Guidance on MSPs general conduct (Section 7)

1. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are accountable to the Scottish electorate who will expect them to carry out their Parliamentary duties in an appropriate manner consistent with the standing of the Parliament and not to engage in any activity as a member that would bring the Parliament into disrepute.

Treatment of others

2. Members should have reference to the definitions of unacceptable behaviours set out below in relation to sections 7.5 and 7.6 of the Code of Conduct. In addition, Members must abide by relevant SPCB policies on bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour; and have reference to the examples of harassment and inappropriate behaviour included in these policies. The unacceptable behaviours set out below can result from an abuse or misuse of power derived from status or position, physical strength or force of personality. These unacceptable behaviours can occur in a variety of contexts, including face-to-face contact, by phone, email, messaging and on social media platforms. 

Bullying and/or Harassment (the terms are often used interchangeably) occurs when an individual engages in offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour which can make someone feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, upset, undermined, humiliated, denigrated or threatened. Bullying and/or harassment can be between two individuals or it may involve groups of people. It might be obvious or it might be insidious. It may be persistent or an isolated incident. 

Protected Characteristic Harassment occurs when an individual engages in unwanted behaviour related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.  It can be an isolated incident or persistent behaviour and is essentially about the effect on the recipient, not about what was intended.  Relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.  

Sexual Harassment occurs when an individual engages in unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.  It can be an isolated incident or persistent behaviour and is essentially about the effect on the recipient, not about what was intended.

Use of Social Media

Conduct in the Chamber and in Committee
3. Conduct in the Chamber is a matter for the Presiding Officer and conduct in committee proceedings is a matter for the relevant convener. Members should ensure they are up to date with the view of the Presiding Officer, and the convener of any committee they attend, before using electronic devices in any way during parliamentary proceedings. The Presiding Officer has issued guidance (below) which addresses the use of digital devices.

Treatment of other MSPs and of other MSPs’ staff
4. The Code requires that members must treat other MSPs and the staff of other MSPs with courtesy and respect.

Confidentiality requirements in relation to social media
5. Social media allows MSPs to provide information about their parliamentary work. This could include information about discussions at committee meetings. In this regard, members should note Section 7 of the Code which makes clear that members should not “disclose…details of discussions or votes taken in private session”.

6. Further guidance on the use of social media in relation to liaison with constituents is available at Section 8.

Confidentiality rules

7. Certain information may be agreed as ‘confidential’ by committees or sub-committees. This is not through any desire to withhold information from the public. Rather, there are a number of difficulties which could arise through the unauthorised disclosure of confidential material—

  • public discussion of draft reports might give preliminary views a status they do not warrant and lead to recommendations or findings not adopted by the committee being prematurely attributed to it;
  • early release of information about a committee report could also result in unfair party political advantage;
  • it may be difficult for members to freely deliberate on the content of a draft report;
  • it may be difficult to get witnesses to give evidence in confidence if members are shown to be incapable of treating their proceedings in confidence;
  • it could lead to a loss of mutual trust between members and a breakdown of confidence in the operation of the committee.

8. Published committee papers and reports are available on the Parliament website. The relevant clerk should be contacted about the availability of other documents.

Guidance issued by the Presiding Officer on conduct

9. The Parliament’s Standing Orders state that Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer. In addition, Members shall conduct themselves in an orderly manner and, in particular, shall not conduct themselves in a way which would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court.

10. As a central principle underpinning this revised code of conduct, the Presiding Officers expect Members to adhere to the expectations outlined above both during proceedings held in the Chamber and committees as well as in their role as an elected representative to the Scottish Parliament.

11. It is ultimately a matter for the Presiding Officer to rule on issues of Members’ conduct in the chamber. However, the following has been issued previously by way of specific guidance —

Conduct in the Chamber
12. To maintain courtesy and respect, members should not behave in a way which interferes with the proper conduct of business in the Chamber. This includes—

  • General courtesy and noise levels – Members must conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner. Please pay attention to the impact of your entry and exit from the Chamber, particularly at Decision Time and Time for Reflection, and to noise levels more generally. During debates and questions, the Presiding Officers will give a certain amount of latitude in the interests of encouraging debate and avoiding excessive formality. However, that does not mean that the Presiding Officers condone behaviour that prevents other Members or the visiting public from following a debate. Do not cross the well of the Chamber. Please do not turn you back on the Chair as this has an impact on the sightlines of the Presiding Officers
  • Use of language and behaviour – Members shall at all times ensure that their choice of language in the Chamber is appropriate and meets the high standards expected by the general public. It is for the Presiding Officers to make judgements on these matters and all Members must respect the decisions of the Chair. The Parliament’s Standing Orders provide for sanctions in relation to these matters. Members should refer to other members by their full name, refrain from the use of ‘nicknames’ and speak through the Chair, i.e. do not refer to other Members in the second person, e.g. “you”.
  • Questions – when your name is selected for a question, please make every effort to submit the question to the Chamber Desk in advance of the relevant deadline. If you are unable to do so, please email the Presiding Officers and Chamber Desk providing an explanation. Please also make sure that you present yourself on time to participate fully in the questioning of Ministers. A failure to adhere to these points is not only a discourtesy to the Parliament but it also means that a fellow member may miss out on the opportunity to ask a question.
  • Attendance in the Chamber – as a courtesy to your fellow members, if you wish to participate in a debate, you should attend the whole debate but, as a minimum, members should be present during the opening and closing speeches and should remain in the Chamber to hear the two speeches following their contribution. It is particularly important that closing speakers are able to reflect upon all of the contributions made during a debate.
  • Use of digital devices – Members may use digital devices in the Chamber for the purpose of engaging in and commenting on parliamentary business (including through social media). When doing so, Members must bear in mind their responsibility under the Code of Conduct to conduct themselves at all times with courtesy and respect. As communications through social media are not part of the parliamentary proceedings, the Presiding Officers should not be expected to rule on anything said on social media during meetings of the Parliament. Digital devices should not be used to take photographs, to record proceedings or to make telephone calls and all devices should be switched to silent mode.
  • Use of printed material – Members should not read newspapers or magazines, except where members wish to quote from articles in debate.

Conduct in committee meetings
13. The above guidance relating to conduct in the Chamber is applicable in formal and informal meetings of the parliamentary committees at the discretion of the convener of the committee.

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