This is my first Annual Report as Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards. The role of Commissioner is a cornerstone of the
standards system for Members of Parliament. It is a privilege
to support the House of Commons in this way, and I pay tribute
to my predecessors who established and developed the flexible
and robust system which I inherited. I am particularly grateful
to my immediate predecessor, Sir Philip Mawer. It is his work
which is reflected in the first nine months covered by this Report.
I took up my post on 1 January 2008.
The role of Commissioner is wider than many people
realise. It encompasses maintaining the Register of Members' Interests
and the three other Registers dealing with Members' staff, journalists
and All-Party Groups; advising both the Committee on Standards
and Privileges and Members at large; monitoring the operation
of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament and the Registers,
and investigating complaints. While the other elements are equally
important, the investigation of complaints against Members is
the part of my remit which inevitably attracts the most interest.
During 2007-08 the Commissioner has inquired into
a number of complaints which have attracted considerable public
attention. Overall I believe the complaints system has held up
well in the face of the challenge these complaints have represented.
Some of these complaints were concluded in the reporting year;
some are carried through to 2008-09. At the same time my predecessor
and I have considered a number of other complaints which have
not attracted the same degree of attention but which are properly
a matter of importance requiring careful inquiry and consideration.
The more serious of the complaints considered by
the Commissioner are the subject of memoranda submitted to the
Committee on Standards and Privileges. I am grateful to the Committee
for the care with which they consider my reports. If sanctions
are appropriate the Committee will recommend these, but they are
the subject of a decision by the House as a whole. As the year
has demonstrated, the consequences of an adverse finding by the
Committee can be very serious for the Member's personal reputation
and political career.
At the heart of the House's standards system and
the events of the past year lies the conduct of individual Members.
It is the responsibility of each Member to ensure that his or
her conduct meets the requirements of the House as set out in
the Code and the Rules. I would therefore encourage all Members
to familiarise themselves with the Rules and in particular to
exercise their personal responsibility for ensuring that they
meet their requirements. It makes very good sense for Members
who have any doubt about the interpretation of these requirements,
or when the question before them raises difficult issues, to seek
advice at an early stage from the appropriate House authority,
or from my office.
Public confidence in the standing and reputation
of Parliament is central to the working of our democratic system
and to people's engagement with that system. That is the ultimate
objective of the standards framework of the House and it needs
to be nurtured and supported by all Members and by the House authorities.
Such confidence is hard won through careful explanation and consistent
implementation. My office is there to provide impartial advice
and to demonstrate to complainants and Members alike that there
is an avenue through which any possible breaches of the Rules
can be fairly and objectively investigated and resolved. My office
has aimed to fulfil that role in the past year in a way which
I hope has been helpful both to the House and to those outside
the House who are concerned with its affairs. I am grateful to
my small team of staff who have supported me so ably in my early
months. Ultimately our standards system is working best when it
is taken as the necessarybut largely unnoticedbackdrop
to the conduct of political debate in this country.