Working with lobbyists

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1. Lobbyists – (including advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards)

2. Advice from Luther Pendragon 

We have sought advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and their recommendations have been incorporated.

The PCS’s rules change from time to time and we cannot guarantee to keep this guide entirely up-to-date so your first port of call should always be their website.

W4MP Editor

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1. Lobbyists – (including advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards)

Central Lobby is the place in Parliament where members of the public can come, without an appointment, to harangue their MP on the issues that are causing them concern. Hence the term “lobbyist” to describe those who undertake such activities on a professional basis; perhaps for a firm that specialises in political persuasion for paying clients, or perhaps an individual employed to look after his or her company’s interest with respect to a policy debate or piece of legislation.

What are lobbyists for?

Although the profession has been in receipt of some bad press in recent months, it is important to note that the term “lobbyist” is but a broad definition of a trade that can encompass everything from the voluntary group from Brighton who want to improve composting policy, to the moustache-twirling archetype – so beloved of investigative journalists – hell bent on flogging the wares of Baby Killing Evildoers Plc to the British government. Whilst both of these two are on the extremes of the lobbyist spectrum, it is worth acknowledging that there is a spectrum. However, all “Public Affairs Professionals”, as they prefer to be called, see your Member as a vehicle via which their interests, or the interests of their clients, can be moved forward, legislatively speaking.

However, all lobbyists are ultimately loyal to the person who pays them for their services. It is, therefore, always best to be prepared and be on your guard.

How can they help your Member?

There a several ways in which lobbyists can assist your office. Some of the more common ones are listed below:

  • Providing assistance to All Party Groups: Upon their election, most MPs will sign up to at least half a dozen APPGs in their first flush of enthusiasm for all things Parliamentary. Sadly, if he or she is elected an officer of the Group, it will be left to you to do all the administration: mailouts, checking everything’s up to date with the registration, organising events, and writing briefings. This is a job in itself, and a lobbying firm with an interest in the subject matter of the Group may offer to provide a secretariat to take some of the work off your hands, or to provide other materials to the membership;
  • Assistance with PQs and amendments: Lobbyists can also help framing amendments and drafting Parliamentary Questions. Remember that although your boss may have developed a sudden interest in “green issues. And stuff”, this level of specialism may benefit from supplementary advice from someone who actually knows what they are talking about;
  • Providing background briefings and other material: If the lobbyist is any good – and this is by no means always a given – they should be able to help you out with specialist questions you may have on a policy area.

Dangers and pitfalls

Gone are the days when a lobbyist simply had to hand over a brown envelope of crisp fifties in order to get an MP to fall into legislative line, and I think we can all agree that, for the sake of representative democracy and open government, this is a good thing – not least because it is a very foolish Member indeed who would accept a bribe from a lobbyist to lay so much as an Early Day Motion, let alone an amendment. The days when bag-carriers would fearfully read headlines of MPs caught bang-to-rights in a sting  whilst praying that their boss wasn’t involved are, thankfully, behind us.

That does not mean that working with any kind of interest group is not a minefield. Here are some things to bear in mind when working with lobbyists:

  • It shouldn’t need saying, but: There will be occasions when it is wrong/improper/against the rules to accept assistance from a lobbyist. Members are not allowed to lobby for reward or consideration (see Guide to the Rules paras 89-102. Link provided at the end of this article);
  • Register and declare :  Prevention is the best cure: if in doubt seek advice from the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards before accepting any benefit – monetary, staffing, or in kind –that is provided to either your MP or to any All Party Group. Members are prohibited from lobbying for reward or consideration. The rule is explained in the Guide to the Rules  paragraphs 80 to 101. And if a lobbying company is providing secretarial assistance to the Group, this service is likely to require registration as APPGs must register gifts and payments with a value of over £1,500 that are received from the same donor over the course of a calendar year.  As a rule of thumb, if the lobbyist has provided a service that you believe materially benefited yourself, or your  Member or a Group, it will need to be registered and possibly declared, for example in proceedings of the House.  All such registrable interests must be registered within 28 days of receipt.  For guidance about the rules on APGs please see the online Guide to the Rules on APGs; for guidance about your own registration please see the introduction in the Register of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants.  Links to both documents are provided at the end of this article. If you are still unsure about anything in relation to All-Party Groups contact Philippa Wainwright at the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on x 0401, or in relation to your Member’s interests contact the Registrar on x 3277.
  • Lobbyists and APPGs: Lobbying firms who provide secretariats to APPGs have to be prepared to provide a list of their clients. If a lobbying company has offered to provide your Group with assistance, it is worth flagging this up with them in the early stages of your discussions;
  • Beware lobbyists bearing gifts: Known by 19th century anthropologists as “gift theory”, the contemporary manifestation of this is the saying that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Basically, if you think that you’re being wined, dined, and presented with expensive gifts because the lobbyist admires your good looks, charm, and intellect – think again. Gift theory holds that the receiver of the gift is implicitly obliged to return it in kind. This is why ladies should always go dutch on a first date and why bag-carriers and Members should ALWAYS declare any benefit they have received: as a member of staff, you have to register certain employment and gifts with a value of £329 or over per calendar year. The same applies to Members, but is dependent on which category the interest falls into; for example directorships, overseas visits and gifts. Furthermore, you should never find yourself feeling obliged to undertake a course of action you are unhappy with because the lobbyist has bought you a nice pen as a Christmas present. It’s the 21st century, sisters: a man buying you dinner no longer automatically implies that he’s entitled to get his money’s worth afterwards. Essentially, never do anything for a lobbyist who has gifted you, that you wouldn’t do for one that hadn’t.
  • The facilities of the House: The facilities of the House cannot be used to further the work of a lobby group or any other private interest. This refers to dining rooms, IT facilities, and stationery.
  • Retain ownership: Although All Party Parliamentary Groups are time consuming to manage and you might welcome some of the more mundane admin being outsourced, it is important to always retain ownership over your MP’s campaigns. Remember, lobbyists are ultimately responsible to their clients’ brief, not to your Member of Parliament’s wishes, and these might not always neatly dovetail. Similarly, when seeking assistance in drafting amendments and providing briefings, lobbyists are often a mine of information. They also have their own agenda, so be careful.

