What is a lobbyist?

Lobbyists are paid to influence government decisions. There are some 4000 people working professionally in the UK's £2billion influence industry.

Many lobbyists are former MPs, some are Peers, or ex-senior officials, partners and neighbours of Cabinet Ministers, former flatmates and old colleagues of current politicians.

It's the lobbyists' job to try and shape the decisions of politicians and public officials: to mould government policy, delay or water down laws and regulations, and secure government contracts worth billions of pounds.

The biggest spenders on lobbying are large companies, for whom lobbying is a tactical investment: the aim of it is to benefit their bottom line, often against the public interest.


What is the problem? 

At the moment in the UK, we've no right to know who is lobbying whom, and for what.

We think the public should know who is influencing government decisions. And we're not alone. Over half the country thinks that lobbyists have too much influence in politics, and three quarters of people now support a register of lobbyists.


What is the solution?

A register of lobbyists would allow us to see who is lobbying whom, for what and how much money is being spent trying to influence government decisions. It's a straightforward system: lobbyists are required to regularly list this information on a public register.

Registers have existed in other countries for decades, but despite having the third biggest lobbying industry in the world (after Washington and Brussels), lobbyists are still able to operate in secret in the UK. 

This could be about to change. The coalition government has agreed in principle to open up lobbying with a register. But their current proposals are a sham.

Find out more about the government's flawed proposals.

A genuine register of lobbyists, as seen in the US, Canada, Brussels and elsewhere, is founded on two basic principles:

  • It must be universal. It must include all paid lobbyists, including lobbyists-for-hire working on behalf of clients (this would apply to some think tanks); those employed in-house by companies, trade bodies, trade unions and charities (above a minimum threshold). How this has been achieved overseas is to define the ‘activity’ of lobbying. The register would then apply to anyone who is paid to undertake this activity, with clear and straightforward exemptions.
  • It must as a minimum require lobbyists to state: who is lobbying and for whom; which agency of government is being lobbied; and broadly what they are seeking to influence. A good faith estimate of what it being spent on lobbying would also show scale, disparities and trends in lobbying. This would not create a ‘bureaucratic monster’ as has been suggested by government. Unlock Democracy have drafted a mock return and it took approximately 20 minutes to complete.


What can we do?

The government has committed to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. This give us a rare opportunity to expose the influence industry, and help change the back-room deal nature of politics. 

Find out what you can do to make sure it happens.

See also