Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Report

3  Considering Complaints

Overview: A Pleasing Reduction

3.1 The handling of complaints is not the only important aspect of my work but it is the one which attracts most public, and certainly media, attention. As the table below shows, the number of letters of complaint received in my office in 2005-06 was broadly the same as that in 2004-05 (134 as against 137). The number of specific letters of complaint against a named Member rose from 118 to 130. However 40 of those letters of complaint (along with 39 e-mails on the same subject) were about the decision of one Member to appear in a television 'reality show' in January 2006. When those 40 are subtracted, the number of specific complaints against a named Member shows a pleasing reduction from 118 to 90. Although some of this reduction may be attributable to the fact that the House was dissolved for a month during the General Election campaign, not all of it can be accounted for in that way. Similarly the number of complaints proceeded with (ie those complaints which were the subject of either preliminary or full investigation) fell from 42 to 23. I submitted 3 reports to the Committee on Standards and Privileges: all of these related to complaints carried over from the previous year.

Complaints in 2005-06








Totals: April 05- March 06 Totals: April 04- March 05
1. All Matters of Complaint received 2114 2672 133137
2. Specific complaints against a named Member 2012 2572 129118
3. Not proceeded with: reason (a) outside remit;

(b) other

(a) 16(a) 10 (a) 19(a) 60 10567
(b) 0 (b) 1(b) 0 (b) 0 1 9
4. Complaints proceeded with 41 612 2342
5. Complaints subject of preliminary inquiry then dismissed 40 65 1515
6. Complaints subject of further investigation 01 07 827
7. Complaints dealt with by rectification procedure 00 00 00
8. Complaints subject of a report to Committee on Standards and Privileges 00 0 0 0[14] 21

3.2 As the table shows, a large proportion of the letters of complaint I receive raise matters outside my terms of reference. Some of the complaints I am able to refer to other appropriate authorities. During the past year, 10 of the 105 cases which fell outside my remit were, for example, referred to the Serjeant at Arms, since they involved minor complaints of misuse of House of Commons stationery or post-paid envelopes. Even so I considered a number of stationery - related complaints in the year, following the extension in July 2005 of the scope of the Code to embrace misuse of facilities and services which I have noted in Section 1. The overall reduction in the number of complaints falling within my terms of reference is particularly positive given that it occurred during a year when the scope of my remit was widened by this amendment to the Code.

3.3 The great majority of complaints which fall outside my terms of reference concern a Members' handling of a constituent's case. Here I am sometimes able, as a result of the correspondence I receive, to alert the Member to some new factor which they have not previously been able to consider, but it is essentially a matter for the judgement of the elected Member (not an unelected Commissioner) how best to discharge their obligation to their constituent. Often these cases show evidence of sustained effort by a Member to help their constituent; and the reason that this effort has not brought the constituent (and complainant) the answer they wanted lies elsewhere.

3.4 I also do not consider complaints about the views or opinions expressed by a Member, or which boil down to a difference of view with the Member about how he or she should be doing their job. This was the reason why I declined to pursue the 40 letters of complaint I received about a Member's appearance on a reality television show. Those who complained to me felt that such an appearance took the Member away from his basic task of representing his constituents in the House and dealing with their problems. The Member felt that it was in his constituents' interest to take the opportunity the show provided to advance arguments and policies in which he believed, and to reach out to an audience he might not otherwise have gained for them.

3.5 As I pointed out to those who complained, there is no generally accepted job description for a Member. How Members do their job is a matter for each one of them to decide. They are answerable for their decisions about this to the electorate. In essence, if a constituent is unhappy either about the way their Member of Parliament is carrying out his or her job, either in general or in handling their own case in particular, the remedy available to them is through the ballot box.

3.6 During the year covered by this report, 15 complaints which fell within the ambit of the Code were dismissed after preliminary investigation. Sometimes these investigations are limited to initial contact with the Member: it is clear from the response given by the Member to the complaint that there is a simple explanation for what has happened and that no breach of the Code has occurred. In others, the position is not so straightforward and I become involved in quite extensive inquiries to establish if there is clear evidence of a breach of the Code. This was the position in relation to a number of complaints during the last year. In all cases in which I decide that the evidence does not warrant me proceeding to a report to the Committee, I try to give the complainant a clear explanation of the circumstances which have led me to that decision.

