Sharp rise in unregulated lobbyists highlights ‘ethical divide’ in lobbying

The number of lobbyists failing to declare Codes of Conducts on the Government’s lobbying register soared by more than a quarter (28%) between 2019 and 2020, according to a PRCA analysis of entries published by the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL).

The spike follows the Registrar’s decision to clamp down on self-policed codes – a move welcomed by the PRCA in August last year. While the great majority of dedicated lobbying companies declare a PRCA Code, a significant number of legal firms and management consultancies now declare no code.

The Government’s Register of Consultant Lobbyists was established with industry endorsement in 2014 to improve lobbying transparency. The Government’s decision to give it a narrow remit and exclude in-house lobbyists has, however, been consistently criticised by the PRCA and others in the industry.

Last month, the PRCA responded to the post-legislative scrutiny review for part 1 of the Lobbying Act, re-emphasising the need for the Register to include in-house lobbyists and to cover contact not just with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, but also with Special Advisers and senior civil servants.

Neha Khatwani, Head of Public Affairs, PRCA said:

“Lobbying is a fundamental democratic right. When practiced ethically and within the scope of a professional, independently enforced Code of Conduct, it improves decision-making and supports the democratic process. Sadly, there are still far too many lobbyists still choosing to operate outside of the industry’s self-regulatory framework.

“These statistics make it abundantly clear that an ethical divide has emerged between those willing to embrace ethics and professional standards, and those unwilling to adopt such values. It is shocking that almost half of those on the statutory Register are happy to be unregulated and unaccountable. And within this group are some enormously influential companies.
“Professional conduct in the practice of public affairs has never mattered more, and we would strongly urge those unregulated lobbying organisations to embrace professional standards, and to sign up to a robust and independent regulatory process. We would also urge Ministers and other decision makers to think twice before engaging with those who have chosen not to be accountable for their actions.”

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy, Transparency International UK commented:

“Rules in the UK sadly fall well short of international best practice for regulating lobbying. Transparent lobbying can improve the policy making process, but the British public is largely left in the dark about who is trying to influence decisions that affect their everyday lives. Unchecked, the perception that governments listen more to their friends or big business, than they do voters, corrodes trust in our democracy.”
“We welcome the consensus among the lobbying industry and transparency organisations that lobbying ought to be both ethical and transparent. People in the UK should be able to see a clear and comprehensive picture of who is influencing their Government, including on what issue, as is already the case in most other Western democracies. It is past time to bring lobbying out of the shadows and lobbyists committing to ethical standards is an important part of that process.”

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