PR industry slams last-minute Labour lobbying plans

The PR industry has hit out at a last-minute move by Labour to toughen the proposed lobbying register bill, amid more negative press for the sector.

Headlines: Lynton Crosby has been in a conflict of interest storm (Credit: Rex features)
Headlines: Lynton Crosby has been in a conflict of interest storm (Credit: Rex features)

The Conservatives’ election strategist, Lynton Crosby, and his agency Crosby Textor hit the weekend headlines after it was revealed it had acted for tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris ahead of the Government’s decision to scrap plain packaging for cigarettes.

Labour has sought to capitalise on questions about Crosby’s potential conflicts to push for amendments to the bill, including the requirement for all lobbyists to declare the financial value of their activity.

PRCA director-general Francis Ingham said the idea was ‘intrusive’ and argued that the amount clients paid agencies was a private matter.

The CIPR’s director of policy, Phil Morgan, said the institute ‘would take some convincing’ on the issue, as such disclosure would make it more onerous for companies to comply with the register.

However, APPC deputy chairman Iain Anderson said  financial disclosure was an issue its members had varying views on and the body would be likely to consider it in consultation with them.

Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, said the proposal would cater to commercial confidentiality by recommending a banding system, rather than precise amounts.

The banding system would feature several spending ranges, such as up to £10,000 or between £50,000 and £100,000.

Agencies would be forced to use this system to disclose spend from individual clients, while it would also apply to in-house lobbyists. 

‘I would expect in-house lobbyists to disclose approximately how much has been spent on a particular campaign,’ said Trickett. ‘We can’t have one rule for one section of the industry and one for another.

‘Let’s imagine a tobacco company is spending £1m on a campaign and £10,000 is spent on third-party lobbyists but the rest is spent in-house, the only bit that would be published is the £10,000 contract.’

Ingham rejected the idea of banding, describing it as ‘the thin end of the wedge’ that would pave the way for precise disclosure. The CIPR described it as ‘commercially awkward’.

The trade bodies are in favour of Labour’s calls for the  register to apply to all professional lobbyists – an argument expected to be rejected by the Government this week. 

Crosby Textor 

Crosby Textor declined to comment on calls for it to join the majority of the public affairs industry in revealing its client list, or answer further questions about transparency, as PRWeek went to press.

PRCA director-general Francis Ingham claimed the PRCA had approached it ‘a few years ago’ about joining and was told the agency had no interest in doing so.

Ingham said: ‘Crosby ought to declare his clients. It makes a mockery of the whole issue that he doesn’t.’

It is understood that Crosby Textor has not spoken to the APPC about becoming a member, which would require it to reveal its clients.  

APPC deputy chairman Iain Anderson declined to discuss the agency, but said: ‘All professional lobbyists should sign up to a self-regulatory register.’

APG transparency rules must cover all organisations

Public affairs leaders have stressed the need for ‘a level playing field’ if new rules are introduced to make All Party Groups (APGs) more transparent.

APPC chairman Michael Burrell, MHP CEO Gavin Devine and Luther Pendragon MD Simon Whale gave evidence to MPs from the Standards Committee, which is investigating how APGs should be organised.

All three agreed there would be no problem with recording a financial breakdown of services provided to groups when asked by Conservative MP Robert Buckland.

However, Burrell and Whale emphasised the need for ‘a level playing field’ in which all organisations providing secretariat services would be subject to the same requirements.

Devine added that it was ‘grossly unfair and wrong’ for management consultants and lawyers, who do not register interests and ‘purport to offer lobbying services,’ not to be subject to the same rules.

Several recommendations on changes to the funding and operation of APGs were made in a government report in January, including the suggestion of recording income and expenditure, and the transparency of external funding.

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