Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Annual Report 2002-03


5. The Other Registers

Brief History of the Registers

5.1  Ten years after the introduction of the Register of Members' Interests in 1974, the Select Committee on Members' Interests (a predecessor of the Committee on Standards and Privileges) conducted an inquiry into concerns about parliamentary lobbying and recommended that:

when they are approached, Members of the House must be able readily to identify the source and true nature of the approach. Equally the full purposes of those with access to Parliament should be known. We are convinced that greater openness would now be beneficial in certain areas.[6]

5.2  To meet those concerns the Committee concluded that registers should be set up for Members' staff, journalists and all-party groups. The Committee's recommendations were subsequently agreed in a Resolution made by the House on 17 December 1985 and the first registers were published in 1986. The form and substance of each register is detailed in the sections below.

1. Members' Staff Register

5.3  Those holding a parliamentary pass as a Member's secretary or research assistant are required to register any occupation or employment for which they receive over £275 (half of one per cent of a Member's salary) from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass. They also have to register any tangible gift (e.g. glassware) and any other benefit (e.g. hospitality, service or facilities provided) which they receive, if the value of the gift or benefit exceeds £275 and relates in any way to their work in Parliament.

5.4  At any given time there are about 1400 members of staff on the register and turnover is high. Of the 1456 staff on the register as at 31 March 2003, 361 had registered interests.

2. Journalists' Register

5.5  Those holding a pass as a lobby journalist accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to register any occupation or employment for which they receive over £550 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass.

5.6  At any given time there are about 400 journalists on the register and turnover is low. Of the 398 journalists on the register as at 31 March 2003, 60 had registered interests.

3. All-Party Groups' Register

5.7  The membership of all-party groups consists mainly of backbench Members of the House of Commons and Lords but may also include ministers and non-parliamentarians. There are two types of groups: subject groups (relating to a particular topic, e.g. forestry) and country groups (relating to a particular country or region)

5.8  Inclusion on the Register of All-Party Groups is compulsory for any group which includes Members of the Commons from more than one party and has at least one officer who is from the Commons. Such groups are required to register the group's title and the names of its officers. Financial and material benefits received by the group as a whole must also be registered, where the group receives during a calendar year one or more benefits whose total value is £550 or more from the same source. Lastly, the group must register the name and paid employment or occupation outside Parliament of any staff servicing the group who hold a parliamentary pass, if that occupation or employment is advantaged by the passholder's privileged access to Parliament.

5.9  Groups that qualify for inclusion on the Register of All-Party Groups may also apply for inclusion on the Approved List. Both are compiled by my office. By being on the Approved List, a group qualifies for certain entitlements, largely to do with use of the House's facilities. Additional rules apply to approved groups. For example, the former must hold annual elections for their officers and must also register the names of a minimum of ten Members from the Government party and ten from the Opposition parties. All but 6 groups are on both the Register and the Approved List.

5.10  The number of registered groups as at 31 March 2003 was 356, of which 101 were country groups, 255 were subject groups, and 211 had registered financial or material benefits.

4. Access to the Registers

5.11  The three registers are not published in hard copy form. However, a copy of the most recent edition can be viewed on the standards section of the parliamentary website at: www.parliament.uk/about_commons.pcfs.cfm and a paper copy is held at the House of Commons where anyone may inspect it. An updated edition of all three registers is usually issued each month when the House is sitting.

5. Complaints

5.12  Until recently, complaints about a named member of staff, journalist or all-party group were virtually non-existent and such as arose were capable of being dealt with informally by the Registrar. However, in the past year I received two formal complaints in connection with these registers. Both complaints were about Members' staff and are detailed below.

5.13  The first complaint alleged that a Member's researcher had failed to register that he was a councillor and a director of a publishing company. I upheld the first of these allegations and recommended that the rectification procedure applied to Members in cases of late registration should, for the first time, also be applied by analogy to Members' staff. The Committee on Standards and Privileges subsequently agreed this course of action. I did not uphold the second allegation because the directorship was unremunerated and was therefore exempt from registration.

5.14  The second complaint alleged that a Member's researcher had failed to register remunerated posts he held with several companies and also gifts and benefits he had received. It was further alleged that the researcher had abused the privileged access to Parliament he was afforded by his pass by using the latter to bring clients of his into the House of Commons in order to introduce them to Members. Having investigated the allegations, I found no evidence to support them (there being no evidence, for example, that the posts in question were remunerated) and so no part of the complaint was upheld.

5.15  In both cases I reported my findings to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Since the only proven breach of the rules was a relatively minor one, the Committee did not publish a report on either complaint.


6   First Report, Session 1984 - 85 (HC 261) Back


 
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