Members and others
2.1 My office is pleased to advise Members and
others on the requirements of the Code of Conduct and the rules
governing registration. Members are understandably anxious to
abide by the rules of the House and it is an important part of
our work to help them to do so. With so many other calls on their
time and attention, it is nevertheless very important that Members
and their staff know their way round the rules and that everybody
takes responsibility for ensuring that their arrangements comply.
2.2 The advice offered takes two main forms:
briefing sessions to groups, which normally cover the requirements
in general, although individual problems may be raised in question
and answer sessions, and advice to individuals on specific issues.
This last may be face-to-face, over the telephone or by letter
and are usually given by the Registrar, Assistant Registrar or
Executive Assistant. Advice given to individual Members is noted
and retained for future reference if required.
2.3 It is our practice to arrange major briefing
sessions for Members after a General Election or as necessary.
The office remains ready to respond to requests to address groups
of Members at any time. The Registrar, together with representatives
of the Electoral Commission, was pleased to have the opportunity
on 19 February 2008 to speak to a meeting of Liberal Democrat
MPs to explain and answer questions on the various requirements,
and to hear their concerns. Such briefings are available for any
group of Members in the House.
2.4 My office also takes care to brief Members
returned at by-elections, of which there were two during the period
covered by this report, both in July 2007. Each new Member receives
a letter from the Commissioner, a folder containing the Code of
Conduct and Guide to the Rules, a registration form, procedural
and advice notes and information about the requirements of the
Electoral Commission, and is offered an individual meeting with
2.5 The Assistant Registrar carries out the advice
function in respect of the obligations placed by the House on
Members' staff, All-Party Groups and journalists. Advice is given
by telephone, letter, e-mail and face-to-face. She contributes
to the House's induction sessions for new employees of Members,
which are held approximately every 6-8 weeks.
2.6 Information is also given through notices
in the All-Party Whip. In all cases where a response from all
Members is required we maintain close liaison with the party Whips'
offices. When my office finds it necessary to communicate with
all Members it has traditionally done so by hard-copy letter from
the Commissioner or Registrar. We expect to make more use of
e-mail in future.
Relations with the Media
2.7 While I am as open as possible about the
procedures I follow when conducting any inquiry into complaints
against Members, I believe it is right that my inquiry should
not be the subject of public report while the inquiry is continuing.
A Member's reputation can be at stake, and to release information
to the media or the public before a full inquiry has been completed
could both prejudice that inquiry and run the risk of unfairly
jeopardising the Member's good standing either in the local community
or more widely. My office therefore aims, as agreed with the
Committee on Standards and Privileges in 2003, to provide as much
information as possible about the process followed in considering
a complaint, while maintaining confidentiality about individuals.
In practice this means that we are willing to give information
in response to media inquiries about standards issues in general,
and my office will confirm (if asked) whether a complaint has
been received, dismissed or suspended, and when the Commissioner
has submitted a report to the Committee. But neither my office
nor I will otherwise provide information or comment in response
to media inquiries about individual cases. After I have submitted
my memorandum to the Committee, all media inquiries are directed
to the Committee.
2.8 I recognise that this approach is not always
welcome to the media who want to give the public as much information
as possible about cases which are in the public eye. Nevertheless,
I believe that the overwhelming public interest lies in ensuring
a fair investigation of any complaint, and that can best be achieved
by me being able to pursue an inquiry without details of it being
disclosed prematurely. In cases where I report on a complaint
to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, my memorandum is
detailed and is publishedtogether with the evidenceas
an Appendix to the Committee's report, which is then made available
from the Stationery Office and on Parliament's website.
Dealing with the general public
2.9 Members of the public frequently contact
my office by phone, by e-mail and in writing to inquire about
the standards system or to lodge complaints. In the latter case
the complainant has often already approached a number of different
agencies in their search for a remedy. Each approach receives
a separate response, and wherever possible we advise the person
concerned of the person or agency, if such exists, who is best
placed to consider the complaint if it does not come within my
2.10 Anyone interested in my work can also access
the Standards webpage on the Parliament website, where procedural
notes and other information can be found alongside useful links.
7 http://www.parliament.uk/people/standards.cfm Back