Meeting date: Thursday, November 8, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 08 November 2018
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Motion of Remembrance, Care Homes (South Lanarkshire), Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inclusive Education, Business Motion, Prescription (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Prescription (Scotland) Bill, Code of Conduct (Breach), Decision Time, Point of Order
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Motion of Remembrance
- Care Homes (South Lanarkshire)
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inclusive Education
- Business Motion
- Prescription (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3
- Prescription (Scotland) Bill
- Code of Conduct (Breach)
- Decision Time
- Point of Order
Code of Conduct (Breach)
The next item of business is consideration of motion S5M-14602, in the name of Bill Kidd, on the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s sixth report in 2018, session 5, “Complaint against Annie Wells MSP”.16:56
The details of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee’s consideration of the complaint that was made against Annie Wells MSP are set out in the report that the committee published on 1 November. The report includes a copy of the investigation by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.
In summary, the complaint was that Annie Wells sought political advantage by making advance public comment on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee’s report, “Prisoner Voting in Scotland”.
The Parliament has made it clear that when a committee deems information to be confidential, notably in relation to a committee report, the information should remain confidential until any agreed publication date.
The Equalities and Human Rights Committee had agreed that its report be subject to an embargo until 14 May. However, comments on the report attributed to Annie Wells were included in a press release issued on 11 May and were subsequently reported in a newspaper on the same day.
The commissioner therefore concluded that Annie Wells had breached the confidentiality rules in paragraphs 12, 15 and 16 of section 7 of the code of conduct for MSPs.
The SPPA committee noted Annie Wells’s explanation, as recorded in the commissioner’s report, which was that her remarks merely reflected her party’s long-standing position and had been prompted by inquiries from the press. However, in her comments, Ms Wells had referred to the committee’s deliberations and expressed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s dissent with the committee’s report.
That is a breach of the code of conduct. When an MSP discloses the details of an unpublished committee report, particularly to record dissent, that seriously undermines the report’s impact and is deeply disrespectful to fellow committee members and everyone who was involved in the inquiry.
Any MSP who finds themselves in a position of uncertainty can take advice from committee or standards clerks before they respond to an inquiry, to satisfy themselves that actions that they wish to take do not breach the code of conduct.
The Standards, Procedures and Appointments Committee agreed unanimously with the findings in fact and conclusions of the commissioner. The committee also agreed unanimously to recommend to the Parliament a sanction that it considered to be proportionate and reasonable.
The committee considered previous breaches of the code of conduct that were of a similar nature and agreed that the sanctions against Annie Wells should mirror the sanctions that had been given for those breaches. Therefore, the committee agreed to recommend to the Parliament that Annie Wells MSP be excluded from all meetings of the Parliament and its committees for the first five sitting days immediately after the motion is agreed to.
That the Parliament notes the 6th Report, 2018 (Session 5) of the Standards and Public Appointments Committee Complaint against Annie Wells MSP (SP Paper 408) and agrees to impose the sanction recommended in the report that Annie Wells MSP be excluded from all meetings of the Parliament and all meetings of its committees for the first five sitting days after this motion is agreed.16:59
The Scottish Conservatives accept that Annie Wells was in breach of what we believe to be a technical charge. However, we believe that the procedure was not in the public interest. In fact, the process that we are involved in is not helping a single person in Scotland, and the people of Scotland are who we are all here to represent.
Moreover, the proposed sanction is disproportionate to the offence. The complaint itself is regrettable and utterly unhelpful; all that it does is score political points.
I put on the record the fact that Annie Wells did not seek or gain anything from the remarks that she made. The media had already published stories, and Annie merely commented on those news reports, which were, by then, in the public domain. In fact, the substitution of one word in Annie’s statement could have made the difference between Annie receiving the proposed sanction before us and her having no case to answer.
In the wake of the news of the judgment, Annie Wells has been subjected to online abuse that has been, frankly, abhorrent. Such abuse is aimed increasingly at the female MSPs who are sitting behind me. I will let members make their own judgments on why they are being singled out. Those attacks are a disgrace, and none of us should ever accept that they come with the territory.
Annie Wells has been brought before the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland and the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee—
Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green) rose—
—and she potentially faces a similar sanction to MSPs whom Parliament has previously determined have deliberately and wilfully leaked reports. Annie Wells did not and would not do that. It is not in her nature; she would never neglect her privileged position of public office. She is a proud advocate for her Glasgow constituents who stands up for many important issues. Annie Wells is a responsible parliamentarian and an asset to this democratic institution.
That is why, after careful deliberation, we will vote against the sanction at decision time. I invite others to do the same.
The question on the motion will be put at decision time.