THE Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) Public Affairs Board – the professional body that represents the lobbying industry – has urged the Government to think again about how to improve the current legal framework governing lobbying.
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The comments follow an evidence session held by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) on Tuesday 17 October, at which Cabinet Office minister, Alex Burghart MP, rejected several recommendations from three reports that would improve transparency and accountability in lobbying. The three reports, from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, PACAC and Nigel Boardman, followed serious failings in the lobbying framework.
The PRCA believes that the public wants all lobbying activity to be carried out to the same high standards. But the existing legislative framework is very narrow and covers only some lobbyists. The PRCA’s Public Confidence Plan for Reform therefore calls for:
– The Lobbying Act to be expanded to cover all of those engaged in lobbying, including those working in-house in charities, campaigning groups, think tanks, trade unions, business, organisations and private companies, because the current register fails to capture activity accurately and comprehensively .
– Interactions covered by the Act to be expanded to include Special Advisers and senior civil servants, from director general level up .
– Extension by the Government of existing limitations on former Ministers taking paid lobbying positions, instituting a five-year ban, including on in-house roles. Former Ministers should consistently behave in the spirit of the Nolan Principles.
– Ministers to stop ignoring the legal requirement to publish Ministerial Diaries in a timely manner.
– A review of the rules governing Parliamentary Passes, which should be tightened significantly.
– The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists to stop allowing registrants to declare self-written and self-policed codes which are neither independent nor independently enforceable.
In addition, PRCA supports the removal of the ‘incidental lobbying’ exemption for organisations that fall below the VAT threshold, believing it is often abused.
PRCA Public Affairs Board chair Liam Herbert (pictured) said, “What we’ve learned today is that the Government continues to focus on consultant lobbyists despite the fact that most of them are covered by the PRCA Public Affairs Code and behave transparently and professionally. It is ‘lobbyists’ who are not currently covered by the Code nor by the Lobbying Act, as well as Ministers and former Ministers, who need to raise their game. We urge the Government to focus its efforts on these areas to restore public trust in politics.”
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