The right of citizens to lobby their Government and elected representatives is fundamental to a healthy, vibrant democracy. Lobbying itself comes in many forms, from one individual seeking to influence another, to an organised attempt, by a group of citizens, a company, or the media, to influence legislators by a variety of means.
Lobbyists can provide Government and parliamentarians with beneficial expert information and help refine and improve policy. However, when there are concerns, as published widely in the media of late, that some lobbyists may have undue access and influence over the policy making process it threatens to reduce public confidence in the whole political system.
It has been difficult to ascertain the Government's intent on lobbying regulation from the consultation paper, Introducing a statutory register of lobbyists, published on 20 January 2012. The Government's proposals attempt to shed light on whom third-party lobbyists and lobbying firms represent when they meet Ministers. The proposals are limited to third party lobbyists, as the Government has made it very clear that it prefers a limited register of activity to a regulator for the whole industry.
The consultation paper also questions whether the scope of the register should be expanded to include all those who lobby professionally, which could include charities, trade unions, trade associations, think tanks and campaign groups. Many of these groups are already subject to regulations in their own sectors. Charities who wish to lobby must follow strict guidance laid down by the Charity Commission, and trade union activities are regulated by the Certification Office.
Our report looks at the Government's proposals, and examines whether a statutory register of lobbyists would increase transparency about who is lobbying whom. We consider other options for statutory regulation, and finally identify ways in which Government could immediately improve transparency surrounding lobbying, through publishing more details of ministerial meetings, irrespective of the type of statutory register it may eventually decide to implement.
It has been extremely difficult to scrutinise the Government's proposals for introducing a statutory register of lobbyists, as the consultation raises questions regarding the scope, breadth and resources needed if different definitions of lobbying were to be decided upon. Defining the activity of lobbying is fundamental to defining who is a lobbyist. The Government's consultation paper fails to do so.