Publication - Research and analysis

A Consultation on Proposals for a Lobbying Transparency Bill: Analysis of Written Responses

Published: 21 Oct 2015
ISBN:
9781785447587

A consultation paper was published in May 2015 seeking views on proposals for a lobbying transparency bill. This report provides an analysis of the responses received.

83 page PDF

566.5 kB

83 page PDF

566.5 kB

Contents
A Consultation on Proposals for a Lobbying Transparency Bill: Analysis of Written Responses
5. INFORMATION, REPORTING AND CONDUCT

83 page PDF

566.5 kB

5. INFORMATION, REPORTING AND CONDUCT

5.1. This chapter presents the findings relating to Questions 11-14, relating to information, reporting and conduct requirements.

Question 11: Information required from lobbyists on registration

5.2. The key issue identified in the consultation document for exploration at Question 11 was what information lobbyists should be required to provide on registration. The consultation document noted that the Committee had made a range of recommendations about what kind of information each lobbyist should be required to provide on registration (para 44 of the consultation document).

5.3. The Scottish Government identified some basic requirements it considered should be provided on registration, if a register were to focus on individual lobbyists as opposed to organisations (para 45 of the consultation document) . These were:

  • The name of the lobbyist.
  • The lobbyist's employer.
  • Details of who the lobbyist has recently lobbied on behalf of.

5.4. Question 11 was an open question, which asked:

"What are your views on what kind of information each lobbyist should be required to provide on registration? Please provide reasons in support of your response."

Overall views

5.5. Most respondents (around four in five) made comments about the types of information lobbyists should be required to provide on registration (or more generally). A few respondents made a specific distinction between information required on registration and information required for updates.

5.6. There were a number of types of information respondents commonly felt should be provided. These were:

  • Information on the lobbyist and / or their organisation or employer.
  • Who the lobbying was being undertaken for.
  • The nature of lobbying activities.
  • Financial information.

5.7. A small number of respondents commented specifically on the information outlined in the consultation document (some of whom expressed agreement with this, while others expressed the view that this would provide insufficient detail).

The lobbyist or employer

5.8. Many respondents identified a need for details to be given of the lobbyist and / or their employer. Some respondents linked their response to their overall view of the onus for registration, with several, for example, suggesting that the organisation should provide the information required.

5.9. Many respondents identified a need for information about the lobbyist's employing organisation, and some also made specific reference to the need to include lobbyists working on a consultancy or freelance basis. Suggestions for the types of information relating to the lobbyist's employer included the:

  • Name and any trading names of the employing organisation / membership body, or consultant.
  • Address (registered address and place of business), website and contact details.
  • Directors, Chief Executive, Board members, Trustees or equivalent.
  • Number of employees / number involved in lobbying activity.
  • Charity, SCIO or company registration number.
  • Compliance with any code of conduct.
  • Objectives and areas of interest / expertise.
  • Main activities or services.
  • Links to any specific vested interests.

5.10. Additional suggestions relating to consultant or freelance lobbyists included:

  • Career history (or details of recent jobs in government).
  • The capacity a person was acting in.

5.11. In terms of personal information about individual lobbyists working in organisations, several respondents suggested that the names of individuals carrying out such activity within an organisation should be included. (As noted at Question 4, some suggested that this could be part of an organisation's registration.) A small number of additional suggestions were made about types of information which could be included about individual lobbyists, which were:

  • Job titles / roles.
  • Details of any secondments or advisers placed in government.
  • Membership of any voluntary organisations.
  • Any previous public office held.

5.12. There were mixed views on this, however, and some respondents expressed concerns or raised issues about including the names of individuals or personal details in a register (other than those of freelance and / or professional lobbyists). Some of these issues were raised at Question 4, and comments included that:

  • Some may not wish to be identified, or the nature of their work may make this problematic.
  • This could provide a misleading picture of individuals' views.
  • The number of individuals for whom such details were provided could be large.
  • An organisation's duty of care could be compromised if personal details were used maliciously.

