Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Registration of Members' Financial Interests

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:53 pm on 7th February 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee 7:53 pm, 7th February 2011

I beg to move,

That-

(1) this House agrees with the recommendations in the Tenth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, on Registration of income from employment (HC 749); and

(2) accordingly the resolution of the House of 30 April 2009 relating to the Registration of Members' Financial Interests be amended, by leaving out paragraph (2) and inserting:-

"(2) That such a payment shall be registered

(a) where its value exceeds one tenth of 1 per cent. of the current

Parliamentary salary; or

(b) where the total value of payments from the same person, organisation or company in a calendar year exceeds 1 per cent. of the current Parliamentary salary."

Hon. Members will recall that the Leader of the House is one of my predecessors as Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee. I know that he will be as pleased as I am that time has been found to take forward two sets of proposals in which he played an important part in a former life, particularly as one of them was agreed in the 2008-09 Session.

The more recent of the two reports seeks to make a simple but welcome change to the rule requiring Members to register each payment they receive for work carried out outside the House. As we note in the report, it might not have been the intention of the House when it agreed the original resolution in April 2009 to require Members to register bottles of wine or bunches of flowers, but that has been the effect. The problem is that when a Member receives a bottle of wine, a bunch of flowers or maybe even a ballpoint pen as a thank you for giving a speech or hosting an event, it might be intended as a gift, but it has the characteristics of a payment. A gift is given in its own right, without the expectation of anything in return. Where something is given in return for a service rendered, however, it is a payment, and therein lies the difficulty. As we state in our report, the Committee considered whether it might be possible to draw a line between the circumstances in which the bottle of wine or bunch of flowers is clearly a gift, and those in which it is clearly a payment. We concluded that, wherever such a line is drawn, the distinction is unlikely to be sufficiently clear and so the risk that Members would unintentionally fall foul of the rule would remain.

The Committee therefore favours a threshold, but to preserve confidence in the register we propose that it should be set at quite a low level. The level we propose is 0.1% of a Member's salary for individual payments, which is £66, and 1% of a Member's salary for the cumulative total of payments from the same source in the same year, which is £660, which we think is proportionate. By linking it to Members' pay, the House will ensure that we do not have to keep resetting it.

I want to emphasise that we do not take issue with the intention behind the resolution of April 2009, which was that the public should be able to know how much MPs are paid for other employment and who pays them. We simply want to make the rules more workable and to catch only the sorts of payments that are relevant to the central purpose of the register, which is to show whether a Member has received a material benefit that might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions, speeches or votes.

There are, of course, other recommendations that we could have made, two of which are particularly worth mentioning. The first is the requirement to register the hours worked. I know that that requirement has not been universally popular in the House, but any proposal to amend it would require proper consideration. I will of course listen to any comments made in today's debate and discuss them with my colleagues in the Committee. The second requirement, which is mentioned in the report, relates to the threshold that applies for gifts. The threshold is currently 1% of the salary, or £660, and was set in 2001. I think that the Committee needs to consider whether that remains the right level and intend to invite it to do so later in the Session.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I should declare an interest, as I speak quite a lot for colleagues, although so far I have never been given anything-I am not sure what to make of that. The right hon. Gentleman is not only Chair of the Committee, but a long-standing member of it, so he has considerable experience of these matters. On a serious point, does he not agree that if we all lose sight of common sense when it comes to declaring interests, we really will run out of road. We really must return to some form of understanding that, although codification of these matters is now deemed necessary, because of events that we all deeply regret, it does nothing for the standards of this House or for what it might think of itself if we have to codify the value of a gift given to a Member who makes a speech on behalf of a colleague.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I will not say whether I agree or disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I have said that I will bring all points made in the debate to the Committee's attention, and we will decide on that basis whether to look into these matters.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Just before the right hon. Gentleman continues, I note that he has referred to matters that are in motion 3. I make no complaint about that, but it leads me to think that, for the purposes of his speech, he is conflating the two separate motions. As I say, I make no complaint about that. No request was made that the motions be taken together, but if it is for the convenience of the House, the Chair is very happy that they be taken together. [Hon. Members: "Aye."] I get the impression that that is the position. I am grateful. So we shall also consider the following:

That-

(1) this House agrees with the recommendations in the Eighth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges of Session 2008-09, on All-Party Groups (HC 920); and

(2) accordingly the resolution of the House of 17 December 1985, as amended on 10 March 1989 and 29 July 1998, be further amended by leaving out paragraph 3 and inserting:-

"3. Groups whose membership:

• is open to all Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, and

• includes at least 20 Members (each of whom must be a Member of the House of Commons or House of Lords), comprising: at least 10 Members who are from the same political party as the Government, and at least 10 who are not from the Government's party (of whom at least six must be from the main opposition party), and

• includes at least one officer who is a Member of the House of Commons be required to register the following information on the Register of All-Party Groups:

(a) The full title of the group. If persons other than Members of the Commons or Lords are allowed full membership (i.e. voting rights) the term 'Associate Parliamentary Group' must be included in the group's title. If such persons are not allowed full membership the term 'All-Party Parliamentary Group' must be included instead. The rest of the group's title should simply reflect the group's subject so that the latter is obvious from its title alone.

(b) A brief summary of the group's main purpose.

(c) The names of the group's officers. At least one officer must be an MP; each of the other officers must be a Member of the House of Commons or House of Lords.

(d) The names of exactly 20 qualifying Members (each of whom must be a Member of the House of Commons or Lords), comprising: 10 Members who are from the same political party as the Government, and 10 who are not from the Government's party (of which at least six must be from the main opposition party).

(e) The contact details of the group's registered contact, who must be both an officer of the group and a Member of the House of Commons, and is the person ultimately responsible for the group's compliance with the rules of the House.

(f) Any relevant gainful occupation of staff to the group who hold a parliamentary pass (relevant gainful occupation means any occupation that is advantaged by the privileged access afforded by the pass).

(g) The source and extent of any financial benefit (e.g. donations) and the source and nature of any non-financial material benefit (e.g. provision of goods or services) received by the group from a single source outside Parliament, if the value of the benefit equals or exceeds the financial threshold for registration (currently £1,500) in a calendar year. Once the group has made that initial registration, any further donation received from the same source in the same calendar year should be registered if its value exceeds £500.

