Y Pwyllgor Safonau Ymddygiad
Standards of Conduct Committee28/11/2022
Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol
Committee Members in Attendance
|John Griffiths AS|
|Natasha Asghar AS|
|Peredur Owen Griffiths AS|
|Vikki Howells AS||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol
Others in Attendance
|Anthony Murray||Pennaeth Cynorthwyol yr Uned Rheoleiddio Lobïo, Iwerddon.|
|Assistant Principal in the Lobbying Regulation Unit, Ireland|
|Billy McLaren||Cofrestrydd Lobïo, yr Alban|
|Lobbying Registrar, Scotland|
|Harry Rich||Cofrestrydd Lobïwyr Ymgynghorol, San Steffan|
|Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists, Westminster|
|James Drummond||Cofrestrydd Lobïo Cynorthwyol, yr Alban|
|Assistant Lobbying Registrar, Scotland|
Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol
Senedd Officials in Attendance
|Enrico Carpanini||Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol|
|Nicole Haylor-Mott||Dirprwy Glerc|
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 drwy gynhadledd fideo.
Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:31.
The committee met by video-conference.
The meeting began at 09:31.
Welcome, members of the committee, to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee. The meeting is bilingual, interpretation is available and we have no apologies given to us this morning.
I'd like to welcome Billy MacLaren and James Drummond to the meeting, and to ask them both to give us an overview of the Scotland lobbying register.
Thank you and good morning, everybody. I haven't prepared an introduction as such, but I can run you very briefly through where we were. Five years ago, I appeared in front of your committee at a very, very early stage with the lobbying register in Scotland when we didn't have much information to use. So, that was back in 2018, and we will have had five years of using the lobbying register from 12 March next year. So, clearly, in that period of time we've managed to progress quite a significant number of information returns and registrations on the system, and we'd be happy to talk to you about our experiences of doing that.
Very briefly, you may well know that the Scottish Government introduced the legislation and it's the Parliament that administers it. When the Act came into force in 2018, we took over the role of administering and providing the duty of running the register in Scotland, and that's where we are now. So, we're really quite happy just to take any questions that you think would be helpful to the committee in your own discussions and thought processes about where you are in Wales.
Thank you very much. So, I'll start, then. Could you give us an idea of how many lobbyists there are on each of the registers in Scotland?
Yes, we ran the numbers for you on Friday. So, we've currently got 1,287 active registrants, and that's not including 142 inactive registrants—so, registrants who have been on and subsequently come off the register. We're looking at about 1,429 registrant organisations, so a wide range of organisations are on the register. Just for your background, probably nearly two thirds of those registered within the first six months of the register going live, which was what we expected to see, that it would be front loaded in that way. But it works out at about nearly two thirds.
Thank you. And have you faced any challenges in establishing and maintaining the register?
There've been challenges in the sense that we've probably found that there've been a lot more registrant organisations than we first expected. The Government had put a figure in its financial memorandum of between 255 and, I think, 2,550—so, a very wide band, if you like, which probably shows that we didn't really know what the ultimate number might be. We ourselves did some independent research before we commenced the Act, and we expected around 1,000 organisations, and, as you can see from the numbers I've just provided, we've got more than that, and with that means more information returns, means more issues around compliance, and, obviously, it means more pressure in terms of resources on the team. So, from my perspective, that's probably—James may wish to add a few things around that—overall, I think the challenge for us is just—[Inaudible.]
I would agree with that, and probably going back to the start in terms of the establishment of the register, we knew it was going to be busy, so we spent a lot of time visiting organisations, taking part in various round-table seminars, events, just to get organisations across all the various sectors—third sector, charities, transparency organisations—to promote the Act coming into force from the point of view of what it was going to mean for them. Obviously, there were a lot of conversations and chatter about the fact of what this would mean for organisations, what would the burden be—it's a changed landscape for them. So, really, we thought it was an issue for us to get round there, do as much as we could in terms of promoting and answering questions, trying to assuage any fears that organisations might have.
Once we got the lobbying register website up and running and built, we ran a four-month trial period. So, again, thinking about establishing best practice, we had organisations able to use the register pre commencement, just to allow organisations to get familiar with it, use the system and submit real examples of what would soon become the new norm for them after 12 March 2018. So, I think, overall, all the work at the front in terms of establishing it, to have all organisations come in and just trying to ensure compliance have been the key themes for us.
Thank you. Related to that, how important do you feel it is to issue clear guidance on the interpretation of the legislation, and would you direct that just to lobbyists, or to politicians and their offices as well?
One of the duties on the Parliament on the face of the Act is for us to produce parliamentary guidance, and I think James and I, and everybody involved in the process, including the committee, the Government and an external working group that we set up, which included a range of people from different sectors, were keen to try and nail down the parliamentary guidance as best as we could as it related to the legislation that was introduced by the Government. So, that was a considerable effort on our part to try and get that so that it was clear and consulted on before we went live with the system, essentially. So, a fundamental part of what we think was useful for registrants was to try and involve them in that process.
It's always a bit subjective in terms of, 'Did I lobby, did I not?', and we had all those types of questions at the start—and, obviously, we still do—but we put together a document from the very beginning that was based upon conversations that we had with the stakeholders that James referred to, and it was called 'the five key steps', and, if you like, it's the main 'how do I decide if I've lobbied?' part of the document of the parliamentary guidance. So, if you follow those five key steps, you should have a clear idea by the time you get to step five whether you need to submit an information return. And that really is the essential plank, if you like, of the parliamentary guidance. So, it's very essential to get that right. It's also crucial to understand that one size doesn't fit all, so you all have to help stakeholders interpret the guidance to make decisions about whether they have engaged or not. But, yes, I think you'd agree, James, that that was the—
Yes, and what we did as well as that formal parliamentary guidance was, again, we used the experience we got from sitting with these organisations and hearing the questions that they had just to supplement that formal guidance with things like frequently asked questions documents, common scenarios. So, we tried to give real examples of where organisations might have asked, 'We're doing this, what would that mean?' So, taking that, using it and, again, providing that for organisations to look at just to bolster what they see in the formal parliamentary guidance.
Thanks. I'll bring John in here.
Thanks, Chair. I'm just wondering whether there's anything built into the systems you have around the register on evaluation and monitoring—anything that looks at the effects that the register was expected to have and whether that's been achieved in practice? Is there anything of that nature that's in your systems around the register?
Is this in relation to the IT system itself, or in relation to just the overall—?
Yes, the overall aims and objectives—what was intended to be achieved.
I mean, we are at a stage—. To take you back a little bit, there's a formal review mechanism within the Act, and that, during COVID, was undertaken by our Public Audit and Post-legislative Scrutiny Committee, and part of that was that they recommended that an impact assessment be carried out into the Act. So, that is still to be done. I think your counterparts in Scotland, their standards committee, are out, I think, looking to appoint somebody to undertake that impact assessment. And, yes, that will look at the original Scottish Government's policy memorandum and assess whether it has met those key policy issues that were set out originally in the Act, which was to introduce regulated lobbying in Scotland, which was about having face-to-face lobbying communications that were proportional in terms of who was providing it in terms of numbers. But also, they felt—the standards committee at the time and the Government at the time—that that was the most effective means of lobbying and therefore was the most proportional way in which to capture information on that type of regulated lobbying.
Yes. Okay, thank you.
Thank you, both. Natasha, I think you'd like to come in now. Yes.
Can I ask a quick question, Chair, if I could? You talk about the lobbyists and those five steps. Whose responsibility is it to register—? What responsibility lies with the parliamentarian and what lies with the person doing the lobbying? Could you talk us through that aspect of it?
Yes. The responsibility lies with the organisation. So, it's for them to decide, 'Right, okay, we have engaged in regulated lobbying, so we either need to register, or we've already registered and we need to submit these information returns'. So, the onus is with them. Again, we did the engagement work with the MSPs to promote the Act. So, they have no formal responsibility to do anything, but we have got to the point where they've all helped to again encourage organisations that they might need to think about registering something in terms of a conversation or a meeting that they've had. So, everything with the organisation; nothing formal with the MSPs or Ministers.
And then, obviously, with our counterpart committee in Scotland, are there any issues that have arisen from things not being registered that have then gone to a standards committee inquiry or complaint or anything like that that we might need to be aware of?
I'm not privy to that information, but I think the answer is 'virtually nil'. I haven't heard of anything coming through the system, as it were. It's the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Scotland who has the duty to investigate complaints against lobbying and he would, obviously, produce a report if there was something that had happened, and it would go to your counterparts in Scotland and they would decide whether or not to proceed on any process of punitive action or anything like that. But I haven't heard anything—[Inaudible.]
So, it's fair to say that, if there hasn't been a report on it, nothing has been taken all the way through a process anyway.
I think that would be fair to say.
Thank you. Thanks, Chair.
Thanks, Peredur. Natasha.
Thank you, gentlemen. I'd like to know what has been your role in raising awareness of the requirements so far, of being on the register, and what are you doing to actively ensure that organisations are registering properly and adequately on the register?
Do you want to—?
Yes, sure. I mean, what we did, we did conduct a national publicity campaign during that launch period, and we've continued promotion of the Act by us and others. I referenced earlier speaking with MSPs—again, pre introduction, we went round all the party groups and had meetings with all of them, as well as Ministers and special advisers, just to again flag up the fact that we need their buy-in in terms of making sure that those who have been speaking to them are aware of the Act. So, we did that. We had some budget to put some adverts into third sector publications and magazines. We attended certain large-scale events, also, just to be there and be visible for organisations to come and speak to us. And to keep moving forward from that, we also keep a general watch out for anything in the media in terms of what might be hot topics, who we might see speaking to Ministers or MSPs; social media, again, obviously, is one of these channels nowadays also. When we have time, we can also look at ministerial diaries as another aspect of raising awareness and looking at what organisations might need to be spoken to.
