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Newsletter – September 2016

Thursday 15th September 2016

April to June 2016 Quarterly Information Returns

The Office has completed the publication of all Quarterly Information Returns (QIRs) for the April to June quarter. There were 125 active registrants on the Register (now 124), of which 122 were required to submit QIRs.

The Registrar has a duty to monitor compliance with information updates being correctly submitted within the two weeks of the end of each quarter. Most registrants comply with this, but in some cases the Office has to spend a lot of time chasing late or incorrect returns. Directors and Compliance Partners are reminded that this is an important issue, and that procedures should be sufficiently robust to cope with periods of leave or departures of staff, and that appropriate instructions and checking procedures are in place.

Of the 122 organisations required to submit QIRs, 111 undertook consultant lobbying. There were 12 registrants who submitted three or more consecutive nil returns. It is a decision for the Registrar whether it is appropriate for registrants to remain on the Register in these circumstances, but registrants should themselves keep the need for continued registration under regular review, ensuring that relevant consultant lobbying is envisaged in the foreseeable future.

There continues to be a decrease in the number of administrative errors submitted, due in part to communications from the Office about what to include and avoid in returns; the need to avoid acronyms and to ensure consistency in declaring client information. Registrants are reminded to ensure their affiliates’ information is up to date and contact the Office should they wish to make any changes.

The Office would like to thank those registrants that take trouble to ensure their returns are submitted correctly and on time.

Guidance on communication with Whips and Assistant Whips

Following an enquiry by a registrant to the Office, the Registrar recently issued advice about communications with Whips and Assistant Whips. This is covered by Section 2 of the Act.

The full list of government whips and their official titles is as follows:

Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury): The Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP

Deputy Chief Whip (Treasurer of HM Household): The Rt Hon Anne Milton MP

Whip (Comptroller of HM Household): Mel Stride MP

Whip (Vice Chamberlain of HM Household): Julian Smith MP

Whip (Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury)): Stephen Barclay MP

Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Wales Office) and Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury) (Whip): Guto Bebb MP

Whip (Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury)): Rt Hon David Evennett MP

Whip (Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury)): Andrew Griffiths MP

Whip (Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury)): Guy Opperman MP

Whip (Lord Commissioner (HM Treasury)): Robert Syms MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Steve Brine MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Jackie Doyle-Price MP

Deputy Leader of the House of Commons and Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Michael Ellis MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Chris Heaton-Harris MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Christopher Pincher MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Mark Spencer MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Graham Stuart MP

Assistant Whip (HM Treasury): Heather Wheeler MP

Chief Whip (Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms): The Lord Taylor of Holbeach CBE PC FRSA

Deputy Chief Whip (Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard): The Earl of Courtown

Lords and Baronesses in Waiting:

    • The Lord Ashton of Hyde
    • The Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen
    • The Baroness Goldie
    • The Baroness Mobarik
    • The Lord Young of Cookham[5]
    • The Viscount Younger of Leckie

Opposition whips, in contrast, are not holders of offices in government and so communications with them would not be covered.

Registration of Law Firms

Part of the role of the Registrar is to ensure that the Act is being complied with. There is nothing unusual or controversial about this or about establishing that law firms or any other organisation are complying with the legislation. Many law firms advertise public affairs services on their websites, but investigations showed that offered services may be provided in jurisdictions outside the UK, or that where the services are UK services, they rarely, if ever, involve communications with Ministers or Permanent Secretaries. Some law firms have their own public affairs practice, either in support of other services provided or standalone. Even if this is the case, it does not automatically follow that relevant communications are being made, which require registration.

There are currently seven law firms out of 124 registrants in total. These organisations clearly recognise that on occasion the nature of services they provide for clients will require them to be registered. It is unlikely therefore, that in most cases, declaring clients will be done regularly, and those organisations will more usually submit nil returns. This needs to be kept under review but is correct practice where direct communications only take place occasionally.

If law firms are unsure whether they should be registering, then they should read the registration guidance here and if they are still unsure, should contact the Office for help. The Registrar often meets potential registrants and provides written and verbal guidance to raise awareness and answer specific questions.

The impact of Brexit

From time to time, something happens which is so disruptive as to cause most organisations to fundamentally review their future strategy in the light of it. So it seems has been the case with Brexit. A cursory scan of registrant websites (and of those on the periphery of registration) shows that many are proposing to provide specialist services for clients, potentially different to those services which they previously provided. Many of those services advertised include public affairs and advocacy.

The impact of this is that all organisations which may be considering making direct communications with Ministers (and Permanent Secretaries) in the light of Brexit, on behalf of their clients, need to make sure that they are registered ahead of those communications taking place, and ensure that their clients are properly declared in due course. Those organisations that may not have needed to register previously may now start making relevant communications, and hence need to register for the first time, and those already registered which to date have made predominantly nil returns, may now start registering clients on a more regular basis.

The Registrar wishes to highlight the importance of robust compliance procedures which can cope with the changing circumstances caused by Brexit. Compliance Officers need to satisfy themselves that any relevant communications will be highlighted, and for those organisations not yet registered, that the need for registration will be identified IN ADVANCE of those communications taking place.

Statement of Accounts

On 20 July, following audit by the National Audit Office, the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists’ Statement of Accounts was laid before Parliament. A link to the Statement is provided here:

Statement of Accounts

Registration fees

The Cabinet Office has advised me about its intention regarding fees for future years as follows:

“…Under section 22 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, charges in connection with the Register of Consultant Lobbyists are to be made by or in accordance with regulations made by a Minister. The 2016–17 Business Plan for the Office noted that the Government was to review charges to enable the Register to move towards a sustainable position. After reviewing the situation, the Government has decided that charges will remain unchanged at £950, plus £12.50 per quarterly update. This arrangement is expected to be next reviewed at the end of the current spending review period (April 2020)…”