(h) The website address of any organisation registered as the group's secretariat.

(i) If a consultancy is registered as the group's secretariat, the names and website of the consultancy plus the name of any client of theirs who is specifically paying the consultancy to act as the secretariat must also be registered. The consultancy must either publish on its website its full client list or agree to provide such a list on request, otherwise it is not allowed to act as the group's secretariat.

(ii) If a charity or not-for-profit organisation is registered as the group's secretariat, the former's name and website must also be registered. The charity or not-for-profit organisation must agree to make available on request a list citing any commercial company which has donated either as a single sum or cumulatively more than £5,000 in the course of the 12 months prior to the month in which the request is made, otherwise it is not allowed to act as the group's secretariat.

(i) The address of the group's website, if it has its own website.

(j) The date of the group's inaugural election of officers and of any Annual General Meeting held thereafter.

(k) Affiliation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, if the group is affiliated to either or both."

I call Mr Kevin Barron, dealing with the two motions.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I now turn to the report on all-party groups, published in July 2009. The proposals set out in the report are a package, most of them originally recommended by the previous Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, to whom I pay tribute. In summary, the proposed changes will require each group to register the website address of any organisation acting as its secretariat, where the secretarial assistance is more than £1,500 a year; in the case of a charity providing such support, require the charity to make available on request a list of commercial donors who have donated more than £5,000 to it in the previous 12 months; in the case of a consultancy providing such support, require the consultancy to publish on its website its full client list or provide such a list on request; require groups to register their website address; require groups to include on their website details of their sponsors and providers of secretarial services; and require each group to nominate an MP, who must also be an officer of the group, to act as the main point of contact for the group and also as the person who is ultimately responsible for ensuring its compliance with the rules.

In my view, those are sensible tidying-up changes that will increase public confidence in the Register of All-party Groups. The Committee's report also proposes tightening the rules for the registration of all-party groups by aligning them with those for inclusion on the separate approved list maintained by the Commissioner's office. This means that groups will no longer qualify for inclusion on the register unless they comply with the more extensive requirements of the approved list, such as the need to provide the names of 20 qualifying Members.

Taken as a whole, the changes should improve the scheme's operations, providing clearer rules for those running the groups and those compiling the register, and greater transparency and ease of use for those who wish to consult the register.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am just interested in knowing the right hon. Gentleman's general approach. Does he not realise that we had the least corrupt system of any Parliament, perhaps in the world? The more rules and regulations we bring in, the more the registry office will be snowed under. The absurd rule that it has to register every payment is, frankly, ridiculous; it cannot cope at present. The more rules we have, the more people will break them and the more corruption will be driven underground. We should have a general approach, because the public want to know broadly what we earn when that might affect our behaviour-in other words, a fairly large sum. That is where we should be-with as deregulatory an approach as possible.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

As I said earlier, I shall invite the Committee to look into those matters to see whether any changes ought to be made.

I just spoke about the Committee report of July 2009 on making all-party groups more transparent, so that we know exactly who runs those organisations and what moneys go into them. That seems to be an obvious thing for us to do. The report has been waiting for our attention since July 2009, and I hope that the House will commend both reports, so that they can go ahead and make us better at what we do. We might want to look at the issues that were raised in the two interventions, and if we do, we will ask the House and individual Members for their view. On that basis, I commend the reports to the House.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 8:03 pm, 7th February 2011

I congratulate Mr Barron on securing this debate about two modest but important improvements to the rules on the registration of Members' financial interests and on the registration of all-party groups. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, as the new rules relating to all-party groups were produced under his chairmanship of the Standards and Privileges Committee back in July 2009.

The Committee's proposal to reintroduce a sensible de minimis threshold for the registration of income from employment will remedy a problem that arose with the rule changes that the House agreed to on 30 April 2009. Under those new rules, Members are required to register every single payment they receive for remunerated employment of any kind, however small its value. The problem is that, for the House's purposes, "remunerated employment" means any benefit of any kind which a Member might receive in exchange for providing a service.

The test is not whether there is a formal employment relationship in law, or whether there is some kind of contractual obligation on either side, but whether the Member would have received the benefit if he or she had not provided some kind of service. This includes any small gift to a Member who addresses a school assembly, opens a village fete or makes, as Nicholas Soames said, a speech at a constituency function. I am very sad to hear that he has never received any sort of thank you-not even a meal, from the sound of it. I find it extraordinary that he should go so unrewarded for his labours, but nevertheless any gift-

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Government Whip

A gift would be cheaper!

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that "a gift would be cheaper" than providing a meal. I cannot believe that in the case of the hon. Member for Mid Sussex.

Anyway, any small gift received under those circumstances must be registered, and that has led to a large number of registrations of things that most of us would regard as gifts-tokens of thanks for some small service. For example, my hon. Friend Jo Swinson has been commendably thorough in her registrations, which include a Scottish Bible Society cloth bag worth £2.95, some branded pens and pencils from a local recycling company worth £5 and a Girl-Guiding centenary pencil to the value of 35p. No one will honestly feel that her judgment has been clouded by the generosity of those gifts, but nevertheless she has complied with the strict requirements that the House places on us all.

My examples would not be complete if I did not mention that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has registered a gift of a pair of hand-knitted, yellow socks, which I am very sad to see he is not wearing today. He was given them when he opened a wool shop in his constituency, and I understand that the owners even went to the trouble of contacting his office to establish his shoe size.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I am quite awed by the thoroughness of many right hon. and hon. Members, but will the hon. Gentleman help me? I do not drink wine-I tried it once and did not much care for it-but when I addressed The Spectator dinner just before Christmas the organisers sent me half a dozen bottles of wine. I have not the faintest idea how much they are worth, so how does one find the price if not of a Scottish Bible Society bio-recyclable-degradable bag, then of things like a bottle of wine? Can the hon. Gentleman give some advice or assistance to those of us who are innocents in the area?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The rather straightforward and dull response to the hon. Gentleman is, consult the registrar if in doubt. The registrar has an omniscience that transcends any normal Member, in that they know the value of all things. They will I am sure be able to find out the value of that wine gift, which I suspect, being from The Spectator, is a rather fine half case of wine. I am sure he fully deserved to be paid in such kind.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

The hon. Gentleman is himself beginning to stray-I am sure without realising it-into an area where common sense has completely departed. Surely it is important that common sense is exercised in all such matters, but it is absolutely impossible to codify the situation without it looking completely ridiculous.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It is because there is a danger of the situation looking completely ridiculous that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley and his Committee have come up with the proposed changes. There clearly is a gradation. If Stephen Pound were, in response to his speaking at an event for The Spectator, given several cases of Chateau de Quem, it might well be considered that that would have an effect on his judgment, whether he consumed them or not-but a half bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale might not be considered to have the same effect.

