Mr Geoffrey Cox Contents

Report

Introduction

1.The purpose of the Committee, in this Report, is to apply the existing rules of conduct as agreed by the House in 2009 and 2015.

2.This Report arises from the referral by Mr Geoffrey Cox of himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, drawing her attention to his late registration of eleven payments received in respect of legal services provided by him in his capacity as a practising barrister. Mr Cox had previously written to the Registrar on this matter, with a full acknowledgment that the late registration “represents a clear and unequivocal breach of the 28-day declaration period as set out in the Members’ Code of Conduct and I take full responsibility for this oversight”.1 He also “put on record [his] sincere apologies for this neglect”. In his subsequent letter to the Commissioner, Mr Cox asked her to take whatever action she felt was necessary.

3.Against this background, our task is to determine the seriousness of the breach by Mr Cox of the rules of the House relating to registration of payments, and what further action, if any, should be taken. It is important to understand that the existing rules of the House neither prohibit not limit MPs from having outside remuneration and interests.

The events

4.The facts of this case are undisputed. On 21 September 2015 Mr Cox wrote to the Registrar to notify her of the receipt of six payments he had received as remuneration for legal services provided on various dates between January 2014 and May 2015.2 The office of the Registrar asked Mr Cox to provide the dates of receipt of the payments. In his response of 29 September, Mr Cox provided this information and listed five additional payments received between June and 3 August 2015. He “offered no excuse for my failure to give the matter the due attention it deserves and requires” but did provide an explanation of what had happened and set out “the steps and procedures” he had put in place to ensure that the situation would not arise again.3 He also announced his intention to stand down as a member of this Committee and of the Committee of Privileges.

5.On 8 October Mr Cox referred this correspondence to the Commissioner.

The Commissioner’s inquiry

6.The Commissioner states in her memorandum that, “while Mr Cox had provided a considerable amount of information”, she “considered that the number and value of the late registrations and the period of time involved were so significant that I needed to make further enquiries”.4 The eleven payments concerned were received during a period of over seven months from January to early August 2015 and totalled over £400,000. As the Commissioner sets out, the rules of the House clearly state that these payments should have been registered within 28 days of receipt. These rules are long-standing, dating from 2009, although a slight amendment to them with effect from May 2015 means that the details registered for the second group of five payments should also have included the date of receipt.5

7.In his evidence to the Commissioner, Mr Cox explained how the late registration came about. He had previously relied on the head clerk of his Chambers to draw the receipt of payments to his attention, thereby prompting the registration of such payments. The illness and subsequent retirement of the head clerk had led to the breakdown of this system. 6 Mr Cox also accepted that during 2015 he had “failed to give this matter the due thought and priority it required” as a result of his “intense schedule” over the summer, until he reviewed his records in late September and “became fully aware of the scale of the oversight”.7

8.The Commissioner also questioned Mr Cox about whether any of the interests concerned ought to have been disclosed in any relevant proceeding of the House, its Committees or in respect of any approach to a Minister or other person. She accepted Mr Cox’s assurance that he had reviewed all ministerial and official correspondence, Hansard and his diary and found this not to be the case. 8 We agree that there is no reason to doubt this assurance.

9.The Commissioner concludes that “Mr Cox’s faith in the system he had set up and his confidence in his long-standing clerk led him to neglect his personal duty to check the effectiveness of his arrangements, and that was a failure to ‘fulfil conscientiously the requirement of the House’”, as set out in the rules.9 She reports that she considers the breach of the rules to exceed the level at which a rectification might be sufficient and that the number and value of the payments and the length of time in which Mr Cox failed to register their receipt, particularly in view of his membership of the Committee on Standards, constitute a serious breach of the House’s rules. We agree.

Conclusion

10.This is an unusual case in that it arises from a self-referral and a full admission of a breach of the rules by the Member concerned. Mr Cox has apologised for the breach and also stood down as a member of our Committee as a result of his failure to declare his interests in a timely fashion. He has cooperated fully with the Commissioner’s inquiry. We also note that he has made new arrangements to ensure that this situation does not occur again and that the Registrar and the Commissioner are satisfied that those arrangements should be effective in enabling Mr Cox to meet the requirements in future.

11.We would further remind all Members that it is their duty, not their staff’s, to ensure compliance with the rules of the House and it is not for this Committee to advise on the mechanisms or personnel used to achieve that compliance, but for the Member to ensure that such mechanisms are effective.

12.We accept that Mr Cox had no intention to hide these payments and that he has not breached the requirements of the House for declaration of relevant interests. Nevertheless, as the Commissioner notes, the number of payments and the sums involved in the late registration are significant and Mr Cox was in a position which should have ensured that he was more familiar with the rules and the relevant principles of public life in this area than other Members might be. Indeed, during the period whilst these declarations should have been made, he had the opportunity to consider a formal memorandum from the Commissioner about late registration by another Member.10 We therefore consider that this was a serious matter. Mr Cox has already apologised to the Registrar and the Commissioner. We recommend that Mr Cox make an apology to the House for his failure to register payments in a timely fashion.

The lay members present took a full part in the consideration of this Report. None of them wished to submit an opinion.


1 Appendix 1 (Commissioner’s memorandum)

2 WE2

3 WE3

4 Appendix 1 (Commissioner’s memorandum), para 3

5 Appendix 1 (Commissioner’s memorandum), paras 41-2. The Commissioner’s memorandum also sets out the relevant rules as in operation before and after May 2015 (paras 5-12)

6 WE8

7 WE8

8 Appendix 1 (Commissioner’s memorandum), para 49

9 Appendix 1 (Commissioner’s memorandum), para 46

10 Appendix 1 (Commissioner’s memorandum), para 53




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Prepared 3 February 2016