Okay, thank you.
On that, we will contact the organisations. It's never always clear whether they're a sufficient size or sufficiently engaged in lobbying of this type to know whether they should register, but we like to just remind them that the register exists by sending an e-mail to the organisations. Where we have direct information where it sounds like they're more liable to be engaged, we would write to a more senior member in the organisation, really just to make sure that they're aware of what is required of them to fulfil the legislation.
Thanks. It really does sound like you haven't left any stones unturned in that respect. I do have a sub-question. In many situations, I'm sure you can agree that we do have exceptional cases arise. I was really interested in this particular session, because, in Wales, we recently had a case concerning the purchase of a farm called Gilestone. It's led to numerous complaints being raised in relation to integrity, transparency and honesty, particularly relating to the purchase, which had no business plan, and it came to a purchase price of about £1.4 million. Now, in our situation, it turns out that the lady who runs the Green Man festival is a friend of a number of Ministers, and a Government special adviser, and they attended a publicly known dinner at her house—there could have been more people, for example. But it was a shock to many of us, because it came to my attention and others' attention that the festival will not be happening on the farm, and in fact the owner of the farm plans to live on it. Or, in fact, the owner, sorry, of the festival, plans on living on the farm once the purchase is complete. It has obviously led to a number of concerns, as I mentioned, about honesty and integrity, as well as how taxpayers' money is being spent. How can we ensure, particularly with this register—? I've read the rules and regulations about fees, about the number of lobbyists, about the number of members of staff—all of that—but how can we ensure that, on a register like this, favours for friends are not allowed in the Welsh Parliament, or in any Parliament, going forward?
I don't know the details of the particular instance you're talking to, but I can talk in terms of how it would operate under our legislation. I think what surprises quite a lot of people is just how wide-ranging the register is. It is about face-to-face communications, so any conversation you have anywhere is potentially engaging. So, clearly, that is on a statutory basis, and as I've mentioned already, an investigative process that can be had through complaints to the independent commissioner for ethical standards. So, anybody who was making a complaint about somebody who hadn't engaged in regulated lobbying, face-to-face lobbying, could have that route to take. We also have a power in the Parliament itself, which is to issue information notices. So, if we have evidence that somebody may have engaged in regulated lobbying, we have a legal power again, which is an appeal process in the sheriff court. But we can issue an information notice through the clerk, through our boss in the Parliament, to any organisation as long as we've got sufficient reasons to establish whether somebody has or has not engaged in regulated lobbying.
Okay. And how well understood are the requirements of the different registers amongst different organisations covered by different forms of legislation that take place?
That is a problem, and it's a problem across Europe, in the sense that we all have different types of legislation and different types of registers. I'm watching with interest developments in Germany where they've just introduced a new register. I think there's one in Latvia now, and Spain is talking about one. So, it does seem to be something that has grown in number. Of course, we're all different, and we've all got different types of legislation and we all have legislation to do different things. There is a group that was established by our colleagues in Ireland, who I think you're speaking to later, which is the European lobbying registers network, and we try and use that to share good practice. We try and use that to think of ways in which we can help each other keep on top of all these changes as much as anything else, and just to have a good, broad view over what might be happening in other jurisdictions. I know you're speaking to two other legislatures this morning; they're very different. Ireland is similar to us, but it's more wide-ranging in terms of the amount of communications that are covered, and the UK register is very different from what we've got here. So, yes, different things happen in different countries, and we try our best to look for areas of joined-up approaches where we can.
Is there any particular country—I know that you mentioned Ireland—that you particularly find inspiring, yourselves, that you can say you're almost trying to mirror what they've got? Is there anyone who has got it down to a T in your opinion?
Ireland is the example that is held up as being a very wide-ranging system. It was brought in for different reasons, perhaps, than Scotland. In Scotland, there was no reason for introducing a register for any reason other than to aid transparency. We didn't have any lobbying scandals that triggered things off. But, yes, that's held up as quite a high standard by academics and others, in terms of the amount of communications that it covers. So, that was useful to us when doing our register, because I mentioned earlier the external working group that we used to develop the guidance, and Ireland helped us by having a seat on that. So, again, it's useful to try to help colleagues from overseas where we can.
Okay. Thank you so much.
Before we move on, if I could just pick up on one of the points that you made there. You said that you can access Ministers' diaries. Could you just talk us through that in a bit more detail? Is it something you have done, or how does that actually work? Under what circumstances would you do that, and how would that, then, pan out?
Yes, there's a release, I think it's every three months—there's a delay of three months—from the Scottish Government Ministers, so you can see what engagements they've undertaken. It also includes hospitality and gifts; it's a public release on their website. So, quite often, we'll be able to do a cross-check on ministerial diaries if we're looking to find out some information that has come in on a return to make sure that it's the right time or right date, that type of thing. And obviously, we don't know from the ministerial diaries necessarily what the lobbying communications would be because it's just a record of a meeting, but it can be quite useful in terms of, as we mentioned, as James mentioned, when we write out to organisations, we just want to make sure that they're aware of the statutory duty. There may be something in the ministerial diaries that might flag up to us that we might need to contact a particular organisation.
Okay. Thank you. And would that process work the same for backbench Members as well, that you would look at their diaries every three months also?
No. There's no public release of diaries in Scotland for MSPs.
Okay. Thank you. I'll bring Peredur in now, then.
Okay. Diolch, Chair. I'd like to just clarify what information lobbyists are required to provide to you. In some of our papers, we've had some of that outlined there. But then two supplementaries to that, basically: now that you've had the benefit of a little bit of hindsight, is there anything that you would add or take away from what you collect? And, is any financial information collected—so, how much a lobbyist has been paid to lobby? I wonder whether you could give me some thoughts on that.
Yes, I'll take you through the first part in terms of what we see on the register. So, it's an information return. That is what we call it. So, it's a form. Again, we would estimate that you could probably complete one of these forms maybe within about five minutes. So, what we would be looking for there is a declaration in terms of the organisation saying that its registration details are accurate. So, just working literally down the form here, you put the date in, there's also the option, should you wish to, to put the time in. Some organisations might have multiple meetings throughout the day, so again, it's probably a good way of them just keeping track. You then have the option to have a drop-down box for the role of the person lobbied. So, that's MSPs, Ministers, special advisers, the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government. And then, depending on which of those roles you choose, you will then have an up-to-date list of the individuals in those roles. So, again, we maintain that. Any changes to ministerial titles, et cetera, we will do all that. Then, a location—it's very important that we have the location of where that was. Now, obviously, in this day and age where there are multiple returns now coming in through video-conferencing, we do ask, if something's taken place in someone's home, as in the lobbyist's, the private resident's address is withheld, just so that we're not disclosing any personal details there. A description, which is basically, again, just to see how the lobbying took place in terms of 'a conversation at a party conference', or 'gave a speech at a parliamentary event'. And then, again, probably more for the third-party consultants, if they were lobbying on behalf of a client—so, again, they would obviously put 'yes', and then there'd be a drop-down that would then tell you which organisation, or they'd then put which organisation they're lobbying on behalf of. And then, right at the bottom of the screen, really, the key box—the purpose of the lobbying. So, again, we've got in there some free text explaining what it is that you're lobbying—[Inaudible.].
We look for accurate and meaningful information, and where we don't think we have that, we'll go back and maybe seek for a little more clarity. So, for instance, if we were to have one line saying, 'We discussed the Planning (Scotland) Bill', that doesn't give the reader, the layperson, the sense of what the conversation was, what someone was seeking in the form. So, we've got that sort of ability to go back to an organisation and ask them to expand on that. And again, just if we follow through that scenario of discussing the Planning (Scotland) Bill, that might tease out whether they were potentially looking to an MSP to lodge an amendment on a certain section of the Bill—that type of thing. So, everybody then can see what happened. So, that's what we deal with; on a day-to-day basis, we'll review them as a team and then look to publish these. So, nothing that goes on to the lobbying register on the public site is there until we've reviewed it and we're happy that the information gives readers a sense of what the conversation was. Sorry, could you just go over the supplementaries again?
The supplementary was: with hindsight, is there anything that you'd now add or remove from that list?
[Inaudible.]—committee can decide that, but I think that probably gives us a pretty good idea of who lobbied where, when and on what, and I think we'd like to have the minimum information that provides the maximum impact. So, I think that's probably it, but we're always open to suggestions from stakeholders about how we might improve the process. But, I think we've now got a substantial body of information that has those details in it. This fifth year anniversary, we're going to have around about 20,000 substantive pieces of lobbying information, so 20,000 instances of regulated lobbying. So, yes, I think if we change it, we just have to be careful that we don't mess around with the idea of what regulated lobbying is in the actual Act. It would probably require some sort of change to the primary legislation.
To answer your second supplementary, there isn't anything on finance and how much lobbying costs, but it was something that the public audit committee that I referenced earlier looked at. I believe it's going to be part of one of the many things that will be part of what they asked for to be covered in the impact assessment that the standards committee's now taking forward.
And, as part of that review, will the cost of the of your work be looked into? Do you have a ballpark figure of how much the lobbying register costs?
I can give you some information about the IT system, and I can also give you some information about the resources we have. So, the IT system was introduced, obviously, just before we came in. James talked about the four-month trial, so we have a contract with an organisation, which can potentially last until 2026. We got a year of extensions; we've just extended for another two years. So, that contract—. The system itself, we were slightly under budget. We had a budget between £180,000 and £230,000, I think, to set the system up, and that's our yearly budget to run the—we have to host support and maintain the site, and we have a little bit of development cost each year just to try and make improvements—that's about £50,000 a year. We've stuck to budget with all those things.
