Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

MSPs to be banned from employing family

Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament allowances system has already been substantially reformed

MSPs are to be banned from employing family members at taxpayers' expense, Scottish Parliament bosses have said.

The practice, under which 26 MSPs employ spouses, children and other relatives, would end in 2015, with an immediate block on new appointments.

The call came in a Holyrood allowances review by Sir Neil McIntosh, in the wake of the Westminster expenses row.

Holyrood bosses said they intended to accept the report, which made 13 recommendations.

Delivering his report, Sir Neil said the Holyrood allowances system was "robust", adding there was nothing to suggest MSPs had abused the fact they were allowed to give jobs to relatives.

I think it's a knee-jerk reaction by Neil McIntosh to what's happened in Westminster
Sandra White

But he added: "I believe that any expenses scheme which permits an elected MSP to access public funds to appoint and pay a family member as a direct employee carries an unacceptable risk of undermining public confidence and fuelling public cynicism."

The recommendation on family members follows a similar one put forward under the review of Westminster allowances.

Sir Neil said MSPs could employ relatives of another Holyrood member, but would have to publicly declare such appointments.

He added that the 2015 cut-off date would reduce the risk of unfair dismissal claims, but Nationalist MSP Sandra White, who employs her son Christopher as a parliamentary researcher, said the move could be open to challenge in the European Court of Human Rights.

"I think it's a knee-jerk reaction by Neil McIntosh to what's happened in Westminster and hasn't happened necessarily in Holyrood," the Glasgow MSP told BBC Scotland.

"We are being punished for what's happened in Westminster by some greedy MPs who did rip off the system."

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"If you ask anyone who employs members of their own family, you'll find the trust and the availability of them being able to work extra hours is something that we actually treasure."

Sir Neil's report also said MSPs who had benefitted from the Edinburgh second homes allowance scheme, which is now being phased out, should give a "binding commitment" to pay capital gains tax on properties when they were sold.

Speaking at Holyrood, Sir Neil said the Scottish Parliament expenses scheme, which was recently overhauled following a separate review, was a "sound platform" to build public trust.

He added: "We have not seen the extremes of the Westminster situation - no gardening, no cleaning, no home furniture, no payments without receipts, no second homes outside Edinburgh - but receipted claims subject to audit and all in the public eye.

"It is to the credit of the parliament that this has been the case and that the scheme has shown itself to be robust."

Scottish Parliament Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson said Holyrood's management team, the corporate body, intended to accept the report "in full" and proposals would be put to MSPs for approval.

The previous Holyrood allowances review, conducted by Sir Alan Langlands, said the practice where some MSPs could claim interest on their mortgages should end.

Some MSPs were criticised for making money by buying and selling properties, part-funded by the taxpayer, under the Edinburgh accommodation allowance scheme.

The allowance scheme had also drawn criticism for allowing members to make claims for council tax and TV licences.

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