Confusion reigns as Barry Sheerman becomes first MP on lobbying register
The Standards Commissioner and MPs’ Code of Conduct tell a different story.
The PRCA has expressed renewed concern over lobbying regulation following the news that the veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman has become the first serving politician to be officially registered as a lobbyist.
Sheerman’s firm Policy Connect is now listed on the register of consultant lobbyists following an inquiry by lobbying registrar Alison White into whether informal parliamentary groups have been used to gain access to government.
She found that Policy Connect should be defined as a lobbying company because it is paid money by clients who are then given the opportunity to meet ministers. But Sheerman maintains that Policy Connect is a social enterprise providing a service for industry experts and ministers.
The Labour MP, who is chairman of Policy Connect, is listed as one of 10 directors of the firm.
PRCA head of public affairs and policy Nicholas Henry Dunn-McAfee said this jarred with other rulings about what constitutes lobbying.
"On one hand, we have the Standards Commissioner and MPs’ Code of Conduct which prohibits paid advocacy and does not consider Sheerman to be a lobbyist. On the other hand, we have the Register of Consultant Lobbyists which clearly considers Sheerman’s company to be offering lobbying services.
"How are the public meant to have trust in our democracy when the right hand and the left hand disagree on the fundamental point of who is and is not a lobbyist?
"The cracks are clear for all to see: it is time to look again at lobbying regulation in the UK and strengthen the definition to include all those who influence government or advise others how to influence government."
Duncan Hames, the director of policy at Transparency International UK and a former Liberal Democrat MP, said: "The rules need to be changed urgently to make it clear that it is not acceptable for MPs to take second jobs advising clients on parliamentary or government affairs."