Labour Conference Special - Heated exchange on APPC

Lobbying Ethics - Fringe event leads to fierce debate over industry regulation.

A succession of lobbyists rose from their seats to respond to attacks on the industry during a heated fringe event at the Labour Party conference.

The event, organised by the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (ALT), was billed as a debate about 'whether rules should be introduced to open lobbying up to public scrutiny'.

Members of the panel included Labour MP John Grogan, Weber Shandwick public affairs chairman Jon McLeod and academic David Miller, a founding member of the ALT.

Grogan called on more agencies to join the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) and the PRCA, saying: 'You can almost tell whether people are a member of those bodies by their demeanour, the information they put before you.'

McLeod admitted lobbyists 'don't have a good image' but highlighted his pro bono work for voluntary sector clients. He was then put on the spot by a local Manchester resident and magazine editor who asked him: 'Would you come and work in Salford for nothing?' To the evident surprise of many attending the session, McLeod immediately responded: 'Yes, I would.' Miller then attracted the wrath of lobbyists in the audience after criticising the APPC and making a case for tougher regulation of the industry.

Robbie MacDuff, chair of the APPC and director of Precise Public Affairs, led the charge against Miller, at one point shouting: 'He's wrong.' An exasperated MacDuff continued: 'I find David's naivety totally astonishing.'

MacDuff was supported by fellow audience members Darren Caplan, public affairs director at Brands2Life, and Warwick Smith, MD at College Hill Public Policy. Smith said that although statutory regulation was 'seductive', it should be avoided as 'people will try to find a way round it'.

But Miller stuck to his guns. 'This is a process that is entirely in the dark and it should be made public,' he insisted.

The ALT is calling for a mandatory public register of lobbyists, with full financial disclosure. Members of the ALT include: Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; National Union of Journalists and World Development Movement. The Commons public administration select committee is to publish its report on lobbying later this year.

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