And in terms of staff resources, we initially started with just me and James, but it's stretched, as we've seen the amount of information returns coming in, it stretched more and we're up to four members of staff. And as of next year, we're going to take on two more additional admin resources, just for two years, temporarily, just mainly to assist James and I, and other colleagues, in managing the totality of the work, which will include this legislative review and a technology refresh of the IT system that will be coming together in the next three or four years.
Will you be reviewing the impact on the standards commissioner, or your equivalent in Scotland? Is that part of that budget that you've got there, or is it extra work that the standards commissioner is having to do?
Yes, it's part of his own budget, so it's a duty that was obviously written into the legislation of the time, and consulted on with the standards commissioner. He would speak to the corporate body that runs the Parliament in terms of his budget. If there were to be, suddenly, a massive increase in investigations required under this Act, I'm sure he would want to make his case about that to the corporate body.
Thank you. Just a couple of extra questions, if I can, Chair. What leeway do you give to organisations that have not registered but are unaware that they need to or have put in mistaken or incorrect information? So, just more on the process of policing it, if you like.
In terms of organisations that haven't registered or that are unaware of it, we have had very few instances of that, none of which we believe are deliberate evasion. Again, we always try and work to support organisations, to help them in getting and maintaining their compliance. So, we've moved to help these organisations where this does happen to trace back their steps to find the first instances of regulated lobbying, help them add these to the register and make them fully aware of their ongoing requirements. We try to work hand in hand with them, rather than taking any kind of—. Again, as Billy mentioned earlier, there's no punitive action. We're there to just try and bring the compliance up to speed, remind them of their ongoing requirements and just help them along the way. Our big thing is helping organisations.
The other point I was going to say is that a lot of the information in relation to mistakes and things like that—. Again, there's a process within the system. As an elected official in Scotland, you would get your publication of the information return. A copy is sent to you to look at, so you can always say, 'Oh, I don't think that's right, I wasn't there that day' or whatever. We've found that to be very rare. Given the amount of information returns we're talking about, it's nought point nought nought something per cent.
There is a process in the system where you can report an inaccurate information return. Sometimes, people do it informally—they just send us an e-mail. It's generally, I think, the wrong date. Ministerial offices are quite good at picking up stuff like that. They'll check the returns for Ministers. And Members of the Scottish Parliament's offices are good for that sort of thing. It's not foolproof, but we haven't seen much in the way of anything other than just people making occasional mistakes.
In terms of Billy's percentage there, we did a quick check on Friday in terms of these inaccurate information reports, and I think we're at approximately just over the 50 mark, and that's out of 20,000 substantive information returns. And as Billy, again, mentioned, they're just really for administrative things like the wrong date, time or location—those types of things.
Is that quite labour intensive, then, for you to go through all that, or is the system built in such a way, as you say, with things going out to Ministers or to MSPs, to say, 'This lobbying is said to have happened, let us know if it didn't', that sort of thing?
The process that is labour intensive is more frontloaded than that. Every day, James, I and our two colleagues will sit down with the returns that have come in from the previous day. They tend to be quite high at certain peaks of the year, because that's when people actually registered, so their six months is coming up. We try and encourage people to submit regularly and often, rather than hold them to the end, but those are the rules around submission dates—it's every six months. So, we tend to do that; we sit down every morning and decide, individually, if a return can go through or whether it needs a bit of clarification, and then we'll allocate the returns to one of us to take forward the action. So, we try and do an awful lot of work before it even gets to the stage of publication. We'll pick up a lot of things, to answer that question, but sometimes things will get through—we couldn't be 100 per cent certain on that. But anything that looks a bit strange or odd we tend to try and capture before it gets to publication stage.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you very much, gents.
Thank you. Before we move on, I've just got a quick question. I know there are three separate categories of person on the Scotland lobbying register, and I'm just looking for a little bit more information about voluntary registrants. If you could talk us through who that involves and how they are part of the system.
One aspect of voluntary registrants is organisations that are perhaps subject to freedom of information legislation—UK and Scottish. If they are subject to that, then it means that they're not covered by the Act. We have maybe a handful of organisations, such as universities, places of education, that are subject to that freedom of information legislation. There have been some organisations that have decided that they still want to voluntarily register—I think we've got a couple of trusts and foundations as well. So, there's really a small number, isn't there?
I think there are 10. I'll need to double check the numbers from the annual report. But, yes, it's not a huge number. It is people who want to put information on but other legislation prevents them from doing so, or they're too small, or if there's an exemption in the Act. There are people who are keen to put on information but can't be an active registrant under the terms of the Act. It just gives them another route through which to submit very similar information as to what an active registrant can do, but to do so on a voluntary basis. It's quite a good mechanism to allow people to add information who otherwise wouldn't have been able to because of the restrictions, if you like, of other legislation.
To confirm, as Billy stated, there are 10 organisations, as of our last annual report, that are voluntary.
Thank you. I'll bring John in now.
Diolch yn fawr, Chair. Could I ask, first of all—? I take it there are no geographical limitations in terms of lobbying organisations and whether or not they're caught by the legislation. Would that be right?
There's no extraterritoriality from the Act. So, in theory, it's anybody who lobbies a person who's defined under the Act—so, an MSP, a Minister, a special adviser in the Scottish Government or the Permanent Secretary. We have got examples of lobbying that's taken place—. I think there was one last week with a ministerial visit in California, for example. As far as we're aware, people are aware of those things. A lot of the organisations that are based oversees are aware of it. And again, as James mentioned earlier, Ministers and MSPs are quite good at pointing this legislation out when they're meeting those types of companies, just to make sure they don't fall short of compliance.
In a nutshell, it's anytime, anywhere, any place.
Okay. That's great. You mentioned some of the work you did to raise awareness of the register and the requirements. Has anything been done in terms of public awareness, to make sure the public's aware of the register and the information recorded?
I think our principal target was to engage, just given the resources, with the stakeholders concerned; those who are putting on the returns and registering, and those who are subject to it—so, those are who are being lobbied. We were trying to get some public awareness out. There is a requirement again under the Act for us to raise awareness, and we aim to do so. But I think you have to have some content on there first of all to make it interesting to the general public. I think there's a lot of interest from those people who are engaged with lobbying. In Scotland, in this case, under this Act, there's a lot of, if you like, the policy makers in Scotland, anything from smallish charities up to your multinationals. So, there's public awareness in the sense of the public policy arena, but, in terms of engagement by the public, I think that was something we'd hoped would come later on, when we'd built up sufficient content. We certainly have always talked about doing that, and I think probably, given the ongoing review and the impact assessment, it's something we'd planned to do after, once we know in what way the legislation will finally form itself after that. It's not cheap. We're very lucky in the Parliament, as you are in the Senedd, to have our own marketing and press people, so we know the costs of doing these things. We'll take advice from them on how we can do that impactfully. It's certainly something where we would be wanting to raise the profile with the general public, but I think it's fair to say it's not there yet. It's something for the future.
I think as well in a roundabout way there has been the occasional media story and newspapers, et cetera, which I suppose will effectively inform the public that there is a register. For example, stories on fish farming, nuclear power, oil and gas—these are big issues as well. So you see some organisations generating media stories, and that in effect has had some kind of level of raising awareness to the public through these publications.
Okay. Thanks for that. A final question from me, Chair. In terms of co-ordination and information sharing between the different registrars that we have in the UK or further afield, is there anything systematic that happens, or is it more informal?
It's informal in the sense that we agree we should do it. The European lobbying registrars network is actually due to meet online on Thursday morning. The secretariat is currently held by France, so we'll all be dialling in to Paris on Thursday morning to have a chat. We ourselves were meant to host it a while ago, but with COVID obviously we've had to hold back and we're now in a position where we can have an in-person event again in Scotland next year, so we're going to have that in March. That used to be once a year. Things being well, we'll host that in March as an in-person/hybrid event. These are good opportunities to get everybody together and decide on an agenda and have a good conversation about things we can learn from each other.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, John. I'll just check if any other Members have any follow-up questions for Mr McLaren and Mr Drummond. No, it looks like everyone's happy—. We have a question from our legal adviser, Mr Carpanini.
Thank you, Chair. I'm just trying to get my video going. Just a short question, in two parts. Obviously, your system has developed or is developing as you learn more about it in practical terms. Has anything caused you to reflect on whether confining the register solely to face-to-face lobbying is too restrictive? Secondly, I'm just interested to know about the thought process behind taking those organisations outside the register who are subject to freedom of information legislation, because obviously the register is a proactive declaration of information whereas relying on FOI to gain that information is a different process, and one has to actively pursue that information—it's not otherwise publicly available.
As we mentioned at the outset, the legislation was brought forward by the Scottish Government, so in terms of the policy, we are administering the policy that was set out in the Scottish Government's legislation. It will be for the committee to decide whether they think that regulating lobbyists as defined now by face-to-face communications is sufficient or whether it wishes to extend those forms of communication. I think they will do that based on the impact assessment that comes forward and the views and opinions of stakeholders. Clearly, also, from our point of view, the resources required to expand the scope of the Act would have to be taken into consideration as well.
On the second point, do you have any particular views?
No, I've not. Again, it's down to the fact that there's the policy aspect—it was in the Schedule to the Act, this specific example on the freedom of information legislation there taking certain organisations out. We do have an example where I think there was an update to the freedom of information regulations, and whereas we had a lot of housing associations on the register as active registrants, the update to these regulations, if they were registered social landlords, actually then ruled them out. So, again, this is one of those things where organisations will have to adapt to that. Maybe fewer than one or two of those organisations that were active then decided they wanted to maintain their voluntary status by actually keeping stuff on the register, but, yes, I would say that would be about right.
