Lobbying (Scotland) Bill – Stage 1

SCVO Briefing

5 January 2016

Key points:

  • To ensure diverse views are still encouraged at Parliament and the voice of smaller third sector organisations is not lost, we urge MSPs to ensure that the Lobbying Bill remains light touch
  • If the Lobbying Bill is broadened it will damage participation in democracy by restricting the ability of third sector organisations to engage with parliament and government
  • Increasing transparency of lobbying activity is a laudable goal but is not worth sabotaging the inclusive and participatory nature of the Scottish Parliament

We call on MSPs to:

  • Protect participation by ensuring the Bill remains light touch and is not broadened to include other forms of communication
  • Ensure that if the Bill is broadened to civil servants and other officials, they must bear the responsibility for transparency – this could easily be achieved by amending the Civil Service Code
  • Insert a clause into the Bill which triggers a review of the legislation a year after its introduction – to help offset concerns about negative impacts and unintended consequences
  • Introduce a ‘lead lobbyist’ facility which allows an organisation to update the register on behalf of other organisations, with a single entry detailing all those that attended receptions, roundtables and other events

Introduction

We are concerned that what started out as a simple Bill, with a fairly neutral impact, could now become a serious threat to the third sector’s engagement with parliament and government.

A chilling effect on the third sector’s campaigning and advocacy occurs when barriers are placed between them and decision makers. This discourages participation and weakens democracy. The third sector has considerable knowledge and experience which may be lost if organisations are discouraged from engaging by the introduction of a register

Research[i] conducted by a student on placement with SCVO into the UK Lobbying Act showed that legislation can negatively impact on the third sector in ways that are unintended. The research found that the Act introduced: ‘Undue burdens because organisations have had to invest additional time and resources to ensure compliance with the law’ and ‘Due to the Lobbying Act’s lack of clarity, organisational perceptions of what the Act ‘does’ are as important (if not more so) than the actual regulations’.

Transparency of lobbying in Scotland is a relevant and a laudable goal, but protecting participation is absolutely vital and must take precedence, especially as it has been conceded on numerous occasions that there is no problem with undue influence of lobbying in Scotland. Sabotaging the high levels of participation in Scotland to achieve hypothetical increases in transparency would be a tragedy for democracy and must be avoided.

Broadening the Bill

In addition to the negative impacts on participation, broadening the Bill to include all forms of communication would further add to the administrative burden on the third sector, generating huge quantities of information which will be of little use or relevance to the public. The bodies that are pushing for the Bill to be broadened have an academic curiosity about lobbying in Scotland, but we question whether the public will gain anything from being able to access records detailing thousands of emails between third sector organisations and MSPs.

If there is a desire to extend transparency of lobbying to civil servants, this could easily be accomplished by amendments to the Civil Service Code[ii]. We oppose the extension of the lobbying register to civil servants as this would be detrimental to the partnership approach of the Scottish Government and would considerably increase the administrative burden on third sector organisations.

Improving the Bill

Even as it stands, we have concerns that without amendment the Bill could have a detrimental effect on participation.

Parliamentary Receptions

The Bill will cover parliamentary receptions as they involve face to face meetings with MSPs and are not subject to any of the exemptions. Receptions take place most nights in the Parliament and are an important way for third sector organisations to meet politicians, discuss their cause and advocate on behalf of their members. However, in the course of a reception it is feasible that 10 MSPs could attend and speak to paid representatives from 50 organisations. Requiring those 50 organisations to sign up to the register and record all their individual interactions with the MSPs would be an entirely disproportionate and unnecessary burden which would discourage organisations from attending these important functions.

Roundtables with MSPs

Intermediary organisations such as SCVO, The ALLIANCE and others regularly facilitate the engagement of their members with MSPs and officials, by organising roundtables and other meetings. The Lobbying Bill will require all the organisations attending these type of meetings to sign up to the lobbying register and complete an individual entry. The organisations attending these events are often small and may be discouraged from attending if they have to register as lobbyists.

Key points

To address these concerns we would encourage MSPs to:

  • Protect participation by ensuring the Bill remains light touch and is not broadened to include other forms of communication
  • Ensure that if the Bill is broadened to civil servants and other officials, they must bear the responsibility for transparency – this could easily be achieved by amending the Civil Service Code
  • Insert a clause into the Bill which triggers a review of the legislation a year after its introduction – to help offset concerns about negative impacts and unintended consequences
  • Introduce a ‘lead lobbyist’ facility which allows event organisers to update the register on behalf of other organisations, with a single entry detailing all those that attended receptions, roundtables etc.

About us

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is the national body representing the third sector. There are over 45,000 voluntary organisations in Scotland involving around 138,000 paid staff and approximately 1.3 million volunteers. The sector manages an income of £4.9 billion.

SCVO works in partnership with the third sector in Scotland to advance our shared values and interests. We have over 1,600 members who range from individuals and grassroots groups, to Scotland-wide organisations and intermediary bodies.

As the only inclusive representative umbrella organisation for the sector SCVO:

  • has the largest Scotland-wide membership from the sector – our 1,600 members include charities, community groups, social enterprises and voluntary organisations of all shapes and sizes
  • our governance and membership structures are democratic and accountable – with an elected board and policy committee from the sector, we are managed by the sector, for the sector
  • brings together organisations and networks connecting across the whole of Scotland

SCVO works to support people to take voluntary action to help themselves and others, and to bring about social change.

Further details about SCVO can be found at www.scvo.org.uk.

[i]http://www.scvo.org.uk/long-form-posts/lobbying-act-and-the-third-sector-in-scotland-independent-research-findings/

[ii]http://www.gov.scot/About/Services-Groups/HR/HR/policies-guidance/conduct/civil-service-code-docs