Irish lobbying register offers chance for Westminster rethink

Now that the election is over, attention is turning to the legislative agenda. Lobbying may not have been a hot button election issue but the Government must revisit the flawed lobbying legislation that was passed in haste in 2014.

Irish lobbying legislation should give Westminster pause for thought, argues Iain Anderson
Irish lobbying legislation should give Westminster pause for thought, argues Iain Anderson
With this in mind, it's worth reflecting on an interesting new bill that has recently come into effect in the Republic of Ireland, passed earlier this year by the Oireachtas (Parliament), aimed at making the country’s lobbing industry more transparent.

The Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 is distinct from the much maligned Westminster legislation in three crucial respects.

It encapsulates a much wider scope of policy-makers: whereas the UK act only covers ministers and permanent secretaries, the Irish act covers backbench MPs.

It captures a much wider group of lobbyists – the act requires registration from in-house lobbyists, not just third party lobbyists. 

Finally, the act also includes a statutory code of conduct for lobbyists. 

The new register is an interesting development, and throws the issues facing the regulation of lobbyists in the UK into a stark light. 

The UK legislation was rushed through – its deficiencies have been widely documented – but with the passage of this more comprehensive legislation across the Irish Sea, it gives even more reason for the Government to press pause on the statutory register, which is not yet in full swing.  

The Irish model might well prove instructive: as we see how effective it is, it's possible that policy-makers in Westminster could learn a thing or two from it. 

It provides the new Government with an opportunity for a period of reflection to learn the lessons of an alternative approach. 

We've long argued that the UK's lobbying register – which captures only an estimated one per cent of practising lobbyists – is fundamentally flawed and should be widened to include all lobbyists, both in-house and third party.  

It will be particularly interesting to see how the more comprehensive approach in Ireland operates in practice. 

Opponents of a 'full coverage' approach argue that it would be too bureaucratic and unnecessary. 

On the contrary, if the new Government is looking to introduce a genuinely transformative lobbying registration system that offers greater transparency then it has to be a first principle to include all lobbyists. 

This view is echoed not just by agency lobbyists – both transparency campaigners and more than 20 unions have called for a system that covers all types of lobbyists. 

Over the coming months I'd like to see the Cabinet Office engage in a full dialogue with its Irish counterparts to discuss and share their experiences, keeping a weather eye on how the legislation is adhered to by Ireland's lobbyists. 

The Government got it wrong in the last Parliament; now is the time to get it right. 

The Irish registration system provides Westminster with a chance to assess both the merits and shortcomings of an alternative approach.

I hope they take that opportunity. 

Iain Anderson is chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC)

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