Yes, you've got a point. I think if the FOI legislation continues to extend—again, it's a Government choice on that—so, automatically will people join, be on the register? And James says there's a voluntary route, so there is a way in which they can continue to do so. They'd be registered as a voluntary registrant, but that's not statutory in terms of status; it's a choice. And yes, we'll have to be conscious of that. Again, I can't speak to the Government that introduced the legislation, but the idea being was that there were different transparency areas, so, we had cross-party groups, for example, publish minutes of their meetings. That's exempt in the Act. If it was a quorate meeting, freedom of information legislation could be pursued in the way in which you set out, so therefore it was a means of obtaining that information. So, it was meant to be, if you like, a jigsaw puzzle of how you could get hold of information. Again, the committee may want to look at that in due course.
Thank you, both, for attending this committee session. It's been very useful. Just to keep you informed, a copy of the transcript will be available as soon as possible and provided to you so that it can be checked for factual accuracy. So, thank you very much, and this session will now come to a close, and we will take a four-minute break before our next session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:16 a 10:22.
The meeting adjourned between 10:16 and 10:22.
Welcome back to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee. For our next evidence session, I would like to welcome our witness, Anthony Murray, who is the assistant principal in the lobbying regulation unit in Ireland. So, welcome to the meeting, and if we can ask you to talk through—. I believe you have a PowerPoint presentation for us, and then we'll have some questions for you later, I'm sure.
That's perfect. Bore da, gach duine—so, that's 'everyone' in Irish—and thanks for inviting me along this morning; I'm happy to make a contribution to your deliberations. So, what I propose to do is to talk through the presentation, which I believe you all have a copy of, and then there are a few extra questions, and then I'm happy to answer any questions, then, at the end.
So, the topics I'm going to run through today are the overview of the Regulation of Lobbying Act 2015, where I'll cover our three-step test; the registration and return requirements; contraventions and enforcement. I also will cover our section 22 post-employment restrictions, which are aimed at restricting the so-called revolving door in politics. I will also cover a bit on the approach to implementation. Finally, our code of conduct, and then time for questions, obviously, at the end.
So, the Act provides for an independent lobbying registrar, which is the standards commission itself, and the lobbying regulation unit is part of the standards commission. The standards commission is also responsible for ethics, legislation and electoral legislation. It provides for a registration of lobbyists with a wide-ranging scope. It requires regular submissions of returns—that's three times a year; there are three periods. It's a web-based public registry that records the lobbyist, who they lobbied, the subject of the lobbying, and the intended result. It includes post-employment restrictions for some public officials, our so-called section 22. It also has investigation and enforcement provisions, with a strong compliance focus. Everything we do is about compliance, and encouraging people who lobby to comply with the legislation, be on the register, and we will assist them in every way to do that. There's also a legislative review mechanism that is currently set at three years, but, under the new amendment to the lobbying Act, that is likely to change to five years for review.
So, we define—. There is obviously a definition of 'lobbying' under the Act, and we use what's called the three-step test to define that. Any communication must meet the three-step test to be considered lobbying. So, the communication must be by persons within the scope of the Act, it must be with designated public officials, and it must be on relevant matters. The Act makes no distinction whatsoever regarding the method, the venue or the formality of the communication. So, it can be by mail, by telephone, it can be in person, by e-mail, social media, in an office, a social setting, a casual encounter, or other. And—we're often asked this—it does include meetings that might happen outside the country, if they're relevant under the Act. It also includes—. An individual may go to some sort of social event, meet a politician, may have a general chat—that's all fine—and then if they bring in something that's covered by the lobbying Act then they must record that as a communication.
So, step 1 of the three-step test. Persons or organisations with more than 10 employees are covered. All representative or advocacy bodies with at least one employee. So, that covers—. Employers' representation bodies, the farmers' representative bodies and most charities will be covered by this. So, as long as they've got one employee they are covered by the Act. It includes professional lobbyists, who are third parties paid to lobby on a client's behalf. And—I haven't come across this anywhere else—it includes anyone, any individual, who is lobbying about the development or zoning of land.
However, even meeting these criteria, they need to register only if the communications are with what we call designated public officials. So, let's see who they are. They are Ministers; Ministers of State; the Members of Dáil Éireann, the Parliament; Seanad Éireann, the upper house; Irish Members of the European Parliament; all members of local authorities, so, all the county councils; special advisers who are hired to advise Ministers; and a selection of senior civil and public servants. So, in the civil service, we're talking about secretaries general of the departments, assistant secretaries general, director grades and equivalent. In the local authorities, it's the chief executives, the directors of service, the heads of finance, and, in the case of Dublin City Council, the head of human resources. And the Minister of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has the freedom to expand this group in the future, and that is also being considered at the moment. It hasn't been expanded since the Act came in in 2015.
The third tier of the three-step test is: is it about a relevant matter? This was one of the things that causes a lot of confusion to registrants, but we're very specific that it's the initiation, development or modification of any public policy or of any public programme; the preparation of any enactment; or the award of any grant, loan or other financial support, contract or other agreement, or of any licence or other authorisation involving public funds. What is not a relevant matter are matters relating to the implementation of any such policy programme, enactment or award, so matters of a technical nature. So, if someone enquires about a particular grant, whether they qualify for it, that is a technical question. But seeking to change the terms under which the grant might be awarded, that's lobbying.
There are exemptions under section 5(5) of the Act. These include private affairs; matters concerning one's principal private residence; those communications in a diplomatic context; any communication between public officials; strictly factual information, which we sort of covered there under step 3; trade union negotiations; where there is a threat to life or safety; the security of the state; communications between shareholders of a state body; any matters within the proceedings of an Oireachtas or Government of the Dáil or the Seanad committee; information requested and published by a public body. So, once a public body—. If they organise a consultation on a particular matter and welcome submissions, once those submissions are published, the people or organisations who make the submissions do not have to register the communication as lobbying. Exemptions also cover specific groups established by a public body where the transparency code applies: taskforces, working groups. The main elements of the transparency code are, again, that all meetings are recorded, the minutes are published, the members of the committee are published on a website, and the details of what comes out of these taskforces are published. And if that's the case, if someone is invited to be a member of a taskforce, they do not have to make returns on the information they provided as lobbying.
So, what are the requirements to register? An individual or organisation must register after the first communication with a designated public official. So, they don't have to register beforehand. We are currently in the September to December period. So, if I were a lobbyist and I lobbied today for the first time, I don't have to have registered beforehand, but I do have to register before the end of this period, and the deadline for the end of this period is 21 January. So, I must register and I must make a return about that activity.
The details that are included in a registration are: the organisation name, and we include an option to include 'trading as' if the name is different from the legal name—again, we're all about transparency, and it must be clear to someone who searches the register who or what organisation has undertaken this lobbying activity; it must include a business address and contact details; it must outline the main business activities; it must identify the person with the primary responsibility for lobbying; and, if available—not all entities have this—it must have the company registration office number or the charitable registration number.
What do we require in returns? As I mentioned, returns are required three times a year, with mandatory deadlines. So, the three periods are 1 September to 31 December, and returns are due 21 January; 1 January to 30 April, and returns are due 21 May; and 1 May to 31 August, with returns due 21 September. A key element of the legislation, and one that does cause us issues, is that nil returns are also required. So, once an entity is registered on the lobbying register, they must make a return, even if they haven't lobbied. It doesn't matter if they register this year and they don't lobby for three years, once they're on the register, they must make a return, because a nil return is a statement that no lobbying has occurred.
So, on the details that are included in a return, what we look for is one return per subject. So, an individual or an organisation may have lobbied on the same matter multiple times, but we want one return on that, detailing everyone who was contacted on that subject. And the details we require are: who was lobbied; the subject matter and the intended results; the type and the extent of activity—how many times an individual or different organisations were lobbied; if there are any current or former designated public officials lobbying for you. So, it is common enough for special advisers or Ministers to move into the private sector, and it must be detailed that they had a previous role as a designated public official if they are now lobbying. And, in the case of professional lobbyists, you must include the client information. So, who they are lobbying for.
Contraventions of the Act and enforcement: contraventions are lobbying without registering; failure to submit a return by a deadline, including nil returns; providing inaccurate or misleading information; failing to comply with an investigation; and obstructing an investigation. And the consequences of non-compliance are: there are fixed payment notices for late returns. So, this is immediate and automatic. If a return is made after the twenty-first of the month, in the month following the end of a period, after 12 midnight, if a return isn't made, it's an automatic €200 fixed-payment notice. We also have provision for the investigation and prosecution of contraventions, and, if convicted, there are higher fines available and the possibility of imprisonment.
Section 22, the post-employment restrictions: this provides that specific categories of designated public officials—so, it's not all designated public officials in that list that I outlined earlier, but specific categories of them—are subject to a one-year cooling off period, during which, having left their official office, they cannot engage in lobbying activities in specific circumstances, or indeed be employed by or provide services to a person carrying on lobbying activities in specific circumstances. And the purpose of this legislation is to manage the potential for conflicts of interest and to place restrictions on what is often referred to as the revolving door between the public and private sector.
It covers any public service body with which the relevant DPO was connected; that is, employed or held an office or any other position in the year prior to them leaving the public service body. It also covers them lobbying a person who was also a designated public official who was employed by or held an office or other position with a public service body in the year prior to the relevant DPO's leaving. So, that's called a connected DPO; so, designated public officials whom they worked with. Even if that designated public official leaves that public service body to go to another department or another element of Government, making contact with them with the purpose of lobbying is not allowed under section 22.
The commission may make a determination on an application for consent. So, someone who is leaving such a role—a relevant designated public official is leaving and they plan to take up a position with a private sector entity within 12 months of their leaving their public service role—they may apply for consent to the commission to shorten their cooling-off period, and the commission may give the person a consent without conditions. That has never happened in all the cases we've had since the Act has been brought in. They may give the person consent with specific conditions attached—that is the most common circumstance—or they may refuse consent completely.
