Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Report

4  Registers of interests for Members, Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants, Journalists, and All-Party Groups


4.1   The office is responsible for the compilation of the four registers of interests required by the House, namely the Register of Members' Interests, the Register of Interests of Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants (commonly called the Members' Staff Register), the Register of Journalists' Interests and the Register of All-Party Groups.[29] The purpose of the Registers is openness. They provide a publicly available record of the interests which may be thought to influence a Member's actions in his or her parliamentary capacity, and the actions of other holders of a parliamentary pass, to enable readers to make their own assessment of their significance.

4.2  All four registers are published electronically on the Parliamentary website. The Members' Register is also published annually in hard copy, every entry appearing in at least one printed edition to ensure the availability of a complete historical record of every Member's entries. Print-outs of the current edition of each Register are available for public inspection, by appointment, in the main Committee Office of the House of Commons, and arrangements can be made to see earlier editions of the Register of Members' Interests.

Register of Members' Interests

4.3  Until 27 March 2008, the main purpose of the Register of Members' Interests was described as being

"To provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of Parliament.[30]

This was amended on 27 March 2008 to add the words "and such other information as the House may from time to time require."[31]

4.4  The Rules which accompany the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament lay down the categories of interest which are to be declared. These are essentially for administrative convenience, and from time to time the categories are subject to review. On 27 March 2008 the House also agreed to extend the Register by the addition of a Part 2, comprising the new Category 11 providing information about the employment of a Members' family.[32] The new category was added in April 2008.

4.5   Members continue to be exercised by the necessity to record certain interests both on the Members' Register and with the Electoral Commission, each of which has slightly different requirements. As my predecessor reported last year, discussion and consultation on this continue and it is hoped that proposals will be put before the House in the near future.

Complaints relating to the Register of Members' Interests

4.6  In 2007-08 the Commissioner received six complaints that Members had failed to register interests at the appropriate time, as required by paragraph 16 of the Code of Conduct. During the year my predecessor completed his inquiries into one of these complaints and submitted a memorandum to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.[33] Five complaints, one of which raised other matters, were carried forward to 2008-09. Inquiries into three of these had been suspended. [34]

Register of Interests of Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants

4.7  Those holding a parliamentary pass as a Member's secretary or research assistant are listed in this Register.[35] They are required to register any other occupation from which they receive income exceeding half of one per cent of a Member's salary from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass. They also have to register any tangible gift (eg glassware) and any other benefit (eg hospitality, services or facilities provided) which they receive, if the value of the gift or benefit exceeds that sum and the gift or benefit relates in any way to their work in Parliament.[36]

4.8  The number of registered staff in 2008 was 1668, compared with 1612 in 2007.[37] The number of staff with registered interests was 373 in 2008 compared with 357 in 2007. Turnover amongst registered staff is high in any given year.

Register of Journalists

4.9  Those holding a pass as a lobby journalist accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to record in this Register any occupation or employment from which they receive income exceeding one per cent of a Member's salary from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by their pass.[38]

4.10  The number of registered journalists was 390 in 2008 as opposed to 385 in 2007.[39] The number of journalists with registered interests was 67 in 2008 compared with 61 in 2007. Annual turnover among journalists is low.

Register of All-Party Groups

4.11  The membership of All-Party Groups consists mainly of backbench Members of the House of Commons and Members of the House of Lords but may also include Ministers and non-parliamentarians. There are two types of group: subject groups (relating to a particular topic, e.g. forestry) and country groups (relating to a particular country or region).

4.12  Inclusion on the Register of All-Party Groups is compulsory for any group which includes Members of the Commons from more than one party and has at least one officer who is from the Commons.[40] Such groups are required to register the group's title and the names of its officers. Financial or material benefits received by the group as a whole must also be registered, where the group receives during a calendar year one or more benefits from the same source whose total value is £1000 or more. Lastly, the group must register the name and paid employment or occupation outside Parliament of any staff servicing the group who hold a parliamentary pass, if that occupation or employment is advantaged by the passholder's privileged access to Parliament.

