Rich pickings for peers in Scotland

THERE are no MPs yet in the Scottish parliament and elections to choose them are still more than a year off, but professional lobbyists are already licking their lips at the prospect of business worth pounds 40m a year.

Lobbyists are falling over themselves to set up in Edinburgh before the Devolution Bill has got to the statute book. Allegations of sleaze have already begun to surface.

Complaints centre on a proposed new Code of Conduct drawn up by Scots lobbyists keen to distance their activities from Westminster influence.

Unlike the existing code governing the work of London-based consultants and public relations firms, drawn up after the Ian Greer "cash for questions" scandal, the draft Scots code would allow serving peers to become paid directors of lobbying firms.

The Scots code would ban rewarding "any elected politician, civil servant or public official" but there is no mention of the House of Lords.

Elections are scheduled for May 1999, and the first Scottish parliament for nearly 400 years will begin work in 2000.

William Hague, the Conservative Party leader, who campaigned against devolution in last year's referendum, said in Dundee yesterday: "We cannot now reopen the argument or unscramble the omelette. We have to encourage the new settlement and make it work. Our task is to make the Scottish parliament a force for good."