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Monday, October 17, 2011

Clamping down on lobbying

On a more serious note it seems that the Liam Fox affair has provided an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to press for more urgency in introducing the register of lobbyists promised in the coalition agreement.

Today's Guardian highlights the extent of the problem. They say that Ministers held more than 1,500 meetings with corporate representatives in the first 10 months of the coalition:

The figures show that ministers met corporate representatives on 1,537 occasions in the first 10 months of the coalition. This excludes several hundred round-table meetings where numerous companies were present.

Trade bodies, thinktanks and other interest groups had 1,409 meetings. By contrast, charities were met on just 833 occasions, and union representatives just 130 times, less than a tenth as often as their corporate counterparts.

Tamasin Cave, of the lobbying transparency group Spinwatch, said the records of ministerial meetings showed the wide extent of corporate networks of influence, but she also warned they may merely scratch the surface.

"The findings show a massive disparity in ministerial access for different types of groups – corporate interests clearly have privileged access. But these are just the meetings we know about: Conservative ministers in particular are meeting outside interests in a private capacity.

"This just can't be done when ministers are meeting those who have commercial interests. In this context, private simply means secret."

The paper adds that teh Liberal Democrats are planning to use Fox's resignation to intensify pressure on the Tories to honour their coalition agreement commitment, which states: "We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency."

The sooner, the better.
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