This week the Scottish Government moved one step further in developing some of the most progressive legislation on political transparency in the world. Campaigners welcome draft report from Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. The Stage 1 debate for the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill will be held on Thursday 7 January, 2016 The Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) is an alliance of civil society groups who are concerned about the growing influence of lobbying on decision-making in Scotland. We believe only increased transparency can begin to restore trust in policy making and make ministers, elected representatives, and officials more accountable to the public.
Following all three suggestions to strengthen the Bill from the SALT, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s Stage 1 report on the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill published this week reveals the committee’s dedication to a bill that more clearly values the interests of the public.
As this strong consensus builds for a transparent Scottish politics, the Stage 1 debate in January will give MSPs the opportunity to support their colleagues’ recommendations for changes to the Bill, and show that Scotland is dedicated to politics for the people.
For a strong Lobbying (Scotland) Bill, SALT advised the committee to consider:
1. Expanding the definition of lobbying beyond face-to-face oral communication to all communication, including emails and telephone calls
2. Registering lobbying of all public officials, not just MSPs and Ministers and
3. Financial disclosure of lobbying budgets
The Committee has taken heed of all three issues raised by SALT, and is calling for the scope of the bill to be widened significantly.
The draft report suggested that the current proposals to limit regulated lobbying to face-to face oral communication could “leave a great deal of important information unrecorded and create a loophole for those wishing to conceal their activity.”
The report recommends that the definition of regulated lobbying should be expanded to include all forms of communication. The report also suggests that lobbying of public officials other than MSPs and Ministers should be considered for registration, and that parliament might choose to ask lobbyists to disclose how much has been spent on lobbying campaigns. We would add to this that the Parliament should consider amending the Bill to include a floor threshold of lobbying expenditure to ensure that small organisations do not have to complete the register.
Transparency campaigners welcomed the report as a strong push towards genuine lobbying transparency. In preparation for the Parliamentary debate, SALT will be conducting a poll on public opinion of lobbying in Scotland, and will release further briefing information to MSPs in early January.
Willie Sullivan, director of ERS Scotland said:
“These recommendations show just how pioneering the Scottish Parliament can be when it works well. The Committee has given a strong push towards genuine lobbying transparency, and the Lobbying Bill should now be improved to close the loopholes." “If these three recommendations are put into practice, this bill could be a huge step forward for lobbying transparency, and an example for the rest of the world to follow. It’s up to the rest of the Scottish Parliament to follow the Committee’s lead and show that they really care about transparency and a democracy fit for the 21st century.”
Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland:
"A statutory register of lobbying activity is essential to make lobbying more transparent in Scotland. But to achieve its full potential any register must cover all types of lobbying activity. Unfortunately the limited scope of the current proposals means the bulk of lobbying activity will stay hidden. Scottish politics is not immune from corporate power and influence. We believe the Scottish public is entitled to see the full extent of lobbying on issues that have a profound impact on our lives. A stronger Lobbying (Scotland) Bill would build public trust in our political institutions and help ensure the interests of all members of society are represented in policy and decision making processes, not just those with the most money and power."
Robin McAlpine, Common Weal
“If the recommendations of the Standards Committee are picked up in the Lobbying Bill, Scotland will have one of the most transparent systems of lobbying regulation in Europe but will still place a very low burden on those who are lobbying. It will reinforce the reputation of the Scottish Parliament and its politicians as being open, honest and focussed on the public good. Early in the New Year SALT will propose some simple changes which we believe will make sure that the burden is minimised (particularly on small organisations) while still letting the public see the extent of communications and money involved in lobbying in Scotland. We very much hope we have your support.”
Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said:
"We welcome the Standards Committee's report, which includes valuable improvements for a stronger lobbying register. The Committee's recommendations would give the public a much clearer picture of who is trying to influence their politicians. The Scottish government should listen to the committee and close the loopholes in its Bill. Lobbyists should not be allowed to avoid transparency by talking to politicians by phone or email. The lobbying register should cover contact with key decision-makers across government and the civil service, not just ministers and MSPs. Lobbyists should be required to declare how much they are spending to influence decisions, whether it's £500 or £500,000."
Notes: The Committee’s recommendations are available here:
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/94 898.aspx ERS, Spinwatch and Unlock Democracy are all members of the The Scottish Alliance for Lobbying Transparency (SALT) coalition, whose website is available here: http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/salt For more information or to set up a meeting, contact Katie Gallogly-Swan, Electoral Reform Society Scotland Campaigns Organiser, on 07930 862497