Are communications between members of Working/Expert Groups lobbying activities?
The Regulation of Lobbying Act provides that a person makes a "relevant communication" if communicating with a Designated Public Official about a "relevant matter". If a "Working/Expert" Group has a Designated Public Official as one of its members then it is possible that other members of the Group are making "relevant communications" if during the course of their deliberations they are communicating with the Designated Public Official on a relevant matter. Such communications would be required to be included in the person's return to the Register of Lobbying. (If the "relevant communications" were made by a particular organisation's representative on the Group the communications might then be required to be included in the organisation's return to the Register of Lobbying.)
There is an exemption that applies to communications within particular groups. Section 5(5)(n) of the Act provides that communications between members of what is referred to in the Act as a "relevant body" are exempt communications. A "relevant body" is defined in section 5(6) of the Act as a body appointed by a Minister or a Public Service Body, and the following applies:
- Its membership consists of at least one Designated Public Official and at least one person who is neither employed by or engaged by a Public Service Body.
- The group is reviewing, assessing or analysing any issue of public policy with a view to reporting to the Minister of the Government or the Public Service Body on it, and
- The group conducts its activities in accordance with the criteria set out in the Transparency Code
If a body meets the definition of a "relevant body" as set out above then communications between members of the body that relate to the work of the group, which could otherwise be captured by the definition of a "relevant communication", are not required to be published on the Register. It will be a matter for the Group to consider whether it meets the requirements of section 5(6) of the Act and if it will conduct its activities in accordance with the Transparency Code. Further information concerning a "relevant body" and the Transparency Code can be found in our Guidelines for Designated Public Officials. It is important to note that the exemption only applies to communications relating to the work of the group, and not to other communications that may take place among members on other matters.