It is more than two years since The Independent first began campaigning for lobbying reform. Now, after yet more grubby scandals that undermine public faith in political institutions, the Government finally announced it would act.
But scratch the surface of the plans and it is apparent that none of the proposals will eliminate or even reduce political sleaze. Instead they are a smokescreen for a cynical attack on Labour-supporting unions (which are at least democratic) while leaving the lobbying industry untouched.
The proposed statutory register of lobbyists will only cover a tiny fraction of the industry. It will not cover lobbyists who work directly for companies, trade associations or any of the other groups that spend large amounts of money trying to influence government policy. Only those lobbyists who work for third parties will be covered and even then the information they will have to publish will be paltry.
They will not have to declare the meeting they arrange with ministers on behalf of their clients, the secret work done at party conferences will be off limits, and they need not publish what they are lobbying for – only their client list.
The proposed legislation also appears not to tighten up the rules preventing peers and MP’s “hiring themselves out” for personal gain.
Companies will still be able to “sponsor” all-party Parliamentary groups, to arrange receptions for commercial gain in Parliament and have access to the corridors of power without making it clear what they want from whom.
The only thing the register will do is make it harder for the media to set up fake lobbying companies to expose the small number of MPs and peers on the take.
The Independent has never argued that companies and individuals should not try to influence government policy or that the Government should not listen to them. What we did want was transparency so the public can see who wants what and why – and we have not got that.
Here’s to the next scandal.