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When the right hon. Gentleman sees the Bill that will shortly be published, on which he was good enough to engage in consultations, he will see that
it puts the code of conduct on a statutory footing. May I take the opportunity to say that he no doubt was disappointed by yesterdays result, but in his campaign to be Speaker he suggested a number of important and positive ideas, which I am sure the House will want to take forward. I suppose the benefit for the House is that he can continue his work as Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which is more important now than it has been for many years.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): It strikes me that there is a risk of our either rushing ahead to try to fix things, or going very slowly. We failed to take action against the former dishonourable Member for Windsor when he claimed for an utterly fictional address, and since then we have been surprised by Members behaviour that is not honourable and have rushed to solutions, some of which, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) emphasised, might not work in practice. I have noticed that colleagues who were originally enthusiastic about the House being the employer of our staff felt less enthusiastic following the consultation about what that might mean. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure the widest possible consultation on the Bills proposals to make sure that we get it right this time, having got it so miserably wrong so frequently?
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The longer we take, the more we can go through the details. There is unprecedented public concern about these matters, so we need to act promptly. There will be an opportunity on the Floor of the House for all hon. Members to participate in the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading of the Bill. It deals mostly with the narrow but very important issue of changing the system so that we do not set our own allowances and administer them, but, rather, it is carried out independently. That is not over-complex, and I hope she will participate in the debate.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does the Leader of the House accept that it is important that the issues relating to the code of conduct of Members should be judged on the same basis as the code of conduct for Ministers? It seems as though the Government are proposing one law for Members and another law for Ministers.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Is there not a case for considering the problems of the revolving door whereby former Ministers trade on their contacts and experience to seek salaries in the private sector? Is there not a strong case for arguing that if there is transparency about the amount of time that Members spend on their other jobs, we should consider appropriate reductions in their salary, on the basis that no Member can do two or more full-time jobs adequately?
My hon. Friend is quite right. The public expect that if we are elected to the House, our focus should be on public representation of our constituents or work in Select Committees more widely. The rules on Ministers subsequently taking work are clear. There
will be a difference in future because of transparency. Members will have to think harder about what is acceptable when they know that their constituents will be fully in the picture about how many hours they spend doing work other than representing them or working as Ministers.
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will the Minister explain a little about the time-spent declaration that will have to be made? I have only ever had one job that in any way impinged on my ability to spend at least 60 and often many more hours a week working for my constituents, and that was as a Minister for 10 years. Will Ministers have to spell out how many hours they spend on ministerial work? If not, why not?
Ms Harman: When somebody acts as a Minister, what they do is absolutely in the public domain, it is quite evident to the public that they are a Minister and their pay, which is published and transparent, is also in the public domain. Let us face up to it: in this House, quite a large number of Members have had jobs that are nothing to do with being a Member of Parliament and nothing to do with serving the public interest, but to which they have devoted their time and for which they have been paid. We are simply saying that, in future, that information should be in the public domain. It is very important, indeed, that the public are able to see it. The right hon. Gentleman will well know that Ministers diaries are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and that everything that we do is totally in the public domain.
Ms Harman: The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked what other registers might be considered, and, as I said in my statement, further progress can be made on regulation and ensuring that things are put on an independent footing. That proposal has been made in the past, and it has been subject to consultation, not least in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The Leader of the House spoke of the new committee that will consider proposals for dealing with non-Government business. Will she assure me that she does not seek to prevent that committee from considering the idea of a business committee, through which the House could decide how it allocated its time in dealing with the Governments business, particularly bearing in mind that, in the election to be Speaker yesterday, almost all the candidates who got almost all the votes committed themselves to such a proposition?
Ms Harman: I shall table a motion later today setting out the terms of reference that we propose for the committee. Hon. Members will be able to consider the motion, which will be amendable, and there will be a debate on Thursday.
Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab):
The Leader of the House said that she would work closely and sympathetically with a new, independent authority on
the future of our staff, but surely the people who need to be looked after closely and sympathetically are those staff and their trade unions. The best thing the House authorities could do is recognise the independent trade unions, which they will not do at the moment.
Ms Harman: The House authorities do recognise the trade unions of people who are directly employed by the House, but there are different issues for staff who are employed by Members. However, I think that some discussions are going on, and it ought to be possible to make progress on that, too.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): When I first entered the House, I made myself very unpopular among colleagues by suggesting that no one should have outside interests. I was absolutely and totally wrong. There is not a raging bull market in hiring ex-Members, and I hope that the Leader of the House recognises that it is very important that we allow people in this place to retain a foothold in their profession or in the private sector, so that when they leave this place they are employable and have a future.
Ms Harman: The House has agreed not a prohibition but simply transparency, and the measure will come into effect on 1 July. Members may think that their constituents will find their foothold, or whatever else, to be completely acceptable, but it will be for constituents to judge after Members have registered it. Going further than that, the Kelly committee will consider whether the measure goes far enough or whether there should be some restrictions on it.
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friends statement, but will she take a closer look at the really important work involving my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright)? She mentioned petitions in particular, but will she also look into the role of topical debates? She mentioned my speech yesterday; in the context of that, I ask whether there can be greater public involvement in deciding the issue for topical debate. If there were that level of engagement, we could really say that we do get it.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The House of Commons has a real opportunity to learn from the higher standards that operate in the Scottish Parliament. It is right that there should be criminal sanctions for MPs who break the rules, and I am glad that the Bill takes forward some of the provisions from the Scotland Act 1998. I notice, however, that it does not emulate the same high standards when it comes to the declaration of Members financial interests. Will the Leader of the House confirm that should the Scottish National party propose amendments to introduce such measures into the Bill, the Government will listen closely to the arguments?
