In spite of Cameron's pre-election denunciation of the dangers of lobbying, he has done nothing for two years. Public trust politicians less than they did in 2010. The BBC reported on yesterday's select committee meeting.
Lobbying register 'to be introduced by 2015'
The government is "determined" to introduce a register of lobbyists before 2015, constitutional reform minister Mark Harper has said.
At a Commons committee hearing, Mr Harper pledged to publish a draft bill during this parliamentary session.
Labour criticised the coalition for failing to include legislation on lobbying in the Queen's Speech.
But the minister told MPs that any suggestion that the reforms had been abandoned was "misleading".
At the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, Mr Harper defended the proposals as MPs described them as "shoddy" and "weak".
Labour backbencher and committee member Paul Flynn listed a string of recent lobbying scandals to have hit the government, despite Prime Minister David Cameron's 2010 prediction that lobbying was "next big scandal waiting to happen".
The Labour MP argued there was a "gulf" between the "splendid rhetoric" of ministers' announcements on lobbying reforms and the reality of the current proposals under consideration.
He demanded to know why had the government "retreated" from publishing a code of conduct for lobbyists.
The government has held a public consultation on plans to create a register of lobbyists acting on behalf of third parties.
Under the plans, when meetings are held between such lobbyists and ministers or other parliamentarians the names of the organisations they are representing will be made public.
A summary of responses to the consultation will be published before Parliament's summer recess, Mr Harper revealed.
Draft legislation would enable detailed scrutiny of the plans to begin during this session of Parliament, he added. The session is expected to last until April next year.
But Mr Flynn said the reforms would not constitute "worthwhile transparency" unless the content of discussions with lobbyists was also divulged.
Mr Harper said that the level of detail to be revealed about meetings would be "meaningful", arguing that his plans would strike the right balance between transparency and burdensome regulation.
Quentin Letts in the Mail has his own view.
What a tidy operator Mark Harper is. Safe. Neat. Buzz-cut hair. Clean fingernails. If he turned up on your doorstep you might expect him to hand you a leaflet about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Mr Harper, 42, who represents the Gloucestershire seat of the Forest of Dean, is a cabinet office minister. That is an uninformative title for a fascinating perch, for Mr Harper’s chief duty in life is to be Nick Clegg’s Tory outrider. He is the Deputy Prime Minister’s Conservative junior. The man with the shovel behind the baby elephant.
When Cleggy had that bright idea about changing the electoral system, it fell to Mr Harper to present the arguments in the Commons. He managed to do so with impeccable dispassion, a quite proper level of enthusiasm – that is to say, he advocated the change without visibly hungering for it.
When Cleggy’s cunning plan went down the khazi, Mr Harper was able to contain his disappointment but at the same time did not yelp with glee.
In the privacy of his own lavatory cubicle he may well, for all we know, have laughed like a drain, whooping with pleasure at the Cleggster’s pratfall. In front of Mr Clegg and other Lib Dems, however, Mr Harper kept a smile off his chops. He has done the same while explaining the Coalition’s official plans (unlikely ever to succeed) to reform the Lords.
Such sobriety or composure – call it blandness if you must – takes skill. I suspect that Mr Harper, a sometime auditor, would make a good bridge player. He once worked in the computer industry. Perhaps that was where he acquired his robotic air. Yesterday he presented himself for examination by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee.
Subject: the murky world of lobbying. In Opposition David Cameron promised to stop cosiness between lobbyists and lawmakers. Since then there have been indications – a set of underwhelming proposals, rumours of delay – that Mr Cameron’s devotion to the cause was waning.
Mr Harper began by asserting, with what was, for him, unusual emphasis, that the Government was pushing ahead with the matter and would publish a White Paper in this session of Parliament.
He sat at the witness table in a spotless, ironed, white shirt. He was so clean-faced you could almost smell the shaving foam.
He did not move his limbs sharply. His voice, brushed by a small West Country burr, remained perfectly modulated at all times. He must be a favourite with BBC sound engineers. ‘White Paper … draft legislation … consultative responses … pre-legislative scrutiny … policy intentions … ministerial code … naturally listen to what your committee has to say …’
On he burbled. He expressed respect for the committee’s members without ever overdoing it to the point of jolly self-mockery – as, say, a Michael Gove or Jack Straw would have done.
He ran through the processes and procedures of Whitehall with probity, professionalism, patience, almost as if he suspected that the committee and its elders had never heard of such things before.
They had no option but to sit there, listening to his fluent, maddening spiel. Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport) was given the bowling. Mr Flynn normally gobbles young ministers for elevenses.
There are few more ingenious troublemakers. Yet in front of Mr Harper, the Welsh wizard seemed powerless.
Mr Flynn tried to get him on various scandalettes of the Coalition years, from the Fox/Werrity affair to that time Eric Pickles went to dinner with lobbyists and replied that it was none of our business because he had been ‘eating in a private capacity’.
Most ministers, quizzed about that, would have looked uneasy, perhaps even laughed in embarrassment. Mr Harper? Not a bit of it. Composed. Barely reacted. Silent. Let Mr Flynn speak and speak. He then produced words rather as an indefatigable tailor might unroll yards of cloth for the benefit of a potential customer.
We learned almost nothing. That was just the way Mr Harper intended it to be. Expect him to be promoted, soon.