusing to meet with campaigners.
It’s not without irony that the government has also sought to block the release of details of its dealings with lobbyists, requested under the Freedom of Information Act, for more than a year.
The government’s clear opposition to a statutory register was further underlined when it was revealed at the weekend that the official responsible for drafting the government’s response, tweeted that she wished campaigners for greater transparency in lobbying ‘would die’. I wish [the campaign group] Unlock Democracy would die. I am prepared to help it along," she wrote. (Unlock Democracy, a member of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, had encouraged its members to write to the government with their concerns about the lengthy delays in publishing its plans for a register).
She resigned at the weekend. A Parliamentary inquiry into the government’s proposals for a statutory register, and its approach to the policy will start on 2 February, when the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency is due to give evidence.
We will be calling for immediate amendments to the consultation paper, and full disclosure of the government’s discussions with the industry. The Cabinet Office's consultation document can be downloaded here. http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/introducting-statutory-...