Currently, if someone breaches section 22, there are no penalties under the Act, however, under the Regulation of Lobbying (Amendment) Bill 2022, which is currently before the Government, that will now incur penalties. Penalties are proposed under the amendment Bill to be of the order of €25,000, on a scale.
Before I leave this and turn to the approach to implementation, I might just address some of the other questions that Meriel posed for me. In terms of stats for the register at the moment, we currently have 2,400 registrants on the register. We had 11,600 returns in 2021 and an equivalent number in 2020. I'm waiting to see what 2022 will bring; I suspect it may be down a bit, because we had a definite upswing during COVID. There were more organisations lobbying on specific COVID-related matters, and more organisations registered, and there was an uptick in the lobbying. But I may yet be proven wrong. Since the start of the register in 2015, we have had a total of 72,000-plus returns, so that's going up all the time.
There was a question on guidance provided on the website, the need for clear guidance and an interpretation of the Act. It's a key part of our work in the standards commission to increase awareness about the Act. It's not going to be possible to chase down everything that we hear; we do our best with it, so we aim to provide guidance on the website and by the team. We actually don't have a statutory advice function, so if an organisation or a person comes on to us and says, 'Am I lobbying?', we will not say that to them. We will guide them towards the three-step test and we will talk about examples; it is up to them to make the decision. We're not empowered to give advice under the Act, therefore, we don't advise persons whether they're carrying on lobbying activities or not, we just provide guidance, and that puts the emphasis on the individual to be responsible themselves. I suppose I would often say to somebody and the team would say, 'If you're in doubt, it's just as well to register and make returns.' There's no penalty for being on the register; it doesn't cost anything. If you think you might be lobbying, you should be on the register.
Thank you very much.
Could I ask a quick question there, Chair?
You can, of course. Yes.
How long would they need to be returning nil returns for them then to drop off the register, or do they have to physically ask to be removed from the register?
They have to ask to be removed from the register. So, we've two ways of removing from the register. We do have individuals and organisations who come on the register and really are not within scope, so they've come on—and some of them will insist on staying on even though we think they should be there, but we can't make them leave, and don't try to; it's their choice. However, if they really shouldn't be there, and we've judged they're not within scope, and they haven't lobbied, we can judge that they can be deleted from the register, so they will no longer appear.
However, if an organisation—and this happens very frequently, an organisation is created for a particular purpose, or it's lobbying on a particular issue for a period of a year or two years, they make returns, but now they see, 'Well, we're not going to be lobbying any more on that; that issue is sorted', they can apply to us and we can mark them as having ceased lobbying. They remain on the register, there is a record of the lobbying activities they have done, but they no longer have to make returns if they're marked as 'ceased'. And then, if something changes in two years or three years' time, they're now going to lobby on another issue, we can reactivate their registration and they can continue. So, again, there's a complete record then of their lobbying activities. But, no, you don't have to stay on it indefinitely if you're not lobbying.
And would there be any leeway then on making mistakes or anything along those lines, or you might be coming on to it in the next section?
Making a mistake—yes, I think that was one of the questions. I suppose we would take a judgment on it. Does someone think—? It would happen, especially about the zoning and redevelopment of land, people say, 'I didn't know I needed to be on the register,' and then we would have to look at each individual case. We would have to decide, 'Well, yes, you should have been there.' If it was deliberate and we judge that they should have been aware that they should be on the register, then we'll proceed with some level of prosecution. If we judge that, no, it was genuine enough, we may decide, 'Look, come on the register from now and be compliant from now.' So, again, we're compliance based; there's no point in bringing the hammer down too much. So, we take judgments on it, depending on the facts.
And would you have, retrospectively, then, had something on it in that case? So, if somebody hadn't realised that they needed to be on there and it was a genuine mistake, would you retrospectively amend the register?
Generally not, no. If they weren't on the register last year, we can't put a return in for them then; they need to come on it now. Again, we would take a view on it; there are varying degrees, and we would try and make a judgment on it. No, we wouldn't amend it, because, again, it wouldn't be creating transparency and it would allow too many outs, to be honest. We try to be firm. The €200 fine, as you can imagine, to some organisations is very little, and most of the professional organisations rarely incur it, because they've staff managing it. It is a significant penalty for smaller organisations, but I doubt very much if we'd get much compliance if it weren't there. I think people would figure, 'Can you excuse this?' And we generally don't excuse—if we think they should have made a return, we apply the fine.
Thanks, Peredur. Could I ask what challenges you have faced in establishing and maintaining the registers? What have been the main challenges?
Sure. I might just cover this bit here about approach to implementation and that'll give some outline and I'll deal with the issues that we face at the moment. When the register was being established, there was an external need for an effective communication strategy, with the wide-ranging scope of the legislation, we needed a cultural shift, needed stakeholder buy-in, so there was a lot of building awareness of the provisions and obligations. Internally, we needed an appropriate management and administration framework, technological systems and a need to build knowledge and capacity. Back before 2015, there was early planning and preparation, devising the governance structure, developing the register and the website. There was a trial period for registrants, so during the period 2015-16, we did not impose penalties; we encouraged people to come on the register, learn how it worked, but once it came to January 2016, penalties were imposed.
There was an incremental commencement of the Act, so designated public officials were identified, and it's only now that that list is being increased. Investigation and enforcement were in force after one year, with plans of legislator reviews, of which we've had a few. There were initial and ongoing stakeholder consultations, so there was a legislative consultation process, there was consultation with departments and there was an advisory group established with a broad grouping across industry and all those representative bodies. There were extensive communications and outreach, website guidance, info events, advertising, media engagement, and we still engage with all that. And then there was a requirement to establish management, administration and strategic frameworks and delegated authorities.
So, I suppose, just going back to your original question, Vikki, there would have been a large amount of resistance, particularly in certain parts of the political sector. County councillors didn't really feel that the work that they were doing should be reported, and that would have applied to many members of the Dáil as well. But, as time has gone by, that has lessened, because a key element of the legislation is that all politicians have become aware of it, and they will frequently say to somebody who might be lobbying, 'I think you need to be on the register.' So, although the designated public officials have no obligations themselves under the Act, they will tell lobbyists that they should be on the register. Also, we have the provision under the investigatory powers to request records from politicians of meetings they have had. So, if we hear a report of unregistered lobbying, we can investigate it and find out about it.
Broadly, the register works very effectively, because it puts the onus on the individual to make the return; we're not chasing each and every one, but we review all the returns that come in and we review all the registrations that come in. Clearly, that takes time. There's a lot of phone calls, a lot of e-mails. Broadly, it works well. If I was to say where the challenge is, day to day, for the operation of the register, I think, if you were to look at it, we spend a lot of time chasing small fry when, really, we should be spending our time on bigger issues. So, as much as possible, we're trying to raise awareness amongst the smaller organisations and individuals of their obligations under the Act, so that they don't fall foul of it, and we don't have situations where people are calling us up saying, 'I only registered once to do one bit of lobbying, and now you're fining me', because they didn't make a return. We're trying to eliminate that as much as possible. As you know, we send out welcome letters, we talk to people who are new on the register, we advise them of their obligations, but many of them still forget it and ignore it, and then they get hit with a fine and we spend time dealing with that and trying to resolve it.
On ongoing challenges, I suppose the big question we would have—and I don't know the answer to it—is how many people should be on the register. We have 2,400 registrants at the moment. I'm certainly sure that there are more individuals and organisations out there that should be on it, but what the actual number for the Republic of Ireland should be—should it be 3,000 registrants, or have we reached a steady state? It goes up every year—200-odd registrants increasing each year. Within that number, there will be some of those who would be marked at 'ceased', so they're no longer actively lobbying. So, the challenge is to keep that awareness going. We have faced challenges with section 22, with the revolving door, because there was non-compliance with it, and we had no powers to challenge those breaches. But those powers are coming now, and we will have that and that's going to improve things. I would say that, generally, it works; it's not perfect, but, yes, it works.
Thank you. I'm conscious of time. We've only got a few minutes left, and I know that my colleagues have lots of other questions also. You mentioned there about the county councillors, and that was an aspect that really intrigued me. I don't think there are any registers in the UK that extend to county councillors. So, could you briefly talk us through that, and also maybe the legal side of it? How are you actually able to extend that to county councillors?
Well, it's been in the legislation from the start. So, once it was put in there—. To be honest, I wasn't around when the legislation came in, but I don't remember there was—. I think there was resistance among the political sector, perhaps, to making it as broad, but it was just brought in, it was passed, and that's the way. I do think we've a job of work still to create more awareness amongst county councils and county councillors of the obligations of people coming to talk to them. Certainly, I think there's work to be done there, but I don't think there was any particular issue with bringing in the legislation or the legal aspects of it, it was just applied to that list and that was it.
Okay. Thank you. I'll bring in Natasha now, then.
Thank you, Chair. Just a lovely presentation you've given us, Anthony. Thank you so much for that. You've been really clear with all the different methods that you've taken on board. I have two questions. The first one—. In comparison, we met with the Scottish counterparts that we all have, and they spoke about how a lot of issues, when they get to certain level, can go to the commissioner for ethical standards. From what you've said, it seems like everything that comes directly to your register comes to yourselves and you decide whether they should be fined, whether they should be submitting, what should the scenario be. Do you have any interactions, do you ever refer cases to the ethical standards commissioner, or it is purely in your department, dealt with by your department, and that's it?
A very good question, Natasha. Mostly the fines are applied immediately. Decisions about deletions or ceasing or anything like that are taken by the head of the secretariat, so it's not the commission—so, my boss, who is Linda Joyce. We would create our advice on that and she would make a decision. If necessary, those decisions could also go to the commission, but they don't. The commission is extremely busy with other stuff. What will go to the commission is any decision for investigation, and this ties into one of the other questions that was there in terms of the level of staffing.
