Inquiry into lobbying industry

MPs are to launch a wide-ranging investigation into the public affairs industry, as pressure mounts on agencies that refuse to reveal the identities of their clients.

Agency bosses such as Bell Pottinger’s Lord Bell could be called before the Public ­Administration Committee as it presses ahead with the first detailed parliamentary examination of lobbying since 1991.

A briefing note circulated among committee members this week and obtained by PRWeek reveals that the committee will launch an ­inquiry into ‘the transpa­rency of the lobbying industry, the effectiveness of recent ­attempts at self-regulation, and whether the rules for those in Parliament and government should be changed’.

The committee, chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright, has drawn up a list of ten questions that it wants ­answered (see list, below). It will invite written evidence from interested parties and official hearings are ­expected to take place later this year.

The issue of transparency in lobbying has been gaining prominence in Parliament since Labour backbencher John Grogan MP tabled an Early Day Motion on the subject in May. Some 60 MPs have now signed up to the motion, which was first revealed in PRWeek back in February.

Grogan said the new inquiry could prove to be as explosive as the investigation into private equity, which made headlines this week. ‘I think this inquiry provides an excellent opportunity for Britain’s lobbying industry to put its best foot forward and demonstrate the essential role it plays in our democracy,’ he told PRWeek.

‘On the other hand, if leading firms continue to refuse to participate fully in the self-regulation of the industry, it could well be that some of the committee’s evidence sessions in the autumn prove to be as highly charged as the Treasury Select Committee’s current hearings on private equity.’

Ten questions to be answered...

01. What does it mean for an organisation to lobby government or Parliament?

02. Which ways of seeking to influence policy and decision makers are acceptable, and which are unacceptable?

03. What evidence is there of the effect of lobbying on the policy and decision-making processes?

04. Do some organisations have more influence over Parliament and government than others?

05. Is it possible to limit lobbying and yet to ensure that government and Parliament are properly informed?

06. Are the provisions in the APPC’s and PRCA codes of conduct appropriate for a self-regulatory system? Why are some multi-client lobbyist firms not members of these associations?

07. Should lobbyists be regulated by an outside body? If so, what would the focus be? Who would enforce the regulation?

08. Are current transparency requirements on the behaviour of public officials, ministers and MPs appropriate?

09. Should government organisations lobby? If so, is it appropriate for them to use multi-client public affairs consultancies?

10. Is there anything that the UK can learn from attempts to regulate lobbying in other countries?


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