Lobbying register and APPC chair question agencies using 'other' codes of conduct

The Westminster lobbying regulator has promised to scrutinise agencies declaring compliance to 'other' codes of conduct - while the chair of public affairs body the APPC says he is disappointed the regulator continues to accept such declarations.

The Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists yesterday released its conclusions following a consultation on lobbyists' compliance to the industry's various codes of conduct.

Lobbyists' entries on the register state whether that agency has undertaken "to comply with a relevant code of conduct". The majority (four-fifths) of the 140 entrants currently declare that they do - most use the APPC's, the PRCA's or one of various other codes, but 16 choose the option saying they comply with an 'other' code. These can be specific to the firm itself or its parent company, based on the EU transparency registrar or various other codes.

The registrar Alison White says in the consultation response that she will continue to offer the 'other' option, noting that some respondents "suggested that membership organisations might see the removal of 'other' as a marketing opportunity".

However, she says that ORCL will undertake a "more detailed review of all those organisations declaring an 'other' code of conduct to ensure that such codes are relevant".

APPC chair Mark Glover, who is also the CEO of Newington Communications, said he was pleased with some aspects of the ORCL response, but was "disappointed that the 'other' category is still in place", arguing that this does not promote best practice and transparency.

Of the 16 companies complying with 'other' codes, most say this is available online, but four say it can only be seen by enquiring with the company. These are Ecuity Consulting, Portcullis Research, Terrington Management and Thorncliffe Communications.

ORCL's consultation response says that this arrangement may not be allowed much longer, as it plans to create a direct link from the online register to all codes in future.

"We welcome that the registrar is comitting to more transparency by creating a direct link from the register to codes of conduct," Glover said. Of those agencies not showing compliance with any code, he said: "I believe all clients would welcome all agencies signing up to a code of conduct to ensure high standards across the industry."

Often criticised as lacking teeth, ORCL told PRWeek in January that it felt that the law underpinning its regime "does not constitute regulation in its fullest sense".

APPG advice and a Scottish schedule

ORCL also released its Guidance for providers of support services for All Party Parliamentary Groups, which outlines the way the 2014 Lobbying Act should be interpreted when consultancies work with APPGs.

Glover welcomed the APPG guidance, and in a separate development also said he was pleased to see progress in the formation of a Scottish lobbying register.

The Scottish Parliament's Lobbying Register should come fully into force in early 2018, according to a document published yesterday by Billy McLaren, a civil servant appointed late last year to set up the scheme.

It also provides a trial 'familiarisation period' of the register, which will be held towards the end of 2017. "I welcome the familiarisation period," Glover said, adding that he felt "very strongly" that the APPC should play a role in helping enact the Scottish register.

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