Scotland Lobbying Bill: How to improve it.

The Scottish government is curently taking a Bill through the Parliament to try and make lobbying more transparent. We think it could be made better. 

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency believes that the current draft bill is far too narrowly focused to deliver proper transparency around lobbying in Scotland. It will not allow us to see who is lobbying whom and about what.

We now have an opportunity to strengthen the Bill. The Standards Committee is asking for views on the government’s Bill and ways to improve it before it reports to the Parliament. The deadline is 30 November. 

This is how we think the Bill should be amended.

1. Expand definition so multiple modes of communication trigger registration

As drafted in the current Bill, only if lobbyists meet politicians face-to-face will they have to register their lobbying. We believe that it shouldn’t matter how you contact politicians – whether by letter, email, text, over the phone, or in person – it’s still lobbying and should trigger registration.

We propose that the definition of a lobbyist – as set out in 1(1)(a)(1) – is amended so that it includes multiple modes of communications, not just face-to-face meetings; and more closely mirrors the internationally recognised definition of lobbying below:

The term “lobbyist” refers to any individual who, as a part of his or her employment or for other compensation, engages in more than one lobbying contact (oral and written communication, including electronic communication) with an elected official, his or her staff, or high and mid-ranking government employee who exercises public power or public authority, for the purpose of influencing the formulation, modification, adoption, or administration of legislation, rules, spending decisions, or any other government program, policy, or position.

2. Expand definition so lobbying of civil servants and special advisers triggers registration

As drafted in the current Bill, only lobbying of Ministers and MSPs triggers registration. This ignores lobbying of civil servants and special advisers, who can be valuable contacts for lobbyists.

We propose that the definition of a lobbyist – as set out in 1(1)(a)(1) – is amended so that as well as Ministers and MSPs, it also includes civil servants and special advisers above grade 7, and staff in agencies and NDPBs of the Scottish

Government above civil service grade 7, or equivalent. This would mean it would more closely mirror the best practice definition above.

3. Expand the information that should be disclosed by lobbyists to include spending on lobbying

As drafted in the current Bill, lobbyists must disclose who they are, whom they are lobbying; and the purpose of the lobbying. Under an expanded definition that includes more than simply face-to-face meetings, it is not necessary for lobbyists to detail every contact, or communication made, as has been suggested by some.

We propose, however, that the information that lobbyists are required to disclose – as set out in s6(2) – should include a good faith estimate of how much they are spending on lobbying. Spending could be banded to make it easier. The disclosable expenditure should include direct staff costs and other expenditure, including spending on: the preparation of materials, or information to be used in support of lobbying efforts; professional advice, opinion polling, research, or any other evidence created in support of lobbying; events and hospitality; and any staff costs involved in these activities.

We also propose that organisations, or groups of organisations working collectively, whose total expenditure on lobbying activity during an accounting year is cumulatively less than £2,000, or which dedicates cumulatively less than 0.25 of a full-time equivalent member of staff to direct lobbying activity, should only report on an annual basis. Any organisation that exceeds these levels should report on a quarterly basis.

Wholly voluntary, community and social campaign groups that do not employ, or remunerate staff, or engage third-party organisations to do this on their behalf, shall be exempt from reporting.

Let the Scottish Parliament know how you would improve the Scottish government's lobbying Bill.