June 18, 2002 ,

EVERY day in the House of Commons people come to lobby MPs. But what does lobbying actually mean?

The word ‘lobby' was originally only a noun. In the Middle Ages it referred to a monk's covered walk in the cloister of a university, but also came to describe any connecting room or corridor where people might mingle and wait.

In the 17th Century, ‘lobby' began to be used to describe the waiting and voting areas in the Houses of Parliament. One reference in a publication from 1648 described how an MP's speech ‘caused Members to retreat into the lobby… to drink ale and smoke tobacco.' Traditions die hard, and although alcohol is now forbidden, some members still insist on polluting the air with tobacco smoke during votes in the division lobby.

After the Americans won their independence in 1776, they took the word lobby and gradually changed it into a verb. In the 19th Century, one Washington journalist wrote ‘how is it to be expected that a needy and ambitious lawyer on three or four dollars a day shall not be open to the influence of those who lobby him.'

It seems that the brown envelope was not the invention of the last Government after all.
Inevitably, the word came back across the Atlantic and now we use it to describe the activity of trying to influence Members of parliament; preferably by persuasion rather than bribery.
Many companies spend thousands of pounds employing consultants to lobby MPs on their behalf. Most of this money is wasted.

They cannot hope to compete with the genuine lobbyists, like the thousands who came up to Westminster this week to lobby for fairer trade with the poorer nations of the world.
One of the largest contingents came from Cardiff, and in particular from St Francis's Roman Catholic Church in Ely. All the professional lobbyists in the world could not match this group of committed citizens.

They asked for nothing for themselves; only for justice for the poorest people in the world. They want fair trade so that farmers in less developed countries can sell their produce to rich countries.

They want an end to scandals like the Common Agricultural Policy which subsidises farmers in rich countries to produce food to dump in poorer countries. They want to see evidence that trade is not just being organised for the benefit of multinational corporations, but to meet the United Nations' targets for ending poverty across the globe.

Millions of people are poor and starving; not because there isn't enough food produced, but because of unfair trade and war.

Their lobbying has already persuaded the Government to increase aid and cut debt to the poorest nations. But with important international meetings coming up, the lobbyists who came from Cardiff and across Britain helped to remind the Government that fighting global poverty policy must be of the highest priority.