Speaking in the wake of ‘lobbying’ scandals created by journalists posing as lobbyists, they suggested a narrow agency-focused register would not by itself prevent wrongdoing by MPs and Lords.
Andy Mayer, head of public affairs UK and Ireland for chemicals company BASF, claimed it was ‘not a solution to the issue of improper conduct’.
‘The Government should think again and start with the heart of the problem, unethical politicians, behaving unethically. There is no form of lobbying register that would or could provide transparency on all those seeking to influence policy, unless the focus for disclosure is on those being lobbied, not the lobbyists.’
Mayer argued that it should be for civil servants and parliamentarians to publish their meetings including details of who attended and what they were about.
A similar argument was made by Anne Gregory, professor of PR at Leeds Metropolitan University, who said that both MPs and lobbyists should keep a register of their contacts.
She said: ‘We have to come up with a definition of what is a substantive contact – is it when an MP agrees to listen to a lobbyist or once they have agreed to work for a lobbyist? Once we have agreed on that, both sides should declare the contact.’
Gregory, also chair-elect of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, said that if the Government does introduce a register it should be universal rather than just covering corporate lobbyists.
Highlighting how the public sector seeks to influence government, she said: ‘There’s quite a lot of discussion about the link between health and social care. It’s perfectly legitimate but would come very clearly under the definition of lobbying.’
Meanwhile, Direct Line head of public affairs and sustainability Andrew Friel added his voice to those arguing for a universal register.
‘The Government’s current proposal should not be limited to agency lobbyists. It needs to include those who are in-house, lawyers, NGOs and so on,’ he said.
Mayer said if a register that covered in-house was brought in he would not object to being registered, unless the detailed requirements were excessively expensive to implement.