Lobbying regulation - chronology 2010-2019

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This page lists the history of debates on Lobbying regulation, predominantly in the UK.

Timeline of events


  • In the U.S.A, the Senate enacts a bill which required lobbyists to register with both the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. The bill is blocked by the House of Representatives.[1]


who by himself, or through any agent or employee or other persons in any manner whatsoever, directly or indirectly, solicits, collects, or receives money or any other thing of value to be used principally . . . to influence, directly or indirectly, the passage or defeat of any legislation by the Congress of the United States. (Byrd, 1987).


  • In 1973, the Senate and House Bills are introduced. Prior to this, lobbyists were required to register with and report to each house of the legislature separately (Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, 2007).




  • Evidence is given by Dr Michael Rush, a member of the Study of Parliament Group, to the Select Committee on Members' Interests. In their memorandum, Rush et al (1988) suggest:
There is no doubt that not only has there been a growth in the number of organisations that lobby Parliament but also in the number of professional lobbying consultants, a number of whom specialise in parliamentary lobbying. Developments in this area, justifiably or otherwise, have given cause for concern and, if for no other reason, further consideration should be given to establishing a register of professional lobbyists. At the same time, it should be noted that our data would not support the view that the growth in lobbying is a product of the growth in the number of consultants, in that lobbying has grown far more than has the number of consultants.

In his subsequent oral evidence to the Committee, Rush (1988) remarks:

The only advantage I can see of a register, whether it is of professional lobbyists or lobbying organisations in the wider sense, is that it provides publicity. It opens up the process more so that Members of Parliament or members of the public may, if they wish, be able to see who is lobbying. But I take your point [MP William Shelton suggested ‘that it is almost impossible to have a register unless those who register are accorded some sort of privilege’]. I could not agree more. If you say, "As a consequence of registering you have some privilege or other, access to Members or access to certain Parliamentary papers," that is something which I think would be very difficult to control but it would also, I would say, be something to be deplored.


  • At the Commons Select Committee on Members’ Interests, Greer admits making payments to MPs in return for business introductions (Burrell, 2006).


  • Dr Michael Rush gives evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Members' Interests . He raises the following points: the register must have a clear purpose; with particular consideration to the question of who would be required to register, what information lobbyists would have to provide, the arrangements for keeping the register up-to-date, questions around access to the register, and whether registration confers and rights or privileges (Rush, 1990).

In a later article, Rush (1994: 641) notes that although the House of Commons’ Select Committee on Members’ Interests considered the registration of lobbyists on four occasions , it was only on the fourth that it recommended a register. He observes: In its most recent report the committee detected a sufficient shift in opinion among professional lobbyists, MPs, academics and other observers to merit recommending a register.

As Rush (1994: 641-642) notes, although the quarterly publication of a register would be ‘primarily informational’, the proposals included a significant regulatory element in the recommendation for a code of conduct. The code would include a complaints and arbitration procedure. Although there is no mention of penalties, being struck off the register would have ‘moral force’ which ‘would probably damage the reputation of the firm concerned’. The responsibility for compiling and maintaining the register would lie with the Registrar of Members’ Interests; with one copy available in the House of Commons Library and an additional copy available for inspection by the public.



  • The proposal for a register of lobbyists is debated by the House of Commons , nearly two years after the presentation of the report by the Select Committee on Members’ Interests. Rush (1994: 642) argues that this ‘provides clear evidence, if any were needed, that it was not a matter high on the Government’s agenda’. The most significant objection of the government was that the reform would simply give an apparent ‘seal of approval’ to those registered, thereby be of most benefit to the lobbyists themselves. Favouring a voluntary code, the government referred the issue back to the committee which subsequently re-examined its proposal (Rush, 1994: 643).

Referring to what he describes as ‘The most striking lesson of the Canadian experience’, Rush (1994: 643) argues that registering lobbyists has been of most value to those within the public affairs industry itself; as professional lobbyists now have a resource with which to monitor their competitors and identify potential new clients. He contests that the British government is therefore vindicated in its contention that a register would be of principal benefit to lobbyists themselves. He concedes that other lessons have been learned; namely that any register should include lobbying of the House of Lords and ‘the most important actors in the political process’: ministers and civil servants; in addition to those who directly represent (direct advocacy), those who advise (information gatherers) should be required to register; and that clearer definitions of lawyers and professional lobbyists be reached.

