Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Tenth Report

Appendix 1: Memorandum from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Complaint against Mr Michael Foster (Worcester)

The Complaint

1. On 2 February 2006 Mr Peter Luff (the Member for Mid Worcester) complained about an alleged misuse of House stationery, including post-paid envelopes, by Mr Michael Foster (the Member for Worcester). Mr Luff also alleged that Mr Foster's annual report to his constituents breached the rules on publications funded from the Incidental Expenses Provision (IEP) in that it contained material of a party political character. The text of Mr Luff's letter of complaint is at WE1.

2. The four specific grounds of Mr Luff's complaint were:—

a)  Mr Foster had used a post-paid envelope in October 2005 to send a constituent a circular in the form of a Parliamentary newsletter ("Update 9").

b)  Mr Foster had compounded his original error by sending the same constituent a second copy of the same newsletter in a post-paid envelope.

c)  Mr Foster sent the same constituent a separate communication consisting of a circular letter dated 16 December 2005 printed on House of Commons stationery together with a calendar in Labour Party colours and identical in style to his election literature. The calendar carried an imprint showing that it had been paid for through the IEP. The letter and calendar were distributed in a post-paid envelope. The text of the letter (but not the calendar) is at WE2.

d)  Mr Foster's annual report breached the rules on such publications funded through the IEP in that:

i)  It promoted the Labour Party by containing a photograph of Mr Foster wearing a Labour Party rosette.

ii)  Other photographs of Mr Foster among his constituents carried captions praising Labour Government achievements.

iii)  It included a form inviting respondents to tick a box if they would like to receive a quarterly newsletter giving details of Mr Foster's work in Worcester and Westminster. Mr Luff argued that the form amounted to solicitation of a request to be contacted and thus was outside the rules.

3. Mr Luff had previously complained to the Serjeant at Arms, the officer responsible for administering the relevant rules[16], in relation to the first ground in November 2005, following which he had received an explanation that the constituent in question had indicated a wish to be kept informed of certain aspects of Mr Foster's parliamentary work, and an assurance that in view of the complaint, the name of the constituent had been removed from Mr Foster's database. Since the Serjeant had already examined this matter, I have not thought it appropriate to revisit it. As to the second ground, upon enquiry by me it seemed that this assertion is mistaken. Mr Luff has withdrawn this element of his complaint.

4. This report therefore focuses on the third and fourth grounds set out in paragraph 2 above.

Relevant Provisions of the Code of Conduct and the House's Rules

5. On 13 July 2005, the House approved, on the recommendation of the Committee on Standards and Privileges[17], a revised Code of Conduct. This includes a provision that:

"Members shall at all times ensure that their use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is strictly in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters, and that they observe any limits placed by the House on the use of such expenses, allowances, facilities and services."

The corresponding provision of the Code previously in force only applied to misuse of expenses and allowances. It had been a recommendation of the Committee that alleged misuse of facilities and services provided by the House should be brought within the scope of the Code.

6. In its report to the House recommending the new Code, the Committee said:

"We recommend that all complaints received by the Commissioner relating to alleged misuse of facilities and services should be referred by him to the appropriate House authorities for investigation of the facts. When they have reported back, he would decide whether to dismiss the complaint; investigate it further and report to the Committee on Standards and Privileges; or to request the authority concerned to secure appropriate financial reimbursement."[18]

The present case involves both alleged misuse of a facility or service (stationery and envelopes) and of an allowance (the IEP). I have consulted closely both the Serjeant at Arms and the Department of Finance and Administration in relation to their respective interests.

7. The House makes available at public expense resources of official stationery and plain and post-paid envelopes for Members' use in certain circumstances on Parliamentary business. I refer to this subsequently as 'unlimited stationery', in that there is, at present, no limit to the extent to which, provided he or she observes the relevant rules as to its use, a Member may draw on it. For other categories of permitted use, Members must pay for the resources themselves, although they can, if they wish, charge the cost to their IEP to the extent that the resources have been used wholly, exclusively and necessarily on Parliamentary duties. In the remainder of this report I refer to this category of stationery as 'paid-for stationery'.

