Y Pwyllgor Safonau Ymddygiad

Standards of Conduct Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

John Griffiths
Peredur Owen Griffiths
Peter Fox Yn dirprwyo ar ran Natasha Asghar
Substitute for Natasha Asghar
Vikki Howells Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Ben Lloyd Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru
Wales Council for Voluntary Action
Gemma Roberts Materion Cyhoeddus Cymru
Public Affairs Cymru
Naomi Williams Materion Cyhoeddus Cymru
Public Affairs Cymru

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Aled Elwyn Jones Swyddog
Angharad Era Swyddog
Bethan Garwood Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Enrico Carpanini Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Lisa Hatcher Swyddog
Meriel Singleton Clerc

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:31.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau a dirprwyon
1. Introductions, apologies and substitutions

Welcome, members of the committee, to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee. The meeting is bilingual and interpretation is available. We have apologies this morning from Natasha Asghar and we would like to welcome Peter Fox, who is substituting in her place. Do Members have any declarations of registrable interest that they wish to declare at this point? Okay.

2. Ymchwiliad i lobïo: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
2. Inquiry into lobbying: Evidence session 1

So, let's go on to the first substantive item on our agenda, then: this is our inquiry into lobbying, evidence session one. I'd like to welcome Naomi Williams, who's the chair of Public Affairs Cymru, PAC, and I know that, Naomi, you may be joined by Gemma Roberts from your executive committee at some point in this session also. So, would you like to give us a short introduction to yourself and to Public Affairs Cymru, Naomi?

Yes, absolutely. Bore da. Thank you, Vikki. My name is Naomi Williams. I'm currently chair of Public Affairs Cymru this year—just coming to the end of my period as the chair, as it happens to be, so this is a nice way to end off my chairmanship.

Public Affairs Cymru is a membership organisation set up in the early 2000s to make sure that there was a body to represent public affairs professionals in Wales, so it's an organisation with members from different backgrounds, professional backgrounds, and then, it's overseen by an elected executive committee each year, so they volunteer their time to support the organisation. So, hopefully, that's enough of an introduction. I'm sure that we'll get into a bit more about who our members are and so on during the meeting.

Thank you, Naomi. I'll open with some questions about the nature of lobbying. So, you'll be aware that we've undertaken a consultation, and lots of the responses that we've received to date have highlighted the need for clarity around the definition of 'lobbying' and the activities that constitute this. So, what's your understanding of the term?

Sure. I think lobbying in itself, a lot of people hear the term, and they automatically think that there are negative connotations to it, or there is a lot of misunderstanding around the term. In terms of Public Affairs Cymru, and as the body representing those who identify as public affairs professionals in Wales, we have a working definition as an organisation, so ours is that it's all activity associated with representing the interests of a client, employer or organisation with regard to any matter of public policy, and that includes provision of information and advice, as well as actual advocacy of a point of view. So, that's our current working definition.

When responding and preparing our response to the committee's consultation, we put these questions to our membership; obviously, as a membership organisation, we consulted on all the questions in that consultation, just to make sure that views are current, and overall, our members generally broadly agreed with our current working definition. However, as you refer to there, Vikki, there is agreement amongst our members that the adoption of a clearer definition of 'lobbying', particularly by the Senedd, would be desirable. As I mentioned, often, there are negative connotations to the term 'lobbying', and I think that's due to misunderstanding by wider society of what it actually means, who does it, and that's probably attributed to scandals that have occurred, mostly elsewhere, in relation to lobbying, in Westminster, for example. So, I think the adoption of a clear definition would lead to greater understanding of what lobbying actually is, help people, perhaps, identify themselves as undertaking lobbying activity a bit more, and it would cast the net a bit wider than maybe our current definition as well.

We would suggest, if consideration is being given to providing clarity and creating this definition from the Senedd's side, that it should include a reference to seeking to influence change, whilst maintaining transparency. I think that reference to seeking to influence change is critically important in understanding what the purpose of lobbying actually is. I also think there would be—and I'm sure we'll come on to this if we discuss the potential registers or regulations and so on, but we'd also need to be quite clear about some exemptions in the terms as well, so if you're defining an act of lobbying, you also need to, obviously, define what isn't, or provide exemptions in there, because not everybody seeking to influence is necessarily a professional lobbyist. There will be exemptions to that.


Absolutely, and I know that we'll ask lots of questions on potential regulation later. That leads me nicely to the second area I wanted to probe with you, which is: who would you say can lobby and who can be lobbied?

In terms of who can lobby, everybody can lobby. Anybody can. But it's a question of who's doing it in a professional capacity, as part of a campaign. It's very difficult to pin that term down in terms of who is a lobbyist, because anybody trying to engage with a Member of the Senedd can be considered to be lobbying on a specific issue.

Just in terms of us as an organisation and who we have as our members, perhaps that gives a bit of an idea to start with in terms of who considers themselves as public affairs professionals in Wales and, in turn, lobbyists. In terms of our membership, we are quite open about who can join; our constitution defines it as those working within public affairs policy and Government relations in Wales. But we have a variety of people who are signed-up members from different roles in different organisations, whether that's commercial public affairs agencies, public relations companies, the voluntary sector, trade associations, some businesses, advocacy groups and some professional bodies as well. So, it's a very varied membership.

As I said, defining what a lobbyist is is really difficult. So, to a degree, it might be easier in the context of this, if we're thinking of ways forward and how to define lobbying or better regulate or create clarity around it, that there should be equal focus on not just who can lobby, but then who can be lobbied and those being lobbied, which brings me on to the second part of your question, I guess. So, rather than having, maybe, a prescriptive list of who can be a lobbyist or who is a lobbyist, if you consider who can be lobbied and then the act of lobbying, perhaps, that would be a greater focus of a definition.

