Code of Conduct for MSPs - Volume 3, Section 3: Declaration of Interests

Guidance

When should I declare an interest?

3.1 It is the responsibility of the member to judge whether a ‘declarable interest’ is sufficiently relevant to particular proceedings to require a declaration. Members are advised to err on the side of caution. For example, a member who had received and registered a benefit or remuneration from a particular company would have to make a declaration before participating in any proceedings in relation to that company, but the member should also consider whether or not to declare it before participating in any proceedings relating generally to the industry to which that company belongs.

“Miscellaneous” entries

3.2 A member does not require to make a declaration in respect of interests voluntarily registered under the “Voluntary” category of the Register, but may make reference to such interests if the member so wishes.

How a declaration should be made?

Oral declaration

3.3 Where a member has a declarable interest in any matter, the member is required to make an oral statement declaring the nature of the registrable financial interest before taking part in Parliamentary proceedings relating to that matter. A declaration should be brief but sufficiently informative to enable a listener to understand the nature of the member's interest. It is not necessary to rehearse all the details of an interest which may appear in the member’s entry in the Register of Interests if this is more than is required to explain the nature of the interest. A member may wish to preface the declaration with the words “I declare an interest”, explain briefly the interest, and then move on to the business in hand.

Procedure in meetings of the Parliament

3.4 In a debate in a meeting of the Parliament the following procedures apply:

(a) A member should declare an interest at the beginning of that member’s first contribution in relevant proceedings. (Where a member’s first contribution is an intervention in another member’s speech, the declaration should be made at that point.)

(b) A member who has an interest to declare which is relevant to proceedings which may take place over more than one day should declare it at each meeting of the Parliament in which the member participates in relevant proceedings. This is to try to ensure that as far as reasonably possible members of the public observing proceedings on any particular day are aware of members’ relevant interests.

Procedure in committees and sub-committees

3.5 It has been established as good practice that members of a committee (including committee substitutes) should declare interests relevant to the remit of that committee at the first meeting of the committee they attend or on the first occasion on which they address the committee, irrespective of the business before the committee at that meeting. The same applies to any MSPs who, although not members of the committee (or committee substitutes) expect to attend its meetings regularly.

3.6 Thereafter, a member must make a declaration at committee meetings wherever the requirements of section 13 of the Act apply.

3.7 The following procedures must be followed in declaring interests at committee meetings:

(a) Where a member has an interest relevant to the proceedings, the member must make an oral declaration of interest at each meeting of a committee in which that member participates. This is to allow the public attending any committee meeting to be aware of the member’s interest. Where the member does nothing more than attend the committee meeting or vote at it, or both, no oral declaration is required, providing the interest appears in the member’s entry in the Register. Parliament has determined that the member’s entry in the Register is sufficient declaration of that interest.

(b) The declaration should be made at the start of the relevant agenda item or as soon as the member is able to make the declaration, but before otherwise participating in those proceedings.

(c) A declaration must be made whether a committee meets in private or public. Where a relevant matter is discussed in both private and public at any single committee meeting, the declaration should, as good practice, be made during the public session even if it has already been made in private session.

(d) Where a committee is taking evidence from witnesses a member should, as good practice, ensure that declaration of an interest is made in the presence of those witnesses even if the declaration has been made earlier at that meeting of the committee. The declaration must be made at each meeting whether or not the member believes the witnesses are already aware of the member’s relevant interest.

(e) Although such relationships are not registrable members should, as good practice, also inform the committee of any business or personal relationships they might have with any advisers or witnesses to the committee. This should be done in advance of the witness addressing the committee. In the case of an adviser, and where the identity of any potential adviser is known to committee members, a member should advise the clerk to the committee of the relationship prior to the appointment of the adviser so that this can be brought to the attention of the committee. If the committee subsequently decides that the adviser be appointed, there is no need for the member to re-inform the committee about this relationship.

3.8 A member’s work in the Parliament may not have any relevance to the interests that member may have registered and consequently the member may never need to declare an interest during proceedings.

Written declaration of an interest

3.9 A written declaration of relevant interest is required when:

(a) lodging questions for oral or written answer;

(b) lodging motions or amendments to motions;

(c) introducing a Bill, or lodging a proposal for a Member’s Bill;

(d) lodging amendments to Bills; or

(e) adding the member’s name in support of any proceedings referred to in (a) to (d) above.

3.10 In the case of written declarations of interests, the clerks accepting the notice assume that no interest is declarable unless the notice clearly indicates an interest: this should be done by completing the appropriate box which appears on the forms for lodging the notice. Whenever such an interest is declared, the symbol R is printed in the Business Bulletin after the relevant text in the case of parliamentary questions, motions, Bills and amendments and after the member's name in the case of a member supporting a motion or amendment.

3.11 If the interest to which the member is drawing the attention of the Parliament is already entered in the Register and provided it is readily apparent which of the member's registered interests are applicable, the member need simply make reference to the entry in the Register. If this is not the case, or if the interest is a new interest which is not yet available for inspection in the Register, then the member, when giving notice, should attach to it a brief written description of the interest which is being declared. This will then be available for inspection by members in the office where the notice was lodged.

3.12 A written declaration does not replace the need for an oral declaration whenever the provisions of sections 12 and 13 of the Act apply. For example, in the case of oral questions which are selected for answer, a member with a relevant interest should declare that interest orally when the question is formally asked in the Parliament even though the member will already have made a written declaration when lodging the question. The member should, of course, make the declaration, before asking the question, following the format for oral declaration described above.

Voting

3.13 If a member does nothing other than attend a meeting of the Parliament or its committees, joint committees and sub-committees and vote but not contribute to the meeting in any other way, it has been determined by Parliament that a member does not require to make an oral declaration, providing the relevant interest is already registered.

3.14 A written declaration is made by virtue of a member having an entry in the Register relating to that interest or by virtue of lodging a written notice of that interest with the Standards clerks prior to voting. The date that the member lodges the written notice with the clerks will be the date from which that interest should be declared even though this may be prior to the interest being published in the Register.

Responsibility of the member

3.15 Members are reminded that responsibility for ensuring compliance with the rules on declaration of interests lies with the individual member. If a member is uncertain about how the rules apply, the member may ask the Standards clerks for advice. A member may also choose to consult their own private legal advisers and, on detailed financial and commercial matters, a member may wish to seek advice from other relevant professionals. Members should also bear in mind in relation to any proceedings in the Parliament the paid advocacy provisions which are explained in this guidance.