Scottish charities seek clarification of lobbying bill proposals

Scottish parliament
Scottish parliament

Charities in Scotland have sent mixed messages to lawmakers who are grappling with the question of whether the activity of paid and volunteer third sector staff should mean their organisations must sign up to a proposed lobbying register.

Voluntary sector organisations have replied to a consultation that forms part of the progress of the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill through the Scottish parliament.

One of the key issues for charities is that, in its current form, the bill would require an organisation to be registered when it carried out face-to-face lobbying of MSPs in exchange for payment, whether through consultants or its own employees.

It would not require registration if the lobbying was carried out in the course of voluntary work or done by an individual on his or her own behalf.

This leaves the third sector in a grey area where charity employees are likely to be subject to registration but volunteers, who might come into contact with MSPs during constituency visits, are not.

Various charities and sector bodies have taken the opportunity to comment on whether this is the right approach as part of a consultation by the parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator and the health and social care representative charity The Alliance did not object to the approach, but some individual charities raised objections and questions.

MND Scotland was a lone voice in arguing that all charity employees should be exempt from registering because they are lobbying on behalf of vulnerable people who might not be well enough to lobby themselves.

Cancer Research UK said it wanted the register to cover only those employees whose "primary purpose within their organisation is to campaign or lobby" and said those employees who "occasionally undertake lobbying activity to support the broader aims of organisations’ roles should not be included, such as the chief executive officer".

Carers Trust Scotland called for clarification and guidance on "the activities of trustees, interns and other voluntary positions who are not paid but who carry out lobbying activity on behalf of an organisation".

Almost all of the third sector respondents, including the SCVO and the OSCR, warned against imposing an undue amount of red tape on charities and restricting their access to the political process.

MND Scotland warned that the legislation could discourage members of its small staff team from attending receptions at the Scottish parliament.

"If this legislation discourages small charities from lobbying, it is harming the vulnerable people they represent who are unable to lobby themselves," it said.

The SCVO asked the committee to consider the question: "If I am an employee of a small third sector organisation with very limited time and resources, will the bill make me more or less likely to engage with the parliament?

"We think the answer to that question is going to be ‘less likely’ in some cases."

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