OPINION: MPs must not succumb to calls for tough lobbying regulations

But the select committee should criticise agencies that refuse to sign up to ethical codes, says Rod Cartwright.

Since appearing before the public administration select committee as part of its inquiry into lobbying I have frequently been asked two simple questions - what was it like and what do you think the outcome will be?

The first is pretty straightforward - it was a generally fair and balanced session that was hopefully of value to the committee.

That said, the session did reflect some of the complexities of a debate that is often misguidedly portrayed as black and white. Of particular concern was the extent to which the word 'lobbyist' remains almost exclusively attached to public affairs consultancies and the false dichotomy made between agencies and the world of in-house public affairs.

So what happens next? With a number of evidence sessions remaining, matters are far less clear-cut and I can only suggest my personal hopes for what the committee will recommend.

Firstly, my sincere hope is that the committee supports the steps that PRCA, APPC and CIPR have taken in developing the Guiding Principles initiative and our efforts to see it rolled out to cover all those interacting with our political institutions.

After all, most agencies operate according to recognised codes of conduct (now additionally backed by the Guiding Principles).

In contrast, there is a raft of individuals and organisations interacting with institutions - charities, NGOs, corporations, management consultancies, law firms and public bodies - that do not operate within a code of practice or even a set of principles related to that interaction. This cannot be sustainable.

The case has simply not been made for the enormously challenging notion of statutory regulation, or even a statutory register. Rather, I believe strongly that the Guiding Principles represent the natural next step in the evolution of self-regulation.

Secondly, while no individual or organisation can or should be compelled to join one of the self-regulatory bodies, the committee has a real opportunity to send a strong signal to all those who still choose to sit outside a recognised code that collective issues are best dealt with collectively.

Rod Cartwright is MD of public Affairs at Ketchum and PRCA public affairs committee chair. The Commons public administration select committee was due to hear from Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, Luther Pendragon and DLA Piper this week.

www.prweek.com/uk for the latest from this week's session.

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