LOBBYISTS should be invited to sign up to a voluntary register for a trial period if MSPs decide their activities merit closer scrutiny in Scotland, the Public Standards Commissioner has advised.
Stuart Allan, Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, said there is little evidence that lobbying is a problem in Scotland.
His office has dealt with two complaints in the last six years involving two MSPs, both of which were dismissed.
Lobbying, the practice of influencing politicians to advance private interests, “is a legitimate and recognised part of the democratic process”, Mr Allan said.
But he recognised that problems with lobbying elsewhere have created a public impression that it is a problem throughout the UK.
He will advise Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee today to avoid taking an “overly bureaucratic” approach to regulating lobbying in the absence of any evidence of actual misconduct.
In an advance submission to the committee, Mr Allan said: “Lobbying is a legitimate and recognised part of the democratic process.
“Any individual, organisation or group can seek to lobby their elected representative.
“Problems and concerns do, however, emerge in situations where this results in undue influence being involved or perceived to be involved as a result of such activity.
“On the question of a perception of there being a lobbying problem in Scotland, I do recognise that there is indeed in other quarters an ongoing concern that this is the case.
“It can perhaps be argued that this is based on high-profile lobbying issues which have arisen elsewhere.”
He said UK legislation has been lodged in response to “a number of specific instances of alleged misconduct in four cases involving three peers and one MP, as well as public concern as to perceived effects on government decisions of MPs and their close advisers being themselves lobbyists”.
“I have no doubt that the committee will be mindful of the need for proportionality in designing final proposals,” he said.
“The system envisaged in the UK Bill might appear to be overly bureaucratic in a Scottish context having regard to the lack of evidence of actual instances of misconduct either by professional lobbyists or by MSPs.
“Consideration could perhaps be given, in the first instance, to a voluntary register of commercial lobbyists, backed up by a voluntary lobbyists’ code of conduct for an initial trial period.”