The legal profession has warned the government it is fixing its sights on the wrong target with plans for a register of political lobbyists.
Downing Street confirmed last week that it wants to create a statutory register, with legislation published within six weeks, following allegations involving politicians and journalists posing as lobbyists.
However, leading law firms and the Law Society told the Gazette that they believe the legislation to be unworkable.
A Law Society spokesman said there are ‘very difficult issues’ about properly defining the extent of lobbying for the register, which should not encompass routine work by lawyers.
‘Solicitors are already regulated to exacting standards by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and we need to avoid a bureaucratic system of double regulation,’ he added.
One solicitor from a leading UK firm said any lawyer found to be offering bribes to MPs would be ‘kicked out of the profession by the SRA in no time at all’.
Eben Black, director of trade and government relations for global firm DLA Piper, stated that the register must cover all those in contact with government, not just agencies and law firms.
He said: ‘Transparency is important in public affairs, although the recent furore over "lobbyists" in the media is nothing to do with it. That is about journalists attempting to subvert politicians.’
If the register is to include a requirement to list clients, he added, it would have to be on a firm statutory basis to supersede the SRA’s requirement for confidentiality.
The Public Relations Consultants Association said that the register would have ‘no tangible effect on transparency’ because the scheme appears unlikely to encompass corporations’ in-house staff.
‘It has taken a lobbying scandal involving no lobbyists for the government to bring forward plans for a statutory register of lobbyists,’ the association’s policy manager, Tom Hawkins, said.