Scotland politics

Anti-corruption group calls for cut in MSP gift limit

Scottish Parliament Image copyright PA

An international anti-corruption body has recommended a cut in the value of gifts MSPs can receive before they must be declared.

Gifts of £280 would be liable for inclusion in the MSPs' register of interests - half the current value.

The recommendation by the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (Greco) comes as MSPs look to tighten up lobbying rules.

MSPs could be prosecuted for agreeing inducements even if none is received.

Last week, Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick asked a Holyrood committee to look into Labour proposals for a ban on MSPs seeking employment as paid directors or consultants whilst in office.

It followed the cash for access row at Westminster involving former Labour and Conservative foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Criminal offence

The Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee considered removing the criminal offence of failing to declare an interest, insisting previous breaches had been "minor and inadvertent".

But it decided against it as this may be interpreted as MSPs not taking the current law seriously enough.

MSPs who breach parliamentary rules but do not break the law could have their salary docked, be excluded from Holyrood and be named and shamed.

Committee convener Stewart Stevenson said: "Our proposed bill will not only build on the existing robust regime, but will also streamline reporting for MSPs, ensuring all information about MSPs' financial interests is in one easily accessible place for the public.

"We have also suggested broadening the definition of paid advocacy.

"Whilst no MSP has ever been found to have breached the current rules, the committee is clear of the gravity with which paid advocacy should be treated.

"This is why our committee is proposing an expansion to the scope of the criminal offence."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw were caught up in a cash for access row

The committee's report stated: "Greco monitors countries' compliance with anti-corruption standards.

"In response to a Greco recommendation, the bill proposes lowering the threshold for registering gifts from £570 to £280 (0.5% of a member's salary rounded down to the nearest £10)."

It added: "The committee recommends that the full range of sanctions should be available if an MSP fails to register or declare an interest or undertakes paid advocacy.

"The committee proposes to amend the definition of paid advocacy so that agreeing to receive inducements, as well as actually receiving them, would be an offence."

Mr Stevenson said the committee had been working on these proposals for several months "before developments elsewhere have come to light".

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