Lobbying in Wales Inquiry

Neil McEvoy, Propel Leader, has submitted his comments in response to a call for evidence from the Senedd's Standards of Conduct Committee, which recently held an inquiry into lobbying.

Dear Committee Members,

Before I was elected to the Senedd, I was aware that business people pay lobbying firms for access to politicians. I felt this was wrong and I raised lobbying in the Senedd as a newly elected member in 2016.  

The former First Minister Carwyn Jones stated that lobbyists had no access to Ministers. From my network of connections, I believed this to be untrue. I therefore requested the diaries of Ministers, so I could join up alleged meetings with lobbyists and Ministers.

Officials refused to publish the diaries of Ministers. I called the official who wrote to me, and they stated that nobody had ever asked for the diaries before. Given the Club mentality of the Senedd and the “Class of 99” friendship circle, I was not surprised by this. After some political ping pong, Ministers diaries were published going forward from February 2017. The issue was covered here by BBC Wales: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-38830073

I advise the Committee to obtain the diaries of Ministers prior to February 2017 and cross reference any meetings with lobbyists. It is a scandal that the Labour Government refused to publish diaries retrospectively. Diaries can always be sanitised going forward.

From May 2016 to May 2021, I accepted not a single drink, or a single meal from any commercial lobbyist. As a politician that placed me in a tiny minority in Cardiff Bay. Lobbyists gain access to politicians and construct personal relationships through socialising with them. The strength of the relationship dictates how much, if any control can be exercised over the politician.

The former lobbyist Daran Hill of then Positif Politics, now known as Camlas was legendary in his socialising with Members of the Assembly and Senedd. Staff in the Senedd used to call the late Minister Carl Sargeant, Daran Hill and Simon Thomas the three musketeers as a result of their midweek socialising. In my experience, people of low ability are flattered, manipulated with alleged friendship and a few drinks.

It is open to debate as to how much can be achieved through such relationships.

I am interested in the Plaid budget deal with Labour in 2012. The deal was reported here by the BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-20583173

The deal was about a science park and apprenticeships. The former Plaid Cymru Vice Chair and former Senedd member who is a director of the lobbying firm Deryn had as clients ACT, part of whose business was apprenticeships. I do not recall seeing any interest declared in the decision.  Whilst a member of Plaid Cymru, I started raising questions about ACT and Deryn. I was told by Plaid Cymru to stop asking questions.

I also recall a Deryn director accompanying then Plaid Leader Leanne Wood as part of the Plaid Cymru delegation to Scotland to meet Scottish politicians, including the First Minister. I do not recall any interests being declared.

The pressure put on my staff and me by Plaid Cymru was considerable. Asking questions about Deryn and lobbying in general put me beyond the pale with Plaid Cymru Senedd Members. Moreover, I was closely monitored and frequently subject to misreporting, with crucial information not put in the public domain.

Deryn had a hand in a number of complaints made about me in 2017. The democratic concern here is how a lobbying firm were able to seek to silence a democratically elected politician.

Below are extracts from a written complaint made by Nerys Evans of Deryn about me.

  1. a)“ Mr. McEvoy  could have raised any potential issues he has in a number of ways, by contacting us directly, seeking a meeting with us, raising the issues internally within the party or issuing a party complaint.”

Above we have a lobbyist openly stating that matters of public interest about a commercial lobbying firm should be addressed through internal party structures.

  1. b)“Mr. McEvoy is, of course, entitled to raise issues in the media, but his methods raise serious concerns.”

I was told to stop asking questions about Deryn by Plaid Cymru.

  1. c)“Following a series of public attacks on myself and Deryn, Mr. McEvoy’s behaviour was discussed at Plaid Cymru group meetings in the Assembly and in meetings between individual AMs. I am led to believe that concerns have been raised with Mr. McEvoy.”

Even though I was a Plaid Group member at the time, I was unaware of this being discussed at Group meetings. I reject any notion of personal attacks. I was simply asking questions and looking into lobbying. My actions brought pressure, abuse, threats and ultimately expulsion. Party list proposals will exacerbate the lack of democratic accountability. I thank Ms Evans for confirming that pressure was put on me through stating in writing that concerns were raised with me.

