We are often asked whether both an MSP and an MP can get involved in the same case on behalf of a constituent.
There aren’t any ‘rules’ stopping an MSP from taking on a case that an MP is also dealing with.
Constituents in Scotland are represented by a constituency MSP, as well as seven regional MSPs in the Scottish Parliament; one MP in the House of Commons; and six MEPs in the European Parliament, it is entirely feasible that several members could be working with the same constituent on the same issue.
When deciding whether to ask an MSP to take on a case, a constituent may wish to consider whether the MSP is the best placed representative to help them. The Scottish Parliament can pass laws on devolved matters – in general, those affecting most aspects of day-to-day life in Scotland. The UK Parliament at Westminster can pass laws on reserved matters – in general, those with a UK-wide or international impact. An MSP might therefore be better placed to take on cases in devolved areas and refer those on reserved matters to the local MP.
Alternatively, a local Councillor may be better placed to assist a constituent if the case relates to an issue with the delivery of services in the local area.
Code of Conduct for MSPs
The principles and standards of conduct for MSPs in relation to their parliamentary duties are set out in the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament.
Section 8 of the Code of Conduct for MSPs covers engaging with constituents. It states:
SECTION 8: ENGAGING WITH CONSTITUENTS
- This section of the Code of Conduct (the Code) sets out the rules which MSPs must follow when they are engaging with constituents.
Taking on constituents’ cases
- An MSP must take on a constituent‘s case when approached, unless they have a legitimate reason for declining it. Examples of legitimate reasons are—
- The constituent has asked the MSP to take inappropriate action;
- The case would lead to a conflict of interest with the MSP‘s existing casework;
- The case is contrary to the MSP‘s political beliefs.
- If an MSP declines to take on a constituent‘s case, they would be expected to inform the constituent of this.
- A MSP must not deal with a constituency case or constituency issue outwith their constituency / region unless by prior agreement.
- Regional MSPs must work in more than two constituencies within their region.
- Regional MSPs are expected to deal with any matter raised by any constituent within their region (unless they have a legitimate reason for not doing so).
- MSPs must respect individual privacy when representing constituents’ interests. The exception is where there are overwhelming and lawful reasons in the wider public interest for disclosure to be made to a relevant authority. An example is where an MSP is made aware of criminal activity.
The document Guidance on the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament provides additional guidance to MSPs on overlapping case work, however it focuses on overlaps with other MSPs: http://www.parliament.scot/Parliamentaryprocedureandguidance/CCEd07201708Guidance.pdf
Section 8.33 of the guidance states:
- In the event that a member is made aware that a constituent‘s case is already being pursued by a constituency MSP or regional MSP, it is recommended that the member notifies that MSP. Whilst this is not a requirement of the Code of Conduct, adopting such an approach should avoid any duplication of case work or MSPs working at cross purposes thereby damaging a constituent‘s case. Notification between members should only take place with the explicit consent of the constituent.
Who does what?: http://www.parliament.scot/visitandlearn/105911.aspx
Your Representatives http://www.parliament.scot/visitandlearn/105913.aspx
House of Commons – The Code of Conduct and Guide to Rules: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmcode.htm
House of Commons Library – Members and Constituency Etiquette: http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN02028
Scottish Councillors’ Code of Conduct: http://www.standardscommissionscotland.org.uk/codes-of-conduct/councillors-code-of-conduct
Gwynneth Cowley, SPICe Enquiries Manager