Tuesday 21 November 2000
[THE CONVENER opened the meeting at
(Mr Mike Rumbles): Good morning and welcome to the 16th
meeting this year of the Standards Committee. Apologies have been received
from Karen Gillon. We have three items of business this morning.
Draft Report (Alleged Disclosure)
The Convener: Item 1 on the agenda
relates to two complaints regarding the alleged unauthorised disclosure
at the weekend of a draft Health and Community Care Committee report. We
should not discuss the substance of the allegations or otherwise prejudice
any investigation by the standards adviser. The only issue for us is to
determine whether the Standards Committee can accept a complaint that does
not conform to the format that is set out in the code of conduct for MSPs.
Is it acceptable to members for the committee to proceed on that basis?
Members indicated agreement.
The Convener: The clerk has prepared
briefing notes for members, which set out the committee's remit in this
matter. Members should note that our remit-and, therefore, that of our
adviser-is limited to the conduct of members of the Scottish Parliament.
The actions of Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body staff and contractors
are outside our remit.
Section 10.2.1 of the code of conduct states
that complaints that are made against members should name the member or
members against whom the complaint is being made. However, the code gives
the committee the discretion to take up complaints that are not submitted
in accordance with that section. If the committee decides that it wants
to examine the allegations, I suggest that we ask our adviser, Gary Watson,
to pursue the investigation. Are members content to refer the matter to
the standards adviser and to await a report from him?
Members indicated agreement.
Des McNulty (Clydebank and Milngavie)
(Lab): Can the committee also write
to the chief executive of the Parliament, inviting his co-operation in
the process? That would be helpful.
I am sure that we could do that. Do members have any other comments?
Tricia Marwick (Mid Scotland and Fife)
(SNP): The adviser will want to speak to a number of people, and it
would be in the interests of the Parliament and the committees if that
could be done as quickly as possible. We should tell the adviser that we
would like the investigation to be conducted thoroughly but concluded in
the shortest possible time.
The Convener: I am sure that the
committee is agreed on that. We must ensure that all investigations are
swift but thorough. The wishes of the committee will be made clear to Gary
Members' Interests Order
The Convener: Our second agenda
item is a draft consultation paper on the members' interests order. At
our previous meeting, we agreed to consult members on their experience
of the order before setting out to replace it with an act of the Scottish
Parliament. Before we consider the draft paper in detail, I seek the committee's
views on whether members should be invited to submit their responses anonymously,
as envisaged in the draft paper. That would encourage members to be frank
in describing their experiences of the order. However, it would prevent
the clerks from identifying which members have not responded and from following
up any issues with individual MSPs. I would like committee members to comment
on whether we should expect anonymous responses to the consultation paper
or named responses.
Marwick: We could do both. We can ask MSPs to put their names to their
responses if they want to do so. If they do not want to do that, they should
not have to. We should give them the option: it should not be an either/or
situation. We should encourage MSPs to put their names to their responses,
for the reasons outlined, but if they have a specific issue that they want
to bring to our attention and do not want to be identified, we must respect
The Convener: Is that the feeling
of the committee?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Lothians)
(Con): It is inconceivable that an MSP would not want to identify himself
if he is putting forward a legitimate point. A constituent might want to
raise an issue, which he might want to be dealt with anonymously, but I
would have thought that an MSP would not need that protection.
The Convener: Shall we agree to
Tricia Marwick's suggestion to accept anonymous returns but to encourage
members to identify themselves?
Members indicated agreement.
The Convener: Let us go through
the draft consultation paper page by page. I ask members to look at paragraphs
1 to 6 on the first full page of the document. Do members have any comments
In the context of what we have just agreed, paragraph 6 will have to
The Convener: It will be changed.
Paragraph 7 deals with paid advocacy. Does
anyone have any views on the questions that the paper raises?
||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton:
It would be helpful if people lodging members' bills knew exactly what
they could and could not do. On occasion, charities or voluntary organisations
might want a member to lodge a bill to clarify the law. Having a clear
guide might be of assistance.
The Convener: What you are referring
to is covered in paragraph 10, which deals with complaints against a member
who has lodged such a bill and the subsequent inquiry.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Okay.
