The PRCA has launched a consultation on its public affairs code. The following is the response from Park Street Partners, which is based on finding pragmatic and sensible solutions that come as close as possible to eliminating any risk of impropriety.
Are you entirely satisfied with the PRCA Public Affairs Code in its existing form?
How should the PRCA Public Affairs Code be amended? We would welcome views on issues including but not limited to the issues listed below.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the purpose of the PRCA Public Affairs Code, which is to prevent impropriety or the appearance of improper behaviour when it comes to lobbying Government and Parliament (and the devolved institutions). The Code rightly exists to ensure that unfair access is prevented, improper payments are not made or received, and lies are not told by lobbyists.
In this context it is important to make a distinction between the House of Lords and every other elected national body in the UK, namely the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the London Assembly. Unlike the others the House of Lords is simultaneously a (weak) legislature, an advisory chamber of the great and the good, and a place which includes those who have been honoured for their contribution to society, business and politics. Peers fulfil a range of roles and are there for a range of reasons. It would be perverse for our industry to be so un-self-confident as to effectively rule out peerages for the top practitioners in our sector (and in related areas covered by the PRCA such as local government or charities) by not recognising this difference.
At present the definition of public affairs is too broad (albeit very slightly) to apply specifically to members of the House of Lords, and this can be confusing for those covered by the Code and also allow those who want to secure a competitive advantage or to make mischief to score cheap points by pointing the finger at practitioners who are doing nothing wrong.
I would therefore propose a broader definition of ‘public affairs’ that applies to all legislators other than those in the Lords, and a much tighter definition of ‘lobbying’ that would apply to Peers. The latter definition should read:
“Lobbying” means activities which are carried out for the purpose of (a) influencing government, (b) or advising others how to influence government in relation to a specific aspect of policy or the expenditure of public money on a specific project or in a specific sector. Activities are to be taken as having the purpose specified if a reasonable person would assume, having regard to all the circumstances, that the activities were intended to have the effect described.
The definition of ‘public affairs’ should read:
“Public affairs” includes lobbying as well as any activities relating to providing advice and insight into the policies, intentions, and operations of the Government, Parliament and other public bodies, and how to influence those organisations. Activities are to be taken as having the purpose specified if a reasonable person would assume, having regard to all the circumstances, that the activities were intended to have the effect described.
The restrictions relating to the employment of MPs, MEPs, Members of the House of Lords, Members of the Scottish Parliament, Members of the National Assembly for Wales, Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Members of the London Assembly, and Councillors.
Given the imminent departure of the UK from the European Union we should delete all references to MEPs from the Code.
In order to make the distinction between the House of Lords and the rest, paragraph 8 should be amended as follows:
- Members must not:
- Employ any MP or any member of the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly or the London Assembly to conduct public affairs in any capacity.
- Employ any Member of the House of Lords to conduct lobbying in any capacity.
- Make any award or payment in money or in kind (including equity) to any MP or to any member of the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly or the London Assembly
- Make any award or payment in money or in kind (including equity) to any Member of the House of Lords other than if they are legitimately employed by the member company on a permanent contract in accordance with the terms of this Code.
For former Ministers and former MPs who are not Members of the House of Lords, and hold no other publicly elected position, the PRCA currently imposes no restrictions other than on the holding of Parliamentary passes. We would welcome members’ views here too. Do you agree with the current restrictions, if so explain why? Do you think these restrictions should be more robust and if so how would you suggest this could be achieved?
There should be no restrictions on employing former Ministers and Parliamentarians other than as laid out by the Government (in the ACOBA and other guidelines) or the administrations in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, and by the relevant legislatures.
PRCA members should not hold Parliamentary or similar passes in any circumstances (whether they are former Members, spouses or partners of members, working on a contract let by Parliament or any other body or in any other circumstances). There is absolutely no need for anyone not employed by any organisation to hold a pass to access its office or workplace (and arguments that Parliament is ‘different’ are hogwash); holding a pass not only confers privileged access but looks unfair and potentially dodgy. Paragraph 14 of the Code should be amended accordingly.
The PRCA Public Affairs Code applies only to PRCA members, rather than to holding groups which own member companies, or to member companies which own subsidiaries. Should there be any change here?
Yes. As appropriate the PRCA Code (as amended, see above) should apply to all subsidiaries of companies which are themselves members of the PRCA which are majority-owned or otherwise controlled by the member company.