Sheerman, a chairman of Policy Connect – a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates meetings between business and ministers via All Party Parliamentary Groups - told The Guardian yesterday that he had reluctantly registered with the Office of the Registrar of Consultants Lobbyists (ORCL), but disagreed with the rules governing the register.
He said: "We instigated Policy Connect years ago as a not-for-profit social enterprise in order to facilitate a good, open conversation between industry and MPs.
"We are the antidote to lobbyists. We have argued it with everyone. In the end, we said ‘alright, if you say we have to [register], much against our better judgment, we will do so’. And we do so under protest. I don’t see it as lobbying. I see it as part of my job as a good legislator to get good policy."
How are the public meant to have trust in our democracy when the right hand and the left hand disagree on the fundamental point of who is and is not a lobbyist?Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, head of public affairs, policy and research at the PRCA
But Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, head of public affairs, policy and research at the PRCA, said Sheeran’s inclusion on the official register only served to highlight the confusion over what constitutes a lobbyist.
He said: "We have a Register of Consultant Lobbyists that ignores the 80 per cent of lobbyists who work in-house.
"Barry Sheerman MP has become the first parliamentarian to feature on the Register. On one hand, we have the Standards Commissioner and MPs’ Code of Conduct, which prohibits paid advocacy and does not consider Sheerman to be a lobbyist. On the other hand, we have the Register of Consultant Lobbyists, which clearly considers Sheerman’s company to be offering lobbying services."
Dunn-McAfee said public trust in democracy was being undermined by Sheerman’s inclusion on the register.
He added: "How are the public meant to have trust in our democracy when the right hand and the left hand disagree on the fundamental point of who is and is not a lobbyist? The cracks are clear for all to see: it is time to look again at lobbying regulation in the UK and strengthen the definition to include all those who influence government or advise others how to influence government."
Paul Beckford, the CIPR's public affairs chair, also criticised the confusion which stemmed from the announcement.
He said: "It is hard to see how an MP can fall within the remit of the statutory lobbying register and at the same time comply with the MP’s Code of Conduct which says ‘No Member shall act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House’. The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life should now decide if registering as a Lobbyist is compatible with the rules of the House of Commons and the MPs Code of Conduct."
Meanwhile, Paul Bristow, chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC), urged MPs to "tighten up their own rules" about lobbying.
"No parliamentarian should ever receive monies where their role is to influence policy-making. It's a blatant and obvious conflict that should be easy to remedy. No MP should work as a legislator and consultant lobbyist. Conflicts of this nature threaten to sully the whole business of lobbying and lawmaking, diminishing the public trust in democracy: the perception of wrongdoing is in some ways just as important as the act itself.
"We should not be afraid to compel our policy-makers to act in a way that avoids creating perceptions of conflicts or impropriety."
This article was updated on Wednesday morning with comment from the APPC.