Scottish Ministerial Code: 2018 edition
A code of conduct for members of the Scottish Government (the First Minister, Cabinet Secretaries and Law Officers) and junior Scottish Ministers.
9. Travel By Ministers
9.1 Ministers must ensure that they always make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements. Ministers must be satisfied that their travel arrangements could be defended in public, consistent with Ministers’ commitment to reduce emissions.
Guiding Principles for Ministerial Travel
9.2 In planning their official travel, Ministers should adhere to the guiding principles set out below:
(a) Propriety: On Ministerial visits, whether in the UK or abroad, Ministers and officials should make sure that there is no confusion about who is and is not a member of the Ministerial party. When Ministers travel on official business, the cost should normally be met from public funds. When any expenses are not met in this way, Ministers should ensure that no undue obligation is involved. Official transport should not normally be used for travel arrangements arising from party or private business;
(b) Efficient Use of Resources: The availability of some services, such as official cars, is necessarily limited, and Ministers should pay special attention to the need to use the Government Car Service efficiently. Where practicable, Ministers are encouraged to use public transport and to make use of the Government’s central travel contracts wherever possible. Travel arrangements should be consistent with Ministers’ commitment to reduce emissions;
(c) Cost Consciousness: In using official cars and travelling by rail or air, Ministers must always make cost-effective travel arrangements. The cost of alternative arrangements should be considered before any decisions involving substantial costs are made; and
(d) Security: Ministers should keep security risks in mind at all times, particularly when travelling by car. This applies both to them personally and to Ministerial papers.
9.3 Ministers should make it their personal responsibility to approve the size and composition of any Ministerial delegation for which they are responsible, keeping delegations as small as possible. Ministers and officials should make sure that there is no confusion about who is and is not a member of the Ministerial party.
9.4 When Ministers travel on official business, their travel expenses should be borne by the Government. Offers of free travel or accommodation should not normally be accepted. The only exception to this is in the case of an offer of transport from an overseas government, provided no undue obligation is created. If such offers are received, guidance should be sought from International Division, who will refer to the First Minister and the Permanent Secretary as required. Further advice on gifts and hospitality is set out in paragraphs 11.19 to 11.24.
Detailed Arrangements for Overseas Visits
9.5 Ministers should normally arrange overseas visits in the Parliamentary recess or, where appropriate, at weekends, except where the visit is in connection with the business of the European Union ( EU) or there are other compelling reasons of Government business. Ministers should also bear in mind that Cabinet meetings take precedence over all other Ministerial business, as set out in paragraph 2.20. A sufficient number of Ministers must also be available during recess to ensure the effective conduct of Government business, and it may be necessary for this reason to restrict or reconsider absences abroad.
9.6 International Division and/or European Relations Division, as appropriate, should be informed if any overseas visit is contemplated (for example, whenever an invitation is received by the Minister’s Private Office). They will be responsible for consulting the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, if necessary, and feeding back any views. International Division and/or European Relations Division should thereafter be kept involved in making arrangements for all overseas visits.
9.7 Any Minister who wishes to be absent from the country for any reason other than official business at an EU institution must seek the written approval of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs. In addition, the Minister for Parliamentary Business must approve any absence from Parliament. Such approval must be obtained before any commitment is given, even on an informal basis.
9.8 In the case of official visits, the minute seeking approval should be copied to the First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, the Minister for Parliamentary Business, the Permanent Secretary, DG Constitution & External Affairs, the Cabinet Secretariat inbox, International Division and European Relations Division. The minute should include a statement of the objectives of the visit, its approximate cost and the names of the officials accompanying the Minister. For the avoidance of confusion, the minute should also set out clearly the names and designations of all those who are members of the Ministerial party. A template is available from the office of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
9.9 Ministers planning visits to EU councils or other EU institution meetings should inform the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs in writing and should copy the minute to DG Constitution & External Affairs, the Cabinet Secretariat inbox, International Division and European Relations Division.
9.10 The First Minister’s prior written approval is required for any official visit overseas by a special adviser (paid or unpaid) or where it is proposed that a Minister should be accompanied on any official visit overseas by his or her spouse or partner.
9.11 Where the First Minister proposes to be absent from the country for any reason other than official business at an EU institution, he or she must first seek Her Majesty The Queen’s permission to leave the country.
9.12 When making arrangements for official Ministerial visits overseas, the diplomatic post concerned should be approached to give advice on the proposed programme, except in the case of visits arranged by Scottish Development International. International Division and/or European Relations Division, as appropriate, will provide contact details for the relevant diplomatic post.
9.13 When holding meetings overseas with Ministers and/or officials from overseas governments, or where official business is likely to be discussed, Ministers should always ensure that a private secretary or relevant official is present. If Ministers meet an external organisation or individual and find themselves discussing official business without an official present – for example at a social occasion or on holiday – any significant content should be passed back to their Private Office as soon as possible after the event. Ministers should seek guidance from International Division and/or European Relations Division if there is any uncertainty about the status of such meetings or the attendance of non-officials at them. International Division and/or European Relations Division will, in turn, seek advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, as required.
Ministerial Reports on Return from Overseas Visits
9.14 Where a Minister has travelled overseas on official business (including visits to EU countries for the purpose of attending meetings of EU Councils or meetings at other EU institutions), the Minister’s lead official should provide the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs and the First Minister with a brief note summarising the purpose and nature of their visit, making an initial assessment of its value in terms of the original objectives, and recording any substantive discussions held with representatives of foreign or Commonwealth countries. This applies to informal discussions as well as those held in the course of official business. Ministers should note that this applies equally if such contacts are made while on holiday in the country concerned (and if Ministers intend making such contact, they must seek the views of the First Minister before travelling).
