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Chamber and committees

Question ref. S6W-04450
Asked by: Edward Mountain, Highlands and Islands, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
Date lodged: 12 November 2021

Question

To ask the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body what legal advice it has taken regarding new lease requirements for MSPs’ constituency and regional offices.

Current status: Answered by Jackson Carlaw on 25 November 2021


Answer

In the course of establishing their local offices, Members enter directly into a private contract for their occupation of the premises with a landlord. The SPCB is not a party to Members’ contractual arrangements with their landlords.  This arrangement has the advantage that Members are free to choose premises that they consider suitable for their purpose within their own constituency or region. Provided that the rules of the Re-imbursement of Members’ Expenses Scheme are complied with, Members can recover the cost of the initial setting up and subsequent running of their local offices under the Scheme. 

Whether to have a local office or not and where that office is within the constituency or region they were elected to represent is a decision for each constituency MSP or through agreement of regional MSPs from the same party who are required to share an office under the Scheme. 

Members are free to enter into a lease, a licence to occupy or, for example, a shorter-term arrangement to occupy a unit which is part of larger premises. Each arrangement has advantages and disadvantages for a tenant. 

When a Member is contemplating acquiring a local office, they are strongly advised to seek their own legal advice in relation to any proposed arrangement in order to protect their own interests and to ensure they are fully aware of the obligations they are undertaking as they could, at some stage, no longer be eligible for recovery of their expenses and become personally liable for them.  The cost of such legal advice can be met from the Scheme.

In order to qualify for the re-imbursement of their expenses, Members must satisfy the SPCB that their private arrangements are clear in their terms and not ambiguous, are binding contractually on the Member claiming and do not constitute an unreasonable drain on the public purse for the period that the Member is able to recover those expenses under the Scheme.

Legal Services are the SPCB’s solicitors and are not authorised by the SPCB to provide legal advice on leases or other arrangements to Members.  Legal Services do, on behalf of the Allowances Office, ensure that Members’ arrangements allow them to recover their expenses under the Scheme, by checking that each arrangement sets out clearly an offer to let or occupy specified premises, the term for which the arrangement is to last, and the rent for the premises. Legal Services provide this service to assure the Allowances Office and the SPCB that public finance obligations are met.

The Allowances Office provide advice to Members on what a Member is able to claim under the Scheme and what is required by way of evidence of any expenditure to make a claim. For example, where a Member wishes to claim rent for an office a valid agreement binding them contractually to pay the rental costs would be required.