Conclusions and recommendations |
1. We welcome the fact that these proposals have been published for parliamentary scrutiny, as well as for wider consultation.
2. There is a public perception in some quarters that there are inappropriate relationships between Ministers and lobbyists and there is a need for action to address this perception.
3. We recommend that Government clarify whether its definition of lobbying includes lobbying advice, or only direct representation, to avoid confusion regarding who should, and should not register as a lobbyist if it goes ahead with its proposals.
4. . We are not going to endorse any particular definitions of lobbying as the definition may differ depending on the scope of a statutory register. We do not wish to pre-judge the debate. However, we urge the Government carefully to consider all definitions provided to the consultation, as the definition will be key to the success and effectiveness of any future register.
5. We recommend that
Government looks further at the hybrid model for a code of conduct for lobbyists. If Government decides on a hybrid model, it needs to consider what provision it will make for organisations that are not already a member of a professional body with a code of conduct.
6. A statutory register would be likely to solve the problem the Government poses, as it would allow the public to see the clients of lobbying firms. However, we question whether a lack of transparency over third party lobbyists in particular is as great a problem as the Government claims.
We consider that the current proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists will do nothing to resolve wider public concerns about a lack of transparency around who is meeting whom.
7. The consultation paper is lacking in clear intent from the Government, and only limited evidence is put forward to support its proposals. We conclude that a statutory register which includes only third party lobbyists would do little to improve transparency about who is lobbying whom, as these meetings constitute only a small part of the lobbying industry. The Government's proposals only scratch the surface when it comes to tackling public concern about undue access and influence over the policy making process, and they are unlikely to prevent lobbying from becoming the "next big political scandal".
8. We recommend that the Government scrap its proposals for a statutory register of third party lobbyists. It is our view that the proposals in their current form will do nothing to improve transparency and accountability about lobbying. Imposing a statutory register on a small part of the lobbying industry without requiring registrants to sign up to a code of conduct could paradoxically lead to less regulation of the lobbying industry.
9. While we are not, generally, in favour of this option we believe that no statutory register is better than what the Government currently proposes.
10. If it is the activity of lobbying that is defined, rather than what a lobbyist is, then it should be easier to require anyone who is carrying out the defined activity to be registered as a lobbyist.
11. We would not consider a simple 20% threshold to be a sensible way to determine whether or not an organisation or an individual should be required to register as a lobbyist.
12. However desirable it may be to have a comprehensive register of lobbying activity with full spending disclosures, the regulator needed to enforce such a register would be likely to be very costly. We do not think it would be appropriate to recommend a highly regulated system as a starting point for statutory registration of the lobbying industry in the current economic climate.
13. In our view, medium regulation is the most desirable, and most feasible form of a statutory register, and would certainly be an improvement on the register the Government currently proposes. We recommend that Government implement medium regulation as a starting point for a statutory register of lobbyists.
14. If the Government is adamant that the problem which needs to be solved is that people do not know the clients of third party lobbyists, the Government could simply disclose whom the lobbying firm is representing when the detail of the meeting is published.
15. If Government can publish photos of meetings within a month it should not take up to eight months to publish lists of meetings with outside stakeholders.
We recommend that Departments publish details of ministerial meetings no more than a month after the month in which the meeting occurred.
16. The more Government publishes data in consistent file formats the easier it will be for 'armchair auditors' to analyse the data and hold Government to account for its decisions.
We recommend that the Cabinet Office publish a ministerial and official meeting template in a specific machine readable format for all Departments to adhere to when publishing details of ministerial meetings.
17. If the specific date of a meeting were declared there would be less scope for unfounded allegations of undue influence. We strongly recommend that Departments publish the date and topic of a meeting with Ministers and officials.
18. However, the term 'general discussion' appears to be the most used phrase when departments are describing the purpose of the meeting, which does not, by itself, give any indication of the topic being discussed. General terms such as 'introductory' and 'catch-up' are too vague to be listed as the topic of a meeting. We recommend that the Government publish the specific topic of the meeting, unless there are immediate security concerns preventing disclosure.
19. We recommend that the Government provide the company or charity number of any organisation Ministers meet. This would ensure that even if a company is listed under an acronym, or a trading name, its identity can be verified. Companies and charities will be aware of this information and it should provide no undue burden to require them to give this information to Departments when meetings occur.
20. We recommend that the Government publish details of ministerial meetings on one website. The experience of the Who's Lobbying project suggests that it is possible to do so.
21. In conclusion, we are not convinced that the Government's current proposals for introducing a statutory register of lobbyists will do much to increase the transparency of lobbying activity in the UK. The Government's definition of a lobbyist is considered to be too narrow and potentially unworkable by lobbyists, academics, charities and transparency campaigners alike.
22. We call on the Government to scrap its current proposals for a statutory register and implement a system of medium regulation. A system of medium regulation would include all those who lobby professionally, in a paid role, and would require lobbyists to disclose the issues they are lobbying Government on. In our view, this would improve transparency about lobbying, and help to reduce public concerns about undue influence.
23. We believe that there is much the Government can do immediately to improve transparency around who is lobbying whom, through enhanced disclosure of ministerial meetings. We recommend that the Government:
publish information about ministerial meetings no more than a month after the month in which the meeting occurred;
standardize the format of meeting data, with a view to publishing all ministerial and official meetings on one website, rather than on 24 different Government websites;
improve the level of detail in meeting disclosures, so that the actual topic of a meeting is disclosed, rather than obscure terms like 'general discussion'; and
publish, where applicable, the company or charity number of any organisation that meets with Ministers or officials, so that the identity of the organisation can be properly verified.