Oliver Wright: Ten pages of 'consultation' that mean only one thing – it's business as usual

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The Independent Online

All told, the Government's consultation document on reforming Britain's lobbying industry runs to 30 pages. When you take out the blank pages, the index and the formulaic appendices you're left with fewer than 10 pages.

But the Mark Harper, the Political Reform minister, did not even need that space to outline his vision for the future of lobbying.

It could be summed up in three words: business as usual. It's been said before but it's worth restating – there is nothing wrong with lobbying in itself.

It's far better for ministers to take decisions with all the arguments in front of them and lobbyists are an important source of those arguments. The problem comes when there is a lack of transparency.

By any account the Government's proposals in this consultation paper do not address this. Take what's been dubbed "the Tesco problem". A lobbyist for Tesco meets the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. But we don't know if they're there to talk about a campaign for healthy eating or to put pressure on the Government not to bring in a minimum price for alcohol.

Equally, a lobbying firm with multiple clients will not have to declare which of its clients it is representing when it meets ministers.

Nor will ministers have to declare so-called "private" meetings with lobbyists that take place outside departmental office hours. This has happened before and under the Government's proposals will happen again. All we left with after yesterday is a statutory register of meaningless information.

But it is not too late.

This is just a consultation. The Government may have signalled its intent to do as little as possible but new revelations may yet shame it into doing something more meaningful.

As David Cameron said in opposition – lobbying is the next big political scandal waiting to happen. After yesterday that looks more like a statement of aspiration.