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Monday, April 11, 2016

Is anti-lobbying legislation proving toothless?

Loopholes in legislation designed to improve transparency in the lobbying of MPs and Ministers are being exploited by companies so as to avoid declaring clients who pay them thousands of pounds to help influence Government policy, according to the Independent. The paper says that a year after the Government made it a legal requirement for lobbying companies to publicly declare the firms for whom they act, some of the biggest firms in the business are legitimately avoiding doing so:

They include companies such as CTF Partners, which is run by David Cameron’s election guru Sir Lynton Crosby and has in the past controversially advised both tobacco and alcohol companies. CTF does not name any clients on the Register of Consultant Lobbyists.

Another lobbying firm that declares no clients is RLM Finsbury, run by one of the UK’s best-connected lobbyists, Roland Rudd.

Mr Rudd, the brother of the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, is a key strategist behind the main pro-EU referendum campaign, Britain Stronger in Europe.

RLM Finsbury advises Google, the German carmaker Volkswagen and the bookmaker Paddy Power, but none of these clients show up on the official Government register.

Google, for example, spent nearly $17m (£12m) lobbying the US government in 2015, and $4.5m (£3m) lobbying Brussels, but there is no information on how much they spend in the UK.

Some other influential consultant lobbyists who aren’t registered include Sean Worth, a one-time senior advisor to the Prime Minister who now runs the Westminster Policy Institute; and Tendo, the lobbying firm run by Will de Peyer. ex-special adviser to Danny Alexander, the former chief secretary to the Treasury.

The paper says that the problem lies in the legislation’s narrow definition of what constitutes lobbying:

Lobbyists-for-hire only have to declare a client on the register if they directly contact a minister or permanent secretary on behalf of a client. Lobbying of anyone else in government is exempt, as is all lobbying by corporations and their trade bodies, such as those opposing the sugar tax including the British Soft Drinks Association and the Food and Drink Federation.

These trade organisations could be lobbying on behalf of a specific client but there would not necessarily be any obligation to declare this information on the register.

Overall, a quarter of known UK lobbyists do not declare any clients on the register and 60 per cent of the 124 registered lobbying firms declare two or fewer clients. Thirty-four declare no clients; 21 declare one client; 19 declare two clients.

The disclosures cast further doubts over the effectiveness of the Government’s lobbying legislation that was brought in following a string of scandals.

Clearly, there is a need to review this legislation so as to close up these loopholes. If we are going to have transparency in the legislative process then we need a register that is fit for purpose. The current rules are not effective at all.
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