Code of Conduct for MSPs - Volume 2, Section 5: Lobbying and Access to MSPs

5.1: Rules

5.1.1 A member should not, in relation to contact with any person or organisation who lobbies, do anything which contravenes this Code of Conduct or any other relevant rule of the Parliament or any statutory provision.

5.1.2 A member should not, in relation to contact with any person or organisation who lobbies, act in any way which could bring discredit upon the Parliament.

5.1.3 The public must be assured that no person or organisation will gain better access to, or treatment by, any member as a result of employing a commercial lobbyist either as a representative or to provide strategic advice. In particular, a member should not offer or accord preferential access or treatment to commercial lobbyists or their employers. Nor should commercial lobbyists or their employers be given to understand that preferential access or treatment might be forthcoming from another MSP or group or person within or connected with the Parliament.

5.1.4 Before taking any action as a result of being lobbied, a member should be satisfied about the identity of the person or organisation who is lobbying and the motive for lobbying. A member may choose to act in response to a commercial lobbyist but it is important that an MSP knows the basis on which the member is being lobbied in order to ensure that any action the member takes complies with the standards set out in this Code.

5.1.5 In addition, members should:

  • consider whether a meeting with one group which is making representations on an issue should be balanced by offering another group with different views an opportunity to make representations;
  • consider keeping a record of all contacts with lobbyists;
  • consider arranging for an assistant or researcher to take notes at any meetings with lobbyists.

5.1.6 The Section of the Code on General Conduct (Section 7) sets out the standards expected in relation to acceptance of hospitality, gifts and benefits. In addition to this and the statutory provisions in the Act, members:

  • should not accept any paid work which would involve them lobbying on behalf of any person or organisation or any clients of a person or organisation;
  • should not accept any paid work to provide services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant, for example, advising on Parliamentary affairs or on how to influence the Parliament and its members. (This does not prohibit a member from being remunerated for activity, which may arise because of, or relate to, membership of the Parliament, such as journalism or broadcasting, involving political comment or involvement in representative or presentational work, such as participation in delegations, conferences or other events.);
  • should decline all but the most insignificant or incidental hospitality, benefit or gift if the member is aware that it is offered by a commercial lobbyist. Section 7 of the Code on General Conduct states that a member should not accept any offer that might reasonably be thought to influence the member’s judgement in carrying out Parliamentary duties. Since the basis on which many people believe that commercial lobbyists sell their services is by claiming to provide clients with influence over decision-makers, it might reasonably be thought that acceptance of a benefit of any significance from such a source could influence a member’s judgement in carrying out Parliamentary duties. (If a member only becomes aware of its source after receiving hospitality, a benefit or gift, then the member should consider reimbursing the costs of any hospitality or benefit or returning any gift.)

5.1.7 Members may participate in events for which others are charged a fee to attend. Participation, for example, in a conference or seminar for which delegates are charged a fee may be a useful means of a member gathering a range of views on a topic. There could be some concern, however, that events falling into this category could be a means of “buying” access to MSPs. It is important that there should be no grounds for such a perception. No preferential treatment should, therefore, be offered or accorded any person or organisation as a result of having made initial contact with a member at such an event.

5.1.8 Members may participate in events unless they are aware, or become aware, that the organisers are promoting the event on the basis that those paying to attend the event are “buying” influence over MSPs or that they can expect to receive better subsequent access to, or treatment by MSPs, than would be accorded to any other person or organisation. Members should exercise their judgement in deciding whether it is appropriate to participate in an event and if they are uncertain, can seek advice from the Standards Clerks. Where an event involves support for a charitable purpose, including fundraising, members should ensure that they comply with the SPCB’s charities policy.

5.1.9 Members should ensure that staff working for them are aware of and apply these rules and guidelines when acting on a member’s behalf or in any Parliamentary connection.

5.2: Failure to comply with the Code in relation to contacts with lobbyists

5.2.1 Failure to comply with or contravention of the rules in the Act in relation to contacts with any person or organisation who seeks to lobby a member may constitute a breach of the requirements of the Act, may constitute a criminal offence, and/or could lead to sanctions being imposed on a member by the Parliament. In addition, behaviour by an MSP which falls short of the standards established in this Code could lead to penalties being imposed on a member by the Parliament. Enforcement of the rules in the Code is explained in Section 9.