In June 2013 allegations emerged that five parliamentarians had potentially breached codes of conduct in the Commons and Lords by agreeing to act as paid advocates, reviving memories of the “cash for questions” scandal of the early 1990s. The claims were made in an edition of Panorama in which Patrick Mercer MP was approached by an apparent lobbying company representing Fijian business interests. In the wake of this, the UK Government resurrected its proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists, which had seemed to be on the backburner, and announced that it intended to publish a Bill imminently.
The UK Government originally committed to introducing a statutory register of lobbyists as part of the Coalition: Programme for Government. It aimed to.
“increase the information available about lobbyists without unduly restricting lobbyists’ freedom and ability to represent the views of the businesses, groups, charities and other individuals and organisations they represent or to deter members of the public from getting involved in policy making.”
It launched a consultation on the proposals in 2012 which ran parallel with an inquiry by Westminster’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The latter recommended that the UK Government’s proposal for a statutory register of third-party lobbyists be dropped in favour of a wider register of anybody lobbying professionally in a paid role, thus including in-house lobbyists.
The National Assembly for Wales’ Standards of Conduct Committee also held an inquiry on the arrangements for dealing with lobbyists in the Assembly. Following an initial assessment by the Standards Commissioner, Gerard Elias QC, in which he found the current arrangements were “robust and fit purpose” the Committee looked further at how arrangements could be strengthened. Its report was published in May 2013 and did not contain a recommendation for a statutory register of lobbyists.
However, the possibility remains that the Assembly may get one anyway. The UK Government’s consultation referred to a “UK Statutory Register for Lobbyists” and stated that “we will now be taking forward discussions with a view to including the Devolved Administrations and Legislatures within the scope of a statutory register.” Again, in March 2013, the UK Government’s submission to the Silk Commission referred to “potential application in the Devolved Administrations”. In spite of this, the Scottish Government, announced on the 13 June, that it would be introducing its own bill before the Scottish parliamentary election in 2016.
So what is the position in Wales? Has the Assembly got the power to legislate in respect of lobbying should it so wish? It would seem not as the list of subjects under the heading ‘National Assembly for Wales’ in Schedule 7 to the Government of Wales Act 2006 does not include lobbying.
Nevertheless, the Presiding Officer set out the Assembly’s position in a letter to the then Secretary of State for Wales, The Rt.Hon. Cheryl Gillan MP, in which she stated that “In my view the Assembly should be responsible for making any decisions on further governance arrangements”. That view was echoed by the First Minister in his contribution to the debate on the Standards Committee’s Report on the 26 June:
“it is my firm view that any issues regarding a register of lobbyists or control of lobbying activities should be vested entirely in this place and not decided in London. It is part of the same argument, in my view, that says that the electoral arrangements and the organisational arrangements of the Chamber and of this institution should rest here and not elsewhere. So, we could not be supportive, certainly at the moment, of any system that would involve Wales being swept up in changes that have happened because of events elsewhere.”
The UK Bill is expected before the end of July.
Further information can be found in this Research Service Plenary Briefing: Debate on the Standards Committee’s Report 03-13 to the Assembly on Lobbying and Cross-Party Groups
Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.