To be published as HC 960-ii

house of commons

oral evidence

taken before the

Procedure Committee

Lay Membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP

Evidence heard in Public Questions 29 - 61


1. This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2. The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Procedure Committee

on Wednesday 18 May 2011

Members present:

Mr Greg Knight (Chair)

Mrs Jenny Chapman

Thomas Docherty

Mr Roger Gale

Mr James Gray

Tom Greatrex

John Hemming

Mr David Nuttall


Examination of Witness

Witness: Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP, Chair, Committee on Standards and Privileges, gave evidence.

Q29 Chair: Kevin, thank you for coming. We much appreciate you giving us some of your time, knowing how busy you are. Do you want to make an opening statement or do you want us to go straight into our questions?

Kevin Barron: I am very happy to do that. You will have seen the evidence on what the last Committee on Standards and Privileges in the last Parliament said about this relationship between lay members on the Committee. As you know, Chairman, as you were on it for a while as well, I sat on the wings of that Committee. We looked at this in this Session of Parliament, and we came to a different conclusion in relation to the issues about privilege and standards, but I am very happy to take questions on that basis.

Q30 Chair: Could you start off, then, by telling us why your Committee supports this proposal?

Kevin Barron: First of all, this came about in 2002. It was the Committee on Standards in Public Life that made recommendations to the House about what we should do in relation to standards. I was not on the Committee then, but as I recall, one was about expanding the membership and looking at its quorum. Consequently, the membership was expanded to 10. Its quorum is five. It has to have five members of the ruling party on it, or parties on it as we are at the present time, but a member of the opposition shall chair it-that is, the major opposition party. It also said it ought to have lay members on it as well. I think the House agreed this in about 2005, and the Standards and Privileges Committee certainly discussed it in the previous Parliament and agreed with that conclusion.

You will know that the House now has lay members on SCIPSA, the Speaker’s Committee on IPSA. I don’t know exactly how that is designated in here, but I sit on that Committee ex officio as Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and the first evidence session on a lay member being involved in taking evidence from SCIPSA, on its budgets, was last week. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there; I was doing other things with the Standards and Privileges Committee, but you will be able to see from the evidence how that interaction played. I have read the informal minutes of that meeting.

The evidence is around lay members playing a role. As I said earlier, this comes from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I have a firm belief as an individual that there is nothing wrong in this. I served nine years as a lay member on the General Medical Council. I recognise that that is a statutory body, a statutory committee, but there were three Members of Parliament on it; Parliament used to appoint one from each major party at one time. I used to be there, and I used to take evidence and ask questions in relation to the fitness to practise of doctors. The role that I played there I was quite comfortable with. It was to give some assurance to people outside. Effectively, you looked at the accusation that a professional had not stuck to what they should have done. There was a question about their fitness to practise, and I was very comfortable that lay members have a role to play in that as well. That goes on to this day, in most regulatory bodies that we as parliamentarians actually set up. Yet in our own regulatory body here-non-statutory as it is, of course-we don’t have lay membership. I am quite comfortable, and I think the Committee, both in the last Parliament and in this Parliament, is quite comfortable that this should happen.

What we didn’t think-and I will finish at this, Chairman-was that it ought to be up to us as a Committee to decide how they sat with us and who they were, effectively. We think that is a matter for the House, not a matter for us, because there are wider issues about whether or not expenses and maybe a per diem would be paid to individuals as well. Indeed, you will see from our note that we did suggest that that could be easily looked at, as far as having lay members on the Committee, shall I say, for standards. Privilege is another matter that we have rethought in this Parliament, of course.

Q31 Chair: What difference do you think it would make to how your Committee would work if you had to have lay members as part of the process?

Kevin Barron: Let me say that we don’t have to have them. We have asked for them. In the last Parliament, I was very much in favour of this happening as well, because of my experience elsewhere in terms of being a lay member on the General Medical Council. So, how would it work? I think there are issues around privilege. The solution to the privilege issue in the last Parliament was that you may have a sub-committee of sorts, so that you do standards. You could have a sub-committee that would look into privilege, of course, but that would mean maybe that lay members should not look at privilege. I think that we recommended that that should not be the case.

