Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report


Complaints about alleged misuse of Parliamentary dining facilities



Introduction

1. We have considered a memorandum by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards relating to complaints by Mr John Mann, Member for Bassetlaw, and Mr Kevan Jones, Member for North Durham, concerning a number of specific cases of alleged misuse of dining facilities. The Commissioner's memorandum is reproduced at Appendix 1. In all, 26 Members are the subject of their complaints, and other issues they have raised.[1] We are most grateful to the Commissioner for his extensive and thorough examination of these matters.

2. The Commissioner has himself dismissed the complaints against 14 Members, the reasons for which, in 13 cases, are set out in his memorandum.[2] The fourteenth case involved our Chairman, and this was disposed of separately by the Commissioner as it was the sole case relating to the previous Banqueting Regulations.[3] We reproduce at Appendix 2 the text of the Commissioner's memorandum setting out his reasons.[4]

3. In accordance with our usual practice, we have shown copies of the Commissioner's memorandum to each of the Members complained against. One Member chose to make a written submission to us, and this is reproduced at Appendix 3. We have also shown to Mr Mann and Mr Jones those sections of the Commissioner's memorandum which refer to them, and their comments are reproduced at Appendix 4.

The Issues

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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]

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]

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,[10] 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[11] 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 parties.

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.

Visits

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.[12] 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.[13] We commend these to Members and organisers.

Other matters

15. The Guide to the Rules provides:[14]

    "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.[15] 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.[16] 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]

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.[18] 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

2   Appendix 1, paras 155 to 158. Back

3   EV 4, p. 70. These Regulations were superseded by the Banqueting Regulations with effect from 13 December 2000. Back

4   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

5   Regulation 5.5. Back

6   Appendix 1, para 13. The current Banqueting Regulations are reproduced in full at EV. 3, p. 66. Back

7   See HC 351 (2005-06) p. 5. Back

8   Appendix 1, para 169. Back

9   Appendix 1, para 169. Back

10   Appendix 1, para 174. Back

11   Appendix 1, paras 178 to 181. Back

12   See Appendix 1, paras 184 to 188 and EV 80 and 81, p.131-132. Back

13   Appendix 1, para 189. Back

14   HC 351 (2005-06), p. 35, para 85. Back

15   See Appendix 1, paras. 5-6, and 171-4. Back

16   Official Report, 30 November 2006, Col. 1225; 14 December 2006, Col. 1017; and 15 March 2007, Cols. 474 and 482. Back

17   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

18   Appendix 4, p. 144. Back


 
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