Scottish Ministerial Code 2016 edition

Code of conduct and guidance on procedures for Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers and Law Officers.

1. Scottish Ministers

General Principle

1.1. Scottish Ministers are expected to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.

Ministerial Conduct

1.2. The Ministerial Code should be read against the background of the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations, and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life. They are expected to observe the Seven Principles of Public Life (set out in the Annex to this Code) and the following principles of Ministerial conduct:

(a) The principle of collective responsibility, as defined in section 2 below, applies to all Ministers;

(b) Ministers have a duty to the Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions taken within their field of responsibility;

(c) It is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to the Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead the Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the First Minister;

(d) Ministers should be as open as possible with the Parliament and the public, reflecting the aspirations set out in the Report of the Consultative Steering Group on the Scottish Parliament. They should refuse to provide information only in accordance with the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 and other relevant statutes;

(e) Ministers should similarly require civil servants who give evidence before Committees on their behalf and under their direction to be as helpful as possible in providing accurate, truthful and full information in accordance with the duties and responsibilities of civil servants as set out in the Civil Service Code; [1]

(f) Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests;

(g) Ministers should not accept any gift or hospitality which might, or might reasonably appear to, compromise their judgement or place them under an improper obligation;

(h) Ministers must keep separate their roles as Minister and as constituency or regional list Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP);

(i) Ministers must not use public resources for party political purposes;

(j) Ministers must uphold the political impartiality of the Civil Service and not ask civil servants to act in any way which would conflict with the Civil Service Code as set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. [2]

1.3. This Code provides guidance to Ministers on how they should act and arrange their affairs in order to uphold these standards. It lists the principles which may apply in particular situations, drawing on past precedent, but it is not a rulebook. The Permanent Secretary may provide Ministers with advice on matters which the Code covers and will ensure procedures are in place to support compliance with the Code. It is not, however, the role of the Permanent Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code.

1.4. The Code applies to all Scottish Ministers and covers Parliamentary Liaison Officers in paragraphs 4.8 to 4.14. It sets out the standards of conduct required of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who are acting in their capacity as Government Ministers. Ministers must also comply at all times with the requirements the Parliament itself has laid down in relation to the accountability and responsibility of Ministers. All Ministers (both MSPs and Law Officers) are bound by the Interests of Members of the Scottish Parliament Act 2006, taken together with Section 39 of the Scotland Act 1998. All MSPs, including those who are Ministers, must also adhere to the terms of the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament, which provides a set of principles and standards for MSPs and sets out the ethical standards expected of them in carrying out their Parliamentary duties. The MSPs' Code of Conduct is available from the Scottish Parliament's website. [3]

1.5. Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the Ministerial Code and for justifying their actions to Parliament and the public. The First Minister is, however, the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and of the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards. Although the First Minister will not expect to comment on every matter which could conceivably be brought to his or her attention, Ministers can only remain in office for so long as they retain the First Minister's confidence.

1.6. Where he or she deems it appropriate, the First Minister may refer matters to the independent advisers on the Ministerial Code to provide him or her with advice on which to base his or her judgement about any action required in respect of Ministerial conduct. The findings of the independent advisers will be published.


Email: Robin Benn,

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