Major reform needed as lobbying rules ‘not fit for purpose’ says Standards Committee

Transparency around lobbying "is not fit for purpose” and major reforms are needed to restore trust, according to a report released today by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Industry bodies are urging the Government to adopt the committee's recommendations (Getty)
Industry bodies are urging the Government to adopt the committee's recommendations (Getty)

The new report was commissioned by the Government in the wake of the Greensill scandal involving former prime minister David Cameron privately lobbying ministers.

'Transparency is poor'

Writing in the foreword, the committee’s chair, Lord Evans, said: “Transparency around lobbying is poor, and requires better coordination and more consistent publication by the Cabinet Office.”

He added the reforms were needed “to restore public confidence in the regulation of ethical standards in government.

The Upholding Standards in Public Life report stated: “It is too difficult to find out who is lobbying government; information is often released too late; descriptions of the content of government meetings are ambiguous and lack necessary detail.”

In addition, “transparency data is scattered, disparate and not easily cross-referenced; and information in the public interest is often excluded from data releases completely.

The report called on the Cabinet Office to gather all transparency data and publish it in “an accessible, centrally managed and searchable database”.

Tougher approach

It also recommended that the ban on lobbying after leaving government should be increased from two to five years.

Those who breach the rules should be prevented from taking up their new roles or face losing part of any pension or severance payment.

The report also advocated closing the “loophole” that allows “informal” lobbying and communications via WhatsApp or Zoom to escape scrutiny.

Although it accepted there was a case for expanding the Register of Consultant Lobbyists, it said: “The right solution is for the Cabinet Office and government departments to radically improve the quality of their transparency data.”

It added: “Government transparency releases do not need to be replaced by an expanded lobbying register provided there is a substantial improvement in the prompt publication of every department’s transparency releases.”

Industry reaction

The report is “a damning indictment of the Government’s continued indifference towards the mess that is the Lobbying Act, according to Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA. He added: “We would urge the Government to accept the recommendations of this report.”

And Alastair McCapra, CIPR chief executive, commented: “The current rules around lobbying are not adequate or effective and do more to contribute to undermining public trust, rather than demonstrating the benefit lobbying brings to society when done ethically.”

The report is a “welcome, joined-up view on how the Government should approach ethical rules and standards, he said. “We urge the Government to now consider and publicly propose how it will be implementing these necessary changes and when.”

Responding to the report, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The Government has committed to continually reinforcing high standards of conduct in public life.” They added that they will “carefully consider” the report and “set out a full update to Parliament in due course.

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