I’ve just spent this morning listening to Joe FitzPatrick, Minister for Parliamentary Business, as he went through Stage 2 of the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill with the SPPA committee – and, perhaps surprisingly, the news is good.
Throughout this Bill, SCVO has argued for the burden of transparency in relation to contacting MSPs etc. to be the responsibility of those MSPs, rather than the advocates, campaigners and lobbyists of our sector who do the contacting.
However, we are a pragmatic bunch. We know when the train of legislation has momentum behind it. So for the past wee while we have been engaging positively with Scottish Government to make sure the Bill protects the open nature of parliament and does not discourage our sector from engaging with it.
I was heartened to hear therefore that today the committee did not seek to expand communications that needed registering beyond meetings that are face-to-face or via video. This will hopefully be manageable for our sector to cope with; it feels, at least, to be reasonably proportionate.
I was also glad to see that the review period that ourselves and others sought will be built into the legislation, meaning that any unintended consequences of the Bill will have a chance to be rectified in a couple of years’ time once the legislation has had time to bed-in.
I’m also particularly excited by the partial support of the Minister for an opposition amendment from Labour MSP Neil Findlay. This amendment called for those who spend less than 20% of their time lobbying to be excluded from registering. In our briefing we highlighted that this amendment would allay many of our fears regarding smaller organisations who, whilst they maybe engage MSPs on occasion, do not necessarily have staff who engage on this type of activity full time – and who might be put off engaging with parliament by extra rules and regulations. We are pleased to see that the Minister has listened to us and others, and will table an amendment at Stage 3 which will ensure that this exclusion is in the Bill.
Finally, I’m also chuffed to see that the Minister will ensure that the need to promote understanding of the Bill amongst those it may effect will also be included in the Bill. This is essential in order to ensure that those affected by the Bill know who they are and how to comply, and we supported this opposition amendment – so we are glad to see the Minister to listen to us and others on this.
In short, compromise has allowed us to get the best we can for the sector, with a smaller burden than originally proposed when the Bill first came about, and we are glad to be part of that. I’m looking forward to Stage 3 and seeing a functional, proportional Bill be passed into law.