Lobbying bill could 'fall down' on EU discrimination laws

The Government's statutory lobbying bill could potentially break EU law, fresh legal advice commissioned by the PRCA claims.

Chloe Smith: Overseeing lobbying bill
Chloe Smith: Overseeing lobbying bill

Following widespread industry dissatisfaction with the draft Transparency of Lobbying Bill published last month, a leading QC has pointed to a potential clash between the bill and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

This stems from the Government's proposal that the register include only lobbyists acting for third parties and not in-house lobbyists.

Legal advice given by Aidan O’Neil, QC, from Matrix Chambers to the PRCA stated this could be where the Bill ‘falls down’.

He stated: ‘On the information currently available to me it is difficult to see how the Bill's proposals for a statutory register…can be said to comply with the EU law requirements of non-discrimination, necessity and proportionality.’

O’Neil adds that he does not know ‘what objective justification can or will be given for such differential treatment’ but warns if it is ‘a less than coherent, consistent and systematic explanation’ the bill could face being struck down.

His advice follows PRWeek revealing in June that the PRCA, backed by the APPC and CIPR, was seeking legal advice on whether exempting in-house lobbyists could break EU law.

However, the PRCA has since backed away from the threat of taking legal action.

Matt Cartmell, director of comms for the PRCA, said: ‘Our members would not support such an aggressive approach to dealing with government. However, we will continue fighting for universality, despite the fact the government has decided to ignore that call.

‘What we want to do is use this to support our case and encourage them in a positive way to see that their plan is not going to work.’

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘The Government does not agree that the proposals are discriminatory or that they breach any human rights law. We have made clear that transparency is the primary objective of these proposals, and it is important that people can see who is represented by the people whom Ministers meet.’

Among other criticisms of the bill was that it would focus only on communication with ministers and permanent secretaries.

However, Chloe Smith, the minister overseeing the proposed reforms, recently defended the bill as 'helping citizens to hold people to account.'

A representative of the PRCA is due to appear in front of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on 29 August to discuss the issues ahead of the bill’s second reading in September.

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