Code of Conduct for MSPs - Volume 2, Section 7: General Conduct and Conduct in the Chamber or in Committee

7.1: Introduction

7.1.1  Members must comply with the requirements of this Code of Conduct, with the Standing Orders, with any other decision of the Parliament and with any statutory provision. The following provisions cover the general conduct of members.

7.2: General conduct

SPCB policies

7.2.1 The SPCB has statutory responsibility to provide the property, staff and services required for the Parliament’s purposes and is legally responsible for ensuring that, in doing so, it complies with the law. The SPCB accordingly puts in place policies for such reasons as the good governance of the organisation as a whole, compliance with legal requirements, the efficient and effective operation of the Parliament’s premises and facilities and the protection of services and facilities from misuse or the perception of misuse.

7.2.2 Members must abide by the policies that are adopted by the SPCB. These policies are set out in the library of policies created by the SPCB on the Scottish Parliament website.

Treatment of staff

7.2.3 Parliamentary staff (which includes contractors providing services to the Parliament) together with the staff of MSPs are expected to treat members with courtesy and respect. Members must show them the same consideration. Complaints from staff of bullying or harassment, including any allegation of sexual harassment, or any other inappropriate behaviour on the part of members will be taken seriously and investigated.

Treatment of other MSPs

7.2.4 Members must treat other MSPs with courtesy and respect.

Allowances

7.2.5 No improper use should be made of any payment or allowance made to members for public purposes. Members must abide by the Reimbursement of Members’ Expenses Scheme agreed by the Parliament.

Acceptance of hospitality, gifts or other benefits

7.2.6 Over and above compliance with the statutory provisions, members should treat with caution any offer of hospitality, a gift, a favour or benefit. Members are not prohibited from accepting reasonable hospitality or modest tokens of goodwill, particularly where refusal could cause offence. But a member should not accept any offer that might reasonably be thought to influence the member’s judgement in carrying out Parliamentary duties. The value of any benefit, its connection to a member’s Parliamentary duties, its source, the transparency of its receipt and the frequency of receipt of similar offers may all be factors which could be relevant to this judgement. (Members should also have regard to the standards in relation to acceptance of hospitality and gifts set out in the section of the Code on lobbying and access to MSPs at paragraph 5.1.6, as well as the requirement to register gifts set out at section 2.3 of the Code.)

7.2.7 Members should ensure that staff working for them are aware of, and apply, these standards when acting on a member’s behalf or in any Parliamentary connection.

7.3: Conduct in the Chamber or in Committee

7.3.1 Members must also consider their conduct within the Chamber or during committee meetings or other formal proceedings of the Parliament. Members must conduct themselves in accordance with the following Standing Orders rules during meetings in the Chamber and, as appropriate, in committee.

“Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer. In particular, members shall not speak or stand when the Presiding Officer is speaking.” (Rule 7.3.1)

“Members shall at all times conduct themselves in an orderly manner and, in particular, shall not conduct themselves in a manner which would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court.” (Rule 7.3.2)

7.3.2 In committees and sub-committees, Standing Orders require that members respect the authority of the convener.

7.3.3  Members must abide by the guidance issued by the Presiding Officer on members’ conduct in the Chamber and, as appropriate, in committees. The current guidance issued by the Presiding Officer can be found in volume 3 of the Code.

7.4: Confidentiality requirements

7.4.1 It is the intention of the Parliament that its proceedings and printed material be open to the general public. This should be the basis on which members work, but there may be times when members will be required to treat discussions, documents or other information relating to the Parliament in a confidential manner, as described in paragraph 7.4.2 below.

7.4.2 All drafts of committee reports, and committee reports which, although agreed by a committee and no longer in draft, have not yet been published, should be kept confidential, unless the committee decides otherwise. In addition the following should be treated as confidential:

  • briefing provided to members by Parliamentary staff for particular members’ information only;
  • documents produced during a private session of a committee; 
  • evidence submitted to a committee sitting in private from a witness which it has been agreed can be treated as confidential; 
  • any other documents or information which the committee has agreed should be treated as confidential; and 
  • minutes of private discussions.

7.4.3 Given the potential damage that the unauthorised disclosure of confidential committee material can do to the standing and integrity of a committee it is essential that all members respect these rules. This means that, unless the Parliament or the relevant committee has agreed otherwise, such documents should not be circulated, shown, or transmitted in any other way to members of the public (including those in Cross-Party Groups), media or to any member of any organisation outwith the Parliament, including the Scottish Government, nor to other MSPs who are not members of the committee or committees for whom the material was intended.

7.4.4 It is unacceptable for members to provide the media with off the record briefings on the general contents or ‘line’ of draft committee reports or other confidential material or information. Disclosures of this kind can also seriously undermine and devalue the work of committees.

7.4.5 It is also unacceptable, unless the Parliament or the relevant committee has agreed otherwise, to disclose any information to which a member has privileged access, for example, derived from a confidential document or details of discussions or votes taken in private session, either orally or in writing.

7.4.6 In the case of other documents and information members are requested to exercise their judgement as to what should or should not be made available to outside bodies or individuals. In cases of doubt members should seek the advice of the relevant clerk.

7.4.7 Where a committee member wishes to express dissent from a committee report, the member should only make this public once the committee report has been published in order to avoid disclosing the conclusions of a draft report.

7.5: Use of services of staff of the Parliament

7.5.1 Staff of the Parliament are employed by the SPCB to provide an impartial service to the Parliament and its members. Members should not ask Parliamentary staff to act in any way which would conflict with or call into question their political impartiality, or which could give rise to criticisms that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes.

7.5.2 Members should respect the confidentiality of advice, whether written or oral, received from clerks or other Parliamentary staff and should avoid attributing advice or views to a named member of staff.

7.6: Awareness of MSPs’ staff

7.6.1 Members will be held responsible for the behaviour of their staff within the Parliamentary complex and in their dealings with other members, other members’ staff, and Parliamentary staff.

7.6.2 Members are responsible for ensuring that their staff are fully aware of and understand the policies, rules and requirements that apply to the conduct of personnel on the SPCB’s premises.

7.7: Failure to comply with or contravention of the Rules on General Conduct

7.7.1 Failure to comply with or contravention of the Rules on general conduct, or behaviour which falls short of the standards established in this Code could lead to sanctions being imposed on a member by the Parliament. Enforcement of the Rules in the Code is explained in Volume 2, Section 9 and Volume 3, Section 9.