Welsh lobbying report welcomed by UK industry bodies
The report recommends publishing details of events taking place in the premises of the Welsh Assembly.
A series of recommendations for regulating lobbying in Wales have been largely welcomed by industry bodies representing lobbyists across the UK.
The assembly standards committee said it found little evidence to support a voluntary register at present, but recommended waiting to see how the forthcoming Scottish system works before taking a decision in Wales. Members also recommended publishing details of all events sponsored by AMs on assembly premises as a means of showing the assembly's "commitment to the utmost transparency".
The APPC said the report took a “common sense and pragmatic" view of the merits of introducing a lobbying register. The PRCA also welcomed the recognition of industry-led transparency and the commitments to Assembly-side disclosure, but warned against relying heavily on Westminster and Holyrood’s lobbying registers for future direction.
The Inquiry into Lobbying report makes a number of key recommendations and outlines interim steps to be undertaken in the next two years. These include: a pilot scheme for disclosing AMs’ meetings with external interest groups; a commitment to best practice for assembly security passes; a commitment to transparency around events sponsored by AMs on the assembly state; and the suggestion that the assembly commission carry out research into effective ways to increase transparency.
More alarmingly for some, the report also recommends that the relevant sections of Westminster’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 be considered once the Wales Act 2017 is enacted and that Holyrood’s 2020 review of their own legislation should be “closely monitored”.
APPC chairman Paul Bristow said: "Assembly Members on this committee should be commended for taking a common sense and pragmatic view of the merits of introducing a lobbying register in Wales. They rightly acknowledge that introducing a register can be fraught with challenges and that assessing the effectiveness of both the Westminster and Holyrood registers before taking any definitive position is extremely prudent. We know, for example, that the Westminster register - whose membership is limited to third-party lobbyists - covers only 1% of UK lobbyists and is therefore very limited in driving up transparency across the whole lobbying industry."
He added: "The committee's suggestion to undertake a trial of publishing Assembly Members’ diaries, specifically relating to lobbying, is to be welcomed. Transparency from Assembly Members themselves would serve to reassure the public about the nature and frequency of interactions between lobbyists and Assembly Members. However, any system should be light touch and seek to minimise the burden on elected politicians. It would be counter-productive if a system of diary declaration put off Assembly Members from engaging with outside interests.”
PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: “We welcome the moves towards Assembly-side disclosure. Not only do they demonstrate that lobbying regulation – either statutory or industry-led – is one part of a ‘jigsaw’ of transparency, they represent a real recognition that lobbying is an essential component of an engaged and open democracy.
“What does concern us – and will concern all of those interested in democracy and good governance in Wales – are the uncertain plans for the future. Looking to Westminster and Holyrood is not, strictly, an option for the Assembly and we cannot have a situation where the flaws of other systems are simply replicated in Wales. We will continue to fly the flag for a better system altogether.”
Picture by: Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images.