‘Cash for access’ row prompts review of MSPs

Paid consultancy work undertaken by MSPs will be reviewed following concerns raised over private interests interfering with decisions made at Holyrood. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Paid consultancy work undertaken by MSPs will be reviewed following concerns raised over private interests interfering with decisions made at Holyrood. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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  • MSPs’ secondary roles to come under scrutiny following ‘cash for access’ row
  • Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy calls for ban on MSPs taking paid consultancy work
  • Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick pledges to undertake review with “critical eye
  • Paid lobbying by MSPs is illegal in Scotland, but same rules do not extend to MPs
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RULES on MSPs taking on paid directorships or consultancy work will be reviewed following Scottish Labour concerns about politics being swayed by private interests.

The “cash for access” row at Westminster involving former Labour and Conservative foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind has prompted Labour leader Jim Murphy to pledge a ban on MSPs seeking employment as paid directors or consultants whilst in office.

His concerns will now be passed to Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee after Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick saw merit in reviewing the rules “with a critical eye”.

She confirmed that some MSPs do hold company directorships and second paid roles, but said most of them “receive small amounts of income for a limited amount of their time”.

In a letter to Ms Marwick, Mr Murphy said: “The Scottish people need to know that when they vote they are electing an individual who will represent them directly and not be swayed by private interests.

“Scottish Labour is committing, in our manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections, to the introduction of a statutory ban on MSPs seeking employment as paid directors or consultants, whilst sitting as MSPs, outside parliament.”

He called on Ms Marwick to consider beginning the process of banning paid consultancy work and directorships by referring the issue to the committee to consider changes to Hoyrood’s code of conduct.

Ms Marwick said: “I believe that the legislation and associated rules that have been in place since the establishment of the parliament place stronger checks and balances on our members than those that exist elsewhere, which include criminal offences for failing to register or declare significant financial interests.

“It is worth noting that there are no such criminal offences for MPs.”

She said remunerated roles of any value must be registered, including directorships and related undertakings, while many MSPs voluntarily register unremunerated roles that may be in the public interest.

MSPs are prohibited from paid lobbying, a rule which effectively prohibits members from undertaking “certain forms of consultancy work”, she said.

Any MSP undertaking paid advocacy is liable to prosecution as it is a criminal offence in Scotland, she added.

Ms Marwick said: “Of the very limited number of MSPs that hold a second paid role, the majority receive small amounts of income for a limited amount of their time.

“None of the MSPs undertake the consultancy work that concerns you and while company directorships are permissible, the register of interests shows that the number of instances of this currently stands in single figures.

“There is, of course, always merit in reviewing our rules with a critical eye and, as you are aware, this is the responsibility of the Standards, Procedures, and Public Appointments Committee.

“I am passing your letter to the committee who can look at whether they wish to consider the issues you have raised.”

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