Finding a workable lobbying definition is a thorny issue.
Practitioners will have one point of view, politicians another, academics another and those who campaign against the ‘malign’ influence of lobbying another still.
In this article we give an overview of the various attempts to create a lobbying definition by Government’s that have regulated the activity, the pitfalls associated with those efforts, and the latest situation on regulating lobbying in the UK.
The UK Public Affairs Council, an umbrella body set up by the industry in response to the recommendations of the Public Accounts Select Committee for the creation of a public register of lobbyists, offers its own lobbying definition in its ‘definition of lobbying and related matters’ document:
‘Lobbying means, in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the UK Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence’
It also offers its own lobbyist definition in the same document:
“Lobbyists are those who, in a professional capacity, work to influence, or advise those who wish to influence, the institutions of government in the UK, in respect to:
(i) the formulation, modification or adoption of any legislative measure (including the development of proposals for legislation);
(ii) the formulation, modification or adoption of a rule, regulation or any other programme, policy or position;
(iii) the administration or execution of a governmental or other public programme or policy within the UK (including the negotiation, award or administration of a public contract, grant, loan, permit or licence)’
It is worth noting at this point that public affairs or lobbying is widely accepted by politicians and other stakeholders to offer significant benefits to the democratic process. The below, for example is taken from the British Public Accounts Select Committee’s 2009 report ‘Lobbying: Access and influence in Whitehall’:
‘The practice of lobbying in order to influence political decisions is a legitimate and necessary part of the democratic process. Individuals and organisations reasonably want to influence decisions that may affect them, those around them, and their environment. Government in turn needs access to the knowledge and views that lobbying can bring’
The public, however, is perceived as being concerned that public affairs professionals have undue or negative influence on politics.
Broadly speaking, there is a good deal of similarity between the campaigning activity that organisations such as Friends of the Earth do to influence political debate and mainstream public affairs work. The key differentiator is that of scale, and to what extent public opinion will be a factor in any plans to create a particular outcome.
In January 2012, the British Government’s Cabinet Office published a consultation paper on a statutory register of lobbyists which contained the proposed lobbying definition below:
‘Lobbyists should mean those who undertake lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client or whose employees conduct lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client’
The proposals within the consultation have been widely criticised by the public affairs industry on a range of grounds, particularly as they would not actually capture the majority of paid public affairs professionals – most of whom work ‘in-house’, and are therefore not working on behalf of a third party client.
The Government is expected to publish a white paper and a draft bill on its statutory register for lobbyists before the end of May 2013. In Scotland, consultation on a proposed Bill to create a lobbying register closed in November 2012
We will be keeping an eye on the debate in the UK and are keenly looking forward to reading the Government’s proposals – check back for an update soon!