10 March 2016

S4M-15870 Lobbying (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15870, in the name of Joe FitzPatrick, on the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Several references to Helen Eadie have already been made in this debate, and I think that it is a mark of the affection in which she is held that only today a number of us were reminiscing over lunch about her contributions to the Parliament and wider political debate. Perhaps those of us on the yes side in the European Union campaign, in particular, will miss her enthusiastic Europeanism.

Before I get to the substance of my speech, I want to report the result of the extensive research—approximately 75 seconds of it—that I have undertaken since Mr Findlay spoke. I can tell him that, far from employing fewer than 10 people, the CBI employs 14 directors alone—and that is before we get to any other employees. If Mr Findlay is asserting, as he did in his speech, that the CBI will be excluded because it employs fewer than 10 people, he is factually wrong; the web address, which he can check to get the list of names, is I think that that example characterises many of the untested assertions that have been made this afternoon.

On a number of occasions during the debate on the amendments, Mr Findlay suggested that we reject certain Government amendments on the basis that, in the bill’s development through the parliamentary process—and I note that, at each stage, we learn more and should respond as such—the committee did not take any evidence on the issue in question. However, that did not inhibit Mr Findlay from lodging a whole series of amendments on issues such as offences and sanctions that fell well outside the information that the committee engaged with during its research. However, let us not get into that in too much detail.

I very much welcome the bill. Of course, Mr Findlay was correct in saying that, at a seminar at the University of Stirling, an American professor said that the bill scored two out of 10. However, Mr Findlay failed to inform colleagues in the Parliament that, when I interacted with the professor in question, I discovered that his understanding of the bill was substantially incomplete, and he accepted that the two out of 10 mark was based entirely on a misunderstanding of where the bill was coming from.

I think that a couple of things in the bill are worth looking at and putting on the record. First, we have not made the mistake in the bill of looking at registering lobbyists; instead, we have looked at lobbying and the people who undertake it. Perhaps in looking at the registration of consultant lobbyists Westminster has missed the proper target. This bill focuses on the activity of lobbying, which I think is all well and good.

One of the very useful gems in the bill is voluntary registration, which allows bodies that are uncertain about engaging or which expect to engage in substantial lobbying activity in future to choose to register, even though there is no objective evidence at the time of registration that they are required to do so. That is a very strong part of the bill.

Another very good aspect of the bill is that people can lobby first and register afterwards. In many instances, the interaction between someone who is lobbying and the person being lobbied will not initially have the character of lobbying, which develops during the discussion. In that respect, the 30-day period is a very welcome provision.

Although I welcome the bill, the issue is, for me, not that huge, although I appreciate that it is not insubstantial. I estimate that, between now and the dissolution of Parliament, I will have four interactions that I might categorise as my being lobbied by someone. The bill sets out a very substantial way forward. The Parliament will look forward to exercising the powers under section 15 to draw up the details of the register, which is what our successors in office will be doing in the next session of Parliament.


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