Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Report


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 necessary—but largely unnoticed—backdrop to the conduct of political debate in this country.

July 2008     John Lyon CB

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Prepared 17 July 2008