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Tue, 2 June 2020

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EXCL Lobbying watchdog will name and shame rule-breakers in real time

EXCL Lobbying watchdog will name and shame rule-breakers in real time

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

A government watchdog set up to police lobbying in the UK will be quicker to name and shame those who flout the rules, PoliticsHome can reveal.

The Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ROCL) will publish in real time the names of any firms slapped with financial penalties in a bid to boost transparency.

Currently, lobbying groups issued with sanctions are quietly listed in the annual report of the watchdog, which is published on its website once a year without fanfare.

But the ROCL - which oversees just third-party lobbyists and not those who work directly for private interests or pressure groups to bend the ear of ministers - will implement a major change to its practices early next year.

It will publish a new webpage detailing which lobbying firms have been penalised and why, as well as those the watchdog is set to punish if it appears they have broken the rules.

Registrar Harry Rich told PoliticsHome: “The overwhelming majority of those we engage with comply with the law, by providing the information we require on time and by properly registering their consultant lobbying activity.  

“I am pleased that we only need to issue formal statutory notices in a tiny number of cases to secure compliance.

“However, during my appointment I was clear about the importance of transparency in the work of the Registrar and a key part of this is my decision that in future the public will be able to see basic information about those cases where formal steps have had to be taken.”

Shadow Cabinet Minister Jon Trickett said: “I welcome any steps to improve transparency, however small, and the staff at the Register are doing a good job under challenging circumstances.

“But after a year of high-profile scandals concerning the influence of big money in politics and the lobbying of ministers, we are reminded that the rules governing lobbying in this country are simply not up to the task.

“We need a completely new system that leaves no room for doubt as to who is trying to influence politicians and for what purpose. It is Labour’s plan to deliver this system, as part of our ambition to transform politics.”

Labour was especially concerned about the policing regime after the watchdog decided free-market think tank the IEA did not come under its remit following allegations by Greenpeace.

The ROCL issued one penalty notice during 2017/18 to communications firm InHouse, for lobbying ministers before it was registered.

The fine was £1,500 and was paid in July - although the details were only published a year later in the annual report of the watchdog.

Last month, PoliticsHome revealed that staffing issues at the ROCL left the previous registrar Alison White struggling to fulfil her role and forced the body to dump some projects.

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