Memorandum submitted by the Rt Hon Margaret
My understanding is that the purpose and emphasis
of the rules on the registration of interests is to prohibit paid
advocacy and ensure that there is nothing else which might influence
a Member's behaviour when acting as a Member of Parliament, which
should be and is not known to the House. The Committee itself
noted in its Fifth and Sixth Report of Session 1997-98 "The
main purpose of the Register, which underlies all of the specific
rules, is to provide information on any pecuniary benefit which
a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others
to influence his or her actions...in Parliament or actions taken
in his or her capacity as a Member of Parliament." (para
I fully recognise that there is also a caveat in
that many of the rules and guidelines cover not just what may
affect the Member's behaviour, but what might be thought to do
so. This is clearly a matter of judgement and interpretation.
However, I fear it may be increasingly the case that
whilst the rules are perfectly sensible in themselves, their practical
implementation is leading us towards a situation where they fail
to meet their stated intent. In particular:
(i) It was never the intention of the
register that every interest, however minor, should be listed.
However, it appears that in practice it is becoming rarelyif
at allthe case that anyone approaching the registrar for
advice is told that there is no need to register. Indeed the Report
containing the Consultation on Proposed Amendments to the Rules
suggests that "if any uncertainty still remains [after
consulting the Registrar] the interest ought to be registered."
(See the reference to the reports on John Major, Stephen Timms
and Bowen Wells in Annex A).
First, this may foster a presumption of wrongdoing
even where none exists. It also seems likely to lead to immensely
time consuming a bureaucratic procedures for, at best, marginal
gain. Indeed a telephone directory approach seems likely to obscure
what is actually of significancesomething that might be
thought to conflict with the register's underlying purpose.
(ii) It is in this context that there is concern
that some of the recommendations in this report might seem to
be adding to that tendency. For example, in paragraph 16 the Committee
recommends that "Benefits, such as tickets to sporting or
cultural events, received by another person together with or on
behalf of a Member should be registered as if they had been received
by the Member". This raises two issues. First, Members with
families may be obliged to register a benefit, where an MP without
a family may not because the theoretical benefit fell below the
ceiling. I understand just such a situation arose when Members'
came to register tickets for the Millennium Dome. Second, there
may be occasions where such benefits are not exclusive to MPs,
but could be enjoyed by othersfor example concessions available
to frequent fliers. If they were registered as if related solely
to a Member's position as an MP this would not only negate the
purpose of the Register, which is to establish whether a particular
interest relates to a Member's role and behaviour as a Member,
it would make the Register cumbersome and obscure what distinction
might mark one MP's contribution from another.
(iii) In paragraph 17, the Committee indicates
that payments and gifts passed directly to charity should be registered.
This too appears both onerous and perhaps unnecessary, particularly
if the advocacy rule then bites. The Member has no benefit from
the gift or money concerned so it represents no continuing or
hidden advantage. This would appear to be a further example of
declaration for declaration's sake, entirely unrelated to the
purpose of the register to which the House has agreed.
(iv) A point has recently arisen in relation
to employment agreements. There is in my view, a world of difference
between a Member employing a company to manage his appearances,
and that individual being employed by a company which then promotes
him. In either case what is relevant is surely whether the Member
is being paid by the employing company. Where, however, a Member
is employing the agency to manage his or her engagements and pays
them a fee (as in the case of the Rt Hon John Major MP)
it seems frankly bizarre to require the Member to register the
agreement as an employment agreement for the member (by
this logic, it could be argued that all Members are providing
a service to their research assistants!).
My comments are based on my belief that it is right
that Members should have high standards of integrity and that
the Code should enforce those standards, but that as the Committee
notes, the rules have "to strike a delicate balance between
this rigour and Member's ability to pursue their proper duties".
If the rules are interpreted with an extreme rigour
or stringency, there is a danger that Members will be restricted
in deploying their knowledge about areas in which they have professional
expertise within Parliament.
