Regulation of lobbying

General

Is lobbying self-regulated by the industry, or is it regulated by the government, legislature or an independent regulator? What are the regulator’s powers?

In broad terms, direct lobbying of government or senior officials undertaken by third parties for payment (consultant lobbying) is regulated under the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 (the 2014 Act) under which a Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (the Registrar) is appointed to supervise and enforce certain registration and reporting requirements described below. The Registrar may give guidance about how he or she proposes to exercise his or her functions.

It is an offence to carry on the business of consultant lobbying if an individual or organisation is unregistered, or to fail to submit an accurate quarterly return. It is also an offence if an entry in the register is incomplete or inaccurate, although there is some leeway with regard to administrative errors.

Commission of an offence may result in a fine imposed by either a court or the Registrar. The maximum fine that may be imposed by the Registrar is £7,500.

For lobbyists who fall outside the narrow statutory regime, three professional bodies - the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) - operate separate voluntary registers of lobbying activity. Each of the voluntary bodies prescribes standards that its members must follow and investigates allegations of breaches.

Definition

Is there a definition or other guidance as to what constitutes lobbying?

Under the 2014 Act, consultant lobbying is defined as communicating directly (whether orally or in writing - see question 9):

  • with government ministers or certain senior civil servants;
  • on behalf of another person; and
  • for payment (directly or indirectly).

The CIPR, PRCA and APPC adopt a broader definition of lobbying for the purposes of their registers, which cover activities carried out in the course of a business for the purpose of influencing the government or advising others how to influence the government.

Registration and other disclosure

Is there voluntary or mandatory registration of lobbyists? How else is lobbying disclosed?

Under the 2014 Act, consultant lobbyists are required to be listed on the register of consultant lobbyists before making any relevant communications. Registration is achieved by application to the Registrar with details of:

  • the company, partnership or individual undertaking the lobbying;
  • the VAT registration number; and
  • any relevant code of conduct with which the consultant lobbyist must comply.

The intention behind the Act is to enhance the transparency of those seeking to lobby government ministers and senior officials on behalf of a third party.

Lobbyists who are not caught by the requirements of the 2014 Act may voluntarily apply to be listed on the CIPR, PRCA or APPC registers. This involves submission of an online form to the relevant organisation with similar information to that required for the 2014 Act register.

In addition, the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament requires members to register details of family members engaged in lobbying the public sector.

Activities subject to disclosure or registration

What communications must be disclosed or registered?

To be caught by the 2014 Act, communications may be written or oral, and must relate to:

  • the development, adoption or modification of any government proposal to make or amend primary or subordinate legislation;
  • the development, adoption or modification of any other government policy;
  • the government making, giving, issuing, or taking other steps in relation to any contract or other agreement, grant or other financial assistance, or licence or other authorisation; or
  • the exercise of any other government function.

Communications must be made ‘personally’. This means that where a person assists in the drafting of communications that are then sent by another party, or assists in the development of lines to take for a meeting which that person does not attend, then he or she will not be caught by the 2014 Act.

Communications must be made to:

  • a minister of the Crown (the holder of an office in the government); or
  • a permanent secretary (the most senior grade of the Civil Service) or a person of equivalent status. Equivalent roles include second permanent secretary, Cabinet Secretary, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Chief Medical Officer, Director of Public Prosecutions, First Parliamentary Counsel, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Head of the Civil Service or the Prime Minister’s Adviser for Europe and Global Issues.

Communications to other persons, such as Members of Parliament who are not ministers, are not caught.

It does not matter whether the person making or receiving the communication is outside the UK when it is made (although see below for persons not registered for value added tax in the UK), or that the communication is irrelevant to the recipient’s job or portfolio.

Entities and persons subject to lobbying rules

Which entities and persons are caught by the disclosure rules?