Advice to lobbyists seeking to influence Members of Parliament

  • Target your mailings: Very few MPs in landlocked constituencies are going to be interested in your client’s view on the Marine Conservation Zones. In addition, MPs receive many hundreds of emails and letters a day and a “pro-forma mailout” will probably just be binned by a member of staff who simply doesn’t have the time to read it;
  • Don’t extract the Michael: Appreciate that, when you are working with an MP or a group of MPs on a campaign, that their interests and desired outcomes are not going to be the same as yours. Work with them on the aspects that you agree with, but do not attempt to manipulate them to your point of view if it is one that they do not hold. You will simply poison the relationship;

Useful links

 

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2. Advice from Luther Pendragon 

Most w4mp guides are written either by us or by current staffers.  Here’s an exception, written for us by Lucy Minshall (Associate Director at Luther Pendragon – see below) who has worked on both sides of the fence so hopefully gives a good balanced view of things.

W4MP Ed.

 

When you google the term ‘lobbyist’ one of the words that strikes you in the results is ‘scandal’. The media often write negative stories on lobbyists and portray us as the second evil after bankers.  And working for an MP we understand why you are sometimes cautious when we call you.

It is true that over the past 20 years there have been a handful of said scandals, and there are still some questionable practices which exist but the truth is that most of the industry and those who work in it are very far removed from this.

The UK Public Affairs Council (UKPAC) was created by the industry bodies to provide a united front for agency and in-house consultants in response the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) inquiry into lobbying and the government’s response to this inquiry, which made clear that a system of self regulation, involving a voluntary register, was needed to ensure ethical behaviour and transparency amongst lobbyists. The creation of the body demonstrates how seriously the industry is taking the need to restore public confidence in Westminster and will hopefully offer the transparency to those in power and their staff to feel confident in engaging with us.

The future of the UKPAC has however recently been questioned as the Public Relations Consultants Association  (PRCA) has withdrawn from the Council, and endorsed the Government’s decision to introduce a statutory register of public affairs practitioners.

Many think we spend our time lunching our clients then drinking gin and tonics in the Westminster village with various MPs trying to twist their arm into doing something for them. False. What we actually do is spend a lot of our time explaining to our clients how parliamentary processes work, advising them of when certain pieces of legislation are going through, when key announcements are likely to come out and helping to draft consultation responses. In many ways we are performing a similar role to you but for a different sector.

It is worth remembering we are also do ‘good’ work. We don’t just represent big corporate organisations, many of our clients are in the third sector, and many public affairs companies frequently undertake pro bono work.

Below are some hints and tips for working with us:

  1. We are here to help. If you are working for a Shadow Minister/Select Committee member etc, someone who has a particular policy interest and we call you on behalf of an organisation within that area, tell us what would be useful. If you are unsure about letting our clients meet your boss, meet us or them first. We can only help you if we know your needs and concerns.
  2. Put personal opinions aside. Whatever your feelings about the aims of certain commercial organisations or charities, they have a right to be heard and have their concerns addressed. To give informed opinion in policy debate, your boss will have to know all sides of the argument in hand. Lobbyists can make sure your boss has all the information, and is prepared for all the counter arguments he or she may face.
  3. If you feel nervous, say so. If you feel you are being subjected to some unethical lobbying practices, report it. The UKPAC can only function if it is informed in the way the industry is working.
  4. Be organised. Keep a constant record of anything of monetary value a public affairs professional pays for or gives to you such as lunches, dinners etc, to avoid any questions in the future.
  5. It’s a small world. Do remember it is a small industry, you will frequently see the same faces at party conferences and receptions etc so try and have positive and productive relationships.

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Lucy Minshall is an Associate Director at Luther Pendragon – www.luther.co.uk. Lucy has more than six years’ experience in public affairs and corporate communications.

Prior to joining Luther in 2007, she worked for a Conservative MP in Parliament, as well as a Democratic Congresswoman in Washington DC, a pro-business pressure group, and a leading political monitoring agency. Lucy also worked on campaigns for the Conservative Party in 2005 and 2010, and for the Democrats in the southern states of the US in 2004. She works with a range of clients focusing on public affairs and media relations in sectors including aerospace, insurance, and manufacturing. She holds a degree in Politics and Parliamentary Studies from Leeds University.