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Government rejects call for lobbying register

Government rejects call for lobbying register
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Government rejects call for lobbying register

Finance | Tania Mason | 27 Oct 2009

The government has rejected a call from the Public Administration Select Committee to set up a statutory register of lobbying activity, disappointing charities who argued strongly for such a register during evidence hearings last year.

In its response to the PASC report Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall, the government decided that the lobbying industry should be given the opportunity to self-regulate effectively before being saddled with the obligation to record every meeting in a public register.

The government did accept some of the Committee’s recommendations.  All departments will have to publish online quarterly reports detailing ministerial meetings with interest groups and hospitality received by ministers and their advisers, and the list of civil servants who will have to publish details of hospitality and expenses will be extended. 

But as well as dismissing the Committee’s case for a statutory lobbying register, the government did not accept that details of meetings between officials and outside groups should be published, and has not specified a timeframe within which it will assess whether self-regulation is working.

Dr Tony Wright MP, PASC chair (pictured), said he was disappointed about the government’s refusal to establish a register, but still felt “this is where I think we will eventually end up”.

In his evidence to the Committee hearings in May last year, Friends of the Earth (FoE) corporates campaigner Owen Espley argued for much greater transparency and accountability in lobbying and that a mandatory register would go a long way to bring this about.

Espley said similar registers in North America have successfully opened up the lobbying industry to greater public scrutiny, and that certain thresholds ensure that smaller groups aren’t burdened with red tape in complying with them.

Responding to the government’s position, David Miller of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, which counts FoE, Greenpeace and Amnesty Internationals as members, said “self-regulation is no regulation” and that asking the public to trust lobbyists to operate transparently is “like asking us to trust MPs on expenses”.

“The government has dropped the ball on political reform and ignored public concerns by refusing to force lobbyists to operate in the open,” Miller said.

“In June, Gordon Brown said that the future was about opening up areas of public life that have been too secretive. This must include the massive and growing influence commercial lobbying has on public life.”

The Alliance will continue to campaign for a mandatory register.

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