So, the lobbying regulation unit is myself and three other members of the team. We focus specifically on lobbying. The head of the secretariat, Linda Joyce, is also responsible overall for the ethics and the electoral side. We have a complaints and investigation unit, which is three individuals, so when it comes to investigating unregistered lobbying, or we would make initial queries from the lobbying regulation unit, broad questions—'Do you think you might have lobbied? What's happened here?'—if we think there is something there, we will pass it on to the complaints and investigations unit. They will do a bit of work, but once it gets to a higher level, that would always be approved by the commission itself, so it would be brought to one of the commission meetings. So, Linda has quite a range of delegated powers that never need to go near the commission. They're quite routine stuff—most of them are straightforward. I suspect section 22, the revolving door where you've got increased fines coming in and the new legislation—I think things are going to get more contentious, and I think there may be more stuff going to the commission that has to be decided at that level.
The other aspect I should add in is that we've got the head of the secretariat and we also have a legal section. Our legal department—four or five individuals, but they are legal for the whole office of the ombudsman—so it's us, the standards commission plus the rest of the ombudsman, so, they have a broad remit. But we've got one particular lawyer there who will give us advice and we will frequently consult with her on the day-to-day stuff about how we approach it, always watching whether anything we might do might stop future prosecution. Does that help?
It certainly does. I do have a sub-question. You mentioned all the various individuals, groups, organisations, Ministers that need to report particularly to the register, but obviously, as I'm sure you can appreciate, in some situations, we do have exceptional scenarios. Recently in Wales, we had a case—I'm not going to go in depth into the detail, as you may or may not be aware—it was a purchase of a farm by the Welsh Government, and it led to numerous concerns being raised about integrity, transparency, honesty, et cetera. It was basically about the fact that a dinner was held between Government Ministers who perhaps weren't involved with the purchase of the farm, but they were front-line Government Ministers, and special advisers/lobbyists, and a businesswoman who's responsible for the farm. Like I said, it's raised a lot of questions, and eyebrows were being raised. So how can we ensure, going forward here in Wales, that things like favours for friends, et cetera, and this sort of lobbying isn't allowed? And how would that be included in a register such as the one that you've got?
Well, some of the issues you seem to raise there would certainly lean into ethics as well. So, our ethics side of things would handle that. But lobbying, I suppose, in ways, it's very simple. There definitely appears to have been lobbying activity there—it sounds like it, if anyone's making representations. What we have found, even over the time I've been with the register, which is about three and a half years, is that I've seen a higher and higher level of awareness. The building of awareness is a huge part of this, where people will start to question what they're doing, but they might say, 'Oh, I've heard about this. I've heard that maybe I need to report this'. They come and check with us, and that has taken quite a bit of time, and when we get a bit of publicity in the media, where they say, 'Look at this. This happened', and we are happy with that, even if it does say, 'Oh, here's somebody who should have been on the register' and there's some thought that we should have known. Well, we can't know, but when it is detected, people don't like these things being made public. I would judge this to be the biggest power that we have, that adverse publicity that individuals get for making representations to Government officials when they shouldn't have, or in the incorrect forum, let's say. When that awareness is raised, I think you get greater compliance overall, so, it's a softer aspect of it, if you get me.
Thank you so much for that.
A couple of questions, actually, around finance, but from two different aspects: the cost of the office and the staff, and how it ensures value for money. What sort of costs are we talking about for running the register? That is my first question. Maybe if you wanted to give me that and then I'll ask a different question to financing.
What I'll do is I'll consult on that and I'll come back to you on it with a figure. I'll give you an estimate. Part of the dynamics is what do you include in that, in the sense that I can easily say the cost of the four members of staff that are in the lobbying regulation unit, but for everybody else, it's part of their time. But I'll see what I can come up with on that and give you a broad figure.
Okay. What we had from Scotland was roughly the cost of the IT equipment, the IT system and how many full-time equivalent members of staff. So, something similar to that might give us a direct comparison to see—
Give you an idea, yes. Just to give you a bit of feedback on that part, the original register was designed by an external company and they were maintained under contract to us to provide the service. That's currently being changed because it was a bespoke system, which was great, and I love the system and it works, but I accept that there was always a possibility of not being kept quite up to date, with moving to a Microsoft architecture, and it will be managed inside as a help desk. So, yes, there will be a need for IT support in-house, and there is a cost, obviously, to developing this new—. You know, there is a cost to that. I'll try and come up with some sort of figure that will give you an idea of those elements, and send it on.
That would be very useful. And then, from the other aspect, professional lobbyists, is there anywhere in the legislation that records the payments being made to lobbyists for access, or anything like that?
No. We don't go into finance at all. It wasn't included in the original provision. Yes, there are arguments for and against that level of information. I suppose, in ways, the simpler you can keep it, by bringing these—. At least that we know that lobbying happened, there may be other methods then to use to explore that sort of thing. But, I think—and I'm just surmising at the start—in efforts to include too many elements, it was thought that perhaps it would become too cumbersome to try and work, and less likely to get those details, whereas if you get—. If we know that someone on the register has lobbied on a particular issue to a particular individual, that's a great start, and that awareness is there for everybody to see, and I think this is the strength of it.
Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you.
Okay. Thank you, Pred. I'll bring John in now.
Thank you very much, Chair. First of all, I just wonder to what extent you've done an evaluation of the effects of the system. Has it achieved its desired aims, as stated, and have there been any unintended consequences that have been particularly problematic? Is there a systematic monitoring evaluation review?
Well, I suppose that the legislative review is a key part in that there are elements of the existing legislation that we found problematic from the start. So, the Standards in Public Office Commission had a series of 23 recommendations since 2018-19 for legislative change—little gaps, little things that needed to be improved. Some of those are being addressed in the new legislation. So, yes, there is a review process in it.
Evaluation into the effectiveness—that might depend on whose view you seek. I think it's particularly effective in that it's a public register and it's there for everyone to see, and that has certainly raised consciousness amongst individuals that you can't just go and seek to influence policy without being open about it. Does it mean that that is eliminated? I don't think so, but—. The broad view from Transparency International, for example, they would broadly view that it's been effective. They would have issues about things that could be changed, some of which we share. Yes, I think generally the consensus is that it's working, and that the state is happy with it.
Would you be able to provide us with information on those things that are perceived as needing change? Have you got to that stage?
What I could do is I could send you our 23 recommendations for change. Some of them are very specific to the legislation, but I'll send them to you. You can have a view and you can see the sort of things that were spotted. As I say, some of these are now being addressed. I could send you the proposed lobbying Bill as well, a copy of that. It's not passed into law—well, I'll have to check that—but it's there in the public domain.
Thank you. In terms of public awareness, then, of the requirements of the register, the system in place, has much been done to ensure that the public are aware of everything they need to know about?
I suppose we're talking about a sector of the public, so most people don't. When media articles come about, we do frequently have the perception by the public that, 'Oh, so and so was lobbying about x, y, z', but it's not covered by the legislation, and that's a job of work to try and convince everybody of that. What we seek to ensure is anybody who should know about it, and know the details, that they're aware. So, we run open-house sessions a few times a year on Zoom, invite anyone and everyone to attend, as an initial concept of what they need to know, and we do promote things as much as possible. We're always seeking opportunities to promote it to those who should know.
And finally, in terms of co-ordination and experience sharing between the different registrars in the British isles and beyond, is that something that happens regularly, in a systematic way?
What we are part of is the European lobbying regulators network, and I would certainly advise perhaps looking at joining that. It is a forum to share that sort of information of how effectively things are working. That would be our main venue for that sort of knowledge sharing.
Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr.
Thank you, John, and thank you, Mr Murray, for attending this morning. It's been a really useful and informative session. I'm sure I speak for all Members when I say that we've got a lot out of it, so thank you very much indeed. And just to say that a copy of the transcript will be provided as soon as possible, so you can check that for factual accuracy.
That's terrific. Thank you very much. Thanks for your time.
We'll take a short break now. We've another three minutes before we resume for our final session.
Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:02 ac 11:07.
The meeting adjourned between 11:02 and 11:07.
Welcome back to this meeting of the Standards of Conduct Committee. I'd like to welcome our final witness for this morning, Harry Rich, who is registrar of consultant lobbyists in Westminster. Welcome, Harry, to the meeting. I believe that you'd like to give us a short introduction on the register of consultant lobbyists, and then Members can ask you some questions.
Thank you very much indeed, and thank you so much for asking me to join you today. I hadn't planned a detailed presentation, but perhaps it may be helpful if I give you the headlines of how we operate and what we do, and then I'm happy to take questions.
My office was set up in 2014, following some lobbying scandals in Westminster. That's usually how these things happen. There's usually a scandal and then some legislation. The work that I do is framed by that 2014 legislation. I'm an independent office holder. I'm appointed by a Minister in the Cabinet Office, but I'm not accountable to Ministers; I'm accountable purely to Parliament, so I have that strict independence, which I think is very important in terms of making sure the work we do is not politically affected in any way.
The work that I do is purely around consultant lobbying, so this is about those who are being paid by clients to lobby UK Government Ministers or UK Permanent Secretaries. There are a few other people who are, in the legislation, counted to be equivalent to Permanent Secretaries—the chief medical officer and people like that. So, it's purely UK Government Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. The definition of what the subject matter is is very broad. The legislation will contain the detail, but at a top level it's really about any matter to do with Government policy. It's really anything to do with how Government is operating or might operate—if you're lobbying on behalf of a third party client and being paid to do so.
There's another test, which is a slight anachronism, I suppose, which is that you only fall within the legislation if you are registered for UK value-added tax. I can talk more about that if that's useful, but it's something that is not terribly helpful in the legislation. So, that falls outside the Act. Also, the Act, very specifically, and for reasons that I think I can explain, excludes in-house lobbyists. So, if someone is lobbying on behalf of their employer, that is not something that falls within my remit. I think that's probably the headline level. I'm happy to take any questions.
