Scrap current plans for register of lobbyists, says report from MPs

Political and Constitutional Reform Committee report admits that its proposal to tighten rules on third-party lobbyists could mean more red tape for charities


The government should scrap proposals to introduce a statutory register of parliamentary lobbyists and adopt a system under which all paid lobbyists, including those working for charities, have to declare the issues they are lobbying on, a committee of MPs has suggested.

A report from the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on government plans to tighten up the rules for parliamentary lobbying says the proposed statutory register of ‘third-party’ lobbyists should be replaced with a system of regulation that also covers all paid ‘in-house’ lobbyists working for organisations such as large businesses and charities, because it would improve transparency.

But the recommendation could lead to more regulation for charities, says the report, published today.

The government published proposals for a statutory register in January this year. It said that only those deemed as third-party lobbyists - those lobbying on behalf of another organisation - would be required to register; in-house lobbyists would not.

The select committee report says: "We call on the government to scrap its current proposals for a statutory register and implement a system of medium regulation. A system of medium regulation would include all those who lobby professionally, in a paid role, and would require lobbyists to disclose the issues they are lobbying government on."

The report says that this approach to regulation could have an adverse effect on organisations such as voluntary groups and charities because it would be an additional regulatory burden.

"Charities and trade unions, who are likely to be caught by an expanded definition of lobbying, are already regulated by the Charity Commission and the Certification Office respectively, and must submit detailed accounts which are already searchable online," it says.

 "The disadvantages of medium regulation would be that a definition of ‘anyone who lobbies professionally’ could lead to anomalies where small charities who employ a full time lobbyist would have to register yet activist volunteers of another charity would not."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: "We are pleased that this report recognises the limitations of the government’s proposals and strengthens the recommendations for publishing details about ministerial meetings.

"The committee’s new proposals for a wider register have some merits. If these are taken forward, it will be important to do this in a way that does not place a financial or administrative burden on charities. It is particularly crucial that they do not discourage smaller charities from engaging with the political system."

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