5.13. One respondent stated that there would be a need for assurance that any such data was held securely.

Who lobbying was carried out for

5.14. Many respondents identified a need to include information about who the lobbying was carried out for. Suggestions included, for example, information about:

  • Whether the lobbying was in-house or for a third party (linked, for those lobbying in-house, to details of their organisation or membership body, as noted above).
  • Hospitality, visits or material support.
  • Names of clients (if applicable) and recent clients.
  • Any interests served by representation.
  • Who was funding the activity (e.g. source of salary, fees or funding).

5.15. A small number of respondents raised concerns about the inclusion of information relating to clients. One respondent, for example, stated that the registration of client details would breach the organisation's regulations on confidentiality, and would require the client's permission to waive this. A small number questioned the need to include previous clients, or questioned how far back this should go. One respondent stated that disclosure of information should be on a case by case basis, with no routine disclosure of all clients. They argued that it was not reasonable for clients, linked only by they use of the same advisor, to be compared to each other. They also argued that such disclosure would go against the organisation's duty of care and confidence to clients.

5.16. Other specific questions raised were:

  • If an individual had worked for several Third Sector organisations in recent years, whether they would have to identify former employers.
  • If an individual lobbied on behalf of a membership body, but worked for another member organisation, which organisation would be the one named as the one on whose behalf they were acting.

The nature of lobbying activities

5.17. Suggestions were made about including information on particular types of lobbying activities, such as:

  • General lobbying activity undertaken.
  • Meetings and events.
  • Secretariat or other support to Cross-Party Groups.
  • Hospitality, visits or material support.

5.18. As noted, other suggestions were made at Question 8 about potentially including other forms of activity. Suggestions were also made about providing additional details of the activities, and these included information about the:

  • Dates.
  • Purposes and aims of the activity.
  • Subject matter / issues discussed.
  • Target(s) of lobbying, who was lobbied and contacts made.
  • Means of communication.
  • Sources of information.

5.19. One respondent, however, raised a concern about including details of the aims of the lobbying, suggesting that this would either be so vague as to be of little value, or would risk disclosing confidential information.

Financial information

5.20. As noted above (para 5.14), some respondents suggested including the source of resources for lobbying. Several respondents made additional suggestions about including particular types of financial information, such as:

  • Funding streams (including any public funding).
  • Annual income and expenditure of the employing organisation.
  • Financial cost of lobbying activity during the relevant period (e.g. in band widths).
  • Aggregate lobbying spending and lobbying spending per issue.
  • Aggregate lobbying income and lobbying income per client (where applicable).
  • Political spending / contributions.

5.21. A small number of respondents stated that they did not support disclosure of financial information, or raised concerns about this (e.g. that such information would be commercially confidential; disproportionate; not directly relevant to the aims; and could reduce standards).

Additional comments and suggestions about information required

5.22. Many respondents made further general comments or suggestions. Several commented on the overall level of detail required in the provision of information, with mixed views on this. Some argued that it should be sufficient to meet the purposes of the register or to enable understanding, while one argued that it should be "headline only". Others argued that it should be meaningful, proportionate, balanced (e.g. between transparency and the disclosure of sensitive information), simple to register, not burdensome, and should avoid duplication. One respondent stated that the quality of the data should be high enough to enable real accountability.

5.23. A few respondents suggested a need for clarity of the registration and reporting requirements (including the position in relation to confidential or commercially sensitive issues). A small number gave examples of the information requirements in other parts of Europe. One suggested that the information should be able to be linked to other published data about lobbyists' activities. Another respondent suggested that the requirements should not go beyond the demands of what was already operating in the UK.

Question 12: Frequency of provision of a return

5.24. The key issue identified in the consultation document for exploration at Question 12 was whether lobbyists should be required to provide regular returns detailing their lobbying activity and, if so, how frequently. The consultation document noted (para 47) that the Committee had concluded that lobbyists should be required to provide regular returns (which could be quarterly, six-monthly or annual), but did not recommend a particular time period.

5.25. The Scottish Government expressed its support for a requirement for lobbyists to provide such returns, and stated that a return every six months appeared appropriate (paras 48-50 of the consultation document).