Patricia Ferguson (Glasgow Maryhill)
(Lab): So far, members' bills have not worried me too much. Most of
them have been clear cut and the travail of Mike Watson's bill has now
been resolved. On one or two occasions, however, I have been slightly uneasy
about the subject of members' business debates, because I have felt that
the subject might be tied up with a member's interest. Some of those subjects
have been debated and some have not but none of them has crossed the boundary
into unacceptability. We might want to raise that issue as well. The problem
lies not with the ability to legislate-there is no vote at the end of a
members' business debate-but with the fact that such debates raise the
profile of an issue.
The Convener: That is a good point.
Des McNulty: A danger of issuing
a questionnaire of this type is that people might go through it too quickly
and not spend enough time thinking through the issues in depth. We might
want to ensure that some of the dilemmas to which the questions relate
are properly flagged up. We have gone a long way towards doing so. Paragraph
2 contains the sentence:
"The Committee is keen to ensure that the
replacement legislation promotes the highest standards of probity in the
Parliament without unduly hindering MSPs in carrying out their Parliamentary
Could we amplify that and put it in bold?
The questionnaire must be focused on the need to find the correct balance
between high standards of probity and ensuring that MSPs can do effectively
what they were elected to do. We must toughen up that aspect.
The Convener: Obviously, we would
not send the questionnaire out on its own. It would be accompanied by a
I have a question on paragraph 5, which
suggests that members send their responses to the clerk to the Standards
Committee by a date in January that is not yet specified. Do members have
any opinions on when we should expect responses?
If we set a date at the end of January, we would have an opportunity
to send members a reminder close to the end of December. Many members will
want to consider the questionnaire closely before they respond. I do not
know whether, even after the Parliament has been up and running for a year,
many members are aware of what the current members' interests order says.
Perhaps we could attach it to the questionnaire so that it can inform their
The Convener: That is a good idea.
Tricia Marwick: As well as sending
the questionnaire to MSPs, we should inform the business managers directly
of the fact that it has been sent out. The business managers could encourage
members to respond to the questionnaire through their party groups. The
more responses that we get from MSPs throughout the groups, the better
the new members' interests order will be. More responses would mean that
the new order would meet MSPs' needs in a way that the current members'
interests order does not.
The Convener: Thank you, Tricia.
That was a good point.
Des McNulty: Patricia Ferguson and
I were wondering whether it might be appropriate to hold a seminar or discussion
session for members.
The Convener: Yes, that is a good
idea and a sensible suggestion. A seminar would be helpful to members.
We will look into that and come up with a date.
We will move on to the section headed "Registration
and Declaration of Members' Interests", which covers paragraph 11 onwards.
I will ask for comments as we go through each paragraph.
On remuneration, which comes under existing
categories of registrable interests, there are two simple questions:
"Have you encountered any problems with
the requirements on remuneration? Please give details."
"Should salaries and other remuneration
received from Westminster or the European Parliament continue to be a registrable
If we are happy with that, we will move
on to the question of gifts, which may exercise members of the committee.
The first question is:
"Do you think that the current requirements
on gifts are appropriate?"
Tricia Marwick: Convener, you know
my view on the £250 limit on gifts from spouses.
The Convener: I was waiting for
you to come in, Tricia.
Not that I have been so lucky as to receive such a gift, which is why
I have not registered one.
I would be interested to hear the views
of other MSPs before we reach a conclusion on this issue. I would be surprised
if their views on gifts from relatives, friends and spouses differ from
mine or from those of Karen Gillon. We must ask MSPs that question. I look
forward to receiving their responses.
The Convener: I would like to draw
members' attention to the third bullet point under paragraph 12, where
"Should the threshold be expressed as a
percentage of the current Parliamentary salary?"
We should indicate what 1 per cent, or
0.5 per cent, of the salary is.
Are there other points on gifts?
James Douglas-Hamilton: It is unreasonable that gifts from spouses
should be registered. Why should it be registrable if a working spouse
gives a car to his wife or, for that matter, to her husband?
The Convener: The present procedure
requires that to be registered.
