Registrar confirms that MPs who lobby will have to register
In response to the CIPR’s call for clarification, Alison White, the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, has confirmed that MPs and members of the House of Lords who accept money to influence Ministers will need to register as lobbyists.
The rules will only apply to MPs and Peers who are registered for VAT. The CIPR sought the ruling following the investigation for Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ programme which showed Jack Straw MP and Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP discussing the possibility of working as consultant lobbyists.
This is a helpful clarification, although we are concerned about the VAT exemption and have been all along.
Parliament has legislated to make it a criminal offence to act as a consultant lobbyist without registering. This law must be applied to anyone who meets the definition in the Act.
However, it is conceivable that lobbyists handling controversial issues or working for controversial clients will be able to avoid registering by not being VAT registered.
This could include a number of ex-MPs after the General Election in May, who set themselves up as lobbyists to cash in on their contacts, but who will not have to register for VAT until their taxable turnover reaches £81,000.
We understand the intention to protect small businesses, but the principle would be better applied if the Cabinet Office heeded our calls to drop the policy of a flat fee for registration and introduced a graduated fee structure based on business size, meaning sole traders who pay VAT could join the register without incurring fees that could cripple their business.
As I said in my letter to Alison White, “When the public read about ‘lobbying’ scandals and learn that there is a statutory lobbying register, they can reasonably infer a number of things. One is that lobbyists have been caught acting corruptly. The other is that the statutory register provides them with some defence against corruption. As we know, neither is the case specifically in relation to this story”. (The Channel 4 revelations).
Parliament should re-examine this legislation and ask if the Register it created meets a reasonable test in terms of public confidence.
Notes to editors
About the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)Founded in 1948, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) is the Royal Chartered professional body for public relations practitioners in the UK and overseas. The CIPR is the largest membership organisation for PR practitioners outside of North America. By size of turnover and number of individually registered members, we are the leading representative body for the PR profession and industry in Europe.
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).