Lobbying Act – a review

Last week saw the debate in Parliament of a new Private Members Bill to extend the Lobbying Act, which has now been in force for 18 months. It seemed like a good time to reiterate how Thorncliffe ensures compliance with the Act, and our thoughts as to whether it should be extended.

The most crucial aspect of our compliance work is record keeping, and we have first class compliance processes in place to ensure we are monitoring all colleagues and keeping these records up to date. As Thorncliffe is registered with ORCL (the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists), we have to submit a quarterly return on whether we’ve undertaken Consultant Lobbying, the act of communicating with a Minister or senior Civil Servant about policy for fees.

We’re also regularly in contact with ORCL and have been proactive in assisting this body since before it started.

When ORCL was proposed, it was thought that up to 700 companies or individuals would register – instead we have a more limited 136. Registrar Alison White is trying to tackle what looks like a potential flaw in enforcing the Act, by ensuring all companies are abiding by the current legislation. For example, just seven of the registered companies are law firms, yet many of these law companies advertise public affairs services in their marketing literature. The question is do these law firms communicate with Ministers or senior Civil Servants? Have they ever sent an email to a Permanent Secretary, but not registered this email? Have they ever had a meeting with a senior person from Government and discussed their client’s brief? Alison has identified the key issue being these company’s compliance processes, and whether they are sufficiently robust to ensure relevant communications are being considered for registration.

Amongst other things, campaigners for the Bill want to extend the legislation to in-house lobbyists, but as Lord Lansley, who guided the original legislation through Parliament has pointed out, information about when in-house companies lobby Ministers is already registered in Ministerial diaries now open to the public, and duplication seems unnecessary. However, there is a case for extending public scrutiny to the diaries of special advisers.

At Thorncliffe, our work focuses mainly on local authorities, which is not covered by the Act. Together with our Triple Lock for colleagues, we are determined to ensure our colleagues abide by the highest ethical standards. Colleagues who are councillors are protected by the law, by their own council’s code, and by our ever expanding company code; and those of our colleagues who are not councillors still have to abide by our code, and recognise that doing things in the proper manner is not only professional, but the right course.