Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Annual Report 2003-04

2 Emphasising prevention

2.1 In my last report, I said that both the Committee on Standards and Privileges and I wish to put more systematic emphasis than perhaps has been placed hitherto on preventing situations that may give rise to complaints against Members. It is far better to avoid conduct which gives rise to complaints than to focus on dealing with complaints after a problem has arisen. The techniques for trying to achieve this include:

  • Simplifying and clarifying what is expected of Members
  • Providing training for Members and their staff
  • Offering advice and guidance, both individually and to Members in general
  • Working with other agencies.

I have already mentioned the review of training undertaken in the last year. The year has also seen advances in the written guidance and advice given to Members on standards matters.

Written guidance on standards matters

2.2 In December 2003, my office circulated to all Members a comprehensive folder bringing together guidance material on standards matters. The folder—which is in loose-leaf format to facilitate easy updating—includes not only the text of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules but also a full set of the various notes that I have issued on procedural matters (concerning for example, the investigation of complaints) and on issues of substance on which the Committee has approved specific advice to Members.

2.3 Distribution of the folder has been warmly welcomed. Members have variously described it as "clear and helpful", "very useful" and "a useful resource."

Working with other agencies

2.4 Material provided by the Electoral Commission giving guidance to Members on their obligations under Schedule 7 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) regarding the acceptance and reporting of donations was also included in the folders. It is important that, when registering donations in the Register of Members' Interests, Members also keep in mind their obligations under PPERA and the fact that, whilst similar in many respects, the Commission's regime is different from the House's requirements. Including the Commission's guidance in the folder has given Members a single point of reference on these issues. The Registrar also refers Members to the Electoral Commission in appropriate circumstances.

2.5 More generally, the Registrar and I have continued to consult the Electoral Commission on matters of shared interest and to maintain contact with other standards bodies, including our equivalents in the House of Lords, the Standards Board for England and in a number of other jurisdictions. Together with the Clerks of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, we were able to participate in an informal seminar in London in March 2004 which brought together representatives concerned with standards issues from both Houses of the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Assemblies in Northern Ireland and Wales, the Dáil Eireann and the Committee on Standards in Public Life. This was a valuable opportunity for the exchange of information and learning, as well as for mutual encouragement and support.

Advising individual Members

2.6 The provision of advice to individual Members continues to be a core part of the work of my office and of the Registrar of Members' Interests in particular. This advisory role is undertaken every day, sometimes under pressure when, for example, Members want urgent advice in relation to a matter which may be arising imminently in the House.

Renewing the Register

2.7 Although continuous, the provision of advice on registration matters focuses particularly around the annual renewal of the printed Register and the regular updates of the Register which are published on the parliamentary web-site during the year. This year the printed edition of the Register, recording Members' Interests as at 31 January 2004, was published on 24 February 2004.[18] The updating of the Register is always a substantial task, involving considerable work by the Registrar and executive assistant in my office in liaising with Members.

18   HC 265 Back

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