Welsh assembly lobbyists face tighter scrutiny but no register

The committee has stopped short of recommending a statutory register of lobbyists in Wales, as has been proposed in Westminster

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Lobbyists in the Welsh assembly should face tighter scrutiny but not a full official register, a committee of assembly members says.

The Assembly's Standards Committee examined how lobbyists from external organisations access politicians in Cardiff Bay.

It recommended that a lobbying code of practice needed to be drawn up.

In contrast, the UK government says it will introduce a statutory register of lobbyists in Parliament.

"The recommendations guard against complacency and ensure that the National Assembly has rigorous procedures in place to cope with any further devolution of powers," argued Mick Antoniw AM, who chairs the conduct committee in the assembly.

Start Quote

Recommendations will only further underpin the ethos of transparency and openness in lobbying and campaigning activity in Cardiff Bay”

End Quote Lia Murphy Public Affairs Cymru

"We also recommend that a watching brief is maintained on the issue of lobbying and that further strengthening of measures is not ruled out in the future."

Since the assembly was established, there has not been a single complaint about lobbying.

In its report, published on Thursday, the committee said it was calling for "greater transparency and a tightening of rules" around the issues of lobbying.

But it also said that it agreed with the conclusions of the assembly's independent standards commissioner, Gerard Elias QC, who has said that current arrangements in place for dealing with lobbyists were "robust for purpose".

Lobbyists say that what they do helps improve policy and legislation. Their critics dismiss them as parasites.

But the standards committee in Cardiff Bay has decided that while some rules around contact between AMs and lobbyists need tightening, there is no need for a register.

The system, they say, is robust enough and so far, there's hasn't been a single complaint about assembly members' dealing with lobbyists. Others argue that no-one is complaining because they may not know whether there is anything to complain about and a register would make things more transparent.

Presiding Officer Rosemary Butler welcomed the report, and says no matter what is decided in Westminster, the National Assembly should be left to make its own decisions on dealing with lobbying.

The conduct committee has also examined how cross-party groups work and made several recommendations.

Cross-party groups in the assembly include AMs from at least three parties, and can include other members from outside the assembly, related to its activities.

There are currently 52 such groups registered in the assembly, with subject areas ranging from science and technology to dementia, biodiversity and 'beer and the pub'.

The assembly's conduct committee said there needed to be increased accountability and transparency over these groups.

'No legislation' call

It has recommended asking the groups to publish minutes of all meetings, annual reports and financial statements setting out expenses, benefits and any hospitality groups receive.

The presiding officer for the assembly, Rosemary Butler, has welcomed the findings.

She said the committee had recognised that "robust and transparent systems are already in place to govern assembly members' relationship with external organisations".

"Although the committee stops short of a register of lobbyists, I believe its recommendations underpin those robust structures and are proportionate," she added.

The presiding officer said she had also written to the Welsh secretary on the issue, specifically asking for Wales to be excluded from any legislation that may be put in place for the UK Parliament.

"My view has always been that it should be for the assembly to decide on these matters, and that we were not facing the same kind of negative issues surrounding access to elected members that Westminster was, and is, facing," she said.

The body representing public affairs professionals and lobbyists in Wales, Public Affairs Cymru, said it also supported the findings of the assembly committee.

"Its recommendations will only further underpin the ethos of transparency and openness in lobbying and campaigning activity in Cardiff Bay," said its chair, Lia Murphy.

"As the report says, there has never been an issue of impropriety here but it is important to both those who lobby and those who are lobbied that high standards are maintained."

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