July 26, 2017
What is and isn’t lobbying?
During the middle of the Westminster expenses scandal, David Cameron made a comment along the lines of, ‘if they think this is bad wait until the lobbying scandal breaks’. Occasionally we get snippets but I sense this is one that’s still lurking in the shadows. Ironically, recent attention seems to have shifted to the ‘lobbying’ activities of the third sector and the potential constraints that the new legislation might impose. It’s all a bit confusing about who can speak freely to whom without transgressing the rules. Jennie Bloomfield at SCVO tries shed some light
Will the Lobbying Act affect me?
A look at who’ll be affected when new Lobbying (Scotland) Act starts.
You might be wondering if the Lobbying Act is going to affect your organisation. Well, it’s a bit complicated. So you need to think about a few things.
1. Does your organisation have any face-to-face or video conferencing engagement with MSPs, Ministers, Special Advisers or the Permanent Secretary outside of formal Parliamentary proceedings?
No – you don’t need to register. Just carry on as you are.
Yes – keep reading.
2. Is any of this engagement carried out by paid members of staff?
No – stop reading now.
Yes – stay with me.
3. Is all of this engagement only with local (constituency or list) MSPs in constituencies or regions where your organisation operates?
No – you need to read my next point.
Yes – Congrats! You will not have to register, unless your local MSP happens to also be a Minister, and/or you are lobbying on behalf of a third party.
4. Does your organisation have members?
No – have a look at my next point.
Yes – you might* well have to register. Skip to the Q&A.
5. Does your organisation have ten or more ‘full time equivalent’ paid employees (e.g. the equivalent of ten or more people paid to work thirty five hours a week, made up by any combination of part-time or full-time workers)?
No – you won’t need to register.
Yes – you have to register. Skip to the Q&A.
If you’re still with me, I’m assuming you need to register. Here’s a Q&A to help work out what happens now.
Q: What’s the timescale?
A: The Act will need some clear guidance to run alongside it, which is currently being developed through a working group. Current plans is for the Act to start operating early 2018, with the guidance out in autumn 2017.
Q: Does that mean I can just forget about the Act until told to do otherwise?
A: It won’t hurt to start thinking about what you might need to do once the lobbying register becomes a reality. This means that when it comes to writing the guidance, we’ll be able flag up to Parliamentary officials any niggles or questions that you have.
Q: Oh my goodness, I have hundreds of volunteers/clubs/groups who meet MSPs on my organisation’s behalf. How can I record all of their meetings when I don’t even know about them?!
A: Don’t worry, you are not expected to record those meetings. Any voluntary activity for your organisation is completely excluded from the register. That includes the work of charity trustees (who are legally different from Trustees of trusts, so don’t worry if you see the latter mentioned in the legislation). And we hope that you know what your paid staff members are getting up to!
Q: You say that, but I run an organisation with loads of services all around the country. If one of my service managers has a conversation with their local MSP about local service provision, they might not tell me about that at all.
A: Again, no need to worry here. The Act excludes constituency business, so if your staff are speaking to local MSPs in their local area, you don’t have to register that activity (unless that MSP is a Minister too).
Q: Okay, I’m going to have to register my organisation. What do I need to do?
A: If your organisation is a company (within the meaning of the Companies Act 2006), you will have to submit its name, its registered number, registered office address, the names of its directors and of any secretary, and the names of any shadow directors.
Otherwise you’ll just need to register the name of the organisation, and the main office or place of business address. You’ll also have to submit details of any lobbying meetings you’ve had in the last 30 days.
Q: And after that?
A: You’ll have to submit details of any lobbying meetings you’ve had every six months, starting from when you first went on the register. They are called ‘returns’.
Q: Returns eh? What will they contain?
A: The name of the person lobbied, the date on which the person was lobbied, the location at which the person was lobbied, a description of the meeting, event or other circumstances in which the lobbying occurred, the name of the individual who did the lobbying, the purpose of the lobbying, and also whether or not the lobbying was carried out for your organisation or on behalf of another organisation.
If you haven’t had any meetings in a six month period, then just send in a statement saying you didn’t hold any regulated meetings in that period.
Q: Okay, what about Cross Party Groups? And Parliamentary receptions?
A: Activity in quorate meetings of Cross Party Groups are excluded completely, so no need to worry there – although any activity taking place outside of those meetings, including immediately before or after, will need to be registered. Parliamentary receptions will be included, but it will be for your guests to register themselves and record any interactions they have with MSPs or Ministers at your event if they need to.
Q: Um, I sit on lots of steering groups that Ministers and so on are on too – at their request. Do I have to register those?
A: Maybe. There is an exclusion in the guidance for the giving of factual information and views at the request of the MSP or Minister, so it depends I suspect on how ‘factual’ your input is. One to check on once the guidance comes out I expect.
Q: I have a slight confession to make. I’m not always totally clear if I’m speaking to an MSP or not – sorry, I just don’t always recognise them, especially when they’re new! Will it be incumbent on an MSP to tell me they’re an MSP if I meet them at an event or whatever so that I can make sure I register it?
A: I think you’re just going to have to get better at owning up to your ignorance and asking for their full name, and then making sure you note it down. Or ask for their business card. The legislation has nothing about what MSPs, Ministers, or Special Advisers have to do to help organisations comply – so it’ll be down to you to make sure you’re covered.
Q: I’ve just got back from one of the party conferences. Does this register mean that if I’m sitting on a stand and speak to 50 MSPs that day, I have to record the detail of every one of those interactions? Or can I just say that I was at the conference on a stand and leave it at that?
A: On my reading of the legislation as it stands, I think you would have to record each and every conversation.
Q: I had a grand old time at the Gathering in February and asked a question of the First Minister, which she answered. Would I need to register that, even though the question was asked in public at an open event?
A: Yes, I’m afraid so. Get used to carrying around a pen and paper!
Q: Right, one last thing: I play football with a couple of MSPs I know from school, and sometimes they ask me how work is and I maybe tell them about a campaign we’re running or whatever – does that have to be registered too?
A: Good question. It depends on whether you are lobbying or not, and it seems to come down to you making a fair and honest assessment of that. Where the lobbying took place, if it is lobbying, is irrelevant.
*More to come on this soon – in the meantime, give me a call on 0131 474 8001 if you’ve any questions. Or drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.