The priority for the new Public Affairs Board Executive Committee has been to develop a Public Affairs Code in consultation with the industry. The Public Affairs Code will replace the existing APPC Code of Conduct and PRCA Public Affairs and Lobbying Code of Conduct, and apply to all members in their conduct of public affairs. The Public Affairs Code was updated following a consultation with members and approval from the PRCA Board of Management. The updated Code was introduced on Tuesday, 19th May and will be applied effective immediately.
The Public Affairs Code can be viewed here.
The definition can be viewed here.
These frequently asked questions (below) are based on members’ questions, adapted to be of a more general application, about the new Public Affairs Code. Members with other questions are invited to contact our Public Affairs and Policy Manager on Neha.Khatwani@prca.org.uk. These are for general guidance only and cannot be relied upon in the event of a complaint.
Q. Are there any members which - due to "truly exceptional circumstances" (Clause 14 of the Public Affairs Code) - have "explicit written and public permission" from the Public Affairs Board Executive Committee to hold passes?
The London Communications Agency (LCA) has been given permission by the Public Affairs Board Executive Committee to hold a number of parliamentary passes. To reach this decision, the Executive Committee reviewed (among other details): the in-house protocol in place; the relevant parts of the contract (include those that cover the need for these passes and the specific client); written confirmation from the client of the Parliamentary Estate; and why the member and client believe these are truly exceptional circumstances that require the holding of passes. The Executive Committee agreed that this constitutes "truly exceptional circumstances" under Clause 14 of the Public Affairs Code and the protocols in place are effective.
Q. Why define public affairs?
A. In common with many other communications disciplines, there are several working definitions of public affairs. This definition was not drawn up during the Lobbying Bill process as an attempt to redefine the discipline but to capture the basic essence of the practice and to distil it into a form of words that can be used in a professional or legislative context.
Q. Why define public affairs? Why not define public affairs practitioners?
A. We believe that defining the act of public affairs rather than the type of person or service provider who conducts public affairs, is a better and fairer way of achieving transparency in public affairs. If you define the act first, then it is easier to define who should be on the Public Affairs Register based on what they do.
Q. Coverage of the new Public Affairs Code has noted that the definition is only 61 words long: can you explain the clauses and sub clauses?
A. The clauses and sub clauses are designed to make it as robust as possible and to eliminate loopholes that might be inadvertently created. It sets out the context and provides the basis for certain common-sense exceptions: this definition of public affairs was original drawn up during the Lobbying Bill process and was intended to be inserted into legislation. The core of the definition is captured in the following lines: “’public affairs’ means activities which are carried out in the course of a business for the purpose of— (a) influencing government, or (b) advising others how to influence government”. This may not satisfy certain observer about the scope, scale, and detail of the services provided in the public affairs industry, but we believe it captures the essence of public affairs in a way that works in a professional and legislative context.
Q. Lots of different organisations and people have contact with institutions of government. Are they all public affairs practitioners?
A. The definition provides certain common-sense exemptions, for example, to cover journalists who publish information in the course of their profession and to protect the relationship between an MP and their constituents. Other exemptions cover the provision of information or evidence in response to an invitation from Government or Parliament, in response to a court order or enactment, or as part of a tender process. Anyone who is acting in their official capacity on behalf of an institution of government should not be considered a public affairs practitioner, nor should anyone who acts solely on their own behalf. Returning to the question of journalism: communicating information or opinions to the public should not be considered public affairs here. Whilst there is undeniable influence on political discourse through the media, there is a difference between the intention of journalism and the intention of public affairs.
Q. How does this apply to constituents and their elected representatives (MPs, for example)?
A. The definition has been created in a way that would protect the relationship between an elected representative and their constituents. Among several common-sense exemptions, the definition allows for someone to make representations solely on their own behalf. If they make representation on the behalf of others, particularly in the course of a business, they can reasonably be assumed to be conducting public affairs and should register.
Q. This definition includes volunteers – are they conducting public affairs practitioners?
A. With certain common-sense exceptions, where a person seeks to influence government or advises others how to influence government, they are conducting public affairs. This includes where a public affairs practitioner carries out work “pro bono” (free of charge) as well as people who may donate or volunteer their time to charities.
Q. I have recently been elected as a councillor. I understand that the Code allows this provided I do not act for a client or my employer in respect of the Council. However, I am concerned about (a) acting for clients or my employer in respect of organisations in which the Council is a stakeholder or subscriber, for example, the airport and authorities such as fire and police, and (b) working for clients or my employer that may operate within the Council’s geographic area, particularly in my own ward.
A. In answer to the first part of the question, it would be a breach of the Public Affairs Code if, as a councillor, you (directly or through the Council) have influence over the decisions of the organisation in question. The second part of the question is more a matter of judgement, bearing in the Public Affairs Code, for example, if a client was a large national organisation that happened to have a branch in your ward, that would be acceptable provided the client wasn’t directly seeking, say, planning permission from the Council. It would be more difficult to act for a client that was a local firm tendering for Council contracts. Please remember to declare yourself as a councillor on the Public Affairs Register.
Q. We did some work for an organisation, including work that would be defined under the Public Affairs Code’s definition of public affairs, but ultimately that relationship ended before a contract was signed and no payment was received. Should this be declared on the Public Affairs Register?
A. Yes, you should declare the organisation as a pro bono client. The preamble to the Code of Conduct requires the same behaviour in respect of both fee-paying and non fee-paying clients.
