COMMENT: PLATFORM; Lobbyists won’t get entangled in the Internet

The availability of Parliamentary information on the Internet will never replace the lobbyist’s monitoring role says Paul Barnes

The availability of Parliamentary information on the Internet will never

replace the lobbyist’s monitoring role says Paul Barnes



Sitting in the pub last week a young colleague dropped a minor

bombshell.



‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said. ‘You know that a lot of our work is

monitoring Parliament and Whitehall for clients? Well, what are we going

to do when all this information goes on the Internet ?’



He’s got a point. We lobbyists thrive on information. It’s a commodity

which many lobbying companies sell to clients through the formal

monitoring of Hansard and other similar publications. Many of our

contracts with clients are purely for monitoring and even our broader

government relations work will invariably include an element of

monitoring support. So how much of a threat to lobbying companies is the

growth of access to this information through the Net ?



A great deal of political information from government departments and

party offices is on the Internet already and it can only be a matter of

time before Hansard joins it. The governments of Australia and Canada,

whose Parliamentary systems are largely based on our own, currently give

free access to all of their Parliamentary proceedings.



On the surface my colleague was right to be worried. We could see our

monitoring units change from being profit centres to being cost centres.

But the truth is somewhat different. In the first place it is highly

unlikely that the Internet will give us free and complete access to

information from Westminster and Whitehall. Hansard is a valuable

commodity for HMSO, which is in the process of being privatised. It is

unlikely that they will ever distribute this information for free on the

Internet. My guess is that the subscription we will all have to pay will

be just as high as it is now.



It is also clear that there are certain important documents that will

never get on the Internet. Hansard is fine for learning what has

happened in Parliament, but you need the Order Paper if you want to know

what’s going to happen. But this is a daily publication of no archive

importance and is unlikely ever to get on the Internet.



So the information may be on the Internet but it won’t be cheap or

complete. But there will still be a huge amount of information on there.

Ironically, it is this wealth of available information that will

continue to ensure that our monitoring units have a role.



There are two challenges which I am convinced that only dedicated

monitoring units can meet. The first is to identify the relevant

information, filter out the rest and ensure that what results is

comprehensive. And this must be done quickly. The longer it is left, the

less useful the information is.



The second challenge is interpretation. Information is only useful if

you know what to do with it. Although the Internet will give you much of

the raw data, you need to be able to recognise what is just for

information and what is a spur to action. You need to know how to

respond effectively and when not to respond at all. It is the knowledge

of the Parliamentary system that gives dedicated monitoring units the

edge.



So will the Internet mean the demise of lobbyist’s monitoring units?

Probably not. But it might just demonstrate to clients how difficult

effective Parliamentary monitoring is. Then they might remember what a

bargain they get in the first place !



Paul Barnes is a director of GJW Government Relations



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