Fears grow over ‘lobbyist’ firms.

Fears are growing that firms in Scotland offering ‘incidental’ advice to clients could be defined as lobbyists and forced to declare all their financial interests under proposals before the Scottish parliament.

ICAS has poured fierce criticism on the proposed scheme as ‘onerous’ and ‘disproportionately burdensome’ and fears it could force firms to abandon offering extra advice because of the risk of it being viewed as lobbying. In the first move of its kind for the UK, the Scottish parliament is considering imposing a statutory registration scheme for commercial lobby groups, which it says will ensure complete transparency.

The proposals extend the definition of lobbyist and requires lobbyists to declare details of expenditure and fees received for lobby projects, identity of clients and communications techniques used.

Bodies defined as lobbyists could be fined if they are found in breach of the rules.

But a submission by ICAS in response to the consultation, due to end this Friday, states: ‘We believe that the focus of any disclosure requirements should be on the members of the Scottish parliament and not on a potentially wide range of private sector entities.’

David Wood, who drew up ICAS’ response, said that a code of practice would be as effective and much less burdensome than legislation. Mike Rumbles, an MSP on the parliament’s standards committee, said: ‘Our aim is not to restrict access to parliament but rather to increase the transparency of lobbying.’

The issue of transparency in lobbying was brought to the fore following allegations against MSPs just days after the parliament took up its full powers in July 1999.

A spokesman for parliament said the results of the consultation will be a major part of MSPs’ work when they return after the summer recess.

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