Committee of MSPs calls for Scottish lobbying register

A committee of MSPs has called for the establishment of a Scottish lobbying register, distinct from that planned for the UK.

The Scottish Parliament’s Standards Committee wants the online register to detail all lobbying activity and be "targeted at organisations that have significant contact with MSPs or invest significant amounts of money into lobbying MSPs on behalf of others".

It would be separate to the UK register and apply to all lobbyists not just consultants. Registration would be free.

There would be a code of practice for lobbyists, mirroring that for MSPs, the committee said in a new report that it is asking the Scottish Government to respond to.

A spokesman for the Association for Scottish Public Affairs (ASPA) said: "As the committee heard from the commissioner on ethical standards in public life in Scotland, Stuart Allan, there’s no evidence of a lobbying problem, so we’re not sure what a lobbying register will actually achieve. If this register shows just how much lobbying goes on, who does it, and how many meetings MSPs with lobbyists, that may just dispel some of the myths around lobbying.

"We’re pleased the committee agrees that there should be no distinction between different types of lobbyists. Whether it’s a private company, a trade union, or a community campaign.

"ASPA members are responsible lobbyists – we have a code of conduct we operate to and we’re open and transparent, but we also have a duty to our employers or clients top respect their confidentiality. If a lobbying register requires us to divulge sensitive or private information, they you may find that people stop informing MSPs who are then left taking major decisions without the best possible knowledge.

"As the committee says, MSPs need to be more informed when they are making decisions and lobbying’s legitimate, valuable and necessary part of a healthy democracy."

Grant Thoms, chair of the CIPR Public Affairs (Scotland) Group, said: "This is a clear recommendation and should be welcomed as such by Scotland’s public affairs and public relations industry.

"CIPR members, who are committed to transparency, will want to positively engage with any structures put in place that genuinely improve public understanding of lobbying. We are particularly pleased that the committee has recommended that registering and updating the register should be free, which echoes the CIPR recommendation that the Westminster Register is free of charge for at least the first year, which would give the industry clarity on a key compliance issue.

"The recommendation that organisations should register if they undertake significant lobbying activity creates the possibility of a register that would offer the public a reasonable range of information on corporate interests seeking to influence public policy, although we would prefer there to be no discrimination between in-house and commercial (consultant) lobbyists.

"The proposal for a code of practice for lobbyists and for the MSPs code of conduct to updated are balanced and not unwelcome.

"Since it seems very likely that there will be two registers in the UK, with the Westminster Register of Consultant Lobbyists due to open in March, we hope the Scottish Government will take the compliance burden on small businesses and sole traders in the sector in to account as they put their proposals together."

The UK statutory lobbying register is to go live on 27 March, although industry leaders had expressed concerns that significant questions remain outstanding - including the costs for lobbyists.

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