We will, of course, listen closely to all the arguments. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has played a thoroughly constructive role in the
discussions prior to the introduction of the Bill. We have had the opportunity to draw on his knowledge of the Scottish Parliament.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friends proposals and the speed at which they are being undertaken. As part of that process, does she intend to produce or publish any further material that will seek to make a clear and durable distinction between the standards relating to Members, for which an outside body should have reference and sanctions, and the privileges of the House? It is difficult to see such a body, or a body associated with it, taking the same action on that issue as the action envisaged as far as the standards of hon. Members are concerned.
Ms Harman: The standards for which the new authority established in the Bill would be responsible would relate to the allowances and claiming for them. There is no proposal in the Bill for the authority to have further powers that would deal with the privileges of the House.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): On several occasions in the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has suggested that he will extend the new transparency and accountability to other bodies funded by the taxpayer. Was he just trying to deflect some of the heat or are the Government genuinely considering extending the provisions to publicly funded bodies? If so, which ones?
Ms Harman: The Secretary of State for Justice is reviewing the Freedom of Information Act, for which his Department is responsible. The issues raised by the Prime Minister will be part of the review. If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions, I hope that he will contribute to the consultation.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Most of my constituents and those of other Members would believe that being a Minister is a second job. Given that, why should not the same conditions of transparency apply to Ministers as apply to any other second job?
Ms Harman: Transparency does apply to Ministers. Their diaries are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and Ministers pay is in the public domain. There is a tight regime for registering not only Ministers financial interests but those of any of their relatives. Those provisions are already very much in place.
The constitution of the House is that Ministers should be Members of the House of Commons or of another place. We do not have an American system. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is proposing a completely different constitutional arrangement, under which Ministers would not be Members of this or another place and would not be accountable to either House of Parliament. I do not think that that would be a good idea.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD):
I welcome much of what was in the statement today, but there was one important omission, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) mentioned. I hope that the committee chaired by the
hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) will be able to consider the programming of Government Bills on Report. Scrutinising Bills is one of the most important jobs that we do, and it is very important that amendments on Report should be grouped in such a way that all parts of a Bill are discussed. I hope that the committee will be able to look at that aspect of programming.
Ms Harman: We will table today the motion to establish the remit of the committee, which we hope the House will pass. There will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to examine it and, if necessary, propose amendments.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I urge upon the Leader of the House the need to have all minority opinions within the House properly represented on the committee? May I ask her to reflect on the answer she gave the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee? She said that the code of conduct would be on a statutory footing. It clearly will not, because if it were to be, it would be the subject of a separate Bill. If the Government wishI believe wronglyto pursue a code of conduct on a statutory footing, will she ensure that we have a proper draft Bill and full pre-legislative scrutiny of it?
Ms Harman: The minority parties, and the hon. Gentleman himself, played an important role in the discussions leading up to the publication of the Bill today, and I hope that they will play a part in the committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase.
We hope to provide enough time on the Floor of the House for debate on the Bill, but we are providing an opportunity for the other business of the House to move in such a way that we hope to have the Bill in and out of Parliament, with Royal Assent, by the time the House rises. We need to reassure the public that as well as having a payback system for the past four years expenses and having transparency, we will no longer run the system ourselves. The public do not accept that we should regulate ourselves in relation to our expenses in future, so we should get on and do what I have described.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): My average working week when the House is sitting, including travel to and from my constituency, is 86 hours. Although I am in favour of full transparency of any income from a second or even third jobI believe that that is importantdoes a Member of Parliament have no time of their own in which they can carry out other activities? It is quite intolerable that they should be expected to provide a timesheet in respect of jobs that they do outside their parliamentary duties. Do they not have time of their own in which they can do other work?
Obviously, all hon. Members have time that is not devoted to their parliamentary duties and their duties on behalf of their constituents. The issue is whether they are paid for it. If a member of my staff who was working hard for me on behalf of my constituents had another job that paid her three times as much as I paid her, I would wonder about her commitment to my constituents and to working for me, and I would certainly want to know about it. That is the point of transparency.
The House has already agreed to a register that will put the information in the public domain. If the hon. Gentlemans constituents think that it is all right for him to earn five times as much doing other work, they will make that judgment.
Ms Harman: I am sorry, I did not mean to cast any aspersions on the hon. Gentleman; I am just doing a for example. Transparency is very important, and people will be able to judge on the information available.
Mr. Chope: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The new Speaker has made it very much his remit to ensure that Back Benchers get more rights and privileges in this Chamber. You will have noticed from recent exchanges on the Parliamentary Standards Bill that there were two schools: those who have already seen the Bill in draft, or almost final, form, and those of us who have not, even though we know it is about to published. Would it not have been much better for the Bill to have been published before the statement, so that we could all have been acting on the same basis?
Ms Harriet Harman, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Secretary Alan Johnson, Mr. Secretary Woodward and Barbara Keeley, presented a Bill to make provision establishing a body corporate known as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and an officer known as the Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations; to make provision relating to salaries and allowances for members of the House of Commons and to their financial interests and conduct; and for connected purposes.
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