I will move on to paragraph 13, on sponsorship.
I want to raise an issue under sponsorship, although it may have a
more general application. The second bullet point under this heading asks
members to give reasons for their response. What we want is not so much
an opinion poll, with 40 MSPs saying one thing and 30 MSPs saying another,
but to get at the underlying arguments. In a sense, we should ask, in bold,
members to give reasons for their responses right the way through the consultation
paper. The reasons are crucial to the process.
The Convener: That is a good point,
which we will emphasise in the covering letter that will accompany the
consultation paper. That is the exact point that we are trying to tease
out from members.
Are there any comments on paragraph 14,
on election expenses? As we go through these points, I will take it as
read that members are satisfied, unless someone stops me.
Do members have any comments on the question
on interests and shares?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Dates
can be quite significant as far as interests and shares are concerned.
The market value of shares can fluctuate at different times, even daily,
almost like George W Bush's votes.
The Convener: Or indeed Al Gore's.
||Lord James Douglas-Hamilton:
I just wonder whether there should be a question on the dates of interests
and shares; otherwise the matter could become repressive.
The Convener: The only date that
could be used is the date of register. It would be somewhat impractical
to do things any other way. The clerk advises me that the situation could
Patricia Ferguson: I wonder how
practical a question on dates would be. The paragraph in the questionnaire
explains that, as the market can be volatile, there could be a very wide
difference between the value of the shares when they are registered and
the date of the annual review. I am not sure of the relevance of such information
in that context.
The Convener: That is a very good
point. Speaking as a layman, I think that members can only declare the
market value of the shares on the date that they register them. Do members
think that that should be reviewed?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: An
annual review would be a straightforward matter. As I said, the value of
shares can go up and down every year.
The Convener: We could have a question
on whether there should be such a review.
Patricia Ferguson: I wonder whether
we need to review that aspect. Perhaps we should just keep the existing
requirement, which is to declare the nominal value of the shareholding.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The
existing requirement makes for simplicity and is readily understood. We
get into problems when we ask questions about the market value of shares,
as that changes.
The Convener: We should bear in
mind the fact that we are not trying to reach a solution; we are simply
asking the question and leaving the matter open for members to come back
to us. We could include a question about whether the matter should be reviewed.
We will take advice on that point, if members are happy for us to do so.
Paragraph 16 concerns heritable property
and asks members whether they are content with the present arrangements
or have any suggestions for adjustments. Do members have any comments?
The Convener: Paragraph 17 deals
with overseas visits and asks:
"Do you think that overseas visits in connection
with work as an elected Member of Westminster or the European Parliament
should be registrable interests?
Do you think that visits where the Member
is representing the Parliament should be registered?
||Should visits paid
for by another Government be registrable?"
Tricia Marwick: We must also include
a category of visits that have been paid for by other organisations.
Mr Adam Ingram (South of Scotland) (SNP):
I agree. It is not enough to ask about visits that are paid for by
other Governments. For example, organisations such as the Organisation
for Co-operation and Security in Europe might invite parliamentarians on
The Convener: We must also be careful
about drawing too wide a distinction, because visits that are paid for
by organisations could be construed as gifts.
Des McNulty: The general phrase
"non-governmental organisations" would encompass those organisations.
The Convener: We will add that to
Tricia Marwick: I am not sure that
I agree with Des McNulty that the phrase "non-governmental organisations"
covers every organisation that is not a Government organisation. People
have an understanding of what a non-governmental agency is. That does not
cover every organisation that might invite MSPs to go on a visit.
The Convener: Is it not the case
that the overseas visits representing the Parliament are quite different
from other overseas visits? We must be careful about what we are asking
Tricia Marwick: We are talking about
visits paid for by a source other than the member or their spouse.
Des McNulty: My understanding of
the current arrangements is that members have to register visits overseas
other than those that have been authorised explicitly by the Scottish Parliamentary
Corporate Body. The current arrangements take account of these different
Tricia Marwick: It would be useful
if, under "Overseas Visits" in paragraph 17, we specified what categories
of visits are currently to be registered. We can then ask about categories
of visits that could be exempted from registration. Before we make that
leap, people need to know what is currently registrable.
