2nd Report, 2016 (Session 5): Complaints against Neil Findlay MSP

SP Paper 11

Contents

Report

Decisions of the Committee
Conclusion

Annexe A – Extract from Minutes
Annexe B – Report from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

Remit and membership

Remit:

1. The remit of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee is to consider and report on—

(a) the practice and procedures of the Parliament in relation to its business;

(b) whether a member’s conduct is in accordance with these Rules and any Code of Conduct for members, matters relating to members’ interests, and any other matters relating to the conduct of members in carrying out their Parliamentary duties;

(c) the adoption, amendment and application of any Code of Conduct for members; and

(d) matters relating to public appointments in Scotland.

2. Where the Committee considers it appropriate, it may by motion recommend that a member's rights and privileges be withdrawn to such extent and for such period as are specified in the motion.

(Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament, Rule 6.4)

Membership:

Clare Adamson (Convener)
Patrick Harvie (Deputy Convener)
Tom Arthur
Clare Haughey
Daniel Johnson
John Scott
Alexander Stewart

Complaint against Sandra White MSP

Report

1. The Committee met on 8 and 22 September 2016 to consider a complaint from Colin Beattie MSP about Neil Findlay MSP. The complaint is that Neil Findlay made a statement to the press about his intention to make a complaint to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body against Colin Beattie to the effect that Mr Beattie was in breach of the Code by virtue of “his campaign team offering a Holyrood for a £250 donation to his re-election bid”. The complaint against Mr Beattie was concluded and found that Mr Beattie had not breached the Code.1

2. The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland investigated Mr Beattie’s complaint and found that, in disclosing to the press his intention to make a complaint, Neil Findlay was in breach of the relevant provisions of the Code of Conduct. The Commissioner’s full report is at annexe B.

3. The procedures followed by the Commissioner, and the Committee, in considering complaints are set out in full in volume 3, section 9 of the Code of Conduct.2

Decisions of the Committee

4. The Committee is unanimous in the decisions reached on the complaint. Firstly, it agrees with the findings in fact and conclusion of the Commissioner. Secondly, it does not consider that the breach in question justifies any sanctions being imposed on Neil Findlay. In reaching the decision on sanctions, the Committee was mindful of the fact that Neil Findlay took personal responsibility for the breach.

Conclusion

5. The Committee takes all breaches of the Code seriously. The Rule covering disclosure is important because it allows investigations by the Commissioner and the Committee to be concluded in the absence of external partisan comment.

6. During Session 4 of the Parliament a similar breach of the Code occurred and the previous Committee issued an email to all members reminding them of the Rule that members must not disclose, communicate or discuss any complaints or intention to make a complaint to or with members of the press or other media prior to the lodging of the complaint or during Stages 1 and 2 of the procedure for dealing with complaints (as set out in Volume 3, Guidance; Section 9).

7. This Committee regrets that lessons do not appear to have been learned since this reminder was issued and we intend to issue a letter by way of further reminder to all business managers asking them to remind members of the rules regarding disclosure of complaints.

8. Repeated breaches of the rule on disclosure of complaints are a matter of regret to the Committee and we deplore the misuse of the complaints process by MSPs as a means of exchanging public criticism.

Annexe A – Extract from Minutes

3rd Meeting, 2016 (Session 5), Thursday 8 September 2016

Decision on taking business in private: The Committee agreed to take item 4 in private.

Decision on taking business in private: The Committee agreed to take future consideration of reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland, and its own draft reports on the complaints, in private at future meetings. The Committee also agreed to take future consideration of a draft report and draft Standing Order rule changes on mandatory committees' remits in private at future meetings.

Complaints (in private): The Committee considered reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

5th Meeting, 2016 (Session 5), Thursday 22 September 2016

Complaints (in private): The Committee continued its consideration of reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

Complaints: The Committee announced its decision at Stage 3 on reports from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland.

Complaints (in private): The Committee agreed its draft reports.

Annexe B – Report from the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland

CONDUCT of MEMBERS of the SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
Report by
the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland
on
complaint no. MSP/1870/15-16/21
Complainant:- Mr Colin Beattie, MSP
Respondent:- Mr Neil Findlay, MSP

2 June 2016

CONTENTS

1.0 Introduction

2.0 Complaint

3.0 Response

4.0 Admissibility of the complaint and subsequent proceedings

5.0 Draft Report

6.0 Findings and Conclusion

Appendix 1 The Complaint

Appendix 2 The Response

Appendix 3 Response to the Draft Report


CONDUCT of MEMBERS of the SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

Report on complaint no. MSP/1870/15-16/21 to the Scottish Parliament

Complainant: - Mr Colin Beattie, MSP

Respondent: - Mr Neil Findlay, MSP

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament (“the Code”) has been approved by the Scottish Parliament under its Standing Orders to provide a set of principles and standards for its Members.

1.2 Other relevant provisions relating to the conduct of MSPs include: the Scotland Act 1998 - “the 1998 Act”; The Scotland Act 2012 – “the 2012 Act”; and The Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006 as amended, (“the 2006 Act”).

1.3 For the purpose of considering this complaint, the relevant provision is paragraph 9.1.2 of Volume 2 of the Code. The relevant edition of the Code is edition 5 which was approved by the Parliament in April 2011.

1.4 Paragraph 9.1.2 is in the following terms:-

Code of Conduct for MSPs Volume 2

Section 9 Enforcement of the Rules

Disclosure

9.1.2 Members must not disclose, communicate or discuss any complaint or intention to make a complaint to or with members of the press or other media prior to the lodging of the complaint or during Stages 1 and 2 of the procedure for dealing with complaints (this procedure is set out in Volume 3, Guidance; Section 9).