What we have suggested to you in the note that we put into the Committee is that maybe we should have two committees: one is the Committee for Standards; the other one is the Committee for Privileges. You could have-and this would be up to the House-the same members on both but of course, in terms of standards, you could then have lay members on it. They would then be a party to everything, taking all decisions in relation to that. I think we feel that if it was done on the basis that the Standards Committee was a sub-committee of the Standards and Privileges Committee, then they could not take a decision in the final acceptance of a report. We think that that would be wrong. So we think the two-committee solution is probably one that you ought to look at seriously. Of course, we will be looking at your recommendations, and not just at what we have said to you.

Q32 Chair: I think Roger Gale will come back on that a little bit later on. Your committee not only looks into individual cases, but actually has a broader function of overseeing the operation of the House’s disciplinary arrangements as a whole. How do you think these lay members would be able to contribute in those sorts of decisions?

Kevin Barron: It seems to me-and it is certainly one of the issues that has been around for the last two years, and those of you who were here before the last general election will know that-that when it comes to issues around being consulted in relation to the Code of Conduct, which basically is where the breaches come, in terms of expenses and so on, I do not think there is any problem at all with lay members looking into that. I don’t know how this would work, but I think we are statutorily one of the organisations that IPSA should consult if they are looking at some major consultation process in relation to what is now the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It seems to me that, under those circumstances, lay members could have a very good role to play as a full member of the Committee, hopefully giving some assurance that what we are doing, and the decisions we are coming to with fellow professionals in here, is something that the public can have more confidence in. I think we certainly need that after the last two and a half years.

I know when I first went on the General Medical Council, the accusation that was made against them-from my nine years’ experience, I would say it was unfair-was that it was about doctors looking after doctors. I don’t agree with that analysis, having sat on it, but you are open to that allegation, as I am sure you would feel that Parliament is, potentially, when it is sitting and looking at the conduct of Members of Parliament on their own; it is well open to the accusation that it is Members of Parliament looking after Members of Parliament. It often happens, quite frankly, even now, but there you are.

Q33 John Hemming: The Committee heard concerns from the Clerk that there is a risk that the addition of lay members to a Committee would alter its character to such an extent as to cast doubt on whether its proceedings were actually proceedings in Parliament, protected by parliamentary privilege. Obviously, one solution to that is to change the statute. The other solution proposed is to have lay members but not allow them to vote. What are your views on that issue?

Kevin Barron: On the latter, it would be effectively saying that you have a second-class member of a Committee. It seems to me under those circumstances it would be wholly wrong to say, "You can sit here, but you can’t vote". Let me also say that there has never been a vote on the Committee since I have been on it. I have sat on the Standards and Privileges Committee since 2005, as the Chair in the last 11 months or eight months, or whatever it is. I have made sure at all times that this is done on a consensus basis. It is a very difficult area for Members of Parliament to come to agreement on. I think the past Chairmen have done exactly the same thing as well. I don’t think there has been a division since 2001, so I am not too worried about that. You mentioned another thing, John.

Q34 John Hemming: You could pass statute defining the proceedings as proceedings in Parliament.

Kevin Barron: Well, yes. We had a short debate about this, prior to agreeing a memorandum to send to you, asking you to do what you are doing now. One of the things put to us was: "Well, you could be challenged in a court of law, because it is not a Committee of parliamentarians anymore; there are other people on it as well." That may be possible, but it doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t do it. The greater problem with how our law is put together is that there may be two or three challenges on two or three different issues. An individual has come in front of this Committee, which looks like it is not just a Committee of parliamentarians but more of a jury-type thing, for want of a better expression, and under those circumstances you may be vulnerable to challenge in a court of law. That could be the case, but if there were three challenges, it could be on three different issues to do with three individual cases. My view is that that is something that, in a democracy, we have to accept. We have to move on from where we are now, in terms of the make-up of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Q35 John Hemming: On the issue of having lay members without a vote-I am in a sense putting words into your mouth-do you think there is any merit in that at all? You might as well not have the lay members in the first instance.