Q. We have both public relations and public affairs clients. How do we decide which clients to declare on the Public Affairs Register?
A. The full and formal definition of public affairs is here. Briefly, the Public Affairs Code defines public affairs as seeking to influence government or advising others how to do so. If a consultancy is not carrying out any public affairs functions whatsoever for a public relations client, there is no need to include them on the Public Affairs Register: quite simply, they have not met the definition of public affairs and therefore do not need to be disclosed here. However, paying close attention to that definition of public affairs, if any work is carried out by public relations teams (or for public relations clients) to deliberately and intentionally interact with the institutions of government, then that client is deemed to be a public affairs client which should be registrable in the normal way. To be clear: you only need to disclose the practitioners and clients (if applicable) that meet that definition of public affairs and this should be made clear to those practitioners and clients. How you define that activity (and, if applicable, that client) internally is irrelevant here.
Q. What disclosures are required by the Parliamentary rules on All Party Parliamentary Group (APPGs) or their equivalents?
A. The rules can be found here or you can contact the Registrar (firstname.lastname@example.org). Clause 18 of the Public Affairs Code requires any Public Affairs Board member providing secretariat or other services to an APPG to list the APPG as a client in the Public Affairs Register, together with any organisation(s) funding or otherwise supporting the APPG (or state “no funding”). Should any funder or associated organisation(s) be a client in its own right, then they should be declared in the usual way. In the event of a Public Affairs Board member providing secretariat services pro bono, the Group’s funders (or “no funding”) still need to be declared on the Public Affairs Register. The same rules apply to Cross Party Groups (CPGs) and All Party Groups (APGs).
Q We are considering undertaking a contract for an unincorporated campaign group. What should we bear in mind?
A. The Code of Conduct (Clause 18) requires you to declare in the Public Affairs Register the name of the campaign group and its funders, either directly on the Public Affairs Register or by link to the campaign’s website. Where any funder is also a client in its own right, this should be declared in the usual way.
Q. What are the Public Affairs Code training obligations for our public affairs practitioners?
A. The Public Affairs Code (Clause 19) stipulates “thorough training” in the Public Affairs Code, delivered either in-house or through the Public Affairs Board code training programme. The Executive Committee regards training as an important element in encouraging a culture of compliance. The Executive Committee strongly recommends that each public affairs practitioner’s induction programme and regular appraisal includes a review of the Public Affairs Code. In the annual Code compliance procedure, each member is asked to confirm that the Code is included in the staff handbook or equivalent. We believe this is the absolute minimum members should aspire to, and that there are numerous ways – including regular internal discussions forums and an ethical compliance committee for new clients or new workstreams – that members can ensure a culture of compliance exists.
Q. How do we deal with conference passes?
A. If you obtain a pass from your local party, you should ensure that you behave with the utmost transparency if acting as a political practitioner during the conference. Even if attending in a purely personal capacity, without undertaking work directly on behalf of your employer or work for clients, you are recommended to disclose the nature of your work. In any event, those attending in a personal capacity cannot subsequently use information gained at conference in the course of post-conference work in your role as an in-house practitioner or consultant.
Q. If I do use a party pass, how do I ensure the utmost transparency?
A. Set out below are some guidelines on behaviour that may be adopted by public affairs practitioners using a party pass:
- When meeting an elected representative (or an advisor to one) in any context, you must make clear that you work for a named employer as a public affairs practitioner. If you intend to or do act on behalf of a specific client (if applicable), then that too must be made clear.
- If you appear on panels at conference in any capacity, you must declare that you work for a named employer as a public affairs practitioner even if you go on to state that, on the panel, you are appearing primarily in a personal political capacity.
- If you hold elected office, or are seeking to hold office, you can undertake activity relating to that office or election to that office. However, you must not use that office or platform to get undue access to ex officio party members on behalf of your employer and (if applicable) clients. If a matter of interest to a your employer or client(s) does come up in the course of discussions of your (prospective) office, you must declare that you represent that employer/client(s).
- When engaging with anyone else at conference, you must not misrepresent your connection to a particular party nor your employment by an organisation. Deliberately concealing or omitting to mention your employment status as a public affairs practitioner is not acceptable where such disclosure is reasonably likely to have an impact on the course of the conversation.
- If you wish to engage in the internal democratic functions of a Party at conference, you must have the correct pass.
- All disclosures need to be made as early as reasonably practicable in any exchange, judged by a reasonable person test (having regards to all circumstances).
Q. We wish to use a freelancer on a regular basis. However, they have a part-time job as an MP’s researcher and thus has a Parliamentary pass. Can we contract with them? Would it make a difference if they undertook not to use the pass whilst on our business?
A. The Code of Conduct prohibits any practitioner from holding a Parliamentary pass, regardless of any assurances about not using the pass, except with in truly exceptional circumstances. The Public Affairs Code Notes that “No person required to appear on the Public Affairs Register may hold a pass conferring entitlement to access to the Palace of Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Authority, or their associated departments or agencies, except with the explicit written and public permission of the Public Affairs Board Executive Committee, and only then in truly exceptional circumstances”. Please note this entirely framed by – and contingent on – the idea of truly exceptional circumstances and not, for example, working for an APPG.
Q. We contracted a market research company to carry out anonymous research with Assembly Members. We learned later that the market research company had made a small payment to each Assembly Member who had responded. Have we breached the Public Affairs Code?
A. No, as the payments were made by a third party without your knowledge and without the Assembly Members knowing who you were, so there was no question of trying to influence their views on behalf of a client.