/Committee stalls lobbying reform but agrees on need for transparency

Committee stalls lobbying reform but agrees on need for transparency



(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Standards Committee
Inquiry into Lobbying (pdf)
Published: 11th January 2018

Chair’s Statement, Jayne Bryant AM (Lab, Newport West):

“There is no doubt that there are groups seeking to influence politicians, and that it is in the public interest to establish the impact of this influence. However, the Committee has concluded that there is insufficient evidence at present regarding how best to share this information once it has been obtained.”

1. There was agreement transparency should improve

See also: Lobbyists & Cross-Party Groups under the microscope

Witnesses broadly agreed on the need for greater transparency in what lobbyists/public affairs consultants do in order to take action to prevent scandals. The Welsh Government also agreed to publish Ministerial diaries quarterly from March 2017.

Public Affairs Cymru (the main body representing lobbyists in Wales) supports an industry-led voluntary register and code of conduct to act as a kitemark. Positif Politics’ Daran Hill was open to the Standards Commissioner policing lobbyists, but this might require a law change.

There was some support for a statutory/compulsory register similar to Scotland, where the lobbyist register is run by the Scottish Parliament. It’s set to go live later this year and will be reviewed in 2020 but there are loopholes in the system where, for example, MSP-initiated meetings aren’t recorded.

The Committee say they were “minded” to support a statutory register as there was a risk of non-compliance under a voluntary system. However, they also want a proportionate response and want to take a “wait and see” approach to determine how statutory registers work elsewhere before considering it further for Wales.

2. The Assembly should pilot publication of AM diaries

A surprising number of lobbyists (aka. public affairs/political consultants) weren’t happy at being called “lobbyists”, but there was wide agreement that lobbying is an important part of the political process. Due to the evolving nature of politics in Wales, lobbying was likely to increase and there were comments about “safeguards” being needed.

Instead of proposing a formal lobbying register for now, the Committee recommends a pilot whereby AMs diaries/meetings with lobbyists and interest groups are published instead – which would give the Committee and others an idea of the scale of lobbying. If agreed, this will be reviewed in 2020.

3. Assembly access passes should end on the day staff leave employment

This was a suggestion from Public Affairs Cymru to ensure that no lobbyist (or potential lobbyist) has an Assembly access pass when they leave employment at the Assembly or for an AM to work for a public affairs company. They also recommend all events on the Assembly estate should be published, not just those that take place in public spaces.

4. This is only a stopgap report

The Committee intends to return to the issue in 2020-21 and describe the report as “interim”.

Third Sector organisations have complained that the Lobbying Act (at Westminster) has restricted their ability to campaign during election periods, so the Committee intends to return to the Act’s relevant sections as they apply to, and affect, Wales in the future.

Comment

A slightly strange, non-committal outcome. Committee inquiries usually produce concrete recommendations but it appears the Standards Committee couldn’t make their minds up.

There are emerging issues about lobbying in Wales, particularly issues at (or involving personalities at) Deryn Consulting and, more recently, lobbyist influence over a petition against Neil McEvoy AM (PlaidInd, South Wales Central) that’s been doing the rounds; it’s worth reminding you that Neil at least part-initiated this inquiry and likely hasn’t made many friends in doing so.

There’s no harm in waiting to see how the Scottish system works, but if a major lobbying/lobbyist scandal emerges in the next 18 months with AMs seen to have stalled on reform it’s not going to look good, is it?