Kevin Barron: I would never say it is not worth having members even if they don’t have a vote, but when I sat as a complete lay member alongside senior clinicians looking at whether doctors had breached codes or not, I was never, ever in an uncomfortable position. I was never in a position where it broke down between lay and medical members of those committees. I used to chair some of these fitness to practise committees and it seems to me, under those circumstances, that full membership is a prerequisite.

Q36 Chair: Would not having a vote stop them doing their job? If they disagreed with the elected members on the committee and had a mechanism for making their views known, that would be as effective, wouldn’t it?

Kevin Barron: Something written in the back of a report, maybe, so that those who want to look at it could turn round and say, "Well, yes, we can see what happened here". I will re-emphasise: I don’t see why we can’t have full membership of lay members on the Standards and Privileges Committee. There are no second-class citizens as we sit at the moment. There is a Chair, obviously. Other than that, they are members of the Committee appointed by the House to that Committee, and given the responsibility by the House to look into matters in relation to standards, in the case that I am directing my comments to at the moment. I think that it would be wholly wrong to have people on there who did not have the vote, even if it was identified that they were unhappy. We ought to be looking at what the quorum is and making sure that there is a lay member there. Hopefully, if it goes as it has since 2001-or as I have been told it has-there will be no vote that splits the Committee; you try to come to a consensus on the facts that are in front of you. It seems to me that that is the way that we should operate as parliamentarians-and, if lay members or one lay member comes along, lay members as well.

Q37 Mr Gale: The 2009 Standards and Privileges Committee report suggested that privileges should be a sub-committee of the main Committee of elected Members only. Your current Committee recommends that there could be a Standards Committee and a Privileges Committee, which would, therefore, presumably embrace lay members on both.

Kevin Barron: I don’t think that is the intention, Mr Gale. I think the intention is that the Standards Committee would have lay members, and the Privileges Committee would not.

Mr Gale: Right. I misunderstood you, in that case.

Kevin Barron: That is my understanding.

Q38 Mr Gale: The Parliamentary Commissioner suggests that the membership of the two committees should be the same, which does beg the question: if you are going to do that, why have two committees?

Kevin Barron: On the basis of what I have just said, I would say that he is probably wrong in that respect. That is the way that I believe it would work. I think there would be an issue about having lay members on a committee that is looking at parliamentary privilege. That is my advice, and that is my understanding of what the House authorities think as well.

There is a way around this without having somebody who is effectively a second-class citizen, or has been asked to remove themselves from the room because we are now going to move on to an issue of privilege, as opposed to an issue of standards. Let me give you a practical example, Mr Chairman, that you will have seen when you sat on the Committee in the last Parliament. The Commissioner for Standards does come along, mostly to meetings where we are talking about standards. You will have seen it in the session in which we looked at phone hacking. So, he will come along; he will give us his update on where he was in certain areas, and guidance about what is coming down the road in terms of any possible memorandums for us to take decisions on. Then when we went on to the phone hacking, he would remove himself from the room. Now, I think he probably just wanted to get away and he didn’t have an interest in hacking. It seems to me to say to lay members of the same Committee, "Well, you can go now, because we have to look at another matter"-my instinct is it would be wrong. Therefore, I do believe that we could have two committees. It would be entirely up to the House whether-as far as the House membership is concerned-it was exactly the same, and whether the Chair was exactly the same. As we put in our memorandum, the Chair does not have to get any further remuneration on top of what they get currently, effectively. I think that could work well, if the House agrees it, of course. Whether the House agrees it will be a matter of whether you recommend it, I suspect.

Q39 Mr Gale: I can see where you are coming from now. Quite clearly, it could be the same parliamentary membership of both committees. If that is so, is there anything that we would lose by having two committees rather than one under those circumstances?

Kevin Barron: No, it seems to me a lot cleaner, a lot clearer, and providing that the lay members have the same status as other members on it, it would be better, in our view, that privilege is taken separately as opposed to either/or, being sub-committeed, et cetera. As I say, it would be up to the House, but I can’t see why we couldn’t operate currently as a Committee on Standards and a Committee on Privileges. I will give you a classic example about where we change. We morph from one to the other when somebody leaves the room because they are not involved with the second investigation that we are discussing.

