Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Annex A


Report on Rt Hon Robert Sheldon

It is, of course, a matter of fine judgement as to whether it is necessary to declare every interest in the course of debate and if the Register becomes more detailed and perhaps less relevant to its original purpose, those judgements will become more difficult.

My fears on this point are reinforced by the finding against Mr Robert Sheldon. In cases as general as this, the pecuniary interest could not reasonably be thought to influence a Member's speech in any improper way. Declaration should surely be limited to interests which are specifically rather than generally relevant to the debate. MPs may be influenced in debate by many interests which are not registrable; are we to say that those with children should not bring their experience to bear in debates on childcare? The purpose of the rules is to prevent Parliament being misused for particular interests, and they should be drawn widely enough to prevent this, but not so widely as to potentially hinder a Member's performance of their general Parliamentary rule and duties.

Reports on Rt Hon John Major, Stephen Timms and Bowen Wells

Occasionally, even where no breach of the rules has been found the Committee's acceptance of the Commissioner's reports and judgements have nevertheless led to implied criticism of Members and to recommendations that are more stringent than the rules on which they are based. The first example is the complaint against Mr Bowen Wells (2nd Report Session 1999-2000) in which it is remarked:

    "Mr Wells would, however, have been wise ... to declare the possible connection of BHI, through the principal subsidiary the Belize Bank, with the banana industry"

In the report it is conceded that the interest of BHI in that the banana industry was indirect. Mr Wells's evidence makes it clear that the situation of the banana industry was never considered by the BHI board itself, and that any links with the banana industry would have been through its subsidiary.

In the complaint against Mr Stephen Timms (6th Report of 1999/2000), the finding being:

    "Though, in hindsight, it might have been prudent for Mr Timms to have declared his registered connection with Ovum Ltd when moving the amendments, I do not uphold Mr Butler's complaint that he breached the rules by not doing so."

In the report on the Rt Hon John Major (10th Report of 1999/2000), there was no finding of a breach because Mr Major had sought and followed the guidance of the authorities. Nevertheless it was indicated that a more stringent approach should have been adopted. I regard that view as questionable. However it should surely be beyond question that Members should not be retrospectively rebuked while following the official guidance.

Report on Rt Hon William Hague

In the Committee's report on William Hague (4th Report of 1999/2000), the Commissioner found that Mr Hague's use of a gymnasium at Lord Archer's invitation was a registrable benefit which might "reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes in Parliament, or actions taken in his or her capacity as a Member of Parliament."

Given that Lord Archer was a member of the same political party as Mr Hague, has already been ennobled and that any benefit Mr Hague could confer on Lord Archer would arise from his position as Leader of the Conservative Party, rather than as a Member of Parliament, I do not agree that it is reasonable to could come to such a conclusion.

8 February 2001

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