I am not convinced that the proposed rewording of
the rule on sponsorships adequately recognises the changed position
that will be brought about by the requirement for constituency
political parties to notify donations which will result from the
passage of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill.
All donation of over £1,000, whether from a single donation
or multiple donations from the same source of more than £200
amounting to in aggregate to more than £1000, to a constituency
party, will become public. Moreover the Electoral Commission are
now charged by statute with supervision in this area.
Similarly those MPs who sought a candidacy for Mayor
of London were advised to register donations to their campaign,
for what is by definition an activity outside Parliament, and
to do so while the campaign was under way. Not only did this too
impinge on the realm of election supervision, it placed those
candidates who were MPs in a different position from candidates
who were not, and did so actually during the campaign itself.
Even where interests are registered there remains
an issue as to the interpretation of the circumstances in which
that interest must be declared. For instance it was recently accepted
that Mr Robert Sheldon should have declared his registered involvement
with a small textile company when participating in general debates
between 1993 and 1999 on the economy or more specifically on manufacturing
even though "in none of these debates" did he "seek
to promote the specific cause of the textile industry". Every
Member has some economic interests whether as an earner, a taxpayer
or probably a mortgagee. Should such declarations normally be
required only where the interest is more specific to the debate?
Gifts and hospitality
The Committee recommends:
11. At present, tangible gifts over £125
in value and other benefits of greater value than 0.5 per cent
of the current parliamentary salary (£235 at present) must
be registered if they relate in any way to membership of the House.
In order to avoid the need to update value in future, we recommend
that thresholds under this category should be calculated as a
proportion of the parliamentary salary. We believe that the current
thresholds are too low and that they encourage trivial complaints
about matters which could not reasonably be thought to influence
a Member's conduct. We accordingly recommend that the threshold
for tangible gifts should be raised from £125 to 0.5 per
cent of the current parliamentary salary.
12. We have considered the question of hospitality
which Members receive in connection with their official duties,
as opposed to hospitality which is primarily recreational. We
consider that hospitality could properly be regarded as received
in the course of a Member's official duties if it is received
by (for example)
an Opposition spokesman in connection
with his frontbench responsibilities;
the chairman and members of a select
committee in connection with the committee's area of responsibility;
a Member at a function in his constituency
which he attends in the course of his constituency responsibilities.
We would welcome the views of Members on whether
the threshold for any hospitality under this category received
in the course of a Member's official duties should be raised from
0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of the current parliamentary salary.
We would also welcome suggestions of further examples which might
serve to illustrate or define the concept of "a Member's
I agree that it is sensible to set the limits on
gifts etc. as a percentage of salary, rather than a fixed sum,
and I have particular view about the threshold for registration.
However, I am strongly of the view that general matters
connected with official front bench duties in all parties, should
not be declarable. I understand that official engagements
undertaken by members of the Government front benches are not
registrable. However, it is inequitable that this is not applied
more widely. It would be unbelievably onerous for Members and
their staff, especially Opposition Front-benchers to attempt to
maintain this kind of information for the host of duties and engagements
carried out. I would certainly press for an exemption on registration
of hospitality received on front bench duties.
Approaches to Ministers and Officials
The Committee recommends:
25. Where Members have a relevant financial
interest, the advocacy rule provides that (subject to certain
exceptions) they may not initiate any parliamentary proceeding
which relates specifically and directly to their interest. Provided
they declare their interest, there is nothing at present to prevent
Members from making approaches to Ministers about such
26. Members may believe that by declaring an
interest to a Minister (or to an official) they have avoided any
possible conflict of interest. We are not satisfied that this
is so. At the very least, even if the involvement of the Member
were to make no difference to the Government's eventual decision
on the matter, it would ensure that those who paid the Member
had their views considered at Ministerial level, which might otherwise
not be the case. We therefore recommend that the Resolution
of 15 July 1947, as amended on 6 November 1995, be further amended
by adding the words "or any approach, whether oral or in
writing, to Ministers or servants of the Crown".
