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.

7. Ministers’ Constituency And Party Interests

General Principle

7.1 Facilities provided to Ministers at Government expense to enable them to carry out their official duties should not be used for party or constituency work. Where Ministers have to take decisions which might have an impact on the constituency or region which they represent as MSP, they should take particular care to avoid any possible conflict of interest.

Use of Government Property / Resources

7.2 Government property should not generally be used for constituency work [20] or party activities. A particular exception is recognised where a building has been designated as the First Minister’s official residence. Where Ministers host party or personal events in the First Minister’s official residence, it should be at their own or at party expense, with no cost falling on the public purse.

7.3 Official facilities and resources may not be used for the dissemination of material which is essentially party political. The conventions governing the work of Government Communications staff are set out in the Propriety Guidance issued by the Government Communication Network. [21] Similar conventions apply to special advisers in their work to assist Ministers in the presentation of Scottish Government policy, as set out in the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers (see also paragraphs 4.15 to 4.17). [22]

References for Constituents

7.4 On occasions, Ministers are asked to provide personal or job references for constituents. Ministers may only do this provided they make clear that they are doing so as an MSP and not as a Minister. Particular care must be taken, however, to avoid any conflicts of interest; in some cases, it may not be appropriate for a Minister to provide a reference, even as an MSP. For example, Ministers should not provide references for jobs in the public sector for which their portfolio is responsible.

Constituency Interests

7.5 Where Ministers have to take decisions within their area of portfolio responsibility which might have an impact on their own constituency or region, they must take particular care to avoid any possible conflict of interest. They should advise the Permanent Secretary and, in the case of junior Scottish Ministers, the relevant Cabinet Secretary of the interest, and responsibilities should be arranged to avoid any conflict of interest.

7.6 Ministers are free to make their electorate’s views about constituency matters known to the responsible Minister by correspondence, leading deputations or by personal interview, provided they make clear that they are acting as an MSP and not as a Minister.

7.7 Ministers are advised to take particular care in cases relating to planning applications in the constituency or region which they represent, or in other similar cases. Particular care is required when expressing views on cases involving exercise of discretion by Ministers (such as school or hospital closures), where representations intended to be taken into account in reaching a decision may have to be made available to other parties and thus may well receive publicity.

7.8 In all such cases, it is important that Ministers should:

(a) Make clear that the views they are putting forward are ones expressed in their capacity as the MSP representing a particular electorate;

(b) Avoid criticism of the Government’s policies; and

(c) Confine themselves to comments which could reasonably be made by those who are not Ministers.

7.9 Once a decision has been announced, it should be accepted without question or criticism. It is important that Ministers, in expressing the views of their electorate, do so in a way that does not create difficulty for the Ministers who have to take the decision and that they bear in mind the Government’s collective responsibility for the outcome. Ministers should also take account of any potential implications which their comments might have in their own field of portfolio responsibility.

7.10 Particular care also needs to be taken over cases in which a Minister may have a personal interest or connection, for example because they concern family, friends or employees. If, exceptionally, a Minister wishes to raise questions about the handling of such a case, they should advise the Permanent Secretary and write to the Minister responsible, as with constituency cases, but they should make clear their personal connection or interest. The responsible Minister should ensure that any enquiry is handled without special treatment.

7.11 Additional guidance specific to planning cases and energy consents is set out in paragraphs 8.6 to 8.8.

Lottery Bids

7.12 In order to avoid the impression that Ministers are seeking to influence decisions on awards of Lottery money, Ministers should not normally give specific public support for individual applications for Lottery funding. Where a Minister wishes to lend support to a specific project as constituency or regional MSP for a potential Lottery application, he or she should be guided by the principles set out in paragraph 7.10. Ministers lending support to a specific project should do so on the very clear understanding that it is in their capacity as an MSP.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Cases

7.13 The Scottish Public Services Ombudsman ( SPSO) was established by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Act 2002 and is the final stage for complaints about most public services in Scotland. Members of the public may submit

complaints directly to the SPSO, but they may also choose to approach their MSP for assistance or ask them to act as their representative in dealing with the SPSO. When Ministers are asked by members of the public for assistance in dealing with the SPSO, they should, where possible, act no differently from MSPs who are not Ministers. Ministers should accordingly consider requests on their merits in deciding whether to refer a complaint to the SPSO, or to refer the case to the relevant Minister, or to decline to take action. Where the complainant is not from the Minister’s constituency or region, the Minister may wish to refer the case to an MSP who represents the relevant constituency or region. Any Minister is minded to provide assistance in relation to a case referred to the SPSO should inform the Minister responsible for the portfolio concerned in advance.

7.14 Where a complaint is about a matter for which the Minister is responsible, the Minister may wish to investigate it personally unless he or she, or one of the other Ministers in his or her team, has already been directly involved in the case. Where a Minister has been so involved, the SPSO should be asked to investigate if the case is within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction; and there may be other circumstances in which a Minister will prefer to refer a case to the SPSO straight away. Ministers should decide for themselves whether or not it is appropriate for them to become involved in a case, and they should be aware that their choosing not to become involved shall in no way preclude the submission of a complaint to the SPSO.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration

7.15 A complaint brought to the attention of a Minister may fall outwith the remit of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman but instead lie within the remit of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration ( PCA) (commonly known as the Parliamentary Ombudsman). [23] Scottish Ministers do not have the power to refer such complaints directly to the PCA. Ministers should instead draw the complaint to the attention of the complainant’s MP or advise the complainant to ask his or her MP to refer the complaint to the PCA.


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