5.26. Question 12 asked respondents to express their view of the specific timescale for the provision of a return, as follows:

"How often should lobbyists be required to provide a return detailing their lobbying activity? Please provide reasons in support of your response."

Overall views

5.27. Around three quarters of respondents made comments about how often lobbyists should be required to provide a return detailing their lobbying activity.

5.28. A slightly higher proportion of respondents identified benefits of a six month period for returns than for other time periods. There were, however, clearly mixed views, and positive views on three monthly / quarterly returns were also common. Several respondents suggested benefits of having an annual return. A small number suggested a two month period for returns, and a few stated that they would be content with either one timescale or another. Some respondents made additional general suggestions.

5.29. By type, among those who expressed a clear view, most Third Sector; Trade Associations / membership groups; and Trade Unions / professional organisations appeared to favour either six monthly or annual returns. Most (but not all) lobbying industry and campaigning organisations / groups appeared to favour three monthly returns.

Provision of a return every six months

5.30. Many respondents identified benefits of, or reasons for six monthly returns. Some added qualifications (e.g. that this should be a maximum, or minimum period; or that more frequent voluntary updates should be allowed). While some respondents expressed general agreement with the benefits of six monthly returns outlined in the consultation document, more specific comments included that this period would:

  • Enable a more accurate picture of lobbying.
  • Represent a reasonable and proportionate approach (and avoid a burden of more frequent reporting).
  • Balance transparency and costs.
  • Reflect variations in activity at different times.
  • Improve record keeping and accuracy.
  • Promote familiarity with, and awareness of the system.

5.31. Issues or concerns about a six monthly return, included that this could: lead to a delay in the availability of the information; have a negative impact on transparency; or place a burden on some small organisations and deter engagement.

Provision of a return every three months / quarterly

5.32. Several respondents identified benefits of, or reasons for a three month return period. These included that this period would:

  • Accord with other registers (e.g. the Association of Professional Political Consultants; the Public Relations Consultants Association; and the UK register).
  • Provide a manageable timescale which was not a burden.
  • Avoid loss of information through error or staff change.
  • Increase transparency by providing up to date information.
  • Make this a routine process.
  • Provide information of interest to the public (e.g. at election times).
  • Reduce the opportunity for misrepresentation (e.g. sensationalism).
  • Promote familiarity with, and awareness of the system.

5.33. As noted above, some respondents were concerned that this timescale would impose a burden on some organisations.

Provision of an annual return

5.34. Several respondents identified perceived benefits of, or reasons for the provision of an annual return, including that this would:

  • Accord with charitable and corporate reporting requirements.
  • Impose less of a burden and deliver a "light touch" approach.

5.35. It was also argued, however, that this would leave too long a gap between lobbying activity and its disclosure.

General comments and other suggestions

5.36. A small number of respondents suggested that returns could be provided more often (e.g. no more than every two months), citing the sometimes fast-moving nature of parliamentary business. One respondent suggested providing information within a specified time of each meeting. A few made general comments about the need for information to be provided as soon after activity as possible. A specific question was raised about whether an organisation would have to maintain an entry on the register, even if there had been no activity in the previous registration period (if lobbying might take place in the future).

5.37. A few respondents raised concerns about the demands of providing returns, or stated that there should be a balance between useful information and practicalities for those completing the register. One respondent argued that it would be difficult to verify the accuracy of individual returns, with a lack of information about how this would be resourced.

5.38. A small number of other suggestions were made about the process for returns, including that:

  • Reminders should be issued by the Registrar.
  • The online system should allow organisations to log lobbying activity in real time, and should be searchable.
  • An organisation, not an individual should provide the return.
  • Reporting could be less frequent for some (e.g. determined by level or nature of activity, expenditure or type of organisation).
  • The system could be populated at greater frequency, but only published at compulsory intervals.

5.39. A small number of comments were made about the period that should be allowed for completion of returns, while one respondent suggested a timescale within which they believed registration should take place. Other specific suggestions included that commercial and in-house lobbyists should be required to provide information with the same frequency as others, and that the frequency of returns could be subject to review. A small number of respondents stated that experience elsewhere suggested the value of continued registration (rather than constant registration and de-registration with variations in workload).

