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They’ve been called enemies of democracy. But as Barbara Panvel reports, the government seem reluctant to curtail the influence of lobbyists.

Are lobbyists feeling a heavy hand on their collar? Not yet.

The industry – and members of the the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), chaired by Labour MP Tony Wright – have been waiting all year for the government’s reply to PASC’s report, published on 5 January.

The report explored issues of concern: including the potential for "those on an inside track to wield privileged access and disproportionate influence" and the loose controls on employment moves between Government and the business world - the “revolving door”.

The government’s long-delayed reply to PASC’s report once again falls back on its ‘preferred approach’ - voluntary self-regulation, despite the warning from the January report, that "self-regulation risks being little better than the Emperor’s new clothes."

It casts doubt on PASC’s findings, saying that it “does not agree with the general assertion that former ministers in particular are able to use improperly and with impunity contacts they have built up while in office.”
Those who wanted to see the ‘revolving door’ between government and the private sector closed will be disappointed – but perhaps not surprised. Entrenched practices which bring great financial rewards are not easily relinquished.

PASC chairman Tony Wright MP said he was “glad the government has accepted some of our proposals to increase the transparency of lobbying but disappointed it has not accepted the case for a statutory register, which is where I think we shall eventually end up.”

Kelvin Hopkins MP told Public Affairs News he was “deeply disappointed but not surprised” by the government’s response, but that he hoped PASC would “carry on to press the case”.

Word is awaited from MP Gordon Prentice, who has spent the past few months advising his Labour colleagues in government to back PASC’s recommendations.

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (ALT) has accused the government of “dropping the ball on political reform and ignoring public concerns.” Those who believe democracy is being subverted by the hold of highly-paid lobbyists on ministers, advisers and civil servants, will agree with ALT’s David Miller, who said: “Asking the public to trust lobbyists to operate transparently is like asking us to trust MPs on expenses. Self-regulation is no regulation.”



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