Your Complaint: MSPs

WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE DO

The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (“the Commissioner”) has the statutory responsibility for investigating complaints about alleged breaches by members of the Scottish Parliament of the MSP Code of Conduct (“the Code”). The Code has been approved and adopted by the Scottish Parliament. It recognizes that the electorate expects MSP conduct to be consistent with high ethical standards is therefore intended to provide standards to cover specified situations in which members carry out their Parliamentary duties. Not all aspects of an MSP’s conduct are regulated.

The legal basis for such investigations is mainly set out in the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”).

THE CODE - AN OUTLINE

The full Code can be accessed at http://www.parliament.scot/msps/code-of-conduct-for-msps.aspx

WHO YOU CAN COMPLAIN ABOUT

You can complain about the conduct of individual MSPs.  

WHAT WE CAN INVESTIGATE

The types of complaint that the Commissioner can investigate include:

  • failure to register certain financial interests – remuneration: gifts: loans: overseas visits: heritable property and interest in shares.
  • failure to register appropriate information on election expenditure.
  • failure to declare financial or non-financial interests in any proceedings of Parliament.
  • misconduct relating to Paid Advocacy, lobbying  and access to MSPs, and 
  • failure to observe confidentiality requirements
  • some complaints about an MSP's treatment of others (see also Others who Can investigate some MSP Code Complaints)

The Commissioner can also investigate certain breaches by an MSP of the Parliament’s Standing Orders (the rules for the regulation of parliamentary business) or any other conduct matter referred to the Commissioner by the Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee.

WHAT WE CANNOT INVESTIGATE

Some conduct of an MSP is excluded from any regulation by the Code. This conduct includes:

  • members’ private and family life.
  • members expressing their political views (in their capacity as a member of a political party or organisation).
  • democratic decisions taken by Parliament.
  • complaints about the Presiding Officer of alleged misconduct while undertaking duties in that capacity.

The First Minister deals with complaints about the conduct of an MSP whilst acting as a Scottish Minister (including the First Minister). This is done under the Ministerial Code (www.gov.scot/About/People/14944/684) dealing with the personal conduct set out in that particular Code. The First Minister may refer relevant complaints to an Advisory Committee to consider. Complaints in this category should be submitted to the First Minister (scottish.ministers@gov.scot).

OTHERS WHO CAN INVESTIGATE SOME MSP CODE COMPLAINTS

Certain conduct obligations set out in the Code are the responsibility of others to investigate and determine. These complaints are called “Excluded Complaints” and are set out in Section 9.6 of the Code:

The Presiding Officer of the Parliament (PresidingOfficers@parliament.scot) deals with complaints relating to:

  • MSP Engagement and Liaison with Constituents on a constituent’s individual case.
  • an MSP’s conduct at a meeting of the Parliament, (except where such conduct is in Committee which is instead the responsibility of the Convener of the Committee to deal with.
  • an MSP’s treatment of another member.
  • misrepresentation of an MSP’s role – MSPs not making clear that they are a constituency member or a list member for the region.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (“the SPCB”) (SPCBSecretariat@parliament.scot) deals with complaints about:  

  • Failure to observe the requirements of the Reimbursement of Members’ Expenses Scheme.
  • Use of SPCB parliamentary facilities and services, and breaches of SPCB policies.

The Human Resources Office of the Scottish Parliament (HumanResources@parliament.scot) investigates complaints about an MSP’s treatment of the Parliament’s staff. (Conduct by an MSP’s own office staff is a matter for that MSP or the MSP’s Parliamentary Leader).

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee of the Parliament (“the SPPA Committee”) (SPPA.Committee@parliament.scot) deals with complaints about:

  • Cross Party Groups.
  • Complaints referred to it from the Presiding Officer and the SPCB.

If you have submitted a complaint to the Commissioner about a complaint outwith jurisdiction, the Commissioner, with your consent, can forward your complaint on to the relevant party for attention.

HOW TO COMPLAIN

You can complain to the Commissioner by letter or by using the complaint form available from the Office of the Commissioner (or which you can download from the website (http://www.publicstandardscommissioner.org.uk/make-a-complaint/overview/).

