Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper previously pledged that a consultation paper would be published in November. But the Cabinet Office has now set a new deadline to publish the document before Christmas.
Sources said the delay reflected a lack of agreement in Government over whether the statutory register should include details of lobbyists’ meetings with ministers and officials.
In recent weeks, pressure has mounted on the Government to act on the issue, after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles was attacked in parliament and in the media over a private dinner with Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.
An Early Day Motion recently tabled by Labour MP Michael Meacher states that all ministerial meetings with lobbyists should be logged, 'including the topics discussed at those meetings'. Some in Downing Street believe that greater disclosure of such meetings would have popular support.
However lobbyists and a number of MPs have argued that it would be expensive and overly-bureaucratic to list every meeting on a public register. They have warned that it would also weaken the policy-making process.
In a recent commons debate, Tory MP George Eustice said: ‘I am nervous about going down the route of disclosing every meeting with people who are trying to lobby us, because it suggests that we base our opinions on the number of people who have lobbied us about something, rather than exercise judgment, which is what we actually do.
He added that it could also ‘create a situation whereby organisations start to feel that they almost have an entitlement to meet ministers on the basis that they have met somebody else’.
The delay in publication also means that the Government’s plans for a lobbying register no longer risk being drowned out in the media by this week’s coverage of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and the strike over pensions.
The Cabinet Office’s reluctance to publish the plans this month follows a number of statements from Cabinet Office minister Mark Harper, in which he committed to publishing the lobbying consultation in November.
On 25 October, in response to a question from Tory MP Geoffrey Cox, he said: ‘We remain committed to creating a statutory register of lobbyists and will publish a consultation paper next month.’
On 2 November, in a Commons debate on lobbying, Harper said: ‘The issue is transparency… We are committed to introducing a statutory register. We will publish our proposals for consultation before the end of this month, and then I hope we can engage in that debate. ‘
And on 8 November, in response to a question from Tory MP Julian Sturdy, Harper again stated: ‘The Government will publish a consultation paper on the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists this month.’
However, speaking this week, a Cabinet Office spokesman told PRWeek: ‘It’s not going to be this month, but it will be in the coming weeks.’