Call for curbs on legal lobbyists
MPs have called for tighter restrictions on law firms that act as lobbyists for their clients. Firms should be forced to sign up to a new register for lobbyists if they are acting beyond simply advising their clients, they have urged.
The government is set to announce firm proposals this summer for a register of lobbyists, following a three-month public consultation. Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman (pictured) last month tabled a House of Commons early day motion on the ethics of law firms. The motion said MPs were ‘disturbed by evidence that legal firms in the UK are increasingly combining their legal services with a lobbying function’.
It added that in the US this practice has ‘compromised legal standards’ and there was concern that the proposed register of lobbyists will not include law firms.
Sheerman told the Gazette he had been approached for a meeting by a leading City firm that had not disclosed it was also acting as a lobbyist.
‘It’s going the American way and you don’t know who you’re dealing with,’ he said. ‘They don’t belong to any register and don’t have to sign up to any register. There’s a real concern that there could be a scandal if there is no requirement for more openness.’
Six MPs have joined Sheerman to back the motion, which calls on the government to act to discourage the trend of UK law firms acting as lobbyists for clients.
The UK’s lobbying sector is currently self-regulating, but the Cabinet Office announced proposals for a register of lobbyists in January and has now finished consulting on the issue. A Cabinet Office spokesman said the register was aimed at ‘filling in the gaps’ between published details of meetings with politicians and organisations, to explain some of the context behind the meeting.
Organisations could be required to give more information about their activities when the consultation response is published before the summer recess, followed by a white paper later this year.