Holyrood will expel lobbyists for rule-breaking

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks during First Minister's Questions, at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks during First Minister's Questions, at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture: PA

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POLITICAL lobbyists could be ­effectively expelled from the Scottish Parliament if they breach a strict code of conduct designed to monitor their activities, under a new law MSPs have urged ministers to introduce.

Holyrood’s standards committee recommended a register to “cover significant lobbying activity” and regulate groups that pay staff to seek to influence MSPs and which have “sustained contact with politicians”.

The call from the SNP-dominated committee came more than 18 months after the Scottish Government said it would take over Labour MSP Neil Findlay’s lobbying transparency bill.

Mr Findlay stated there is “now nowhere for the Scottish Government to hide and no impediment for them to legislate” as he called on ministers to change the law by 2016.

Ministers are urged to require groups that regularly lobby MSPs, such as trade bodies, public relations firms, unions and charities, to register online with parliamentary authorities, in a report published today.

Under the proposal, all individual lobbyists working for an organisation would have to state their name, with companies obliged to declare any clients that would potentially benefit from MSPs they are seeking to influence.

Organisations would also have to reveal the nature of any talks with politicians, as well as detailing any meals, entertaining or hospitality given to MSPs.

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The move comes after Westminster enacted a statutory register of lobbyists in the wake of a series of scandals, which saw Conservative MP Patrick Mercer forced to resign after breaching parliamentary rules.

Stewart Stevenson, the SNP convener of the committee, said the Scottish bill was a “deliberate departure” from the UK law and would cover additional organisations such as trade bodies.

He said: “The Scottish register would go beyond details of the lobbyists; it would detail the lobbying activity taking place. It would also cover in-house lobbyists as opposed to singling out consultant lobbyists.

“We want organisations to register based on what they do, not who they are.”

Bodies would have to update the register every six months. Any found to have withheld information or to have made false statements and those guilty of “financial impropriety” would face strict penalties.

Lobbyists could be banned from hosting events at parliament, have their access to cross-party groups withdrawn and be banned from engaging with other organisations – effectively expelling them from parliament.

Peter Duncan, chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants Scotland, said: “Consultant lobbyists should have exactly the same asked of them as those who lobby Holyrood in charities, trade bodies, community campaigns and others.”

A government spokesman welcomed the report and said that ministers would “now take the time to carefully consider its findings”. The spokesman said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to take forward the development of a lobbying transparency bill.”

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