January 2, 2013 8:27 pm

Claims spur case for lobbyists’ register

Lobbyists have defended themselves against fresh allegations that MPs and peers received corporate sponsorship worth more than £1m over the past year, accusing ministers of dragging their feet over plans to establish an official lobbyists’ register.

At least two all-party parliamentary groups may have breached official rules by failing to declare where their funding or administrative support comes from, according to research by The Times.

In one example cited by the newspaper, the all-party parliamentary group on media reform has secretarial services provided by the campaign group Hacked Off, which is pushing for new statutory press laws.

But Gill Morris, a representative from the Association of Professional Political Consultants, said the support of APPGs by lobbyists was a “well-established system” – and that transparency would be boosted if the government accelerated plans for a publicly accessible list of lobbying bodies.

“Public confidence in the relationships between lobbyists and the lobbied would be further enhanced if the government introduced a comprehensive statutory lobbying register to declare the names of all those organisations lobbying the government,” Ms Morris said on Wednesday. “Ministers have been talking about introducing a register for some time but draft legislation has still yet to be published.”

The issue of how to make lobbying more open has dogged parliamentary authorities for years. A Financial Times study in 2010 found that APPGs with the highest level of regular income include the Parliamentary Beer Group, which received £66,110 from 66 pub and beer companies.

Peter Facey, director of the transparency group Unlock Democracy, said ministers needed to move faster to tackle the problem.

“The government needs to get on with it and produce a register that’s robust that includes all business and lobbying firms,” Mr Facey said. “They need to make sure [lobbying] is transparent and everyone knows what’s happening ... so that it’s not a way of exerting influence below the radar.”

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