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Can Scotland lead on lobbying?

Written by Steve Goodrich on Thursday, 23 July 2015

Open Governance Researcher Steve Goodrich looks at proposals for the Scottish Government’s impending statutory register of lobbyists, noting that the Government’s proposals go further than the UK in some areas but fall short in others.


 

Probably not many politicos south of the border would have noticed, but the Scottish Government has been consulting on how it should design its own statutory register of lobbyists. The deadline for submissions is today so if you want to throw in your tuppence-worth now’s the time to do it. We’ve put forward our views, which were on the whole critical but supportive.

The Scottish Government’s proposals go further than the UK system in some ways and fall short in others. To start with the proposals seek to cover both in-house and consultant lobbyists, whereas the UK system only covers the latter. At the moment, there are only 90 consultant lobbyists on the UK register however initial findings from our upcoming research suggests there could be thousands of organisations meeting with UK Government Ministers in any one quarter. This would support the Association of Professional Political Consultant’s assertion that the UK statutory register only covers around 1% of the total amount of lobbying activity. Including in-house lobbyists in the scope of the Scottish rules is going to provide greater transparency about who is trying to influence government policy and legislation.

It is also proposing that as well as covering lobbying activity aimed at Ministers the rules would also include the lobbying of Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs). This is a radical improvement on the UK system, which only triggers registration when consultant lobbyists directly communicate with UK Government Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries.

Despite these advances, there are a number of areas where we think the proposals have room for improvement. Firstly, the rules would only cover direct, face-to-face interaction between lobbyists and Ministers or MSPs. This is much narrower in scope than the UK rules, which includes all forms of communication.

Secondly, it does not cover communication with Scottish Government or Parliamentary officials. Although the UK rules aren’t much better, at least they include interactions within Permanent Secretaries. Lobbying officials can be an effective way to influence the way policy decisions are framed for Ministers and MSPs. It’s important that there is transparency over this activity, too.

And thirdly, the registers would not require lobbyists to report, even roughly, how much they’re spending on lobbying and what they’re lobbying on. This is one of the big blind spots in the UK system that creates unnecessary amounts of suspicion about lobbyists’ activities. If campaigners can report this kind of thing at elections in the UK, and if lobbyists are able to report this kind of thing in Canada and the US then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to do it here, too.

Despite these issues, it’s good to see the Scottish Government’s proposals are trying to break some new ground and set the standard for how things should be done across the rest of the UK. Let’s hope it applies this pioneering spirit to its consultative process, and listens to the views civil society before laying a Bill before the Scottish Parliament.

 

Click here to read and download TI-UK’s Submission to the Scottish Parliament on the Lobbying Transparency Bill

Click here to read and download TI-UK’s report Lifting the Lid on Lobbying

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Read 958 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47
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Steve Goodrich

Steve is Transparency International UK’s Senior Researcher Officer .

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