8. The Rules on the use of House stationery and post-paid envelopes (the Stationery and Postage Rules—promulgated by Mr Speaker on the advice of the Administration Committee and supervised and applied by the Serjeant—lay down purposes for which stationery in both these categories may and may not be used. The Rules—which have stood with minor amendments since 1984—prohibit the use of stationery and plain envelopes provided at the House's expense (unlimited stationery) for unsolicited circulars and letters on constituency issues. Such circulars and letters are defined specifically to include communications concerning surgery or contact details. A Member may, however, use paid-for stationery for this purpose. The use of post-paid envelopes for circulars is not permitted in any circumstances, a fact which is confirmed by a separate guidance note on the use of such envelopes which is available to Members on the Serjeant at Arms' section of the Parliamentary intranet.

9. The leaflet published by the Serjeant at Arms describing the Stationery and Postage Rules, as most recently issued in the summer of 2005, is at WE3, and the text of the guidance note on the use of post-paid envelopes, as posted on the Serjeant's intranet site, is at WE4. Prior to the summer of 2005, the leaflet included a definition of a circular which read:

"For the purposes of these regulations the following are considered to be circulars:

(a) a letter sent in identical or near identical form to a number of addresses (whether or not it is individually signed and addressed) if it is unsolicited, ie if it is not sent in reply to queries or correspondence from the addresses; .....

(c) a letter sent in identical or near identical form to a number of addresses acknowledging replies to any letter, questionnaire or survey that itself was unsolicited."

Unfortunately this definition was omitted when the stationery guidance leaflet was reissued in the summer of last year, but the omission was administrative, and did not reflect any change in policy. This is confirmed by the fact that the guidance note on circulars which is currently available to Members on the Serjeant at Arms' section of the Parliamentary intranet includes precisely the same definition of a circular. A copy of this guidance note is at WE5.

10. The guidance for Members on publications funded from the IEP issued by the Department of Finance and Administration makes clear that:

"The allowances must not be used to fund party political activity or campaigning."

Providing their publications meet the rules laid down, Members may meet the costs from their allowances without seeking approval from the Department (though they may seek prior approval if they wish). However, if the Department subsequently finds that the Rules have been contravened, the Member will be asked to repay any costs involved.

My Inquiries

11. On receiving Mr Luff's letter of complaint I wrote to Mr Foster inviting his explanation and response (WE6). Mr Foster was away immediately following his receipt of my letter but replied on 20 February vigorously rebutting the various grounds of Mr Luff's complaint and suggesting that it was vexatious in nature and the latest in a line of complaints by Mr Luff about his constituency neighbour.

12. The text of Mr Foster's response is at WE7. I have deleted from the text the names of the constituent and of a further neighbouring Member, Member A (not Mr Luff) to whom Mr Foster refers, as neither is germane to the resolution of the present complaint.

Mr Foster's Response to the Complaint

13. In reply to the complaint Mr Foster argued:

a)  His constituent had originally asked to be kept informed of his parliamentary work. Following Mr Luff's earlier complaint to the Serjeant at Arms (see paragraph 3 above), Mr Foster had instructed his staff to remove the name of the constituent from his database but this had not happened. He apologised for this mistake and for the fact that, in consequence, the constituent had received in error his letter dated 16 December enclosing a surgery notice and calendar.

b)  He had not breached the House's rules by providing constituents with an easy way to be kept informed, if they so wished, of his parliamentary activities. He pointed out that Mr Luff had, on his own web-site (itself funded through the IEP), a facility allowing those who wish to do so to seek further information, and argued that constituents who were reliant on the postal system should not be disadvantaged thereby.

c)  His annual report did not include party political content in breach of the rules on the IEP. The picture in the report of Mr Foster wearing a Labour rosette as a candidate at the 2005 General Election illustrated an event of importance in the year covered by the report, and was less blatant than a photograph in a neighbouring Member's (Member A's) equivalent document, which showed the Member concerned in front of a 'Vote Conservative' poster.

