Although the UK’s professional lobbying industry as we know it today has its most direct roots in the 1980s – when lobbying agencies first emerged – the history of lobbying can be traced back to the middle of the 17th century. ‘Lobby’ originally, in the political sense, referred to one of the lobbies in the House of Commons. The Oxford English Dictionary cites examples going back as far as 1640, citing the House of Commons specifically as the place where the public could go to speak to – or lobby – their members. The first recognised UK lobbyist was Commander Christopher Powell whose firm Watney and Powell was established just before the Second World War. But it was after the cessation of the war that lobbying in a more formal sense started to emerge. Labour’s landslide victory in 1945 included plans to nationalise various industries. The attempt to nationalise the sugar industry resulted in an organized campaign to oppose the measure and which was ultimately successful. It was the harbinger of subsequent political campaigns and the emergence of groups such as the Economic League and Aims of Industry, established to defend the interests of their members. Much of this lobbying remained discreet.

It was not until the 1980s that the scene changed and lobbying firms – of the kind that we’d recognize today – were first established. Although the issue of professional lobbying was in fact attracting the attention of MPs as far back as 1969. The growth of professional lobbying was a subsidiary theme of the Reports of the Select Committees on Members' Interests (Declaration) of both 1969 and 1974. When, in the 1983-84 session, a parliamentary Committee examined the growth of the industry a witness estimated that that the political consultancy business had an annual fee income of £3.25 million. This grew to an estimated £9 million by 1987, at which time it was estimated that the industry was expanding by between 20 and 25 per cent each year.

Establishment of the APPC

The rapid expansion of the industry occurred without any statutory or self-regulation in place - there were no agreed rules, either statutory or self-regulatory, governing how these new firms should operate.

By the 1990s, now well established but still unregulated, the industry found itself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The Cash for Questions affair shone a light on professional lobbying for the first time, forcing the industry to confront issues that it had previously avoided and to take action to reassure Parliament, Whitehall and the public about its ethical standards. In response to these developments the APPC was established to provide transparency to the industry and to develop a set of ethical rules governing how lobbying agencies should behave. In 1994 five consultancies established the APPC as a self-regulatory body, with its own Code of Conduct, a publicly-available register of clients and a complete ban on any financial relationship with politicians.

From those initial five consultancies, the APPC now has the membership of over 80 organisations. Our Code of Conduct regulates the conduct of all APPC members and our quarterly register offers transparency to anyone wanting to find out more about which clients are represented by our members. We’ve also established Complaints and Disciplinary Rules and Procedures which allows anyone to lodge a complaint against a member firm of the APPC.

It is partly as a result of the leading role played by the APPC over more than two decades that the professional political consultancy business in the UK today has one of the best ethical track records of any in the world.

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