The proposed amendment would widen the scope of the
Resolution dealing with the advocacy rule to matters beyond Parliamentary
proceedings. These are already covered in the Resolution of 6th
November 1995. I question whether it is necessary to widen the
rule in this way.
The fact that a Minister has seen a delegation does
not mean that that delegation automatically gets its way. Ministers
often see delegations from industry or pressure groups with a
direct interest in the topic discussed without any impropriety,
because they will have in-depth understanding of the issues.
Members with outside interests may have similar expertise
to offer, precisely because of their knowledge of the subject
matter concerned (indeed their interest may arise as a result
of that expertise).
Ministers are also free to refuse to see delegations
of Members, if they think it is appropriate to do so. As long
as interests are registered properly and clearly signalled by
Members concerned, (which of course they should be), I consider
Government will be able to assess Member's representations at
their proper worth.
Of course, the existing rules already prevent Members
from abusing their position as Members by seeking ministerial
accessthat is, delegations, telephone calls or writing
letterson behalf of a matter relating solely to
a body with which they have a registrable connection.
The Committee recommends:
"44. The House resolved on 6th November
1995 that "a Member with a paid interest should not initiate
or participate in, including attendance, a delegation where the
problem affects only the body from which he has a paid interest".
45. This rule has been virtually unenforceable,
as very few problems concern "only" a single body. A
more effective form of words would be "... a delegation
where the issue to be raised relates specifically and directly
to the affairs and interests of the body from which he has a paid
interest". We recommend that the Resolution be amended accordingly."
I am not aware of any evidence that Members' attendance
at delegations has had an improper influence on Government policy,
as opposed to ensuring that all sides of an argument are considered.
I fear that the revision proposed may lend itself to overly restrictive
interpretation, particularly since the "affairs and interests"
of a body may be considered to touch on anything which may affect
it. On one interpretation, no Member with any interest in industry
would be able to take part in a delegation discussing corporation
tax, for example. The report says that the existing rule has proved
unenforceable. There are surely two possible courses. One is to
extend it as proposedrunning the risk of making it unenforceable
on a bigger scale! The other is to accept that it is an over-restrictive
precaution that should be dealt with by more specific declaration
of interests rather than denial of access.
The Committee recommends:
29. Members are required to register under
Category 8 any land or property (other than their homes) "which
has a substantial value or from which a substantial
income is derived". Those terms are not defined. We
recommend that "substantial value" should be defined
as 50 per cent of the current parliamentary salary, and "substantial
income" as 10 per cent of the current parliamentary salary.
Lesser amounts may still be declarable if they are relevant to
a Member's contribution to a debate, even if they are no longer
I agree the terms "substantial income"
and "substantial value" should be defined. However,
I presume that the underlying intention is to flag-up if a Member
has property interests of a scale or size which may be relevant
to their Parliamentary activities, not to inquire into a Member's
personal circumstances. So, if Members have a number of properties
let out for rent, it should certainly be on record. However, some
Members may have homes not only in London and their constituency
(as most will) but in the place where they lived before their
election; the possession of this property may be thought to be
a private matter. It is not clear whether such properties may
be categorised as "second homes", and so need not be
registered, for the purposes of the rules, but even if this is
the case, as the report is phrased, they will become registerable
if let out. I question whether the rules should catch Members
who find, as a result of election, they can no longer live in
their pervious family home, but do not wish to dispose of it.
Surely the system should either be flexible enough to exempt such
properties, or it should set the definition of "substantial"
at a level which does not automatically catch a single property
attracting a modest rent for the area concerned? In essence the
difference is between a Member with a home which they are renting
out, and a Member who rents out property as a means of earning
income. Of course, if a Member in such a situation takes part
in a debate on the rental market, say, the position should be
The Committee recommends:
We therefore recommend that the description
of these agreements in The Guide to the Rules be changed
to "agreements for the provision of services".
