Industry expects crackdown

Government sources have confirmed measures to impĀ­rove transparency in lobbying are on the cards, following renewed pressure in Westminster.

Pressure: Jack Straw
Pressure: Jack Straw

A senior Cabinet Office source told PRWeek it was ‘too early to tell’ what sort of measures would be introduced. But the source added: ‘Transparency should be at the heart of it.’

Since last month’s ‘Cash for amendments’ story in The Sunday Times, 46 MPs have signed an early day motion (EDM) calling for a register of lobbyists.

In another development, Justice Secretary Jack Straw this weekend backed greater regulation. Asked if lobbyists played a role that was ‘too large’ in British politics, Straw told Sky News: ‘I think they do.’ He went on: ‘We need more explicit control… first of all, total transparency.’

The campaign group Alliance for Lobbying Trans­parency (ALT) has also been flexing its muscles. This week it placed a full-page ad in The Times calling for a mandatory register of lobbying activity.

Lobbyists have previously talked down the likelihood of any significant regulation of the industry. But Bell Pottin­ger Public Affairs chair Peter Bingle said this week: ‘For the first time in many years, I am worried regulation of lobbyists is going to become a reality. EDM 563 in itself is not a worry. What concerns me much more is the mood at Westminster. Jack Straw’s comments are scary. Our politicians seem to have forgotten our system of government is still the best in the world.’

Weber Shandwick UK public affairs chairman Jon McLeod was more optimistic, saying regulation was ‘possible – and not entirely undesirable’. He added: ‘Light-touch regulation that is properly framed should hold no fear for the lobbying industry. You just need to know who is a lobbyist and for whom they are acting.’

Rory O’Neill, partner at Gardant Communications, said the political pressure coincided with changes in the industry: ‘Traditional lobbying is giving way to multi-disciplinary services. So now does feel like the right time to formalise the industry, but it is important those eff­orts are proportionate and achievable.’

Meanwhile, the APPC has lined up a meeting with Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson to discuss the issue.

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