Q40 Mr Gale: To put the remuneration issue to bed, if the chairmanship of the Standards Committee and the chairmanship of the Privileges Committee was one and the same person, he or she would be the Chairman of Standards and Privileges, so effectively that would resolve that issue.

Kevin Barron: You would have to ask the House authorities how it would work, but if it was two committees with one chairman, it seems to me that remuneration for one would be quite adequate. We cover both of these areas now and have done since, I think, the mid-1990s, in a practical sense. It is just a question of how you protect the integrity of a committee that has lay members sat on it, as opposed to a parliamentary committee dealing with matters that lay members would not and should not be involved in.

Q41 Chair: If the House decided to split the Committee into two, would you be comfortable chairing both, if you were asked to do so?

Kevin Barron: Yes.

Q42 Mrs Chapman: On the practicalities of how this might work, there have been a range of views about the number of lay members who might be invited to join. That has gone from at least two to no more than three to begin with. Do you have a view on the number of lay members that would be appropriate?

Kevin Barron: I think we said two because that was what the Committee on Standards in Public Life was talking about back in 2002, but, no, I don’t have a view on that. If you look at most of the regulatory bodies that we pass legislation on now, they talk about parity, or near parity, in terms of lay members to medical members, certainly on the General Medical Council. This is not a fitness to practise committee, so maybe I should steer away from that, but you would have both lay and medical on fitness to practise committees. In practical terms, that is what we are talking about on standards in Parliament. So, no, you could have more than two if that is what you wanted. I think what you ought to look at, as I suggested earlier, what the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended back in 2002 and was implemented. There are 10 members on it now, five from the major party, five from the opposition. I suspect that they would want to look at that. They did say two, and we have effectively endorsed that, but I have quite an open mind, and I suspect the Committee does, but what will actually take place will do so on the basis of your recommendations.

Q43 Mrs Chapman: Do you think two would satisfy the public?

Kevin Barron: If only I knew what satisfied the public, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here now. When I went on the General Medical Council, I think I was one of 24 lay members on a council of about 120. That is different now, and I was involved in the governance changes on two occasions with the General Medical Council. It is different now. It is not numerical. As I said, hopefully the Committee on Standards, if that is what it ever became, would not divide, in the way that Standards and Privileges has not divided since 2001. That is the art of running these Committees, I suspect. I don’t think it is numerical, but it is to give people some confidence that while we don’t have statutory regulation for these professionals in here, if that is what we are, we should perhaps still look at managing misconduct in the way that we expect it to be managed by other professions in the UK.

Q44 Mrs Chapman: Chris Mullin thinks that one of the lay members should be the Chair. Do you have a view on that?

Kevin Barron: I haven’t really, no. I am quite open to that. As I said earlier, when I first went on the General Medical Council with no training whatsoever, in terms of sitting in adjudication, other than what I had done in here for a number of years as a parliamentarian, I often used to take over the chair of fitness to practise committees.

Q45 Mrs Chapman: What about quorums? Do you think there should be a requirement for a certain number of lay members to be there, in order for the meeting to begin?

Kevin Barron: Yes. Put simply, the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that it should be 10, and five is the quorum, which you will recognise is quite a high quorum for a parliamentary Committee. If you are going to add two or four, then it seems to me it would be six or eight. Would that be right? It would certainly be six or seven, but there would have to be a lay representation. A fitness to practise committee, from my experience with doctors, would not sit if there weren’t both lay and medical members on it. That seems to me to be quite healthy, given what you set out to do.

Q46 Mrs Chapman: Do you think only two lay members is enough, if we are to make sure that one or two are always present?

Kevin Barron: It is a very interesting question, because I was in the Committee on Standards and Privileges last week when SCIPSA met, and I think there was only one lay member out of three in attendance. I could maybe ask them what happened and pass a note back to you, but that is something you have to take into account, of course. If you have just one or two, and they have to be a part of the quorum, then quite clearly that is something that you would have to take recognition of. If you have four or five, it does not mean to say they all have to be there all the time, of course. That is another issue, but it is about being able to get at least one there. I will not bore you with the stories that I used to hear on some of the General Medical Council committees, when I first went on, about the problems of getting lay members there. It wasn’t as organised as it is in Parliament and the issues it deals with. I am sure that, following on from SCIPSA, people would take this very seriously.