There is a need for common sense. That is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman has come forward with the proposal for a sensible de minimis requirement worth about the £65 mark. Most people can judge whether what they have received is likely to be in that region. Judging from my experience, I am very rarely given a token that comes to anything like that value. I think that if I were given something of more than that value, it would suggest that I was involved in paid employment of some kind-doing it for some remuneration-and that it should be declared. One must use a level of common sense.

I do not want this debate to become merely an insight into the life of a constituency MP. The purpose of the register is to provide information about any material benefit that a Member receives and which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her conduct in the House. The trivial nature of these registrations and the effort and expense involved in registering them does nothing, I would suggest, to contribute to the purpose of the register. I welcome the Committee's proposal to introduce a sensible de minimis threshold of 0.1% of a Member's salary, which currently works out at about £65. That is a sensible compromise between ensuring clarity and accountability while not over-encumbering the register with things that are frankly of little or no concern to any reasonable member of the public.

Turning to the rules on all-party groups, this motion implements recommendations made by the Committee in July 2009. I will not repeat the details of the rule changes, which the right hon. Member for Rother Valley has already outlined to the House. The Government welcome these proposed changes. The House will be aware of the valuable work that is done by all-party groups on a vast range of issues-for example, the armed forces, the BBC, beer and cider, clean water, underground space and shipbuilding. There can scarcely be a country in the world, nor-as Sir Alan Haselhurst told a debate in Westminster Hall last week-a condition of the human body that is not covered by an all-party group. As the House will be aware, some groups are campaigning bodies, some are concerned with building relationships with other countries, and some are essentially social groups. The examples that I have here suggest that the parliamentary choir and the rugby club might fall into the latter group, although I have my doubts as to whether they do not also, to an extent, have a campaigning purpose.

I would not wish for one moment to frustrate the work of these groups or to place unnecessary obstacles in their way. However, it is important for the House to have robust registration requirements in place in order to protect its reputation, the reputations of hon. Members, and those of the groups themselves.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Although the recommendations are entirely worthy and should be supported, the one issue that remains-Mr Barron may be able to reflect on it when he winds up-is that groups often appear to be overlapping or duplicating, and we are always spawning more groups than we can manage properly to attend or service. Might it be possible, informally if not formally, for the registrar to ensure, when somebody seeks to register a group, that the activity is not already covered somewhere else, so that we do not end up duplicating activities?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. He is absolutely right to say that there is a degree of overlap and proliferation among all-party groups. It would certainly be helpful if the registrar were able to give guidance on where there is any likely overlap. I would not be happy for the registrar to be in a position to veto the formation of a new all-party group that might have a different view or complexion as regards a particular matter, but knowing that somebody already deals with a specific subject might be helpful at an early stage in a group's formation in order to prevent duplication.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

I declare an interest in that I am chairman of the all-party group on Georgia, having been asked to take it over from my good friend Bruce George, the former right hon. Member for Walsall. Apart from that, I am not really active in any of these groups. Several colleagues are, however, and they have to overlap; otherwise, the group dies because if it does not have its officers it ceases to exist. Yet they are pilloried in the press as junketeers and all the rest of it. Is there any mechanism that allows them to send a statement to these reptiles that in fact an all-party group for no-man's land somewhere can be of importance-that these groups can help our ambassadors, chambers of commerce and investment? How do we push back this endless sneering that any involvement with any country outside Britain is something that no right hon. or hon. Member should take part in?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. All-party groups that deal with overseas countries are often of huge value in increasing understanding and maintaining contacts with parliamentarians in those countries and, indeed, their civil societies. He mentioned that Members are often members of several different groups. That, to me, is not duplication. It is not an obstacle; it is simply showing a breadth of interest. My right hon. Friend Simon Hughes was referring to the situation where more than one all-party group has an overlapping interest, which is not quite the same thing.

All-party groups, particularly some of the overseas groups, are of value. But-and there is a but-there is a need for transparency in the way that they operate and the degree to which they may or may not provide benefit to Members. First, many, but by no means all, groups provide a forum for commercial interests and campaign groups to lobby hon. Members. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that in a free society, and lobbying is one of the routes by which hon. Members can come to a better understanding of some of the policy issues that confront us in this House. However, the public rightly expect to know who is lobbying whom, and on whose behalf and with what outcome. That is the crucial aspect. That is why the Government are working towards increasing transparency and openness in the activity of lobbyists by introducing a statutory register. These proposals also contribute to that objective.

Secondly, as Mr MacShane said, Members receive hospitality, including in some cases overseas travel, through some of the groups. Of course, Members are still under a duty to register any registrable interest personally, but there is a legitimate public interest in the publication of full details about the groups under whose auspices such benefits may be received.

Finally, although all-party groups are independent of the House, they carry something of its brand. They can use the word "parliamentary" in their titles, and they have access to the facilities of the House. I am sure that in the public mind, the distinction between an all-party group and a Committee of this House is unclear, at best. The House therefore has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the groups observe the highest standards of transparency.

I should like finally to touch on an issue of drafting. The motion refers to Members who are from the same political party as the Government and those who are not from the Government's party-singular. I have been advised by the Clerks that this is already being interpreted in motions relating to all-party groups, as it is in other resolutions of the House, as meaning all those parties making up the Government in the situation of a coalition. This is the advice that has been given to Members since the start of the Parliament by those operating the system, and it is working without any problem to date. While it would have been possible to amend the motion so that it reflected more accurately the current position of the coalition Government, it would have put it at odds with other resolutions in use around the House. For that reason, the motion is not being amended and is being put to the House in a form consistent with other resolutions of the House.

