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Lobbying for a register

The Scottish Parliament had four guiding principles when it was created in 1999:

openness; accountability; sharing of power; equal opportunities. On openness, Holyrood has largely lived up to aspirations. However, blindspots still exist.

Cross-party groups, like their equivalent at Westminster, are a worthwhile way of bringing politicians and external bodies together to raise issues of common concern.

But there is a difference between companies and individuals being part of a cross-party group and commercial interests helping with the organisation of such groups.

As we reveal today, a businesswoman with links to the pharmaceutical industry provides the secretariat for the groups on health inequalities and chronic pain.

There is no suggestion of impropriety - Jacquie Forde has said she carries out the work as an individual and on a voluntary basis - but the case raises important questions about the role of outside individuals and bodies on cross-party groups.

The wider issue is that the efforts of the public affairs groups, charities and others in trying to influence Holyrood remain unregulated.

After pressure from Labour MSP Neil Findlay, the Scottish Government agreed to introduce legislation on "lobbying transparency", an issue now being looked at by the Parliament's Standards Committee.

We believe the solution is clear. Not only should there be a statutory register of commercial lobbyists - including standalone firms and in-house practitioners - but they should also have to reveal details of clients and of their approaches to MSPs, ministers and civil servants.

In other words, there needs to be a register of lobbyists and of lobbying. At that point, the Holyrood Parliament will be able to call itself a model of openness and accountability.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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