So, in terms of who can be lobbied, it's anyone who is in a position of influence, or anybody in a position to influence Government decisions—Welsh Government decisions specifically here in Wales, be that Ministers, Members of the Senedd, their support staff even, special advisers. I know in Scotland—I know you've taken some evidence on that already—where they have their register, I think their definition explicitly states that those who can be lobbied are Members of the Scottish Parliament, Members of Scottish Government, special advisers and the Permanent Secretary there as well. So, just in the Welsh context, I think that's who we would define as who we, as public affairs professionals in Wales, would characterise as people who we would lobby to seek to influence.


Thank you. I'll just take you back to the first point of your answer there: would you say that a lobbyist would have to be a paid official, or could an unpaid volunteer also be classed as a lobbyist?

I think it's a tricky point, because, obviously, you don't want to inhibit engagement by branding everybody—any individual who is campaigning to be a lobbyist. You can include grass-roots campaigners or individuals who are working independently to perhaps advance their own interests, but if greater regulation is introduced, like a register, you'd need to really consider the definitions, or the parameters of a definition. So, you might want to consider excluding [Inaudible.] those engaging with the Members of the Senedd; if it's on a constituency matter, personal matter or individual, they wouldn't be considered a lobbyist. That takes me back to my point in terms of how difficult it is to actually define a lobbyist, and perhaps it would be better served focusing on those being lobbied and how that's declared in terms of who's lobbying them, and then, also, the act within that—so, what would they constitute an act of lobbying and what type of interaction that is, and for that, then, to be declared, if it reaches a point where that needed to be declared publicly. 

Okay. Thank you. And one final question from me, before we move on to John. Would you say that there are any characteristic aims or outcomes that constitute lobbying?

Obviously, as I mentioned, lobbying as a term, like I said, comes back to my very first point about the misunderstanding about lobbying and what it means. I think that there are people who just automatically think it's a bad word and it's to do with big business of people seeking to do things—it's a dark art, in some ways, when it's not. Everybody who works—most people in public affairs in Wales who we work with, our members, are transparent about what they do, who they're engaging with and why. 

So, in terms of aims and objectives of lobbying, it would be seeking to influence any change, whether that's policy, seeking to influence or amend legislation that's proposed. I think it's a vital part of democracy in Wales, engaging and providing advice and outside opinion to legislators and political decision makers.

Great. Thank you. Okay. I'll bring John in now. John.

Bore da. Naomi, you've just touched, really, on the value of lobbying. Is there anything that you would like to add and expand upon in terms of the value and role of lobbying in a democracy, a representative democracy, such as ours?

Yes, absolutely. I'm always happy to have the opportunity to explain the value of public affairs and lobbying. We as an organisation recognise that lobbying and wider public affairs activity is an entirely legitimate and vital part of Welsh democracy, and really plays a really important part in informing Members of the Senedd in relation to policy development, for example, as I just referred to earlier. If you think, in the Welsh context, without the public affairs sector in Wales, you wouldn't have had campaigns that led to really defining pieces of legislation and policy in Wales. So, things like free prescriptions, or changes to organ donation, for example, I think that's a really excellent example of how a coalition of external organisations came together to lobby for a change in legislation around organ donation. Things like the forthcoming clean air Bill to be introduced—there’s huge external lobbying around that. So, if you didn’t have that external campaigning and external expert advice informing as well, these things may not have been considered or adopted.

And I think, as well, if you think about Wales specifically, it’s widely recognised how accessible Members of the Senedd are—you can look at other political institutions across the UK—but it's accessible not just to our members, it’s accessible to the wider public, and sometimes, for our members the fact that we can have access is deemed a negative thing, but we’d argue that, like I said, we provide that vital outside external expert opinion, which Members of the Senedd are unlikely to have. Without wishing to cause offence to any Member of the Senedd, you’re not going to be experts on any particular—. Perhaps if it’s a health issue, if you’re sitting on the Health and Social Care Committee. So, I think there’s also that critical element that we can bring in, that expert advice, just as long as there’s transparency around who’s providing that advice, and there’s an opportunity for everybody to provide that advice as well.

Just one other point that I think I’d like to make is that lobbying has the potential to promote democratic participation in that, if we have the access, it widens the engagement with the Senedd and with Senedd Members. I’ll stop there, because I could go on about the value of this for a long time, and I don’t want to take too much of your time.


No, that’s fine, thanks, Naomi. Naomi, do you think, in terms of providing information as compared to advocacy, is there an ethical distinction to be drawn there?

Yes. In terms of, like I said, I think I'll go back, perhaps, to the point I made earlier about the importance of defining the act, and what lobbying actually constitutes, there is, of course, a distinction between sharing information and then advocating. Advocacy, I would argue, is leaning more towards the activity of lobbying, where you are seeking to influence and advocate a specific viewpoint, and share that with those in a decision-making position. Information sharing, yes—that is factual, there is clarity around it, and that kind of also goes back to the question that Vikki asked in terms of aims and objectives. I think if you’re advocating or if you’re campaigning or if you’re seeking to influence, you are coming to those decision makers with an ask, and I think there’s a clear distinction there between that and if you’re just sharing the information, or sharing an update or facts and data.

Okay, Naomi. Thanks for that. A final question from me—in terms of the benefits that lobbying can bring, what would you say, Naomi, are the factors that would allow Wales to realise those benefits, and what are the potential barriers that would impede that?

In terms of the benefits, I think if we take a step back for a second and consider why you’re having this inquiry, and why there’s a focus on lobbying, the lobbying sector is quite a strong one in Wales already. There are benefits, you’ve seen benefits already in the last over 20 years of devolution, and it goes back to what I mentioned about the value. So, if you think about the external input that's been provided to Welsh democracy, that has influenced massive legislation and policy changes over the past 20 years, that's a benefit of lobbying. In terms of—. Sorry. 


