Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Report

5  Looking outwards

5.1  The Commissioner and Registrar continued to respond to requests to address individuals and groups visiting Westminster. The Commissioner and the Registrar, either separately or together, met representatives from St Helena, Bermuda, the Republic of Korea, West Australia, West Bengal, Oromia (Ethiopia), the Turks and Caicos Islands, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana and Nigeria, and spoke at wider meetings organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Inter-Parliamentary Union.

5.2  The Commissioner and Registrar also co-operated with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in its efforts to rationalise the UK's contribution to parliamentary strengthening worldwide, attending two meetings of the numerous organisations involved. They participated in the seminar on ethics and standards run by the Public Administration Select Committee and one run by the Guardian Newspaper. The Assistant Registrar attended the annual conference of local government standards officers.

5.3  There is regular contact with other, non-parliamentary, standards authorities in the UK—the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Electoral Commission, the Standards Board for England, the Propriety and Ethics Team in the Cabinet Office and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments - both on matters of common interest and in the course of casework, since complainants are understandably not always aware of the most appropriate authority to contact. Good links are therefore maintained with each of those authorities.

5.4  The standards systems of the UK parliaments and legislative assemblies differ among themselves. For example, all but the Westminster one are statute-based so that infringement of the Code of Conduct is ipso facto also a breach of the law. But there is sufficient common ground to make regular contact valuable to all parties. It has been the practice for the various standards commissioners of the UK and Ireland, together with the relevant parliamentary staff, to hold occasional seminars, meeting at a different venue each time. In April 2007 the National Assembly for Wales hosted a seminar in Cardiff. The agenda covered such issues as how to engage Members, and the inter-relationship between politics and standards. There is also regular informal contact. This is particularly important in the case of Northern Ireland, where the dual mandate of a number of Members means that it is possible for a Member to be subject to inquiries in both jurisdictions in respect of different aspects of the same set of events.

5.5  While the upper House has its own arrangements, there is frequent discussion between the two Registrars. The year saw close liaison between the two offices following the decision of the House of Lords to set up a register of the interests of peers' staff.

5.6  The Registrar, working jointly with a member of the House of Commons Library's Parliament and Constitution Centre, took part in an initiative, driven from the Lebanon and assisted by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, to prepare a handbook to assist with the setting up of parliamentary standards systems. It was intended that this should be primarily for the use of Arab parliaments but that it should be capable of wider application. In the course of this involvement, the Registrar visited the Yemen and Bahrain to attend conferences of Arab Parliamentarians Against Corruption. Drafts of the handbook were in course of preparation when it became apparent not only that the project was becoming more extensive than had originally been envisaged but also that the London-based organisation Global Partners had been commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme on Governance for the Arab Region to write a Code of Conduct for the Parliaments of the Arab Region which could be used as a model elsewhere. It was therefore agreed with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy that Global Partners should take over primary responsibility for the project, the Westminster staff remaining as consultants. The Registrar will continue to offer her services in that role.

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Prepared 17 July 2008