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Lobbying Bill should include written and oral communications with MSPs

09 March 2016 | tagged News release

The Scottish Government should aim to be as transparent as possible under the terms of the Lobbying Bill.

The proposals in the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill, which will see the creation of a new lobbying register, will require MSPs to report face to face meetings – whether in person or using audio visual technology. However the Law Society of Scotland believes that if a new register is to be introduced, it should also cover emails.

Brian Simpson, Legal Policy solicitor at the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We recognise the importance of ensuring and maintaining the Scottish public’s trust and confidence in the political process and legislative system, and agree that transparency helps to provide effective oversight and scrutiny of the political process and is a central element of good governance. 

“This of course has to be balanced with ensuring that there is open communication between interested parties and those making important policy and legislative decisions. 

“We agree that a lobbying register may support and promote the principles of transparency, providing that the register accurately and fully reflects the lobbying activity taking place.  We welcomed the Stage 2 amendments which will mean that the definition of lobbying has been extended to include special advisers and will now also include face to face communications using audio visual equipment as well as any meetings in person.

“However we don’t think the proposals go far enough. Engagement with MSPs, junior Ministers and special advisers can take place through a number of other channels, including electronic communications, including emails. It is not clear, and no evidence has been demonstrated, why lobbying through face-to-face communications would be covered by the proposed register but other commonly used methods of communication will not be included. We think it should cover the most widely used methods, to meet the policy aim of transparency, we also believe that the proposed amendment by the Scottish Government, to exempt communications by organisations with fewer than 10 employees may dilute the policy intent even further’

“While similar legislation for England and Wales is more restrictive in that the lobbying register only applies to communication with government ministers, it does include any ‘oral or written communications’ so includes e-mails and telephone calls.”

The Law Society has also called for clarity for people who communicate using British Sign Language (BSL)

Brian Simpson said: ““There is no specific reference to groups or individuals who may be deaf, or deafblind, but we believe there should be clarity within the bill that communications using BSL, or any other form of sign language, will be given the same consideration.”

The Lobbying (Scotland) Bill is to be discussed by MSPs at the stage 3 debate Thursday, 10 March.

The Law Society's consultation response and briefing paper is available on the website.

ENDS

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