The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 received Royal Assent on 14 April 2016 and comes fully into force in Scotland on Monday 12 March 2018. The Act creates a “lobbying register”, which will provide more clarity to the general public on the lobbying of various individuals working in government roles in Scotland, namely MSPs, Scottish Government Ministers, Special Advisers and the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary. The public will be able to view the new lobbying register at no cost to identify those organisations and individuals that have carried out “regulated lobbying”.
From Monday 12 March 2018, all regulated lobbying made in or outwith Scotland in relation to Scottish government or parliamentary functions will have to be registered on a lobbying register maintained by the Clerk of the Scottish Parliament. Regulated lobbying has been defined by the Act as a communication made orally and face-to-face, including video conferencing, with MSPs, Scottish Government Ministers, Special Advisers and the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, that relates to Government or parliamentary functions and is not a communication which is defined as “not lobbying” by the Act. The lobbying must be used to inform or influence decisions within an organisation and the person representing the organisation they are lobbying for must receive remuneration from that organisation. If all of these conditions are met then this will be regulated lobbying and must be recorded on the register.
Types of communications defined as “not lobbying” include communications made by an individual on the individual’s own behalf, communications made for the purposes of journalism, communications made by or on behalf of a political party and communications made by small businesses.
Business and individuals will have 30 days to register any regulated lobbying they have carried out beginning with the first day any regulated lobbying occurred. Each entry in the register will contain information on the identity of each registrant including their name and address (whether an individual or a company) and the type of lobbying activity carried out. Every six months after their registration, an information return should be submitted containing any further details of regulated lobbying which took place during that six-month period.
Providing inaccurate or incomplete information for inclusion on the register, failing to register any regulated lobbying engaged in and failure to comply with an information notice from the Clerk are criminal offences under the Act and a fine will be payable of no more than £1,000. Failure to comply with an investigation by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland will also constitute a criminal offence, with a fine not exceeding £5,000 payable.
The free register will be made publicly available online and is still being developed by the Scottish Parliament. The Act requires the Scottish Parliament to publish parliamentary guidance on the Act as well as a code of conduct for persons lobbying members of the Parliament. So far, the Scottish Parliament has published its guidance in draft here.
Businesses and organisations should start to consider if their activities will fall within the definition of regulated lobbying, so that they are aware of their obligations and can consider any internal process requirements ahead of March 2018.