London,
25
April
2023
|
08:51
Europe/London

New research from the CIPR finds MPs are failing to address “fundamentally broken” lobbying rules

Summary

Despite high-profile scandals, mounting public concern and a government inquiry, research from the CIPR finds 75% of MPs still haven’t talked about lobbying in Parliament since the last election

Three in four MPs have not talked about lobbying in Parliament since December 2019, according to research published today by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the industry body for UK lobbyists. The research suggests that the calls for reform of lobbying rules - including from a government-commissioned inquiry, a number of Parliamentary committees, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, campaign groups, and the lobbying industry - have been ignored.

Amidst mounting public pressure for reform, the report – The Never-Ending Scandalinvestigates Parliament’s attitude to lobbying by analysing all explicit references made to “lobbying” and the Lobbying Act since the last election, using data provided by parliamentary monitoring platform PolicyMogul. Alongside the analysis of Parliament, the report includes new public polling on attitudes towards recent lobbying scandals.

The report finds that:

  • Three in four MPs have not explicitly raised lobbying - concerns, specific instances or lobbying rules – since December 2019
  • None of the three main parties is leading on the issue, with only 9% of Conservatives; 17% of Labour; and 14% of Liberal Democrat MPs explicitly raising the Lobbying Act in Parliament since December 2019. Overall, for explicit references to the Lobbying Act, the figure stands at just one in eight MPs
  • Parliamentary mentions of lobbying average nine a month, with spikes occurring in the wake of scandals such as Greensill Capital and Owen Paterson MP
  • 62% of the public is familiar with the string of lobbying scandals and almost half think that the lobbying rules are too weak
  • Lobbying scandals make 75% of the public less confident in the political system, with 44% of respondents feeling much less confident

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (the Lobbying Act) requires only third-party consultant lobbyists to record their activities in an official register. With the legislation containing a number of loopholes, meaning that a tiny proportion of lobbyists are formally registered, the Act has failed to stop a number of high-profile scandals, most notably during the Greensill Capital and Owen Paterson affairs.

Alastair McCapra, CIPR Chief Executive

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 being endlessly kicked down the road. 

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 are the very heart of the public’s perception of MPs – is the issue that will determine if the door is even 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.

Alastair McCapra, CIPR Chief Executive
 

Methodology

The figures on lobbying

The methodology used to build the data on lobbying was as follows:

  1. PolicyMogul used web scraping technology to scrape the UK Parliament Hansard (https://hansard.parliament.uk/) and the UK Parliament Written questions and answers official record (https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/) for entries between 17th October 2019 (when PolicyMogul’s records begin) and the 13th March 2023  
  2. The scraped data was processed and combined with PolicyMogul's database of UK parliamentarians (which itself is based on public knowledge)
  3. Using indexed search technology, all references of "lobbying" were performed against the scraped UK Parliament data to produce a list of all debates and written questions and answers that mentioned the word “lobbying”
  4. Manual verification was done to confirm that the references to "lobbying" were relevant
  5. Relevant debates and written questions and answers were manually classified into two lists (all explicit discussions of lobbying and explicit discussion of the rules and reform)
  6. These lists were run through the PolicyMogul system again to extract the individual mentions of the word "lobbying" and who the UK parliamentarian was that made the mention, along with additional data (where available) such as party, constituency, parliamentary position and region.

Entries were excluded on the basis that the word lobbying was not used to discuss specific instances of lobbying or the rules, or was used to refer to MPs lobbying each other. The references are incidental (or referring to the Parliamentary lobby). Examples of excluded entries include: 

  • FCDO and MOD are actively lobbying Ukraine to expand permissions to broaden the scope of demining activities by partners, thereby creating further capacity to tackle this urgent issue
  • My views are my own and not influenced by any lobbying group (this being the only, passing reference)
  • We are more than capable of lobbying and influencing different institutions to put our view forward
  • This is a question of public good. It is important to be clear: lobbying, campaigning, disagreeing and opposing representatives is not what I am talking about

All references to lobbying: this includes any explicit reference to a specific instance of lobbying; concern being expressed about lobbying; or a discussion of the rules. Indicative contributions as follows:

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment he has made of the potential effect of lobbying by the gambling industry on MPs ahead of the publication of the Gambling Review.
  • That says something about the power of lobbying, and it puts a great onus on Members of this House that our communities have felt so strongly that this matter
  •  The change was due to lobbying by the finance industry, which obviously then makes money by asset stripping, examples of which I gave previously.

References to lobbying rules: these include any explicit reference to the Lobbying Act or calls for reform of the rules. Indicative contributions as follows:

  • Democracy depends for its support on good governance, which means fair lobbying rules, obedience to the Ministerial Code, and open and fair recruitment to decision-making bodies—not something much in evidence
  • I come back to my previous point: work is going on through the review by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and through the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, who, for example, made some changes earlier this year to tighten up the definition of incidental exception. We need to be careful where noble Lords are taking us on the matter.
  • We are conducting post-legislative scrutiny of the lobbying legislation. That has obviously been affected by the progress of Covid, but the point the noble Baroness and others make will be taken into consideration

Opinium survey methodology

Opinium conducted its survey of 2,076 adults between 12th - 14th April 2023. The sample was weighted to be politically and nationally representative. 

Boilerplate

About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations

Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the world's only Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners with over 10,000 members.

The CIPR advances professionalism in public relations by making its members accountable to their employers and the public through a code of conduct and searchable public register, setting standards through training, qualifications, awards and the production of best practice and skills guidance, facilitating Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and awarding Chartered Public Relations Practitioner status (Chart.PR).

About PolicyMogul

PolicyMogul is the UK's only all-in-one public affairs platform. Features include real-time political monitoring, stakeholder mapping and analytics as well as a suite of tools designed to help organisations and campaigners lobby parliamentarians in an open, transparent and impactful way.

The analytics feature used in the creation of this report takes advantage of the latest in AI and natural language processing to analyse millions of political contributions, and can be used to determine political importance and sentiment in relation to any area of interest, broken down by party, location and various other parameters.