Lobbying proposals need more clarity, Law Society says
Proposals put forward by the Scottish Government for a register of lobbyists need to be clearer and better defined, the Law Society of Scotland said today 27 July.
The Law Society was responding to the Scottish Government’s consultation on a proposed Lobbying Transparency Bill, a bill which would introduce a statutory register of lobbying activity in Scotland. The consultation is a result of the Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Inquiry into lobbying in Scotland, which reported in February 2015.
Brian Simpson, law reform officer at the Law Society said: “Lobbying is an important and legitimate activity, which helps to inform parliamentarians in their role as lawmakers, and of course we support the principle of full transparency of those processes. Good law needs to be well defined and unambiguous – however there are two key questions missing from the consultation and these are what constitutes a lobbyist and what is meant by lobbying activity? These terms need to be clearly and unambiguously defined in any future legislation, as they will be the basis on which individuals and organisations will determine if they need to be registered.”
The consultation also proposes that only face to face meetings would be covered by the register. A lobbyist would be required to register before engaging with a MSP ahead of a pre-arranged meeting. Engaging with a MSP by telephone, emails and video-conferencing would not require to be registered.
Mr Simpson continued: “We agree that face to face meetings should be covered, however it seems odd that telephone conversations and emails would not. Such a strict limit on communication channels could open the system up to criticism, and not achieve the Scottish Government’s stated policy aims of transparency and openness. Taking that a step further, if one of the key aims of the Government is to increase transparency and public confidence, then we would also suggest that Ministerial diaries, and minutes of meetings between Ministers and MSPs should also be made available.”
The Scottish Government is also proposing that the onus would be on individuals to register, rather than the organisations that they represent.
Mr Simpson continued: “We think that organisations, rather than individuals should bear the responsibility of registering. The Scottish Government’s proposal goes against what the Scottish Parliament Committee reported on in February, and would not, as the Scottish Government suggests, make things simpler, but would place a greater administrative burden on organisations which have a number of staff members who regularly meet with parliamentarians. Individuals could also be uneasy registering their own names, when they are in fact representing the views of the organisation, rather than acting in a personal capacity.”
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Notes to Editors
The Law Society of Scotland’s full response to the Scottish Government consultation: ‘A Consultation on Proposals for a Lobbying Transparency Bill’ can be found on our website
The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Inquiry into lobbying in Scotland, can be found on the Scottish Parliament's website