Q47 Chair: If the Chairman was a lay member, might this not be objectionable to a number of Members? As you know, the Chairman of any Committee sets the agenda. Do you not think it is objectionable to have a Committee Chairman who could not explain or justify to the House what his Committee had done because he or she was not a Member?

Kevin Barron: That is a very good point. My instinct is that lay members can chair these Committees, but the good point is: what was the report back on the Committee, and it is on the Floor of the House? It seems that in those circumstances, that would certainly be difficult. Then again, if the report was published on the Thursday and was to be debated on the Monday, and something happened to me over the weekend, would they still have the debate? I may not have been there; nothing in Standing Orders says that I have to be there. Parliament says that the Chairman, after the Front Benchers, gets up and speaks on privilege at the moment. No, that may be a difficult thing, but you might be looking at setting something in train now that could alter in future.

Q48 Mr Gale: For example, the parliamentary spokesman for the Church Commissioners speaks to Parliament on behalf of the Church Commissioners. If you had a lay Chairman of a Committee, would you be comfortable with a Member of Parliament taking the parliamentary role to present whatever it was to Parliament? Because obviously a lay member could not.

Kevin Barron: I think that is what we would be talking about under those circumstances, yes.

Q49 Mr Gray: The process for appointing them: should you or the Chairman be involved? How would we find some way of getting the right people to be there who would not either be, in your words, the great and the good, nor indeed incapable of doing the job? What sort of process?

Kevin Barron: Let me give you my experience of being on a statutory regulatory body. You need the machinery to move somebody if they are not functioning properly. I will not go into details, name no names, but you need that type of machinery. I found very early on in the General Medical Council that that was difficult to get, to remove somebody who had been there. This is mentioned in the memorandum that we sent to this Committee. It seems to me that that can be in place. That should not be too difficult.

Q50 Mr Gray: That is removing them, but what about appointing them? How would you select them? Would it be a public process?

Kevin Barron: The SCIPSA appointment was, I think, advertised in the national press. Who did the selection from there, I am not sure. I was appointed by the Leader of the House to the General Medical Council in 1999. The second time round, I went to an interview up in Leeds with the Public Appointments Board, because we were getting rid of Members of Parliament and reshaping the regulatory body. I was quite comfortable with that. If that was to happen with the SCIPSA appointments, I am not sure. Mr Gray, if that was the case, it seems that that would be the one to follow and there may be lessons that you can learn from that, in terms of what SCIPSA thought about how many lay members should be on there, how they should be appointed and, of course, what their per diem is likely to be, as well.

Q51 Mr Gray: Term of office: I think you have suggested five years, haven’t you?

Kevin Barron: We did. One of the comments in the memorandum is saying, "Well, they wouldn’t go native". Well, after five years they may go native, but we are all natives in that respect, many of us. I have been native for many years on that basis in this place. It doesn’t stop me having an open mind. I think there is no question about that-could they stay on for a longer time than five years-but I think we suggested that it was going to be a Parliament, as the Committee is set for a Parliament as well. Five years comes out of the basis of current legislation or proposals.

Mr Gray: Or staggered terms: one for five years, and then halfway through-

Kevin Barron: You could do that, indeed. Many regulatory bodies do that. It seems to me a very sensible thing to do, because that way you have experience, hopefully on both sides of the Committee-on the Members of Parliament side, and on the lay member side as well. That would be a sensible thing to do.

Q52 Tom Greatrex: Can we go back to the candidates? I think in your memorandum you talked about people being at ease in the environment while maintaining a degree of separation from it. Is it possible and desirable to candidates who aren’t seen as the usual quangocracy, or the great and the good?

Kevin Barron: My instinctive answer to that is yes, I think you should. I walked into the General Medical Council, having been asked by the Leader of the House to sit on a regulatory body that has three Members of Parliament on it. It was nothing beyond that, and it was quite refreshing for me to go in there and apply what I felt the needs of the job were, as somebody who was not a clinical professional and was not looking to compete with them. I did buy a medical dictionary so I knew what some of these phrases were when I used to read these briefs. They were quite challenging, from a grammatical point of view, but I didn’t get too fussed about that. The important thing is to have some sort of balance, in terms of what you are doing. I think that you can pick people in life who are doing all sorts of different jobs but have a balanced view about matters.

