4. All the functions which are the subject of complaint
are political in nature. This is, however, not the point at issue:
the House's Banqueting Regulations laid down by Mr Speaker following
advice from the Administration Committee, which set out the rules
for the use by Members of the private dining facilities, explicitly
permit use of the facilities for "political functions",
subject only to all relevant declarations of interest.
There is no complaint in any of these cases of any failure by
the Members concerned in the latter respect.
5. As the Commissioner points out, at the heart of
the complaint of Mr Mann and Mr Jones lies the interpretation
of two specific provisions of the Banqueting Regulations.
In summary, it is their contention that events sponsored by Members
complained against have in effect led to direct financial or material
gain by a political party benefiting from donations made by the
body arranging the function, which would be a breach of paragraph
5.1. They also contend that some of these bodies have used the
promise of functions in the House as an inducement to recruit
new members, which would be a breach of paragraph 5.3.
6. A breach of either provision would be a breach
of paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct.
All the Members complained against maintain that the functions,
and the organisations concerned, have acted in a manner fully
consistent with the requirements of the Banqueting Regulations.
7. The Commissioner has reported to us on ten complaints
involving individual Members, and one against the activities of
the United and Cecil Club, the Chairman of which is a Member of
this House. In each case, the Commissioner has concluded that
it would be unwise and unjust to find the individual Members concerned
in breach of the Code.
8. The Commissioner gives three principal reasons
for that decision:
- there appears on the evidence
before him to be no commonly agreed interpretation of the key
provisions of the Banqueting Regulations;
- the cases which are the subject of complaint
appear to reflect established common practice on the part of many
Members, acting in good faith in accordance with what they understand
to be the accepted practice of the House; and
- the practices complained of appear to have gone
unchallenged for many years, and certainly pre-date the most recent
revision of the Banqueting Regulations in 2000.
9. We agree with the Commissioner on the relevance
of each of those three points. We also agree that it would not
be right to single out any individual Members concerned for action
by the House. However, we are strongly of the view that practice
generally in respect of use of the private dining facilities of
the House by organisations raising funds for political parties
has given the impression that House facilities have been used
improperly for party fund-raising, and is in need of reform, as
the Commissioner suggests in paragraph 174 of his memorandum.
As Mr Mann and Mr Jones have demonstrated, some of the functions
in respect of which the Commissioner has reported to us are likely
to have breached, either in letter or spirit, the current provisions
of the Banqueting Regulations. We believe that political clubs
that are engaged in fund-raising for a political party should
in future not be allowed the use of House facilities.
10. As the Commissioner points out,
Mr Mann and Mr Jones have consistently made clear that their primary
motivation has been to question a practice with which they disagree,
and perceive to be widespread, and to encourage the preparation
of clear guidance for Members on the precise scope of what is
permissible. He suggests
that what is needed is not so much a revision of the Banqueting
Regulations, but an agreed interpretation of what they mean in
practice in relation to their application to functions of the
House involving groups which offer financial support to political
11. We agree that the Commissioner's proposal
is one potential way forward. However, the logic of Mr Mann and
Mr Jones' complaints, and of the Commissioner's inquiry, is that
the current distinction inherent in the Banqueting Regulations
between direct fund-raising by political parties, which is specifically
prohibited, and indirect fund-raising, which by implication is
acceptable, is unsustainable.
12. We therefore consider that paragraph 5.1 of
the Banqueting Regulations should be amended by adding after the
word 'direct' the words 'or indirect'. There would then be no
doubt about whether any outside interest was benefiting from the
use of the facilities of the House. Members sponsoring in their
own name functions of a political nature in the private dining
rooms would therefore have to satisfy themselves that no political
party would benefit financially from the event.
13. We recommend to the Administration Committee
and to Mr Speaker the amendment of the Banqueting Regulations
along the lines we have suggested. We also strongly support the
Commissioner's suggestion that any revised guidance or rules be
issued to all Members.
14. Mr Mann also raised with the Commissioner the
propriety of political parties benefiting from visits to the House
they organised. Without making any complaint against the Member
concerned, he cited the specific case of a visit organised by
Bromsgrove Conservative Association.
As there was no complaint, there is no basis for any finding by
either the Commissioner or us in relation to the Member concerned.
The Commissioner has, however, suggested some useful guidelines
on the organisation of such visits, designed to avoid accusations
that party funds are benefiting unduly from visits to the House.
We commend these to Members and organisers.
15. The Guide to the Rules provides:
"It is a basic courtesy that a Member making
a complaint to the Commissioner should at the same time send a
copy of the letter of complaint to the Member concerned."
The Commissioner's report makes clear that, in
the majority of the cases Mr Mann and Mr Jones referred to the
Commissioner, they failed to do so.
We take this opportunity to remind all Members of the need to
respect this important parliamentary convention. Where a Member
makes a complaint against a parliamentary colleague, that colleague
should learn of it for the first time from the Member concerned,
and not from the media or the Commissioner.
16. In this case, the underlying issues have been
raised in the Chamber on at least three occasions in the course
of the Commissioner's investigation.
To refer in this way to complaints under investigation is in our
view unfair to Members subject to the complaint, and risks jeopardising
perceptions of the independence of the Commissioner's investigation.
It would in our view be helpful if a convention could be established
of a presumption against referring in proceedings in the Chamber
to the substantive issues underlying complaints under investigation
until either the Commissioner has dismissed them or the Committee
has reported on them.
17. We note the suggestion by Mr Mann and Mr Jones
that we need to consider how generic complaints are to be raised
and dealt with in the future.
We will give careful consideration to this suggestion.
1 For a full list of the Members involved, see Annex
1 to Appendix 1, p. 63. Back
Appendix 1, paras 155 to 158. Back
EV 4, p. 70. These Regulations were superseded by the Banqueting
Regulations with effect from 13 December 2000. Back
Appendix 2, p. 134. See also Appendix 1, paras 32 to 34, and
the Minutes of the Committee of Tuesday 23 January 2007, the relevant
extract from which is reproduced at p 144. Back
Regulation 5.5. Back
Appendix 1, para 13. The current Banqueting Regulations are reproduced
in full at EV. 3, p. 66. Back
See HC 351 (2005-06) p. 5. Back
Appendix 1, para 169. Back
Appendix 1, para 169. Back
Appendix 1, para 174. Back
Appendix 1, paras 178 to 181. Back
See Appendix 1, paras 184 to 188 and EV 80 and 81, p.131-132. Back
Appendix 1, para 189. Back
HC 351 (2005-06), p. 35, para 85. Back
See Appendix 1, paras. 5-6, and 171-4. Back
Official Report, 30 November 2006, Col. 1225; 14 December 2006,
Col. 1017; and 15 March 2007, Cols. 474 and 482. Back
The Committee itself has resolved to restrict its own comments
on complaints along broadly these lines: See its Resolution of
14 July 2005 (HC 1704 (2005-06), p. 1). Back
Appendix 4, p. 144. Back