On behalf of the Government, I thank the right hon. Member for Rother Valley and other members of the Standards and Privileges Committee for their work. I am pleased to support the motions and commend them to the House.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 8:18 pm, 7th February 2011

I begin by thanking members of the Standards and Privileges Committee, both past and present, for the work they have done to bring these two motions before the House. We have heard from Members about the need for common sense in our procedures. The motions are an attempt to introduce some consistency and common sense into our registration procedures. It is very easy for the House to set out general principles, but it is often quite tricky to bring forward the motions that put those principles into practice. In this case, the Committee has done a good job, and I support the proposals.

One of the motions deals with the registration of all-party groups. I must declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on stroke and as secretary of the parliamentary friends of CAFOD-the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development-group.

It is interesting to look back on how the Committee's consideration of these matters arose. Originally, there was a report on lobbying and all-party groups by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The Committee rightly looked at his recommendations to work out how they could be put into practice and which it was most sensible to put into practice. Having looked back at the original suggestions, I am bound to say that some of them were unworkable.

The Committee has attempted to make the way in which assistance to groups is registered transparent and to prevent the register from increasing to such a volume that it is unusable or that it requires corrections every other day. Hence, it suggests that we stick to the current principle that benefits worth less than £1,500 in a calendar year are not registrable. The onus is put on consultancies that work with all-party groups to be transparent about their clients, either through a published list on their website or by making such a list available to people who ask for it. It also places requirements on charities.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

Perhaps this is a question that I should have asked the Deputy Leader of the House. How does the hon. Lady envisage the £1,500 limit working for people who give pro bono advice to parliamentary groups? Will they have to compute a value for that advice, or will it be taken on face value that it is not charged and therefore is not declarable?

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question. It is quite easy to put a value on secretarial support and staff time. Pro bono advice is a more difficult area, and I cannot give him an answer on that off the top of my head. He is right to raise it, and it needs to be discussed, perhaps by the Standards and Privileges Committee and the Registrar of Members' Interests.

I am grateful to the Committee for considering how charities should operate in this regard, and for making it clear that it does not want to put an insupportable burden on charities that work with all-party parliamentary groups. The Committee does ask charities to make available lists of commercial companies that have donated more than £5,000. That is a sensible proposal.

As we have heard, there are proposals on making websites available. There are also recommendations to align the rules relating to the Register of All-party Groups with the rules relating to the approved list, so that only groups that meet the criteria for inclusion on the approved list should be permitted to register. The Opposition believe that those suggestions are sensible and proportionate. They meet the requirement of transparency, while not imposing unnecessary burdens, particularly on charities.

The House tried in 2009 to deal with the registration of income from employment, when it decided that all income from other employment should be registered, whether or not it exceeded 1% of the parliamentary salary in any year. The then Standards and Privileges Committee said that the rule would probably have to be reviewed in this Parliament. In particular, it suggested that there be consideration of a de minimis rule. Members who were in the House at the time will remember that there was a debate on whether, for instance, a bottle of wine given to someone after a speaking engagement would become registrable as remuneration for employment. The then Chair of the Committee thought that it would, and the Minister replying thought that it would be counted as a gift or hospitality and therefore would be subject to the de minimis rule for gifts. That difference was not over the intention of the rule, but about how it would be interpreted in practice.

It is clear that the advice given to Members has led to the registration of things such as pots of honey and bunches of flowers. I do not believe that such things would be regarded by any of our constituents as remuneration for employment. Frankly, if anyone is working for a pot of honey, I dread to think how many employment laws are being broken in the process. I will not even try to enumerate them, because it is so long since I practised law.

I also think that the registration of such things is perceived as an insult to those who gave them, who simply thought that they were making a generous gesture or rewarding hospitality; they did not in any sense think that they were rewarding a Member of Parliament. It has been common for my constituents to load me with flowers-I am sure that other hon. Members are given flowers wherever they go. My constituents do not believe that they are paying my wages in doing so. They believe that they are making a kind and thoughtful gesture. That is how it should be dealt with.

The Committee has recommended that registration should apply only to payments of more than 0.1% of the parliamentary salary and of more than 1% of the parliamentary salary for multiple payments from a single source. There are Members who think that the registration threshold is still too low. I suggest that we will have to consider that in the future. I understand why the Committee made this recommendation.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection

I am grateful to the hon. Lady; she is being very generous in giving way, and I do not want to prolong this debate. I have a feeling that the threshold may be too low, particularly as parliamentary salaries are likely to be frozen or have very small increases in the coming years, whereas the inflation on gifts will be 4% or 5%. The fiscal drag of bringing registration into the system will become greater and greater. If we are not careful, it will lead to the situation that she described of the register becoming too full to be used.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.

I understand why the Committee made these recommendations: they are simple, easy to operate and do not need constant updating. I suggest that the House needs to let the rules bed in and then see how they are working. We have to get to a situation where what we register is what can reasonably be thought to influence hon. Members. I argue strongly that if anyone in this House can be influenced by the gift of a pencil, a pot of honey or a bag, they probably should not be here. I do not think that any of our constituents believes that we can be influenced by such things. We can look again at the operation of the rules over time, but for the moment, they are the sensible way forward. I thank the Committee for its work and I commend the motions to the House.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow 8:27 pm, 7th February 2011

The report by the Standards and Privileges Committee on all-party parliamentary groups makes three reasonable suggestions that I support. First, a list of commercial companies that donate more than £5,000 to an APPG should be available on request. However, I see the case for a lower threshold-possibly £500-to ensure that APPGs are as transparent as possible. Secondly, a charity that supports an APPG should have its website listed on the Register of All-party Groups so that people can access relevant information. Thirdly, publications by APPGs should carry the names of their authors and the organisations that provide secretariat services to the group, plus the names of any relevant client or sponsor. Parliament should be transparent and I believe that these reforms will help us to move in that direction. However, I am concerned about which organisations can become an APPG's secretariat and the parliamentary access that it affords.

