Written evidence submitted by The Scottish Parliaments Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee






Dear Chris,

Thank you for your letter of 21 October in which you seek written evidence for your inquiry on your Code of Conduct. In replying, I have sought to draw on the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s work over the course of the current parliamentary session, which started in 2016, to set out some information from our approach to the Code which may be of interest.

The SPPA Committee has articulated the importance of high standards of conduct in its reports this session as well as in communications with MSPs. For example, in its report on a proposal for a committee bill relating to complaints against MSPs, the Committee stated that it wished “to promote the highest standard of conduct among the Parliament’s MSPs and, in doing so, uphold public confidence in the reputation of the Parliament.” In its report on revisions to the Code of Conduct for MSPs on Sexual Harassment and Sexist Behaviour, the Committee similarly stated that it was “of the view that Members should be held to high standards of conduct as elected representatives under the Code.”

From time to time, the Committee has taken the opportunity to issue reminders about the Code or make general statements on expectations of Members when it reports its findings in relation to complaints made about MSPs. For example, the Committee’s report on a complaint in 2018 stated that, It is the Committee's view that members of the public have a right to expect that MSPs will normally respect their wishes with regard to confidentiality”. Another, from 2017, contained the following reminder: “The Committee again reiterates that the declaration of registered interests in any matter, before taking part in proceedings of the Parliament relating to that matter, is an essential aspect of parliamentary transparency and accountability. Furthermore, it is a legal requirement under the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 and the Code of Conduct for MSPs. Before taking part in any proceedings of the Parliament a member must always consider whether they have a declarable interest in relation to the particular matter being addressed in those proceedings. It is incumbent on members to make the appropriate written and oral declarations if they have a declarable interest.” We will often issue a general reminder to MSPs at the time of publication.

The SPPA Committee conducted a review of the Code of Conduct for MSPs in 2017 to ensure that it was simpler and clearer. In particular, illustrative or aspirational material that did not strictly constitute a Rule was moved to a separate guidance volume.

At the beginning of each new session, the clerks to the SPPA Committee provide a briefing to all new MSPs on the Code of Conduct for MSPs. The meetings between clerks and MSPs at initial registration provide a further opportunity for clerks to explain the requirements of the Code in relation to the registration of interests. In addition, the clerks are available to answer Members queries and provide clarifications on the Code. Whenever there is a revision to the Code, the changes are emailed to all MSPs with an explanation of the rule changes that have been made. Training sessions are provided to Scottish Parliament staff on the Code and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, there were plans under development to provide training to MSP staff to raise their awareness of the standards in the Code.

Complaints in relation to the conduct of MSPs under the Code are initially investigated by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, with the notable exception of complaints about a member’s conduct at a meeting of the Parliament and engagement with constituents, which are considered by the Presiding Officer and complaints about a Member’s use of the Reimbursement of Members’ Expenses scheme and complaints about use of SPCB facilities and services, which are referred to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB). Complaints about Cross-Party Groups are referred to the SPPA Committee. Thus, complaints about the registration and declaration of Members’ interests; paid advocacy; lobbying; and MSPs’ general conduct are all matters investigated by the Commissioner.

The SPPA Committee seeks to be proportionate in responding to circumstances in making changes to the Code. For example, the changes it proposed to the Code on bullying, harassment or other inappropriate behaviour responded to concerns about the behaviour of elected representatives. The Code also requires Members to abide by the policies that are adopted by the SPCB.

I hope this is helpful – please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of further assistance.

Yours sincerely


Bill Kidd MSP


Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee



18 November 2020