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by Louise Wilson
15 March 2024
Michael Matheson found to have breached MSP code of conduct over iPad data bill

Michael Matheson found to have breached MSP code of conduct over iPad data bill

Former health secretary Michael Matheson breached the MSP code of conduct when he claimed £11,000 for data roaming charges incurred while on holiday in Morocco.

The ruling follows an investigation by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.

The report will now be referred to the parliament's cross-party Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to consider whether any sanction should be applied.

The SPCB concluded its investigation into complaints about the MSP on Thursday morning. Matheson was found to have breached sections of the code relating to SPCB policies and expenses.

Three complaints were upheld in relation to Matheson’s use of the MSP expenses scheme, use of SPCB facilities and breaches of SPCB policies. He is now facing calls to quit as an MSP.

The SPCB added that while the costs to the public purse had been addressed when the Falkirk West MSP agreed to repay the money, his behaviour had fallen short of that set out by the Nolan Principles of Standards in Public Life.

The SPCB has not made any recommendation regarding the removal of Matheson’s entitlement to claim expenses nor any further punishment.

Matheson resigned as health secretary last month, saying it was “in the best interest of myself and the government for me to now step down to ensure this does not become a distraction to taking forward the government's agenda”.

In his response, First Minister Humza Yousaf said he accepted the resignation “with sadness” but said “it is right that, having requested that the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body review your data roaming charges from last year, that you fully engage with that process as it comes to its conclusion”.

“I agree that it is therefore best for you to now step down to ensure you are able to give the parliamentary process the attention it deserves without it becoming a distraction to taking forward the government's agenda,” he wrote.

Matheson, who was named health secretary when Yousaf succeeded Nicola Sturgeon as first minister last March, ran up a data-roaming bill of almost £11,000 while visiting Morocco with his family in December 2022. He later agreed to pay the money back, telling parliament the bill had been racked up after his sons used his parliamentary iPad to watch football. 

A freedom of information request later revealed that the former health secretary had racked up charges of more than £7,000 in just one day after using 3.18GB of data.  

Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie said: “The conclusion of this long running investigation is to be welcomed – but the findings pose serious questions for the first minister and the SNP government.

“The fact is that Humza Yousaf and senior ministers were complicit in Michael Matheson’s attempt to mislead the parliament. This is a serious error of judgement.

“Appropriate action must be taken against Mr Matheson.”

Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy MSP said the SPCB's report was “devastating and damning” for the former health secretary.

He added: “It is little wonder he was shamefully stalling for time on its publication given he has been found to have breached the MSPs’ code of conduct multiple times.

“This amounts to the most serious of charges against any elected member and Mr Matheson must do the right thing and resign as an MSP now. He must also confirm that he will not take a penny of his ministerial severance pay given what the report has found.

“The public saw through the repeated lies from the outset and now they have been fully exposed. Humza Yousaf also must urgently explain why he backed his former Cabinet colleague for so long, rather than sacking him when his lies were first uncovered.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “From the very start, the first minister insisted that the public had no interest in this affair and that there was no case to answer. Now, Michael Matheson has been found to have breached the Code of Conduct for MSPs on two separate grounds.

“At best, the first minister was extremely gullible about the conduct of his former health secretary, at worst he was complicit in covering it up.  It is vital that we now let the Standards Committee do its work and consider an appropriate sanction.”

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