Parliamentary Standards Bill - continued          House of Commons

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FINANCIAL EFFECTS

124.     The Bill is expected to have minimal financial effects. The schemes which the new Authority and Commissioner are to administer are already in existence and are financed through the House of Commons. Most of the resources, both financial and other, are therefore already being provided from public funds. There will be a small cost to public funds for setting up the new Authority and Commissioner as bodies outside Parliament.

PUBLIC SECTOR MANPOWER

125.     The Bill will have a minimal impact on public sector manpower.

SUMMARY OF IMPACT ASSESSMENTS

126.     It is not anticipated that there will be any impact on business or the third sector. An impact assessment is in the process of being completed and will be available after introduction. The Better Regulation Executive have been consulted and are content with this approach.

COMPATIBILITY WITH THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

127.     Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires the Minister in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament to make a statement before Second Reading about the compatibility of the provisions of the Bill with Convention rights (as defined by section 1 of that Act). The Leader of the House of Commons has made a statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that in her view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.

128.     The provisions of the Bill which relate to the functions of the IPSA in making directions or recommendations may engage Article 6 ECHR (right to fair trial). That Article provides that where there is a determination of a civil right or obligation, everyone is entitled to certain procedural safeguards. Here, there are arguments that the direction or recommendation functions of the IPSA do not involve the determination of civil rights or obligations. In particular, conduct and discipline concerning a member of the legislature is often regarded for the purposes of the ECHR as a matter of “public law” rather than private law rights. Even were a civil right or obligation found to be determined, there are a range of safeguards in place to ensure the fairness of the procedures of the IPSA. For example, members of the IPSA and the Commissioner are to be appointed by a process involving the Speaker and the House of Commons and removable only on an address of both Houses - processes to ensure the independence of the members and Commissioner. Before a sanction can be applied, an MP will have the opportunity to make representations at all stages of the process - during the investigation, in light of the Commissioner’s findings and before the IPSA issues a direction or makes a recommendation.

129.     It may be argued that the sanction functions engage Article 1 of the First Protocol (protection of property). That article provides that no one is to be deprived of his or her possessions except in the public interest and subject to conditions provided by law. Although it may be that none of the sanction functions involves a deprivation of a possession, any interference would in any event be in accordance with the law and would be in the public interest. This is because it is manifestly in the public interest for there to be a mechanism for ensuring the correct payment of allowances to MPs. In any event, the sanction functions of the IPSA are to be discretionary and are capable of being exercised compatibly.

130.     It may also be argued that the provisions which create criminal offences engage Article 7 ECHR (no punishment without law). That article requires that the criminal law be sufficiently clear and precise to enable individuals to regulate their behaviour. Some elements of the criminal offences created by this Bill would be defined in the allowances scheme and the financial interests rules. However, it is considered that there is sufficient certainty concerning these criminal offences. First, the key requirements are set out in statute. Second, the class of persons affected is extremely limited - members of the House of Commons. Third, in the case of the offences where aspects are set out in the financial interests rules, those rules are subject to the approval of the House of Commons.

131.     There are several provisions in the Bill would which involve MPs being required to provide personal information: (a) the provisions relating to providing information for the purposes of the financial interests rules; and (b) the provision which would require an MP to provide information to the Commissioner which the Commissioner reasonably requires to pursue an investigation. These provisions may engage Article 8 ECHR (right to respect for private and family life) where they involve the provision of personal information. Even so, it is considered that both provisions are justified in the interests of ensuring the propriety of those who participate in Parliament.

COMMENCEMENT DATES

132.     Clauses 12 to 14 of the Bill will come into force on the day it is passed. The other provisions come into force on the day appointed by a Minister of the Crown by order made by statutory instrument; and different days may be appointed for different purposes.

 
 
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Prepared: 23 June 2009