Lobbying transparency bill proposal: ICAS response

By James Barbour, Director, Technical Policy and Charlotte Barbour, Director of Taxation

31 July 2015

Summary of the key points in ICAS' response to the Scottish Government consultation

ICAS has certain reservations about the proposals in the consultation. Whilst we can see perceived benefits of increased transparency in having a register it has to be borne in mind that there is no question at issue about the conduct of either lobbyists or politicians in Scotland.

Furthermore, other than having a register, it is not clear how this will provide benefits to the Scottish public or indeed where the responsibility for enforcement will lie. 

The information to be recorded in the lobbying register will revolve around the definitions of 'lobbying', 'lobbying activity' and 'lobbyist'. 

It is not clear from the consultation paper how these terms will be defined or indeed what they are.  Clarity is a pre-requisite for such a scheme and it is therefore essential that definitions are included. Registration will place a burden on business and it is therefore vital that any scope for misinterpretation should be minimised.

ICAS response to Scottish Government consultation

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There could be unintended consequences arising from this proposed legislation which may impact on the ability of Scottish parliamentarians to gain access to the level of expertise that they require. Whilst conceptually a register of lobbyists would appear a good idea, it is the practical implications that require appropriate consideration.

The proposals suggest that voluntary lobbying will be excluded.  Without a clear definition of scope, however, it is not possible to form a view as to whether this is a principle that can be supported. We support a proportionate approach, but any exemptions from registration need to be justifiable and in line with the scope of the regime.

If a register is introduced, as seems likely, then this needs to be a straightforward register whereby organisations such as ICAS would be recorded as an organisation that is engaged in the lobbying process. The focus needs to be on making the information simple to register. We would also propose that MSPs have a role in increasing the current level of transparency by making public their diaries. This approach would also link more closely to the current MSPs code of conduct.

It is vital that any changes must not be allowed to impact upon the principle of openness and accessibility, on which Holyrood has built a very positive track record.  We do not think that individuals or organisations responding to public consultations or calls for evidence should be considered to be a lobbying activity. It will be essential in order to avoid uncertainty that any law should be drafted in a way that excludes these activities.

A lobbying register should include organisations only; however, if it is felt more detail is essential then registration should be for specific posts, rather than named members of staff. Ultimately, in our view the important factor is the body on whose behalf the lobbying is being undertaken as opposed to the identity of the individual concerned.


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