The Scottish Government's Lobbying Bill should be extended to cover emails, the Law Society of Scotland argued today as the bill approaches ite final parliamentary stages.
At present the 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 audiovisual technology, but the Society of Scotland believes it needs to go further in the interests of transparency and good governance.
It also believes that it would further dilute the policy intent to accept the proposed amendment by the Scottish Government to exempt communications by organisations with fewer than 10 employees – something that has been misreported as affecting the Society itself, along with other bodies such as ICAS.
The bill is to be discussed by MSPs at stage 3 tomorrow (10 March).
Brian Simpson, legal policy solicitor at the Society, commented: “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."
He added: “While similar legislation for England & 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 emails and telephone calls.”
The Society is also calling for clarity within the bill that communications using British Sign Language, or any other form of sign language, will be given the same consideration as other forms of communication.