Code of Conduct for MSPs - Volume 3, Section 6: Cross-Party Groups

Introduction

6.1 The purpose of this guidance is to provide additional information on some issues regarding the operation of Cross-Party Groups within the provisions of Section 6 of the Code of Conduct (Volume 2).

6.2  If you have any queries about Cross-Party Groups on which you would like further clarification or advice, you should contact the Standards clerks—

Waiver or modification of the MSP membership requirements

6.3  Section 6.4.1 of the Code explains that all Cross-Party Groups are required to have at least 5 MSP members, with at least one MSP member from each of the parties or groups represented on the Parliamentary Bureau.

6.4  However, the Code also recognises that there are circumstances in which the membership requirements may need to be waived or modified to enable the establishment of Cross-Party Groups which otherwise fulfil the requirements of the Code.

6.5  There are two ways in which a waiver or modification will usually be made—

  • Where the SPPA Committee considers that a general waiver or modification should be applied for all Cross-Party Groups
  • Where a specific Cross-Party Group applies to the SPPA Committee for a waiver or modification to reflect the particular circumstances of that Group.

6.6  Where a general waiver or modification is applied, notice of this will be provided to all Cross-Party Group Conveners and Secretaries and to the MSP contact of any proposed Cross-Party Group.  The notification will set out the detail of the MSP membership requirements as a result of the waiver or modification, the reasons for the Committee’s decision and the duration for which the waiver or modification will be in effect.

6.7  In the situation of a specific Cross-Party Group applying for a waiver or modification, the Convener of the Cross-Party Group should apply in writing to the SPPA Committee, setting out—

  • the nature of the waiver or modification that is requested
  • the steps that have been taken to meet the membership requirements
  • any reasons, if known, why it has not been possible for the Group to secure the required MSP membership.

6.8  The Convener of the proposed Cross-Party Group will normally be invited to attend the meeting at which the SPPA Committee considers the Group’s application. The SPPA Committee will consider the information provided by the Cross-Party Group or proposed Cross-Party Group and decide whether to grant the waiver or modification.  The Cross-Party Group or proposed Cross-Party Group will be notified in writing of the Committee’s decision.

6.9  Where the Committee decides not to grant the waiver or modification, the Cross-Party Group must notify the Committee decision if it is not able to meet the MSP membership requirements.  If a Cross-Party Group does not manage to secure the required MSP membership, the SPPA Committee may withdraw recognition from that Cross-Party Group.

Election of office bearers

6.10 It is anticipated that the election of Cross-Party Group office bearers will usually take place at the initial meeting of a Cross-Party Group and thereafter at the AGM.  However, it may be necessary for a Group to hold the election of office bearers at different times and/or outwith meetings.

6.11 It is therefore possible for Cross-Party Groups to hold electronic elections in which all Group members can vote by e-mail.

6.12 As with Cross-Party Group meetings, an electronic election must be advertised at least 10 calendar days in advance on a Group’s page on the Parliament website.

6.13 The advertisement should use the following form of words—

The Cross-Party Group on [TITLE] is holding elections for office bearers on [DATE].  The elections will be carried out by email and the Group will send an e-mail to its members setting out the positions for which elections are to be held, the names of prospective office bearers and the date by which members must vote for their preferred candidates.  For further information, please contact the Convener of the Group, [NAME] MSP on 0131 348 xxxx or at <email>@parliament.scot.

6.14 It is recommended that the Group keeps copies of the votes received in order that they can be verified should a question arise about the outcome of the election.  The Convener of the Group should advise members about the outcome of the elections as soon as possible after the date of the election.  The Standards clerks must also be notified of any changes to office bearers arising from the elections no later than 30 calendar days after the election.  The Standards clerks will then make any necessary amendments to the information on the Cross-Party Group webpage.

Meetings at which fewer than 2 MSP members are present

6.15 Section 6.4.5 of the Code requires that at least 2 MSP members of a Group must be present in order for a meeting to be quorate. It is, however, recognised that there are circumstances in which it may not be possible to meet this requirement.

6.16 Non-quorate, informal meetings of a Group can be held in the event of the quorum not being met. This ensures that all Cross-Party Group members who are able to attend can participate in the planned discussions and exchange of information however—

  • any votes or decisions to be taken by the Group should be postponed until, or ratified at, a future quorate meeting of the Group
  • inquorate meetings will not be counted towards the minimum requirement to hold at least two meetings a year, as set out in section 6.4.4 of the Code
  • the minutes of inquorate meetings will not be posted on the Group’s webpage on the Parliament website.