14. After considering Mr Foster's response, I wrote again to him asking:

I also informed Mr Luff of the criticisms Mr Foster had made of him, giving him the opportunity to comment on them.

15. Mr Luff replied reiterating his main points and denying that his complaint was frivolous. In his view the complaint was important because Mr Foster was breaking the rules to reinforce his incumbency of his parliamentary seat, and to make the task of any challenger in unseating him more difficult.

16. Mr Foster replied (WE8) that the number of people who had received his December communication was around 562, i.e. the number of those on his database who had asked to be kept informed of his parliamentary work. House of Commons post-paid envelopes had been used.

17. Mr Foster maintained that the communication was not unsolicited, in the sense that the letter and calendar (which informed recipients of his change of office address and gave details of his constituency surgeries) had only gone to those who had specifically asked to be kept informed of his parliamentary work. He therefore considered the use of post-paid envelopes and House stationery provided at public expense (ie unlimited stationery) to be perfectly legitimate for this communication.

The View of the Serjeant at Arms

18. I have discussed Mr Luff's complaint, in so far as it relates to the use of House stationery and post-paid envelopes, with the Serjeant at Arms.

19. The Serjeant's view is that, under the Stationery and Postage Rules, unlimited stationery should not have been used by Mr Foster for the December letter. In his opinion, this fell within the accepted definition of a circular (see paragraph 9 above), for which paid-for stationery should have been used. Nor should Mr Foster have used post-paid envelopes for this communication, as their use for circulars is not allowed in any circumstances. As Mr Foster had not paid for the stationery either personally or out of the IEP, he was, in the Serjeant's view, in breach of the Stationery and Postage Rules on both grounds.

The View of the Department of Finance and Administration

20. I have also consulted Mr Terry Bird, the Director of Operations in the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), about those aspects of Mr Luff's complaint which relate to the content of Mr Foster's 2006 calendar and his annual report.

21. Mr Bird points out that the rules on the use of the allowances to pay for newsletters specifically preclude party political campaigning or comment.

"Both overt party political material (eg 'Vote Labour/Conservative') and comment which can clearly be construed as making a party political point are outwith the rules."

22. Mr Foster did not seek the DFA's advice prior to publication of either his calendar or his annual report. On 12 December 2005, he was reimbursed £633.69 for the calendar and on 24 February 2006, £3,818.76 for printing and distribution of his report.

23. Mr Bird has examined the content of all three of the publications funded from Mr Foster's IEP which feature in Mr Luff's complaint. As regards his newsletter ('Update 9') and 2006 calendar, Mr Bird does not believe that either of these breach the Department's guidance.

24. However, Mr Bird does have concerns about some of the content of the annual report. These concerns focus on the captions to the three photographs cited by Mr Luff in his complaint. The captions read respectively:

a)  A Sure Start—Mike with Callum Norcott at the opening of the Sure Start nursery at the Fairfield Centre. "I was proud to be asked to open the nursery, which is part of the Pre-school Learning Alliance. It will be such an asset to the local community" he said. Sure start is a Labour Government initiative, designed to give young children the best possible start in life."

b)  "Supporting parents and children—Mike at the opening of the Tudor Way Children's Centre. This is another example of the Labour Government's investment in local communities. The scheme, based at Dines Green Primary School, will give support to parents and children and give a real boost to the drive to give every child the best possible start in life."

c)  "Henwick is 'state of the art'—At the opening of the new Henwick Halt GP surgery, Health Minister Dr Stephen Ladyman, said that this was one of the most state of the art surgeries in the country. The Labour Government's investment in the local NHS continues, with two more GP surgery projects in the City."