Thank you, Harry. If I can start by asking how many lobbyists you actually have on the register.
As at the end of last month, it was 216.
Thank you. And what would you say have been the main challenges that you've faced in Westminster with establishing and maintaining the register?
I've been in post for four years, and have just been reappointed for another three. The establishment of the register was carried out by my predecessor, who was the first registrar. I suppose the challenges she would have faced in terms of her establishing the register was that nobody really knew the size and scope of what they were dealing with, because there was no way of measuring it, and I understand that there were ranges of possibilities. I don't think I have the numbers here, but it was something like—. In December 2014, my predecessor estimated that she might have 50 to 70 registrants, the Government's impact assessment was 360, and we fell, as it happens, in between those two. So, that was one of the challenges, not knowing what we were dealing with.
Secondly, obviously, there have been matters of communication, making sure that those who need to register know what's going on. Having said that, we work closely with the two professional or trade bodies in this field, and they are very supportive of the legislation, I think from the perspective that they believe, as it happens as I do, that good open lobbying is an important part of setting policy in Government, and therefore they want that to be done in an open and transparent way. So, they've been very good at working with their members and making sure their members understand the issues and the need to register. Clearly, there are others who wouldn't categorise themselves as public affairs businesses but who do need to register because the requirement for registration—and this is an area of confusion by some people—is not on how you define yourself, it is about the activities you undertake. So, if you are a firm of lawyers, accountants or management consultants, or a charity—anybody who is carrying out the activities I've described has to register. We now run communication activity of various sorts to try to make sure that people who need to know do know. I can go into that in more detail, if you want.
That leads me nicely into my next area of questioning, actually, because interpretation of the legislation is so important, isn't it? So, could you talk us through any pointers there that you would have about clear guidance to make sure that people can interpret the legislation accurately?
I think in the bulk of cases the tests are really clear and straightfoward. They are set out in the legislation and, under the legislation, I am obliged to produce guidance that has a formal quality to it that seeks to help to interpret that legislation. It effectively puts the law into more easily understandable language, and that I think is helpful. It also allows me to, in that guidance, be very clear—. For example, the law talks about 'relevant communications', and my guidance makes it clear that that is communications of all kinds. That may be written, it may be a phone call, it may be a meeting, it could be a text message, a WhatsApp message, semaphore—it doesn't matter what it is, if it's a communication, that is included. The guidance expands on that, for example.
There are a couple of areas that are challenging within the legislation. I gave evidence to the Westminster parliamentary committee on this last week, because they're undertaking a review of the legislation. One I've already touched on, which is the VAT threshold, which is slightly odd. It's not something that's useful. I think it was put in place to avoid very small businesses getting trapped by the legislation, but actually the VAT threshold is about £80,000 or so, and you can do quite a lot of lobbying for that. So, if you want to avoid small businesses being involved, then you should set a lower limit or have a different way of limiting it. It also has the perverse consequence of excluding overseas lobbyists. So, if you are a very large American lobbying company, not registered for VAT in this country, carrying out lobbying in this country, that would not fall under the 2014 legislation. So, that's a slightly odd consequence.
The other area we've discussed—I've discussed with the parliamentary committee—is the information that registrants have to provide. So, what I didn't describe is what the obligations are on registrants. So, twofold: number one is that before you conduct any consultant lobbying, you have to register, so you have to register in advance, which is slightly tricky for people, because they have to anticipate that they're going to lobby, but that's how the law is. And then, every quarter, you submit a return, and that return is—[Interruption.] Please.
I'm looking at the briefing we had for the meeting, and it refers to the VAT registration issue, as you mentioned, Harry. It says that there have been a number of controversies in recent years,
'of particular note, see the registrars findings in relation to Owen Patterson.'
I'm just wondering if you could very briefly tell us what the issues were there, and how the VAT requirement is relevant.
Of course. You'll understand that I need to be careful about the degree to which I discuss individual cases, so I'm happy to talk about matters that are on the public record, but in general terms, the issue is that there have been a number of cases where were it not for the VAT threshold, I'm pretty clear there would have been registrable consultant lobbying. I don't set the policy, and if the Westminster Parliament wishes to have a VAT threshold, then that is the way that I obviously apply the law.
On the public record, I did an investigation of Mr Patterson in relation to potential consultant lobbying, and the investigation summary that I published a couple of weeks ago makes it clear that the reason that I found very clearly that he was not conducting unregistered consultant lobbying was that at the time of the acts of communication in 2016 and 2017, he was not registered for value added tax. So, it's a very straightforward binary choice at that moment, whatever else one may conclude around activities: if you're not registered, you're outside the remit.
I'll bring Peredur in now as well.
Just following on a little bit from that, then, and it's a question I've asked others. Do you then require lobbyists to note, as part of the registration of activities, the amount of money that's been paid to them? Or is it more that if they are registered for VAT or not, and that's the registration, rather than to follow where the money goes?
Precisely. So, that registration is the test, and actually, interestingly, if someone was running a business with a turnover of £100,000, and say £50,000 of it was for painting and decorating, and £50,000 of it was for consultant lobbying, because they're over the VAT threshold, they would still fall within my remit. So, the VAT test is not connected to the income from consultant lobbying.
Thank you. Were there any points you wanted to finish there, Harry, before I move on to—
Yes, just picking up a couple of the areas that we're discussing, that I discussed with the Westminster parliamentary committee last week. So, the information in the quarterly information returns that I mentioned is very basic information. It's simply each quarter, each registrant has to say that they acted on behalf of the following list of clients. It doesn't say who they lobbied on behalf of those clients; it doesn't say how often they lobbied, or on what date; it doesn't say what subject matter. My strong recommendation to the Westminster review is that registrants should be obliged in those quarterly returns to provide the information I've just described. So, who they lobbied, on what dates, and on what subject. And interestingly, in Westminster, that can be done by secondary legislation. So, that's one area. The other area that I've suggested is that, as well as Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, special advisers should be brought within the remit. That was envisaged within the legislation as a possibility; that can be done by regulation, as well. So, those are the key areas.
But then another area that we've stubbed our toes on a few times is something that we call the incidental exception. In the legislation, in a number of places, there is an exception for those who are conducting consultant lobbying, but that consultant lobbying is incidental to their main activity. To be frank, nobody really knows what that means. No-one actually knows the intention behind that legislation, behind that term. My guidance tries to explain it, but, as you'll appreciate, trying to explain something that no-one quite knows the intention of is quite hard. So, that's an area that is problematic within the UK legislation.
Thank you. Okay, Natasha, do you have some questions?
Thank you, Chair. Apologies, I was having some issues with my mike there for a second. Harry, lovely to meet you. A couple of questions, please, if that's okay. I'd just like to know, first and foremost, what specifically is your role in raising awareness of the requirements for the register amongst those who need to be on the register.
My aim, overall, is to make sure that those who are obliged to register do so. I'm not interested in catching people out, so we want people to understand their obligations and then to comply. So, that's where I as registrar, and my office team, start from.
The way we do that is through working through professional bodies of various sorts. I've mentioned the two public affairs public bodies, but also the bodies representing lawyers and accountants. As best we are able, we work with them to publicise that. We also run information activity, I suppose, so, again, we run seminars and sessions and invite those who may be interested to come along. That is, to be honest, more valuable to those who already know that they might be under an obligation.
We also run, I suppose you'd call it thematic enquiries, so awareness letters to groups of people. So, we did, for example, earlier in the year, awareness letters to the largest law firms. We have law firms registered on the register, but there's a constant question about whether law firms realise their obligation. As it happens, I believe they do, but we wrote to the largest law firms enquiring of them as to whether they should be registered or not. We did some work with the all-party parliamentary group secretariats, some of whom should be registered. So, we'll pick on particular groups of people and run an awareness campaign with them, and that has, I think, been successful.
I mentioned earlier—[Inaudible.]—registrants, back in, say, 2018, we had 132. So, we've had a very significant proportional increase in registrations, and I think it's to do with two reasons: (1) the awareness campaigns I've described, and (2), a number of high-profile investigations that I conducted that made the press. I didn't do them for that reason, but they did. So, I investigated the former Prime Minister David Cameron twice, and the former Chancellor Philip Hammond. As it happened, in all three cases, they were not in breach of the law, but I believe that that those investigations, because of the publicity they generated, have prompted quite a lot of people to register.
Harry, every situation naturally has an exceptional circumstance. I'm sure you've seen a lot of cases in Westminster; we've had a similar situation happen in Wales recently, regarding the purchase of a farm. I won't go into the actual detail of it, but it led to numerous concerns being raised as to the integrity, transparency and honesty of the Government at large. Now, a dinner was held between Government Ministers, a special adviser/lobbyist and a businesswoman. Like I said, it raised a lot of concerns, raised eyebrows and it's led to a lot of public uproar. But in our system, the VAT element that you have in Westminster could perhaps potentially cause a little bit of a hindrance, because I don't think anyone in this scenario was VAT registered. So, if that situation were to arise with a UK Government Minister, for example, or a UK Government lobbyist, et cetera, how would it have been handled in your neck of the woods?
Okay. So, obviously, as you will have gathered, the obligation under the 2014 Act in the UK is on the lobbyist, not on the person being lobbied. I have no remit or authority over Ministers or Permanent Secretaries, so the obligation is on those doing the lobbying first. In a situation where a dinner took place at which a Minister was present, at which a consultant of some sort was present who was being paid to represent a client about Government business, assuming they were VAT registered, that would be an act of registrable consultant lobbying.
And what if we don't know if they were paid or not?
I would investigate that.
