Public Affairs: Delay for register blueprint

Industry figures at odds over delay to publication of consultation paper.

Public affairs industry bosses have expressed conflicting views over the Government's decision to delay publishing its plans for a statutory register of lobbyists.

Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper previously pledged that a consultation paper would be published in November. But as revealed on prweek.com/uk (29 November), the Cabinet Office has set a new deadline to publish the document before Christmas.

Insight Public Affairs MD John Lehal blasted the decision. 'The delay helps neither the industry, the Government, nor indeed the perception the public has of lobbying,' he said.

'There are some fundamental issues that need to be resolved: not least who the lobbying register will encompass, and the level of information organisations will need to declare. The delay only serves to allow critics of lobbying to suggest the Cabinet Office does not know what to do, which is just not helpful.'

But Iain Anderson, director at Cicero Group and chairman of the CIPR Public Affairs Group, insisted: 'The delay to the consultation is not set to be long. Better to get the consultation right and ensure a universal approach from the start.'

Harper had repeatedly pledged that the consultation paper would be published in November. The delay in publishing has prevented the plans being drowned out in the media by this week's coverage of the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and the pensions strike.

Sources said the delay reflected a lack of agreement within Government over whether the statutory register should include details of lobbyists' meetings with ministers and officials.

In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the Government to act on the issue, after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was attacked over a private dinner with Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.

Campaigners argue that all such meetings should be listed on the forthcoming register, and some in Downing Street believe that the measure would have popular support.

However, lobbyists and a number of MPs have argued that it would be expensive and overly bureaucratic to list every meeting on a public register. They have warned that it would also weaken the policy-making process.

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