1. The purpose of this guidance is to provide additional information on the operation of CPGs.
2. Standards clerks can provide advice on complying with the Code of Conduct (the Code).
Waiver or modification of the MSP membership requirements
3. All CPGs 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.
4. However there are circumstances in which the membership requirements may need to be waived or modified to enable the establishment of CPGs which otherwise fulfil the requirements of the Code. For example, if one party represented on the Parliamentary Bureau does not have enough members to join every CPG.
5. There are two ways in which a waiver or modification will usually be made—
- Where the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee (the Committee) considers that a general waiver or modification should be applied for all CPGs; and
- Where a specific CPG applies to the Committee for a waiver or modification to reflect the particular circumstances of that Group.
6. Where a general waiver or modification is applied, notice of this will be provided to all CPG Conveners and Secretaries and to the MSP contact of any proposed CPGs. 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.
7. If a CPG wishes to apply for a specific waiver or modification, the Convener of the CPG should apply in writing to the Committee, setting out—
- the nature of the waiver or modification that is requested
- the steps that have been taken to meet the membership requirements; and
- any reasons, if known, why it has not been possible for the Group to secure the required MSP membership.
8. The Convener of the proposed CPG will normally be invited to attend the meeting at which the Committee considers the Group’s application. The Committee will consider the information provided by the CPG or proposed CPG and decide whether to grant the waiver or modification. The CPG or proposed CPG will be notified in writing of the Committee’s decision.
9. Where the Committee decides not to grant the waiver or modification, the CPG must notify the Committee if it is not able to meet the MSP membership requirements. If a CPG does not manage to secure the required MSP membership, the Committee may withdraw recognition from that CPG.
Election of office bearers
10. The election of office bearers will usually take place at the initial meeting of a CPG 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. For example, if an existing office bearer has to step down.
11. It is therefore possible for CPGs to hold electronic elections in which all Group members can vote by e-mail.
12. As with CPG meetings, an electronic election must be advertised at least 10 calendar days in advance on a Group’s page on the Parliament website.
13. The advertisement should use the following form of words—
The CPG 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 @parliament.scot.
14. It is recommended that the Group keeps copies of the votes received in case a question arises 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 no later than 30 calendar days after the election. The Standards clerks will then update the CPG webpage.
Meetings at which fewer than 2 MSP members are present
15. CPGs are required to have at least 2 MSP, who are members of the Group, 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.
16. Non-quorate, informal meetings of a Group can be held in the event of the quorum not being met. This ensures that all CPG 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; and
- the minutes of inquorate meetings will not be posted on the Group’s webpage on the Parliament website.
17. Where a portion of a CPG meeting is inquorate, any votes taken during the inquorate part of the meeting must be ratified at a future meeting.
Use of the reimbursement of members’ expenses scheme
18. There are only limited circumstances in which members may make use of the expenses scheme in pursuit of CPG 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 CPG or an office holder of the CPG; 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.
19. 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.
Complaints process for CPGs
20. This guidance sets out the approach that the Committee will take to any complaints received about CPGs.
21. The process is intended to allow the 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.
22. 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 the Code.
23. The Committee has delegated steps 1 to 4 to the Convener. These responsibilities can also be delegated to the Deputy Convener if required.
- Step 1 – the Convener establishes whether the complaint falls within the responsibilities of the Committee and whether it meets the admissibility criteria set out in guidance on enforcement of the rules. 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 a 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 a 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 Ethical Standards 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.