Law Society calls for clarity in MSP lobbying bill

Law Society calls for clarity in MSP lobbying bill

The Law Society of Scotland has told the Scottish government that its Lobbying Transparency Bill needs to provide an unambiguous definition of “lobbyist”.

The lawyers’ association stressed the need for “due consideration” and “open communication between interested parties and those making important policy and legislative decisions” in its written response to the consultation on the bill, which ended on Friday.

The proposals for a Lobbying Transparency Bill are the outcome of a recent inquiry by Holyrood’s standards committee into whether there is “a problem, either actual or perceived, with lobbying and, if so, how this can most effectively be addressed”.

The inquiry was announced in September 2013 and has since established the case for a register of lobbyists, creating a public record of the lobbying of MSPs.

Brian Simpson, law reform officer at the Law Society, said: “Lobbying is an important and legitimate activity, which helps to inform parliamentarians in their role as lawmakers, and of course we support the principle of full transparency of those processes.

“Good law needs to be well defined and unambiguous – however there are two key questions missing from the consultation and these are what constitutes a lobbyist and what is meant by lobbying activity?

“These terms need to be clearly and unambiguously defined in any future legislation, as they will be the basis on which individuals and organisations will determine if they need to be registered.”

The Law Society has raised concerns over the bill’s limited application only to face-to-face meetings, with lobbyists not obliged to register before conversations with MSPs by telephone, email or video-conferencing.

It has also argued that the onus should be on organisations, rather than individual lobbyists, to bear the responsibility of registering.

Mr Simpson pointed out: “Individuals could also be uneasy registering their own names, when they are in fact representing the views of the organisation, rather than acting in a personal capacity.”

He added: “If one of the key aims of the Government is to increase transparency and public confidence, then we would also suggest that Ministerial diaries, and minutes of meetings between Ministers and MSPs should also be made available.”

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