25. Mr Bird says in relation to these captions:

"There is a degree of judgement required in assessing a newsletter, but our view on the three captions cited by Mr Luff is in accord with his assessment: namely, that by praising the current Government's actions in unambiguous terms, Mr Foster has strayed into party political comment."

26. Mr Bird does not consider the tear-off form on the final page of the newsletter to be a clear breach of the rules that would, by itself, warrant a decision to seek repayment of the IEP. Nor does he regard the use of colour and the photograph of Mr Foster wearing a rosette as overstepping the line into party politics. The use of colour on newsletters has never been disbarred:

"Although colour suggests a party affiliation, it is not the affiliation per se that we see as problematical."

27. Mr Bird concludes that in the light of his assessment it would be his Department's intention to recover from Mr Foster in full the payment made from the IEP to cover the cost of his annual report. Before taking any such step, however, he awaits a decision on the current complaint.

Mr Foster's Further Observations

28. Mr Foster has offered further observations in rebuttal of Mr Luff's complaint in a letter dated 29 March commenting on a draft of the factual sections of this report. The text of this letter is at WE9.

29. In respect of his letter of 16 December 2005, Mr Foster says that most of those who had asked to be kept informed of his Parliamentary activities had made the request to the former address of his constituency office. Telling them of the change of address was, in his view, a sensible and proper use of House stationery. The calendar he enclosed was not the main purpose of the mailing: most copies of it had been distributed separately by hand to his constituents.

30. As regards the wording of his annual report, Mr Foster concedes that with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been better if he had shown the text first to the DFA. However, the use of the term "Labour Government" is, he argues, purely descriptive and factual. It does not constitute party political comment. If it does, then many other Members have similarly breached the rules, sometimes in more flagrant ways, whether in their IEP—funded annual report or on their IEP—funded website. For example, the annual report of a neighbouring Conservative Member (Member A—referred to in paragraph 13 above) mentions "the Conservative controlled Worcester County Council". It also makes more extensive use of Conservative party colours, and refers to a local Conservative Party website and e-mail address.

31. Mr Foster continues to maintain that Mr Luff's complaint is vexatious (particularly when seen against the background of previous unfounded complaints by Mr Luff about Mr Foster) and that, in referring to his concerns about what might be described as the "incumbency effect" (see paragraph 15 above), Mr Luff has revealed its essentially political motivation.

32. Finally, in a subsequent e-mail, Mr Foster has commented in relation to the wording of his annual report on how, in his view, the assessment should be made as to whether or not something constitutes party political comment:—

"A test that should be applied, to treat all Members equally, is whether a form of words would be objected to if the party affiliation were reversed. For example, if a Conservative MP wrote 'the Labour Government's investment. . .' would this be objected to by a member of either party? No, I don't think so because there is no political motive inferred by the assessor. Similarly, if I had written 'the Conservative controlled County Council has invested.. .' would a complaint be made against me, again the answer is no. It is because the statement uses factual description, which does not convey an opinion or assessment that makes it acceptable to use in such cases. And on this basis neither [Member A] nor I have crossed a line into making party political comments."

Findings of Fact

33. In December 2005, Mr Foster sent to some 562 of his constituents a circular letter informing them of a change of address of his constituency office, and enclosing a 2006 calendar with details of his regular advice surgeries. The letter was printed on Mr Foster's House of Commons notepaper (the cost of which was not met from the IEP or by Mr Foster personally) and posted in post-paid House of Commons envelopes.

34. Mr Luff, the complainant, argues that the use of post-paid envelopes for this communication was contrary to the Stationery and Postage Rules in that these prohibit the use of this type of envelope for any circular. He is supported in this argument by the Serjeant at Arms, who is also of the view that Mr Foster should not have used stationery provided at public expense either. Mr Foster contends that since those to whom the communication was sent had asked to be kept informed of his parliamentary activities, the letter was not unsolicited and was therefore, in effect, not a circular. Telling the recipients of the letter of the change of his office address was, in his view, a sensible and proper use of House stationery.

