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Lobbying report – view from the APPC

Written by Guest on Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Guest blogger, Iain Anderson, Chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, gives his take on our report Lifting the Lid on Lobbying: The Hidden Exercise of Power and Influence in the UK.


 

By Iain Anderson Chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants

Transparency International’s Lifting the Lid on Lobbying report makes an important contribution to the debate about a range of ethical and transparency issues affecting Parliament and outlines a suite of governance measures designed to shed light on how policy-makers interact with outside interests. However in making its case for reform of the lobbying industry I am disappointed that the report doesn’t present a more complete and balanced assessment of the industry. So whilst I agree with the thrust of the findings, I cannot help but take issue with the way lobbyists – already much maligned in public debate– are represented.

That said, there’s much that’s right with Transparency International’s analysis. In focussing its recommendations on strengthening the transparency and integrity obligations on those being lobbied, rather than lobbyists themselves – whose professional behaviour is mandated by the APPC’s tough self-regulatory regime – it shines a light on an area that the Parliamentary authorities might usefully look at. 

Transparency International should also be applauded for their critique of the Lobbying Act. Whilst I cannot support all of their recommendations (widening its scope to include local councilors seems excessively broad and risks being disproportionately bureaucratic) APPC has consistently argued for a statutory regime which is comprehensive – covering both in-house and consultant lobbyists. The soon-to-be launched register will, our research has found, cover around 1% of lobbying interactions with ministers – hardly the great transparency breakthrough the Government is hoping for. Besides, the Coalition introduced their Lobbying Act under what I believe is a mistaken prospectus: the need to clean up consultancy lobbying. In fact, third-party lobbyists have in recent years a distinguished record of behaviour of which I am very proud, thanks in large part to the growth of APPC membership and member agency adherence to our code of conduct which seeks to enhance good practise and ethical behaviour. 

There are many other valid, common-sense recommendations: prohibiting parliamentarians from providing paid advice to lobbyists (which members of the House of Lords can do) seems like a long overdue reform and has my full support. However, I remain concerned that the lobbying industry which – under the leadership of APPC and others – has done much to drive a transparency agenda over recent years, is viewed in this report through a prism of wariness and scepticism that is unjustified. 

In its opening lines the report describes a “lack of transparency” in lobbying, something which I think is simply untrue. It goes on to say that “all lobbyists in the UK may keep any information about who they have lobbied and on what issues they have lobbied secret from the public.” The UK has done more than many countries to open up the interaction between the lobbyist and the lobbied. APPC’s register requires quarterly publication of which third-party lobbyists represent which clients. Recently we’ve required APPC members to publicly state which clients pay for All-Party Group activity. We prevent members from holding parliamentary passes or employing sitting parliamentarians. This is not some fringe movement – more than 80 agencies adhere to our Code and the numbers grow every year. 

The report goes on to describe a situation of ‘capture’ “in which a politician or public servant that should be acting in the public interest, advances the commercial or special concerns of one interest group to the exclusion of others.” My own experience is that MPs (and peers) are largely motivated by honourable and decent considerations (the intellectual merits of an argument, the impact on their constituents, the economic and social outcomes of a decision and so on). The notion that any MP is somehow ‘captured’ or ensnared by a ruthless lobbying industry is just rank exaggeration.  Indeed, it’s also worth remembering that it’s not just lobbyists who contact MPs – sometimes policy-makers seek out expert outside opinion from within the lobbying community. 

It’s a two way street and long may that continue for a corruption-resources-corruption-resources-healthy and open democracy.

Further reading

Blog: Is there a problem with lobbying?
Blog: Lobbying the NHS
Report: Lifting the Lid on Lobbying
Stats: Visual summary of TI’s report

You can follow Iain on Twitter: @iain_w_anderson

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Read 2852 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 12:18

Guest

The TI-UK blog features thought and opinion from guest writers as well as TI staff. Any opinions expressed by external contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Transparency International UK.

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