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Lionel Zetter: Lobbying is legitimate

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Lionel Zetter is an author and independent public affairs consultant. He is a former president of the CIPR and has given evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee and the Committe on Standards in Public Life. He is author of 'Lobbying - the art of political persuasion'.

Once again lobbying finds itself at the centre of a media storm, and once again the media's ire is misdirected.

Adam Werritty may have been lobbying, but that does not make him a lobbyist in the accepted sense of the term. As far as I am aware he has not a member of the CIPR, and his organisation is not signed up to the APPC or the PRCA. The fact that the media find it easy to hang the label 'lobbyist' around his neck does not make him a member of the industry which I - along with many others - am proud to work for. As in the previous 'cash for questions' and 'taxi for hire' affairs, the level of lobbyist involvement is minimal or non-existent.

I genuinely believe that lobbying is legitimate and an integral part of the democratic process. Lobbying has always gone on, going back to the days of Magna Carta and the drafting of the US constitution and beyond. Both of these documents guarantee the right to petition, and that is what lobbying is all about. Everyone has the right to lobby, and pretty well everybody does. Local people and voluntary organisations lobby through their councillors and MPs. Charities and NGOs lobby just as much as business - perhaps even more. Government's lobby each other, and they also lobby supra-national organisations such as the EU, UN and WTO.

Lobbying's contribution to the political process is that it helps to produce better policy and better legslation. There are at least two sides to every argument, and lobbying makes sure that all interests are represented, all arguments put and all cases heard. Where government's rush through legislation without consultation the results are either unintended consequences (ask yourself where the British Olympic pistol shooting team trains) or unenforceable Acts (think dangerous dogs).

Another contribution which lobbying makes to the democtratic process - and the Labour Party might want to consider this - is that it helps to restore some balance between government parties and opposiion parties. The govrnmen have the whole of the civil service - plus a few score Special Advisers - at their disposal. Opposition parties have far fewer resources, and lobbyists can provide policy and legislative drafting to help to redress the balance.

As lobbyists we are to some extent between a rock and  hard place. We either have influence, in which case we need to be scrutinised and regulated, or we don't - in which case our clients are wasting their money. I believe that we do have influence, but that it is based on what we know, not who we know. We understand how policy is developed , and we understand the legislative process. That makes us valuable, but not invaluable. Our democratic system is open and accessible to all, as it should be.

We lobbyists have acknowledged the need for transparency, and even before this current imbroglio the CIPR, PRCA and APPC had come together to form the UK Public Affairs Council, to agree a generic set of principles, and to start to compile a universal register. We have made it very plain to government and the Cabinet Office that we are happy to work with them to introduce reasonable safeguards and robust standards. If the result of this current 'lobbying scandal' is over-regulation and swingeing restrictions that will not only be unjust, it will be unwise. After all, the most regulated lobbying industry in the world is in the United States, and few would hold them up as a shining example of best practice.


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