The Lobbying (Scotland) Bill passed its final vote after the stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, with ministers successfully resisting attempts to widen its scope in the face of criticisms that the bill is not strong enough.
The bill is designed to apply to face-to-face communications with ministers and MSPs – including by videoconference – and was amended to include sign language but not email, a situation that had Green MSP Patrick Harvie asking what century we were living in.
Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the Government’s view, supported by the preceding committee inquiry into lobbying, remained that face-to-face lobbying was "the most influential". He was not persuaded that the additional burden that an extension to cover emails and phone calls could place on organisations had been "properly thought through".
He added that a provision for review after two years, inserted into the bill at stage 2, "provides an opportunity to learn from experience in the operation of the Act and to found any changes to the types of communication that are covered on a clear evidence base".
Mr FitzPatrick also turned down moves to extend the bill to senior civil servants, other than the Permanent Secretary. And he sucessfully moved an amendment to exclude small organisations with fewer than 10 full time employees or equivalents, while emphasising that this did not apply to membership organisations.
Neil Findlay, the Labour MSP who originally proposed the legislation, commented: "It is a day of mixed feelings for me. In one sense, I am pleased that, three years after I proposed a lobbying transparency bill, the Parliament will at least legislate for some form of regulation of lobbying. However, this is not the robust bill that I envisaged three years ago."