Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall - Public Administration Committee Contents


This Report takes a fresh look at lobbying, in the first parliamentary inquiry on the subject since 1991. Lobbying is about influence, and influence is impossible without access. Lobbying is publicly associated with the activities of consultancies on behalf of their various clients. But it is also carried out by other kinds of professional representative, such as lawyers, as well as in-house by a vast array of organisations with an interest in public policy and decisions. These range from corporations, to trade associations, to charities, to grassroots campaigners.

Lobbying should be—and often is—a force for good. But there is a genuine issue of concern, widely shared and reflected in measures of public trust, that there is an inside track, largely drawn from the corporate world, who wield privileged access and disproportionate influence. Because lobbying generally takes place in private, it is difficult to find out how justified concerns in this area are. This is why there have been demands for greater transparency, and why lobbying has been regulated in a number of jurisdictions, generally through registers of lobbyists and lobbying activity. A further issue of concern related to access and influence is the transfer of staff in both directions between Government and (predominantly) the business world—the 'revolving door'.

In this country, public affairs consultancies and in-house lobbyists are subject to virtually no regulation and, as we have found, very little self-regulation of any substance. Those who are lobbied are subject to various behavioural constraints and transparency requirements (eg. the Freedom of Information Act and the Ministerial and Civil Service Codes), but these have developed piecemeal and without a specific focus on lobbying. Ministers and civil servants leaving office are subject to the Business Appointment Rules, monitored in the most senior cases by an unpaid part-time committee of the great and the good—the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA).

Lobbying can be regulated—and in a number of jurisdictions is regulated—far more extensively than this. While there is no 'off-the-shelf' solution, the system in the United Kingdom could be and needs to be improved.

Regulation carries a number of risks, not least that it could constrict the democratic process by excluding the less professionalised and least experienced and that it could stifle input into the policy-making process. The solutions that we propose aim to avoid these risks.

We propose that the ethics of the activities of lobbyists should be overseen and regulated by a rigorous and effective single body with robust input from outside the industry.

We propose that there should be a register of lobbying activity provided for in statute, independently managed and enforced, to include information provided by both lobbyists and those being lobbied, information which should largely be in their hands already. This information would include:

a)  the names of the individuals carrying out lobbying activity and of any organisation employing or hiring them, whether a consultancy, law firm, corporation or campaigning organisation.

b)  in the case of multi-client consultancies, the names of their clients.

c)  information about any public office previously held by an individual lobbyist—essentially, excerpts from their career history.

d)  a list of the interests of decision makers within the public service (Ministers, senior civil servants and senior public servants) and summaries of their career histories outside the public service, and

e)  information about contacts between lobbyists and decision makers—essentially, diary records and minutes of meetings. The aim would be to cover all meetings and conversations between decision makers and outside interests.

We also call for ACoBA to be strengthened and its membership refreshed, bringing in people who are more representative of society at large and better able to commit time to this work, and we call for consistent rules to be strictly applied so that former Ministers and other public servants are prevented for an extended period from using contacts built up in public office to further their own and others' private interests.

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