Former Tory MSP cleared of financial wrongdoing by standards committee

A former Conservative MSP has been cleared of wrongdoing over claims she failed to properly declare financial interests.

Alison Harris, the Tory representative for the Central Scotland region from 2016 to 2021 – and party spokesperson for taxation and financial sustainability – was accused of underreporting the value of shares she owned in the Georgian Finance Company.

The Ethical Standards Commissioner found against Harris, but has been overruled by MSPs tasked with investigating the complaint brought forward by Joe Lo.

The Scottish Parliament’s Standards Procedures and Public Appointments committee unanimously found Harris had not breached the code of conduct.

The findings contradict those of the Ethical Standards Commissioner, which stated that Harris had declared figures which undervalued her shares in the company.

The committee took the view it was not possible to determine the “definitive market value” of of shares and said experts could give different values for the same shares.

Martin Whitfield, the committee convenor said: “The committee was cognisant that the Code of Conduct for MSPs does not provide a definition of market value, nor does it prescribe any methodology for ascertaining the value of shares.

“However, the code does state that ‘on detailed financial and commercial matters, a member may wish to seek advice from other relevant professionals’,” the statement read, adding that Harris indicated that she had sought the professional opinion of the company’s accountant as to the market value of the shareholding, which she interpreted as being nil due to her being unable to freely sell her shares.

Harris registered an interest in shares on the basis that she held more than 1% of the nominal value of the issued share capital of the company.

She did not, additionally, register these shares on the basis of the market value exceeding 50% of a member’s salary at the start of the relevant parliamentary session, because she ascertained the value of the shares to have a market value of £1.

Whitfield said that while the committee recognises that a fair observer might reasonably consider the market value to be higher, there were conflicting expert views on the market value of the shares.

“The committee recognises that there are many types of shareholdings, particularly in relation to private limited companies, and that in some circumstances ascertaining a market value for shares can be complex.”

Because of this, it intends to consider this matter further with a view to revising the Guidance on the Code of Conduct for MSPs to provide more clarity to members on the registration requirements and greater transparency to the public on members’ interests.

“In conclusion, while the committee does not consider there are sufficient grounds to consider that the Code of Conduct has been breached in relation to this complaint, it would remind all members that they should approach the registration of their financial interests in the spirit of the utmost transparency to ensure that their integrity and propriety cannot be called into question,” read the statement.

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