Yes, it's what arrangements, Naomi, what factors allow those benefits to flourish, and what barriers there might be.

Oh, okay, so in terms of—. Like I mentioned, the access to Members and the accessibility in terms of engaging with Members of the Senedd, because it's such—. Wales is a small place, the bay is a smaller place again, but Members of the Senedd have always been—it's recognised how open they are to meeting with these external organisations, whether that's individuals or other professional organisations. So, those are definite benefits of the current system. 

Barriers, I think some things to consider are ensuring fair access. So, if you consider that there might be some charities, for example, that have the wider resource to employ public affairs professionals—a specific role focused on that—their job might be solely focused on engaging with the Senedd, whereas there might be smaller charities that might not necessarily have that in-house capacity. It's just ensuring—. It doesn't mean that anybody is doing anything wrong, and that's not to hinder any organisation in any way, but it's just ensuring, from the lobbied perspective, that they are engaging with everyone possible, and there is fair access. I would say that would be one of the key ones. 

Thank you, John. We'll move on to Pred now then. Pred. 

Diolch, Vikki, a bore da, Naomi. 

Thank you, Vikki, and good morning, Naomi. 

Bore da. 

Good morning. 

We've looked at some of the benefits of lobbying. I'd like to look at the other side of it—the flip of the coin, if you like—so, the disvalue of lobbying. Does lobbying pose any problems to, or obscure or obstruct the proper function of the representative democratic processes in politics? 

Like I've already touched upon, there's that negative connotation automatically applied to the term 'lobbying', but what I tend to pose if people give that to me—if people say—. You know, if you say that you're a lobbyist and people react in a negative way to that, well, if I probe it and ask you why, most people don't actually know why they feel there is a negative connotation. So, this goes back to the misunderstanding, I feel, around it. There are—. It comes from where there have been unethical practices, or there's a perception of unequal access, as I mentioned earlier, and perhaps existing relationships with elected Members. In the same way that Members of the Senedd are accessible, and that's a positive part of Welsh democracy, I do accept that that can lead to negative perceptions about interactions between Senedd Members and some external organisations.

But, on the whole, we would argue that lobbying activity in Wales is ethical, transparent and open, and a vital part of Welsh democracy. I understand why there would be nervousness around it, and that might stem from the lack of trust of the term 'lobbying' itself, but also maybe public perceptions about politicians as well as the other participants in the lobbying conversation, and maybe trust in those elected politicians. 

So, is it—touching on something that you said earlier—that smaller charities might not be able to employ a specific person to do public engagement whereas the larger ones can, does lobbying potentially exacerbate that, and the ones with the deepest pockets get the most voice?


No. I wouldn't agree with that, because I think, for every organisation, it depends on their intention and if they commit to engaging in the democratic process. You know, it's not necessarily a public affairs official who would be engaging; it could be the chief executive. There are also consultant agencies, where they can provide support to enable that engagement, where it's not the same as—it wouldn't cost the same as employing an individual as well. And also, it doesn't cost somebody to write an e-mail to a Member of the Senedd, so that's why it comes back to my point as well about ensuring equal access from both sides as well. So, perhaps if there was a way to regulate it, i.e. a register of declaration, perhaps, or diaries—I don't want to jump ahead too much to points around the register—but, that would, in itself, obviously create greater transparency and fairness in that if diaries, for example, were declared or published, it would be clear to everyone who had been meeting with whom and it'd provide that opportunity to make sure that there's a level playing field.

So, do you think that different forms—? Sorry. Gemma's arrived. I'll let Gemma—. Sorry, Gemma.

Hi. I'm so sorry I'm late; I've had an absolute nightmare of a morning. Yes, I just wanted to add to that. So, to introduce myself, I'm Gemma Roberts and I'm the communications officer at Public Affairs Cymru, and just to add to that, [Inaudible]—doesn't exacerbate a problem of access and, actually, the access is based on the value that organisations are able to give to the democratic process. So, for example, you could have very small organisations that are patient organisations, for example, and have no funding, but they are able to add value to the democratic process by being able to invite patients and the patient voice to any discussions. So, from my experience of working with charities and through Public Affairs Cymru, that's where all charities are able to have access, is by the value that they give and the expertise and the information that they'll be able to provide.

So, following on from that, then, do different forms of lobbying pose different levels of threat to democratic institutions?

Yes. There are different levels, and we see this in PAC, and also outside of that where you have campaigning organisations, and even constituents lobbying at a constituency level on a constituency matter. So, yes, absolutely, I think I would absolutely agree that there are different kinds; I'm not sure about levels, but there are certainly different kinds of lobbying and different kinds of lobbying activity.

There isn't a better. I think that each is valuable to the democratic process, and I think that's what we've agreed on. We've spoken with members and the PAC executive; it all adds value to the democratic process and there is no better.

Sorry. If I could just come in as well. I think some of the language there comes back to the negative connotations that lobbying is a threat and it's not a—. I absolutely accept that there are unethical practices that've happened elsewhere, but on the whole, in Wales, we've been very transparent. It's a small sector and I would argue that we haven't really seen that big—you know, we haven't had big scandals, because there is that transparency and there is that accessibility and trust. So, when it comes to lobbying—and I think this comes back to the value of creating this clear definition, moving forward—it would really help to inform people to understand what it actually is, but that also it's a valuable part, not necessarily a negative thing and a threat.

I'm getting conscious of the time, so if I could just ask for a quick-fire question to finish on this before we move on to regulation.

Yes. Based on what you've just said—lobbying is a small sector, effectively, in Wales—why is it potentially better? Is it because it self-regulates? Why haven't we had the scandals? Is it just because we're better people? [Laughter.]