35. In January 2006 Mr Foster published his annual report to his constituents, funded from his IEP, in the form of a 'wrap-round' addition to the local free newspaper. Mr Luff argues that, in a number of respects, this breached the guidance issued to Members by the Department of Finance and Administration about publications funded from the IEP. The Department disagrees with Mr Luff on a number of the arguments he advances but agrees that the captions to three photographs in the report cross the line into party political comment.

36. Mr Foster on the other hand, argues that his use of the phrase "Labour Government" in these three photograph captions is purely factual and descriptive. It does not convey an opinion or assessment, and therefore does not constitute party political comment.

37. Mr Foster believes that Mr Luff's complaint is part of a pattern of unfounded criticism of him by Mr Luff. As such, Mr Luff's present complaint is at best frivolous, at worst vexatious. It is, in any event, unjustified.



38. A key element at the heart of this case is where the line is drawn between Members' public and parliamentary persona, on the one hand, and their party persona on the other, and how these inter-relate. This is a very difficult area, which goes to the heart of how Members engage with their constituents. I am aware of evidence that there is both considerable uncertainty among a significant number of Members, and in some cases general dissatisfaction, about the interpretation and application of the rules on the use of House stationery and post-paid envelopes and, to a lesser extent, about where the boundary lies between accountability to constituents for political activities undertaken as the constituency Member of Parliament, and more general party political campaigning. Such uncertainties may lead to mistakes, or may heighten a temptation to press the boundaries, either out of a genuine feeling that the present rules are too restrictive and inhibit effective engagement between Members and their constituents, or for reasons of party political advantage, or both.

39. My function is to apply the rules that the House has laid down, and in the following paragraphs I give my assessment as to the merits of Mr Luff's case on this basis. Having done so, and conscious of the current review of the Stationery and Postage Rules (which I welcome and hope will have a speedy and clear-cut outcome) by the House of Commons Commission, advised by the Administration Committee, I offer some more general comments. Clear, readily accessible and unambiguous rules are essential for Members to be helped to avoid allegations of misuse; for their proper enforcement; and to ensure their credibility in the eyes of both Members and the public. From the concerns I have mentioned above, and from the evidence of this case, there is real doubt that the existing rules fully meet these tests.



40. In relation to the Stationery and Postage Rules, Mr Luff's complaint focuses on Mr Foster's circular letter of 16 December 2005, printed on House of Commons stationery and distributed in post-paid envelopes. It is, I submit, clear from the material to which I have referred in paragraph 8 above that post-paid envelopes should not be used for circulars of any description. Nor should House stationery be used for unsolicited circulars and letters on constituency issues or for conveying surgery or contact details unless it is either paid for by the Member himself or the cost is met out of his IEP. Mr Foster neither paid for the stationery himself nor met its cost out of the IEP.

41. Mr Foster argues that because those who received his letter had previously asked to be kept informed of his parliamentary work, the letter was not in the nature of a circular but rather of a communication which had been solicited. He points out that those concerned had gone to some trouble to complete and mail the form which resulted in their names and addresses being added to his database.

42. Looking at the definition of a circular quoted in paragraph 9 above, there is no doubt that Mr Foster's letter of 16 December 2005 constituted 'a letter sent in identical or near identical form to a number of addresses.' Moreover its primary purpose, according to Mr Foster (see WE8) was to convey contact and surgery details, a class of communication specifically listed in the Stationery and Postage Rules as qualifying for printing and distribution using House stationery and plain (not post-paid) envelopes at a Member's own expense, ie paid-for stationery (see paragraph 8 above).

43. Is the fact that those on Mr Foster's database had asked to be kept informed of his parliamentary work sufficient to mean that, regardless of the fact that the letter they received was in standard form and in every other way a circular, the letter was solicited and therefore qualified for distribution in post-paid envelopes? I do not believe it is. First there is the point that such a communication appears to breach sub-paragraph (c) in the definition of a circular set out in paragraph 9 above, in that the form which constituents completed was itself contained in an unsolicited communication (as it was again in Mr Foster's recent annual report).

