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The Standards Commission is an independent body whose purpose is to encourage high ethical standards in public life through the promotion and enforcement of Codes of Conduct for councillors and those appointed to the boards of devolved public bodies.

What is Lobbying?

30th June 2022

What is Lobbying?

Lobbying is a word that is frequently mentioned in the news, particularly in connection to politicians. But do many people know what it means and whether it is allowed?

“Lobbying” is the term used to describe where an individual, organisation or a group tries to influence politicians and other elected representatives to support a particular policy or make a certain decision.

Lobbying can be done in person, by sending letters and emails or via social media. It can be done by:

  • individuals;
  • interest groups;
  • bodies that represent their members or professions;
  • charities and the voluntary sector; and
  • professional lobbyists.

The Councillors’ Code of Conduct and the Model Code of Conduct for Members of Devolved Public Bodies in Scotland contain provisions concerning lobbying and access.

The Codes recognise that a wide range of people will seek access to councillors and members and may try to lobby them or make their views known. This is perfectly legitimate and should be encouraged, as the ability to approach and lobby a council or public body, and a councillor or public body member, is an essential part of the democratic process.

It is important to recognise, however, that the integrity and reputation of a council’s or public body’s decision-making process depends on openness, transparency and following proper procedures. There is a risk that private meetings with lobbyists, particularly those that fall outwith the council or public body’s procedures and where employees are not involved, will undermine or could reasonably be perceived as undermining this.

The Codes require that councillors and members seek to distinguish between:

  1. their representative role in dealing with constituent or service user enquiries;
  2. any community engagement where they are working with individuals and organisations to encourage their participation and involvement; and
  3. lobbying, which is where they are approached by any individual, group or organisation who is seeking to influence them for financial gain or advantage. This is particularly those who are seeking to do business with their council or public body (for example, to be awarded a procurement contract) or who are applying for a consent from the council or public body.

It is important to recognise that there is a difference between lobbying on behalf of a commercial or personal interest, and lobbying for a policy change or benefit which affects a group of people, a community, or an organisational sector. Councillors and members should always consider what will benefit the Council area or the public body and its service users as a whole (rather than any narrow sectoral interest).

In deciding whether, and if so how, to respond to any lobbying, councillors and members are obliged to consider an objective test, which is:

whether a member of the public, with knowledge of the relevant facts, would reasonably regard their conduct as being likely to influence their, or their council’s / public body’s, decisions.

In any event, councillors and members must not accept any paid work in which they give advice on how to influence the council / public body or their decision-making processes.

Any complaint that a councillor or member of a public body has breached the lobbying provisions in the Codes can be made to the Ethical Standards Commissioner. Copies of the Codes can be found on the 'Codes of Conduct' page of this website. The Ethical Standards Commissioner’s website contains information about how to make a complaint, including how to download a complaint form.

The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 requires any “regulated lobbying”, from March 2018, must be recorded in a Lobbying Register. “Regulated lobbying” is lobbying which takes place face-to-face (including by video-conference) with:

  • Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs)
  • members of the Scottish Government (including Scottish Law Officers)
  • junior Scottish ministers
  • Scottish Government special advisers
  • the Permanent Secretary of the Scottish Government

Lobbyists must register with the Scottish Parliament. The Ethical Standards Commissioner can investigate complaints about regulated lobbying, where the lobbyist has not:

  • registered with the Scottish Parliament
  • provided accurate and complete information in their registration
  • submitted a return detailing any lobbying undertaken
  • supplied an accurate and complete response to a request by the Scottish Parliament for information about their lobbying.

More information on how to make a complaint about a lobbyist can be found on the Ethical Standards Commissioner’s website.