Last week at business questions, I asked the Leader of the House for an urgent statement on iEngage, an extremist group that seeks to influence Government and discredit moderate Muslims. It has been appointed secretariat to the new APPG for Islamophobia. It defends mosques that host terrorist preachers, schools that teach anti-Semitism and homophobia, individuals such as Daud Abdullah who have pressed for terrorist attacks on the British Navy, and the invitation of hate preachers to Britain. When those revelations emerged, the elected chair of the APPG, my hon. Friend Kris Hopkins, and the vice-chair Lord Janner, stood down in protest.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I am sorry to trouble my hon. Friend, but perhaps I can give him notice that I will make a passing comment on that matter if you call me to speak later in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. There may be more than one side to this.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

I look forward to it, and I had a feeling that that was the case from the e-mail that my hon. Friend sent me. Because he is counter-intuitive on so many issues, I urge him to be counter-intuitive on this one and not to go along with the tide of taking the soft way on Islamism.

I received a letter from the Serjeant at Arms today informing me that iEngage has not yet been issued with a parliamentary pass. I am grateful to her and her office for their prompt and professional response on the matter, but at the same time, there is still some confusion in the House records, as the register of APPGs on the parliamentary website on Friday 4 February, last week-I have it here-was still indicating that iEngage's head of research, Shenaz Bunglawala, had been granted a Commons pass in her capacity as the secretariat to the all-party group on Islamophobia.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

To follow up on what Sir Peter Bottomley said, I am sure that Robert Halfon has done his research and understands that I remain an officer of that group. I will therefore seek to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, because it is important that the latter's comments, which are his opinion, are not necessarily regarded as factually and objectively accurate. I am very happy to engage in the debate, but there are certainly at least two sides to the story, if not more.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

My later remarks will show that I am not just giving an opinion, I am giving hard facts. I urge my right hon. Friend, who is a progressive individual, to look at the organisation in question properly and support progressive Islamic groups that do not hold the views that iEngage does. We should judge organisations by the company they keep. Just as he would condemn somebody who spent their time supporting fascism, even if they did not commit fascist acts, he should not support Islamist groups that support extremism.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

I am listening with great interest and, I have to say, with very little knowledge of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes. The subject to which he is speaking seems so important that I ask him whether it would not be more appropriately addressed in a full and separate debate of the House rather than in the context of the motions before us.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

I did ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for a debate and a statement last week, and he suggested that I bring the matter up in this debate. As this matter is about the secretariat of an APPG, I think the current debate is the right forum for bringing it up.

The online records on the parliamentary website state that iEngage

"acts as the group's secretariat", a role that involves taking minutes of its meetings and heavily influencing its reports and speaker programme. The Serjeant at Arms has clarified to me in absolute terms that no pass has been issued. In an e-mail to me a few hours ago, she stated:

"We have spoken to the ex-Chairman and ex-Deputy Chairman of the APPG. It was iENGAGE who claimed they had a Parliamentary pass, but there is no evidence whatsoever to support this claim. As I said before, no application has been made and no pass issued for anyone connected to iENGAGE."

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

I think it is appropriate for this matter to be discussed in the debate, because it is a great worry to many people that an organisation with a very clear ideological purpose should be seeking to infiltrate the House of Commons and act as a secretariat. My Muslim constituents are worried about that. I do not know Mrs Bunglawala, but I have certainly heard Mr Bunglawala say at a meeting that he cannot condemn the lapidation-stoning to death-of women, because thus it is written in the Koran. He is entitled to that point of view, but I do not think it should be propagated. As the Prime Minister rightly says, and as I have been saying for some time, we have to keep ultra-Islamist ideologues out of our campuses and keep them from poisoning young minds. If there is even a hint of suspicion-and there is more than that-that it is now the secretariat of an all-party group, it is quite appropriate for the matter to be raised tonight.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I think that we are in danger of straying into security matters. I would like us try to keep to the motion. I know that it is broad, but we are in danger of going down an avenue that could possibly lead to security matters about who is and who is not issued with a pass. I would therefore appreciate it if we stuck to the general motion.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

I will do my best, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank Mr MacShane for his remarks. As he does so often on the issue that we are considering, he hits the nail on the head. The Prime Minister's comments at the weekend fit very much with his line of thinking.

I oppose Islamophobia in all its forms as vehemently as I oppose anti-Semitism, chauvinism or any bigotry. I was recently on an all-party group delegation to northern Iraq in the predominantly Muslim state of Kurdistan, which is a beacon for the prosperity and security that can be achieved when Christians, Muslims and Jews live harmoniously together. I am an active member of the APPG on Kurdistan and secretary of the APPG on Azerbaijan because I want to support progressive Muslim nations.

However, the problem with iEngage and its aggressive approach is that the views that it publishes and defends and the well documented history of its officers and trustees undermine any attempt to tackle anti-Muslim bigotry. Indeed, iEngage supports precisely the sort of extremist groups that fuel prejudice and anti-Muslim hatred, and grossly misrepresent Islam.

Shortly after my request for an urgent statement on iEngage, I was attacked online in what appeared to be a co-ordinated effort. That included a verbal assault from Inayat Bunglawala, who until recently was iEngage's head of policy and research.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to get things on the record, but we are dealing with a motion, and I think that we are straying away from the relevant points to which we should be sticking, and getting into issues about individual groups. The motion is about the future of all-party groups, and I am not sure where the connection is. I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to make his points, but we are in danger of straying way off where we should be.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I had originally planned to make a point of order about the subject this afternoon, but the Speaker's Office asked me whether I still wanted to do that, given that I would be raising the matter tonight, and I said no. The Speaker's Office was therefore well aware that I intended to raise the issue, and because it is about an APPG and its secretariat, I feel that it is relevant to tonight's debate.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Comments must relate to the motion. I understand the advice that has rightly been given, but speeches must relate to the motion.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. For us to stick to the terms of the motion, passing references to individual matters may be fine, but if we are induced-rather than "provoked"-into going into such issues in detail, the debate will change its character and its usefulness. If the advice to my hon. Friend Robert Halfon was that he could mention the subject, that is fine, but to go on at great length will lead to the rest of us trying to do the same thing.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