Question 13: Code of Practice for lobbyists

5.40. The key issue identified in the consultation document for exploration at Question 13 was whether there should be a Code of Practice for lobbyists, including general guidance on the registration regime and expected standards of behaviour. The consultation document (para 52) noted that the Committee had concluded that Parliament should introduce a Code of Practice for lobbyists, which would mirror the rules on lobbying in the Code of Conduct for MSPs. The Scottish Government expressed support for the introduction of a Code of Practice, the detail of which would be determined by Parliament (para 53 of the consultation document).

5.41. Question 13 asked respondents to express overall agreement or disagreement with the introduction of such a Code, as follows:

"Do you agree that the Parliament should introduce a Code of Practice for lobbyists setting out guidance on the registration regime and expected standards of behaviour? Please provide reasons in support of your response."

Overall views

5.42. Most respondents (around four in five) made comments about the introduction of a Code of Practice for lobbyists.

5.43. The majority of respondents expressed agreement that Parliament should introduce a Code of Practice for lobbyists. Almost all of those who expressed a clear view (around nine in ten), and over half of all respondents, stated or implied agreement with this. Only a small number expressed or implied disagreement (with no pattern by type).

5.44. A few respondents stated that it was difficult to comment on this at this stage, or that their view would depend on the nature of such a Code. Over a third of respondents either did not express clear agreement or disagreement, or did not address this question. Most of the additional comments focused on the benefits of, or reasons for the introduction of a Code of Practice. Some issues or concerns were also raised, and many additional suggestions made.

Benefits of a Code of Practice for Lobbyists

5.45. Among the perceived benefits of a Code of Practice, the most common themes were to promote general improvements; and to provide guidance and clarity for lobbyists. It was argued, for example, that such a Code would support the procedures, and help to achieve the aims and purposes of the proposals. It was also argued that it would: help ensure effective compliance and adherence to standards; enable development of professional industry standards; promote consistency of approach; and improve the quality of service for clients.

5.46. Comments were also made about the value of providing guidance to those involved (including in the Third Sector). It was argued that it would enable them to understand their obligations and the behaviour expected (particularly if there was a possibility of sanctions), and that it would provide examples of good practice. A few respondents suggested that a Code of Practice would help to ensure transparency and public confidence, and reinforce the Code of Conduct already in place for MSPs.

Issues and concerns with a Code of Practice for Lobbyists

5.47. A small number of respondents identified issues and concerns with the introduction of a Code of Practice for lobbyists. These included views that this may:

  • Not be required (e.g. given existing codes or the aim of the proposals).
  • Be used to prohibit certain kinds of activity or be counter-productive.
  • Be misused (e.g. with vexatious complaints).
  • Become a minimum standard, and lower overall standards.
  • Undermine existing codes and commitments.

Additional suggestions relating to a Code of Practice for lobbyists

5.48. Several respondents made more general comments about existing codes, and some gave specific examples of these. A few stressed that a Code should not impede or replace such codes. A small number of respondents expressed a specific preference for either a voluntary or statutory Code, and a few expressed a preference for a Code rather than a register.

5.49. Several respondents made suggestions about the content of a Code of Practice and / or guidance. These included that it should contain information on:

  • Expectations for interaction with MSPs.
  • Standards of behaviour.
  • The operation of the register (with, for example, summary information in a flow chart).
  • The registration process and requirements.
  • The core principles.
  • The nature and benefits of lobbying.
  • The use and presentation of evidence to public officials (e.g. with a commitment to ensuring this was not distorted).

5.50. One respondent stated that a ban on paying Parliamentarians should be included.

5.51. Comments were also made on the general nature of the Code and / or guidance, including that it should:

  • Mirror the rules on lobbying in the Code of Conduct for MSPs.
  • Recognise the differences between organisations where paid lobbying was the chief or sole business activity, and Third Sector organisations, Trade Associations and other representative organisations.
  • Support, complement and build upon existing codes.
  • Be comprehensive, clear, unambiguous and robust.
  • Not be onerous.
  • Be accessible (including in its language and overall nature).

