Constitutional Reform and Renewal: Parliamentary Standards Bill - Justice Committee Contents

Constitutional reform and renewal: Parliamentary Standards Bill

1. The Parliamentary Standards Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 23 June 2009. It is expected to complete all of its Commons stages by 1 July and is intended to establish a system of independent regulation of Members' salaries, expenses, allowances and financial interests.

2. The response to recent revelations about Members' allowances has been a combination of particular proposals to reform the way Members' resources are dealt with, proposals for reviewing the balance of power between the executive and Parliament in terms of initiating parliamentary proceedings, new ways for the public to participate in parliamentary activity and wider constitutional reforms.

3. We started an inquiry into constitutional reform and renewal in June. The purpose of this report is to bring to the attention of the House—while proceedings in committee are taking place on the Parliamentary Standards Bill—the written evidence relating to the Bill which has been provided by the Clerk of the House and by several independent experts as well as the oral evidence given by the Clerk of the House, the Clerk of the Journals and Speaker's Counsel on 30 June 2009. This evidence session took place while the first day of proceedings in committee continued. We also received and are publishing a memorandum from the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor prepared by First Parliamentary Counsel responding to the memorandum from the Clerk of the House.

4. We wish to draw special attention to the advice given by our witnesses on the possible implications of the Bill for parliamentary privilege, freedom of speech in parliament and the boundary between the courts and Parliament.

5. The Government's memorandum said "it is…impossible to end self-regulation without affecting privilege in some way". However, the creation of a body to administer allowances and pay need not affect privilege because these matters are not proceedings in Parliament. On the evidence of the Clerk of the House and Speaker's Counsel, the clauses affecting privilege may not be necessary to the primary purpose of the Bill. In the light of this, we welcome the Government's decision not to pursue Clause 6 of the Bill and we believe that Clause 10, in particular, could also be withdrawn at this stage. This would allow more measured consideration of issues of privilege than has been possible with second reading and committee stage taking place on consecutive days. It would still enable an independent body to be set up in good time to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in the autumn. The very tight timescale for consideration of Clause 10 and other clauses involving privilege and judicial review, if they are retained, is likely to lead to extensive debate in the House of Lords. (The Government intend that the provisions of this Bill shall in due course apply to the House of Lords.)

6. We note the evidence given on the merits of having a Parliamentary Privilege Act and consider that this is an appropriate time for this proposal to be further considered

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Prepared 10 July 2009