The Fox affair yet again demonstrates the media's inability to ascertain what is, and what is not, a 'lobbying scandal'. It also demonstrates a peculiar and irritating habit of putting the lobbying industry in the frame rather than seeing when it is the lobbied - not the lobbyists - that need to pull their socks up.
Whilst Werritty clearly abused his friendship, Liam Fox abused his position and flouted the Ministerial Code. The fact is, Werritty is not a lobbyist, nor is he like any lobbyist I know. So why the usual knee jerk reaction? Calls for a statutory register mounted after Stephen Byers "cab for hire" comments - the last so-called 'lobbying scandal' which, again, did not actually involve lobbyists.
This week the words 'lobbyist' and 'lobbying' have been bandied about like bad fish and the customary and vociferous calls for a statutory register for lobbyists have again emerged from the 'lobbied'. It's all so back to front.
What Government, Parliament, the media and the public need to know is that the UK lobbying industry has a pretty damn impressive story to tell. The APPC, CIPR and PRCA are at the forefront of transparency in the UK. We are currently working on a joint register and one which the Government can build on.
We all have registers and tough codes of conduct which need to be complied with. Ultimately, any member of our respective organisations needs to act in a wholly transparent manner; we list all clients and consultants, we do not seek to misrepresent or make boastful claims, we do not have Parliamentary passes and we definitely do not pay Parliamentarians. If we did there would indeed be a lobbying scandal. It must be stressed that UK lobbying firms and self-regulated lobbyists work hard to maintain their reputations - if we didn't we would be out of business.
Quite simply, what we do is legitimate and helpful in a democracy. We ensure that Parliamentarians are informed and aware of the legislative and regulatory impact of any policy change. This is a good thing and MPs who understand lobbying understand our value and know that most lobbyists comply to a very strict code of conduct.
This is not intended to appear too holier-than-thou - there are clearly those who will resist the statutory register. But those who are already self-regulated are not amongst this unhappy throng. Any statutory register not only needs to build on the sterling work of the lobbying industry to date, but also to accept that there are a host of other so-called lobbyists who do not adhere to any code of conduct or self-regulatory regime. Trade unions, charities, management consultancies, think tanks and law firms all lobby one way or another but their activity falls outside current self-regulatory regimes.
Moving forward, if we are going to achieve a level playing field a statutory register needs to capture all those who lobby in a professional capacity. Equally, if the Government and Parliament want to avoid being tainted in the public eye, they would do well to ensure a greater level of understanding amongst the lobbied about transparency and what is, and what isn't, acceptable behaviour.
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