MSPs come clean after breaking lobbyist rules

In January it emerged that out of more than 70 groups listed at Holyrood, 63 had not filed an annual return. Picture: TSPL

In January it emerged that out of more than 70 groups listed at Holyrood, 63 had not filed an annual return. Picture: TSPL

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MOST cross-party groups at the Scottish Parliament have now revealed whether or not they are receiving backing from companies and pressure groups trying to lobby MSPs, after it emerged they had ­broken strict rules.

Scotland on Sunday revealed earlier this year that the vast majority of the 78 groups which work within the parliament had neglected to make annual returns setting out ­details of their activities and any financial backing they had received.

The groups – which exist to give MSPs from all parties a chance to engage with experts in a particular field – cover topics including aviation, construction, oil and gas and the alcohol trade.

They allow firms with major financial interests in legislation at the parliament to discuss current issues with MSPs in a formal setting.

However, the lack of transparency under the old regime raised concerns about “back-door lobbying” and prompted a review of the entire system.

In January, after the review had been written, it emerged that out of more than 70 groups listed at Holyrood, 63 had not filed an annual return.

Holyrood chiefs revealed last week that 61 out of the total of 78 groups had now published all relevant information.

Those which have not yet published either plan to do so, or are about to wind up, officials say.

Groups must meet at least twice a year in order to remain in existence.

Dave Thompson, convener of the parliament’s public ­appointments committee, said: “The first six-monthly update from the standards, procedures and public appointments committee has found that the new monitoring system of cross-party groups is now a more robust process. “The vast majority of CPGs are now routinely providing more detailed information on their activities and finances in annual returns to parliament.”

The demands for more scrutiny came after it emerged that cross-party groups at Westminster had received hundreds of thousands of pounds from ­lobbyist groups including those representing arms manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and foreign governments.

In some cases, the Westminster groups have produced ­reports that echo the views of ­industry backers which can be used to influence ministers on policy issues.

At Holyrood, last year’s ­review prompted warnings from some outside bodies that companies could be involved in “back door lobbying” by privately funding a group. One such group, the National Association of Funeral Directors, had an arms-length sponsoring deal with a cross-party group on funerals and ­bereavement.

However, many MSPs have long maintained that the cross-party group system operates well and gives them the opportunity, in a formal setting, to liaise with experts in a particular field, helping to boost their own expertise on issues that interest them.

The new report also found that some of the groups set up by MSPs are now effectively dormant.

The cross-party groups on Cuba, oil and gas, postal ­issues, Russia and the Scots language have not met in 2013.

The groups on beer and the brewing industry, co-operatives and sexual health have not met for more than a year.

SEE ALSO:

Holyrood’s missing returns: Anxiety over failure to disclose lobby links

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