Code of Conduct for MSPs
The Code of Conduct provides a set of principles and standards for Members of the Scottish Parliament.
Section 6: Cross-Party Groups
1. CPGs provide an opportunity for Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) to engage with external stakeholders on a particular subject.
2. CPGs are not formal parliamentary business and should not be confused with the Parliament’s committee system.
3. CPGs are formed and led by MSPs although it is expected that groups will also have non-MSP members.
4. CPGs do not have any power to introduce issues formally into the parliamentary or government systems.
5. CPGs do not have access to any financial or staffing resources, other than is necessary for all CPGs to meet in the Parliament.
6. Any queries about the rules for CPGs, meeting notifications or documentation should be emailed to the Standards Clerks at [email protected].
7. CPGs must comply with the following rules. CPGs must also comply with any relevant policies that are set by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB). These policies are set out in the library of policies created by the SPCB on the Scottish Parliament website.
Membership and office bearers
8. Any MSP may be a member of a CPG. A CPG must have at least 5 MSP members including at least one MSP from each of the parties or groups represented on the Parliamentary Bureau. The party representation requirement may be modified or waived by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee (the Committee) in certain circumstances.
9. CPGs may also have members who are not MSPs. Non-MSP membership is split into two categories: individuals and organisations. Where someone joins a CPG in connection with a role they have in, or to represent the views of, a specific organisation, it is the organisation that is considered to be the member of the CPG. Any decisions about membership, including whether to limit the number of non-MSP members, are a matter for the Group itself.
10. One of the MSP members of the Group must be elected as Convener; the Group must also have at least one other MSP office bearer. Groups are required to elect office bearers at the initial meeting and at every subsequent Annual General Meeting (AGM). The re-election of office bearers should be held at the Annual General Meeting (AGM). Beyond these requirements, any decisions about the structure of office bearer positions are a matter for the Group itself.
11. Any changes to the membership or office bearers of a CPG must be notified to Standards Clerks within 30 days of the change. Changes to officer bearers or MSP membership must be notified by the Convener of the Group, or the Convener’s authorised signatory. Any changes to the non-MSP membership can be notified by the secretary of the Group.
Establishment of CPGs
12. Once a CPG has the required MSP membership for a Group, an initial meeting should be held. The date and time of this meeting must be notified to the Standards Clerks at least 10 calendar days before the meeting taking place. The meeting will be added to the Parliament’s website by the Standards Clerks.
13. Two MSPs, who intend to be members of the Group, must attend the initial meeting. This meeting should be used to elect the office bearers, confirm the name and purpose of the Group, confirm the membership of the Group and discuss all other information that must be added to the registration form. Minutes of this meeting must be taken.
14. After this initial meeting Groups cannot meet again, formally, until the Group has been accorded recognition by the Committee.
15. New Groups will not be permitted to be established after March in the year preceding an election, except in exceptional circumstances.
Registration of CPGs
16. No later than 30 calendar days after the initial meeting, the Convener of the proposed Group, or the Convener’s authorised signatory, must submit a completed registration form to the Standards Clerks.
17. The registration form sets out the information that a proposed Group must provide.
Consideration by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee
18. Once the registration form has been received by Standards Clerks one of the proposed Group’s MSP office bearers (usually the Convener) will be invited to attend a meeting of the Committee to explain the justification for the proposed Group.
19. The Committee will pay particular attention to a proposed Group’s purpose. If the Committee considers that a proposed Group is not in the public interest but is intended, for example, to further particular commercial interests, the Group will not be accorded recognition. The Committee will also consider whether the purpose of a proposed Group overlaps the remit of an existing Group. The proposed Group will be asked to provide justification as to why its aim could not effectively be achieved within the existing Group.
20. Only Groups accorded recognition can use the title ‘Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament’ and have access to Parliamentary facilities.
Re-registration following a general Scottish Parliamentary election
21. A previously recognised Group may re-register within 90 days of the first meeting of the Parliament following an ordinary or extraordinary general Scottish Parliamentary election. For the purposes of calculating the 90 day period, no account will be taken of any time during which the Parliament is in recess for more than 4 days.
22. A Group seeking to re-register must hold an initial meeting and elect office bearers. Following the initial meeting the Convener of the proposed Group, or the Convener’s authorised signatory, must submit a completed registration form to the Standards Clerks.
23. If the Group meets the criteria detailed below the Standards Clerks, in consultation with the Convener of the SPPA Committee, will undertake a sifting exercise and highlight applications to be referred to the Committee for further scrutiny (either through a paper to the Committee or an evidence session with the Convener of the proposed group). For example, a Group may be referred to the Committee if it had failed to comply with the Code of Conduct in the previous Session.
24. The Standards Clerks will apply the following criteria to re-registrations—
- Name and purpose of Cross-Party Group: These must be the same as were registered in the previous Session.
- MSP membership: There must be at least 5 MSP members including at least one MSP from each of the parties or groups represented on the Parliamentary Bureau.
- Non-MSP membership: There are two categories of membership, individual and organisational. For organisational members, it is the organisation that is the member and not the individuals that attend from that organisation. An individual or organisation is not a member of a Group until Standards Clerks have been informed.
- Office Bearers: There must be at least 2 MSP office bearers and one of these must be the Convener of the Group.
- Financial Benefits: Value and source of any financial benefit must be given. In the first instance, the Group will be contacted and asked to provide more information.
- Contact: Must be the Convener of the Group.
