WESTMINSTER’S latest lobbying scandal shows just why Holyrood needs to regulate companies and organisations seeking to influence politicians, an MSP said today.
Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay has proposed a member’s bill at the Scottish Parliament to introduce a register of lobbyists which would record details of clients and meetings.
Critics have argued the move is unnecessary because there have been no major lobbying problems at Holyrood. However, Mr Findlay said the latest scandal, which so far involves allegations against a Tory MP, two Labour lords and an Ulster Unionist peer, makes his proposals more relevant than ever.
He formally lodged his Lobbying Transparency (Scotland) Bill last month, setting out plans which would track which lobbyists were speaking to which politicians on what issue and for which client.
The register would cover both lobbying companies and in-house lobbyists and extend to charities, trade unions and other organisations, as well as commercial firms.
The latest Westminster lobbying row began last week, when Tory backbencher Patrick Mercer resigned the party whip after allegations he tabled parliamentary questions and a motion, offered a security pass and set up a parliamentary group for a lobbying firm promising him up to £24,000 to push for the end of Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth.
Then, at the weekend, there were similar allegations against ex-cabinet minister Lord Cunningham and former senior police officer Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, now both suspended by Labour, and Ulster Unionist Lord Laird, who has resigned his party whip. All four deny any wrongdoing.
Mr Findlay stressed he had no evidence of any wrongdoing at Holyrood, but he insisted lobbying was ever-present.
He said: “It happens every minute of every day on a fairly industrial scale. It’s very difficult to know who is speaking to whom and what they are speaking about.”
But he said it was better to deal with the issue before it became a problem. “If you take preventive action now, democracy is strengthened,” he said.
“It’s better to legislate in an atmosphere of relative calm, free of major scandal.
“That has been the fatal mistake at Westminster – they said they were going to legislate and didn’t. Now they have a scandal and legislation will be brought in, but because it’s on the back of a scandal you’re going to get a party political ding-dong.”