MSPs lobbying at £200 a head dinner sparks call for better transparency rules 8

MSPs lobbying at £200 a head dinner sparks call for better transparency rules

A dozen Scots politicians, including two government ministers, were wined and dined by companies at a £200 per head dinner during the COP26 summit, The Ferret can reveal. 

The slap up meal – organised by the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) – was also attended by world leaders including John Kerry, the US Special Envoy for Climate. 

UK Government ministers Kwasi Kwarteng and Rishi Sunak also attended the dinner where guests tucked into roast beef and apple crumble with a calvados sauce

Among the MSPs who attended were Kate Forbes, Secretary for finance and the economy, Angus Robertson, the secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture, Conservative MSP Brian Whittle, and Labour MSP and Dundee councillor, Michael Marra. The CBI confirmed 12 MSPs attended in total. 

However, no information for eight of the MSPs that attended the dinner appears on the Scottish Parliaments lobbying register. Only one MSP added a voluntary declaration about the hospitality received to their Register of Interests.

It is likely that private companies paid for all 12 MSPs to attend. Firms that engage in face to face meetings with MSPs are supposed to enter this activity on the lobbying register. 

The Ferret has only been able to identify one MSP, Labour’s Michael Marra, who volunteered to declare the hospitality received in the in the MSPs Register of Interests. The Register of Interests is is where MSPs declare the gifts, properties and other financial interests they hold or receive.  

People will rightly ask what are companies expecting in return for such generosity?

Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland

In response, environmental campaigners have called for the Scottish Parliament to change its rules to force businesses and politicians to publish more details about their meetings, arguing that the “public has a right to know the full extent to which politicians are being lobbied.”

The lobbying register shows that Scottish Finance minister Kate Forbes attended the bash as a guest of Vodafone, one of the main sponsors. 

Vodafone said its discussion with Forbes focussed on the investment it  was making in Scotland, “improving rural connectivity,” and the role “technology can play in supporting Scottish businesses”. 

Tory MSP Brian Whittle attended the dinner courtesy of Centrica. According to the firm’s entry in the lobbying register, its staff discussed the role that Centrica “can play in supporting decarbonisation by large energy users including the public sector.”

SNP minister Angus Robertson attended the event as a guest of Phoenix Holdings, a pension firm based in his Edinburgh Central constituency.  

Labour MSP and Dundee councillor Michael Marra attended as a guest of Tesco. He was the only MSP to declare his attendance at the event on his registers of interest. In his entry on the Scottish Parliament website he said the meal was worth £200. 

£200 roast beef and apple crumble

A tweet showing the menu from the event shows that guests enjoyed a three-course meal. 

Attendees began with a beetroot, parsley and Glenlivet whisky oil starter. This was followed by “overnight roasted shin of Scotch beef, bacon lardons, winter vegetables & Chivas Regal 12 year’s whisky sauce,” for the main course. 

For pudding, the CBI served up “apple crumble with a calvados sauce.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said that MSPs may not have to declare the meal on their Registers of Interest if it was valued at less than £320.

“Any gift or benefit in kind over £320 is registerable if it meets the prejudice test – essentially that it could reasonably be considered to prejudice, or appears to prejudice, the member’s ability to participate in a disinterested manner in parliamentary proceedings,” they said. 

Politicians enjoying the CBI dinner would have rubbed shoulders with senior staff representing a host of other firms and industries. 

Social media posts from the event suggest other corporate guests included Scottish Whisky Association lobbyists, representatives of the US Energy Institute, John Stanton, the CEO of Weir Group, staff from the BASF chemicals group, and staff representing Suez, a firm that operates water and recycling businesses, often on behalf of public bodies. 

Mary Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns said: “It’s deeply concerning to see MSPs dining out at the expense of corporations and cosying up to lobbyists during the crucial COP26 climate summit without disclosing what they are up to. People will rightly ask what are companies expecting in return for such generosity?”

She argued that there was “something wrong” with the parliament’s transparency rules, as there was no requirement for MSPs to declare this hospitality. 

“If 12 MSPs attend the same event but only one declares it, then it seems there’s something wrong with the rules. The public has a right to know the full extent to which politicians are being lobbied and influenced behind the scenes by corporations whose primary interest is profit that all too often comes at the expense of people and planet. 

“How many other meetings – whether formal or informal –  do not make it onto the register and so remain hidden from view?”

During the COP26 conference in Glasgow The Ferret reported that nearly 1000 representatives of oil, gas and other polluting companies were given access to policy makers at the event. 

But Tracy Black, CBI Scotland Director, insisted that the CBI was “proud” to bring representatives for government and business together at COP26.

 “With the eyes of the world on Glasgow for COP26, the CBI was proud to bring together representatives from the UK Government, Scottish Government, international diplomatic community and global business to discuss the important ways the private sector must step-up to tackle the climate and nature emergency.” 

She said collaboration was needed between “stakeholders”- not conflict – if climate change targets were to be met. 

Micheal Marra said: “The event in Glasgow during COP was an opportunity to meet with a wide group of businesses and public sector organisations to put Labour’s case for a jobs first transition to net-zero. Tesco are the largest private sector employers in Dundee and I will take every opportunity to discuss jobs and investment with them on behalf of my constituents. I made a voluntary declaration of this event.”

MSPs
Among the MSPs who attended dinners were Kate Forbes, Secretary for finance and the economy, Angus Robertson, the secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture, Conservative MSP Brian Whittle, and Labour MSP and Dundee councillor, Michael Marra. The CBI confirmed 12 MSPs attended in total. 

More COP26 lobbying revealed

Away from the CBI dinner, the Scottish Parliament lobbying register also reveals that other senior Scottish politicians were lobbied by airport operators and oil firms at COP26. 

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon met with MacQuarie Group at the “Bloomberg Enterprise Zone” at COP26. 

The firm owns both Aberdeen and Glasgow Airport, and said its “team also discussed future business activity on our bid in Scotland’s forthcoming offshore wind leasing round (ScotWind) and our investment in Storegga  an independent UK company pioneering carbon reduction and removal for a net zero world and its Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) project.”

As part of a consortium the MacQuarie group subsequently went on to win rights to develop the ‘West of Orkney” 2GW offshore wind farm in the recent ScotWind auction.

Energy firm BP said it lobbied Ivan McKee, the Scottish Government Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise at an “Offshore Wind Developers” event during COP26. 

It too went on to win rights to develop an 860 square kilometer area of the North Sea in the ScotWind bidding process for offshore wind farms. 

The lobbying register also shows McKee met with Microsoft representatives at the Scottish Enterprise headquarters during COP26, where the firm “provided an overview of how the Scottish Government and Microsoft can work together to realise shared aims.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This is a matter for the Scottish Parliament to consider. The recording of information on the lobbying register is a matter for regulated lobbyists in line with the requirements of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016.

“All Ministerial engagements are proactively published by the Scottish Government and are available at the Gov.scot website.”

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Correction note at 09/02/2020: This piece was edited to remove reference to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Although she was scheduled to attend this event she subsequently decided not to travel to COP26.

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