That is quite right. Hon. Members could start raising other issues, and I am therefore frightened that the debate will not be the one that we should hold, and that we will be drawn into other subjects. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the issue that he needed to raise, but the debate must not stray from the motion.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

I need to raise the issue because we discussing APPGs under the motion.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. You may wish to raise the issue, but you cannot. We must stick to the motion. I am trying to be as helpful as I can, but we are being tested. Please, if you can relate the matter directly to the motion, do that, then we can continue, rather than drawing other Members into a subject that we should not be discussing tonight.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I remain an officer of the group, and there is an issue about who should comprise the secretariat. There will be a meeting for colleagues in both Houses to discuss the matter, which will be reviewed. I hope that that will be an appropriate forum for discussing the way in which the group will be looked after, and that we can take the subject away from the wider debate to an appropriate place for people who have an interest.

Mr Deputy Speaker:

I welcome the point of clarification, which certainly clarifies matters to the House. I thank the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

Is not one of the key issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights the dilemma of whether a group of Members of Parliament, as an APPG, appoints a secretariat, and the danger that, in some instances, a secretariat-particularly a professional one-can essentially scout around for Members of Parliament to create the all-party group that the secretariat wishes to run? Should not Members of Parliament appoint a secretariat, not the other way around?

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

Yes. The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. There should be proper security procedures and vetting for organisations that become secretariats of all-party groups.

Simon Hughes said that what I said was just my opinion. If I am not allowed to continue in that vein, I cannot answer his query and those of others on why I said what I have said. I need to give evidence to show why I am so worried that the proper procedures have not been adhered to in relation to secretariats of that particular group. I therefore hope you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker to elaborate a little bit.

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am not going to be tempted down that avenue. We have said that we have a debate before us, and I want to make sure that everybody is aware that we stick to it. The motions are about the new rules and the future of groups. We are talking about an issue that has happened, and I believe that that discussion ought to take place in another forum-the appropriate forum. The detail that we are getting down to is not for here, tonight. This debate is not about that.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The motion is widely drafted. It states:

"If a charity or not-for-profit organisation is registered as the group's secretariat, the former's name and website must also be registered."

It also states that such an organisation must announce what it is and tell us about the details of its website. One cannot argue a general case without adducing evidence and examples, and Robert Halfon is doing exactly that. There really is no point in debating these things-

Mr Deputy Speaker:

Order. That is not a point of order. I have got to say that the debate must relate to the motion before us, but it is not at the moment. As much as advice might be given from right hon. and hon. Members, I am making the ruling. The debate must be related to the motion before us-that is the end of that. If the hon. Member wishes to continue on the motion before us or to relate the two motions together, that is fine.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Conservative, Harlow

In conclusion, although I support all-party parliamentary groups, I call on members of the all-party group on Islamophobia to think seriously about their choice of secretariat and the message that that sends. I ask the Standards and Privileges Committee and the Serjeant at Arms to consider how the House might vet the secretariat of APPGs-perhaps by a special committee-before they are placed on the approved list, especially when there are security concerns.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform) 8:42 pm, 7th February 2011

I commend Robert Halfon for bringing an important matter to the attention of the House. I am sure that many will want to pursue the issues that he raised in many different places, not least Simon Hughes. I want to correct the hon. Gentleman on just one word that he used. He referred inadvertently to the all-party parliamentary group "for" Islamophobia, but I think it is the all-party group "on" Islamophobia. Sometimes even prepositions are important.

I confess that motion 2 is on the Order Paper perhaps because several right hon. and hon. Members think that I got the matter wrong when I was a Minister. I see the Leader of the House winking at me now, possibly because he agrees that I got it wrong. I commend my right hon. Friend Mr Barron for his stewardship of the Standards and Privileges Committee. Sir Peter Bottomley said earlier how important it is that my right hon. Friend is not only a long-standing Member of the House but a long-standing member of that Committee, and that that is an important element in his work. For that matter, he was also the Chair of another Select Committee.

The answer that we have come up with in the motion is, I believe, the wrong answer. I do not intend to press it to a Division, but I believe that we have the wrong answer, and I shall explain why. There is no great problem with the rules as they are currently drafted. The Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House disagree with me, as they did when I was a Minister, but I believe that they have presented the nature of the problem wrongly.

The Deputy Leader of the House was absolutely right about the entry of Jo Swinson. There was no need for her to record the receipt of Girlguiding centenary merchandise, flower festival flowers and all the rest of it. Nor was it necessary for the Leader of the House himself to record that he was presented with a bottle of 2008 Beaujolais Villages valued at approximately £10-incidentally, it can be bought in most places in Rhondda for about £6.50-after he spoke at Bishop Wordsworth's Church of England grammar school for boys for 45 minutes. If that was honestly the advice that hon. Members were given by the registrar, I think it was inappropriate advice.

A distinction should be made to identify clearly those cases in which a reasonable person would think that somebody was being given remuneration for providing a service, and in none of those cases would it seem to a reasonable person that somebody was being remunerated. I would use this rule: if I had not been given that bottle of wine, pen or whatever, would I still have made the speech? Would I still have opened the Girlguiding centre or whatever? The honest truth is yes, I would. It would not have made the blindest difference to me. That is the rule that a reasonable person would follow. I know the registrar, I have always followed her advice and I respect her enormously, but she might have used a legalistic understanding of the rules that would not in all honesty be followed by any of our constituents.

