Implementing the Twelfth Report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents


Membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

3.  The CSPL has recommended that "There should be at least two lay members who have never been Parliamentarians on the Standards and Privileges Committee … [who] should be chosen through the official public appointments process and formally approved by the House."[2] The lay members "should have full voting rights."[3]

4.  With the support of this Committee as a whole, our former Chairman proposed the appointment of lay members to the Committee in his evidence to the CSPL.[4] We welcome the CSPL's endorsement of this recommendation and we have suggestions for how it might work in practice.

5.  The term "full voting rights" as it appears in the CSPL's recommendation 52 is not defined. It is, however, used by the CSPL solely in the context of a discussion of standards issues. We interpret "full voting rights" in the context of the CSPL's report as a whole as meaning that the lay members will be able to vote on any matter relating to a standards case that is before the Committee—including proceedings on a draft Report—and on any matter that relates to standards in general, such as a proposal to amend the Code of Conduct or the Rules regarding registration of interests. We would not see it as conferring on the lay members the right to vote on any matter relating to privilege.

6.  The current membership of the Committee is ten (half of whom are drawn from opposition parties) and the quorum is five. We propose that there should in future be two lay members on the Committee in addition to the ten elected Members. We recommend that the quorum should consist of five elected members and one lay member. In practice, this would mean that no decision on a standards matter could be taken without direct input from one of the lay members. In addition, it would mean that at least two elected Members would be required to support a proposition in order for it to be carried against opposition from the other elected Members present. If one or more Members were to decline to vote, this threshold would be altered, depending on the numbers present.

7.  We are confident that the formula outlined above is fully in line with both the letter and the spirit of the CSPL's recommendation, while maintaining an important constitutional principle—that the outcome of proceedings in a Committee of the House should be in the hands of those who are directly accountable to the electorate.

8.  The CSPL's report does not refer to the possibility that a lay member could chair the Committee. However, the CSPL has previously recommended, and the House has accepted, that the Committee should be chaired by an Opposition Member of Parliament. We would expect this to continue to be the case.

9.  In its report, the CSPL notes concerns expressed by the Clerk of the House that the direct participation of lay persons in the taking of decisions by a committee of the House may not be covered by privilege.[5] The report concludes that "If the House authorities are of the opinion that clarifying the question of parliamentary privilege in that regard requires an amendment to the Parliamentary Standards Act, the Government should facilitate this."[6] While recognising the force of the concerns expressed by the Clerk, we agree that a means of bringing participation of lay members in this Committee's work within the ambit of privilege must be found, and we are ready to work with the Government and with the House authorities to that end. We would expect lay members of the Committee, like other members, to be fully bound by the rules regarding confidentiality of committee proceedings.

10.  There is, however, another matter relating to privilege which we understand was raised by the Clerk. This concerns participation by the Committee's lay members in its work on matters involving privilege, which is entirely separate from its work on standards issues. We are strongly of the view—which we believe is shared by the CSPL—that participation in the Committee's proceedings by lay members must be confined to the standards issues which lie within the scope of the CSPL's report. Privilege must remain a matter for the House and its Members. We suggest that a clear distinction will need to be drawn between matters relating to privilege and the other work of the Committee, once the lay members have been appointed. To that end, we recommend that the existing restriction in Standing Order No 149 which limits the size of a sub-committee to seven be removed, allowing the Committee to appoint a Privileges sub-Committee consisting of the ten elected Members.

11.  There is also nothing in the CSPL's report about remuneration of lay members of the Committee, or payment of their expenses. However, an analogue is available in the form of provision for the specialist advisers who already assist committees of the House. Specialist advisers are reimbursed for their expenses and are paid a modest per diem for the work they carry out for committees. We understand that the members of the CSPL are also remunerated in this way. In our view, a similar arrangement should be made for payments to the lay members.

  1. Finally, we note the CSPL's recommendation that the lay members of the Committee should be "chosen through the official public appointments process".[7] It is far from clear what is meant by this phrase. In our view, it would not be right for the ministerial appointments process to be used for these purposes—and in any case, such a move would require legislation. We do, however, believe that there should be independent, external involvement in the appointment of the lay members. And whichever body is to administer this process, we suggest that it should not be the Committee on which the lay members are to serve. Our colleagues on the Public Administration Committee have carried out much useful work on public appointments and may wish to offer their views on how these particular appointments should be made.



2   CSPL 12th Report, recommendations 51 and 48 Back

3   CSPL 12th Report, recommendation 52 Back

4   Letter from Sir George Young Bt MP to Sir Christopher Kelly, 2 June 2009 Back

5   CSPL 12th Report, paragraph 13.68 Back

6   CSPL 12th Report, recommendation 52 Back

7   CSPL 12th Report, recommendation 48 Back


 
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Prepared 26 November 2009