The Scottish Ministerial Code (the Code) sets out in Chapter 11 the standards expected of Ministers in the handling of their private interests.
The overriding principle, as set out at paragraph 11.1 of the Code, is that “Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise”.
At paragraph 11.2, the Code makes clear that “It is the personal responsibility of each Minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict, taking account of advice received from the Permanent Secretary”.
The Code stipulates that, “On appointment to each new office, Ministers must provide the Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict in relation to their Ministerial office. The list should also cover interests of the Minister's spouse or partner, and close family which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. The Permanent Secretary will also seek confirmation from Ministers, at the time of their appointment, as to whether they are aware of any close acquaintances or advisers who have a contractual relationship with the Government or are involved in policy development.”
Paragraphs 11.2 to 11.16 of the Code set out some of the steps that may be advised so that interests that are retained can be managed in a way which does not give rise to a conflict of interest. That may include, for example, a Minister being recused from decision-making on a particular issue.
The current version of the Ministerial Code, published on 20 July 2023, notes that “a list of each Ministers’ declared interests will be published on the Scottish Government website within a reasonable period following their appointment……The published list of Ministers interests will be reviewed and, where necessary, updated on an annual basis.” The intention is that any updates required will be made at the start of each new Parliamentary term following the summer recess. Should there be a significant change to a Minister’s private interests during the course of the year, then changes will be made to their published list in advance of the annual review. Each Minister’s list will provide the date when it was last updated.
The published list is not a register of interests and does not therefore necessarily include every interest or detail that a Minister has declared in relation to themselves and their family members. To do so would represent an excessive degree of intrusion into the private affairs of Ministers that would be unreasonable, particularly in respect of their family members. The list instead documents those interests, including of close family, which are, or may be perceived to be, directly relevant to a Minister’s Ministerial responsibilities. The list also provides details of charities where a Minister is a trustee, patron or member.
Personal information relating to third parties, as well as personal financial information which Ministers disclose, is treated in confidence and may not be disclosed without their permission.
Information held on Ministers’ private interests is still subject to the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). Any request for information will be subject to case-by-case consideration. Information may be exempt from release if it is already in the public domain (for example, in the Minister’s MSP Register of Interests) or if its release would contravene data protection principles under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA.
Information on Ministers’ private interests has been released previously in response to information requests. For example, information was released in March 2023.
This information included in this publication records the relevant interests of all Ministers forming part of the current government, as at 31 August 2023. The Permanent Secretary has scrutinised the declarations made, and is satisfied that measures have been put in place, where necessary, to avoid a conflict of interest. As a general principle, all list entries should be read alongside the relevant Member of the Scottish Parliament’s Register of Interests.
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