44. More fundamentally, the argument Mr Foster advances breaches the spirit of the present Rules which, on my reading of them, appear to be intended to ensure that House stationery and post-paid envelopes supplied by the Serjeant at public expense (unlimited stationery) are only used by Members for direct communication on parliamentary business, ie with constituents, in response to individual matters raised by them with Members, and never for circulars.[19] Filling in a form asking to be kept informed as to what the constituency MP is up to in Parliament is not the same as corresponding directly with them on particular matters of parliamentary or constituency interest or concern. To argue otherwise appears to represent a clear attempt to get round the restrictions imposed on the use of unlimited stationery and post-paid envelopes. Furthermore, even if Mr Foster's argument that the mailing was solicited were to be accepted, he would still be in breach of the rule explicitly prohibiting the use of post-paid envelopes to mail unsolicited items such as calendars.

45. For the reasons I have given, I recommend that Mr Luff's complaint in relation to the use of House stationery and post-paid envelopes in connection with Mr Foster's communication of 16 December 2005 be upheld.


46. In considering the issues raised by Mr Luff in relation to Mr Foster's annual report, I have in mind the approach the Committee adopted in a previous report in which the question of what constitutes party political activity or campaigning was addressed.[20] In that report, the Committee commended the following statement in my memorandum appended to its report:[21]

"In my judgement, party political activity or campaigning includes comment which is party political in character or motivated by party political considerations. This is particularly so where what is said does not flow directly and naturally from a factual account given to constituents of what their Member has been doing in a Parliamentary capacity. Even where it does, such comment should be expressed so far as is reasonable in non partisan terms."[22]

47. Mr Luff suggests that Mr Foster's annual report infringed the rules on the use of the IEP to fund publications to constituents in that it included:

a)  A colour photograph of Mr Foster taken as a candidate during the 2005 General Election. The photograph showed Mr Foster wearing a Labour Party rosette;

b)  Captions to three photographs of Mr Foster which promoted the Labour Party by referring positively to Labour Government policies;

c)  A form inviting respondents to tick a box if they would like to receive a quarterly newsletter giving details of Mr Foster's work in Worcester and Westminster.

48. Taking these points in turn:

a)  I do not think the inclusion of the photograph of Mr Foster as a candidate is alone sufficient to breach the prohibition on the use of the IEP for party political purposes or campaigning purposes. The photograph relates to a past event, not a current campaign, and the caption to it is unexceptionable. Mr Foster's political allegiance will be well-known already to his constituents and can in any event readily be deduced from other features of the report, such as the red portcullis emblem on the masthead.

b)  The three captions are a different matter. I share the view expressed by Mr Bird that these cross the line into party political campaigning, in that the sentences in them which I have highlighted in paragraph 24 above refer explicitly to initiatives by the "Labour Government". In a publication funded from the public purse whose purpose is to tell Mr Foster's constituents, in non-partisan terms, what he has been doing as their Parliamentary representative, I cannot see what purpose these particular references can be intended to serve other than to make a party political point. (I note in this connection that the only part played by Mr Foster in the events to which two of the three captions refer appears to have been attendance at the respective opening ceremonies.)

c)  I do not see anything in the rules or guidance relating to publications funded from the IEP which Mr Foster has breached by the tear-off slip which he included in his report.

49. I therefore recommend that Mr Luff's complaint against Mr Foster in relation to the content of his annual report be upheld in respect of the three photograph captions to which Mr Luff draws attention, but not in respect of the other aspects complained of.


50. In assessing this case, as others, I have sought to weigh the evidence, on its merits, alongside the Rules currently in force. I have not thought it appropriate to take into consideration either Mr Foster's suggestion that the complaint is part of a politically motivated pattern of criticism of him by Mr Luff or his suggestion that other Members may also have breached the Rules in various respects.

