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The Scotland Lobbying Act: A sign of things to come?

Lobbying is an important part of any thriving and robust democracy. It ensures that informed voices can be heard when important and complex policy is being developed, as well as providing a method by which ineffective policy can be reviewed and alternatives considered. It is crucial however that those making the policy, as well as those that it impacts, have faith that such activity is being conducted in a fair, open and transparent manner.

Four Public Affairs welcomes recent legislative initiatives that aim to promote this transparency. This not only cements trust in the relationship between policy makers and lobbyists, but also ensures that the reputation of the industry is upheld to the highest standards.

Today a new register goes live that covers certain areas of lobbying in Scotland. This follows the recent introduction of similar registers in Westminster and Ireland. The major talking points behind these new regulations relate to the broader scope of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 in comparison to its Westminster equivalent (the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014).

Whilst the Westminster register only covers third party (agency) lobbying with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, the Scotland Act goes much further. For instance, the definition of what constitutes as ‘regulated lobbying’ in Scotland now includes all face to face and oral communications with Members of the Scottish Parliament and Special Advisors, rather than just Government Ministers. Importantly, this doesn’t solely relate to paid third-parties (i.e. public affairs agencies) but also covers in-house practitioners too. There are a number of important exemptions that may mean that certain communications may not require declaration, however it is important that these are properly understood.

The scope of the Act will have a significant impact upon the ways in which organisations communicate with political stakeholders in Scotland, both directly and through paid-third parties. It is noticeable that the Scottish register draws inspiration from the Irish Act that was in introduced in 2015. This has been widely praised for its efficacy and has been labelled the ‘gold standard’ in lobbying legislation. Whilst not going as far (the Irish register covers written communication as well as verbal and oral), a review of the Scotland Act in 2 years’ time could result in recommendations to expand it further.

Whilst a review of the Westminster Act has been kicked into the long grass for the moment, the issue is likely to resurface in the future. In addition to this, with forthcoming legislation in the pipeline for Wales and Northern Ireland, the expected divergence across political administrations means that organisations will need to adapt to the various regulations in place. Organisations will need to ensure that all externally facing employees are aware of the regulations and the differences between engaging with political stakeholders in Westminster and Holyrood.

Ultimately, all efforts to increase transparency should be welcomed. If you have any questions on these new requirements, don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss this in more detail.

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