Thursday, 19 November 2020
Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for amendments to the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, to extend the definition of persons to which the Act applies, to allow the Commission to provide directions on communication, to provide that the Code of Conduct be laid before the Oireachtas; to provide the Commission with further powers to investigate and report on breaches of the Code of Conduct; to extend the cooling-off period to two years, to extend the scope of section 22 of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015 and to make a failure to comply with that section an offence; to ensure that Designated Public Officials are aware of post-employment obligations; to allow the Commission to publish certain details regarding its decisions to waive or reduce the cooling-off; to provide for anti-avoidance clause be added to the list of relevant contraventions, and related matters.
I am seeking leave to introduce the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2020, along with my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty. I will give a brief explanation of what the Bill entails and why I believe it is necessary.
The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to a number of the changes that the Standards in Public Office Commission has called for in order to increase its powers of investigation and sanction around the area of lobbying. These changes are called for in its legislative review in May 2019. The Bill will seek to amend the principal Act, namely, the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015.
There are nine sections in the Bill. Section 1 is an interpretation and defines the principal Act as the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015. Section 2 is an amendment to section 11 of the principal Act. Under the Act, a representative body is only within the scope of the Act if it has one or more full-time employees. Subsection (1) amends the definition of a representative body to cover those representative bodies that exist primarily to advocate on behalf of their members which do not have full-time employees. This section also widens the definition of representative bodies to capture informal coalitions of business interests where same have been formed to lobby as a group of mutual industry interests. Subsection (2) increases transparency in respect of lobby activities by requiring the members of a body coalition to be named in returns.
This section gives effect to recommendation 1 of SIPO's submissions of May 2019.
Section 3 amends section 11 of the principal Act. Sections 11(1)(c) and 11(1)(d) of the Act require that an application to register must include information and contact information, respectively, about the applicant's business or main activities. Section 11(1)(b), however, includes only a reference to carrying out business but omits any reference to main activities. This section of the Bill will ensure that all appropriate contact information is provided for. For the sake of completeness and consistency, section 11(1)(b) will be brought in line with sections 11(1)(c) and 11(1)(d) by the insertion of the words "main activities". This section will give effect to recommendation 8 of Standards in Public Office Commission's submissions of May 2019.
Section 4, on duties of designated public officials, will insert a new section into the Act relating to the duties of designated public officials, DPOs. It will provide that where the DPO becomes aware that a person or body carrying out lobbying activity has failed to comply with the registration of lobbying activities, the DPO shall cease all communication with that person or body and inform them of the reason such communication has ceased. Furthermore, the DPO shall inform SIPO of the cessation of communication. Where the commission becomes aware of lobbying activity by a person or body that has failed to comply with the registration provisions of the Act, the commission can direct the DPO to cease communication. Similarly, where the commission becomes aware of lobbying activity by a person or body that has been found guilty of a contravention in accordance with the provisions of the Act, the commission can direct the DPO to cease communication. The commission has the authority to determine the duration of the cessation of communication in these circumstances and can determine when communication may be re-established. This section will give effect to recommendations 18 and 19 of SIPO's submissions of May 2019.
Section 5 is an amendment to section 16 of the principal Act. Subsection (1) will amend the Act by directing that persons comply with the code of conduct rather than simply having to have regard to the code. Subsection (2) will amend the Act by giving the commission power to investigate and report on breaches of the code of conduct. The commission may now also consider whether a person or body has complied with the code of conduct when investigating or making a decision to prosecute an offence under section 20 of the Act. Furthermore, an authorised officer appointed under section 19 of the Act shall take into consideration, when carrying out an investigation, whether a person carrying out lobbying activities has complied with the code of conduct. This section also directs the commission to prepare an annual report specifically relating to the code of conduct and a copy of it to be laid before each House of the Oireachtas not later than 30 June in the year following that to which it relates. Subsection (2) will give effect to recommendations 10 and 11 of SIPO's submission.
Section 6, an amendment to section 18 of the principal Act, will provide for further contraventions, including failing to follow the direction of the commission in respect of the cessation of communication contravening section 22(1), which provides for the cooling-off period after a DPO leaves office and where a person or body takes an action where its intended purpose is to void or circumvent the obligations imposed by the Act.
Section 7 is an amendment to section 22 of the principal Act and will provide for a cooling-off period to be increased to two years. Section 8 is an amendment to section 25 of the principal Act and will give effect to recommendation 15 of SIPO's submissions. Section 9 concerns the Short Title and commencement of the Act. It will provide that the principal Act and the Bill shall be construed together as one Act. It will provide that the Act shall come into operation on such a day or days that the Minister may make by order and that such a day or days shall not be later than 90 days from the date on which the Act is signed into law.