Scottish Government removes ministerial aides from committees after 'conflict of interest' pressure

Written by Tom Freeman on 31 August 2016 in News

Nicola Sturgeon updates ministerial code to remove Parliamentary Liaison Officers from relevant committees after claims of a potential conflict of interest

Nicola Sturgeon - Parliament TV

Parliamentary aides to ministers will no longer sit on committees which scrutinise their policy portfolio, after the Scottish Government agreed to change the ministerial code.

Under current arrangements Parliamentary Liaison Officers (PLOs) have been able to sit on a committee which coincides with their government role.

The changes will lead to several MSPs having to move committees.


Scottish parliament committee membership

Interview with Scottish Parliament presiding officer Ken Macintosh

The system had faced criticism as a mechanism by which government could influence the Holyrood committees which have to scrutinise its legislation.

After the SNP lost its overall majority in May’s election calls for the system to be changed were renewed.

Four Conservative committee conveners recently wrote to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to demand it be addressed.

Announcing the changes to the ministerial code, Sturgeon said she had listened to the concerns.

“MSPs who serve as aides to ministers do a vital job in terms of the required ‎liaison between Parliament and Government. ‎As such it is important that they are able to carry out that function with the full confidence of both ministers and the parliamentary committees on which they serve,” she said.

"I believe that the Parliamentary Liaison Officers who are currently in post fulfil that requirement admirably, and there has been no evidence of any conflict of interest.

"At the same time, I have listened carefully to the case made by those calling for change, and so the updated guidelines I am publishing today will remove even the perception of any conflict of interest in the role of PLOs.”

Margaret Mitchell, Tory convenor of the Justice Committee, said the system had to change “in the interests of the integrity of the parliament”.

She was one of the conveners who wrote to the First Minister.

“Robust scrutiny is an absolute necessity within the Parliament's committee system.

“This is especially the case given the failure of the committees to live up to the important and unique role envisaged for them when the Parliament was established,” she said.

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said the Greens had been campaigning on the issue for some time, and called for Presiding Officer Ken Mackintosh to also exclude PLOs from asking questions of the relevant ministers in the chamber.

“When the public sees Parliament questioning Ministers about new laws, policy or public spending it’s essential that they can have confidence that MSPs are holding Ministers to account, not the other way around,” he said.


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