Rush (1994: 644) argues that while there is no doubt that registering lobbyists can contribute to open government, there is no evidence that informational schemes have a significant impact on lobbying itself unless the information requested ‘exposes or is likely to expose lobbying abuses’. Beyond the disclosure of information about fees, expenditure, and records of contacts, Rush (1994: 644) suggests that ‘registration tends to become regulatory and the purpose of regulation is to create and maintain norms of behaviour’. These norms can be enshrined in codes of conduct, legislation against certain practices, or a combination of both these approaches.



Forced by the affair to confront the problems it had previously been avoiding, the public affairs industry takes action to convince decision makers and the public about its apparent commitment to ‘ethical standards’. To this end, five consultancies came together to established the self-regulatory Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) under the chairmanship of Andrew Gifford, founding director of lobbying firm GJW (Bevan, 1996). The APPC developed its own code of conduct and makes publicly available its register of clients. It purports to enforce a ban on financial relationships with politicians (Burrell, 2006).


The story of the ‘cash-for-questions’ scandal breaks, in which a Sunday Times reporter posing as a businessman offered twenty MPs £1000 in exchange for tabling a parliamentary question. Conservative MPs Graham Riddick and David Treddinick are fined and suspended from parliament. As a result of the furore, then Conservative Prime Minister John Major establishes the Nolan Committee (Public Affairs Links, 2007).

October 20th

In a second scandal, first reported in The Guardian, it emerges that Greer had paid Conservative MPs Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith to table parliamentary questions on behalf of Al-Fayed. Smith admits having accepting payments of £2000 per question directly from Al-Fayed - rather than from Ian Greer, as was alleged in the original Guardian report. Hamilton and Greer initiate libel proceedings against the newspaper (Public Affairs Links, 2007). Greer famously said to Al-Fayed, regarding his feud with Roland "tiny" Rowland over the sale of the House of Fraser, ‘You need to rent an MP just like you rent a London taxi’ (Hencke, 1994).

October 25th

Responding to concerns in the wake of the cash-for-questions affair, then Prime Minister John Major makes an announcement in the House of Commons announcing the establishment and terms of reference of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Often referred to instead as the ‘Nolan Committee’, Sir Michael Nolan chairs the Committee from its establishment until November 1997 (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010). According to an obituary in The Guardian following his death in January 2007, Nolan ‘made a profound mark on national life by substantially cleansing the Augean stable of corrupt politics as founding chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life’ (Roth, 2007). Only days after his appointment, Nolan demonstrated his independence; announcing his intention that the Committee sit in public and thereby contradicting Major’s statement that the Committee would ‘probably sit in private’ (Roth, 2007).


May 11th

The First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, ‘Standards in Public Life’, is published (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010); provoking what Roth (2007) describes as ‘shrieks of protest’. Nolan’s Report stated that MPs should declare incomes gained from acting as parliamentary consultants; they should not be able to work as paid agents on behalf of lobbyists; and they should end their self-regulation with the introduction of a permanent and independent parliamentary commissioner (Roth, 2007). The Report set out the ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’ (the ‘Nolan Principles’) as follows:

  • Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
  • Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
  • Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
  • Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
  • Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
  • Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
  • Leadership - Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example (Commissioner for Public Appointments, 2010).


PR Week reports that despite having apparently ‘captured the moral high ground’ by setting up its own register of lobbyists, the APPC remained ‘coy’ about revealing the contents of the register. During the making of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme on peers and their outside interests, Observer Films attempted to gain access to the register - and were duly informed that the contents were not open to the public. This was confirmed by then APPC Secretary and managing director of the lobbying firm Public Policy Unit, Charles Miller, who explained that the register was only available to MPs, Peers, APPC members and their clients: ‘it does not exist to feed salacious stories in the media’. However, this position was not uniformly agreed upon within the industry (PR Week UK, 1995). Michael Burrell of Westminster Strategy, one of the founders of the APPC, remarked ‘We were trying to promote greater transparency and disclosure. My view is the register should be made available to journalists’. Miller responded: If other members feel like Michael, I dare say we will open it up... we are going to have think very carefully about way the clients are listed at present - it’s too easily misinterpreted (quoted in PR Week UK, 1995).