Let us imagine for the moment that the registrar is right and that all those cases should have been registered. Has it done any great harm that they have been registered? I do not believe it has done any harm to anybody. There is a greater sense of transparency, and I do not think that that is a problem. However, let us say for argument's sake that we should not make a distinction between gifts and remuneration. There is an argument for that. It could be argued that any gift we receive for doing something-after speaking at a meal, for example-whether to the value of £400, £500 or whatever should be considered in exactly the same way. However, that is not the proposition before us this evening. The proposition is that a gift should be registered if it has a value in excess of 1% of salary, and that remuneration should be registered if it has a value in excess of one tenth of 1%. [Interruption.] I think that the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee is disagreeing with me. If he wants to intervene, I am happy to give way-but he does not. I can see an argument for not making a distinction at all and for having exactly the same level for gifts and remuneration. However, I cannot see an argument for introducing a new concept at £65.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

The hon. Gentleman might have just answered my point. To people reading and listening, talking in money terms is as relevant as percentages and tenths of percentages. Out there, people just want to know how much money we are getting or what the monetary value is.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

That is another good point. To be honest, I think it makes more sense to have a fixed amount. The old rule used to be £125 for registration. At the moment, the limit is zero, but if the motion is passed tonight, it will move to something in the region of £65 or £66. I would prefer the number to be fixed, so that it is perfectly intelligible to every member of the public.

We all use a layer of common sense. I am chair of the all-party group on Russia. As hon. Members might know, I have adopted a very hawkish attitude towards the Russian Federation. I believe that there are many abuses in Russia and, as chair of the all-party group, I have tried to advance that argument. Now, I must confess that I was given a bottle of vodka by the Russian embassy at Christmas. I did not believe it to be a remuneration for the questions I had asked or the tenor of the debate I had conducted in the House, so I did not even bother to ask the registrar whether I should have registered that bottle of vodka. I have always been a bit suspicious about some gifts so, as it happens, I have not even opened that bottle of vodka, which is still sitting precisely where I put it when it arrived. I suspect that I will probably not get any more bottles of vodka from the Russian embassy.

If one pursued the Deputy Leader of the House's logic, one could argue that if a Member is invited to dinner by an embassy and, somehow or other, they speak at that dinner-whether or not they are actually the speaker at the dinner-that is remuneration. However, I just do not think that that meets the common-sense test. I honestly believe that the proposition before us this evening is the wrong proposition. I can see an argument for perfect equality between gifts and remuneration, but I cannot see the argument for what is before us this evening.

Finally, on all-party groups, I agree with the hon. Member for Harlow in that when I became the chair of the all-party group on Russia, a large number of people suddenly started ringing me offering to work in the secretariat. I am sure that some did so with perfectly good intentions; I am also sure that some did so with not-so-pure intentions, because they wanted to grind an axe in relation to Britain's attitude towards Russia. The more that all-party groups can assert some genuine independence, the better. That is why the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that it is important to look at the process for providing an all-party group with a secretariat.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 8:51 pm, 7th February 2011

If an example were needed of why we need these rule changes, it is that we are having a short debate today in which a number of Members have already disagreed about what the existing rules actually are. A de minimis level is sensible, because it takes one beyond what is arguable. Members of Parliament do not want to go to bed at night wondering whether they should or should not have declared something, whether it be a box of chocolates or a pencil sharpener. The fact that the level is £65 makes things fairly clear. It also removes some of the burden placed on the registrar and her staff, who are put under quite a lot of pressure by this House because of the rules that have had to be applied. Indeed, if we are not careful, we will fill the Register of Members' Financial Interests with a lot of extraneous rubbish and people will not be able to see the wood for the trees. De minimis levels are therefore sensible. I hope that what Mr Barron has brought to the House today will be the first of a number of such thoughts on a number of issues that we have to clear up, because we have gone from having too liberal a position to making a rod for our own backs and creating difficulties for the registrar. I welcome this resolution and commend the Standards and Privileges Committee for bringing it to the House.

The issue of all-party groups is one that ought to receive a lot more scrutiny. We all know of examples of all-party groups that are run by particular organisations. Sometimes public affairs companies are employed by charities or other organisations to run a group. I am a member of a number of all-party groups, including some that I do not think I have ever joined, but which claim me. I think that we are all in the same situation. Sometimes people say, "You haven't been to the all-party group meeting," and I wonder which one it is, when I joined it and how I can get out. It is a little bit like joining the mafia, Mr Deputy Speaker: once you give a half-hearted "Well, possibly" to somebody, you get put on a list and you are there for evermore. If I sat down and honestly listed all the all-party groups of which I think I am a member and all those of which I actually am a member, I am perfectly sure that they would be very different lists.

One thought for the Chairman of the Committee is this. Having to put in writing the fact that we were going to join an all-party group might be one way of testing the numbers joining such organisations. Realistically, we know that Members put friends, colleagues, neighbours or anybody they can find in a weak moment on to all-party groups, but the attendance for some of them is very poor. What the motion says about declarations is perfectly right. They should be transparent. We should see who is behind all-party groups and their grand titles, but if we are going to take them seriously, we should have some way of registering the real interest of Members of Parliament. If, God forbid, we made it mandatory to publish which members of an all-party group had attended its meetings, nobody would join them, because none of us has any time to go to any of them. Whenever I get the all-party "Whip" and I read about all the all-party groups, I think that anybody who was a member of even half of them would not have time to do anything else if they went to all the meetings. So there has been some inflation in that area. Certain organisations use the authority of an all-party group to produce campaigns. My hon. Friend Robert Halfon made a serious point, and I hope that the Chair of the Committee will take that back. Perhaps an Adjournment debate would be a legitimate forum in which colleagues could pursue that issue.

We know that all-party groups have grown rapidly, and that they now exist for all body parts and all parts of the globe, as the Deputy Leader of the House said. There ought to be a much stronger test for an all-party group. We ought to be able to see who its members are, and the resolution before the House will mean that any provision of secretarial support, finance or back-up-whether in the form of champagne receptions or anything else-should find its way into the register so that we know what is going on. I welcome what has happened, and I hope that this is the start of a process whereby we can get some common sense back into the rules.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 8:55 pm, 7th February 2011

I welcome this short debate, and I thank Mr Barron for his work and that of his Committee. I also thank the Leader of the House, who started the work on this subject earlier. I support both the motions. I made my first point during an intervention on Chris Bryant. It was that, in due course, we might want to talk about payments in sums rather than percentages, for the sake of greater transparency. I am happy that we are starting where we are, however. The proposal will create a reasonable division between the more substantial gift and the single gift-the bottle of wine, the pair of socks-given as what Helen Jones described as a courteous thank you. I had visions of her making a kind of royal procession round Warrington with her arms full of flowers-all, I am sure, gratefully given and received. Also, we should not over-regulate. There is a balance to be struck, and we seem to be going in the right direction.