3.7 None of the complaints I received in 2005-06 were the subject of a formal report to the Committee on Standards and Privileges in the same year. Eight cases (7 of which had been received in the last quarter of the year) were outstanding at the end of the year. However, all but one of these had been reported to the Committee by the time of writing of this report. 3 reports relating to complaints received in 2004-05 had been submitted to the Committee during the period covered by this report: I briefly describe the nature of these below.

Members the Subject of Complaints in 2005-06

3.8 Last year I included in my report for the first time a table showing the number of Members who were the subject of a specific complaint in the year in question. I append a similar table below. Readers will see that the number of Members who were the subject of a specific complaint fell from 93 to 79.
April - June 2005 July - Sept


Oct - Dec


Jan - March


Total April 05-March 06 Total April 04 - March 05
1. No. of Members the subject of a specific complaint





2. No. of Members involved in complaints proceeded with





3. No. of Members involved in complaints the subject of further investigation





4. No. of above Members the subject of a report to the Committee on Standards and Privileges






Whilst no reports were made in the same year on Members who were the subject of a complaint in 2005-06, reports had been submitted on all but one of these Members by the time of writing this report. Three reports on Members who were the subject of complaints in 2004-05 were presented to the Committee in 2005-06, and to these I now turn.

Reports to the Committee in 2005-06

3.9 As explained above, I made three reports to the Committee on Standards and Privileges during the past year. All of these reports related to complaints received during the previous year. Consideration of the reports had to await the establishment of the Committee in the new Parliament.

3.10 The first was by way of follow-up to an earlier report on the same Member.[15] It focused on discrepancies in the Member's claims under the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA). I reported that the Member (who had in fact retired from the House at the end of the previous Parliament) had repaid a total of £16,613.67 to the House.

3.11 The Committee upheld my view that the Member had not properly observed the administrative rules relating to the allowance. Had the Member not left the House at the end of the previous Parliament, the Committee would have given serious consideration to suspending him from the House for a further period.[16]

3.12 The second report concerned complaints that two Members (one of whom had not been re-elected to the House in May 2005) had failed to register as sponsorship under category 4(a) of the Guide to the Rules certain donations received by their respective Constituency Associations.[17] I dismissed one of these complaints following preliminary investigation because the Member concerned had personally played no part in soliciting the sponsorship. The second Member had, however, been involved personally in soliciting the sponsorship. Although the sponsorship had been reported to the Electoral Commission, and information about it was thereby in the public domain, it had not been recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. I therefore recommended that the Committee on Standards and Privileges uphold this complaint.

3.13 The Committee accepted my recommendation and an appropriate late entry was made in the Register, in the distinctive style used under the rectification procedure, the Member concerned having apologised for his oversight. Noting the duplication of reporting required of Members, the Committee urged the introduction of a single system through the creation of a one-stop reporting arrangement. This led eventually to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2005-06 (HC 807) and the addition of the provision in the Electoral Administration Bill which I have described in Section 1.

3.14 The third report concerned a complaint alleging that a Member had used official House of Commons stationery to further a business interest and had failed fully to disclose the nature of that interest when writing to a Government Minister.[18] The Committee agreed with my conclusion that the Member concerned had failed to exercise sufficient care in separating his public role from his private business interests. As a result, he had breached the requirements of the Code of Conduct in a number of respects. The Member subsequently apologised to the House by way of a personal statement.

Use of Rectification Procedure

3.15 None of the cases considered in the year were resolved by the use of the rectification procedure.[19] However, as previously mentioned (paragraph 3.13), a similar style entry was made in the Register at the conclusion of one case reported to the Committee.

Frivolous and Vexatious Complaints

3.16 I drew the attention of one complainant to the existence of the procedure for handling complaints of this sort following extensive inquiries I made into his complaint, which not only suggested that it was groundless but that an element of malice might be involved.[20] No complaints were formally referred to the Committee on this ground.

14   See paragraph 3.7 below  Back

15   Fifth Report of Session 2004-05 HC 473  Back

16   First Report of Session 2005-06, HC 419  Back

17   Second Report of Session 2005-06, HC 420  Back

18   Third Report of Session 2005-06, HC 421 Back

19   For a description of the procedure see Appendix 1 to my Annual Report for 2002-03  Back

20   The procedure for handling complaints of this nature was set out in Appendix 2 to my Annual Report for 2003-04  Back

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Prepared 25 July 2006