The Lobbying (Scotland) Bill in its current form could leave a “great deal” of important information unregistered, says a Holyrood parliamentary committee.
A majority of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointment Committee takes the view that plans to include only face to face communication with Ministers or MSPs in a lobbying register is an artificial distinction, and recommends the Scottish Government reviews the potential impact of including all forms of communication in the Bill.
While the general principles of the Bill are endorsed in the Stage 1 report, the Committee also recommends that the Scottish Government considers bringing forward amendments to broaden the definition of regulated lobbying to include communications with other public officials, as well as Ministers and MSPs.
SPPA Committee Convener, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:
“The Committee listened carefully to those giving evidence to the inquiry, and as a result, the majority view is that the Government should consider broadening the coverage of the Bill in key areas.
“The Committee understands that the definition of lobbying was restricted to oral communication in order to focus the scope of information to be captured and to produce a low burden, light touch regime.
“Nevertheless, the majority view is that restricting registration to oral communications is an artificial distinction which could leave a great deal of information unregistered.
“We recommend that the Government reviews the potential impact of altering its definition to include communications of any kind, with a view to establishing what amendments to the Bill might be necessary.”
The Committee’s report also notes concern about the workability of exclusions in the Bill for meetings initiated by MSPs or Ministers. The Committee asks the Government to re-examine the practicality of this and consider removing or replacing at Stage 2 of the Bill.
The policy memorandum on Lobbying (Scotland) Bill states:
- the aim of the Bill is to increase public transparency of elected representatives’ activity.
- its overarching objective is to introduce a measured and proportionate register of lobbying activity.
There was universal support among those responding to the Committee’s inquiry for the principle that individuals who are lobbying on their own behalf are not required to register.