Opinion Former

Unlock Democracy: Dear Mark Harper

Dear Mark Harper,

Lobbying is an essential part of a healthy democracy. However, professional lobbying – an industry worth £2billion in the UK – can subvert democracy by giving those with the greatest resources undue influence and privileged access to politicians.

Three quarters of people want lobbying to be more transparent, over half of Conservative, and two thirds of Liberal Democrat voters think lobbyists have ‘too much influence’ in politics [1].

We welcome the government’s intention to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, but its plans as they stand will fail to deliver on this promise. The proposals are flawed in two key respects:

1. Lack of universality
The current plans will only require lobbying agencies working on behalf of third parties to register. This would exclude some 2,500-3,500 in-house lobbyists – three quarters of the industry – whose activities are identical to agency lobbyists.

2. Lack of meaningful information
The government proposes that lobbyists only reveal who is lobbying. Information on a register will only be meaningful if lobbyists' are required to reveal their dealings with government – whom is being lobbied and what they are being lobbied on. We also think the amount of money spent on lobbying should be declared.

Where lobbying helps to inform decision-making, it plays an important role. But it must be conducted transparently. A robust public register of lobbying needn’t create an obstacle to this and shouldn’t place an undue burden on lobbyists (with sensible exemptions for small businesses and smaller charities).

We ask that you ensure that this opportunity to rebuild public trust is not lost, and introduce real transparency in lobbying.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Facey
Director, Unlock Democracy



[1] YouGov, 20-21 October 2011

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