9.15 International Division and/or European Relations Division will ensure that a note of the salient points of any substantive discussions is passed to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for information. In the case of EU Council meetings, a report to the Scottish Parliament on the outcomes of the Council will normally be sufficient. Ministers’ reports on overseas visits must be completed within ten days of their return. Reports should be copied to DG Constitution & External Affairs, International Division and European Relations Division. A template is available from the office of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.
9.16 The Minister’s Private Office must also provide the Ministerial Private Office divisional support team with details of the dates of the visit, countries visited, meetings held, and the names and designations of those who accompanied the Minister, as well as the final costs of the visit, including all flights and travel and subsistence costs. This information will be collated as a central record, ensuring that up-to-date information on such visits and their costs can be made available at short notice in the event that Ministers are asked to account for their travel arrangements.
Publication of Ministerial Overseas Travel
9.17 The Scottish Government publishes quarterly details of all travel overseas by all Ministers. Ministerial Private Offices must provide the information required to compile this list to the Ministerial Private Office divisional support team as soon as each overseas visit has been completed.
Visits by Ministers from Foreign or Commonwealth Countries
9.18 Ministers should consult the First Minister before extending invitations to Ministers in other national or regional governments to pay official visits to Scotland. Relevant officials should also inform International Division about all visits to Scotland which become known to them, whether private or official, by Ministers in other governments or by any other person of equivalent status, to enable International Division to inform the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. It will be for the First Minister to decide whether to consult the Foreign & Commonwealth Office before inviting Ministers from foreign or Commonwealth countries to Scotland.
Ministers Recalled from Abroad
9.19 If a Minister is abroad with permission and is called home for Ministerial or Parliamentary reasons – including to vote – the cost of the extra journey back and forth may be met from public funds.
9.20 Ministers intending to make an official visit within the United Kingdom must, in all normal circumstances, inform in advance the MPs whose constituencies are to be included within the itinerary. Within Scotland, Ministers must also, again in all normal circumstances, inform the constituency and regional MSPs for the relevant area. The notification should also be copied to the chief executive of the relevant local authority. It is recognised that there will be occasions when visits are organised or the details confirmed at short notice, but where reasonably possible such notification should issue at least 48 hours in advance of the visit concerned. Ministers and officials should make sure there is no confusion about who is and is not a member of the Ministerial party.
9.21 Similar courtesies should be extended when Ministers are visiting the constituencies of members of the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly.
9.22 Ministers who are planning official visits to England, Wales or Northern Ireland which would involve a public engagement should inform the First Minister. In the case of visits in England, the appropriate Secretary of State should be informed, as should the First Minister in the case of Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the case of Northern Ireland.
Party Political Occasions
9.23 Where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the Government and the party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost.
Air Miles, Etc.
9.24 Air Miles-type rewards schemes and other benefits earned through travel paid for from public funds should be used only for official purposes or else forgone, other than where they are de minimis (for example, access to special departure lounges or booking arrangements associated with membership of regular flier clubs). If it is impracticable to use the benefits for Government travel, there is no objection to Ministers donating them to charity if this is permissible under the terms of the relevant scheme and the charity is one chosen by the scheme operator.
Travelling Expenses of Spouses or Partners
9.25 The expenses of a Minister’s spouse or partner, when accompanying the Minister on the latter’s official duties, may occasionally be paid from public funds, provided that it is clearly in the public interest that he or she should accompany the Minister. The written agreement of the First Minister must be obtained on each occasion before travel.
Travelling Expenses of Special Advisers
9.26 If necessary, a Minister may take a special adviser on an overseas visit at the public expense, provided that it is clearly in the public interest that he or she should accompany the Minister. The First Minister’s written approval must be obtained on each occasion before travel.
Contact with Commercial Companies
9.27 Regardless of their responsibilities, all Ministers will come into contact with private sector businesses from time to time. Invitations to functions and events are common place and are part and parcel of Ministerial life. It is for Ministers themselves to judge whether to accept any invitation extended to them but they should satisfy themselves that doing so does not place them under any real or perceived obligation nor risks the commercial position of the Government. Ministers should be guided by the principles set out below in coming to a decision.
9.28 Ministers are free to enjoy normal hospitality provided by private sector companies in the course of their duties (further guidance on acceptance of gifts and hospitality is set out in paragraphs 11.19 to 11.24). However, Ministers should consider very carefully any repeated or serial hospitality from an individual or a company. Ministers need to be sensitive to the risk that private sector interests might occasionally attempt to use occasions to exercise improper influence and lobby the Minister.
9.29 Ministers should also avoid promoting an individual company’s products or services by association. They should also bear in mind public sector procurement procedures and resist any attempt to influence them in favour of particular products or services. If such attempts are experienced, Ministers should report these to the Director of Procurement and Commercial. However, nothing in this Code should be taken as preventing Ministers from fulfilling their proper function of encouraging investment in economic activity to the benefit and prosperity of the people of Scotland.
9.30 Formal invitations which are sent to Ministers are usually subject to a process which allows relevant officials in the Scottish Government to brief the Minister on the appropriateness of accepting the invitation, including matters such as company performance, commercial interests the company might have with the Government, etc. Informal approaches should be treated with caution, and Private Offices should seek advice from the appropriate Directorate if the Minister is in any doubt.
9.31 Ministers should also have regard to the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament – Volume 2, Section 5 on Lobbying and Access to MSPs  which provides guidance on the relationship between lobbyists and MSPs (see also paragraph 4.25 of this Code on the requirements of the Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016).
9.32 Paragraphs 4.22 to 4.24, 10.18 and 10.19 of this Code provide further guidance on meetings with external individuals and organisations, including outside interest groups, lobbyists and the media, including those meetings where an official is not present.
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