Select Committee on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Annual Report 2003-04


Appendix 3: Avoidance of conflict of interest: Guidance for chairmen and members of select committees

Guidance approved by the Committee on Standards and Privileges[37]

Introduction

1.  On 30 October 2003, when deciding that the chairmen of certain select committees should be paid from the start of the 2003-04 Parliamentary Session, the House approved the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (HC 1150). In that report, made in the context of a recommendation from the Review Body on Senior Salaries that certain select committee chairmen should receive an extra payment of £12,500 per annum, the Committee considered whether such a decision should be accompanied by restrictions on the outside interests they might hold. The Committee saw no reason why it should but recognised that there would be certain such activities for which it would no longer be appropriate that the chairmen in question should be paid.

2.  The House endorsed two principles set out in that report relating to circumstances in which it would not be right for those chairmen to accept payments for outside activities arising primarily as a result of their chairmanship. In its report, the Committee undertook to offer guidance on the practical application of those principles, and on related matters.

3.  This note, which has been prepared in response to that undertaking, has been approved by the Committee, following advice from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It covers both the question of declaration of interests by select committee chairmen and the principles to be observed by chairmen when considering accepting payment for activities outside the House.

Declaration of interests in select committees

4.  Present practice relating to declarations of interest in select committees, withdrawal from committee proceedings and procedures prior to the election of a chairman was approved by the House on 13 July 1992. It is based on a report by the then Select Committee on Members' Interests on the interests of Chairmen and Members of Select Committees (First Report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests, Session 1990-91 (HC 108)). The recommendations on procedures prior to the election of a chairman apply to all select committees except those of a "wholly procedural nature".

5.  The intention of the House was to ensure that, when the members of a select committee choose their chairman, they do so knowing his or her relevant interests. The presumption is that they will select a member whose effectiveness in that role will not be compromised by his or her outside interests.

6.  The most common situation in which a committee needs to choose a chairman is when it first meets. Before then, or at that meeting, all members are required to declare their interests. They then proceed to choose a chairman. The fact that members have declared their interests is recorded in the Committee's Minutes of Proceedings. Besides registrable interests, members declare relevant non-registrable interests, pecuniary and non-pecuniary. If it is necessary to choose a new chairman at any other time, the procedures used ensure that any prospective chairman's relevant interests are known to the committee.

7.  Since 2001, details of individual members' declarations have also been published in full as an appendix to the relevant day's proceedings in the Committee's Minutes of Proceedings for the Session. In future, the Committee will also publish that day's Minutes of Proceedings separately, in the interests of transparency, as soon as practicable after the chairman has been chosen, and make them accessible through its website.

8.  Given the broad scope of many departments' responsibilities, a chairman may occasionally find that he or she has a conflicting interest in relation to a specific inquiry. In such circumstances, if the difficulty cannot otherwise be resolved, the chairman stands aside from the inquiry.

9.  If a chairman (or candidate for chairman) of a particular select committee has any questions about the application of this approach to his or her own circumstances, he or she should seek advice either through the Clerk of the committee in question or direct from the Registrar of Members' Interests. If necessary, the Registrar will consult the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards about any particularly difficult or complex circumstances.

10.  Declarations of interests ahead of the election of a chairman are in addition to, and not a substitute for, the requirement to declare at the appropriate times pecuniary (and, on occasion, non-pecuniary) interests that are relevant to specific inquiries and committee decisions. Such declarations are also formally recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings and, where appropriate, in the oral evidence. As with Chairmen's interests, the advice of the Registrar, and the Commissioner if necessary, is always available to Members on these matters.

Implications of payment for select committee chairmen

11.  The House accepted that the introduction of payment of select committee chairmen from public funds should not of itself lead to restrictions on chairmen's outside interests over and above those which already apply to all Members. However, it also accepted that limitations are appropriate on the circumstances in which chairmen should accept payment for an outside activity arising primarily from the chairmanship. The purpose of these limitations is to avoid any question of, or appearance of, any double payment—from both a chairman's salary and an outside interest. Nor should chairmen paid from public funds gain private benefit from work done, in whole or in part, with any assistance from public resources.

12.  Limitations are only intended to apply where the outside activity in question arises primarily from the committee chairmanship. A pre-existing activity is in principle unlikely to fall within their scope, unless taken on in the expectation of assuming the chairmanship, or materially extended in scale thereafter. The limitations are not intended to catch anything done primarily in a personal or a constituency capacity, or where the committee chairmanship is incidental.

13.  Furthermore, given that Members chosen as Select Committee chairmen tend to have been in the House for some time, there will undoubtedly be occasions when it is for this reason (rather than primarily because of their chairmanship) that they are invited, for example, to appear on current affairs programmes. Provided that the rules which apply to all Members on the registration of income from media appearances are observed, they would not be expected in these circumstances to decline payment on account of their chairmanship.

14.  The decision of the House means that it will not be appropriate for a chairman to accept payment (as distinct from reimbursement of expenses incurred) in respect of anything such as a talk, address, interview, article, book review, contribution to a book, or media appearance, etc, where the relevant invitation has been extended to the Member in his or her capacity as chairman of the select committee on X, or primarily because he or she is chairman of a select committee falling within the scope of the decision of the House of 30 October 2003. It will also not be appropriate for a chairman to accept payment for any outside activity in the preparation of which he or she has received substantial help from sources directly funded from the public purse, such as the Clerk or other staff of the Committee.

15.  The key question a chairman should ask when weighing up whether payment is acceptable is "Had I not been chairman of the select committee on X, is it significantly less likely that I personally would have been asked to undertake this activity?" In formulating his or her response, a chairman is welcome to seek advice from the Registrar of Members' Interests (Ms Alda Barry, extension 3277), who will if necessary consult the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

16.  The Committee on Standards and Privileges recognised that introducing the new restrictions in the course of a Parliament might cause difficulties for some chairmen. It therefore said that, as a transitional arrangement for the remainder of this Parliament, existing chairmen should have the option of electing either to receive payment from public funds, and accepting the restrictions set out above, or declining to receive payment, in which case their existing freedoms will remain unchanged. A chairman contemplating taking advantage of this transitional arrangement is also welcome to seek advice from the Registrar.

Conclusion

17.  The Committee on Standards and Privileges hopes that this advice will in particular be helpful to chairmen as they consider the implications of the House's decisions on the payment of select committee chairmen. The Committee intends to keep the operation of this guidance under review in the light of experience, drawing on the advice of the Registrar of Members' Interests and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as appropriate.

November 2003  Sir Philip Mawer


37   Seventh Report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2002-03, HC 1292  Back


 
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