In a consultation published yesterday, the Cabinet Office is seeking views on draft regulations relating to the statutory register of lobbyists that was introduced by the recently enacted Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (the “Lobbying Act“). Although the draft regulations are substantially concerned with the detailed administration of the register, there are a couple of interesting points to note about the consultation.
First, Sam Gyimah, the Minister for the Constitution, makes clear in the written ministerial statement announcing the consultation that “the Government is committed to introducing [the register] in good time before the end of the Parliament“. This is of interest given the fact that, having committed to creating a statutory register of lobbyists during the last general election in May 2010, the Coalition took almost four years and several consultations to pass the Lobbying Act.
It is also noteworthy that the draft regulations, by introducing a caveat that excludes legally privileged communications from information requests by the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, further shield lawyers and, accordingly, their clients from the ambit of the Lobbying Act.
By way of background, the Lobbying Act provides that a person may not carry out “consultant lobbying” without being registered on the statutory register. “Consultant lobbying” means making oral or written communications personally to a Minister or permanent secretary in the course of a business and in return for payment. In order to be captured by the Lobbying Act, such “communications” should relate to: developing, adopting or modifying proposals or policies; making or taking steps in relation to contracts, grants or licences; or exercising “any other function of the Government”. However, persons who carry on a business that consists mainly of non-lobbying activities and make communications incidental to such activities, such as law firms, are not deemed to be “consultant lobbyists” and are hence exempted from the registration requirement.
In circumstances where the exclusion of law firms from the Lobbying Act as well as from the corresponding Transparency Register of the European Union has already sparked the ire of campaigning groups, the further exception contained in the draft regulations is potentially controversial.
In terms of the detail of the regulations, the consultation paper explains that the statutory register will be kept and published by the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, which will be an independent, statutory office with a duty to monitor compliance with the requirement to register as well as a power to take enforcement action in instances of non-compliance. The consultation paper requests views on the following issues in the draft regulations:
(a) Information that must be included in the entry of each consultant lobbyist on the register.
(b) Limitations on the duty to supply information to the Registrar, (e.g. communications that are subject to legal professional privilege).
(c) Charging structure.
(d) Supply of information regarding VAT registration.
The consultation closes 17 October 2014.