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Downing Street has resisted pressure to push forward reform of the lobbying industry following the scandal involving the defense secretary and his best man.
Liam Fox resigned as defense secretary last Friday, as increasing evidence revealed how his friend Adam Werritty positioned himself as a de facto defense adviser, accompanying Fox on numerous official engagements and apparently lobbying on behalf of the defense industry.
Campaigners say that the affair highlights the corruption within the lobbying system, reminding David Cameron of his assertion last year that lobbying was the next big political scandal waiting to break, and of the coalition agreement to reform it.
But Downing Street insisted that the processing of new legislation through Parliament will not be brought forward from 2013.
Meanwhile, the lobbying industry says that Adam Werritty was a rogue operator, and does not represent the modus operandi of professional lobbyists on the whole and that tarring them all with the same brush is unfair.
Tamsin Cave of SpinWatch says that the changes to legislation have been put on the back burner owing to lobbying by the lobbyists themselves.
“Without irony, the minister in charge of introducing lobbying transparency regulations, Mark Harper, is refusing to release details of his discussions with lobbyists over lobbying transparency rules,” she wrote in SpinWatch blog post.
She said that SpinWatch submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Cabinet Office in August 2010, and that the release of the information is still being blocked.
She says the government needs to honor its pledge to clear up the industry, which she says is worth 2 billion pounds (US$3.15 billion) a year.
“A robust statutory register of lobbyists would let us see how many millions are being spent by private health care companies, or the size of the supermarket lobby, or which arms companies are lobbying our defense secretary.
“In the wake of the Fox/Werritty scandal, the Tories must now force their many friends in the lobbying industry to operate in the open.”
But the lobbying industry refutes such a straightforward comparison between Werritty and the general state of the lobbying industry.
“Whilst the example is deplorable, it is not representative of the sector as a whole,” said Elin Twigge, account director at political lobbying firm PLMR.
“Adam Werritty was not working as a professional lobbyist and did not subscribe to the code of conduct and voluntary client register that the majority of agencies sign up to.”
She said that lumping them together with people like Werritty “ignores the positive role that lobbying can play for both stakeholders and policymakers.”
Critics of the lobbying industry say that it is packed with former MPs and officials, who move onto lobbying as the next career step, using their contacts to achieve the goals of their clients, in a testament to the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Twigge disputes this, saying that clients value not just the contacts, but the knowledge and experience that a good lobbyist brings.
“What we know as lobbyists is hugely important and often overlooked. To many of the clients that we represent, from charities to trade associations, green technology firms to health and social care organizations, it is our knowledge and navigation of parliamentary procedure, policy detail, and legislative process that brings value to their work. And to the decision makers themselves, lobbyists ensure that different voices in the debate are heard and represented so an informed decision can be made.”
But Twigge isn’t against the notion of changing the regulation. “A sensible increase in regulation should be welcomed,” she said.