Lay membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

Memorandum submitted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life (P 101, 2010-11)

Introduction

1. The Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Committee) welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Procedure Committee inquiry into lay membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. As with the Committee’s report on MP’s Expenses and Allowances (Cm 7724), the Committee’s politically appointed members [1] have not taken part in the preparation of this response to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest.

2. In its report on MP’s Expenses and Allowances the Committee recommended that there should be at least two lay members who have never been Parliamentarians on the Standards and Privileges Committee and that their appointment should be made in the same way as that of the lay members of the Speaker’s Committee of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

3. On 2 December 2010 the House of Commons passed a resolution inviting the Procedure Committee to bring forward proposals to implement the principle that lay members should sit on the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Procedure Committee is now conducting an inquiry into the implications for parliamentary privilege and the practical considerations of lay membership.

Principle

4. The Committee recommended introducing a non-parliamentary element to membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges as a step towards enhancing public acceptance of the robustness and independence of the disciplinary process for Members of Parliament. Following the expenses scandal it was clear that the arrangements for disciplining Members did not command public confidence. During the inquiry on MP’s Expenses and Allowances the then Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Rt Hon Sir George Young, said

"we would be very happy to consider having outside members sitting on the Standards and Privileges Committee, not least to allay the concerns you mentioned earlier, [...] about how we might recalibrate our disposals to conform with public expectations. So that is something which my Committee is prepared to put on the table, having outside members sitting on our Committee, particularly to assist us in coming to judgements where people may feel at the moment we are possibly too lenient." [2]

5. If the disciplinary system for MPs is to remain a matter of self-regulation, it needs to be strengthened to give the public confidence that matters will be dealt with appropriately. The Committee imagines that this is an objective the House will share. The Committee believes that issues of implementation should not put into question this important principle.

Parliamentary Privilege

6. It is, of course, important that the arrangement should be set up in a way which is consistent with parliamentary privilege. On the face of it, issues of privilege should not arise in relation to most of the matters considered by the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The ultimate safeguard is that decisions on any recommendations of the Committee on Standards and Privileges in relation to breaches of privilege will continue to be taken by the House itself.

March 2011


[1] Oliver Heald MP , the Rt Hon Margaret Becket MP and the Lord Alderdice

[2] Rt Hon Sir George Young MP, Public Hearing, 29 June 2009, paragraph 135