25. Groups that do not require further scrutiny will be re-registered.
26. If the Group does not meet the criteria, the Standards Clerks will draw the application for re-registration to the attention of the Convener of the Committee. The Convener will decide whether the Group can be re-registered or if the application should be considered by the Committee.
Operation of CPGs
27. All CPGs must hold at least two formal meetings per year, and one of these must be the AGM.
28. All meetings, including the initial meeting, must be notified to the Standards Clerks at least 10 calendar days before the meeting. Details of all meetings will be published on the Parliament’s website.
29. CPGs must hold an AGM within 11-13 months of the date that the Group was established (in the current session) and subsequently between 11 and 13 months after each AGM.
30. The AGM must be used to re-elect the office bearers and to review the work the Group has carried out over the preceding year.
31. Within 30 calendar days of holding an AGM, the Convener of a Group, or the Convener’s authorised signatory, must submit a completed annual return form to the Standards Clerks. The information that Groups are required to provide are as set out in the annual return form.
32. All meetings must be attended by at least 2 MSPs who are registered members of the Group. Any MSP who is not a member of the Group is entitled to attend and participate at a meeting but will not count towards this requirement.
33. Attendance and participation by non-MSPs who are not registered members of a Group is at the discretion of the Group and therefore Groups are within their rights to refuse non-members entry to the meeting.
34. The right to vote on Group matters is restricted to registered members of the Group, both MSP and non-MSP. However, Groups which charge a subscription may restrict voting rights to members who have paid the subscription charge.
35. Each recognised Group will have a page created on the Parliament website.
36. CPGs must provide minutes of all meetings to the Standards Clerks, including the initial meeting. Minutes must list all those who attended the meeting. This should include all MSPs and non-MSP attendees and information on whether the attendees were members of the Group or invited observers (an individual or organisation is not a member of a Group until Standards Clerks have been informed). The Standards Clerks will publish minutes (including draft minutes) and agendas on each Group’s page on the Parliament website.
37. Groups may provide agendas of meetings to the Standards Clerks to be published on their web page.
38. No papers other than registration forms, annual return forms, minutes and agendas will be posted on a Group’s page on the Parliament website. However, if a Group wishes, it can request that a link to an external website is added to its page. The request must be made by the Convener who must confirm that they accept the following conditions —
- the Scottish Parliament is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
- the Convener of the Group has viewed the website and is content that the link is appropriate
- complaints about the content of external sites will be directed in the first instance to the Convener of the group
- the Scottish Parliament reserves the right to refuse to establish links to an external site
- responsibility for checking links on the Scottish Parliament website to ensure that they are working lies with the Convener of the group and that, in the event of discovering a link which no longer works, the Convener will inform the Standards Clerks.
39. Groups may form sub-groups to focus on particular elements of the Group’s purpose. A meeting of a sub-group must be notified to Standards Clerks 10 calendar days before the meeting and two MSP members must be in attendance at the sub-group meeting. Any decisions made by a sub-group must be ratified at a subsequent meeting of the full Group.
Change of name or purpose of CPGs
40. Any proposal to change the name or purpose of the Group must be drawn to the attention of the Committee. The Committee will consider the proposed change and decide if recognition should still be accorded to the Group.
41. If a Group receives secretariat support from an employee of an external organisation, the value of any time that employee spends on supporting CPG activities should be calculated and, if over £500 per year, registered. The only exception to this is where the secretariat is provided by an individual in their own time; in these circumstances it is not considered that any financial benefit is received by the Group.
42. If the external organisation providing secretarial support is a consultancy/public affairs firm or a charity/not-for-profit organisation, that organisation must agree to provide, if requested by the Committee —
- a full client list (if a consultancy/public affairs firm) and
- a list of companies which have made a donation of more than £5,000 in the previous 12 months (if a charity/not-for-profit organisation).
Use of Parliamentary facilities
43. CPGs must respect the limitations on the use of Parliamentary facilities —
- MSPs, but not other members of CPGs, may make reasonable use of the Parliament’s telephone, fax, photocopying, IT facilities and Parliamentary stationery in pursuit of CPG business. Groups may only use the Parliament’s IT facilities where these are available for public use.
- Groups may not make use of free postage facilities provided by the Parliament.
- Groups may not make use of the Parliament’s audio or broadcasting equipment and there is no provision for the televising or sound recording of their proceedings (other than as may be provided for in SPCB policy and in any SPCB terms and conditions on events).
- Groups may not draw on the resources of the Parliamentary staff to service meetings other than to book meeting rooms; and
- MSPs who are members of a CPG may use the services of the Parliament's Information Centre to brief themselves on matters relating to that Group, but other members of the Group may not.
Compliance with the Code of Conduct of Members of the Scottish Parliament (the Code)
44. The Convener of a Group is primarily responsible for ensuring that the Group complies with the Code. However, all other MSP members, and any secretariat, should also ensure that they are aware of the requirements in order to assist with the efficient operation of the Group.
45. To assist Groups in complying with the requirements of the Code, the Standards Clerks can provide guidance and advice.
46. The Committee will regularly consider information on whether Groups are complying with the Code.
47. Complaints that a Group has not complied with the Code will be considered in by the Committee. Failure to comply with the Code could lead to a Group’s recognition being withdrawn or to sanctions being imposed on individual MSPs.
48. MSP members of a Group should be aware that benefits received in connection with a Group may also fall within the scope of the registration of interests under the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006. If a member receives any such benefit, they should contact the Standards Clerks for advice on the registration requirements.