1. In order for the Parliament to fulfil its commitment to being open, accessible, and responsive to the needs of the public it needs to encourage participation by organisations and individuals in the decision-making process. Clearly, however, the desire to involve the public and other interest groups in the decision-making process must take account of the need to ensure transparency and probity in the way the Parliament conducts its business.
2. It is an essential element of the democratic system that any individual should be able to lobby the Parliament or an MSP. Members will therefore come into contact with a wide range of lobbying activities.
3. In order to perform their duties effectively, members will need to be able to consider evidence and arguments advanced by a wide range of organisations and individuals. Some of these organisations and individuals will make their views known directly to individual members or committees of the Parliament. Others will choose to employ intermediaries (sometimes known as “commercial lobbyists”) to present their views in what they may consider to be the most effective way.
4. Members should note that some organisations and individuals employ commercial lobbyists (which may include public affairs companies, law firms, management consultancies, and other providers of professional services) to devise strategies for lobbying the Parliament. The role of commercial lobbyists is not, therefore, limited to the direct representation of a client’s interests to members but may also include or consist of providing strategic advice. Under such arrangements the client undertakes the direct representation element of lobbying on the advice of the commercial lobbyist.
5. Lobbying is also undertaken by paid staff and by members of business and trade associations, individual companies, trade unions, charities, churches, voluntary organisations and other individuals and groups, many of whom have no professional staff and comparatively few resources.
6. There is, however, some uneasiness about the way in which lobbying may be practised. At the heart of public concern is the nature of the relationship between elected members and those who seek to influence them. It is important, therefore, to ensure that those relationships are handled with complete propriety so as to maintain the confidence of the public in the decision-making and integrity of its representatives in the Parliament. It is essential that there is transparency in the relationships between members and lobbyists, in line with the Parliament’s core principles of accessibility and openness. This is particularly important where commercial lobbyists are employed to advise organisations or companies in the presentation of their arguments.
7. The Code of Conduct sets out how members should conduct themselves in their contacts with those who lobby or seek to lobby them. It is designed to encourage proper interaction between members, those they represent and interest groups. As well as setting standards for MSPs’ conduct in relation to lobbyists, they are designed to demonstrate that access to the Parliament and its members is open to all.
Statutory rules in relation to contacts with lobbyists
8. The Members’ Interests Act requires registration and declaration of registrable financial interests and prohibits paid advocacy. Failure to observe the requirements of the Act may constitute a breach of the Act or a criminal offence. Thus the Act already provides a mechanism for the Parliament to regulate the way members relate to others, including lobbyists of any kind.
9. Members need to bear in mind these statutory obligations in their contacts with anyone who seeks to lobby them, and particularly when considering whether to accept any remuneration, gift, benefit or hospitality from another person.
10. Members should also be aware of the provisions of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016. The Act is designed to improve transparency of lobbying contact between organisations and—
- Members of the Scottish Parliament;
- Scottish Government Ministers;
- The Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government; and
- Scottish Government Special Advisers
11. If a member has concerns about the approach or methods used by any person or organisation in their contact with the member, guidance should be sought from the Standards Clerks.
Acceptance of hospitality, gifts or other benefits
12. Over and above compliance with the statutory provisions, members should treat with caution any offer of hospitality, a gift, a favour or benefit. Members are not prohibited from accepting reasonable hospitality or modest tokens of goodwill, particularly where refusal could cause offence. But a member should not accept any offer that might reasonably be thought to influence the member’s judgement in carrying out Parliamentary duties. The value of any benefit, its connection to a member’s Parliamentary duties, its source, the transparency of its receipt and the frequency of receipt of similar offers may all be factors which could be relevant to this judgement.