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MPs not taking lobbying problems seriously, professional body says

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations said MPs were not paying enough attention to flaws in lobbying rules.

Christopher McKeon
Tuesday 25 April 2023 00:01 BST
The Houses of Parliament (John Walton/PA)
The Houses of Parliament (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)

MPs are not taking problems with lobbying seriously enough, the professional body for lobbyists has said.

Despite a string of recent scandals, a report by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations said little had been done to strengthen laws on lobbying thanks to MPs “not consistently beating the drum”.

The report’s analysis found only a quarter of MPs had mentioned lobbying since the last general election, with interest spiking after major scandals and then dying down again to just nine mentions a month.

Many of these mentions are “buried” in other concerns such as procurement or second jobs, while 14% are focused on lobbying by foreign governments rather than domestic interests, the report said.

Alastair McCapra, the chief executive of CIPR, said: “The findings in our report make for incredibly depressing reading.

“MPs are not taking the issue seriously enough, the issue lacks year-round attention, and a cigarette paper can hardly be fitted between the three main parties when it comes to differences in the level of enthusiasm.

“This is not good enough. Given the mounting public concern, high-profile scandals, and the number of reports and inquiries, including one commissioned by the Government, calling for reform, it’s not acceptable that so few MPs are actually addressing the issue of lobbying.

“What we are left with is legislation that everyone knows is fundamentally broken whilst reform is just endlessly kicked down the road.”

The report, published on Tuesday, forms part of the CIPR’s Lobbying for Good Lobbying campaign, which aims to reform the Lobbying Act passed in 2014 to improve standards and transparency.

The organisation has said that flaws in the Lobbying Act, combined with the infrequent publication of other transparency documents such as registers of interests, mean unethical lobbying “has been left to flourish largely unchecked”.

The CIPR added that lobbying scandals undermined faith in democracy, with a poll of 2,000 carried out on behalf of the organisation by Opinium finding 46% thought lobbying laws were too weak and 71% saying scandals had left them less confident in the political system.

Mr McCapra said: “We simply cannot ignore lobbying. As we gear up for the next election there will be the temptation for MPs to focus on doorstep issues, but they need to remember that lobbying, which sits at the very heart of the public’s perception of MPs, is the issue that will determine if the door is ever opened.

“This is an important step to rebuilding public trust and should be right up there with public services, education and the economy.

“It won’t be possible to hold back the tide of public frustration with bland reviews much longer. We simply cannot keep waiting. MPs must start discussing this issue.”

The CIPR report comes a day after Parliament’s standards commissioner opened an investigation into Blackpool South MP Scott Benton, who was filmed offering to lobby ministers in exchange for money from people he believed to be gambling investors.

The meeting was in fact part of an undercover investigation by the Times, as a result of which Mr Benton had the Conservative whip suspended.

The CIPR hopes to raise the profile of its campaign to reform lobbying laws with an event in Parliament on Tuesday.

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