England's White Dragon

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Monday, 17 October 2011

Westminster is given a year to hide lobbyist’s bribes under the carpet?

Legislation to create a register of Westminster lobbyists is not likely to be tabled in Parliament before next year if then?, Downing Street has said giving Westminster time to hide things under the old boy network carpet.

Constitutional reform minister Mark Harper has already announced that there will be a consultation on the proposal, which forms part of the coalition agreement, and a new law is likely to be debated by MPs during the 2012/13 session.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that the process was not being accelerated in response to the furore surrounding Liam Fox, who quit as Defence Secretary last week after his close links with lobbyist Adam Werritty became public.

Cameron is expected to receive a report into the Werritty affair from Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell later on Monday, with publication pencilled in for Tuesday. The PM's spokesman said it had not yet been decided whether any parts of the O'Donnell report would be redacted, or whether the document would be published in full.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in a speech in November 2010 that a Bill on political and constitutional law, including a statutory register of lobbyists, would be introduced "next year" - 2011.

But Mr Harper told the House of Commons on October 11 that legislation would be introduced in the second session, which begins after the Queen's Speech in May 2012, following a consultation exercise over the coming months.

The PM's spokesman said: "It has always been our policy to move to a statutory register. It was in the coalition agreement. That work is on going, as Mark Harper has said, and the next stage is a consultation. If there is anything in the Gus O'Donnell report which is relevant, then obviously that will be taken into account."

Labour leader Ed Miliband backed moves to greater transparency in dealings between politicians and lobbyists.

"I think we do need a register and we do need transparency," he told Boulton and Co on Sky News. "We need to be transparent about our contacts with lobbyists. You don't want to create a bureaucratic nightmare, of course, and that would be the concern of civil servants. But there does need to be greater transparency. People have a right to know who we meet and how we meet them, and I'm happy to do that going forward."

Mr Miliband added that Dr Fox was right to resign because he had broken the ministerial code. "You can't have one rule for Government ministers and another rule for the rest of the country, and I'm afraid that's the position Liam Fox got himself into."

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