19 July 2013

David Cameron blew hot on lobbying before the 2010 General Election anticipating that access for lobbyists to government decision-makers would be  “the next big political scandal” . His concern was that lobbying had “…tainted our politics for far too long (with) the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.”

In Government he seems to have blown cold, despite a pledge to tackle lobbying in the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and LibDems.  But this week something is happening. The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill 2013-14 had its First Reading in the Commons.

Those hoping that strong sun light will be shone onto those seeking to influence decision-makers will consider the Bill to be a very mild disinfectant.  The content has been widely derided by industry and the public. The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency is not enthusiastic. They wanted the Government to promote much more expansive controls than proposed.

The Bill will

  • register lobbyists and the interests they represent
  • cap at £390,000 the spending by any organisation – excluding political parties – during elections
  • limit spending by organisations campaigning for or against a specific party or in a particular constituency
  • police the certification of union membership numbers
  • provide for independent certification and enforcement

The spending controls will affect trade unions, community groups and the churches. The union movement feels itself unfairly targeted while “rich corporate lobbyists” are less affected. They will not be required to show who is lobbying whom, about what, and how much they are spending.  The Bill reduces the amount that unions and third parties can contribute to election campaigns from £988,000 to £390,000.

Media attention is now on the way that the Conservative party’s chief electoral strategist, who runs a large international lobbying consultancy, will escape the registration requirements.

The legislation will enable Britain to comply with some of the OECD’s Ten Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying.  New Zealand complies with none.