4.13  The number of registered groups in 2008 was 525 (the highest number ever recorded), a significant increase over the 500 registered in 2007.[41] In 2008 there were 132 country groups and 393 subject groups; in 2007 the figures were 129 for country groups and 371 for subject groups. The number of groups with registered financial or material benefits in 2008 was 309 (295 in 2007).

Complaints relating to Registers of Members' Staff, Journalists and All-Party Groups

4.14  During the period covered by this report the Commissioner received:

a)  Six complaints objecting to the remit of one particular group and the fact that the group qualified for inclusion on the Groups Register;

b)  One complaint about the conduct of another group's secretariat;

c)  Seven complaints seeking to amend the content of the minutes of a further group;

d)  One complaint relating to the Staff Register about the employment by a Member of an individual who was simultaneously a Minister in one of the devolved assemblies. Although the employee had registered that he was a Member of the devolved assembly, he had subsequently not updated his entry to show that he had become a Minister.

4.15  The complaints covered by (a)-(c) in the list above fell outside the Commissioner's remit for investigation. It is for a group to determine its own remit, whom it appoints to run its secretariat, how that secretariat operates, and the content of its minutes. In respect of the complaint described at (d) above I asked the employee to update his entry on the Register and this was done.

Recent developments concerning the Registers of Members' Staff, Journalists and All-Party Groups

4.16  In 2006 my predecessor made a number of recommendations regarding the rules on groups as a result of his investigation of a complaint from The Times newspaper.[42] His recommendations mainly sought to improve transparency about financial and material assistance received by groups, whether in the form of donations or the provision of services such as a secretariat.

4.17  The Committee on Standards and Privileges is considering when to put to the House my predecessor's recommendations, together with subsequent recommendations approved by the Committee aimed at simplifying the rules by unifying the process of registration and approval.[43]

4.18  In parallel with this joint review of the rules, in 2007 the Administration Committee undertook its own review. That Committee oversees my office's administration of the Approved List of groups and is mainly concerned with the use made by groups of the House's facilities and the impact on that of the growing number of groups. The Committee suspended its review pending the outcome of the House's consideration of the recommendations from the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

4.19  As noted earlier in this Report, the regulations concerning the use of the House dining facilities changed in 2007, when the Refreshment Department (now known as the Catering and Retail section of the newly established Department of Facilities) amended its regulations to prohibit the use, except by charities, of Refreshment Department facilities for direct or indirect fundraising; previously, registered groups were allowed to undertake fundraising.[44]

29   Further details about the three last-named Registers are available in Appendix 3.  Back

30   Select Committee on Members' Interests, First Report of Session 1991-2, HC 236 paragraph 27 Back

31   HC Deb 27 March 2008, col 382-394


32   See paragraphs 1.7 to 1.11 of this Report. Back

33  Seventh Report of Session 2006-07, HC 992. See also paragraph 3.17. Back

34   Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 324. See also paragraphs 3.13 and 3.28 of this Report Back

35   See Appendix 3 for the origin and purpose of this Register. Back

36   The threshold for registration was £300 during 2007-08. Back

37   Numbers are given as at 31 March each year. Back

38   See Appendix 3 for the origin and purpose of this Register. The threshold for registration was £600 during 2007-08. Back

39   Numbers are given as at 31 March each year.  Back

40   See Appendix 3 for the origin and purpose of this Register. Back

41   Numbers are given as at 31 March each year. Back

42   See Committee on Standards and Privileges, Ninth Report of Session 2005-06, Lobbying and All-Party Groups, HC 1145. Back

43   See Appendix 3 for the difference between the Register and Approved List and the rules governing each. Back

44   See paragraphs 1.4 to 1.6 of this Report. Back

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Prepared 17 July 2008