The Scottish government came under fire today over claims that it exploits “loopholes” in lobbying laws after reports surfaced of “hundreds” of meetings going unrecorded.
Analysis by the Herald and investigative outlet the Ferret of ministerial engagements showed “hundreds” of meetings which were undertaken but not subsequently reported to the register, the newspaper wrote today.
The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 requires face-to-face meetings between ministers or advisers and outside groups to be registered by those who seek to lobby.
But calls made over the phone, or those instigated by ministers, do not have to be registered. Lobbying done via email or messaging apps such as WhatsApp are also not covered by the Act.
Scottish Labour business manager Neil Bibby said the legislation should be “looked at”. “These reports raise serious questions about whether Scotland’s lobbying laws are fit for purpose.
“With countless key meetings going unrecorded, it is clear that the SNP are exploiting loopholes to avoid scrutiny. These shameless attempts to undermine the spirit of the lobbying act are all too typical from a government constantly avoiding any and all transparency,” he said.
“The laws need to be looked at, but legislation can only do so much as long as there is this culture of sleaze and secrecy at the heart of the SNP.”
The Scottish Government said it was “committed to transparency”, adding that “all ministerial engagements are recorded and published, including meetings held via phone calls”.
Scottish Tory chief whip Stephen Kerr also said the “gaps” should be addressed “as a matter of urgency”.
“These revelations raise serious concerns about the loopholes that currently exist within current legislation,” he said.
“That is leading to a significant number of critical meetings between SNP government ministers and officials and influential organisations to go completely unregistered.
“This also flies in the face of the SNP’s commitment to be an open and transparent government. It is all too typical of their attitude in looking at all ways to avoid public scrutiny on their actions or who they are dealing with.
“These meetings must be recorded and documented otherwise this only raises questions for SNP ministers about what they are hiding from the public.
“These gaps in current lobbying regulations must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“That will help to guarantee there is full transparency surrounding these meetings, so the public are fully aware of the lobbying that is occurring of the SNP government.”