There is a new Code of Conduct for persons carrying on lobbying activities (here), which will come into effect on 1 January 2019.
The Code's overall objective is to ensure that lobbying is conducted with honesty, integrity and respect for the institutions and people being lobbied. It applies to all communications with public officials and is not limited to communications that fall within the scope of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the “Act”).
The Code, which was launched by the Standards in Public Office Commission on 28 November 2018, sets out eight principles which should inform the behaviour of all persons communicating with any person in public office (“Lobbyists”). According to the Code, Lobbyists should, in addition to meeting their statutory obligations, seek to meet the standards set out in the Code and conform to its spirit and letter.
The principles are as follows:
- Demonstrating Respect for Public Bodies: Lobbyists should act in a manner that demonstrates respect for the democratic process, for democratic institutions and for public bodies, including the duty of elected and other public officials (“Public Officials”) to serve the public interest. They should not expect preferential treatment based on who they are. Nor should they seek to abuse or exploit pre-existing or existing relationships with a Public Official.
- Acting with Honesty and Integrity: Lobbyists should conduct all relations with public bodies and Public Officials with honesty and integrity. They should make their case without manipulating or presenting information that could be regarded as dishonest, misleading or false. Moreover, they should not misrepresent the nature or extent of their access to Public Officials.
- Ensuring Accuracy of Information: Lobbyists should take all reasonable measures to ensure that the information they provide to public bodies or Public Officials is accurate and factual. If there is a material change to this information they should provide accurate and updated information to the body/Official, if they believe that the previous information is still being relied upon. Lobbyists are encouraged to make public any information used to support their lobbying activities.
- Disclosure of Identity and Purpose of Lobbying Activities to Public Bodies and Elected or Appointed Officials: Lobbyists should always give their name and, where applicable that of the body they work for. Lobbyists should always inform a Public Official of any personal interests they may have in a matter. They should also make clear the objectives that they are trying to promote and the purpose and intended results of the communication.
- Preserving Confidentiality: Lobbyists should only use and disclose any confidential information that they receive from a public body/Public Official in the manner agreed with the body/Official and which is consistent with the purpose for which it was shared.
- Avoiding Improper Influence: Lobbyists should not seek to create a sense of obligation on the part of the Public Official by making any offer of gifts or hospitality and should be aware of any rule or code of conduct which might apply regarding the acceptance of gifts or hospitality. Lobbyists should not seek to influence a Public Office other than by providing evidence, information, arguments and experiences which support their lobbying activities.
- Complying with the Act: Lobbyists should comply with the requirements of the Act, including the requirement to register and to submit regular returns. The head of an organisation should ensure that employees or other persons carrying out lobbying activities on the organisation’s behalf are aware of the organisation’s requirements under the Act and are made aware of the Code. An employer should also make sure that if engaging someone subject to the cooling off periods set out in Section 22 of the Act, the employer first establishes whether the person has considered the requirements set out in that Section.
The publication of the Code is a welcome step and emphasises the importance of transparency and integrity when conducting lobbying activities, as well as the vital role of lobbying in effective government. Like the Act, it is clear from the Code that the regulation of lobbying is not designed to prevent or inhibit lobbying activities, but simply to ensure that those activities are carried out in a manner that serves to provide the legislature with the information it needs to legislate effectively, without bringing the democratic process into disrepute.