The APPC announces its intention to move to publishing its previously annual register of membership twice yearly. Additionally, whereas the register could previously only be accessed via the Association offices in Rochester Row, it was now to be available by post. Michael Burrell remarks that ‘Some members felt that yearly publication meant the register was too historic’ (quoted in PR Week, 1996).

May 16th

The Second Report, ‘Local Public Spending Bodies’, of the Committee on Standards in Public Life is published (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010).


The APPC announces that it will be extending its code of conduct to ban its members from having financial links with sitting peers and MEPs, as well as MPs and public servants. Members are also explicitly prohibited from making contributions to political parties. The Association reports that it is ‘stepping up its marketing efforts’; investigating the creation of ‘developing a new visual identity’; and creating an online presence (Dowman, 1996).


July 8th

The Third Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, ‘Standards of Conduct in Local Government in England, Scotland and Wales’, is published (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010).

July 3rd

A report commissioned by parliament is published by Sir Gordon Downey, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards serving the newly-formed Committee for Standards and Privileges. In the report, ‘Complaints from Mr Mohamed al-Fayed, The Guardian and others against 25 Members and former Members’, Greer, Hamilton and Smith are cleared of the original allegation that Greer had paid the MPs to table questions. However, Downey rules that the testimonies from three of Al-Fayed’s employees that they processed cash payments to Hamilton amounted to ‘compelling evidence’; though he refutes their claims that payments were processed to Greer. In the eventual Hamilton/Al-Fayed libel trial at the High Court in 1999, Hamilton loses and is ordered to pay costs; eventually declaring himself bankrupt in 2001 (Public Affairs Links, 2007).

November 7th

The Fourth Report, ‘Review of Standards of Conduct in Executive NDPBs, NHS Trusts and Local Public Spending Bodies’, of the Committee on Standards in Public Life is published and Lord Nolan is succeeded as chairman by Sir Patrick Neill QC. On the 12th November, Prime Minister Tony Blair extends the Committee’s terms of reference: ‘To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements’ (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010).



The APPC sets out to review its sponsorship rules to consider allowing the sponsorship of political events by lobbyists' clients. Although the existing rule prohibited members from causing a client to give financial incentives to public servants (or persons acting on their behalf), representatives or employees of Parliament; except for entertainment and token business mementos, APPC secretary Charles Miller remarked:

We’ve all broken that rule. If approached by Government, lobbyists should be able to ask their clients whether they are interested, but they can’t push anybody - a lobbyist’s first duty is to the client... Labour is increasingly wooing business directly through the party’s business unit and not through lobbyists anyway (quoted in Barker, 1998a).


The series ‘Lobbygate: Cash for Access’ is published by Greg Palast and Antony Barnett in The Observer. The investigative accuses three consultancies (two of which are members of the APPC) of unethical behaviour; particularly with regard to bragging about having close links to politicians. The APPC launched an inquiry from which emerged a series of recommendations endorsed by the Association and designed to foster a ‘culture of compliance’ with the APPC code of conduct amongst member consultancies; prompting APPC 2006 management committee member Michael Burrell to conclude:

Partly as a result – and while there will never be room for complacency – one could reasonably claim that the professional political consultancy business in the UK today has one of the best ethical track records of any in the world (Burrell, 2006).


The APPC comes out in support of a single lobbyists’ code, despite traditionally opposing the idea of running a joint code with the Institute of Public Relations (IPR, now Chartered Institute of Public Relations) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA). The APPC had previously resisted closer association with the PR industry, holding lobbying to be a distinct industry. The PRCA, however, also represents full service agencies such as Hill and Knowlton and Burson-Marsteller which run large lobbying operations - and are not members of the APPC (Barker, 1998b).

October 13th

The Fifth Report, ‘The Funding of Political Parties in the United Kingdom’, of the Committee on Standards in Public Life is published (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010).


==== October 13th==== A Consultation Paper setting out the issues and questions that the Committee on Standards in Public Life proposes to consider in its review of recommendations in its First Report is published (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010)


====January 12th==== The Sixth Report, ‘Reinforcing Standards – A Review of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life’, is published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010). ====November 16th==== The Seventh Report, ‘Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords’, is published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (Committee on Standards in Public Life, 2010).


  1. Public Affairs Links, 2007
  2. Burrell, 2006