Well, I'd say that, yes. [Laughter.] But no, I think it's a very different beast to Westminster; that's a much larger institution, much more established. I think it's because—and I've touched on this already so many times—the Senedd has been seen as an accessible and transparent institution since the start of devolution. I think the lobbying sector in Wales has developed and grown in line with the Senedd. So, yes, it's the fact that the lobbying sector is smaller, but the fact that the Senedd itself is smaller has probably helped as well, and you don't have that same level of larger external companies and so on trying to influence in an unethical way, which you may have seen elsewhere.

Thank you, Pred. We're moving on to regulation now. I can see we've got under 10 minutes left on our session. Peter is going to lead on this area of questioning, but, before we start, just to not put too much pressure on you, Peter, we can always write to Naomi and Gemma with any questions that we don't get through in this very important set.

Many thanks. Good morning, Naomi. Good morning, Gemma. I wanted to touch on the regulation of lobbying. I know there's some concern that there's only guidance in the Senedd at the moment, and, actually, a stronger way of regulation ought to be put in place. Could you share your thinking around what dangers are posed by lobbying being managed by effective regulation?

Sorry, can you say that again? So, dangers if—

What dangers could be posed by—? Can the dangers posed by lobbying be managed by effective regulation? Are there dangers?

I come back to the use of language around the term 'lobbying', I guess, and 'danger', perhaps, as well. Of course, we want to make sure everything is as transparent as possible. From our side, from a lobbyist perspective, I guess, we are a self-regulated sector; anything that you volunteer in terms of information about your activities is done so on a voluntary basis at the moment, and, of course, there is maybe a risk in that that there's an element of trust—that you have to trust that people are acting in an ethical way. We as an organisation encourage anybody working in public affairs in Wales to be members, and if you sign up as a member of PAC, you have to sign our code of conduct, which we refreshed after the last Senedd inquiry into lobbying. That's part of the terms of membership; you have to adhere to it. Of course, the downside is that even though we encourage people to sign it, there's no repercussions necessarily if somebody was deemed to be behaving in an unethical way. So, that is something that perhaps would need to be considered.

But then, to go back, you referred to the guidance for Senedd Members, and I'd question, from our side, how much that is actually being adhered to to start with or how much awareness there is around it. Because I know that in that code it suggests that if a Member of the Senedd is considering meeting an external organisation, they perhaps ask whether they're a lobbyist, if they would see themselves as lobbyists, or if they're a member of a professional body such as PAC or the ASPA. Given that it's voluntary, that's not in itself necessarily the best test. However, we also would note that when we asked our members, we didn't have any person that came back to say that they'd ever been asked that. So, how effective the guidance is, we would question, I guess.

I know you've taken evidence from the Scottish experience. Obviously they had legislation introduced there. We'd be open to consideration of all avenues that would improve transparency and the regulation, but obviously legislation might be a costly undertaking. You would need the proper infrastructure to support that. Like I said, for us in Public Affairs Cymru, we're all voluntary. We'd need that infrastructure behind it, however much that would cost. I think there are actions and measures that can be taken to improve transparency and maybe not necessarily needing the legislation behind it. So, for example, things like publishing Members' diaries, for example, and a register of some sort—I think if you published diaries, that would, in effect, create a de facto register, because Members have to declare who they're meeting with. That also then comes back, though, to my earlier point about the definition in terms of what you would declare in that process.


I'll just come on to the last point, then, Chair. If there was a regulatory regime, who do you think it should attempt to control? Should it be the lobbyists, the lobbied or both?

I think the onus is on both sides to be as transparent as possible. As I said, we have a code of conduct that members adhere to. But I think it goes back to my last point; I think an initial first step that would be easier to introduce than defining who the lobbyist is would be that it comes from the lobbied side—so, as Members of the Senedd, you would declare who you're meeting with, because you also are in a position where you are held accountable as elected Members. In that way, there is that accountability, and transparency will only improve trust in political institutions. That's not to say that the public affairs sector should not be regulated either, but I think as a first point, because that would show and demonstrate who is actually lobbying you as well, that, perhaps, would be a good first step, moving forward.

I just wanted to add, on the basis of your question, that who a register should control is probably not what we would hope to be looking at. Actually, like Naomi said, it's the transparency. It's about improving transparency, and not necessarily controlling what we feel is an integral part of the democratic process.

Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Peter. If I can just add some questions around this idea of the publication of meetings. When we've talked to registrars in other jurisdictions, it has just been members of the Government who've had to publish their meetings. I'm just interested, Naomi; it sounds like you believe that it would be more transparent if that was something that was put in place for all Members of the Senedd.

I think if we're talking about regulation and transparency, rather than expecting people to self-identify or identify as lobbyists—. Like we've discussed throughout this session, actually defining that is very difficult. I think, as an initial first step, that would improve transparency, because you declare who you're meeting with, so that declares both your role in it and the external organisation's role in it. Yes, it's different from what we have elsewhere, but I think as an initial first step that would be a relatively straightforward way of having that register.


Great. Thank you. If I could just ask one final question—the clock is really beating us down. It's about post-employment lobbying. This notion of the revolving door has come up in evidence that we've taken. Do you think there are any risks to the democratic process from politicians or members of their staff, for example, taking up positions as lobbyists a short time after leaving office? Should there be a cooling-off period?

I can't say that we have a strong view either way on this, and it hasn't been something that we've consulted our members on. Obviously, the point I would make is that this does happen. Wales is such a small place, there is a revolving door. You'll have people who work in public affairs who have previously been involved directly in the work of political parties or they've worked for a Senedd Member, or been a Senedd Member. It might be something to consider, but I think it's difficult, then—. It's a very grey area, because people who work for Members of the Senedd inherently have political interests, but that's the same of people working in public affairs. It's a two-way street. You have that expertise and you have that external interest in the Senedd. I think it's a very difficult point to define. I think, obviously, when it comes to Government Ministers, that's a whole other kettle of fish. Again, it's getting to that definition point, in terms of who would you include in something like that. I think it's a very grey area and difficult if you start being prescriptive about anybody specifically as well.