Q53 Tom Greatrex: Do you think it is possible to attract those people? What would make those people who are not the great and the good or the people who end up on all these committees and quangos put themselves forward? How would you select those, as opposed to people who are used to this type of environment?

Kevin Barron: I think probably you would look at the appointment system. As I say, I don’t know how the SCIPSA ones are being appointed, but you would look at the appointment system. There are many public appointments have been made, particularly in health but in other areas as well, that are being made from our constituents on quite a regular basis. They go in front of appointments committees, and when I went in front of the appointments committee up at Leeds to become a lay member on the General Medical Council, nobody was asking me, "What do you think about doctors, then?". They were asking me more general questions, although I was known to them by then, because I had been on the regulatory body. They were asking more general questions, such as, "What would you think if x and y happened?". It might be something about an incident on a bus, or whatever, as opposed to an incident with a doctor. So it seems to me that it is not too difficult at all to find that out. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the great and the good, but I don’t think you necessarily have to-

Mr Gray: You are one.

Kevin Barron: Well, sadly so, yes. This has been the demise of me over the last 28 years, Mr Gray, but there you are. The real problem is being able to pick somebody out who is suitable and who is balanced in what they think. I think most of us would say that that is going to be very difficult from the British public, in view of what they think about Members of Parliament in general, if not us in particular. There are people out there who are quite well balanced; they sit on all sorts of different boards and are selected through a process that looks for the balanced individual. I don’t have a problem at all with thinking that that could not be done, and it does not have to be somebody who is known or is one of the great and the good.

Q54 Tom Greatrex: Very briefly, on a related point about confidentiality, you have talked about the importance of confidentiality being observed by lay members. How can the House do that, given the sensitivity of some of the proceedings we are likely to be dealing with?

Kevin Barron: This is where we move over to the other side a little bit, in a sense. If somebody was a lay member and had potentially breached the confidentiality of a Committee, then is that contempt of Parliament? The other Committee, if you had two Committees, would deal with that anyway. You may have heard in my speech on the Fifteenth Report in this session that there is currently an investigation taking place about breach of confidentiality from the Standards and Privileges Committee. We have no current lay members on it.

Q55 Chair: One quirk of this is that if the House were to recommend that there be two Committees, and the membership was the same apart from the lay members, and a lay member leaked a confidential paper of the Standards Committee, the lay member would be up before the colleagues he works with on the Privileges Committee.

Kevin Barron: Indeed. It could be deemed contempt of Parliament. That could be the case, Chairman. At this stage, I would have every confidence that selecting people with open minds, who recognise what the job in hand is, will not be too difficult, and that confidentiality should not be an issue. If you start on the basis that that is likely to happen, then we go nowhere. It seems to me that that would be wholly wrong.

Q56 Mr Gray: Would you agree with me that if these people are to fulfil any particularly useful function, there will be some occasions-possibly many occasions, or all occasions-when they take a slightly different view from the parliamentary members of the Committee?

Kevin Barron: Yes. As I suggested earlier, in my experience on a statutory regulator, that didn’t happen. My instinct, as a member of the Committee in the last Session, and as its current Chair, is that that has to be avoided at all costs. As for the way Standards and Privileges operates, it is quite unique to say that a parliamentary Committee has not had a division, I think, since 2001. It is quite a unique Committee. The cases it has handled are quite sensitive, and one of the things I have always said on Committees that I run-not just this Committee but others as well-is, "You leave your party politics at the door on your way in and you pick them up on the way out. That way we will be able to do our job properly". I would say that on departmental policy as well.

Q57 Mr Gray: That applies to all Select Committees, but the question here is: if these lay people merely agreed with the parliamentary people on the Committee all the time, then what is the purpose of having them? Surely the purpose of having them would be fresh minds, maybe not going as far as dividing the Committee, but to a greater or lesser degree saying, "Well, I am not sure that you are right on that particular aspect."

