Public Affairs: Soap Box - Simon Hart, Conservative MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire

The Government's proposals for a register of lobbyists not only failed to identify exactly what the problem is with lobbying, but also to come up with any way of dealing with it.

This is why I agreed to speak at the launch of Mark Adams' StandUp4Lobbying campaigning group.

Call me old-fashioned, but I am adamant that we should only ever legislate where there is a problem that only legislation can solve. Westminster would grind to a halt if it weren't for the army of honest, well-informed and passionate lobbyists who provide expert advice on what are often complicated issues and at no cost to the public purse. We should be encouraging and enabling more of it, not making it more difficult or more expensive.

Also, it is nonsense to suggest that lobbyists can obtain access to a minister's inner circle under false pretences. The so-called lobbying scandals of recent times (Adam Werritty for example), were in fact political scandals and had the register of lobbyists been in place, none of the offenders would have been required to be on it.

Existing self-regulation at least sets some minimum standards at an affordable price. Lobbyists could be forced to move from a voluntary system with codes to a compulsory one without. Hardly a step forward for public confidence.

And spare a thought for third parties. What about ordinary members of the public who lobby their MPs with great effect, but on the advice of lobby groups, charities and campaigning organisations? Where do they fit in?

It is right that lobbying should adhere to the highest possible standards, enshrined in voluntary codes with tough penalties for those who abuse them. Rather than some half-way measure, we should keep the spotlight on the industry to continue to deliver and improve their standards.

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