David Heath MP writes… Action at last on a lobbyists’ register

It’s strange how this selective amnesia thing works. The official Opposition has been agitating over recent weeks about when the government will publish the promised consultation on a Statutory Register of Lobbyists. You’d think they had always been in favour of such a thing. Er, no, not exactly. Because there were calls for its introduction under the last government. Liberal Democrats, for instance, asked repeatedly why the then Labour government wasn’t responding to clear recommendations from select committees to do just that. Labour ministers didn’t want to know. We even proposed amendments to at least require companies to report on their lobbying activities. Voted down by Labour back-benchers, the same ones who now want action yesterday.

Well, today we have published proposals, and they’re pretty comprehensive ones too. The paper doesn’t answer every question; hardly surprising, it is after all a consultation, and this is a complex issue. But it does take us a significant step forward to meeting yet another of our manifesto pledges, and one which became a Coalition commitment. And we are committed to bring forward legislation on the back of those consultations which will significantly increase the level of transparency in lobbying.

And transparency is what it is all about. Lobbying in itself is a perfectly legitimate activity. We all do it in support of causes we care about. Charities and NGOs have it is as their core mission. I confess, I was for a brief period a lobbyist, when I was employed by the Worldwide Fund for Nature back in the 1990s to try to strengthen the Environmental Protection Act. I don’t think what I was doing was in any way dishonourable. But what we do need to know is who is being paid to influence decision-makers in government, and to be able to form a judgment about whether their activities have influenced the outcome. That’s what a statutory Register will do.

The problem is definition. There were some who argued that, because we as a government are keen not to over-regulate small businesses, companies with less than ten employees should have been exempt. But many professional lobbyists are in precisely that category, so the proposal includes them. Some definitions would include anyone having a conversation on their own behalf, or would prevent ministers talking to companies in a sector for which they have responsibility without the chief executive registering as a lobbyist first. Not a sensible idea, and in any case such meetings are already declared by ministers under existing rules. And if Mrs Jones comes to my constituency surgery to complain about her blocked drain, I don’t really want to compel her to register as a lobbyist first!

There are still some serious questions to be addressed. Should the register include detailed financial information? Or does that simply make the register over-bureaucratic without making things more usefully transparent? Should the activities of Trades Unions be included? Are we right to insist that the industry itself should fund the register, but that it should be run by a body independent of government or lobbying companies? Should the register be extended to those who lobby only the devolved administrations or local government? And what about sanctions for those who don’t stick to the rules?

We need answers to those questions before moving forwards. But after years of shilly-shallying by the previous government, at last something is being done, and that something is the statutory register which we as Liberal Democrats campaigned for in the last election. And that’s good news.

* David Heath is MP for Somerton and Frome and Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Peter Martin
    @ Peter Parsons, The 6% figure for food is over two years. So that would be 3% p.a. on inflation. Even so the paper you reference give a worst case 1.1% for ...
  • Peter Davies
    Cost of living may be the main issue but it will never be our issue. It's the Tories issue (in a totally negative way). We only gain if we are putting forward a...
  • Fiona
    You raise some very good points Charley that need more consideration in decision making at all levels. Unfortunately, as seems inevitable these days, anything a...
  • John Barrett
    I too was sorry to hear you had been going through all this. Hopefully in the weeks and months ahead things will improve, and the medical world will wake up to ...
  • John Barrett
    Really sad to read this news. He was a lovely man. Having travelled abroad with him many years ago to a variety of meetings, he was always kind, thoughtful and ...