Voluntary groups escape Holyrood list of lobbyists

Voluntary groups who seek to influence MSPs and government ministers are to escape a new register of lobbyists at Holyrood.
The Scottish Government has published plans for a code of conduct. Picture: Ian RutherfordThe Scottish Government has published plans for a code of conduct. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Scottish Government has published plans for a code of conduct. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Campaigners are also warning that the proposed register will only capture a “fraction” of the lobbying at Holyrood because emails and other electronic communications with MSPs have been exempted.

The Scottish Government published plans to create the register as well as a code of conduct covering the way lobbyists behave in their approaches to MSPs and ministers yesterday.

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But the register of lobbying activity will cover lobbyists who are paid in the course of their duties. It has prompted concerns that some lobbying firms could get round the register by not accepting a payment for their work.

The Office for the Scottish Charity regulator (OSCR) has warned in a submission to ministers: “It is not clear whether ‘professional lobbyists’ who may volunteer their skills for a charity would need to register that area of voluntary work.”

And campaign group Spinwatch added: “The creation of exceptions will in all likelihood lead to those who wish to avoid transparency exploiting these exceptions.”

The register also only covers face to face meetings which means emailing, phoning or writing is exempt prompting accusations this is “out of step with the modern world”.

Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, said: “Scotland’s lobbyists will breathe a sigh of relief on reading this bill. The proposed register will cover only a fraction of the lobbying that takes place in and around Holyrood.”

Breaches of the register could mean a court conviction and fine of up to £1,000.

It comes after a long campaign by the Labour MSP Neil Findlay for more transparency surrounding the way meetings are staged between lobbyists and government ministers.

Minister for parliamentary business, Joe FitzPatrick, said: “The Scottish Parliament already has strict rules around lobbying activity, but it is important that we act now to put beyond doubt any question of lobbying impropriety in Scotland and increase ­transparency.”

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Peter Duncan, chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants in Scotland said they “embrace greater transparency”.

“APPC is very clear that lobbying is an essential part of the democratic process, not a threat to it,” he said.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s starting point for legislation – that lobbying is central to the working of a successful Parliament.”

Holyrood’s Standards committee will now scrutinise the legislation and is inviting submissions from the organisations and the public.