  1. d)“ Mr. McEvoy has now submitted FOI requests to our public sector clients, which of course he is able to do, but we are not aware of him making similar requests to other public sector organisations who employ other political consultants.”

Deryn would not have been aware of all FOIs I had submitted. I was simply undertaking due diligence, and this was too much for some people. We have a lobbying firm again complaining of scrutiny.

  1. e)“I also believe that Mr. McEvoy has clearly breached the instructions issued following the 2011 disciplinary against him, where the complaint was upheld. This is also grounds for a further disciplinary complaint in accordance with the party’s Standing Orders. we know that you and the party leader have received multiple complaints.”

Above is an example of a lobbyist trying to curtail the free speech of an elected member. It is revealing that the lobbyist was aware of multiple complaints. My SAR revealed that most complaints were made to Plaid Cymru by people connected to lobbyists or people with a different political party allegiance.

  1. f)“One of our staff members, XXX who is a XXX in Cardiff had been campaigning during the recent election. She saw Mr. McEvoy on the street and instigated a polite discussion about his new role. She was with a Deryn colleague, XXX. He replied by shouting at her in an aggressive and intimidating manner along the lines of ‘what do you care you’re a lobbyist’ which made them both feel frightened and intimidated.”

The above was accepted as a complaint about me. They could not provide a time, a date, or a location, but that did not matter. Had a time, date or location been provided, I could have said exactly where I was through my diary. The complaint was a complete fabrication, but it did its job however, even though it was later dismissed.

I was also attacked for journalist Martin Shipton asking questions of Deryn and there was further reference to discussions with Plaid Cymru politicians about my behaviour, which was news to me.  

Aled ap Dafydd, now a senior member of Plaid Cymru staff,  was the first journalist I ever refused to speak to or do interviews with. The closeness of the media with political parties and lobbyists was evidenced to me by the fact that he always knew more about the complaints than I did. I would learn about what was going on with the complaints through questions put to me by the then BBC employee. Before the end of the complaints process, I became tired of his prejudiced line on matters and decided not to speak to him any longer. I was not at all surprised when he was offered a job by Plaid Cymru. 

The institute of the Senedd itself is used to curtail scrutiny. The Presiding Officer steps in to questions being put. If the Presiding Officer were in local government, she probably would have had to declare an interest sometimes due to personal relationships possibly playing a role in ruling out questions. This is particularly true when any question relates to the business of her personal friends.

Moving on, the revolving door and lobbying is a big problem. There is a merry go round of jobs. Politicians and government officials become lobbyists, lobbyists get jobs with major media outlets and so on. Journalists then get jobs with political parties. There is a whole web of incestuous connections and it is impossible to discern between any of them. The biggest loser is our fledgling and failing Welsh democracy.

As I have said for years, a register of lobbyists is needed. That alone though will not make much difference. The public has a right to know who pays what and for what reason. Everything should be declared, in particular conflicts of interest. Lobbyists should not be allowed to hold political office in political parties and there should be a cooling off period of at least 5 years on politicians or officials being able to accept roles with lobbying firms.

Before signing off, I need to say that I have no confidence at all in the Standards Committee of the Senedd or the Standards Process. You know as well as I do that this inquiry is theatre only.

In my personal case I listened to Standards staff find me guilty on matters, whilst talking about a lack of evidence. Rules were also applied to me and not to other members. I recall also officials state that that a senior legal officer was happy to see an appeal I had not even then made, “just thrown out.”

The Standards Committee itself is party political and fits cases in around political narratives. Lies were told about me to facilitate finding me guilty and ultimately suspended from the Senedd. Crucially, digital footage existed to disprove statements made. Labour, Plaid, Conservative and Brexit Party politicians banded together and refused to observe the evidence, before suspending me. The media of course did not report this.

It would be absurd to expect that such a committee and such a Standards Commission to seriously look at how lobbying works in Wales. Nevertheless, I feel it would be remiss of me not to contribute.

Lobbying is a cancer at the heart of Welsh politics, which you well know.

Yours sincerely,

Neil J McEvoy 

Leader Propel