News: New research from the CIPR finds MPs are failing to address “fundamentally broken” lobbying rules

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THREE in four MPs have not talked about lobbying in Parliament since December 2019, according to research published by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the industry body for UK lobbyists. The research suggests that the calls for reform of lobbying rules – including from a government-commissioned inquiry, a number of Parliamentary committees, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, campaign groups, and the lobbying industry – are falling on deaf ears.  

Amidst mounting public pressure for reform, the report – The Never-Ending Scandal – investigates Parliament’s attitude to lobbying by analyzing all explicit references made to “lobbying” and the Lobbying Act since the last election, using data provided by parliamentary monitoring platform PolicyMogul. Alongside the analysis of Parliament, the report includes new public polling on attitudes towards recent lobbying scandals.  

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The report finds that three in four MPs have not explicitly raised lobbying – concerns, specific instances or lobbying rules – since December 2019; none of the three main parties is leading on the issue, with only 9 per cent of Conservatives; 17 per cent of Labour; and 14 per cent of Liberal Democrat MPs explicitly raising the Lobbying Act in Parliament since December 2019. Overall, for explicit references to the Lobbying Act, the figure stands at just one in eight MPs. Parliamentary mentions of lobbying average nine a month, with spikes occurring in the wake of scandals such as Greensill Capital and Owen Paterson MP. 62 per cent of the public is familiar with the string of lobbying scandals and almost half think that the lobbying rules are too weak. Lobbying scandals make 75 per cent of the public less confident in the political system, with 44 per cent of respondents feeling much less confident. 

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (the Lobbying Act) requires only third-party consultant lobbyists to record their activities in an official register. With the legislation containing a number of loopholes, meaning that a tiny proportion of lobbyists are formally registered, the Act has failed to stop a number of high-profile scandals, most notably during the Greensill Capital and Owen Paterson affairs.  

Alastair McCapra (pictured), CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, said, “The findings in our report make for incredibly depressing reading. MPs are not taking the issue seriously enough; the issue lacks year-round attention; and a cigarette paper can hardly be fitted between the three main parties when it comes to differences in the level of enthusiasm. 

“This is not good enough. Given the mounting public concern, high-profile scandals, and the number of reports and inquiries – including one commissioned by the Government – calling for reform it’s not acceptable that so few MPs are actually addressing the issue of lobbying. What we are left with is legislation that everyone knows is fundamentally broken whilst reform is just being endlessly kicked down the road. 

“We simply cannot ignore lobbying. As we gear up for the next election there will be the temptation for MPs to focus on doorstep issues, but they need to remember that lobbying – which sits at the very heart of the public’s perception of MPs – is the issue that will determine if the door is even opened. This is an important step to rebuilding public trust and should be right up there with public services, education and the economy. 

“It won’t be possible to hold back the tide of public frustration with bland reviews much longer. We simply cannot keep waiting. MPs must start discussing this issue.”