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Lobbying in the Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament's Standards Committee Consultation Paper

The UNISON Scotland Response




This paper constitutes a response from UNISON Scotland to the Scottish Executive document Making a Difference for Scotland which includes the draft budget and spending plans for 2001-02 to 2003-04. This paper builds on our response to the Stage 1 consultation included in the Annual Expenditure Report.

UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union and represents staff in almost all of the areas highlighted in the spending plans.

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UNISON Scotland is Scotland's largest trade union with around 145,000 members working in Local Authorities, Health Care, Higher Education, the Voluntary Sector and Scotland's utilities.

We are pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the Consultation Paper on Lobbying in the Scottish Parliament issued by the Standards Committee.


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Objective and Definition

We are unclear about now the stated objectives of the consultation paper (para 2) fit with the definition of lobbying in para 4. If the objectives are, as they appear to be, purely related to "lobbying groups", i.e. groupings of private lobbying and public affairs firms, then they will exclude much of the "representation of organised interests to MSP's by the interested parties themselves", as detailed in the definition.

For example, this definition would include representation by voluntary groups, community groups, charities, trade unions, local authorities and umbrella groups such as the STUC, SCVO and COSLA. Most of these will not be members of lobbying groups nor will they use the services of public affairs professionals.

We therefore think that discussion of this consultation paper should be broadened considerably and groups and organisations such as these mentioned above and should be invited to contribute.

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UNISON supports the Consultative Steering Group report ‘Shaping Scotland's Parliament' and the ‘Code of Conduct' Working Group Report. We would wish to ensure that the ‘basic right….. to lobby' is a fundamental principle of access to the Parliament. It is important that procedures and access are as clear and open as possible, and whilst the Scottish Parliament has made a good start, it is perceived that the Scottish Executive is less obviously accessible with less clear procedures and openness.

UNISON feels there could be clearer guidelines to assist in the lobbying process. Detailing, for example, what is appropriate, and at what time in the process, e.g. initial consultation, pre legislative scrutiny, committee procedure, committee consultation, legislative procedure etc.


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Statutory Regulation - v -Voluntary Code

The consultation paper gives a succinct definition of the problem and UNISON would not like to see wrangles over the definition and status of lobbyist obscure and restrict access to the Scottish Parliament. We have no view on the debate between Statutory or Voluntary Code but whatever code is adopted, it must clearly identify to whom it applies, and be generally accepted by all relevant organisations. There remains the possibility of a different approach to ‘professional lobbyists' than to in-house lobbying. In the former case it would, for example, be important to clarify who the professional lobbyists are working for.

There also seems to be some confusion between regulation and registration. These are not the same thing although they might both be adopted. Regulations whether statutory or voluntary are not necessarily exclusive and could seek to encourage/increase transparency.

We are quite clear however, that whatever system is adopted we would be opposed to anything that restricted access — especially one that limited access to ‘lobbying groups' alone.

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Code of Conduct

UNISON Scotland is a member of ASPA and has accepted their Code of Conduct. We therefore have no objection in principle to a code — indeed would see much merit in a code that ensured consistency of treatment. However there is still the problem of definition — would the same code apply to a professional public affairs company working of behalf of many commercial clients as it would to a small tenants association or trade union branch?

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Annex A

Section 1


    1.1 UNISON Scotland is Scotland's largest trade union. We represent members working in Scotland's public services. The areas are outlined in our introduction to the report.

    1.2 Yes — this has ranged from a simple response to consultation, through special briefings for MSP's; speaking to committees; talking to individual MSP's; discussions with Ministers; cross party groups etc.

    1.3 Between one and an infinite number, depending on the issue and circumstances (e.g. we would look for longer discussion on complex issues where there was conflict; than on a simple issue which attracts consensus).

    1.4 Dozens of issues have been raised with appropriate Ministers and Committees — Health/Local Government Finance/Housing Stock Transfer/Fuel Poverty/Equal Opportunities — various/Section 28/Local Government pay and many others.

    1.5 Mostly — see above.

    1.6 Sometimes - for example our work on fuel poverty was partly to raise the issue and partly to get it included in the Housing Bill.

    1.7 No — but we are sometimes part of broader campaigns/groups/umbrella organisations such as STUC/Single Issue Campaigns, e.g. on Fuel Poverty we worked with Energy Action Scotland and Transco; on Housing Stock Transfer with the STUC and Joint Unions etc. This is never on a paid basis.

    1.8 Yes — at the beginning. It is always clear who we are and who we represent.



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Section 2


    2.1 We use all methods.

    2.2 Face to face remains best way of communicating. Then by telephone, e-mail and letter in descending order of effectiveness.

    2.3 Yes — groups of MP's who are or were UNISON members or staff.

    2.4 It is probable that committees where we are known to have a membership interest, e.g Local Government/Health/Higher Education/Voluntary Sector; would be more likely to approach us. 

    2.5 Very easy — using the website.

    2.6 This is the nub of the problem — access is good but it is unclear when is the most effective time.

    2.7 Whilst the rules/procedures are better than Westminster or local councils, there is still some bureaucracy and probably always will be.

    2.8 Mainly yes — in most areas of our work MSP's have been available and approachable although extremely busy.


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Section 3


    3.1 Impossible to answer until it is known what the definition of ‘Professional' lobbyist is. We would be opposed to a system where ‘professional' lobbyists are seen as the "Gateway" to the Scottish Parliament.

    3.2 Standardisation of code and the possibility of sanctions.

    3.3 Restricting access and defining who are lobbyists.

    3.4 If there is to be a statutory scheme it should be ‘policed' by Parliament — probably the Standards Committee. Sanctions should include ‘naming and shaming' and ultimately suspension/debarrment.

    3.5 We have no code guidelines but we are members of ASPA and have signed up to their code.

    3.6 To establish guidelines, and to encourage transparency.

    3.7 Advantages include the fact that voluntary adherence is better than statutory submission. The disadvantages include the fact that not all adhere to the same code or indeed any code.

    3.8 If a standard voluntary code is introduced by Parliament it could be made clear who was/was not signed up, but see 3.10 below.

    3.9 Status arguments and problems of definition would still exist with a voluntary code.

    3.10 In all probability the only sanctions that could be applied to a voluntary code is removal from the list and ‘naming and shaming' the organisation.


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  1. UNISON Scotland thinks that discussion of this important issue should be broadened to include a broader range of organisations and their umbrella bodies.

  2. We support the Consultative Steering Group's reports on Shaping Scotland's Parliament and the Code of Conduct. We support the ‘basic right to lobby' as an important democratic right held by all individuals and organisations.

  3. Procedures and access are good but might be improved. The Scottish Executive could adopt some of the openness of the Scottish Parliament.

  4. In particular, clear guidelines could be produced on what type of input/lobbying is appropriate at what stage of the legislative process.

  5. UNISON has no strong preference for a Statutory or a Voluntary Code. What we are clearly in favour of is continuing and broadening the freedom of access to the Parliament (and the Executive).

  6. UNISON would oppose any increase in restrictions to the access of groups representing the Scottish People in their varied shapes and forms..

  7. Whichever outcome is adopted it is important that smaller groups are not disadvantaged in their access to the Parliament. It should be clear to whoever any code applies and what sanctions are possible.

We welcome the chance to comment on the Consultative Paper and would be willing to expand on these comments at anytime in the future, either in writing or by personally appearing before the Committee.

For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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