News broke last Friday that Alison White, the registrar of consultant lobbyists, has launched an inquiry into concerns that informal parliamentary groups set up by MPs and peers are being used to bypass lobbying rules (story on the Guardian web site).
The fear seems to be that firms can use All-Party Parliamentary Groups to lobby Westminster politicians.
Let’s say you’re the Managing Director of Mercia Rail (a made-up name. I hope.) and you’ve been invited to attend the Annual Reception of APPG Rail. You strike up a conversation with other industry types, and meet one or two MPs – some from your operating area, perhaps a Department for Transport Minister – and a Lord or two.
What are you supposed to talk about, the weather? The quality of catering at the Palace of Westminster? No – you talk about the matters of interest in your industry. And some of that will inevitably be what we can term ‘lobbying’ – attempting to influence or change government thinking or legislation. It might not be a hard sell, or a soft one, it might just be a pointed remark that, say, “if DfT / Network Rail were to electrify certain routes then we’d be in the market for ordering new rolling stock” or suchlike. It still counts as lobbying.
One of my last Rail North-related roles last year was to help co-ordinate the APPG Rail in the North Annual Reception. Among the people working to produce the event were those from train operators who were working in ‘stakeholder engagement’ and from the public affairs firm that acted as the APPG’s Secretariat. Most of us were (are) CIPR members.
I’m the only one on the CIPR’s UK Lobbying Register. I just checked.
Now: it may only be a small thing compared to Alison White’s inquiry, but it seems to me that if you’re a CIPR member and you work in a public affairs firm then you should be on the UK Lobbying Register as a matter of course, irrespective of the requirements of the Register of Consultant Lobbyists which are based on what your employer does. Think of it as a no-cost insurance policy – you’ve already signed up to the Code of Conduct, after all.
Or why not go one better, and make registration on the UK Lobbying Register automatic for all Associates, Members, Fellows and Hon. Fellows, whatever their current job?