FSB demands plan is dropped

Holyrood’s planned lobbying rules ‘impractical’

Colin Borland 2MSPs have been urged to rethink their plans to introduce new rules on lobbying in the parliament.

Small firms representatives argue that the proposals are badly drafted and unworkable.

The Federation of Small Businesses says the proposed regime would place too many restrictions on firms engaged in legitimate contact with elected representatives.

Colin Borland, FSB senior head of external affairs, said: “Our members often tell us how much they appreciate the ability to talk to their MSPs, visit Parliament and meet Ministers.

“This openness is rightly regarded as one of the Scottish Parliament’s defining features. We also know from independent survey data that MSPs value regular contact from small businesses in their local area.  Indeed, we encourage our members to let their elected representatives know about life in business, sharing insights and detailing challenges and successes.

“While it may not be Parliament’s intention to restrict such contact, unfortunately, the way in which the Lobbying Bill has been drafted will make this so impractical and onerous that it will effectively bring it to an end.”

The FSB submission highlights that the key problem with the Bill is its vast scope.  Regulated lobbying is defined so loosely, it says, that any business owner, or indeed one of their employees, who happens to meet an MSP and mentions anything in relation to their business which has any bearing on any “government or parliamentary functions” would be caught by the regulation.

Some practical examples of what could be deemed “regulated lobbying””and subject to the full force of the statutory provisions in the Bill include:

               A local employer meets his MSP at his children’s school concert and, in the course of conversation, mentions how issues with the skills system are impacting on his ability to recruit staff.

               An independent retailer takes part in an event celebrating high streets with a Minister, arranged by a local business group, during which she mentions town centre issues.

               A local MSP is touring new business units in her constituency and meets some of the tenants.  One of the businesses’ employees mentions that poor broadband speeds are hampering growth.

The FSB says that these flaws in the Bill’s definitions mean that any calls to extend its scope would be impractical.

Mr Borland added: “These proposals don’t make sense. They catch any number of people who no-one would seriously regard as a lobbyist. We’re urging our MSPs to think again.”

The FSB says there will also be an administrative impact on parliamentary and government work.  It points to the practical difficulties involved in recording every conversation at events such as Business in the Parliament or the National Economic Forum.

It states: “It is a matter of regret that neither the Scottish Government nor the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee has addressed these issues in any detail during their deliberations.  Indeed, it is disappointing that the Committee elected instead to use its Stage 1 report to call for an extension of the Bill’s scope to include emails and other communications.

“On that point, even if one supposes that it is theoretically possible to record every single email sent to every MSP from every business owner, company, employee – anywhere in the world – about any aspect of their or the Scottish Government’s work, the cost of administering and enforcing the system would be huge.”

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