With an unregulated lobby industry, the UK stands alone

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 27 March 2012 in Diary
Most of Europe, Australia and the US regulate the influence industry. With lacklustre reform on the horizon, is it time the UK followed some international examples?

“Cash for Cameron” has reignited the debate about lobbying. More than anything, though, it questions why the influence industry still remains unregulated. Lobbying exists abroad too, so how do other countries deal with it?

At the crux of Peter Cruddas’s boasting was the idea that, if you paid enough, you could chat candidly with the prime minister. In the US, whenever money is involved, lobbyists have to reveal to whom they’ve spoken and, crucially, what they’ve lobbied for, and as part of this Senators and Congressmen have to keep logs of everyone who comes to their offices.

The lobbying industry across the pond is astonishingly large – there are 5 lobbyists to every politician, says Transparency International UK. What’s more, according to Alexandra Runswick of Unlock Democracy, because it is freely and publicly available, the register of lobbyists has become something of a “calling card” for lobbyists. It’s used as an advertisement of the areas in which they’re able to exert influence on policy. Still, experts argue, influence coupled with transparency is better than, as Runswick puts it, the “murkiness” of the situation here.

In Europe regulation of lobbyists exists in myriad forms. Slovenia has a mandatory register of lobbyists which records personal details as well as the lobbyist’s area of interest. Lobbied persons – often politicians – are obliged to report contact with a lobbyist within three days. In France and Germany they have a voluntary but incentivised (with passes that offer easier access to parliament) register. And European Parliament is regulated by a register of lobbyists which shows that two-thirds of its lobbyists promote commercial interests.

Australia, too, regulates its lobbyists in a way that, incidentally, the coalition is seeking to imitate. The problem with this though, according to Tamasin Cave of Spinwatch, is that the Australian system includes only part of the lobbying industry, a part that in the UK accounts for less than a quarter of the £2 billion industry. Imitating this system, Cave highlights, would see only agency, and not in-house, lobbyists regulated, and as an attempt to open up the “influence industry” it is a “sham”.

As it stands the UK is also one of the few countries that don’t limit the donations made to political parties. Chandu Krishnan, Executive Director of Transparency International UK, points out that “since 2006 we have been pressing for several recommendations specific to the UK context [including] the introduction of a cap of £10,000 on donations (per donor per year)”. Alone this wouldn’t end the pernicious exertion of influence through party finance, but it would make it impossible to purchase the one-off, premier league access to the prime minister that Cruddas was selling.

Tags: Cash for cameron, Lobbying, Party donations

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