Win for charities on lobbying law

Scottish parliament cropped

​Concessions will see worst excesses of lobbying laws curbed.

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5th February 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Scottish charities have secured a significant victory in the fight to curb the worst excesses of legislation aimed at reigning in lobbying.

Politicians want to introduce a bill which, they claim, would make lobbying more transparent in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has said it will introduce new laws that would create a register to record activities of individuals and organisations that lobby members of the Scottish Parliament, ministers and officials.

However, there are fears any new legislation would have a chilling effect on charity campaigning, making it harder for legitimate campaigning organisations to access decision makers.

Rather than shouting from the side-lines, we have engaged constructively to ensure that this bill, although not perfect, is workable for the sector

The lobbying (Scotland) bill is currently making its way through Holyrood and while the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has previously opposed it, it has also been working to ensure that if it becomes a reality, its effects are fair and proportionate.

This week, after positive input from third sector groups, a series of agreements were reached at the bill’s stage 2 reading which, if enacted, will mean the bill will have less of an impact on charities’ ability to campaign for change.

The standards, procedures and public appointments committee, which is scrutinising the proposed legislation, agreed to restrict activity which requires to be registered to face to face or video contact with MSPs.

Further, it was agreed that there should be a review period once the law is enacted which would allow time for the weeding out of any unintended consequences – such as discouraging charities from legitimate contact with law makers.

Joe FitzPatrick MSP, minister for parliamentary business, also agreed to support parts of an amendment by Labour MSP Neil Findlay, which would mean that groups which spend less than 20% of their time on lobbying would be exempt from registering.

SCVO has argued that this would allay the fears of smaller organisations which only engage with MSPs occasionally and have already stretched resources.

There has been debate in wider civil society about the lobbying bill. SCVO has said it isn’t necessary, though has been working constructively to help shape any legislation, while left wing think tank Common Weal has welcomed the creation of a register, though it opposes joining fees for charities and not-for-profit groups.

John Downie, director of public affairs at SCVO, said: “This compromise from the minister is testament to the work of our sector and others to ensure that the lobbing (Scotland) bill is proportionate.

“Rather than shouting from the side-lines like some other organisations, we have engaged constructively with the government to ensure that this bill, although not perfect, is at least workable for the sector – encouraging transparency while also protecting the valuable contribution that our sector makes to policy, legislation and parliament.

“We look forward to working with the minister and others as we go forward towards stage 3, providing a positive outcome for our sector and those it supports.”