Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Tenth Report


TENTH REPORT

The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—

ALLEGED MISCONDUCT AFFECTING A WITNESS BEFORE THE ENVIRONMENT SUB-COMMITTEE

1. In our recent Report on Delivering Sustainable Waste Management, we had cause to comment on the conduct of Entrust (otherwise known as the Environmental Trust Scheme Regulatory Body), the regulator of environmental bodies under the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.[10] Among other things, we expressed concern about the fact that Entrust had, apparently as a direct result of his comments to us on the evidence given by representatives of Entrust, withdrawn an offer to Dr Malcolm Aickin to join an Improvement Panel, set up "to obtain views and gather opinions from interested parties and make recommendations to Entrust for improvements to the Scheme, its organisation and administrative activities."[11] We said

    This kind of behaviour is unacceptable for any regulatory body. Entrust, however, is a relatively new body overseeing a unique scheme. For a body in this position not only to ignore constructive criticism, but effectively to sack the giver of such criticism from a job apparently designed expressly for the purpose of offering it, seems perverse in the extreme.[12]

2. We were concerned, however, not only that such behaviour was inappropriate, but that it constituted a contempt of the House. Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice says, "Any conduct calculated to deter prospective witnesses from giving evidence before either House or a Committee is a contempt," continuing, "On the same principle, molestation of or threats against those who have previously given evidence before either House or a committee will be treated by the House concerned as a contempt".[13] These principles have also been restated in a Report from the Committee of Privileges of 1989.[14]

3. A letter expressing our concern was sent to the Chief Executive of Entrust, Dr Richard Sills, on 12 March. The Chairman of Entrust, Lord Cranbrook, replied in letters of 19 and 27 March. The Chief Executive also replied in a letter of 27 March. These letters are appended to this Report.[15]

4. In their respective letters of 27 March, the Chairman and Chief Executive accept that a contempt was committed - albeit unknowingly - and proffer their unreserved apologies to the Committee. Entrust has also undertaken not to take, or to consider taking, any action against Dr Aickin in consequence of the evidence that he gave to the Environment Sub-committee.[16] A statement issued jointly by the Chairman and Chief Executive of Entrust and Dr Aickin notes that they are

    committed to exploring how Dr Aickin's expertise and knowledge can best contribute to Entrust's desire to improve its performance in regulating the innovative and successful scheme so that it can provide more effective support for Sustainable Waste management, environmental projects and community schemes.[17]

The Chairman and Chief Executive subsequently appeared before the Committee and apologised in person for the contempt.[18]

5. In view of the apologies and undertakings which have been made, we recommend that the House take no further action in this case. Nevertheless, we remain concerned about the conduct of Entrust, its Chairman, Chief Executive and Board, and its fitness for the role of regulator of the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. We are especially disappointed that the Chairman and Chief Executive appear, from the evidence which they gave to us, to take no view on the appropriate strategic direction for the regulator of the Scheme, particularly given the Government's declared intention to review the workings of the Scheme.[19] For as long as Entrust remains the regulator, we - and, we expect, our successors in the next Parliament - will continue to take a close interest in its work. In particular, we expect that our successors will wish to satisfy themselves that Entrust has appreciated the need to accept constructive criticism of the sort offered by Dr Aickin and ourselves, and is responding in a more open and positive fashion that has hitherto been the case. Additionally, in view of the comments and recommendations concerning Entrust and the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme made by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his recent Report on HM Customs and Excise,[20] we suggest that our colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee may wish to consider undertaking their own investigation into Entrust's work.


10  Fifth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee, Session 2000-01 (HC36), paras 146-155 Back

11  Ev p.8 (Letter to Dr Malcolm Aickin from Entrust, dated 27 Feb 2001) Back

12  op cit, para 152 Back

13  22nd ed., pp. 126, 127 Back

14  Alleged Misconduct affecting a Parliamentary Agent, HC 502, paras 9-10 Back

15  Ev pp.8-10 Back

16  Ev p.10 (Letter to Andrew F Bennett MP, Chairman of the Committee, from the Chairman of Entrust, dated 27 March 2001) Back

17  ibid  Back

18  Ev pp.1-7 Back

19  Evidence given to the Environmental Audit Committee on 14 March by Mr Stephen Timms, Q69 Back

20  C&AG's Report on Accounts: Departments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: HM Customs & Excise Appropriation Accounts 1999-2000 (HC25xvi), pp.R15-R20 Back


 
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