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Time to Bring It on!

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All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are a good thing, despite what you might read in the papers.

There are literally hundreds of them and some are more effective than others. There are big ones, small ones and many which fail and others that succeed in influencing and shaping opinion. It remains the case that APPGs cannot exist unless 20+ MPs sign-up and register their support and that they adhere to the Parliamentary rules governing APPGs, which are pretty robust. Generally, MPs value and support them because they do play a useful role in our democracy.

The All Party Parliamentary Water Group is a genuinely good example of an effective APPG which brings the industry, regulator and decision makers together to examine issues such as flooding and drought - issues which impact on every MP and their constituents. It is undeniably a useful forum for Government too. If external stakeholders did not support and fund the secretariat for this group it would fall to the MPs' staff and therefore the taxpayer to perform the same function. It simply does not make sense to shift the burden of cost from the private sector to the taxpayer.

This latest hoo-ha would suggest that there is a need to reform APPGs. Whilst this might be welcome - and I would agree with some of the proposed Straw reforms - I am not sure that The Times have the right target in their sights. For example, there does need to be greater clarity about who is authoring APPG reports but, generally, the APPG registration process works well. It is clear that a comprehensive and universal statutory register backed by self-regulation would make the bigger difference to achieving transparency. A statutory register of lobbyists would mean that the small minority of public affairs professionals, who currently choose to operate outside industry Codes of Conduct and not register their clients, would be captured. Lobbyists who do sign up to the self-regulatory regimes that are currently in place are not able to hold a Parliamentary pass and have to comply with the Parliamentary rules.

We are ready and willing to make a statutory register work... so bring it on!

We need to see draft legislation from the Government and, just this week, the Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen MP called on the Government to respond urgently to his committee's recommendations on lobbying reform. The lobbying industry has a good story to tell and fully back the need for a comprehensive and "universal" register of all lobbyists - something Mr Allen's committee backs. The UKPAC has already provided "proof of concept" in terms of how a lobbying register might work but there needs to be a much bigger and speedier effort if we are going to see legislation and a register which captures all those who lobby, this side of the General Election.

The single most important thing that can be done to improve public confidence and transparency in lobbyists and the lobbied would be the creation of a statutory lobbying register - not ripping up the rule book on APPGs.