Stirling confronts mistrust of politics

March 9, 2001

Stirling University academics have urged the Scottish Parliament to set up a register of lobbyists to help allay public mistrust of the parliamentary process.

Philip Schlesinger, director of the Stirling media research institute, told the parliament's standards committee that a register would be an important contribution to openness and transparency in the Scottish Parliament and might "inspire much-needed reform" elsewhere in the country.

"We are dismayed by the lack of trust in the political system. Almost every week there are, if not scandals, implications about how ministers and politicians conduct themselves. That lack of trust will increase unless the public are convinced that there are clear-cut rules to which people adhere," he said.

Stirling academics have been researching public relations and the lobbying industry since 1996, partly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Researcher William Dinan said there were serious problems with lobbyists' self-regulation and voluntary codes of conduct at Westminster.

"Derek Draper, who was at the centre of the recent cash-for-access scandal at Westminster, admitted in his evidence to the Neill committee that he did not have a clue about how self-regulation worked," he said.

"In the United Kingdom there are no examples of self-regulation exposing corrupt practice or addressing questions of the probity of lobbyists. That has always been done by investigative journalism and the media. It is not in the interests of the industry to expose bad practice, as that makes it all look bad."

Most organisations giving evidence to the committee have opposed any regulation and there have been claims that this would create an elite, giving the impression that only those registered could have links with the parliament. Professor Schlesinger said that if registration were seen as a usual part of lobbying and were widely applied, there would be no way anybody could claim special status.

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