Thank you very much. We've completely run out of time now, but thank you, Naomi, and thank you, Gemma, for your contributions this morning. It's been really valuable to our work. A copy of the transcript will be provided to you both as soon as possible so that it can be checked for factual accuracy. 

I'd like to propose that the committee takes a short break now to allow for our next set of witnesses to come in. 

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:12 a 10:15.

The meeting adjourned between 10:12 and 10:15.

3. Ymchwiliad i lobïo: Sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
3. Inquiry into lobbying: Evidence session 2

Welcome back to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee, and our second evidence session this morning will be with our witness Ben Lloyd from the WCVA, the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. Welcome, Ben, and would you like to give us a short introduction to yourself and the work of the WCVA?

Yes, thank you, Chair. I'm the head of policy for the Wales Council for Voluntary Action. We're the national membership body for the voluntary sector in Wales, so our membership will include everything from small unregistered community groups up to international charities, also social enterprises, and across the whole range of charitable or voluntary sector activities—everything from health, education, sports groups, faith groups, and so on. So, we have quite a wide membership profile, and then, as well as that, we represent the sector as a whole, as opposed to just our members. As well as our role representing the voluntary sector, we also provide advice and support around sustainable funding, governance and volunteering to the voluntary sector in Wales, working in partnership with our county voluntary council colleagues at a local level.

Okay, thank you, Ben. So, if I can kick off by asking you a question around the term 'lobbying' itself, because this is something that arose really strongly from our consultation responses—the need for some clarity around the definition. So, how would you describe lobbying?

WCVA has previously used the definition of

'any contact with those in power that is designed to influence their actions in some way',

which is a really very broad term, and I think it's important to note as well that many of our members, many parts of the voluntary sector, don't really use the term 'lobbying' particularly. It has acquired negative connotations for a number of reasons, and most people working in this sort of area, or volunteering in this sort of area, in the voluntary sector, will be using terms like 'advocacy', 'influencing public affairs, parliamentary affairs'. They're all in a similar space, but I think the term itself can be off-putting for some organisations who wouldn't identify themselves as lobbyists but may identify themselves as seeking to represent their members or seeking to provide a voice for the communities they represent, or advocating, influencing in line with their charitable objectives.

So, we know from some of the work we did, the written submission, that there are significant parts of the voluntary sector that wouldn't consider themselves to be lobbying, but would probably fall under the broad definition that I've just given. To me, the sort of activities that it encompasses would include both, I suppose, persuading people around a particular point of view, and also activities around information sharing, or, I suppose, particularly those voluntary sector organisations that seek to represent marginalised groups, providing a voice or representing those groups in public discussion as well.

Thank you. That was a really neat definition of lobbying  there. We've struggled to come across one thus far, so very grateful for that indeed. That leads me on to my next question, really, which is whether you think a lobbyist necessarily needs to be a paid official, or, if we're looking at an unpaid volunteer, could they be deemed as a lobbyist also?

So, we definitely know that there are people in the voluntary sector, particularly chairs of boards of registered charities or some of their trustees, who either will lead on or will accompany paid staff members on occasion to meetings that are around influencing Government activity. Obviously, trustees are a particular legal group, so I suppose, while they're all volunteers, they're a different type of volunteer to what many people would consider being a volunteer on the ground. But we also know some organisations where volunteers are doing work that is focused around collecting that research and evidence, presenting it to Government and being that voice for people who are—. So, the act of influencing, I suppose, or support work around that doesn't need to be a paid role.

I suppose there's also a question about whether, for example, if an MS were to visit a foodbank in their constituency and speak to a volunteer there, or even a paid member of staff there, they would consider a discussion around the circumstances of the people using that foodbank and how that's changed in recent years to be 'influencing' or not. The question of whether—it's somewhat frustrating—a volunteer is lobbying, I suppose, comes down to the definition of lobbying in some ways, but there are definitely parts of the voluntary sector where people are voluntarily coming together in order to support influencing activity.


Thank you. Related to that, parliamentarians would often say that the strongest representations they receive, the most passionate and vociferous on all sorts of issues, are actually from constituents who come to meet them and seek change within Government because of an issue that affects them personally. So, should we be looking at that as being part of lobbying? What's your view there?

I think there's definitely a distinction between a constituent writing to a Member of the Senedd and an organisation that are doing it, I suppose, as part of their strategy. I definitely don't think constituents acting in their own right as constituents to contact their MS should be covered as part of this.

I suspect that a significant amount of voluntary sector influencing activity that occurs comes from large organisations that have a formal structure, so, in some ways, it's easy to say, 'This is an organisation rather than an individual.' But there are, amongst our membership and more widely across the voluntary sector, large numbers of informal groups that won't have a constitution or a bank account, but will be wanting to represent their community somehow, and they'll often be doing so on a more local level, rather than nationally with the Government, but possibly with their Members of the Senedd and so on. It's very difficult to come up with a definition that would land in the right point there where we wouldn't be discouraging people from contacting their Member of the Senedd because they're part of some form of organisation, but not, really, a particularly formalised one, and, if I'm honest, I don't know quite where that definition would be.

No, that's fine, thank you. That's very helpful. So, if I move on to the value of lobbying, and that's something that's come up really strongly through our consultation—if you want to call it 'advocacy' or some of the other terms that you use—that there is an awful lot of positive benefit according to some of our consultees. So, I'd like to ask you, firstly, what you believe is the possible value of lobbying to the proper functioning of a representative democracy.

