The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government should work together to produce a joint protocol clarifying the roles of the Presiding Officer and the First Minister, regarding accuracy of Members’ contributions in the Chamber.
This is one of the recommendations from the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, which today published its report on procedures governing the accuracy of contributions in parliamentary proceedings.
The report was prompted by a request from the Presiding Officer in January this year. The committee considered whether there were any procedural changes that would assist Members concerned about alleged inaccuracies in statements made during parliamentary proceedings.
The committee recommended developing guidance on how correction of inaccuracies could be made and further advice for any Member on what steps they can take if they believe inaccurate information has been given to Parliament by another Member.
Committee Convener Gil Paterson MSP said: “From the outset, the committee was very clear that what we were being asked to look into was procedural aspects of this matter. There was no question of particular circumstances being under investigation.
"While we appreciate the frustration of Members where there is a belief that a misleading statement has been made, the committee also recognises that policing the accuracy of contributions in the Chamber through procedural mechanisms is a difficult if not impossible task.
"We believe that a protocol would clarify the roles of both the Presiding Officer and First Minister in relation to the Code of Conduct for MSPs, the Scottish Ministerial Code and Standing Orders.“
Among the committee’s conclusions were:
- The Presiding Officer has no role in ruling on questions regarding the veracity of statements made by Ministers. These statements are regulated by the Scottish Ministerial Code and are a matter for the First Minister.
- The Presiding Officer should continue to exercise his judgment in dealing with interventions which allege discourteous behaviour in the Chamber.
- The committee recognises there can be a place for limited use of points of order to put something on the record, at the discretion of the Presiding Officer.
The Scottish Parliament’s Standing Orders set out the rules for parliamentary proceedings. Standing Orders Rule 7.3 addresses conduct in the Chamber and applies to all Members (Ministers and backbenchers). The Rule states that:
"Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer”, and “Members shall at all times conduct themselves in an orderly manner.”
The Scottish Ministerial Code, published by the Scottish Government, sets out the standards of conduct that must be met by Ministers when carrying out their Ministerial duties
Enforcement of the Ministerial Code of Conduct is a matter for the First Minister. However, the Ministerial Code contains provisions for the referral of matters to independent advisers who provide the First Minister with advice on which to base a judgement about any action required in respect of Ministerial conduct.
The Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament sets out the standards of conduct for all MSPs in relation to undertaking their Parliamentary duties.