Kevin Barron: That is absolutely right. On that basis, we might be looking at them through these rose tinted Members of Parliament glasses, saying, "Well, I have a different view here."

Q58 Mr Gray: Given that is the case, and given that you are dealing with very complex, abstruse and difficult matters that no layman would possibly have any idea about, would you not agree with Bernard Jenkin that what you want to have is someone who has, for example, a judicial mind-a retired judge was his suggestion-who is able to understand what they are talking about and able to come up with, perhaps, very particular and detailed differences with Members of Parliament? If you have Mr and Mrs Average Layman off the street, surely they will simply be bamboozled by the very clever MPs on the Committee.

Kevin Barron: I will leave the latter point, but just say at this stage that I think that would be wholly wrong. I think you ought to look at this on the basis of: what do our next-door neighbours think about Parliament and parliamentarians? What do the general British public think about the last 18 months, in terms of what has come out over the expenses scandal? I think that we don’t need to look for that. As I said earlier, I never went on the General Medical Council to try in any way to compete with the clinicians who sat on there. I went on there to give a view that wouldn’t necessarily be counter to that but would probably be a different view. There were no loggerheads.

Q59 Mr Gray: If that is the case, if you are inviting the public to have a look, from a public standpoint, at what they think of Members of Parliament, that is a rather different function to the function that the Standards and Privileges Committee currently fulfils, which is quasi-judicial and very detailed, where you are looking at a person’s career or at something very technical. If all we are going to have is Mr and Mrs Average, who will come in and say, "You are all crooks"-I exaggerate my case-

Kevin Barron: I think they would probably fail at the stage of being interviewed if they set off on the basis that all MPs were crooks. The process of appointment is important in this respect. You could say or interpret it that I ruined careers as a lay member on the General Medical Council. I would be a party to a decision that would strike off a doctor, or put conditions on a doctor that would make life difficult for them. It was on the basis of the protection of the public in those instances.

The way I see lay members working on the Standards and Privileges Committee, they would help to build confidence up in the public that we don’t just look after ourselves, and that we are quite happy and prepared to have people come and sit on our Committee that looks into alleged misconduct by MPs, very much as we appoint lay people on to regulatory bodies that look into the misgivings of other professionals.

Q60 Mr Gray: So the outcome of your consideration is that the report might well not be judicial, but might be a PR report; it might be what people think, but not necessarily be absolutely precisely judicial, as to whether or not someone was guilty of a particular offence.

Kevin Barron: Let me put it this way: judicial matters are for the Metropolitan Police. We do have two or three lawyers on the Committee, so we do go into a judicial mode from time to time. That is not a matter for us. What happens to the Metropolitan Police and Members of Parliament is a matter for the Metropolitan Police and the Member of Parliament, except in one case when we were asked by the Commission to make a referral earlier in this current Session. Beyond that, we don’t look into details like that at all. Nothing in what I have been doing for the past five, nearly six years now, frightens me that a layman couldn’t sit round the table and perfectly understand what we were looking at. It is the Commissioner who puts the case and the memorandum together. We then look at that and decide on the basis of findings whether we agree with the Commissioner, and what we should do with our report-our view on that memorandum. I don’t see in any way that we would need a lawyer, or for that matter anybody of any great talent, beyond somebody who has a common-sense view of life and can look at things in an open way, basically. If they think all MPs are crooks, probably that would be a bit difficult if we were starting from there.

Q61 Chair: Thank you for being so frank and forthright with us. Is there anything you want to add?

Kevin Barron: No. I just hope this happens, Chairman. We think it is absolutely right that the Procedure Committee should look at this, and not us. I would be very comfortable if you put matters forward on the Floor of the House, and we could move on this. I think the CPSL was right in 2002. None of us knew what was coming down the road, in terms of the public’s thoughts about politicians doing things wrongly. Nobody predicted in 2002 what the expenses scandal was going to bring out, and it seems to me that we ought to go ahead with this job. If there were grounds for doing it in 2002, there are certainly grounds for doing it now.

Chair: Thank you very much for coming. We do appreciate it, and I would like to place on record the Committee’s appreciation of your giving us your time today. That now concludes the public part of our proceedings.

Prepared 9th June 2011