Once again, a sitting MP has brought the lobbying industry into disrepute

The allegations reported in The Guardian that a sitting MP lobbied for firms he was paid to advise has a depressingly familiar ring to it and unfairly tarnishes the reputation of the lobbying industry.

Owen Paterson is facing questions over potential lobbying misconduct (©GettyImages)
Owen Paterson is facing questions over potential lobbying misconduct (©GettyImages)

Once again, we are in a position where the conduct of an elected politician is being called into question, with no industry or consultant lobbyist involved

Quite simply, I think it is wrong for elected MPs, or any sitting politician, to conduct paid-for lobbying on behalf of clients. 

You cannot be both legislator and lobbyist at the same time.

The lobbying industry in the UK has always attempted to maintain high standards of self-regulation, with consultant lobbyists having to register both paid-for clients and members of staff conducting lobbying activity for many years.

The sector operates under a strict Public Affairs Code, developed in consultation with practitioners and overseen by the Public Affairs Board of the industry’s professional body, the PRCA.

The Code is very clear that consultancy agencies are not allowed to employ an elected or any sitting politician to undertake paid-for lobbing activity.

This is exactly how it should be. 

It also begs the question of why, when the lobbying industry has got its own house in order, we continue to have the drip, drip of allegations made against politicians.

The answer to that question is that the lobbying regulatory framework in Westminster is not fit for purpose.

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 was introduced by David Cameron’s coalition government and targets the activities of consultant lobbyists only.

The Act established the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL), "to enhance the transparency of those seeking to lobby Ministers and Permanent Secretaries on behalf of a third party".

It is not the fault of ORCL, but this narrowly defined framework does not cover the breadth or depth of the industry. It excludes in-house lobbyists, does not cover the lobbying of MPs and Lords outside of government, and requires less transparency of lobbying being undertaken than under the industry’s self-regulatory model.

Importantly, it has also failed to get a grip on the behaviour of some politicians.

What is needed is a wholesale review of the lobbying framework, something the Public Affairs Board is developing ideas on.

Those of us who stand up for transparency also stand up for transparent lobbying, and would like to see this legislation revisited so that it actually reflects the shape and nature of lobbying that takes place in Westminster.

In that way it can put the right protections in place.

The danger is that the lobbying industry’s reputation continues to be damaged by lobbying stories involving no actual lobbyists and we end up with further misplaced regulatory interventions that do not address the real issues. 

Tom Frackowiak is managing director, UK Public Affairs, at Cicero 

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