Scotland’s first bill on lobbying transparency discussed

By agency reporter
5 Nov 2012

Neil Findlay MSP, Unlock Democracy, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland and Spin Watch have hosted an event at the Scottish Parliament to discuss directly with the public what they want from Scotland’s first ever bill on lobbying transparency.

The public meeting at the end of last month comprised part of the consultation process for Mr Findlay’s private member’s bill on the introduction of a statutory register of lobbyists.

Some 75 members of the public attended, along with people working in Scottish Parliament. The event consisted of an hour-long panel discussion between Neil Findlay, Unlock Democracy director Peter Facey, Willie Sullivan of Electoral Reform Society Scotland and SpinWatch Scotland’s Will Dinan. This was followed by an hour-long question and answer session with the public.

At the gathering, Neil Findlay MSP announced that the consultation would be extended to 7 November 2012.

Topics covered included inadequacies of the current system and the need for a register of lobbyists, what information should be on the register and how it should be funded.

The key question from journalists attending was who is opposing moves to make Scottish Parliament more transparent. The consistent theme in the statements and questions asked by the public was why would people oppose the register.

Talking about the meeting, Neil Findlay MSP said: “The transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood has brought with it a significant increase in Lobbying activity – the powers of the Scotland act will increase this further. My Bill is a proactive attempt to open up lobbying activity to public scrutiny and is supported by some of the founding principles of the parliament namely openness, transparency and accountability."

"My bill is supported by many organisations, such as Unlock Democracy who believe, like me, in open government and democratic accountability and transparency. I am delighted at the turnout for the meeting for what was a very constructive debate,” he added.

The director of political reform group Unlock Democracy, Peter Facey, a speaker at the meeting, added: “We’re delighted by the public response to the lobbying consultation in Scotland. Lobbying is a multi-million pound industry which affects our daily lives, from the health care we receive to the regulation of the banks. At our meeting, the Scottish people had the opportunity to feed directly into a public consultation and increase transparency of the relationship between businesses and Scottish Government. This opportunity continues to be available, and I encourage anyone in Scotland to respond to the consultation.”

Willie Sullivan, who is director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “When big banks or corporations lean on our elected representatives they do so with substantially more weight that individual voters or small community groups. Greater transparency won't change that huge imbalance in fire power but at least we have more of a chance of seeing what's going on and asking appropriate questions. If politicians and lobbyists have nothing to hide - then they have nothing to fear.”

* A briefing by Mr Findlay about the finer issues of the proposed Bill can be found here (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document):
http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_MembersBills/20120706_Lobbying_Tran...

* The consultation survey can be found on the Unlock Democracy website:
http://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/pages/lobbying-in-scotland-take-part-in-th...

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