Lobbyists' sway unmasked

A Hansard Society report outlines the influence of public affairs in moulding legislation.

Parliament: Legislation more open
Parliament: Legislation more open

The power of the public affairs industry has been highlighted in an authoritative new report that states lobbyists often make 'a noticeable difference' to the final shape of legislation.

The Hansard Society found that lobbyists were more influential than the media in shaping the legislative process. Its Law in the Making report singles out defence industry lobbyists as being especially powerful.

The Hansard Society conducted more than 80 interviews with ministers, MPs, peers, government and parliamentary officials, party political staff, journalists and pressure groups.

Its aim was to assess the influences and elements that come together in making an Act of Parliament. The report was due to be launched as PRWeek went to press.

It concludes: 'The legislative process has become more open to external groups such as lobbyists, campaign groups and think-tanks, the number of which have grown substantially in recent years. We found that on the whole, external influences, and in particular external groups, can make a noticeable difference to the operation of the legislative process and the final shape of legislation - often more than they themselves realise. The media also have an impact, but it is more variable.'

The report's authors found that once a bill enters Parliament, parliamentarians 'rely heavily on information provided by external groups'.

The report highlights the influence of pressure groups on the Welfare Reform Act 2007. It states: 'It was very apparent during the parliamentary passage that lobby groups were having a major input into the debates, in committee and chamber, in both Houses... This role for MPs and peers as intermediaries, even mouthpieces for lobbyists, cannot be underestimated.'

The report suggests that the Welfare Reform Act 2007 was primarily influenced by pressure groups such as Child Poverty Action Group and Shelter. But the influence of private sector lobbyists is also noted.

'A number of people to whom we spoke asserted that the defence industry had a significant influence, though it was largely behind the scenes,' says the report. Labour MP Roger Berry is quoted as saying that BAE has 'more spin doctors than No 10' and that it is 'lobbying all the time'.

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