Patricia Ferguson: The second question
under paragraph 17 asks:
"Do you think that visits where the Member
is representing the Parliament should be registered?"
I think that I am right in saying that,
technically, only the Presiding Officer and his deputies can represent
the Parliament. Other members can go
||on trips and attend
events as members of a parliamentary delegation. We do not want to get
caught up in a wrangle about that.
The Convener: Clearly, we need to
state what is registrable at the moment and to give members options as
to what they think should be exempted from registration.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I understand
that at Westminster the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is exempted.
However, foreign Governments are very much included.
The Convener: We need a list of
options, so that members can indicate what they think should be exempted
Tricia Marwick: If we decide to
keep the second box, we should extend the question. We could ask, "Do you
think that visits where the member is representing the Parliament or is
a member of a parliamentary delegation should be registered?" That would
cover Patricia Ferguson's point. It would be up to members to indicate
whether they thought that such visits should or should not be registered.
Mr Ingram: As I understand it, if
a member is invited to go on an overseas trip, they can apply to the SPCB
for that trip to be approved. They do not need to register the visit if
approval is given. I do not know if that ties in what Tricia Marwick just
said. We are getting confused about this item. As Tricia said, the rule
governing approval for overseas trips needs to be spelled out.
The Convener: That is helpful. We
need to clarify the situation, indicating what members have to and do not
have to declare. We can then set out the options.
Ferguson: We could simply ask whether there are any other categories
that should be registered.
The Convener: We could do it that
way and leave it up to members to make suggestions.
Let us move on to new categories of registrable
interests. Paragraph 19 is on non-pecuniary interests and invites us to
consider the consultative steering group's recommendation that members
should be required to register non-pecuniary interests. It goes on to say:
"Currently, some Members choose to register
such interests on a voluntary basis in the 'Miscellaneous' category of
Many members have chosen to do that. The
"If the Code of Conduct were to be amended
to require registration of non-pecuniary interests, it might be considered
appropriate that contravention of this requirement should not attract criminal
There are two questions:
||"Do you think that
the requirements on the registration and declaration of interests should
be extended to include non-pecuniary interests? Please give reasons for
"Should the current approach where Members
register non-pecuniary interests on a voluntary basis in the Miscellaneous
category be continued?"
Should we have a miscellaneous category
Mr Ingram: Does that question relate
to matters masonic?
The Convener: Gosh. I never thought
Is everyone content with those questions?
The Convener: Paragraph 20 relates
to spouses, cohabitees and close family members. The CSG recommended the
registration of pecuniary and non-pecuniary interests of spouses, partners
and close family members in almost all cases. However, that recommendation
was qualified by a proposal that the failure to register such interests
should not be a criminal offence. The CSG also highlighted some problems
that might occur. Paragraph 20 makes the important point that
"extending the Order in this way would
also increase the complexity of the Register and encroach on the privacy
of family members. Moreover, the rare cases which might be of legitimate
public interest could be masked by the sheer volume of entries."
Are there any comments on those questions?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: It
would be unreasonable for the register to be involved in marital breakdown.
Perhaps members at Westminster have a worse record than do members of the
Scottish Parliament but, even so, the register should not get dragged into
The Convener: It is not what we
think of the topic that is important, but whether we are asking appropriate
Tricia Marwick: It is appropriate
to ask such questions of MSPs in order to hear their views. I do not want
to anticipate those views. We must test how MSPs feel about certain issues,
so it is right to ask such questions.
The Convener: Let us move on to
pensions. Paragraph 21 says:
"The current Order does not require Members
to register or declare the receipt of pensions, although some MSPs choose
to do so voluntarily under the miscellaneous category."
That is what I do. The question is:
"Do you think that Members should be required
to register or declare the receipt of pensions?"
||I know that I do
not look like a pensioner. That is a pecuniary interest and is specifically
excluded in the order. Do members think that that question is appropriate?