6.17 Where a period of a Cross-Party Group meeting is inquorate, for example if a meeting starts with 2 or more registered MSP members present but then a number leave the meeting making it inquorate, votes taken during the inquorate part of the meeting must be ratified at a future meeting.

Use of the Cross-Party Group pages on the Parliament website and updates to information

6.18 The Scottish Parliament website has a dedicated section for Cross-Party Groups.  Within this section each Cross-Party Group has its own page on which the details provided on the Registration Form are reproduced.

6.19 The Code requires that advance notification is provided of Cross-Party Group meetings or activities such as elections and it is in the dedicated Cross-Party Group section that this information is found.

6.20 Beyond complying with the requirements of the Code, Cross-Party Groups may wish to note the options that the Cross-Party Group section may offer in terms of assisting with advance planning of Cross-Party Group activity, particularly in relation to minimising clashes for MSPs who are members of a number of Cross-Party Groups.

6.21 For example, Cross-Party Group Conveners and Secretaries could refer to this section when planning future meeting dates to determine which dates and times would prevent any clashes occurring between different Cross-Party Groups of which the same MSPs are members.

6.22 The main Cross-Party Group page (which is located on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.scot/msps/cross-party-groups.aspx) will show the details of the next meeting of each Cross-Party Group.  In addition, the individual Cross-Party Group pages can also show the dates of both the next meeting and future meetings of the Cross-Party Group.

6.23 However, the usefulness of the Cross-Party Group pages to both Cross-Party Group members and other interested parties is largely determined by the information that is provided to the Standards clerks for inclusion on each page.  It is strongly recommended that Cross-Party Groups make use of the Parliament’s webpage to ensure that information is available and accessible to all those who may have an interest in the Cross-Party Group system.

Use of the reimbursement of members’ expenses scheme

6.24 There are only limited circumstances in which members may make use of the expenses scheme in pursuit of Cross-Party Group business.  At its meeting on 18 June 2012, the SPCB agreed that the specific circumstances in which use of the scheme is permitted are—

Staff costs, where an MSP member of staff is acting in a supporting role to the MSP but not where the member of staff is a member of the Cross-Party Group or an office holder of the Cross-Party Group, and

Travel costs, where the travel is limited to MSPs only and is in connection with their parliamentary duties.  This would also apply to any overnight costs.

6.25 For advice on making use of the Reimbursement of Members’ Expenses Scheme in connection with these circumstances, Members should seek advice from the Allowances Office at the earliest opportunity.

Cross-Party groups and guidance on filming/photography

All filming/photography at CPGs must comply with the following conditions

6.26 All filming/photography at CPGs must comply with the following conditions.

  • The filming/photography can only be used to raise awareness of the purpose of the Cross-Party Group (CPG).  The filming/photography should not be used to suggest parliamentary support for a particular campaign or initiative.
  • The filming/photography must not
    • be used in connection with party political purposes
    • distort or alter images in reproduction
    • be used for satirical purposes
    • be used for competitions
    • be used in connection with advertising endorsement or other commercial uses
  • The filming/photography should be carried out respecting the privacy of other Members, other meeting attendees and building users.  Members, meeting attendees and building users should not be the focus of a shot or recording unless prior permission has been obtained from the individuals concerned.
  • Meeting attendees should be notified in advance when filming/photography is taking place and for what purpose the images will be used.  Individuals should be given the option of opting out of shots.
  • When children under the age of 16 are being filmed/photographed the permission of the parent/guardian should be obtained in writing by the meeting organiser in advance of the filming/photography taking place.
  • All set up for, and carrying out of filming and/or photography must not cause disruption to parliamentary activities.
  • All meeting organisers must abide by the SPCB copyright and corporate identity policies.

Cross-Party Groups and meeting room booking policy

General Policy

6.27 Scottish Parliament meeting rooms may be used for CPG meetings.

6.28 Meeting rooms must be used for parliamentary purposes, not party political purposes.

6.29 All bookings are made on the understanding that parliamentary business takes precedence, and that any booking may be withdrawn at short notice if the room or space is required for this purpose. If possible, alternative accommodation will be found for the external activity but this cannot be guaranteed.

