Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Whose in the lobby?

“Property developers have mounted a “huge” lobbying campaign backed by the rich and powerful to alter radically planning laws in favour of development, the head of the National Trust has said.” So said the Daily Telegraph on its front page yesterday.

There were also other references to lobbying in the Palace of Westminster today.

The first was in Prime Ministers question time when the Leader of the Opposition raised the issue in relation to Dr Fox’s resignation. "We still don't know the full facts about this case: about the money trail, about who exactly in the Government met Mr Werritty. It is becoming clear that there is a network of individuals who funded Mr Werritty”

In the House of Lords their communications committee were told that investigative current affairs programmes such as Panorama and Dispatches were subjected to an
increasingly sophisticated and orchestrated campaigns against their investigations by PR companies and lobbying groups.

Now the three examples above show how influential the lobbying industry can be.

The government belatedly now recognise how lobbyists can influence the law making process and are preparing to introduce a register of lobbying firms in Westminster. Coupled with the government publishing details of ministerial meetings with lobbyists on a quarterly basis, as well as details of meetings with media executives and information about salaries and gifts received should do a great deal to clean up the system in Westminster.

But what about Wales?

Before the National Assembly built the new Senedd Building and the new debating chambers outside the old chamber there used to be a milling area. This used to be a good place for hacks to accost Assembly Members and question them on whatever the current story was.

Not only was it a good place for hacks to meet Members it was also used by professional lobbyists to catch up with Members and bend their ears.

The new chamber doesn’t allow the same ease of access so the creative lobbyist have found new ways of meeting with Members and Ministers to press the case of their clients. What no one has a clue about is how many lobbyists are there active in Wales, how often do they meet with Members and perhaps more importantly with Ministers.

In the fledging democracy that is Wales this lack of knowledge is unacceptable. There is a need to know. Open government demands it.

Undoubtedly, there are benefits for businesses and voluntary bodies in having a sophisticated, knowledgable lobby industry. They can save money and time in getting views to legislators. Lobbyists are typically very knowledgeable about the legislative process and know who the decision makers are. They can assist in the preparation and presentation of information, arrange testimony for Assembly committee hearings, and arrange and attend face-to-face meetings between their clients and Members.  These goals can have a positive impact on decisionmaking.

Good laws happen when practitioners feed into the process but bad laws can emerge when there is undue influence on the process. The danger is that large vested interests have an undue influence and the public loose out.

This is the first full session of the National Assembly for Wales with its new powers to make laws. It now needs to ensure that the laws it passes are for the benefit of all. Not laws that suit those with deep enough pockets to pay professional lobbyists to look after their interests.

The Assembly needs to look at establishing a code of conduct and a register of Lobbying firms working in Wales. 
The anonymous contact that phoned who said that the industry in Wales didn't need regulating underlines the fact that much of what goes on in the industry is done in the shadows, an open regulated system would be good for the industry as well as for our democracy. Perhaps, I should hire a lobbying firm to push for such changes.

No comments:

Post a Comment