Okay. Yourself personally, or there'll be a specific department that you may usher it to? How does it work in your area?
It's a very small—I hope—effective operation that we have. As registrar, I mentioned that I'm an independent ministerial appointee; I work part-time, effectively, in this role. It's probably a day to two days a week in total—so, 50 to 60 days a year. I have a small team of a head of office and two administrative people. So, if it comes to investigations—and we have a relatively small number of investigations—I would conduct those personally and, clearly, with the help of my office team, but I'd write a formal investigation letter, for example, in the example you give, to the person who I thought might be a lobbyist who was at that dinner, I would ask about the circumstances of it, were they representing somebody, whether they were being paid to do so, whether they were VAT registered, and I would need to be satisfied that they fell in or outside the rules. I have to assume in most cases that people tell me the truth; if I doubt it, I would ask for evidence.
Thank you, Harry. My final question is: how well understood are the requirements of the different registers amongst different organisations and individuals that you come across, covered by different pieces of legislation?
Do you mean across different parts of the UK and Ireland, or in different types of registration?
Different types of registration.
Okay. The two key areas, I suppose, that we would butt up against is the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is the organisation, I'm sure you know, that gives former Government Ministers the right, or refuses the right, for them to take up employment after they've finished being a Minister, and that employment could include lobbying, or activity, I should say, because if they're employed, it may not fall within my remit. So, ACOBA is one of them, and the other one is the parliamentary Committee on Standards. We do not—and very consciously; this is not accidental—make any attempt to have a joint remit or share evidence or information, because each of the three remits are completely independent of each other. So, for example, just because ACOBA has given a former Minister permission to lobby as a consultant lobbyist, that, obviously—and I say 'obviously', but it's not always obvious to people—does not give them an excuse not to register under the 2014 Act. And we have had some cases of confusion that I think is unacceptable confusion, in as much as my view is pretty robust that when someone is a Member of Parliament or a former Government Minister, it really is up to them to work out what the law obliges them to do, and we don't give much leeway there. So, there are three separate regimes, and all we do is try to make sure—and this is the only point of contact we have—that ACOBA in its notification will warn people that there are separate obligations under the 2014 Act, and so we try and provide information, but no joined-up—consciously—advice.
Thank you, Harry. Thank you, Chair.
Thank you, Natasha. Peredur, did you have any questions you wanted to ask now?
I've asked a couple already, thanks, Chair, but I've got a couple more, if I may. With regard to organisations or lobbyists that mistakenly put wrong information down, or that aren't aware that they need to register, what are your processes and to what extent, then, do you have teeth to be able to sanction them or whatever that might be?
Okay, well, let me take the second one first, which is those who are not aware of the need to register. So, I would investigate a case of that sort, where I had information—sometimes we get stuff from whistleblowers and sometimes we'll get information just simply via the media. I'd investigate those and if an organisation should have registered and hasn't done so, legislation gives me the right to impose civil penalties; the civil penalties are a maximum of £7,500. In extreme cases, I can refer a matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a criminal prosecution. Neither I nor my predecessor have ever gone down the criminal route; we've never needed to.
So, those are the penalties. We don't have a formal tariff, but we have broad parameters within which I'll operate. As with any penalty system, one of the things I'll be looking at there is the degree to which—how long they've been conducting unregistered lobbying for; the degree to which they were co-operative once it came to light; and, to some degree, whether they are a large organisation with a compliance team that should have understood this versus someone who has fallen into it by mistake. So, all of those factors will come into play, in terms of the level of penalty that I'll set. In most cases, reputational issues are much more important for the people I'm dealing with than fines.
Going to your first question then—those who are registered with my office but who provide wrong information—if it's purely an administrative error, then, usually, we will deal with it leniently, I suppose. If someone is late in submitting their quarterly returns, it's pretty universal that there'll be a penalty unless there's a very good reason. The very good reason I'm talking about is if you had a small two-person firm and they were both in hospital or something, where it was actually just impossible to do it, so we'd be sensible about that. But we expect that those who are registered will then comply with their obligations, and, if they're late in submitting, there'll be a penalty, and if they're repeatedly late in submitting, there'll be increasing penalties.
People who provide false or incorrect information—again, that will depend on whether they suddenly realise they've made a mistake and come and put their hands up and say, 'Oops, we left somebody off our last one.' We might let someone get away with that once. After that, there'd be a penalty, but it probably wouldn't be anything more than a slap on the wrist, versus if we think someone is actually trying to hide something, then the penalties will be higher.
From what you said earlier, it's fairly limited, the amount of information that you ask for in those quarterly returns.
Correct. It's very limited information; it is simply—the declaration is, 'In the past quarter, we've acted on behalf of the following clients.'
But no mention of who they've lobbied.
Obviously, then, you'd have no recourse to then deal with the parliamentary side of things. So, for parliamentarians you've got no teeth, as it were, on that side of things—that would be in ethics and standards.
Correct. What that perhaps prompts me to mention is that one of the ways that we look at compliance is by comparing the declarations in the quarterly returns we have with the departmental transparency data that every UK Government department produces. It's not within my remit, that latter part of it, but it's data that is useful. So, every Minister will declare the meetings and activities they've undertaken, and we will compare that list with our list. It's made more complicated by the sparsity of information we have. There have been a couple of recommendations—not from me, but from other independent people over the past few months—about the quality and timeliness of that ministerial and departmental transparency information.
My view is that they're two halves of the same coin. One of the reasons that in-house lobbyists were not included in the 2014 legislation was that they would appear very transparently on ministerial transparency data. However, if the information in departmental transparency data is late or sparse, it takes away one layer of this process. So, I think you need both of those to make it work.
And finally from me, Chair, if I may, I notice there's a fee every year to be on the register. Does that then cover the costs of the office, or is there additional cost involved?
It doesn't quite cover it. So, I'll give you the headline, but there's more detail in our published annual accounts, which you can see. So, the total cost of running my office last financial year was £285,500 and our registration fees were £177,000. So, there was a cost, effectively, a net cost, to the public purse of £108,000.
Okay, thank you very much. With regard to those fees, do you think that is—? How enforceable are those? Obviously, if they don't pay up, is there recourse then to be able to—?
In terms of the fees or penalties?
Fees and penalties, I suppose.
So, in terms of fees, it's a flat rate of £1,000 a year. There are issues around that, by the way, but, fundamentally, if you don't pay, you're not registered, and therefore any activity you undertake is in breach of the law. In terms of penalties, we've never had this, as it happens, yet, but if a penalty was imposed and they didn't pay, we could enforce that in the civil courts. So, yes.
Thank you very much.
The fee of £1,000 is quite a blunt instrument, by the way, and one of the things that I know the policy makers—because I don't set the fees; that's set by the Minister—have been looking at is the feasibility of a graded fee system.
Thank you, that's very interesting, very useful for us. I think John has some questions for you now.
Diolch yn fawr, Cadeirydd. Yes, Harry, I wonder—you mentioned the review that's going on, I think, the parliamentary committee review. In terms of lessons learned over the seven years or so, and particularly, I guess, from what you've told us and what we've heard from other registrars and details of registers in the British isles, perhaps your system is a little less onerous and strong, perhaps, compared to some of the others. Would you have produced anything yourself as part of the exercise in terms of what changes might be introduced?
Yes. I gave written evidence to the parliamentary committee as well as giving evidence in a session last week, so that sets out my thoughts. One thing to say is I'm very clear that, as registrar, I don't set the policy. My obligation is to apply the policy, but after four years in the job I'm also quite happy to talk about some areas that I think need change, and I've touched on most of those today.
Yes, and we could easily access your evidence—
With pleasure. I actually have a problem—[Inaudible.]—send it to you, but it's there on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee site.
Yes, okay. Thanks very much. Harry, we've heard already that there's a European body that links up registrars. Is that something that you've been involved in, and is there any other sharing of information and good practice?
So, there's the European lobbying registrars network, which is an informal network inasmuch as, as often with these things, it's an opportunity for those of us who are operating different systems in different countries just to talk about the kind of things that we've talked about this morning, to be honest—what can we learn from each other. There's also—I came back from this last week—the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It has a great interest in integrity in public life in its broader sense, of which lobbying, or transparency of lobbying, is part of that, and I work with them as well in terms of understanding what other people are doing and sharing information.
Finally from me, is there anything you would say about public awareness, the importance of public awareness of systems, what's required and what happens, and it's a difficult task, I know, but whether there's anything that registrars can do or suggest?
It's not something, to be honest, that we've put a lot of energy into, because our focus with finite resource is to make sure that those who should register know that they need to register. So, public awareness in its broadest sense, no, we don't do a lot there. I do think it's important, and that's one of the reasons—. I changed the way we operate. My predecessor did the heavy lifting in setting the thing up. I have added more transparency to our process. So, for example, I publish a summary of all the investigations I run, and the reason I do that is because I think the public do need to understand what's going on, and, if I find someone to be in breach, why I've done that. And equally, if I find that someone wasn't in breach, why that is.
So, I agree with the thrust of your question in terms of it's important the public has confidence in the system as a whole. There are limited ways in which I can do that, but transparency, from my perspective, is absolutely critical. Since I am trying to impose transparency, I believe I need to be transparent.
Okay. Thank you very much for that.
Thank you, John. I'll just check if there are any final questions from Members. No, everyone seems content. Harry, are there any final comments that you wish to make?
No, I don't think so. Certainly, if you need any more information, please do let me or my office know and we're happy to give you anything that you want. But there's an awful lot of stuff on our website, I think.
Thank you very much for your contributions to our session this morning. A copy of the transcript will be provided as soon as possible for you to check for factual accuracy.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
I propose in accordance with Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Are Members content to agree the motion? Okay. Thank you.
Thank you. Bye bye.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 11:42.
The public part of the meeting ended at 11:42.