The Convener: Paragraph 22 is on
the provision of services by members. It reads:
"The CSG Working Group recommended that
Members who had entered into agreements which involved the provision of
services in their capacity as MSPs, such as a regular newspaper column,
should be required to ensure that any such agreement is in written form
and a full copy is deposited with the keeper of the Register of Interests.
This recommendation has not been implemented to date."
We are asking whether members agree or
disagree with that and to give reasons for their answer. Is that acceptable?
The Convener: Paragraphs 23 and
24 are on ceased or future interests. The question is:
"Do you think that MSPs should be required
to declare registrable interests which have ceased in the previous 12 months?"
Paragraph 25 asks the general questions:
"Are the existing provisions relating to
Members' interests clear?"-
I have my own views on that-and
"Do you find the provisions of the MIO
and Code helpful?"
I am sure that we will get comments on
that. There are a couple of points on other issues, which allow people
to comment on anything they wish.
Des McNulty: We should ask specific
questions on two subjects. One is, "When did you last check your own members'
interests declaration? Was it in the last three months, six months or nine
months? When did you last change it?" We should also ask whether people
feel that the registration of interests should be simplified wherever possible.
Do they have any suggestions on how the process might be simplified? That
would be useful.
The Convener: Are there any other
We will circulate the changes by correspondence,
rather than addressing them at the next committee meeting.
Patricia Ferguson: Mention was made
earlier of this not being an opinion poll, which sparked something else
in my mind. If we were to get lots of responses on one particular issue,
which we thought were not as well informed as they might be, would we be
bound to take on board the majority view? We would have to be clear in
the paper that this is consultation.
Yes. The covering letter must make it clear that we are preparing for new
legislation and that this is our consultation exercise, much in the same
vein as a member, committee or the Executive might undertake consultation
in producing a bill.
Des McNulty: We also need to read
through the questions, or perhaps ask the clerk to do so, to ensure that
none of the questions ask simply for a tick-box answer. We are not looking
for such answers; we are looking for reasoned responses from people.
The Convener: You made the important
point that it is the reasoning behind the responses that we are after,
which will inform our opinions when we come to consider the legislation.
The Convener: Agenda item 3 is consideration
of applications for recognition as cross-party groups. There are two applications,
and members have copies of the forms that have been submitted. We shall
take the applications in order.
The first application is a proposal to
establish a cross-party group on tourism. Members will note from the papers
that the first meeting of this group was not advertised in the cross-party
bulletin, as is required in the code of conduct. The clerk has written
to the proposer of the group, Maureen Macmillan, who has explained that
MSPs and their staff, together with representatives from organisations
outside the Parliament, were e-mailed to inform them of the initial meeting
of the group. The application predates the clerk's revised guidance notes,
which should go some way to preventing such problems from arising in the
future. In all other respects, the application appears to conform to the
rules on cross-party groups. Do members have any comments on the proposed
Des McNulty: No information has
been provided on subscriptions.
The Convener: The group is not levying
subscriptions. That information should be on the application form.
Are there any other points? If not, are
members happy to approve this group?
Members indicated agreement.
The Convener: The second application
for consideration is a cross-party group on survivors of childhood sexual
abuse. Do members have any comments on the proposed application?
Mr Ingram: Are there not a number
of cross-party groups on that subject already?
The Convener: There is a similar
group, but it is not identified as a cross-party group for survivors of
childhood sexual abuse. The application that we are considering is quite
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: We
all welcome the creation of interest in subjects of this nature, which
are sensitive and important, but if there are parallel groups working on,
for example, domestic abuse and other forms of abuse, the question arises
whether it would make more sense for them to amalgamate rather than set
up a separate cross-party group. I have no objection to this application
if the applicants wish to go ahead with it, but I wonder whether they have
considered coming under a wider umbrella.
The Convener: I have been informed
by the clerk that the nearest group is the cross-party
||group in the Scottish
Parliament on men's violence against women and children, but that the proposed
group on survivors of childhood sexual abuse is distinct from that. As
far as the clerks are concerned, there is no overlap with other groups.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: In
that case, we should support it.
The Convener: Are members happy
to approve this group?
Members indicated agreement.
The Convener: That brings us to
the end of the meeting.
Meeting closed at 11:46.