Guardian Article on the influence of Lobbyists

Tufton Steet The UK's 'K' Street


Lobbying the Senate

Lobbying the House

Lobbyists are members of professional organisations who are paid by clients seeking access to government, or to MPs and members of the House of Lords. Their purpose is to gain influence on behalf of their clients, particularly when legislation that affects their clients' interests is under consideration. This is an extension of a long-established principle that members of the public may lobby their MPs in person or by letter. The word 'lobby' is derived from the hallways of the Houses of Parliament where, in the past, people would meet their MP to ask for help. However, there is unease about the legitimacy of some professional lobbying activities. Many people dislike the idea that influence can be bought by wealthy individuals and organisations, who can afford the lobbyists' fees. Attention has been focused on the system recently by undercover journalists posing as lobbyists to entrap MPs with offers of financial rewards. The parliamentary code of conduct strictly bars MPs from accepting money for agreeing to represent a viewpoint.

Another concern has been that the lobbying system for many years was expected to regulate itself, with lobbyists being allowed to decide whether or not their names appeared on a public register.

In 2014 the government made it a legal requirement for anyone lobbying on behalf of a third party to register if their activities include discussing policy, legislation or government contracts with a minister or senior civil servant. This did not allay the anxieties of critics who wanted greater transparency.

Lobbying remains big business in the UK, employing an estimated 4000 people, and a total of £2 billion is spent on it each year. How much influence lobbying really has over government is uncertain. Under David Cameron, Number 10 denied that lobbying firms changed government policy, but stated that companies frequently discuss their concerns with the Business Department or the Treasury. Governments carry out regular consultation exercises to discover what the impact of proposed legislation on relevant groups may be, and they may modify their plans in response to pressure.


The role of corporations, or large business organisations, in UK government circles is a related area of concern for some pro-democracy campaigners. There has also been discussion of the so-called 'revolving door' process, where senior politicians and officials take well-paid jobs in the private sector after they leave government service. This brings with it the suspicion that they use their knowledge and contacts to benefit the interests of these corporations. In addition a number of business leaders have become ministers by being appointed to the House of Lords.