SCOTTISH Government proposals for a lobbying transparency bill have been roundly criticised due to a mooted registration scheme only covering face-to-face meetings with Holyrood politicians.

Under the plan, lobbying by email, telephone, post and video-conferencing would not have to be declared, a loophole the Law Society of Scotland said “risks bringing the system into disrepute”.

In May, the Government published a consultation on a register of lobbyists.

If the proposals are made into law, paid lobbyists would have to declare their contact with MSPs and Ministers.

At the point of registration, the name of the lobbyist and his employer would be made public.

A list of meetings with MSPs and Ministers, as well as the issues discussed, would have to be updated every six months.

Failure to do so could result in criminal sanctions or an investigation by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life.

The proposal aims to shine a light into a lucrative lobbying industry that seeks to influence government policy and legislators.

However, while campaigners welcome the principle of a register, the “light touch” plan has been met with scepticism.

One form of oral lobbying will have to be registered, but not anything else.

“Government believes that introducing a registration regime which captures direct, face-to-face communication by lobbyists with both MSPs and Ministers would be a proportionate extension of the existing Ministerial logs, with a substantial associated increase in transparency,” a Ministerial paper stated.

In practice, an owner of a multi-national company would have to register one-to-one meetings with Scottish Government Ministers.

However, if the same individual lobbied by phone, email or letter, such communication would not be covered by the register.

It emerged last week that Algy Cluff, chairman and chief executive of Cluff Natural Resources, wrote to the Government recently about the moratorium on fracking.

He wanted to know if the ban covered underground coal gasification, which his company is committed to in the Firth of Forth, so he could inform shareholders.

Alex Neil, the planning Minister, informed Cluff within days that UCG was not covered by the moratorium.

Under the draft lobbying plan, Cluff would escape the registration scheme as his contact with Neil was not face-to-face.

Dealings with civil servants and special advisers – who are invaluable contacts for lobbyists - would also not have to be registered.

The Law Society, which represents all practising solicitors north of the border, warned of the loopholes in its consultation submission:

“We do not understand why lobbying through face to face communications would be covered by the register but engagement by telephone would not. We believe that imposing such a strict limit on the channels of communications covered risks bringing the system into disrepute and potential criticism.

“By restricting this to personal meetings, we would suggest that video/audio conferencing may provide a potential avoidance method for those who may, for one reason or another, not wish to be entered on the register.”

Tamasin Cave, a leading figure in the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, told this newspaper:

"It is a basic error of the government to focus only on face-to-face contact with lobbyists. Lobbyists are just like the rest of us - they can just as easily pick up the phone, or drop an email to a politician to try and influence policy. If they want to have a quiet word, they're probably better off avoiding face-to-face meetings, which are publicly disclosed.”

Neil Findlay, a Labour MSP whose member’s bill on a lobbying register prompted the Government to introduce its own plan, was also critical:

“All it would mean is that lobbyists would simply continue to carry out their activities via FaceTime, video conferencing, social media, email and other non-face to face actions. I would advise the Scottish Government to go back to my draft bill.”

Parliamentary Business Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “The Scottish Parliament has strict rules around lobbying and the Scottish Government believes there is a case to increase transparency further. We believe a register which captures direct, face-to-face communication by lobbyists with MSPs and Ministers would be proportionate and reasonable."