The Scottish Government must commission a full and independent impact assessment of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016, according to a report published by Holyrood’s Public Audit & Post Legislative Committee.
The report says that the assessment should examine in detail, through the collection and analysis of appropriate data, whether the Act has delivered its transparency and public accountability objectives.
A key objective of the Act was to improve both the public scrutiny of the work of the Scottish Parliament and Government and the accountability and trust in the work of both institutions. MSPs have been trying to find out if it is fulfilling its intended purpose or whether changes should be made to improve it.
The report states however that the assessment should inform any further extension to the scope of the Lobbying Act, including any extension to cover additional methods of communication and senior civil servants. The Committee, in particular, highlights evidence which pointed to an increased use of phone calls made by Ministers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Jenny Marra MSP and Convener of the Public Audit & Post Legislative Committee said;
“A register in Scotland should ensure that Scottish politics works in the public interest. However, the evidence we have received has revealed a breadth of opinion on the impact of the Act, making it difficult for us to reach form conclusions.
“A comprehensive analysis is needed for us to judge whether the Act has enhanced transparency in Government decision making or Parliament’s engagement in those processes. This next step should inform whether the scope of the Act should be extended.”
The report makes several recommendations for legislative change and recommends that the Scottish Government should initially consult on these changes and then bring forward the necessary legislation, including;
• Clarity around the extent to which communications using video-conferencing constitute regulated lobbying, particularly given its increased use as a result of the pandemic.
• Shorten the reporting timetable from six monthly to a quarterly basis, in line with international best practice.
• Clarity around the meaning of certain exemptions for example; communications made on request for factual information; those made by small organisations; or to a constituency or regional MSP; or communications which are not made in return for payment.
The Committee also recommends that there should be improved mechanisms for recording information in the Lobbying Register along with improved usability and accessibility. This would encourage media and members of the public to engage with the Lobbying Register.
Please access the Committee’s report here.
The committee issued a call for views in June 2020 receiving 41 responses. Subsequently, three key stakeholder evidence sessions were progressed.
Information about the Lobbying Scotland Bill can be found here -
The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 requires all instances of ‘regulated’ lobbying’ to be recorded on the public Lobbying Register. It also specifies that a committee of the Parliament is required to report on the operation of the Act by March 2022.
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Hilda Stewart: 0131 348 5378