BIBA’s response to the Cabinet Office’s consultation on Introducing a Statutory Register of Lobbyists

17th April 2012

The British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) is the UK's leading general insurance organisation representing the interests of insurance brokers, intermediaries and their customers.

BIBA membership includes just over 2,000 regulated firms having merged with the Institute of Insurance Brokers (IIB) in November 2011.

General insurance brokers contribute 1% of GDP to the UK economy and BIBA brokers employ more than 100,000 staff.

BIBA helps more than 400,000 people a year to access insurance protection through its Find a Broker service, both online and via the telephone.

Brokers provide professional advice to businesses and individuals, playing a key role in the identification, measurement, management, control and transfer of risk. They negotiate appropriate insurance protection tailored to individual needs.

BIBA is the voice of the industry advising members, the regulators, consumer bodies and other stakeholders on key insurance issues.   BIBA provides technical advice, guidance on regulation and business support and is helping to raise, and maintain, industry standards.

In summary, BIBA believes that trade associations should be completely excluded from any registers as it is very clear who we are and who we are lobbying for.

BIBA believes that the concern for increasing transparency results from the actions of a very small number of organisations and that the solution put forward should be proportionate for this perceived problem. BIBA therefore believes any register excluding trade associations should follow a similar format of that of the European Parliament in that it is run by government and there is no cost to lobbyists.

BIBA believes that the points made in the government’s paper ‘Reducing Regulation Made Simple’ published in December 2010 where the government set out its vision for less regulation, better regulation and regulation as a last resort. These are key themes that must apply to the statutory register of lobbyists and it is very important to minimise any burden or form filling and paper work that goes against the better regulation executives five principles of good regulation.

Lobbying is a fundamental part of the UK political process and is essential for effectiveness when considering policy. Any proposals to regulate lobbyists must be appropriately balanced and we support the government’s aim not to create obstacles for this or create any undue burdens on those who work as lobbyists or employ lobbyists.

It is vital that the communication flow is maintained between trade associations such as ourselves as experts in the general insurance sector with the government. The flow is of mutual benefit to the government which is demonstrated by the new “signposting” agreement that we have put together to help older people access insurance.

Please find below our detailed response to the key issues you invited BIBA to respond on.

Definitions
 

Q.  What definition of lobbying should be used?
 

Q. How should lobbyists be defined?
 

BIBA’s response: BIBA believes lobbying activities mean communications with a government representative in an effort to inform government decision making, including the making or amendments of legislation, the development of amendments of a government policy, the awarding of a government contract or grant or the allocation of funding.

Lobbyist means any person, company or organisation who conducts lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client or whose employees conduct lobbying activities on behalf of a third party client.

Scope
 

Q. Should lobbyists or firms acting on a pro bono basis be required to register?

Q. Should organisations such as trade unions, think tanks and charities be required to register?

Q. How can public participation in the development of Government policy best be safeguarded?

BIBA’s response: The requirement to register should be restricted to those lobbying on behalf of a third party – and should specifically exclude in-house lobbyists employed by trade associations. This is because it is clear who lobbyists employed by trade associations represent. A requirement for them to register is therefore unnecessary.

BIBA therefore strongly believes that the proposed Australian model which clearly excludes non-profit trade associations under its definitions is a sensible solution.

Any register (should a register be introduced), should only apply to third party lobbyists who work on behalf of clients where it is not clear for whom the representation is being made. Equally we think that such organisations as charities and trade unions are very clear about who they represent and therefore they should not be required to sign the register either.       

Public participation in the development of government policy can best be safeguarded by avoiding red tape and the burden of unnecessary registration for trade associations when it is quite clear who they are representing and what their arguments are.

Information to be included in the register
 

Q. Should the register include financial information about the cost of lobbying and about any public funding received?

BIBA’s response: BIBA believes that only information on those commercial firms which represent third party clients should be held on the register. This information should be limited to the names of that organisation and of their clients. The register should not name personal individuals due to data protection and safety concerns, including some that work for sensitive employers. This information would also be difficult to keep up-to-date.   

We feel it completely unnecessary and inappropriate to include details of meetings in addition to the existing requirements which already cover the publication of ministers’ meetings. The provision of duplicate information on a statutory register of lobbyists is unnecessary.

Ministers’ meetings with external parties are already subject to the freedom of information regulations which include provision for the release of information upon request and we do not feel this needs to be duplicated. Financial information should not be included at all for commercially confidential reasons. 

Frequency of returns

Q. Should returns be required on a quarterly basis?

BIBA’s response: BIBA believes that the European Parliament’s Europa Transparency model is suitable, with only an annual requirement to update data. There will be increased costs and potential consequences of breaches which are unintended if there is a requirement to update information on a quarterly basis.   

Additional functions
 

Q. Should the register’s operator have any additional functions besides accurately reproducing and usefully presenting information provided by the registrants?

BIBA’s response: No, BIBA does not believe there is a necessity for a lobbying code of practice.

Funding

Q. Should the lobbying industry meet the costs of the register and any associated functions?

BIBA’s response: The European Parliament’s Europa Transparency model runs their register at no cost to lobbyists as an open and free democracy. We believe the UK should not gold plate this sensible solution. There should be no financial barrier to a lobbyist being able to express their democratic opinion to a member of the publicly elected government. It is a fundamental right to be able to lobby and any financial barrier is wholly inappropriate as smaller, organisations may be excluded as a result.   

The small cost of this register should be met by central government as ultimately it is being introduced to protect members of Parliament ensuring their transparency and appropriate behavior.

BIBA believes that the level of information required and the number of organisations required to register should be kept to an absolute minimum to minimise any cost burden in the current economic climate. Therefore we conclude that a register should operate at no cost to lobbyists.  

Sanctions

Q.  Should penalties for non-compliance apply? If so, should they be broadly aligned with those for offences under company law?

BIBA’s response: BIBA believes that there is a clear distinction between administrative non-compliance and wilful non-compliance and that distinction should be recognised. Any professional lobbying firm deliberately concealing information should be publicly named and shamed. However, any administrative non-compliance should be treated as a minor issue for correction.    

Q. Who should run the register – a new body or an existing one? What sort of body should it be?

BIBA’s response: The register should be run by government in a similar way to that in which the European Parliament operate their register.


We hope you find our response helpful. If you would like to meet to discuss this in further detail, please do not hesitate to contact me.           

Yours faithfully   
 

Graeme Trudgill FCII

Head of Corporate Affairs

0207 397 0218

trudgillg@biba.org.uk