Francis Ingham is the Director General of the Public Relations Consultants Association, and Executive Director of the global body, the International Communications Consultancy Organisation. He is a former Conservative Councillor on the London Borough of Enfield; a member of various LGA and ALG Executives; and was general election agent for Edmonton in 2005.
On Monday, the Government announced that it would be introducing a statutory register of lobbyists. It did so in response to two recent media stings on Parliamentarians, caught on camera, with them apparently accepting money from lobbyists for work they are specifically precluded from undertaking
The Register will compel lobbyists who work for agencies to list their staff details and the names of their clients. Nick Clegg claims this will 'clean up' politics
So you'd be right in thinking that lobbyists pay politicians, right? Wrong. It doesn’t happen.
While the Government sets about manically drafting a piece of legislation it has avoided talking about for the past three years, let me set out a few facts:
1. Every single 'lobbying scandal' involves greedy politicians, undercover journalists -and no real lobbyists. When Byers claimed he was a 'cab for hire', he was speaking to the Times. When Cunningham apparently agreed on a twelve grand a month retainer, he too was speaking to a journalist.
2. Lobbyists do not employ, bribe or otherwise pay Parliamentarians. They are not allowed to do so by our Code of Conduct. It is that simple. In the five years I have been Director General of the PRCA, I have not met a single agency that has broken that rule. The only 'lobbyists' who offer parliamentarians money are fake lobbyists –journalists. This might surprise former Cabinet Ministers, but you’re not actually worth a six figure sum for a couple of days work a month….
3. Agencies already declare the names of their staff and the names of their clients every quarter. They are already banned from holding passes. These are our rules, and they have been adhered to for at least the last decade.
4. What these Parliamentarians are alleged to have offered is already against Parliamentary rules.
5. As Francis Maude acknowledged on Monday, a Register would not have stopped either of these stories. At some point in the future, another MP will think they've found a clever way to get around the rules. And then they'll find that the attractive lady who sat opposite them, offered them a load of cash, and curiously kept her handbag on the table during their meeting was in fact a journalist
On Tuesday, we learnt that the Government's Register will include only those lobbyists who work for agencies. It will exclude the 80-odd per cent of the lobbying industry that work in house – for charities, corporates, and trade unions. That is farcical.
When Cameron spoke of lobbying as 'the next big scandal waiting to happen', he specifically referenced 'big business and trade unions'. He clearly has a quite lousy memory for his own soundbites, because neither of those groups will have to register. So the portion of the lobbying industry that the Government is now desperate to regulate is not only the bit that already declares all the information the Government is after – it's also the smallest bit of the industry.
I used to work as a lobbyist at the CBI. The CBI employed a whole flood of lobbyists – about 100 people, I guess. It was and is a powerful lobbying body. The same is true now I imagine, and holds true for the TUC too. The work of the CBI and the TUC is perfectly ethical, legal and beneficial to the good governance of our country. It helps Ministers make the right decisions. But the idea that a two-man agency should be compelled to pay to be on a Register of lobbyists, but that the CBI and TUC should not, is absurd
As a committed Tory – an ex-councillor, Association Vice-Chairman, and election agent – I hoped our party would legislate only where necessary; with intelligence; and without panic. None of those qualities are present in this botched Bill. It will make the Dangerous Dogs Act look like an inspired piece of government. What a proud legacy for our Ministers.