51. When it too has reached a conclusion on whether or not the complaint should be upheld and in what respects, the Committee may, however, wish to decide what weight, if any, to attach to these points before it decides its overall assessment of the case.

52. One point I myself would wish to draw to the attention of the Committee is the evident complexity of the Stationery and Postage Rules (quite apart from any issues there may be about their substance). It cannot be satisfactory either that, as my attempt to summarise the relevant requirements in paragraphs 7-9 above indicates, at the moment there is no single authoritative document to which Members and their staff can turn which sets out all the relevant considerations in plain language in one place.

53. As to the substance of the Rules, this case amply illustrates, in my view, why the current review of them, to which I have referred in paragraph 39 above, is so timely. Mr Foster himself has, in conversation, drawn my attention to what he considers to be an anomaly between the Stationery and Postage Rules and the Rules on the use of the IEP, in that under the latter Members may meet the cost of certain circulars from the IEP but under the former stationery and envelopes provided by the Serjeant at Arms at public expense may not be used for the same purpose.

54. I realise that some Members may also think it odd that, if the Committee agrees with my conclusions on Mr Luff's complaint, Mr Foster is permitted to include in his annual report a tear-off slip on which constituents can register their interest in being kept informed of his Parliamentary activities, but cannot then use stationery and post-paid envelopes provided by the Serjeant to send circular mailings to those constituents. (He can, of course, either pay for such mailings himself or meet the cost out of his IEP.) More generally, some Members may argue that if the present Stationery and Postage Rules are interpreted as I have done in this case, their effect is to inhibit them in effectively discharging proper Parliamentary functions.

55. The key point in relation to both these concerns is that stationery funded through the IEP is subject to the overall cash limit applying to that allowance, whereas unlimited stationery provided by the Serjeant to each Member for certain parliamentary purposes is not at present subject to any limit in terms of quantity or value. There is thus a clear incentive for Members to maximise their use of unlimited stationery. This will inevitably lead to difficulties in interpretation on where the boundaries properly lie. This is what, in essence, lies at the root of this case.

56. The answer to this problem lies, though, not in trying to circumvent the rules, but in amending them so as to provide clarity and to remove any real inhibition they may impose on Members' ability properly to discharge their Parliamentary functions. In my submission, this case not only illustrates the need for greater clarity in the Stationery and Postage Rules but also for a more fundamental rethink of the present arrangements. Both the extent of any confusion among Members about what is or is not permissible and the consequent scope for deliberate or inadvertent misuse would be significantly reduced if, instead of the present arrangement under which Members can both order stationery for certain parliamentary purposes from the Serjeant without limit and fund certain other types of use of stationery and postage from their IEP, all Members were subject to a single, unified regime, governed by one set of clear rules, in respect of all their communication costs as a Member. Whether this regime was an entitlement or a cash-limited communication allowance (which Members could, if they so wished, supplement from their IEP), its introduction would provide greater clarity than exists under the existing fragmented arrangements, and thereby aid compliance with whatever rules the House thought appropriate to govern this area.

57. Such a change in the system could be coupled with a review of the existing rules on stationery use, not only to improve their clarity but possibly also to give Members some greater flexibility about how they can use the facilities and allowances provided by the House to communicate with their constituents on matters relating to their representative roles and functions. I hope that the House of Commons Commission will be prepared to consider this alongside other proposals as part of its current review.

4 May 2006  Sir Philip Mawer

16   See paragraph 8 below. Back

17   Official Report, 13 July 2005, cols 130 - 135. Back

18   Fourth Report of Session 2004-05, HC 472, paragraph 15.  Back

19   See WE3 and WE4  Back

20   First Report of Session 2004-05 (HC 71) Back

21   Ibid, Paragraph 9  Back

22   Appendix, paragraph 30 Back

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