We have agreed to the following interim guidance,
which we recommend to the House:
A commitment is "frequent" or
"regular" if a Member carries out paid work for an employer
or client, or using the services of an agency, on three or more
occasions within a calendar year.
We ... recommend that no deposited agreement should
be required in any case where in the course of a calendar year
total remuneration received from an employer or client, or through
an agency, amounts to less than the threshold for the registration
of a tangible gift under category 5
I support these recommendations.
It is right that those providing "services in their capacity
as a Member"say as an adviser on Parliamentary affairsshould
deposit an employment agreement, although I welcome the sensible
stipulation that this should not be needed when payment for such
services falls below the threshold at which a gift would become
However, I am extremely concerned by one aspect of
the development of the rules relating to employment agreements,
and that is the approach to journalism.
Any remunerated employment is rightly caught by Category
2 of the categories of interest and should be declared. It is
also the case that "journalists or broadcasting which
relates to parliamentary or public affairs, if undertaken by a
Member, is held to arise directly from membership of the House".
However, it is now the case that the rules relating
to the provision of services as a Member seem to be being extended
in a much more detailed and onerous way both to journalism and
to speaking engagements.
The original Select Committee on Standards in Public
Life made clear that employment agreements should be put in writing
"principally" where a Member is offering "advice
about Parliamentary matters". They went on to add though
that "it should also include frequent, as opposed to merely
occasional, commitments outside Parliament which arise directly
from Membership of the House. For example, a regular, paid newspaper
column or television programme would have to be the subject of
a written agreement, but ad hoc current affairs or news interviews
or intermittent panel appearances would not."
Clearly this is a difficult area. Journalistic employment
is hardly by its very nature secretive, yet can involve large
sums of money. The House should have the change to discuss this
matter in greater detail.
The Advocacy Rules (Miscellaneous Amendments)
We recommend that the following words be added
to paragraph 62 of The Guide to the Rules:
Membership of other elected assemblies:
Membership of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for
Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the European Parliament
and local authorities in the United Kingdom shall not be taken
into account when applying the advocacy rule.
We recommend that the word "registrable"
be inserted before the word "client" in line 4 of paragraph
At paragraph 58 of the guidance, we recommend
that the third item in the note on initiating a parliamentary
proceeding be amended to read "tabling and asking a
Parliamentary Question, including any supplementary question to
such a Question", and that the second item in
the note on participation in debate be amended to read "making
an intervention in a debate, a statement or other proceeding,
or asking a supplementary question to a Question asked by another
42. It was never intended that the advocacy
rule should restrict the ability of Ministers to advance the collective
policy of the Government to which they belong by dealing with
Government business on the floor of the House or in its committees.
For the avoidance of doubt we recommend that the following
sub-paragraph should be added to paragraph 62 of The Guide
to the Rules:
"( ) Ministers: The restrictions
imposed by the advocacy rule do not apply to Ministers when acting
in the House as Ministers."
I have little comment on the miscellaneous amendments
to the Advocacy rule proposed. However, it seems to me that the
proposal that there should be an addition to the Guide to the
Rules to make it clear that "The restrictions imposed by
the advocacy rule do not apply to Ministers when acting in the
House as Ministers" is an example of the dangers we run when
we attempt to draw up rules which ensure not that Members have
properly, but that there cannot be the slightest doubt in any
individual's mind (however misguided that person), that they have
so behaved. It seems ridiculous that such a stipulation is necessary,
and once again I invite the Committee to consider the extent to
which the rules should be limited to preventing real abuse, rather
than any possibility of the remotest appearances of such abuse.
Overseas Visits and the Advocacy Rule
From this viewpoint, I welcome those changes to the
Code of Conduct and the Guide which provide clarification or justifiable
relaxation of the restrictions on Members, such as the Committee's
proposal to reduce the restrictions on overseas visits, as suggested
by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The rules on such
visits should parallel those for other visits, rather than being
8 February 2001
52 CJ 1994-95, p. 554. Back