THE BLOG

Why I'll Speak Out Against the Lobbying Bill to Select Committee

28/08/2013 17:17 BST | Updated 28/10/2013 09:12 GMT

On Thursday morning, I'll have the pleasure of giving evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, addressing the Government's lobbying plans. Those plans have been set out in its Transparency of Lobbying Bill, and they make for disappointing reading.

Of course, this Bill won't be the most visible political event over the next couple of weeks -that dubious honour will doubtless go to the debate over Syria. But it's an important issue nonetheless, and the Bill's flaws need to be set out plainly.

This Bill ostensibly aims to increase transparency in the lobbying industry. It will completely fail to do so.

It is unfair and unfit for purpose.

Unfair, because it will capture only a tiny proportion of the lobbying industry. By singling out only some third party lobbyists - those who work for lobbying agencies - it will put them a tangible disadvantage compared with others in the industry.

Unfit for purpose because it will ignore the vast, vast majority of those who lobby. Work for a trade association dedicated to lobbying? You won't be on the register. You're a trade union lobbyist? You'll escape too. Ditto if you work for a multi-national or a charity. Or if you're a lobbying lawyer or a management consultant.

The number of organisations captured by this Register will be so small as to be almost invisible. It will be very considerably smaller than the lobbying Register we hold already, and which includes individuals, consultancies, charities, and private sector teams alike. For those who are on it, it will contain less material than our existing Register does.

The Bill fundamentally shows a breath-taking ignorance of our industry. By focussing just on agencies which lobby Ministers and Permanent Secretaries directly, it ensures failure. Because as Ministers surely know, it is extraordinarily rare for a lobbying company to deal with Ministers or their most senior civil servants. That simply isn't how the industry works. Agencies brief clients. Clients make their own cases direct -and most often to civil servants considerably below the Permanent Secretary grade.

I'll happily make a prediction. This is what will happen in a year or two's time if this Bill is passed as it stands. Another 'lobbying scandal' will erupt. Like all previous such scandals, no lobbyists will be involved. Just undercover journalist and politicians on the make. There will be much fevered discussion of why the lobbying Register hasn't prevented such scandals. And we will have another lobbying Bill.

So even now, the Government should think again. Introduce a register that has industry support -one that has transparency and universality at its heart. Our industry embraces those values, it doesn't run away from them. The Government should listen; reflect; amend. And be applauded for doing so.