The veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman has been told by the Lobbying Registrar, Alison White, that the work he carries out under the aegis of the not-for-profit organisation Policy Connect and that he chairs and co-founded in 1995 is classed as lobbying. This is a first: the UK's lobbying registrar has just called an MP a lobbyist.
It's some irony that the Statutory Register - set up by MPs to hold third party lobbyists to account - has actually forced an MP to register, something that was never its intention.
It is not uncommon for MPs to have a second role alongside their parliamentary duties, with the Register of Members' Financial Interests providing transparency and helping to avoid conflict of interests occurring. Indeed, Mr Sheerman has been clear that the money he received from Policy Connect was donated to charity, and to his credit he has recently declared on the Register of Members' Financial Interests that he stopped taking a monthly fee from Policy Connect as of May 2017.
The problem here is that the House of Commons' rules seem to have allowed the arrangement to continue for many years - it's only the relatively new Lobbying Registrar whose recent enquiries have brought the conflict to light.
No parliamentarian should ever receive monies where their role is to influence policy-making. It's a blatant and obvious conflict that should be easy to remedy. No MP should work as a legislator and consultant lobbyist. Conflicts of this nature threaten to sully the whole business of lobbying and lawmaking, diminishing the public trust in democracy: the perception of wrongdoing is in some ways just as important as the act itself. We should not be afraid to compel our policy-makers to act in a way that avoids creating perceptions of conflicts or impropriety.
APPC was formed precisely to drive up standards and best-practice amongst lobbyists. Yet, despite the best efforts of third-party agencies to demonstrate our own transparency (APPC manages the lobbying industry's leading code of conduct and lobbying register) it is our industry that has been the subject of the Government's attempts to put registration on a statutory footing. We're happy to comply with the new system but now MPs must tighten up their own rules.