Earlier this week, the Guardian splashed on a lobbying story. It involved the alleged impropriety of links between a government minister and his part-time paid adviser who also works as a lobbyist outside of her Whitehall role. For those of us working in lobbying it's yet another reason why the government needs to deliver on its promise to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, to restore faith in our industry and to put to an end the drip-drip of lobbying stories that rear their head from time to time and undermine the professional, ethical and useful job that the vast majority of lobbyists are doing day in day out.
The allegation surrounding the junior minister at DECC, Greg Barker, and his adviser is that she was using her position and influence as his counsel to try to secure meetings between him and her client. Now I think that it would be unwise to comment on the specifics of this particular case but it does once again reignite the debate around the merits of a statutory register of lobbyists - something that the government plans to legislate on next year.
When it does, there are a number of big questions that need addressing: who should be included on this register, what other commitments should be expected from those included and how much will it cost?
On the first point, for the sake of good political governance we need to restore public confidence into the relationships between the policy-makers and the policy advocates. I believe the only way to do this is for every professional lobbyist to be included on a statutory register. The Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) has for some time been calling for the government to introduce such a list: a public declaration of every single person working in lobbying in the UK. From think tank advisers, to charity lobbyists, to lawyers and agency lobbyists - everyone whose professional commitments involve lobbying activity should be covered.
I'd like to see a register that provides a single point of information for anyone wanting to know who works in lobbying and who they represent. Indeed, this is exactly what we at the APPC have been pioneering for 20 years with our own voluntary register of agency lobbyists - a publicly available list of all our members and all the clients they represent, updated quarterly. But we only cover agency lobbying - just one part of the UK's overall lobbying activity. That's is why we need 100% of lobbyists to be covered by a statutory register which must not discriminate between commercial and charitable or in-house and agency.
There's a wide spectrum of views about what these lobbyists should then have to declare. In my view it is simple: a frequently updated list of their clients. Others say go further: include all meetings with ministers and officials. But if the government was to be forced to declare a minute-by-minute account of external meetings we would have to create a vast army of civil servants to police this work. This would come at a huge cost to the public purse and we must be careful to balance the regulatory benefits with the financial costs.
At the APPC we have been running our register for 20 years and have done so inexpensively, and effectively. I would encourage the new minister at the cabinet office, Chloe Smith MP, to meet with us to find out how a statutory register can be both effective and represent good value for the tax payer.
The new Cabinet Office Minister has quite a job on her hands - being lobbied by the lobbying industry itself! We will be making the case for full and frank disclose from all lobbyists so that the British public can truly have confidence in what it is that we do.