Alex Hilton: Lobbyists should not carry the can

It was clear that the Government would have to do something about MPs offering themselves as 'taxis for hire', so Gordon Brown has announced there will be a mandatory register of lobbyists, as though it has anything to do with Stephen Byers' humiliation or John Butterfill's desire to monetise his friendship with David Cameron.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

I'm an absolute supporter of high ethical standards in lobbying, but the Dispatches exposé didn't broadcast any misbehaviour by public affairs professionals. It only exposed the venality of MPs. So why is it that the lobbying industry has to carry the regulatory burden?

In Britain everyone ought to be a lobbyist, able and equipped to influence MPs to make better laws. It's a means by which that narrow, self-interested legislature can access some actual expertise. Obviously the Government isn't suggesting everyone makes a declaration every time they write to their MP, but even restricting registration to paid lobbyists still makes for a large number of people. How many paid employees of charities, unions and trade associations ever seek to influence an MP for their employer? How many doctors or head teachers ever write to an MP on behalf of the practice or school that pays them?

The Government can't restrict the register to consultancy firms with multiple clients. A trade union, the British Medical Association, is by far the most influential lobbying organisation in the health sector and it would be perverse to register a low-rate lobbyist for a rare cancer support group, yet not to register the BMA. Registering lobbyists will simply make it more expensive, taking this support beyond the reach of the smaller charities and trade associations, reducing the breadth of expertise to which MPs have access and focusing their attention on the powerful clients.

MPs have proven themselves corrupt. The proposed register of lobbyists is a sleight of hand to distract from their culpability. It is MPs who should be regulated and the simplest method would be to publish their diaries online. Show the voters who they are meeting.

Or are we just supposed to trust them?

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