Yes, of course. Our view is definitely that democracy is strengthened by having a wide range of voices that are able to be heard by decision makers. Obviously, from our point of view, that is the voluntary sector we're seeking to represent, although I would argue that it goes beyond that as well. There are some great examples of where voluntary sector influencing and campaigning have led to policy change. I suppose the most obvious in terms of high-profile legislation is around the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which grew from a lot of work that environmental and sustainability charities originally were working on, but also there's a wide range of health activity that has been influenced by groups representing patients with particular conditions. I know the prevention of stroke strategy came out last year having listened to groups representing the people who are at risk of or have suffered strokes. I know that the race equality action plan, for example, really benefited from engaging with groups representing people from particular ethnic minority backgrounds.

Our view is that hearing those voices improves the quality of public policy, particularly, I suppose, where groups are arguing for changes to public policy that reflect their charitable purposes—so, where an organisation could be seen as being an expert in, for example, supporting young people from a vulnerable background, that they would have something valuable to add to that discussion. I'd raise particularly the groups who are more marginalised from the political process, as well—population groups who are more marginalised—where organisations who work to support them and represent them will be able to feed into the political process in a way that might not otherwise be as useful, or voices that might not otherwise be as well heard in the process. 


That's really useful, what you said there when you listed some of the tangible impacts that lobbying has had on Government policy and Government direction. So, if you were looking to encapsulate what defines lobbying at its best, is that what you'd say, where the WCVA can go back and say, 'This is what we've achieved—our members have had these things put into Government policy'? Is that the badge of honour, as it were?

I think it's probably more about the changes being made to the legislation than us being able to say that it's us that have changed it largely, or at least in part, because a lot of voluntary sector activity happens in coalition and between different voluntary sector organisations, and also, I suppose, the act of influencing is never quite as direct as an organisation advocating for something and then public policy change happens; there's a whole process of Government policy making that happens between that, as there should be. So, I think, at its best, we can point to examples where the voluntary sector, groups the voluntary sector is representing or people we work with have been heard, and having had that influence over public policy is where, I think, lots of those organisations are, and having improved public policy so that it's based in the reality of either the causes or the lives of people that they represent, I think.

Thank you. Oftentimes, Members of the Senedd will meet with groups in order to ascertain information about particular areas that they may not be expert in themselves. Is there an ethical difference, do you think, between lobbying as information provision, as I've outlined there, and advocacy? Is it possible to even split those two arms from each other?

I think they're definitely related. I think there's probably a distinction where data, statistics or something that is purely qualitative information about the experience of people the voluntary sector's working with may be different from when that's, I suppose, presented in a format that's about persuading someone to act on a particular piece of policy or particular piece of legislation, for example. I think there probably is a distinction that could be drawn. I do think, however, that it's never quite the case that everything fits into one of those two categories, in large part because a lot of influencing and lobbying activity takes place on the basis of data and evidence that an organisation has drawn from elsewhere, if that makes sense. So, I think, in principle, they're probably two separate things; in reality, I think they're probably more connected, or it's probably more difficult to draw a distinction in reality. 

Thank you. I've got one final question before I hand over to Peredur. Is there anything we need to do better in Wales in order to realise the full potential and benefits of lobbying, and, conversely, is there anything that can impede or block the benefits of lobbying that we should also be looking to try and address?

I think there's definitely a sense from within the voluntary sector that both Members of the Government and Members of the Senedd have been more open, or have had the capacity and willingness—of all parties as well, I should say—to engage with the voluntary sector since devolution. I think there are a couple of particular, I suppose, fora within Wales that are unique, particularly the third sector partnership council, which is a network of 25 elected voluntary sector networks that meets with Government twice a year, each Minister, and also, then, the Minister who's responsible for the voluntary sector. All of the minutes of those meetings are available on the WCVA website, so it is a transparent process, and it's designed, I suppose, to give that bird's-eye view of the voluntary sector as well. So, it won't be about individual organisations' priorities but will be about the state of the voluntary sector as a whole, I guess, or the key themes that are coming out of voluntary sector activity, and key concerns the voluntary sector has about any particular upcoming policy or about the wider political context. So, is it a separate forum, in that sense as well, which, I suppose, encapsulates in some ways both the additional level of openness in Wales, and also, I suppose, in some ways, the transparency associated with some bits of it?

I think one of the frustrations that I have heard from some people in the voluntary sector is around capacity within the Senedd, and particularly the committee structure, with large committees. So, the equivalent committees in Westminster, for example, will be tied to a particular department. The capacity in the Senedd means that's not really possible, and I think there are some concerns that sometimes that that limits the ability of those committees to cover the full range of their functions, I suspect, which, if you're one of those voluntary sector organisations working in an area that hasn't been able to be covered, because of that capacity, I think could be frustrating. 


Thank you very much. I'll bring Peredur in now. Peredur. 

Diolch, Vikki. Hello, Ben. We've looked at the benefits of lobbying. I'd like to flip it over and look at the other side of the coin. Does lobbying pose any problems to or obstruct the proper functioning of representative democratic politics? 

I think it's a core part of democratic politics, and I suppose it's notable that the law—. It's notable that the Government has decided that it wants to engage with the public, which will include organisations and lobbyists, particularly around the statutory duties in relation to consultation. I think I've mentioned the third sector partnership council. There's obviously—. It's built in, I suppose, to some parts of the process that that voice is helpful for formulating policy. I think there's definitely a perception, largely driven by the poor behaviour of some lobbyists, particularly in Westminster, that it's somehow a bad activity, and I think probably the term has become associated with a particular type or a particular style of influencing, which isn't one that I believe characterises the work of voluntary sector organisations. So, there's definitely a challenge around those perceptions. But, from our point of view, the voluntary sector, either when organisations are working in relation to their charitable purpose or on behalf of the people represented—I think it's a core element of that democratic process, really. 

