15 July 2013
Tomorrow's Bill outlining the government's plans for a register of lobbyists is a case of about time. Over three years on from David Cameron declaring lobbying the 'next big scandal' and saying 'We can't go on like this', the Coalition is honoring its pledge. But, if tomorrow's Bill follows the government's proposals to date, the proposed register will be a sham.
If David Cameron sticks with these proposals, the government's register will be like a mechanic using gum to mend the radiator, handing back the car and calling it fixed. And when it breaks again – when another lobbying scandal comes along – the public will be rightly angry that they bodged it.
The government is predicted to cut and paste from plans it published last January. These were widely derided by the industry and public. They proposed that only third party agency lobbyists should be forced to register, and then only declare their clients. This is not a register of lobbyists in any real sense. It would force Lynton Crosby to reveal his corporate clients, but exclude over three quarters of the industry, including the tobacco companies that have fiercely resisted public health measures. In addition to excluding the majority of lobbyists, such a minimal register would contain no information on their activity: whom are they lobbying, what are they seeking to influence, and how much are they spending trying to bend the government to their will.
The graphics below illustrate why the government must include all commercial lobbyists in the UK's £2billion industry, and then require them to disclose basic information on their lobbying activity and their interaction with government: who is lobbying whom, about what, and how much are they spending. Without this, how will the public be able to scrutinise the influence industry? How will it help us to hold our politicians to account for their decisions? The truth is, it won't. It will be a sham.