With the spectre of sleaze still fresh in their minds, another old
complaint has come back to haunt lobbyists: that some of their number
are securing passes to Parliament by paying for bogus ’researchers’ for
This practice is wholly unsatisfactory, not least because it perpetuates
the myth of underhand lobbyists operating in collusion with unprincipled
MPs. This impression is completely false. Most MPs and lobbyists are,
and always have been, entirely honourable. Furthermore, lobbying is a
fundamental part of democracy. It is every voter’s right to lobby MPs,
and whether that is done personally or through a pressure group or a
hired adviser makes no difference.
The real issue is that of transparency and regulation. In that respect,
the media has performed a valuable function in forcing MPs to clarify
and enforce the standards of behaviour expected of them. It has also
spurred lobbyists into greater self regulation.
But the inherent weakness in the system of self regulation is plain -
there is no requirement to register with professional bodies like the
APPC or IPR before setting up shop as a lobbyist.
The solution is surely for passes to be given to lobbyists in their own
right - provided they are registered and sign up to a code of
This would mean that professional bodies would have the teeth to
regulate the industry effectively.
Westminster must look to the European parliament for its lead. There,
registered lobbyists can get passes if they sign up to a code of conduct
and are transparent about the purpose and frequency of their visits.
It’s time to legitimise the presence of UK lobbyists too. No more hiding
in dark corners.