You were talking about the TSPC earlier, and the CPA, and your members, and I'm just wondering how far the problem potentially goes, and whether or not it goes there at all, of some voluntary organisations having a public affairs person employed; some people employ a lobbyist company. Is there an inequality there—if you've got the money, then you get the influence? 

I don't think I would draw the line quite as starkly as that. I think there's a couple of ways that—. Yes, I suppose, inevitably, an organisation that has an in-built public affairs capacity, in-house or external, is going to have the time and the resource to dedicate towards improving its—. Or I suppose to— 

I'm just thinking of some of possibly your smaller members that don't have that capacity at all. Is there an inequality then between their ability to influence?  

I suppose inevitably it's going to be about the amount of time they're able to dedicate towards it. I think the voluntary sector is quite good at developing either coalitions, whether they're informal, or networks and they're a bit more formal, that are of organisations with a particular interest, or from a particular geographical area. So, I have mentioned the TSPC earlier, and a number of those networks will have members that include smaller organisations, who will, in some ways, be relying on that network to make the case for the activities they work on on their behalf. So, the sector has tried to mitigate some of that by providing some of that infrastructure in place for organisations who aren't able to do so. I would add, though, that I think, as I think Vikki mentioned earlier, some of the most effective lobbying comes from communities or people with lived experience of the policy area Government is working on, and in many cases it’s the smaller organisations who are in a better position to provide that, often in partnership, or potentially in partnership, with a national organisation. So, there's a different—. Smaller organisations will have, I suppose, a different way of making their case that can be as effective. I suppose, just to reinforce it, we do try to do that in partnership where it’s possible to do so.


So, do you think that—? You talked there about the different types of lobbying and different types of organisations. So, do different forms of lobbying pose different levels of threat to the democratic institutions that they're trying to lobby?

I think organisations are going to make the case they want to make using a mix of the resources they have available to them. I don’t think any one is better or worse and I don’t think any of them are inherently threatening. I think it’s difficult for me to say one is better or worse; I think that’s a subjective viewpoint and it depends on what the outcome, the public policy outcome, an organisation’s looking to influence, or the way they feel they’re best placed to make their case.

And do you think—perhaps finally from me, really—that Wales is, because of the nature of our society, the nature of our Parliament compared to Westminster in particular, that a potentially self-regulated industry in Wales, as the lobbying industry seems to be—? Does that—? Is that functioning well because of its size and because we know everybody, effectively? So, is that one of its virtues in a way, that, because of the size of us, there’s not a problem? Or do you think there are any problems within the system?

I think it definitely has an advantage. I suppose, on the issue of self-regulation, which I agree is how the sector largely is regulated at the moment, there are a number of organisations that wouldn’t consider themselves to be in that space at all and therefore wouldn’t need to—. Particularly smaller organisations or community space ones that would never be covered by self-regulation from a body or an organisation for a type of activity they didn’t consider themselves to be doing—. I think there are definitely some significant advantages to the size of Wales and the ability to form those relationships. It helps us to create those partnerships I was talking about earlier; it makes it much easier for us to do work that reflects the country as a whole, which I would imagine is much more challenging in, for example, England, given the population size and also the wide range of geographical areas within it. I suppose the challenge we have always had is that, as is the case everywhere, many people have many different roles, some in organisations, some in coalitions related to that; some will also be a trustee of an unrelated charity in their personal activities and so on. Maintaining transparency around that is something that organisations I think would always need to be aware of.

Thank you very much, Peredur. I’ll bring in Peter now; he’s got a series of questions around the possible regulation of lobbying, but, if we don’t get through all of them, we might drop you some written communication after the meeting, Ben. Okay, Peter.

Yes, thank you, Vikki. Morning, Ben, and nice to meet you. Yes, as Vikki says, I just want to look at the regulating of lobbying. The committee has listened to many bodies and registrars who have different perspectives on what regulation should look like, perhaps. We know the Senedd only currently has guidance, and then there's a push for more access to different things. There are concerns around post-employment lobbying as well. I just wondered what kinds of regulatory measures are proportionate, in your view, to lobbying in the Welsh context, and what sorts of forms of regulation could be put in place over and above the known ones. 


I should start this section by saying that we didn't find a clear view amongst the people consulted with around what form of regulation should exist. I know a number of voluntary sector organisations are very keen on, particularly, a register, and that's been responded to with written submissions. Others don't hold strong views but are concerned about some of the issues around proportionality. I think the few issues that have been raised with us around proportionality particularly are around smaller groups, and their capacity to, firstly, be aware that they would need to be submitting a return to any register, if that were the model that people were looking at. So, just a lack of awareness that (a) that existed and (b) that they would be covered by it.

And I think there are some concerns as well that smaller or volunteer-led groups without professional public affairs capacity would be deterred from being engaged if they felt there was a cumbersome regulatory regime to be followed, even if actually that regime didn't end up being that cumbersome.

And the third concern we've had raised is around how coalitions and networks would fit into that. I can think of an example recently where a number of us involved in a coalition around community assets met with the support staff of an Assembly Member, and whether we represented the coalition or individual organisations or both, and how do we manage that—is that one return or three returns, for example? So, there are some questions about how that would be managed, which is what we heard from some of our members as well. 

The other thing I would add is that we came across a number of members who weren't aware of the Senedd guidance on lobbying, and felt that it would be helpful for the Senedd—and, I suppose, Members of the Senedd—to promote that more widely, I guess. 

Yes. I'm conscious of what you've just shared, but do you think or do your members think that a legal framework, if adopted, would be a good idea, or do they think—? I'm conscious that they're not aware of all of the guidance at the moment, but do you think guidance would be sufficient? If there was some legal framework put in place, ought it to have some sanctions in it? 

