Lobbying legislation in the UK Now is the time for transparency and trust
The UK’s transparency laws are among the weakest when compared to international partners. The CIPR’s campaign to strengthen rules around lobbying should be welcomed by businesses.
The ghost of lobbying scandals past was raised when David Cameron was brought back into the cabinet and given a seat in the House of Lords.
Despite the headlines, Cameron’s action in promoting Greensill to his former (and current) colleagues didn’t break any laws, because our laws are not well-crafted to match the realities of modern government.
Lobbying is a force for good and a legitimate and important part of the democratic process. But scandals like the Greensill affair have continuously exposed why reform is required. This is why the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) launched its Lobbying for Good Lobbying campaign, calling for greater openness and transparency through an extended lobbying register that captures all lobbying activity, not just the activity of some lobbyists.
Strong and trusted institutions support the policy-making process and foster effective and critical political engagement. In a time when businesses are increasingly focused on their environmental outputs and social impact, the need for good governance, and the organisational transparency and accountability that comes with it, is more important than ever.
Businesses have a duty to influence government policies that impact their operations, but there needs to be a recognition that transparency of this process is crucial to maintaining public trust.
The Current State of UK Lobbying Legislation
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Act 2014 (‘the Lobbying Act’) was introduced by David Cameron’s government to increase transparency and improve public trust in the institutions of government and those that legitimately seek to influence them. By every measure it has failed.
The Act established the Register of Consultant Lobbyists that only covers third-party lobbyists, leaving in-house lobbying efforts almost entirely opaque. Transparency International estimate the register captures only 4% of lobbying activity.
A recent report from the Committee of Standards in Public Life (CSPL) concluded “[i]t is too difficult to find out who is lobbying government, information is often released too late, descriptions of the content of government meetings are ambiguous and lack necessary detail, transparency data is scattered, disparate, and not easily cross-referenced, and information in the public interest is often excluded from data releases completely”.
Lobbying is one part of the jigsaw when it comes to standards. We have separate rules covering the ‘revolving door’ that sees politicians and senior civil servants moving into private sector jobs upon leaving public service; there are separate rules governing the funding of political parties; there’s also the recently introduced Foreign Influence Registration Scheme. These are all pieces of a puzzle that do not yet quite add up to a full picture. They point to a growing slippage between the rules devised in years gone by and the level-playing field we need for businesses and modern government to interact on.
The Need for Transparency and Trust
Trust and standards in politics matter. Whether it is the rise of populism or the fall in voter turnouts, the impact of this mistrust has consequences. This is not simply the responsibility of law makers. Businesses need to accept that lobbying is a two-way activity, and the public are demanding more from those who legitimately seek to influence public policy. A CIPR study found two-thirds (67%) of UK adults feel the public should know more about lobbyists seeking to influence MPs and Ministers.
In an era of increased scrutiny and public demand for accountability, businesses have an ethical and practical obligation to support efforts to improve lobbying legislation. Transparent and ethical lobbying practices not only improves public trust but also enhances a company’s reputation and mitigate risks associated with opaque dealings.
This is a guest blog which contains the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the IoD.