London Mayoral favourite Ken Livingstone published his manifesto
last week, and among pledges on public transport and cutting crime was a
vow to ban lobbyists from the Greater London Authority. It is a proposal
which goes further than the recommendations made by the Neill Committee
in its latest report on standards in public life.
Neill recommended that lobbyists would not be allowed passes to
Parliament, and that meetings between lobbyists and officials had to be
But Livingstone wants lobbyists not only to be banned from the GLA, but
also to be prevented from meeting GLA staff.
Industry bodies are unsurprisingly not pleased by this news. The PRCA
and APPC accept without demur the proposal that lobbyists should not be
granted passes giving access to GLA headquarters, and points out that
their codes of conduct already forbid members or their staff from
holding passes giving them access to Westminster and to the Scottish
However, in response to Livingstone’s threat to ban lobbyists from
meeting with GLA staff, the PRCA’s public affairs unit and the APPC have
sent a joint letter saying, in essence, that his ban would be both
unworkable and undemocratic.
The difficulty in defining who is and is not a lobbyist would render the
ban impossible to enforce, they say - a point made by the Neill
Committee in its report. Defining a lobbyist would be difficult, the
report says, given the number of professions now engaged in such work -
including lawyers, accountants and management consultants, as well as
those lobbying in-house for single issue pressure groups and NGOs.
Further, the proposal is deemed to be undemocratic, as it excludes from
representation a section of Londoners, lobbyists, when Livingstone has
pledged to listen to all Londoners. What if a lobbyist is a Londoner,
asks APPC chairman Michael Burrell, ’It’s a populist soundbite that
hasn’t been thought through. If you ask Londoners what they are
concerned about they’ll say public transport or crime, they won’t say
lobbyists,’ he maintains.
This response to Livingstone’s threat is the first significant
initiative on which the PRCA and the APPC have worked together. As
Government has devolved, the boundaries between straight PR and public
affairs specialists have become less defined.
’We don’t share the same views on everything, but where we have a
similar view it makes sense to work together. We’re not interested in
sabre-rattling, we just want greater clarity to be brought to this
issue, which is such a significant one for the industry,’ says PRCA
public affairs committee chairman Simon Nayyar.
The aim of the PRCA/APPC letter is to get Livingstone to meet with them
to thrash out the issues, says Burrell. He is convinced that Livingstone
based his proposal on a misunderstanding of what lobbyists do, and on a
lack of information about how wide the range of people involved in
lobbying actually is.
Some of the interests apparently closest to Livingstone’s heart,
including a wide range of charities, are skilled at using lobbyists to
get their interests aired and their needs met, Lord Newby of Flagship
’It’s extraordinary. He may not like being lobbied by some commercial
interests, but will he ban a Shelter lobbyist from talking to his
Parliament spent a lot of time examining the role of lobbyists and
concluded that not only was it impractical to ban them, it would also be
next to impossible to register them. Essentially, anyone writing a
letter to an MP on an issue which concerns a public body is lobbying.
Lobbyists say that they would be interested to see how Livingstone would
be able to make these distinctions when Parliament has not.
The Neill Committee decided that the important thing was not so much
identifying the lobbyist, but recording the fact that contact was made,
be it by a lobbyist or by anyone else. ’We looked at the Canadian and US
systems, which both attempt to define lobbyists, and the situation there
is very complex. Legislation is constantly being altered to attempt to
clarify the matter,’ says Neill Committee press secretary Philip
The Livingstone manifesto pledge is not accorded equal significance
across the entire PR industry, however. While acknowledging its
importance, IPR chairman Colin Farrington believes the issue is not
worth getting agitated about and could be best dealt with after the
mayoral election on 4 May.
He admits the ban is ill-conceived, but points out that politicians do
have concerns about some forms of lobbying activity. The IPR is in
favour of a register of lobbyists, and would be willing to help work out
a system involving such registration with the GLA after the election,
On the thorny question of the definition of lobbyists, Farrington claims
that this is possible, but not sensible for Livingstone to ban those who
work for consultancies while allowing access to those who work
’Charities often have both in-house lobbyists and employ consultancies,
and sometimes politicians forget this. It just wouldn’t make sense to
ban those employed by the charity but who work outside it, while giving
access to those that work within it,’ he concludes.