MPs call for ministers to come clean on lobbying

All lobbyists must be registered, not just those working for agencies, the MPs say
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Indy Politics

David Cameron's promise to run the most transparent government ever is challenged today by a cross-party group of MPs who say ministers are still being less than frank about their meetings with lobbyists.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee accuses ministers of hiding the true purpose of such meetings behind anodyne phrases such as "catch-up" or "general discussion". The committee's report says:

"General terms such as 'introductory' and 'catch-up' are too vague to be listed as the topic of a meeting. We recommend that the Government publish the specific topic of the meeting, unless there are immediate security concerns preventing this."

The report also criticises the Government for long delays in publishing details of meetings.

"If Government can publish photos of meetings within a month it should not take up to eight months to publish lists of meetings with outside stakeholders," the report says.

It also calls for a rethink of plans for a limited register of lobbyists, urging the Government to include all lobbyists – not just those who work for agencies. "Under the Government's proposals, a lobbyist who worked in house for a large company such as News International, or Tesco, would not be required to register.

"However, a 'one-man band' lobbyist would be required to register, name their clients, and pay for the privilege," the MPs say.

Their report cites The Independent's investigation into lobbying firms including Bell Pottinger as one of the reasons why far-reaching reform of the lobbying industry is necessary.

"[We] recommend the Government scraps its plans to introduce a statutory register of third party lobbyists, and instead introduces regulation to cover all those who lobby professionally, in a paid role, including those who lobby on behalf of charities, trade unions and think tanks."

Tamasin Cave, of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, who gave evidence to the committee, welcomed its demands for "real public scrutiny of the influence industry". She added: "Over two years ago David Cameron warned that lobbying in this country had got 'out of control'. Why wait for more scandals? The Government must get on with it, and create a robust register of lobbyists without delay."