In the Media

Lawyers may face regulation as MPs reject lobbyist register

PUBLISHED July 13, 2012

Friday 13 July 2012

Lawyers who lobby professionally for their clients should be subject to regulation, according to a Commons committee report out today.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee says the government should scrap current plans for a statutory register of third-party lobbyists as not 'fit for purpose'. Instead, the committee recommends, regulation should be introduced for all those who lobby professionally in a paid role, including those who lobby on behalf of charities, trade unions and think tanks.

The committee's report says: 'A statutory register which includes only third-party lobbyists would do little to improve transparency about who is lobbying whom, as these meetings constitute only a small part of the lobbying industry.

'The government's proposals only scratch the surface when it comes to tackling public concern about undue access and influence over the policy making process, and they are unlikely to prevent lobbying from becoming the "next big political scandal".'

The government estimates that 20 law firms are currently involved in lobbying in the UK, with just a handful of staff from each assigned to the role. In evidence to the committee, John Wotton, former president of the Law Society, said there was a difference between legal representation and seeking to influence the legislative process. 'In the case of a law firm that has a significant activity,' he said, 'In advising clients on lobbying parliament on legislation, I think that is lobbying in principle.'

The Law Society today reiterated the call to define a lobbyist and warned of a danger of over-regulation.

A spokesman said: 'What is very clear from the report is that this is a very complex area and the government needs to ensure that all the issues the committee raises are properly considered.

'In particular we note and support the committee's view that the government needs to pay great heed to the definition of lobbying and lobbyist.

'It will also be important that any aspect of the provision of legal services by law firms is not caught within the definition, as solicitors already form a highly regulated profession, with a strong and enforceable code of conduct.'