Time to get back to basics on lobby register

The lobbying scandal that has occupied so much of the news agenda since last weekend is nothing of the sort. No lobbyists are involved.

Ruth Wyatt: 'After a vacuum, the latest ruckus has prompted a knee-jerk response that the register will be delivered in six weeks.'
Ruth Wyatt: 'After a vacuum, the latest ruckus has prompted a knee-jerk response that the register will be delivered in six weeks.'

Parliamentarians and undercover reporters certainly, but no-one that can be defined as a lobbyist.

Reporters from The Sunday Times attempted to ensnare at least three lobbying firms that PRWeek knows of, without success, as we reported a fortnight ago.

Why? For one thing our readers aren't stupid and can pretty quickly see through sham companies asking dodgy questions in a not terribly subtle way.

For another, as Insight Public Affairs managing director John Lehal was at pains to point out in his response to The Sunday Times' phony management consultancy, the public affairs industry takes its duty to operate in an ethical and transparent way very seriously.

The parliamentary standards scandal, as it should rightly be referred to, highlights some serious and damaging issues, and exposes the weaknesses inherent in our current parliamentary system - not least of which is that members of the upper house cannot be dismissed regardless of how wildly they transgress.

But I digress.

The CIPR, PRCA and APPC have been trying to engage with the Government ever since it announced plans to create a statutory register of lobbyists, to almost no avail. Now after a three-year activity vacuum, the latest ruckus has prompted a predictably knee-jerk response that the register will be delivered in six weeks.

And, equally predictably, the latest plans do not augur well.

The proposal to limit the register to external lobbying firms, while allowing in-house teams to continue to engage unscrutinised with parliamentarians and peers, is absurd and will create more problems than it solves as it will ultimately promote greater sleight of hand.

It is time those in power took a more reasoned and sober view of a thorny issue.

By all means let the media set the news agenda, but let's not allow sensational stories to hijack something as important as getting lines of communication right.

Right in the sense of correct and right in terms of genuinely ethical behaviour.

Let's start with a proper definition of what the act of lobbying entails rather than defining who or what provides lobbying services. And let's get the bodies that understand this best together with those responsible for creating the register. Now.

ruth.wyatt@haymarket.com

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