Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Rt Hon John Major CH MP

  I write in response to the Consultation Document on Proposed Amendments to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.

  I welcome this consultation since the Rules have changed substantially from their original purpose. I have a number of comments.


    (a)  The composition of the Committee on Standards is not ideal. It would benefit from more legal expertise among its members and also a Legal Adviser to ensure that judgements on Parliamentary Resolutions are not stretched beyond their intent or meaning;

    (b)  There should be a formal Appeal Procedure for aggrieved Members who should also have access to legal advice for any complaint lodged against them;

    (c)  When an MP is instructed by the Committee to take action after an investigation, then in every instance the Parliamentary Resolution he has infringed should be specifically pointed out to him;

    (d)  The Rules should not be changed within a Parliamentary session (as has happened following the Livingstone Report). I doubt it would be right to bind the Committee for a full Parliament but we can, at least, prevent "mission creep" within each session of Parliament.

    (e)  If the Commissioner judges a complaint to be frivolous or trivial (of which there has been a number) the Commissioner—following consultation with the Chairman—should be empowered to dismiss the complaint immediately.


  At present there is a requirement to register a non-executive Directorship (or membership of an Advisory Board) but neither the remuneration figure nor an "employment agreement" is required. This is sensible.

  If a Member carries out a number of activities for a third party (ie press articles, or a series of speeches for one body) an "employment agreement" is sought by the Committee. I see no justification for this: it should be sufficient simply to register the relationship. The requirement for the deposit of an "employment agreement" is onerous and artificial (and implies distrust of the word of the Member concerned). The registration of the remuneration that follows an "employment agreement" is unnecessary and intrusive and simply provides the media with ammunition against the Member—and ultimately the institution of the Commons. This is not what was intended by the establishment of Nolan. The fact that the relationship exists is what needs to be known—no more is necessary.

  There is even less justification for the submission of such "agreements" for individual speeches to different audiences. (If there is a series to the same audience—or for the same sponsor—it might be analogous to a newspaper column but, even then, my view expressed above remains the same.) It is simply not credible to require such "agreements" to be deposited if a Speakers Agency acts as a middleman, since the contract involving a fee to the Member is with the sponsoring body for the speech—and not with the Agency. The Agency is paid by the Member.


  The above term is very vague: what does it mean? I am a Member who makes speeches—mainly abroad—about international politics and economics.

  My speeches:

    (a)  do not involve advocacy (or ever lead to it);

    (b)  are to audiences who often believe I left Parliament on leaving Government;

    (c)  are currently scheduled for beyond the end of this Parliament (thus illustrating they are not related to my membership of the House).

  I have never been asked to undertake Parliamentary actions as a result of these speeches—nor would I ever do so. Yet at present these speeches seem to be regarded as a "Parliamentary service": emphatically they are not and this interpretation should be reviewed and guidance issued that is beyond misunderstanding.

  One reason, I believe, for the views the Committee has taken on speeches is the suspicion that some Members are paid—ostensibly for speeches—when in reality they offer a consultancy. If this occurs it is a clear breach of the Rules and should be dealt with severely—but it does not justify undue requirements on Members who make speeches without providing any form of consulting services. I suggest that all Members registering speeches should be required to declare:

    (i)  that they do not offer consulting services; nor

    (ii)  any Parliamentary advocacy of any kind.

  Such a requirement should replace the cumbersome, intrusive and artificial device of lodging an "employment agreement" where, in reality, none exists.

  I am leaving the Commons at the end of this Parliament and—since I established Nolan—am keen to see the registration system operating effectively and fairly. It should be able to register interests that should rightly be known to the Commons, without infringing the legitimate privacy of Members.

  I would be glad to attend the Committee and give oral evidence if that would be helpful.

26 October 2000

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