The 2014 Act requires an individual or organisation carrying on the business of consultant lobbying to be entered in the register, unless they fall within one of the following exceptions:

  • individuals and organisations not registered for VAT in the United Kingdom;
  • persons lobbying on behalf of their own organisation;
  • persons not conducting lobbying for payment;
  • individuals undertaking consultant lobbying in the course of their employer’s business (only the employer is required to be registered);
  • officials or employees of, or the government of, countries other than the United Kingdom, or of an organisation falling within as defined by section 1 of the International Organisations Act 1968 (such as the United Nations);
  • individuals and organisations that carry on a business that is mainly non-lobbying and only make relevant communications on behalf of third parties in a way that is incidental to the main course of their business; and
  • individuals and organisations that represent a particular class or description of people and whose income is derived wholly or mostly from those people, and where the lobbying is incidental to their general activity.
Lobbyist details

What information must be registered or otherwise disclosed regarding lobbyists and the entities and persons they act for ? Who has responsibility for registering the information?

Under the 2014 Act a consultant lobbyist must supply the following information for the register before undertaking consultant lobbying activity.

Status

Information required

Company

Its name, its registered number and the address of its registered office.

The names of its directors and of any secretary and any shadow directors.

Partnership

The names of all the partners and the address of its main office or place of business (this can be the address from which lobbying is conducted).

Individual

The individual’s name and the address of the individual’s main place of business (or, if there is no such place, the individual’s residence).

All

VAT registration number.

Any name or names, not included under paragraphs above, under which the person carries on business as a consultant lobbyist.

Any other information regarding the identity of the person as may be determined by the Registrar.

Details of any relevant code of conduct with which the consultant lobbyist must comply in relation to lobbying activities.

Responsibility for applying to be entered in the register of consultant lobbyists lies with the individual or organisation carrying on the business of consultant lobbying.

Similar details are required for the CIPR, PRCA and APPC voluntary registers.

Content of reports

When must reports on lobbying activities be submitted , and what must they include?

Under the 2014 Act, a consultant lobbyist must submit quarterly information returns to the Registrar giving the names of persons on whose behalf consultant lobbying has been undertaken - or from whom payment for lobbying has been received - as well as updates to any information given at registration.

No information is required on the subject of any lobbying undertaken or the amount of payment received.

Where no such lobbying has taken place, or payment received, a statement to this effect is required.

Persons on the voluntary registers may also supply details of clients for whom lobbying is undertaking.

Financing of the registration regime

How is the registration system funded?

The registration system under the 2014 Act is funded through a mix of public funding, fees for registration and an annual fee to remain on the register.

The cost of the CIPR, PRCA and APPC registers are met through the membership fees of the relevant organisation.

Public access to lobbying registers and reports

Is access to registry information and to reports available to the public?

The register under the 2014 Act and the CIPR, PRCA and APPC registers are published online and searchable by the general public at no cost.

Code of conduct

Is there a code of conduct that applies to lobbyists and their practice?

Lobbyists are not under a legal obligation to subscribe to a specific code of practice.

Certain professional codes of practice - such as that for solicitors - may govern lobbying activities and the 2014 Act requires any such code to be listed in a person’s entry on the register.

The CIPR, PRCA and APPC each specify codes of conduct by which their members must abide.

Media

Are there restrictions in broadcast and press regulation that limit commercial interests’ ability to use the media to influence public policy outcomes?

Under the Communications Act 2003 (the 2003 Act), television and radio services (broadcast media) must not carry advertisements, with the exception of party political broadcasts, which are:

  • by or on behalf of a body whose objects are wholly or mainly political in nature;
  • directed towards a political end (such as influencing elections, referendums, changes in law or policy, or public opinion on matters of public controversy); or
  • in connection with an industrial dispute.

The 2003 Act also regulates some video-on-demand services.

Ofcom is responsible for enforcing the prohibition on political advertising in broadcast media.

There is no restriction on material that concerns political issues in non-broadcast media, such as posters or newspapers.

There is no specific regulation of political advertising on the internet apart from spending rules around elections and referendums (see question 22).