I think we'd probably need a more in-depth discussion with our membership, particularly around sanctions. I suppose it would depend as well who was to be sanctioned. I think the concern we have would be around further deterring those smaller groups who don't perceive that they would have the capacity to conform with the process, which—. In the absence of a specific proposed model, we found it challenging, or we would find it challenging, to have a discussion with our members without some of that detail there. I think some of this is getting into the position where we would need to have a firm proposal, I think, to be able to get into that level of discussion with our members. 

Yes, I can understand that. In your view, do you think there—? If there are dangers posed by lobbying, could it be managed by effective regulation? 

I think we would support anything that improved greater transparency, which—. I think lots of the perceptions around for lobbying are actually often ones of perception, I think—often a misunderstanding, rather than activity. My initial instinct is that—. My instinct is that I think things that are dangerous are probably not going to be included in any form of regulation anyway, if that makes sense. So, I don't want to be dismissive of the idea, but I think the transparency, you're saying—.  I think the aim is around transparency rather than regulating activity or regulating what kind of activity an organisation can engage in. It's about transparency of who has been doing that and, in some people's discussions, about the amount of funding that's been—not direct funding in terms of donations or anything, but in terms of running an event and so on.


I don't know if I've got time for another one, Vikki. I've just got one more from me, then, actually, and I'm not sure where this will go. If there were a regulatory regime in place, who should it attempt to control—lobbyists or the lobbied, or both?

I think probably the onus is on both of those groups to seek to be transparent. For example, the publication of Ministers' diaries has definitely helped in—. I know the detail in there isn't always as illuminating as it could be, but it has definitely helped around some of that transparency. I think both the people who are lobbying and who have been lobbied have a duty to support the transparency, and I think in both cases, both of those groups of people would argue that sharing information, hearing those voices, that that more-persuasive activity has been helpful. So, I think for them to be involved in that public discussion, so I think is probably—. I don't think it's mutually exclusive, that it's one or the other, I suppose.

Yes. Well, thank you, Ben. Thank you, Vikki.

Thank you, Peter. I'll just pick up on a few more points there, Ben, if I might. The first one is about the idea of publishing lists of meetings, and this is something that has come up in some of the evidence that we've taken, and you may be aware that in some other parts of the United Kingdom, as part of lobbying registers, details of meetings are published, but only with Government Ministers. So, I'm just wondering what your views are on the publication of details of meetings, either between different organisations and Government Ministers, or also Members of the Senedd. Would that be a useful component of any overhaul of how lobbying activities are actually noted?

So, I've not come across any organisation in the voluntary sector that would be opposed to that; on the contrary, actually, many organisations are keen to promote that they've had that discussion with Ministers and with Members of the Senedd. I've not come across anyone who is strongly opposed to it. Yes, I think that's the only reflection I have on that, really.

Thank you. And just to make sure that we're clear there: so, you're talking about extending that to all Members of the Senedd, not just Government; you think that that would be a good idea.

We've not heard anyone—. I've not heard from anyone, from the voluntary sector side of things, who would be opposed to that, but I appreciate Members of the Senedd are in a different position to Government Ministers, I suppose, in terms of their control over public policy and public resources.

Thank you. And the other area I wanted to explore with you is post-employment lobbying, this issue of the revolving door between politicians, or people who work in politicians' offices, and the lobbying industry. It's something that has come up in our consultations, and I'm just wondering whether you have a view on whether there should be some sort of cooling-off period for politicians or their former members of staff, before they actually become part of the lobbying profession.

We've not heard evidence directly of people suggesting that. From a voluntary sector point of view, I suppose it's reasonable that people who have worked in the Senedd, or worked in the political side of the Senedd in some form or other, are also going to be interested in jobs around public policy and public affairs—a very similar skill set and value set, often. We've not heard any direct representation on that. So, as background to the committee, I have previously worked in the Senedd for a Member. I left in 2013 and moved to Belfast for four years, so I think that any cooling-off period would probably have been covered by that. But, I think there probably needs to be a degree of proportionality around the prominence of the role, I guess.


Okay, thank you. I'll just check whether Pred's got any questions. Pred, if you wanted to come in here on anything with the regulation of lobbying. 

No, just: what challenges would a register cause for your members?

I think the larger members, either national, as in Welsh level, like national in a Welsh context charities, or those charities that are the Wales office of a UK-wide charity are probably more likely to be able to conform to it; they've got the resources and the public affairs staff. I think the challenge further down will be for smaller groups, who are either unwittingly captured by any definition of lobbying and therefore don't comply with the terms of the register because they don't realise they have to, or have a sense that there's—. My larger concern would be about it having an effect on those organisations that are smaller and are deterred from being involved in the political process because they feel there's a large regulatory regime that would go with that. I think that's true even if that regulatory regime wasn't actually in reality that cumbersome.

So, if a register was forthcoming, how would be the best way of handling that with your members in particular? Would it be a rolling start, or any thoughts around that?

I think ourselves and our county voluntary council colleagues and then the national third sector partnership council networks would definitely want to be doing a piece of work around awareness raising with our networks and the various footprints that we have across Wales, both in terms of that it is coming and that there's a little bit of work to be coming, and supporting people to understand what would be required to comply with that or not, really. I think that would likely be the best value that we could have is around supporting organisations to comply with it. We already do support organisations around various governance matters anyway, so I think that would definitely be the starting point for our activity.

Thank you, Pered. Ben, I'd like to thank you for coming to our committee this morning and giving evidence. It's been a really, really helpful and useful session, so thank you very much indeed. A copy of the transcript will be provided for you as soon as possible, so that it can be checked for factual accuracy.

4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Therefore, I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content to agree the motion? Okay. Thank you. We'll now move to private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:53.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:53.