Lobbying Bill could stifle legitimate public debate, says Law Society of Scotland
The Law Society of Scotland has today (2 September) warned that the lobbying Bill currently progressing through the UK Parliament will not significantly increase the transparency of lobbying activity at Westminster and could stifle legitimate public debate.
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill proposes to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists. The Bill will make it mandatory for consultant lobbyists, who lobby directly on behalf of clients as their main business activity, to be listed on the statutory register. However, in-house lobbyists, trade unions and charities, will not be subject to these requirements.
Michael Clancy, Director of Law Reform at the Law Society of Scotland, said: "We consider that by applying different rules to different 'levels' of lobbyists, the Bill will not significantly increase the transparency of lobbying activity at Westminster.
"It may also give rise to confusion by the general public, who are unlikely to differentiate between consultant lobbyists on one hand and in-house lobbyists on the other."
The Bill specifies that 'consultant lobbying' is paid for communication, on behalf of another person, with either a minister or a permanent secretary in the civil service. Communications with back-bench and opposition MPs, UK Parliament committees and civil servants below the rank of permanent secretary, will not be covered by the Bill.
Clancy said: "Much lobbying activity goes on at these levels. The Bill will not increase transparency about these communications."
The Bill also proposes to amend the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act 2000. It is likely that these amendments will increase the number of activities affected by the rules under the Act, and subsequently increase the number of third parties required to register with the Electoral Commission.
Clancy said: "We are concerned that by increasing the administrative burden, the Bill could deter third party organisations, such as charities and non-political organisations, from actively engaging in public policy discussion, even where this is for non-political purposes.
"We are concerned it could stifle legitimate public debate."
Notes to editors
The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, currently being considered by the House of Commons, will receive its second reading on Tuesday 3 September.
The Bill can be viewed on the UK Parliament website
The Law Society of Scotland's briefing to MPs can be viewed here
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02 September 2013