Paying for access to ministers. The question is as much about the mugs who get taken in by the likes of Byers as it is about underhand, grasping MPs

I have long been shocked by how much people will pay for what they are told is privileged access to the machinery of Government. This isn't a new issue but has crossed my path many times in the 19 years I have been helping to run the All Party Parliamentary Group on Insurance & Financial Services.
As I have pointed out often, we at Incisive Media take no money and pay no money for running this group. It is part of delivering our mission to build deep relationships with the markets that we serve. Over the years we have given many organisations and individuals with something to say access to a group of backbench MPs and Peers interested in their sector. Often, this has resulted in issues being taken up with ministers and Government departments, not because money has changed hands but because Parliamentarians have had an opportunity to hear the arguments and have accepted the validity of a particular point of view.
Last night, the group had a dinner hosted by the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters which perfectly illustrates my point. One of the issues raised by CILA was the problems in recovering professional fees following a recent court case (Cuthbert v Gair). The details of the issue are not important here. What is, is that having set out the arguments CILA was then invited to draft some questions to be tabled to the Ministry of Justice on this issue. That cost them nothing. Yet, there are people daft enough to believe you have to pay to get such action. Often it is expensive lobbying firms who charge outrageous fees for simple things like this or, as we have seen with Byers, Hewitt and Hoon, a handful of MPs themselves who perpetuate this nonsense. I have even been asked to set up lunches, dinners or meetings with the All Party Group by lobbying firms who I know will take the credit and a fat fee from their clients for doing something I could have done for them for nothing if they had come direct to us.
The point I am making is that it takes two to tango. If there weren't people gullible enough to be taken in by the blandishments of failed ministers trying to make a fast buck then the sort of scandal that has hit the headlines over the last few days would never arise. 
My hope is that the transparency and direct access offered by relationships with bone fide independent all party groups like ours will flourish in the (hopefully) thoroughly cleaned-up corridors of power after the forthcoming General Election.
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