Plea for Scottish lobbying "understanding" amid Westminster dismay

A key lobbying figure has warned that the Scottish Parliament must "understand" lobbying as it considers introducing its own statutory register amid controversy over Westminster's plans for regulation.

Holyrood: Home of the Scottish Parliament (Credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)
Holyrood: Home of the Scottish Parliament (Credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

Last week the Association for Scottish Public Affairs (ASPA) welcomed the launch of a Holyrood inquiry into the issue of lobbying.

The inquiry is being led by the Standards Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee and follows the Scottish Government indicating that it would introduce legislation covering the issue within the current parliamentary session, which runs to 2016.

ASPA secretary Alastair Ross said it was "fair to say the [Scottish] Government doesn’t want a repeat" of the way the lobbying bill was introduced to Parliament south of the border.

Despite consultation with the PR industry last year, the Cabinet Office's proposals for a register have faced severe criticism, with plans for a statutory register of lobbyists attacked for not including in-house practitioners.

Meanwhile, the second part of the bill prompted fears that charities would be hamstrung by a new financial cap in the run-up to elections.

It is thought any Scottish Parliament bill is likely to focus solely on the issue of lobbying.

Ross, also director of public policy practice at law firm Pinsent Masons, said that ASPA would be calling for a "level playing field" register that also included in-house lobbyists.

"The most important lesson that the Scottish Government could learn is to understand what it is legislating over," he added.

"The current UK bill suggests that it [the UK Government] doesn’t have a strong understanding of how lobbying operates. The best advice is to consult as far and wide as possible to make sure it understands what lobbying is."

The remit for the SPPA inquiry will be to establish whether there is a problem, either actual or perceived, with lobbying and whether a register of lobbyists would be part of a solution.

The deadline for inquiry responses is 10 January.

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