I am Wokingham’s chief lobbyist. One of an MP’s main roles is to lobby government on behalf of their constituents. MPs lobby for changes and improvements in laws, public spending and administration, in the name of their constituents generally. They lobby for individual constituents, usually in private, when they need help to sort out their tax or benefit disputes with the government, or need better treatment or redress from various public services.
A new Bill to regulate lobbyists is therefore of special interest to MPs. There are already clear rules and conventions about how and when an MP or anyone else can lobby, and when it is wrong to do so. An MP, for example, should not lobby on behalf of a private interest he or she has. A business can set out its case for a change to the law, or a charity can make its case for more public spending in its chosen area, but they must not seek to buy access to Ministers or splash cash in any way which looks like or is a bribe.
The combination of Parliamentary convention, tighter modern Election law on donations to parties and individual MPs, the need for MPs to place every financial interest on a public register and the confrontational style of politics designed to tease out malpractice by the other side constitutes the current framework for controlling or regulating lobbying and access. The government now wishes to amend this framework with additional legislation.
As an MP I encourage my constituents to lobby me directly. There is no need to pay a penny for access to an MP. Every constituent has a right of free access by email, letter or in person, when they have a legitimate grievance or concern. Similarly, access to Ministers is free access. Ministers will meet groups or even individuals with important things to say about the conduct of government or future improvements, without a paid for lobbyist being involved.
Lobbying firms may well have an important role to play. They are not buying people access to Parliament. They can be useful in helping a person or company marshall its case, understand the policy context, explain how decisions are made and laws enacted to busy people who may not have made a study of it themselves. Good lobbyists want you to comply with the law on influencing government, not break it, just as good accountants and lawyers offer specialist advice to individuals which keeps them compliant. Good lobbyists know the topic, tell you what ay or may not be achievable, and help the individual or company explain its issue to government.
As with all walks of life, there will be on occasions bad lobbyists who break existing conventions and laws, and who doubtless will break any new law as well if they think they can get away with it to advantage. Democratic politics cannot survive without lots of good and well informed lobbying. Another way of describing that is “democratic debate”.