Your complaint should be made in writing, be signed by you and include the following:

  • the name of the MSP you are complaining about;
  • a description of the circumstances of your complaint including the date or dates on which the alleged misconduct occurred, and the details of any witnesses;
  • the part(s) of the Code which you feel have been breached;
  • any evidence or documents which support your complaint;
  • your name, address and telephone number.

If you have a disability or other personal circumstances for which you require assistance about making a complaint, please contact the Commissioner’s Office (Thistle House, 91 Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh, EH12 5HE. Tel: 0300 011 0550 or 0131 347 3890, Email: info@ethicalstandards.org.uk).

HOW WE INVESTIGATE YOUR COMPLAINT

The 2002 Act places a legal obligation on the Commissioner to conduct complaint investigations privately. There is a two stage process in considering a complaint.

The Commissioner generally notifies the MSP about whom the complaint has been made; the details provided in the complaint (including any supporting information) and will seek a response. However, no personal details will be included other than the name of the person who complained. 

The Commissioner may request further information from you and will consider any response from the MSP and information required to make an initial assessment of whether the complaint is admissible.  

Stage 1– Admissibility. This assessment of the complaint by the Commissioner involves consideration of three legal tests to decide if the complaint is to go on to Stage 2 (full investigation). The complaint has to be:

  • Relevant - it has to be about the conduct of an MSP: it must not be an "excluded complaint" (one not in the remit of the Commissioner) unless the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee have directed the Commissioner to investigate it. It must potentially involve a breach of the Code of Conduct - it must therefore be about the MSP carrying out Parliamentary duties, and generally not wider political activities or private or family life.
  • Procedurally correct - it must be in writing; signed; identifies complainer and MSP: gives facts/evidence and meets a one year deadline for submission.
  • Of enough substance to justify further investigation - there is enough evidence to suggest that the conduct complained about may have taken place.

Stage 1 is expected to take no longer than 2 months - if longer the Commissioner has to report this to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, and, if it would not put at risk the outcome of the investigation, the MSP and the complainer.

Stage 2 – Investigation. If the complaint has not been dismissed at Stage 1, the Commissioner will then conduct a full investigation. The investigation normally takes 6 months but can be longer in particular circumstances.

The attached flowchart gives an outline of the various steps taken by the Commissioner in the investigation and decision-making process about complaints submitted.

THE OUTCOME OF YOUR COMPLAINT

In cases where the Commissioner has concluded that the complaint does not meet the Stage 1 requirements your complaint will be dismissed at this point and you be will written to on a confidential basis explaining that decision. The MSP involved will also be written to confirming the finding made. No public comment or publication will be made by the Commissioner.

Where the Commissioner finds after Stage 2 investigation that there has been no breach of the Code he will prepare a confidential report and submit it to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee for noting. You and the MSP involved will be notified on a confidential basis indicating that the report has been sent to the Committee. (In exceptional cases the Committee may request further investigations be undertaken.) No public comment or publication will be made by the Commissioner.

Where the Commissioner finds after a Stage 2 investigation that there has been a breach of the Code, a report is formally submitted on a confidential basis to the SPPA Committee of the Scottish Parliament. The Commissioner will also write to you and the MSP involved on a confidential basis indicating that the report has been sent to the Committee. It is then for the Committee to consider and deal with the Commissioner’s report on your complaint. This consideration will be undertaken in private - and may involve recommended sanctions being applied by Parliament on the MSP concerned. The Committee may decide to make public its decision. No public comment or publication will be made by the Commissioner.

ANNUAL REPORT

The Commissioner will monitor the progress of all complaints. At the end of each financial year the Commissioner will prepare management statistics and general information for the annual report which will be publicly available. No details of individual complaints or complainers will be included.

HOW WE DEAL WITH YOUR MSP COMPLAINT – AN OVERVIEW 

The flow chart summarises how the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Scotland (CESPLS) will process your complaint. For full details please see our Investigation Procedures.