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Scottish lobbying register will impact businesses

Out-Law News | 05 Mar 2018 | 9:58 am | 2 min. read

New lobbying laws taking effect in Scotland later this month will impact on businesses and other organisations, a public policy expert has said.

Julia Brown of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that many organisations may not be aware that they will be required to publicly record their face-to-face interactions with certain elected public and government officials.

The Scottish lobbying register will go live on 12 March. The register and the requirements related to it are set out in the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016.

The organisations must record their face-to-face interactions with members of the Scottish parliament, members of the Scottish government, including cabinet secretaries, junior Scottish ministers and the Scottish law officers, Scottish government special advisers, and the Scottish government's permanent secretary.

"The Scottish lobbying register is designed to increase transparency around Scottish government and parliamentary politics," Brown said. "It places a requirement on a broad range of organisations, including businesses, charities, trade bodies and professional associations, to record and register details of most meetings with the listed government and political stakeholders. These details are then published on the register."

"The activities of many organisations, and individuals in their employment, who may have never before considered their work to encompass ‘lobbying’ are captured by the register. It means that all face-to-face encounters – from chief executives down to the interactions of junior colleagues – need to be recorded," she said.

The duty to record interactions applies to formal organised meetings and a range of other events and occasions too, including events at which politicians are present where employees make speeches, round-table discussions they host or attend, corporate entertainment events and even chance encounters in a social setting, Brown said.

"Penalties for non-compliance include fines and custodial sentences of up to three months, in addition to the potential major reputational damage suffered through negative publicity," she said.

Public policy expert Andrew Henderson, also of Pinsent Masons, said: "With less than two weeks until the new rules come into effect, organisations that have not made advance preparations should urgently acquaint themselves with the legislation and accompanying guidance - a full line-by-line reading of both is strongly recommended."

"All organisations should identify an 'owner' and single point of contact to coordinate register returns, and in order to capture instances of lobbying which may be being undertaken in their name, it is vital that organisations are sighted on both planned and unplanned engagement. Mechanisms should be instituted to ensure that information regarding such meetings is fed through in a timely fashion to the internal owner," he said.

"Businesses should also identify those internally most likely to undertake communications which meet the lobbying test, and train them on the requirements of the Act as a matter of urgency. To minimise the risk of inadvertent triggering of the Act, larger organisations should undertake colleague communications in order to raise awareness among their employee populations," Henderson said.