Eligibility

6.30 Only Members, their staff and SPCB staff may book meeting rooms.

  • The person in whose name the booking is made must attend personally or be represented by at least one Parliament pass holder with signing-in rights. Invitations to attend a meeting in any of the Parliament's meeting rooms should only be issued in the name of the person making the booking. In the case of CPG meetings, Members or a nominated member of their staff authorised by them will be responsible for issuing invitations to other Members to attend the CPG meeting. External invitations can be issued by external organisations but must clearly state in the opening paragraph that the CPG meeting is being hosted by named Members.
  • Once the meeting is finished the responsible pass holder(s) must ensure that all guests/non-pass holders are escorted off the premises. The person who made the booking or the pass holders who are present must take full responsibility for the behaviour of all persons in the room and for the care and safe keeping of all articles in the room.

Cancellations

6.31 If a Parliamentary meeting room is no longer required, the FM helpdesk should be advised at the earliest opportunity. 

6.32 Repeated instances of a room being booked and not subsequently used (a “no-show”), may result in the removal of meeting facilities to the meeting organiser.

Cross-Party Groups documentation

Complaints process for CPGs

6.33 This guidance sets out the approach that the SPPA Committee will take to any complaints received about Cross Party Groups.

6.34 The process is intended to allow the SPPA Committee to respond fairly and proportionately to any complaints received.   It therefore provides for a more informal approach to investigating minor complaints whilst allowing the Committee to undertake formal consideration where necessary, including imposing sanctions.

6.35 Complaints about the use of parliamentary resources by CPGs will be considered by the SPCB and are not covered by this process.  The process outlined in this guidance only applies to complaints which do not relate to parliamentary resources but to other rules in Section 6 of Volume 2.

6.36 The Committee has delegated steps 1 to 4 to the Convener.  These responsibilities can also be delegated to the Deputy Convener if required.

Complaints process

  • Step 1 – the Convener establishes whether the complaint falls within the responsibilities of the SPPA Committee and whether it meets the admissibility criteria set out in Section 9.1 of volume 3. Where a complaint is not admissible, the Convener will dismiss it at this stage.
  • Step 2 – where a complaint is admissible, the Convener writes to the complainer confirming this and advising how it will be investigated. If necessary further information is requested from the complainer at this point.  The complainer will be advised that the information they provide, including their name, may be published if the Committee decides the complaint requires a formal report to Parliament.  The complainer will also be advised that the complaint should remain confidential while it is being investigated.
  • Step 3 – where necessary the Convener writes to the Convener of the CPG being complained about inviting them to respond and provide relevant evidence.  The CPG Convener would also be informed that such correspondence could become public and that the complaint should remain confidential.  The CPG Convener may involve the secretary to the group and other office-holders in preparing a response.  If the complaint relates to the behaviour of an individual MSP in the group then that individual may be invited to provide a separate response to the complaint.
  • Step 4 – once the Convener is content that sufficient information is available, the Convener reports to the Committee.
  • Step 5 – the Committee considers the Convener’s report on the complaint and agrees how to deal with it.  Available options include— 
a) Dismiss the complaint if there has been no breach of the Code;
b) Find that there has been a breach of the Code but that the breach does not warrant any of the actions listed under paragraphs c to e.  The Group may be advised of any steps they must take to comply with the Code. The Committee may (but will not necessarily) publish the complaint letter, correspondence and the Committee’s conclusions;
c) Remove recognition from the Group. Any decision about removing recognition will be made at an SPPA Committee meeting, announced publicly and set out in a Committee report. When considering this option, the Committee will first give the CPG an opportunity to make representations either orally or in writing.
d) Find that there has been a breach of the Code which warrants sanctions being imposed on an individual MSP. If the Committee wishes to recommend imposing sanctions on the Convener or another group member, the Committee will make this decision at an SPPA Committee meeting, announce it publicly and publish a report recommending to Parliament that sanctions be imposed.  This would be followed by a Parliamentary debate and vote on the proposed sanctions. If sanctions are being considered, the MSP will first be given an opportunity to make representations either orally or in writing.
e) Find that the matter should be referred to the Commissioner for further investigation. If, exceptionally, the Committee considers that the facts of the matter require further investigation, the Ethical Standards Commissioner may be directed to investigate the complaint and report to the Committee