5.52. One respondent stated that the Code should aim to improve lobbying standards. Another suggested that it should be possible for those covered by the Code to "self-refer" to appropriate authorities, should allegations be made about them to an MSP or a Minister by a member of the public. A further respondent stated that there should be an advice service alongside a Code of Practice, to help deal with more complex enquiries from lobbyists.

5.53. Several respondents made comments about the process for development of a Code. A few commented on the need for effective monitoring, reporting and enforcement for a Code of Practice to be effective (or the resource implications of this). A few respondents raised questions about how a Code would be drafted, or suggested that this should be done in consultation with relevant organisations. A few expressed a willingness or wish to be involved in discussions about this.

Question 14: Inclusion of subscription to Industry Codes of Conduct

5.54. The key issue identified in the consultation document for exploration at Question 14 was whether lobbyists should be able to indicate if they subscribed to existing industry Codes of Conduct. The Scottish Government expressed the view that a register should include the facility for this (para 55 of the consultation document).

5.55. Question 14 asked respondents to express overall agreement or disagreement with the inclusion of this facility, as follows:

"Do you agree that a register should include the facility for lobbyists to indicate if they already subscribe to any industry Codes of Conduct? Please provide reasons in support of your response."

Overall views

5.56. More than three quarters of respondents made comments on this issue.

5.57. The majority of respondents expressed agreement that a register should include the facility for lobbyists to indicate if they already subscribed to any industry Codes of Conduct. Almost all of those who expressed a clear view (around nine in ten), and more than half of all respondents stated or implied agreement with this.

5.58. Several qualified their view, with additional comments including, for example, that this should not be a requirement, and should not be a substitute for a Code of Conduct for lobbyists, or for the register. Other qualifications included that: the standards in these Codes should not be lower than a Parliamentary Code if this were to be developed; and only relevant Codes should be included. One respondent argued that an industry-wide Code of Conduct introduced by the Scottish Government should seek ultimately to replace individual Codes practiced by organisations.

5.59. A small number of respondents (around one in eight of those who expressed a clear view, and under one in ten of respondents overall) stated or implied disagreement with including the facility for lobbyists to indicate their subscription to industry Codes (with no pattern by type among these respondents). Over a third either did not express a clear overall view, or did not address this question. Most additional comments focused on the benefits of, or reasons for a register to include this facility.

Benefits of inclusion of subscription to industry Codes of Conduct

5.60. Among the benefits of, or reasons for the inclusion of the facility for lobbyists to indicate their subscription to industry Codes were that this would:

  • Enable organisations to identify and display a commitment to standards.
  • Support transparency and accountability.
  • Support and encourage information sharing.
  • Improve public awareness and confidence in relation to standards.
  • Support self-regulation and promote recognition of, and compliance with positive Codes of Conduct.

Issues and concerns with the inclusion of subscription to industry Codes of Conduct

5.61. A small number of respondents raised issues or concerns with the inclusion of the facility for lobbyists to indicate their subscription to industry Codes. These included that this:

  • Was not required, or would not provide additional benefits.
  • May put pressure on lobbyists to subscribe to other Codes (e.g. which may have financial costs).
  • May infer that those who did not subscribe did not meet expected standards (although, for example, subscription may not be appropriate for a particular lobbyist).

5.62. One respondent stated that voluntary Codes had often been promoted as a means of putting off or minimising regulation, and that industry Codes generally primarily served the interests of the profession involved. The same respondent argued that the Scottish Parliament should avoid endorsing any particular professional Code, and should promote its own guidelines.

Additional suggestions relating to the inclusion of subscription to industry Codes of Practice

5.63. A small number of respondents made additional suggestions. These included that the register should link to relevant Codes, and that organisations should be able to indicate any other forms of regulation they were subject to. One respondent suggested that there should be increased promotion of industry Codes, and another that Codes should only be included if they met a certain standard of operation in terms of processing complaints.


Contact

Email: Sophie Ellison