Select Committee on Members Estimate Committee Second Report



COMMUNICATING WITH CONSTITUENTS AND THE PUBLIC

42. The SSRB made three proposals concerning the Communications Allowance of £10,000 a year introduced on 1 April 2007:

  • It should be renamed Communications Expenditure
  • It should be uprated in April each year in line with movement in RPIX (rather than RPI)
  • The IEP/Other Office Expenditure should be reduced by £2,500 to reflect the fact that there is now a separate budget for communications.[18] As SSRB has noted, "IEP contained an element of £5,000 to cover communications, staff travel and other expenditure".[19]

Should these recommendations be implemented by the House?

43. The Standards and Privileges Committee has published a report on publications funded from the Communications Allowance in which they draw to this Committee's attention general recommendations from the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.[20] Those recommendations may be summarised as follows:

a)  a closed period should be introduced in respect to a European Parliament, devolved legislature or local government (excluding community and parish council) election during which Members would be prohibited from proactive written communication with constituents funded from the CA;

b)  the closed period should apply also in the case of by-elections to the afore-mentioned bodies;

c)  the closed period should be defined by reference to the relevant regulatory period for candidates' election expenses;

d)  the closed or prohibited period should cover all forms of Communications Allowance funded written material, not just newsletters, except for material of a purely factual nature;

e)  the use of party logos and party campaigning strap-lines should not be permitted in House-funded publications;

f)  if the House wishes to continue to allow party logos, the circumstances in which they are to be permitted should be much more precisely defined;

g)  whether or not party logos continue to be permitted, publications funded from the CA should prominently carry the crowned portcullis emblem;

h)  The guidance issued to Members by the House should draw attention to the fact that CA-funded material which does not comply with the rules of the House may be regarded as constituting "campaign expenditure" under section 72 of PPERA, and therefore as being subject to the requirements of Part V of the Act;

i)  In the longer term once the House's rules have been revised the Committee may wish to consider ways of ensuring that material compliant with those rules is not regarded as falling within the scope of section 72 of PPERA;

j)  when the guidance on the CA is next revised, attention should be drawn to:

i.  the need to ensure that distribution arrangements for newsletters are focused so far as possible on a Member's own constituents and do not stray unreasonably beyond the boundaries of the Member's constituency;

ii.  as regards the content of publications, the need to exercise care in relation to the inclusion of photographs of other elected representatives and generalised statements or selective use of statistics promoting a particular political party;

iii.  the potential value of Members seeking advice on a proposed publication in a timely manner.

44. We set out these recommendations here but are aware that the Standards and Privileges Committee may itself return to their report. We have heard no direct representations that the House should be asked to reverse its decision on 28 March 2007 to create a Communications Allowance.

We invite comments on these recommendations. In particular, should any closed period prior to elections include or exclude by-elections held at unpredictable times?


18   para 5.34. Back

19   Cm 7270-I, para 5.34. Back

20   Third Report, 21 January 2008, HC 232. Back


 
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