Complaint

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 3:45 pm, 8th March 2007

The details of the complaint that was made against Mr Monteith are set out in the report that the Standards and Public Appointments Committee published on 1 March. That report includes the details of the investigation that the Scottish parliamentary standards commissioner carried out. In summary, the complaint was that, when Mr Monteith was a member of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee, he disclosed confidential information to the media ahead of the agreed publication time of a preliminary stage report by that committee.

The Parliament has made it clear previously that, when a committee deems information to be confidential, it should remain confidential until the agreed release date. In Mr Monteith's case, in which the information related to a private bill, there were particular reasons why the information should not have been transmitted outwith the Parliament. Private bill procedures differ from those for public bills and it is important that members understand and respect those differences. Private bills are different in that they involve measures that a promoter seeks in its private interests and to which others may object, also in a private capacity.

The Parliament's role remains to legislate but, because of the nature of the issues that are at stake, it is also to arbitrate between competing private interests. That calls for procedures that are both parliamentary and quasi-judicial in character. At the consideration stage, a private bill committee sits quasi-judicially and makes decisions on people's rights, as set out in their objections. The committee report then details the committee's decision on those matters. It is not appropriate to let anybody know the outcome in advance of the objectors having access to that information. The approach is identical to that of the courts when they issue judgments on actions that are before them—all parties can access the same information at the same time. Early knowledge of decisions could affect negotiations between parties, which are generally on-going right up to the publication time.

The Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill Committee discussed and decided on the timing of its report's publication. It was not in the gift of an individual member of that committee to decide to pre-empt that agreement. The Standards and Public Appointments Committee noted Mr Monteith's position, as set out to the commissioner and repeated in a separate submission to the committee. However, the situation in which confidential information was placed in the public domain arose because Mr Monteith chose to put out his own separate media release. The committee noted that there appear to have been two versions of the private bill committee's release. One was sent to members of the private bill committee and the Parliament's media relations office in advance of publication for information purposes and was not to be referred to until publication—hence the embargo. One was issued at the same time as the report was published and carried no embargo.

As the process for private bills is distinct, members of the private bill committee were given a briefing on the procedures for publication, which included an instruction that nothing, embargoed or otherwise, should be given to the media prior to the publication time. I will quote briefly from page 20 of the Standards and Public Appointments Committee report. The commissioner stated that Mr Monteith

"accepted with hindsight that he had paid insufficient attention to procedures for private bills".

In addition, Mr Monteith could have taken steps that might have prevented the situation from occurring. He could have informed the clerks to the committee or, as a courtesy, the committee convener that he intended to issue his own information. The procedures could have been reiterated to him and perhaps prevented the matter reaching this unfortunate stage.

In arriving at its decision to agree with the findings and conclusions of the commissioner and to recommend to Parliament a sanction, the Standards and Public Appointments Committee agreed that the sanction should be proportionate and reasonable. The committee did not wish to stop the member carrying out his work in his constituency.

We are acting to send a signal that members should be cautious in their actions and consider possible consequences. Therefore, the committee recommends to Parliament that Mr Monteith be excluded from all meetings of the Parliament and its committees for the first five sitting days immediately after the motion is agreed to.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the 1st Report, 2007 (Session 2) of the Standards and Public Appointments Committee, Complaint against Brian Monteith MSP (SP Paper 758), and agrees to impose the sanction recommended in the report that Brian Monteith MSP be excluded from all meetings of the Parliament and all meetings of its committees for the first five sitting days immediately after this motion is agreed.