Comms bosses accuse the Government of dragging its feet on register

Senior comms figures have expressed concerns that a statutory register of lobbyists could be delayed or even kicked into the long grass, as the Government faces more pressing concerns.

Register: Cabinet Office will publish draft document before spring
Register: Cabinet Office will publish draft document before spring

With the consultation into a statutory register now complete, the Government says that it will consider the responses carefully before publishing draft legislation before the end of this session next spring.

But after MPs hit out at the Government during Deputy Prime Minister's question time on Tuesday of last week for 'dragging its feet', one well-placed source told PRWeek that constitutional reform minister Mark Harper felt 'besieged' through the consultation process and was finding it difficult to come to a compromise of all the viewpoints.

'Everyone is throwing conflicting advice at Harper,' he said, adding that Cabinet sources have also suggested a bill would not get through.

CIPR director of policy and comms Phil Morgan said the consultation had 'opened the Cabinet Office's eyes' to the scale of the problems it faced, although he believed it remained committed to it.

Morgan also suggested that the Leveson Inquiry was throwing up so many revelations about the relationships between government, business and the media that the Cabinet Office may decide that the register will not go far enough.

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham stated his concern that the Government was continuing to 'drift' on the statutory register.

'If the Government has decided to shelve a register, it should say so,' he added.

The PRCA has this week written an open letter to Nick Clegg to tell him that his current plans for lobbying are 'bound to fail'. 'They will fail because they exclude the vast majority of lobbyists.'

However, a Cabinet Office spokesman maintained that the Government remains engaged in preparing the bill to the timescales it has already outlined.

‘We’ve had a good response to this important consultation – it only closed last month, and we’ve committed to publishing a summary before the summer recess. A draft bill and white paper will then be published during this session of Parliament.

‘It is important to get this policy right, and the variety of views expressed show just how important it is not to rush into it.’

The activities of in-house practitioners once again came under the spotlight in the shape of News Corporation lobbyist Frederic Michel, who was questioned at the Leveson Inquiry last week.

At Deputy Prime Minister's questions, Labour's Huw Irranca-Davies said ministers were 'undermining democracy' by delaying the plans and urged the Government to 'get on with it'.

Harper retorted that 'rushing forward with ill-considered legislation ... is not a very good way of legislating'.

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