Lobby socks

Government announces measures to tackle UK lobbyists’ lack of transparency

Lobbying is a grubby word in the UK. The Government is looking to clean it up, especially after revelations about former defence secretary Liam Fox’s cosy relationship with best man Adam Werritty and his lobbying company Pargav.

A consultation paper on a proposed UK statutory register of lobbyists is aimed at greater transparency. The idea is that we all know who is talking to whom, about what, on whose behalf and to what end.

But at what cost to law firms?

Two of the biggest players on the lobbying scene, DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells, have been asking clients to make their views known. The two firms have deep concerns over having to publish details for public consumption. Even more so if the UK once again looks to the US with its compulsory system of reporting how much companies are paying to help bend the ear of politicians.

When Hogan & Hartson merged with Lovells, the US firm’s Washington DC lawyers who were fluent in lobbying were surprised at the more formal UK approach. Because of the revolving door between private practice and the state for US lawyers, many have good contacts and a direct line to politicians, so it is seen as the norm.

At the post-merger firm, partner Paul Dacam and of counsel Charles Brasted’s global policy advocacy team sits in Hogan Lovells’ regulatory practice, which helps clients with lobbying.

Paul Dacam

Dacam says a parallel initiative in Brussels, while not compulsory, is seeing law firms excluded from certain information and access if they do not register.

Some firms have had their wrists slapped for registering as lobbyists while refusing to include details of who their clients are and how much they are paying for the chance to shape EU policy.

“We support transparency,” Dacam says. “But our main concern is a total lack of clarity over who [the proposals] are aimed at, and no definition of lobbying.

“If they cover work just advising a client on legislative proposals, a lot of our clients would have to be on the register.

“Client confidentiality is an important and valuable principle and there are good commercial reasons why they don’t want competitors to know who they’re engaged with, on what issues and how much they’re paying.”

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has just published its report on the proposals, which it regards as worse than doing nothing. This will run and run.

Expect the lobbyists to practise their art on ministers about the reforms for a good while yet.

Sam Chadderton