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


4 Other registers

Brief history of the registers

4.1 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."[31]

4.2 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 by the House on 17 December 1985 and the first registers were published in 1986. The form and substance of each register are detailed in the sections below.

Members' Staff Register

4.3 Those holding a parliamentary pass as a Member's secretary or research assistant are required to register any other occupation or employment from which they receive income exceeding 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.[32] 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 that sum and relates in any way to their work in Parliament.

4.4 The number of staff on the register has increased significantly, from 1456 on 31 March 2003 to 1576 on 31 March 2004. The number of these registering an interest rose less markedly, from 361 to 388.

Journalists' Register

4.5 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 from which they receive income exceeding one percent 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.[33]

4.6 Turnover on the register is low. Of the 408 journalists on the register as at 31 March 2004, 62 had registered interests. This compares with 398 and 60 respectively at 31 March 2003.

All-Party Groups' Register

4.7 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).

4.8 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 £500 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.

4.9 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 groups on the List. For example, they 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.

4.10 The number of registered groups as at 31 March 2004 showed a significant increase over that in 2003, being 401 as against 356. Of these 113 (101) were country groups and 288 (255) were subject groups. The number registering financial or material benefits fell slightly, however, from 211 to 209.

Overlap between the registers

4.11 Overlap between the Registers kept by my office is an increasingly common occurrence. Subject to the different financial thresholds that apply to each of the registers, examples arise when:

a)  Hospitality (eg relating to overseas visits) is received by an all-party group. This should be registered on both the Groups' and Members' register (and may also need to be registered with the Electoral Commission, depending on its value to each individual Member).

b)  An external organisation or individual subsidises a staff member's salary. This should be registered on both the Staff and Members' register, and if the staff member acts as part of the staff to an all-party group, on the Groups' register.

4.12 It is important that Members keep in mind the potential need to make entries in more than one of the Registers arising from the same circumstances. As mentioned earlier, in some cases Members will also need to address the Electoral Commission's registration requirements.

Access to the registers

4.13 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 by arrangement.[34] An updated edition of all three registers is usually issued each month when the House is sitting.

Complaints

4.14 In the past year I received no formal complaints in connection with these registers.


31   Select Committee on Members' Interests, First Report, Session 1984-85, HC 261 Back

32   Over £275 during the period of this report  Back

33   Over £550 during the period of this report  Back

34   An arrangement may be made with the Secretary to the Committee on Standards and Privileges  Back


 
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