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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Transparency and the lobbying process

This eminently reasonable view emerged from response to a result consultation from the Irish government about the regulation of lobbyists, reported here.
The principles of good governance are compatible neither with calls for exclusion of any relevant stakeholders, nor with the existence, de facto, of a privileged status of any stakeholder in the debate. Where public policy is made having regard to only one side of any debate can sometimes lead to unintended consequences. Fair and equitable access to all stakeholders, who wish their views to be considered, can guard against this and allow Government/Regulators to make a truly informed decision. 
The response comes from John Player. Unsurprisingly it refers to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control's Article 5.3, which seeks to exclude tobacco industry involvement with any policy decision. It is hard to see such an exclusion as fair. Not only is it short-sighted in policy terms, but it complicates needlessly the relationship of employees of the tobacco and related industries with their elected representatives.

I haven't reached a view about the need for regulating lobbyists, except if it must be done it should be even-handed. In particular the special pleading that the purpose of some lobbying is 'self-evident' and there is no need for regulation in such cases seems quite wide of the mark. Regulation need not be onerous, but if it is required of any lobbyists it should be required of all of them. It appears that many people fail to understand the importance of transparency in relation to lobbying. The ingredients of tobacco are a very small part of the tobacco lobbying issue, even though they are frequently treated as the only important issue (more on this here).

In relation to tobacco, a further point has been made in a Montreal Court where Imperial Tobacco and two other companies are facing liability trials for allegedly causing disease in smokers. The point is that all ingredients in tobacco are regulated (UK version here), and government must logically share any liability for damage, as the tobacco companies are simply playing within the rules. The more tobacco companies are excluded from policy discussions, the more persuasive such an argument becomes. (It may not win. Did you know this: 'A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled that the federal government cannot be a third-party defendant in a British Columbia department of health lawsuit against the tobacco companies because its actions were policy decisions, which are immune from liability.' [emphasis added] Immune from liability? Nice work if you can get it.)


It is an unusual step for a newspaper to feature a tobacco company's submission in full. There is a link to further submissions to the consultation, but it appears to lead you to another story about lobbying instead. 

2 comments:

Junican said...

Belinda,

I have just read your link to 'The response comes from John Player'. If that is true, then 'John Player' is almost illiterate. Look for the bodges.

Para 3, line 3 - '....debate.Where..... (should be: 'debate, where....)

Para 3, line 6 - '....can guard against this....' Guard against what?

Para 3, line 7 - ...'Regulators make.....' requires the word 'to' between 'Regulators' and 'make'. (...Regulators TO make....)

Not like a tobacco company to make such errors!

In any case, does 'John Player', as such, still exist?

John Mallon said...

Belinda,

The "charities" in Ireland have been busy on the subject of regulating lobbying. In the ASH Ireland response they offer the following, "ASH Ireland would be very pleased to meet with you to discuss the matters we have raised", in their short submission.

The Irish Cancer Society makes the point that, "Charitable and nonprofit organisations are excluded from the definition of lobbyist in the Australian Lobbying Code of Conduct and a Register of Lobbyists in 2008", in it's submission and demands the same here.

The Irish Heart Foundation in a similar vein suggest that, "Charities that advocate should be required to register as Advocates of a Main Charitable Object (i.e. register on a separate advocacy register that would stand parallel to the register of lobbyists).

Over here, ASH was set up by and is now also funded by the other two. Interesting that they don't wish to wash their dirty linen in public, is it not.?