Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges from the Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, President of the Council and Leader of House of Commons


I am responding to the Committee on Standards and Privilege consultation on proposed amendments to the rules relating to the conduct of Members—rules quite properly based on the expectation that Members should have high standards of integrity and that the Code should set the framework against which those standards are to be assessed and assured.

The Committee may recollect that last April Sir George Young and I wrote drawing out our concerns about the application of the rules and the process of investigation. I welcome the opportunity which this report now provides, for all members of the House to engage with these issues. I understand that some Members of the House regret that the Committee has not publicly included in its Report its response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life's expressed concern that the guidelines (in this case, on initiation of parliamentary proceedings) may be "operating unnecessarily harshly and they should be amended".[51]

When we wrote, among our concerns were procedural muddle and fairness, the possibility that there might be "fishing expeditions" when breaches of the rules had not been established, uncertainties and anomalies in the rules, and retrospective application. Most importantly, we were concerned that the result of a series of decisions on individual cases was leading to gradual extension of the ambit of the rules without the House having expressed a view. Such a process of extension may well lead to Members inadvertently and in all innocence falling foul of a new interpretation of the rules. The rules should of course be tightened when there is good reason for it. My concern is both that the rules are becoming unclear, and that their gradual extension may unjustifiably restrict Members' ability to take part in legitimate activity. I enclose a note which outlines my concerns in great detail.

8 February 2001

51  Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, cm 4577, para 3.96. Back

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