Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges from Lord Neill of Bladen QC, Committee on Standards in Public Life

My colleagues and I have now had an opportunity to consider carefully your consultation paper on proposed amendments to the rules relating to the conduct of Members of Parliament.

As you will expect, our principal interest, in relation to the specific proposals you make, is in the proposed changes to the guidance on the application of the advocacy rule. It appears that you received representations similar to those which we received during the enquiry which led to the publication of our Sixth Report and you have concluded, as we did, that the application of the advocacy rule to overseas visits funded by a foreign Government requires modification. My colleagues and I support your proposals in that regard.

Where I believe we continue to differ is that my Committee was of the view that the modification of the guidance should be applied more generally to all interests subject, of course, to the ban on paid advocacy and the rules on declaration and registration of interests. In our view, the safeguard afforded by the ban on paid advocacy and by the requirement of openness, coupled with a further requirement that a Member should indicate an interest on the Order Paper (or Notice Paper), would be sufficient to protect against abuse. I hope that after the change in the guidance in relation to overseas visits has been in operation for a reasonable period (assuming that it is adopted by the House), your Committee will re-visit this broader issue, taking into account the experience acquired in relation to the changed rules for overseas visits.

Having reflected not only on the individual elements of your consultation paper but also on its collective effect, I would like to make a general point. You will recall that when you kindly came to give evidence in our recent enquiry into the House of Lords, you said the following about the development of the present House of Commons' Code: "... as one finds out more details of what people have done, one keeps adding a bit more and the result is a very complicated code. Our task is to try to simplify it." (Volume 2 of the Seventh Report (Cm 4903), page 206, paragraph 2705).

My colleagues and I share your disquiet about this development and fear that there is a risk that the general principles of the House of Commons' Code will be obscured by the detail of the accompanying guidance. We are therefore concerned lest the general effect of the proposals set out in your consultation paper will exacerbate rather than ameliorate the trend to which you alluded in your evidence. No doubt this is a matter which you and your colleagues already have well in view. Your overall objective to "simplify" seems to us admirable.

December 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 23 March 2001