Billy McLaren appointed as first head of Scottish lobbying register

Scotland's nascent lobbying register, which according to the PRCA and others is set to do a better job than its Westminster counterpart, will be led by a long-time civil servant who was involved in setting up the Scottish Parliament, it has been confirmed.

Billy McLaren has been confirmed as the lobbying registrar, a role he began last Monday (17 October). He is based in the Scottish Parliament building.

McLaren's role is full-time, and he will have one full-time member of staff supporting him.

Prior to this appointment, McLaren had worked in various roles in the UK and Scottish Governments over nearly three decades. In 2011, he became head of international relations at the Scottish Parliament, and from 2011 to 2016 he served as principal private secretary to the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer - the equivalent of Westminster's speaker.

The Lobbying (Scotland) Bill was introduced last Autumn, passed on 10 March 2016 and received Royal Assent the following month. It makes provision for a lobbying register, similar to that already in operation in Westminster, in which lobbyists communicating with Holyrood will have to register their interests.

The register will go live before April 2018, possibly in late 2017. Major tasks in the meantime for McLaren include the procurement, development and testing of an IT system underpinning the register, and the creation of guidance for users of the register - Parliament will consult with the public on this matter.

Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, said: "Holyrood has delivered a better piece of legislation than Westminster and our initial work with the clerks since the Act passed has been positive. There is a real understanding that the register cannot be burdensome for those engaging with democracy in Scotland and there is a genuine interest in how this works for the end-user."

The Holyrood register goes beyond the provisions for the Westminster register in a number of ways, including the inclusion of in-house lobbyists, which campaign group Unlock Democracy says puts pressure on the London register to toughen up.

Those already registered with the Westminster register will have to do so again with the Scottish register; firms must sign up to the register of the parliament, or parliaments, whose work it seeks to influence.

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