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Today (13 January 2014) the House of Lords is discussing Part 1 of the controversial Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill.
While measures aimed at severely restricting the free speech and action of charities, NGOs and unions are being pushed through in Part 2 and Part 3 of this deeply flawed legalisation, the government is poised to let corporate lobbyists off the hook. It is trying to pass a watered down 'register of lobbyists', which would do nothing to stop the malign influence of big corporations over our political system.
For a truly democratic result, all lobbyists must be obliged to say who they are meeting, what decisions they are seeking to influence, and how much they are spending. If the government is serious about rebuilding public trust, it must rewrite its proposals for a lobbying register, and keep its promise to citizens.
Why is this important? Because the UK has a £2 billion commercial lobbying industry -- the third largest in the world -- that is deeply embedded in our political system. But the government’s current proposal would exclude the vast majority of commercial lobbyists and give the rest an easy ride. The new rules would apply to as little as 5% of all lobbying activity, and those they did affect would hardly have to provide any information at all.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised in the coalition agreement that they would run the "the most open and transparent government in the world". The reality has been far from this.
Notably, they have yet to deliver on their promise to shine a light on secret corporate lobbying, which advances the interests of the few at the expense of the many. What is needed, therefore, is a register that covers all lobbyists and includes meaningful information about their activities.
Pressure for proper accountability on corporate lobbying has been pushed for by by the Open Knowledge Foundation (http://okfn.org) and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (http://lobbyingtransparency.org) and endorsed by Access Info, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Greenpeace, Integrity Action, Involve, the Open Rights Group, Spinwatch, the Sunlight Foundation, Unlock Democracy, War on Want and World Development Movement and Ekklesia, among others.
* See also, 'Reformers say corporate lobbyists being let off the hook' (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/19899).
* Sadly, the petition pressing for this important change has attracted far less attention than others on the Lobbying Bill, but it is still there: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-secret-corporate-lobbying
* See also the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (ALT) campaign: http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org
* Ekklesia's full coverage (reports, comment, analysis) of the whole range of issues connected to this legislation can be found here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/lobbyingbill
© Simon Barrow is co-drector of Ekklesia. Follow him on Twitter: @simonbarrowTweet