The Standards in Public Office Commission (the Commission) has published its Annual Report 2017 under the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 (the Act).

The Act, most of which came into force in September 2015, requires those who lobby designated public officials to register with the Commission and submit a return on their lobbying activities every four months. When the Act was introduced, there were concerns with how it would apply in practice. The latest Annual Report provides some additional insight into the operation of the Act.

Key facts & figures

  • In 2017, there were 244 new applications to register on the register of lobbyists.
  • Almost 10,000 returns of lobbying activities were submitted throughout 2017 by more than 1,700 registrants.
  • The top 5 policy areas on which lobbying activities were reported were Health, Economic Development and Industry, Agriculture, Justice & Equality and Housing.
  • The Act’s enforcement provisions came into effect on 1 January 2017. The Commission issued a number of summonses for non-compliance in 2017 but was successful in achieving compliance without the need to prosecute the offenders.

Recommendations for Change

The Annual Report makes two recommendations for change to the Act.

  • Lobbying activities in relation to zoning or development - Under Section 5 of the Act, where the lobbying activity relates to the development or rezoning of land (other than one’s own principal private residence), individuals and bodies who are not normally caught by the Act are required to register and submit a return. Due to an anomaly in the drafting of Section 5(1) (c) where a body such as a residents association communicates with their local representative on a development or rezoning matter, each individual who contacts the residents association has a duty to register and submit a lobbying return. The Commission has noted that this is an unintended consequence of the Act and has recommended that in the next review of the Act, the scope of Section 5(1) (c) should be limited.
  • Cooling-off provisions - Section 22 of the Act provides that certain individuals who are designated public officials (DPO) under the Act cannot engage in lobbying activities in certain circumstances, or be employed or provide services to a person carrying on lobbying activities for one year from the date they cease to be a DPO. An application can be made to the Commission to reduce or waive this cooling off period. Section 22 states that this section only applies to lobbying activities, which involves a public service body to which the person was “connected”. “Connected” is defined in the act as meaning “employed by, holding an office or other position” in that body. The Commission has noted from some applications they received that in some circumstances the DPO may have established a degree of influence in another public body other than the one in which they were employed which does not fall under Section 22. In light of this, the Commission has recommended that the definition of “connected” be expanded to include situations where an individual has established a sufficient knowledge or influence to warrant post-employment lobbying restrictions with those other public service bodies or their DPOs.

Next steps

The Commission intends to launch a consultative process in order to develop a code of conduct for lobbying, which is a requirement under the Act. It is expected that the code will be completed by the end of 2018.