In the land of the opaque, the transparent man is king

When David Cameron said that lobbying would be the ‘next big scandal’ back in 2010 it made a lot of headlines. But since then progress towards a lobbying register – designed to bring transparency to the interactions between lobbyists and those in office – has been slow, with little movement since a consultation at the beginning of 2012.

Part of this has been down to the difficulties in defining what lobbying actually is, and who exactly counts as a lobbyist. It’s clear that as a communications agency of 25 years’ standing – with a strong record transparency and adherence to a code of ethical practice – Keene would, and should, be included in any register.

But is the CEO of an agricultural company, who spends her days managing her business, a lobbyist because she met the Environment Minister once last year? Is a businessman who makes a comment to his local paper about the Government’s policies lobbying? Finding a line has proved difficult.

This week the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC), of which Keene is a member, published a new, broad definition of lobbying with the CIPR and PRCA (the two other industry bodies) that hopes to move the debate on. This seeks to create a register of lobbyists that includes everyone who seeks to influence public policy and law, with a few exemptions.

As the APPC said: “The key is ‘universality’: firstly any statutory lobbying register must be universal in terms of the lobbyists it covers: ensuring all lobbyists operating in the UK both in-house and agency are included in new legislation. Secondly, the definition of those who are lobbied must also be universal – in other worlds ensuring that central, devolved and local government are all covered. Any new system of statutory lobbying registration will only work properly if the public has confidence in a system that provides transparency of all lobbying interactions, not just a select few.”

Hopefully this contribution will help move the debate on a register forward, and allow the industry to demonstrate that transparent and ethical lobbying plays an important role in our democracy.

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