Committee supports including all forms of communication in lobbying register
TRANSPARENCY groups have welcomed a report from MSPs which seeks to expand the forms of lobbying registered at the Scottish Parliament.
The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments committee has warned that previous exemptions for electronic communication “leave a great deal of important information unrecorded and create a loophole for those wishing to conceal their activity”.
The proposal to tighten lobbying controls, as part of the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill follows what the committee describes as a “strong push towards genuine lobbying transparency”.
Explainer: What’s in the Scottish Parliament’s Lobbying Bill?
Democracy reform groups including the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), Spin Watch and Common Weal all pressed for stronger controls on lobbying following the publication of the draft bill.
Previous examples of dodgy deals, corporate influence and trading insider favours have long been a scourge of establishment politics, leading to numerous ‘lobbying scandals’.
Without new lobbying controls, campaigners are concerned that newly empowered Scottish Parliament would be open to cronyism and influence from corporate lobbyists.
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.
“This report has addressed many of the problems with the government’s bill, and has laid down a challenge for MSPs to follow suit. As the report makes clear, it is crucial that all forms of communication are included in a register of lobbying, as well as the lobbying of senior civil servants and special advisors – things which are left out of the current bill.
“The government can and should go further to ensure the Scottish public are not kept in the dark about who meets their representatives and civil servants, or how much is being spent on trying to change the laws that effect all of us. The bill needs to include financial disclosure in the register of lobbying activity, so that Scots can see how much is being spent influencing policy-makers.”
“If these recommendations are put into practice, this bill could be 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.”
Dr. Will Dinan of Spinwatch added: “The SPPA committee has clearly identified some of the key problems with the draft bill. If the Scottish Government are prepared to accept a few sensible, straightforward changes, the bill could yet make lobbying in Scotland more accountable. The recognition that financial disclosure should be kept under review is also welcome, though it would be preferable from a transparency perspective to write that into the legislation now.”
Director of Common Weal Robin McAlpine, who has experience of lobbying with Universities Scotland, said: “This is a very encouraging report from the committee and it has broadly supported all the changes that lobbying transparency campaigners have been asking for.
“There seems now to be a good, emerging consensus on how to make this a really effective piece of legislation which balances strong transparency with not placing unreasonable burdens on the important democratic process of lobbying. If the Scottish Government strengthens the bill along the lines suggested by campaigners and the committee then the Scottish Parliament will possibly have the best transparency over lobbying in Europe.”
The government will now respond to the committee’s report.
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Picture courtesy of Andreas Nilsson