Code of Conduct for MSPs - Volume 3, Section 7: General Conduct and Conduct in the Chamber or in Committee

Guidance

7.1 Members of the Scottish Parliament are accountable to the Scottish electorate who will expect them to carry out their Parliamentary duties in an appropriate manner consistent with the standing of the Parliament and not to engage in any activity as a member that would bring the Parliament into disrepute.

7.2 As stated above, members are required to conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the standing of the Scottish Parliament.

Use of Social Media

Conduct in the Chamber and in Committee
7.3 Conduct in the Chamber is a matter for the Presiding Officer and conduct in committee proceedings is a matter for the relevant convener. Members should ensure they are up to date with the view of the Presiding Officer, and the convener of any committee they attend, before using electronic devices in any way during parliamentary proceedings.

Treatment of other MSPs and of other MSPs’ staff
7.4 The Code requires that members must treat other MSPs and the staff of other MSPs with courtesy and respect.

7.5 Members are used to applying this requirement to conduct in parliamentary proceedings and the provision does not inhibit robust debate and exchange of views. The same considerations apply in relation to conduct on social media. However, members should also be aware that that kind of debate may be perceived negatively on a forum that also involves non-MSPs.

Confidentiality requirements in relation to social media
7.6 Social media allows MSPs to provide information about their parliamentary work. This could include information about discussions at committee meetings. In this regard, members should note Section 7.4.5 of the Code which makes clear that members should not “disclose…details of discussions or votes taken in private session”.

7.7 Further guidance on the use of social media is available at Section 8.3.20 to 8.3.29 of this guidance.

Confidentiality requirements

7.8 Certain information may be agreed as ‘confidential’ by committees or sub-committees. This is not through any desire to withhold information from the public. Rather, there are a number of difficulties which could arise through the unauthorised disclosure of confidential material:

  • public discussion of draft reports might give preliminary views a status they do not warrant and lead to recommendations or findings not adopted by the committee being prematurely attributed to it;
  • early release of information about a committee report could also result in unfair party political advantage;
  • it may be difficult for members to freely deliberate on the content of a draft report;
  • it may be difficult to get witnesses to give evidence in confidence if members are shown to be incapable of treating their proceedings in confidence;
  • it could lead to a loss of mutual trust between members and a breakdown of confidence in the operation of the committee.

7.9 Published committee reports are available to MSPs from Document Supply within the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) and on the Parliament website. Members of the public can access published reports on the website or they can be purchased from Stationery Office outlets. The relevant clerk should be contacted about the availability of other documents.

Guidance issued by the Presiding Officer on Conduct

The Parliament’s Standing Orders state that Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer. In addition, Members shall conduct themselves in an orderly manner and, in particular, shall not conduct themselves in a way which would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court.

As a central principle underpinning this revised code of conduct, the Presiding Officers expect Members to adhere to the expectations outlined above both during proceedings held in the Chamber and committees as well as in their role as an elected representative to the Scottish Parliament.

It is ultimately a matter for the Presiding Officer to rule on issues of Members’ conduct in the chamber. However, the following has been issued previously by way of specific guidance —

(a) Conduct in the Chamber

To maintain courtesy and respect, Members should not behave in a way which interferes with the proper conduct of business in the Chamber. This includes:

General courtesy and noise levels – Members must conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner. Please pay attention to the impact of your entry and exit from the Chamber, particularly at Decision Time and Time for Reflection, and to noise levels more generally. During debates and questions, the Presiding Officers will give a certain amount of latitude in the interests of encouraging debate and avoiding excessive formality. However, that does not mean that the Presiding Officers condone behaviour that prevents other Members or the visiting public from following a debate. Do not cross the well of the Chamber. Please do not turn you back on the Chair as this has an impact on the sightlines of the Presiding Officers.

Use of language and behaviour – Members shall at all times ensure that their choice of language in the Chamber is appropriate and meets the high standards expected by the general public. It is for the Presiding Officers to make judgements on these matters and all Members must respect the decisions of the Chair. The Parliament’s Standing Orders provide for sanctions in relation to these matters. Members should refer to other Members by their full name, refrain from the use of ‘nicknames’ and speak through the Chair, i.e. do not refer to other Members in the second person, e.g. “you”.

Questions – when your name is selected for a question, please make every effort to submit the question to the Chamber Desk in advance of the relevant deadline. If you are unable to do so, please email the Presiding Officers and Chamber Desk providing an explanation. Please also make sure that you present yourself on time to participate fully in the questioning of Ministers. A failure to adhere to these points is not only a discourtesy to the Parliament but it also means that a fellow Member may miss out on the opportunity to ask a question.

Attendance in the Chamber - as a courtesy to your fellow Members, if you wish to participate in a debate, you should attend the whole debate but, as a minimum, Members should be present during the opening and closing speeches and should remain in the Chamber to hear the two speeches following their contribution. It is particularly important that closing speakers are able to reflect upon all of the contributions made during a debate.

Use of mobile phones, IT etc. - Mobile telephones should be switched off and other tablet-type devices may be used but only for the purposes of delivering a pre-prepared speech. The Presiding Officer does not consider that the use of electronic devices for purposes such as social networking sites or accessing the internet is compatible with the requirements of conduct in the Chamber.

Use of printed material - Members should not read newspapers or magazines, except where members wish to quote from articles in debate.

(b) Conduct in committee meetings

The above guidance relating to conduct in the Chamber is applicable in formal and informal meetings of the parliamentary committees at the discretion of the convener of the committee.