Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Report

5  Looking Outwards

Openness and Accountability

5.1 The Committee on Standards and Privileges and I have continued with the approach to releasing information about the way the House's standards arrangements work which I set out in my first annual report.[28] This may be summarised as combining openness about the way the system works with confidentiality in the investigation and consideration of individual cases. Of course, the results of my investigation, and of my and the Committee's consideration of cases, are made fully available when the Committee's reports to the House are published.

5.2 Consistent with this approach, I have again addressed and answered questions from a number of groups about the House's standards arrangements during the past year. In September 2005, I was honoured to be invited to deliver the Frank Stacey Memorial Lecture at the annual conference of the Public Administration Committee of the Joint University Council. On 5 April 2006, I took part in a seminar at the conference of the Political Studies Association (PSA) held at the University of Reading.

5.3 I value these and other such occasions as an opportunity to engage in informed debate about the maintenance of standards in the House, to widen knowledge of what is happening and to be challenged about the House's arrangements. The development of an informed and questioning body of academic interest and research in these matters is an important element in helping to strengthen the existing arrangements and to build their credibility into the future.

5.4 One piece of, as yet unpublished, research presented at the PSA conference suggested that attitudes among a sample of MPs to various hypothetical, potentially "corrupt" scenarios with which they were presented by the researcher had hardened considerably since a similar study was undertaken in the late 1980's. This is clearly encouraging and accords with my own impression that we are gradually seeing attitudes in the House switch to a more "professional" culture, in which expectations of Members are both more clearly articulated and more generally upheld.

5.5 In the Frank Stacey Memorial Lecture, I sought to map out the strategic approach which I have taken to my role since my appointment. I have appended the text of the lecture to this report (Appendix 3) as, I hope, a useful means of setting some of the detail of the report in a wider context.

Overseas and Other Visitors

5.6 As well as talks of the sort I have described, the Registrar of Members' Interests and I have continued to receive many visitors from abroad, often as part of programmes arranged by the British Section of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and others. The Chairman and Clerk of the Committee on Standards and Privileges also regularly engage in this process. In the past year we have briefed visitors from Albania, Australia (New South Wales), Bahrain, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Colombia, Georgia, Italy, Russia, Slovakia, Thailand, Tunisia and Turkey. The Registrar visited Bucharest with French, German and other EU colleagues as part of a project under the PHARE programme. I have also again addressed visiting industrialists learning about Parliament under the auspices of the Industry and Parliament Trust.

Hong Kong

5.7 I took the opportunity of a private visit to Hong Kong in September 2005 to build on previous contacts with the Hong Kong Legislative Council. I was invited to address Members and staff of the Council, and have subsequently been able to meet senior staff of the Council visiting London.

Working with Others

5.8 The Registrar and I also maintain regular contact with colleagues in the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Electoral Commission, the Cabinet Office and other bodies concerned with standards matters. In November 2005 we were pleased to attend the annual informal gathering of Clerks of Standards Committees drawn from the Parliaments and devolved assemblies across the British Isles, which on this last occasion was held in Edinburgh. This is always an invaluable opportunity to exchange experience and discuss different approaches to what are often common problems. I also attended the annual conference of local government standards committees organised by the Standards Board for England in Birmingham in September 2005.

5.9 In all these ways, my office seeks to ensure that we both share our own learning with others and are in turn challenged by and learn from their experience. While standards systems have to be consistent with the culture in which they are established, it is increasingly possible to detect common problems, principles and approaches. The growing interest in these matters abroad, partly as a result of the process of EU enlargement, affords the UK a good opportunity to share its own experience, to the assistance of all. Indeed there may be a case for the UK Parliament taking the lead in fostering the development of the international network of parliamentary standards authorities which is already beginning to exist in embryo.

28   Appendix 2, Annual Report 2002-03, HC 905 Back

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Prepared 25 July 2006