PRCA backs calls to defer lobbying register until after election

The PRCA has backed calls to delay implementation of the upcoming registration scheme for lobbyists until after the May 2015 general election.

Lobbying register: PRCA and CIPR differ over pre-registration and nil returns requirements
Lobbying register: PRCA and CIPR differ over pre-registration and nil returns requirements

The trade body argues that if the registration process under the lobbying registrar is to take place in March, for example, the systems and processes must be in place by January. "This looks unlikely and reconciling this commitment to ensure registrants fully understand the statutory register with the serious practical issues they will face will take time," the PRCA said in its response to a government consultation.

"The implication is clear: implementation should be deferred until after the general election."

It follows similar calls for a delay last week from the Association of Professional Political Consultants.

The PRCA also called for "fundamentally rewriting" the definition of a lobbyist to cover all those who influence government or advise others how to influence government. It fears a "two tier system" under the current "flawed" definition of a lobbyist if, as proposed, organisations are required to register before carrying out lobbying activity.

The PRCA said it remained "concerned" about the potential cost of the "nil returns" requirement, particularly for organisations that might submit these almost every quarter.

In contrast, in its consultation submission the CIPR offered support for measures including pre-registration and nil returns, "where these could genuinely help to reduce the compliance burden on small business and sole traders".

The CIPR called for the registrar to go further in clarifying the nature of the communication with ministers and permanent secretaries that will trigger the need to register, extending their explanation to cover situations such as party conferences. And it stressed the need for further dialogue on the cost and fee structure associated with registration.

The CIPR said it has offered to help a review of the statutory register’s effectiveness six to 12 months after it has been established.

Alastair McCapra, CIPR chief executive, said: "The CIPR’s response is based on three commitments. We are committed to the principle of transparency and believe that ethical lobbying takes place in plain view, which includes the disclosure of client relationships. We also believe that lobbying is a necessary and important part of the democratic process in this country and that the public has a right to know more about it.

"We are committed to fairness and believe the existing law unfairly burdens small consultancies while not requiring larger firms to register, if lobbying is only a small part of their activity.

"Finally we are committed to constructive dialogue with the registrar on points where we feel that the new register does not promote transparency, or will otherwise produce a skewed perspective on lobbying for the public. This includes a willingness to discuss disclosure of information not required under the existing law."

Last month the PRCA and the CIPR expressed different views about registrar Alison White’s idea that registrants should voluntarily disclose details of meetings with ministers and officials. The latter said the industry should agree with this request but the former had reservations.

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