1.5 The investigation of the complaint has been undertaken in terms of the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”) and the Directions by the Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee dated 1 March 2012.

1.6 This Report falls to be submitted to the Parliament in terms of section 9 of the 2002 Act.

2.0 Complaint

2.1 The complainant (“the complainant”) is Mr Colin Beattie MSP and his complaint is about Mr Neil Findlay MSP (“the respondent”).

2.2 Mr Findlay is an MSP for Lothian Region and is a member of the Scottish Labour Party.

2.3 The complaint alleges that the respondent contributed to a press article on 17 January 2016 in the “Herald Scotland” website commenting on details of a proposed complaint he intended submitting to “the Presiding Officer” to the effect that Mr Beattie was in breach of the Code by virtue of “his campaign team offering a Holyrood tour for a £250 donation to his re-election bid”. The complainant submitted that such action by the respondent was a breach of the Code. The complainant also indicated in his correspondence that the respondent had made a complaint to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body which had now been concluded.

2.4 The present complaint was made by letter with attachment dated 10 February and received on 12 February 2016. These are attached as Appendix 1.

3.0 Response

3.1 The respondent did not reply to my initial notification of the complaint and reminders but submitted a response by email dated 10 March 2015 apologising for not replying sooner and stating his position on the matter. This is attached as Appendix 2. He confirmed that he had been unaware that he could not make a public statement in relation to this complaint, confirmed that the “Presiding Officer” had dismissed his complaint and commented on the public perception which he envisaged would arise about the whole matter, namely, that the Presiding Officer had dismissed his complaint about the complainant but in turn the respondent’s action in the matter now warranted an investigation by me.

4.0 Admissibility of the complaint and subsequent proceedings

4.1 The complaint was clearly stated and referred to supporting information. This information appeared to be a web press article incorporating information on Mr Findlay’s position about the issue in question and containing a quotation from Mr Findlay to the effect that “This stinks. I’ll be writing to the Presiding Officer asking her to investigate this. Holyrood was supposed to be the people’s parliament where MSPs were transparent and accessible, not touting for tours”.

4.2 Stage 1 of the investigation of a complaint requires an assessment of admissibility. In assessing admissibility, the key tests are whether the complaint is relevant, whether the complaint meets the requirements for form, content and execution and whether the complaint warrants further investigation if it appears after an initial investigation that the evidence is sufficient to suggest that the conduct complained about may have taken place.

4.3 In view of the respondent’s email of 10 March, which confirmed the accuracy of the article in relation to his position on the issue and the action he had taken, I determined that no useful purpose would be served by arranging an interview.

4.4 The respondent’s acceptance in the matter enabled me to find that the complaint was admissible. I wrote on 11 March to the complainant, the respondent and to the SPPA Committee to that effect.

4.5 In the light of Mr Findlay’s acceptance of responsibility, I determined that no further investigation would be required.

4.6 I therefore proceeded to conclude Stage 2 of the investigation into the complaint in order to report to the Parliament on whether or not I considered that a breach of the Code of Conduct had taken place.

5.0 Draft Report

5.1 Following the investigation I submitted my draft Report to the respondent on 11 May 2016 and invited his representations.

5.2 He replied by email on 16 May 2016 and his email and my reply of 27 May 2016 are set out as Appendix 3.

6.0 Findings and conclusion

Findings

6.1 Having completed the investigation in this case and considered the respondent’s representations, I have found that the material facts are:-

(i) the respondent, Mr Neil Findlay, was first elected as a Member of the Scottish Parliament on 3 May 2011 and has been an MSP since that date. He currently represents the Lothian region;

(ii) by letter dated 10 February 2016, Mr Beattie submitted a complaint to me alleging that Mr Findlay had failed in his Code obligation not to make public his intention to submit a complaint to the Presiding Officer and prior to the complaint being investigated and a ruling being made;

(iii) on 17 January 2016 a press article published by the “Herald Scotland” website with the headline ”SNP MSP’s campaign offered Holyrood tours for donations” and reported on the respondent’s stated intention to submit a complaint to the Presiding Officer to the effect that Mr Beattie was in breach of the Code by virtue of “his campaign team offering a Holyrood tour for a £250 donation to his re-election bid”;

(iv) the article also contained a quotation attributed to the respondent which stated: “This stinks. I’ll be writing to the Presiding Officer asking her to investigate this. Holyrood was supposed to be the people’s parliament where MSPs were transparent and accessible, not touting for tours”;

(v) the respondent has accepted responsibility for his contribution to the press article and for the statements attributed to him.

Conclusion

6.2 I have concluded that the respondent thereby breached paragraph 9.1.2 of Volume 2 of the Code by disclosing or communicating to the press his intention to make a complaint.

Bill Thomson
Commissioner

2 June 2016

Appendix 1 The Complaint (1.58MB)

Appendix 2 The Response (1.42MB)

Appendix 3 Response to the Draft Report (4.45MB)


Any links to external websites in this report were working correctly at the time of publication. However, the Scottish Parliament cannot accept responsibility for content on external websites.

Footnotes:

1 Minute of The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) Meeting held on Wednesday 3 February 2016 http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/SPCB/Jan-Jun2016/SPCB-16-02-M_03.02.16.pdf

2 Code of Conduct of the Scottish Parliament. Volume 3, Section 9. Available at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msps/42841.aspx

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