Lobbying has a long and controversial history. For some, lobbying is synonymous with corruption, impropriety and an imbalance of power between big business interests and the individual citizen. For others, lobbying is a legitimate and positive activity which underscores the right of people to represent their own interests to elected politicians and administrators and to influence the direction of public policy.
In most Western democracies, lobbying is regarded as an important and legitimate part of the policy-making and legislative processes. That said, many states recognise that lobbying is potentially open to abuse and seek to regulate its practice to some extent. States may, for example, legislate to ensure that lobbying activity is carried out in an open and transparent way, though the scale and nature of such regulation varies widely between states.
The ‘cash-for-questions’ scandals of the 1990s and early 2000s, led the UK Parliament to pass an Act – the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, which, among other things, established a Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists to regulate direct communication between paid lobbyists and UK government ministers and senior civil servants (permanent secretaries and equivalent).
Scottish Lobbying Register
Although Scotland has been untouched by such lobbying scandals, there has been a strong desire among politicians here to place lobbying activity above suspicion of improper influence. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 was, therefore, introduced to increase public transparency about certain types of lobbying. The Act introduces the concept of ‘regulated lobbying’ and places a statutory requirement on those who engage in regulated lobbying to register their lobbying activities.
If you are, or think you might be, engaged in regulated lobbying, you should know that the registration provisions of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 come into force on Monday 12 March when the new Lobbying Register opens for business.
So, what is regulated lobbying and who needs to register?
You may be engaging in regulated lobbying if all or part of your work or business is to inform or influence decisions by the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Government, either on behalf of your organisation or on behalf of those who you represent, and if this involves speaking face to face (including by video-conference or using BSL) with any of the following:
- a member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP)
- a member of the Scottish Government (Cabinet Secretaries and Scottish Law Officers);
- a junior Scottish Minister;
- a Scottish Government Special Adviser; or
- the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary
However, not all such communications will be regulated lobbying, as a number of exemptions might apply. You do not need to register, for example if, in your communications with any of the above:
- you are raising an issue on your own behalf
- you are raising an issue with an MSP who represents the constituency or region where you live or where your company or organisation is based or usually operates (unless the MSP is a member of the Scottish Government, or you are communicating on behalf of a third party)
- you are not getting paid, directly or indirectly, for this activity
- your company or organisation had fewer than 10 full-time staff at the time (unless you are communicating on behalf of a third party, or in a representative capacity)
- your communication takes place during formal proceedings of the Scottish Parliament
- your communication was in response to a request from any of those listed above
- your communication was for the purposes of journalism
- your communication involved discussing negotiations on terms and conditions of employment
- your communication was made by or on behalf of a political party
- your communication was made in the course of a parliamentary cross-party group meeting
- you are already exempt because your public role or the public role or functions of your organisation are listed in the Act as being exempt
The Lobbying Registrar has issued more detailed guidance on the Lobbying Act and a Code of Conduct for Persons Lobbying MSPs.
If you want to find out more about lobbying and registration requirements you can refer to this guidance. You can also email the office of the Lobbying Registrar at: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0131 348 5408.
Head of Research and Library
Source: SPICe Spotlight | Solas air SPICe