The lobbying industry is going through some changes at the moment. The referendum result created a level of uncertainty which initially left lobbyists anxious, and firms are having to quickly come to terms with not only Brexit negotiations, but also a new Cabinet and potentially a new leader of the Opposition. Alongside this, a bill going through the House of Lords is calling for greater transparency in the industry: given the level of change already underway, could this be the ideal time for the industry to open up?
There have long been calls for a register that requires all lobbyists to reveal who’s being lobbied and on what issues. The current register, introduced during the coalition government, was designed to allay fears that there’s an ‘exchange of favours’ which takes place during the process. However, because this register excludes lobbyists working ‘in house’ for companies, many think the impact on transparency doesn’t go far enough: as things stand, if an energy firm employs its own lobbyists, they don’t need to declare their actions.
Lord Brooke’s Bill is designed to change this. It seeks to establish a comprehensive register of lobbyists that has to be signed regardless of employer, effectively opening it up to public scrutiny in a way which is currently only done voluntarily. As a Private Member’s Bill, it’s unlikely to become law unless it receives Government backing, but its timing is pertinent in the current climate of change and uncertainty, when the industry is already increased scrutiny.
It’s worth noting that the PRCA, the industry representative of lobbying and communications professionals, has expressed support for a full register. In response to the Bill’s second reading last Friday, they put out the following press release:
“Lord Brooke should be applauded for calling for the inclusion of in-house lobbyists and including a more robust definition of lobbying. The current register’s narrow focus on consultant lobbyists excludes the majority of the lobbying industry. Time and time again, we have argued that the register cannot be truly representative and transparent unless it includes in-house lobbyists.’’