Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report

Appendix 3: Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the Hon Bernard Jenkin MP, 26 March 2007

Complaints about misuse of Parliamentary Dining Facilites:
Comments on Memorandum submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Thank you for your letter of 22 March 2007, enclosing a copy of the above Memorandum. I would be grateful if this letter was submitted to the Committee for their consideration.

Generally, I welcome the Memorandum, but I would invite consideration of three points.

1. Paragraph 182 a) recommends that events are "charged for separately and not funded out of the subscription income of a club". Many constituency-based clubs (such as the one I inherited from my predecessor) originally felt that 'subscription and no charge' better respected the spirit of the rules about fundraising. However, the conclusion as it stands is logical in the terms set out in the Memorandum and a welcome clarification.

2. Paragraph 182 d) may require clarification. When does a "reference" become a "specific reference"? If a reference (to events being held in the House) in the promotional material is no more than a statement of fact, could this be construed as "inducement"? Paragraph 182d appears to leave latitude to make reasonable mention as a matter of information. The key objective appears to be to ensure that access to House facilities should not be advertised as a prime purpose or selling point of the club in question. Is this what the Commissioner intends?

3. The manner in which the complaints were raised and publicised is not justified by the Memorandum and I note the conclusion reached at the end of paragraph 173. However, this refers merely to the failure to notify Members being complained against.

Paragraph 5 notes that "Mr Mann issued a press release" to publicise his complaint two days after writing to the Commissioner. While politics is inevitably a rough game, I would submit that this kind of publicising of complaints to the Commissioner is rarely (if ever) justifiable in the public interest. It causes considerable and frequently unwarranted distress to those complained against, damages the reputation of Parliament, and is contrary to the Code itself (paragraph 15)—

Members shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament and never undertake any action which would bring the House of Commons, or its Members generally into disrepute.

I therefore ask what action the Committee is planning to take to ensure better enforcement of this aspect of the Code in respect of the Commissioner's work.

I recommend for the Committee to amend its rules and procedures, and if necessary, to recommend changes to the Standing Orders of the House, to remove the temptation for Members to use complaints to the Commissioner as a platform for publicising attacks on other Members of the House. Any Member who causes a complaint to be publicized in any way should be regarded as in contempt of the House or as having committed a breach of Privilege. He/she would be dealt with accordingly, perhaps resulting in suspension by resolution of the House. This might also stem the flow of perhaps vexatious complaints which take up unnecessary time and resources of the Commissioner and his staff.

In addition, I recommend that the Committee should act on the suggestion by the Commissioner in paragraph 195, as this would also help remove the pretext for complaints against individuals, when merely general rulings and guidance on the conduct of members are being sought.

Thank you for your attention.

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