TUESDAY 4 JUN 2013 3:34 PM


The proposals to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists in the wake of the scandal that has seen Conservative MP Patrick Mercer resign the whip and three peers placed under investigation has been described as “limited in its scope” and “doomed to fail” by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

On Thursday, Panorama will show evidence of Mercer providing a House of Commons security pass to a fake Fijian firm that had also provided him with £4,000 to ask parliamentary questions. The scandal comes just a few days after the Sunday Times conducted a sting operation implicating three member of the House of Lords.

The “next big scandal waiting to happen”, as put by David Cameron before the 2010 general election, has rocketed the issue of lobbying to the top of the political agenda. However few in the public relations profession are contented by the response of the government to the scandal.

The main concerns regard the implementation of the statutory register of lobbyists which is thought to be hurried and not comprehensive enough. At present the register will only apply to third-party lobbyists many of whom are already known to be professionally employed as lobbyists and on voluntary lists. However in house lobbyists will not be subjected to the scrutiny of the list.

PRCA public relations chairman Emily Wallace says, “It is a completely wasted opportunity to increase transparency if a statutory register of lobbyists only covers primarily those who are already transparent, and not all professional lobbyists.”

In addition to the apprehension regarding the limitations of the register there are also worries that the topic of lobbying is being used as a distraction from what is really an issue about the conduct of politicians. PRCA director general Francis Ingham claims, “This is still not a lobbying scandal - it is a purely political scandal. Just with the apparent revelations about Patrick Mercer on Friday, there wasn’t a lobbyist in sight in The Sunday Times expose of the three Lords.”

Certainly there is a willingness from the public relations industry to assist the government in designing a list that better aids transparency in the lobbying process. The CIPR claims the government must listen to the industry and “engage with the public affairs industry bodies in order to produce a register of lobbyists that covers ‘all those who lobby.”