The Coalition is committed to introducing a statutory register of “lobbyists”. Clearly a vitally important part of the puzzle they have set themselves is the definition of lobbying and lobbyists. Any statutory regime must obviously be absolutely clear about what it is that requires an individual or organisation to register, or face legal sanction for failing to do so.
I have always been bemused by the tendency of some involved in the debate about lobbying to try to distinguish between “good lobbying” and “bad lobbying”. On the whole, good lobbying is seen as that undertaken by charities, voluntary bodies and other worthy causes. Bad lobbying is of course that undertaken by corporate organisations. Quite why some organisations should be impugned so harshly for simply exercising their democratic right beats me. However that is essentially the argument as I understand it.
However, it will be very difficult to achieve a distinction in statute between good and bad lobbying. Disturbing news is reaching me that some are seeking to distinguish between “lobbying” and “advocacy”, and arguing that only lobbying needs to be regulated. Now I have not myself seen a proper attempt to define the difference, so I’m having a stab at it. Lo and behold, lobbying is apparently done by corporate, but advocacy is what cuddly, worthy organisations do. I am going to be very interested to see how the definitions successfully distinguish.
The government is now behind schedule on publishing their consultation paper on the statutory register of lobbyists, as confirmed in this story on the PR Week website. Frankly I am not surprised. When I used to be involved in discussions with government, I know they were as aware as me about the huge definitional problems they will have. If they even attempt to set out a distinction between “lobbying” and “advocacy”, I hope all will see it as pure sophistry.
If the government are so set on regulating lobbying, they must make sure they apply a universal framework to all involved in making representations to government, whether that activity is called lobbying or advocacy. Anything less would be an unjust travesty that should be roundly condemned.