Measures to improve the transparency of information about MSPs' financial interests are today being proposed by the Scottish Parliament’s Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.
In its report, the result of a detailed inquiry conducted over the course of this session, the Committee proposes a committee bill to amend the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 which sets out requirements for Members to register and declare certain financial interests.
The new bill is aimed at streamlining the reporting requirements for MSPs so that all their registrable financial interests are reported in one place, in the Parliament’s register of interest. Currently MSPs have to report financial interests both to the Electoral Commission and to the Parliament.
The proposals would also strengthen the sanctions available to the Parliament to deal with breaches to Members' interests rules as well as widening the definition of paid advocacy.
Committee Convener, Stewart Stevenson MSP said:
“The Scottish Parliament prides itself on its openness and accountability and nowhere is this more important than in relation to the conduct of its Members. Our proposed bill will not only build on the existing robust regime, but will also streamline reporting for MSPs, ensuring all information about MSPs’ financial interests is in one easily accessible place for the public."
“We have also suggested broadening the definition of paid advocacy. Whilst no MSP has ever been found to have breached the current rules, the Committee is clear of the gravity with which paid advocacy should be treated. This is why our Committee is proposing an expansion to the scope of the criminal offence.”
Mr Stevenson added:
“This is a piece of work that our Committee has been examining over the course of this session and before developments elsewhere have come to light.”
Other recommendations contained within the Committee’s report include:
- Lowering the threshold limit for registering gifts to 0.5% of a member’s salary (currently 1% or £570)
- Amending the threshold for registering remuneration received solely as expenses from 1% to 0.5% of a member’s salary.
- Increasing the range of sanctions available if a member breaches the Interests Act, to include withdrawal of salary or privileges as well as exclusion from Parliamentary proceedings.
Following the changes to the member’s interest provisions made by the Scotland Act 2012, the Committee considered that this would be a timely opportunity to make a number of changes to the Parliament’s interests regime.
Following the publication of the Committee’s report, the Parliament will debate the report and decide whether or not the committee may introduce the proposed bill.
Paid advocacy is where an MSP uses their position to advocate a particular matter motivated by a payment of some form or a benefit in kind. Section 14 of the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 prescribes that an MSP must not, in consideration of any payment or benefit in kind, advocate or initiate any cause, or matter, on behalf of any person or urge any other member to advocate or initiate any cause, or matter, on behalf of any person. The Committee’s proposal would expand the offence to cover agreement to undertake paid advocacy, whether or not any payment or benefit has actually been received.