I want to make two further points, about all-party groups. The first follows the theme pursued by my hon. Friend Mr Syms. I, too, have always felt that there was a danger that these groups could proliferate. We can sign up 20 people relatively easily, but getting them to come to meetings is a wholly different ball game. Of course it is right that there should be an all-party group with an interest in Russia. It is a very important country for us to take an interest in, and elections are held to decide who the officers of that group will be. For example, I am a member of various all-party groups, and I have served as an officer in many of them. I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, which is next to Russia. It is a very big, important country-the second largest European country-and we have a duty to take an interest in such a developing democracy. It is relevant not only to democratic issues but to energy issues and the like. There are all kinds of different all-party groups.

Secondly, on the subject raised by the hon. Memberfor Harlow (Robert Halfon), we have had an all-party group to deal with anti-Semitism for many years, and rightly so, because it is a plague and a scourge on our country. It is therefore unsurprising that there is now a newly formed group on Islamophobia. The hon. Member for Rhondda rightly pointed out that it is a group "on" Islamophobia, not a group "for" it. Islamophobia is also a scourge. The Prime Minister spoke about it only this weekend in his speech in Munich. Whatever we might think about the tenor and balance of that speech, this is a real issue in many of our constituencies. I see the shadow Leader of the House, Hilary Benn, nodding. His city, as well as mine, has seen faith-based prejudices that are directed at other faiths, and there are other prejudices that we also need to counter.

All the proposals in the motion are reasonable.

"The contact details of the group's registered contact" should be made public, so that there can be an accountable person.

"Any relevant gainful occupation of staff to the group who hold a parliamentary pass" should be publicised, so that if any pass holder is paid by someone else, we would know who they are.

"The source and extent of any financial benefit (e.g. donations) and the source and nature of any non-financial material benefit (e.g. provision of goods or services) received by the group from a single source outside Parliament" above a certain amount will have to be publicised, so that people will know exactly where the servicing is funded from. That is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Rhondda made the perfectly good point that, because these groups have a certain status, and because they can use parliamentary logos such as the portcullis, there is an interest in being associated with them. The Chairman of the Committee also knows that very well.

Lastly, the website address should be publicised. The rules are much more explicit than in the past, so if a consultancy or a for-profit organisation is acting as the secretariat, we must know what the consultancy is and what it does-it must supply the information. Similarly, if it is a charity or a not-for-profit organisation, the rules are explicit that it

"must agree to make available on request a list citing any commercial company which has donated either as a single sum or cumulatively more than £5,000 in the course of the 12 months prior to the month in which the request is made".

We will have a much better system: I do not think it will be perfect, but it will be much better.

Given your clear rulings earlier, Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope I have already made a helpful intervention to calm the House. A group has been set up-properly-on Islamophobia. In a meeting at which I was not present, a secretariat was appointed. I had agreed to be elected as an officer; other officers have now resigned. The secretariat has been a controversial issue and there are campaigns on both sides of the argument. My office has been in touch with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow to ask for information to back up what he is saying, although I have not yet received it. I will be happy to receive it. There will be a meeting for all colleagues who wish to come. I have no prejudice in favour or against a particular organisation being the secretariat, and I now regard it as my duty to try to proceed carefully and with consensus, but I am not going to allow myself to be bullied into having or not having a particular organisation because it might have some views that are difficult for others to accept.

All parties are debating how to manage organisations that deal in these difficult areas of faith-based issues, which apply in your constituency, Mr Deputy Speaker, as in mine. Some people think we should go to meetings or events with people whose views we may disagree with or who might have more extreme views than we would normally tolerate. I have been to some such events. I attended a Global Peace and Unity event last year in order to speak on behalf of my party, and a Minister attended to speak on behalf of the Government. The co-chairman of the Conservative party was asked not to go, because it was not thought that a Conservative representative would be appropriate. These sort of debates will carry on.

We have to take advice and to act in the best interests of Parliament and the wider community. All I hope I can do is to assure those who take an interest in our proceedings that agreement to tonight's motions will lead to better procedures. All-party groups will not lack controversy, just as our debates on the Floor of the House do not lack it. It is right that there is a place for controversial issues to be discussed, but I hope that they will be discussed on the basis of facts and an understanding of the severity of some of the issues dealt with by all-party groups. I hope that this debate has pointed people in the right direction. I hope that the last group I mentioned will know where it will go next-legitimately, properly and appropriately. More generally, I hope that people will understand that we have processes for these issues and that the processes are good ones.

Finally, my understanding, like that of many colleagues who have been involved with these matters, is that all pass holders are security checked for this House. Whatever their status, all staff and anybody who comes in must be checked, and not just by the House authorities, as the matter is then referred outside. That provides the protection. I assume that any colleague who has any worries about any pass holder in any organisation will follow the appropriate procedures, which are well known to Members. The inquiries must be made. Passes have been removed if people have held them inappropriately; and people have been prevented from being here if it is inappropriate for them to work here. We have to assume that the authorities continue to do a good job. We have not had problems regularly in the past. I trust the authorities to be vigilant; that is what we pay them to do. I think they serve us well in doing that.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West 9:03 pm, 7th February 2011

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Robert Halfon, Simon Hughes and others. I am not certain that security vetting solves all problems. The number of people who have been assassinated by their own bodyguards suggests that there might be a weakness in that.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

It is worth bearing it in mind that the person working as the secretary for the all-party parliamentary group on Russia, prior to my becoming the chairman, is supposedly being thrown out of the country by the Government, yet managed to get a security pass here.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I recall that about 25 years ago, the London representative of the Palestine Liberation Organisation was assassinated for being too moderate. Many people who take part in public affairs are at risk, which is one of the risks that an open society faces in peacetime just as it does at times of war.

Let me say to Mr Barron that, although I do not intend to try to divide the House on the first motion, I think it would be better to specify 0.2% or 0.3% of the parliamentary salary. A long time ago, when I was a Minister, I visited a country in south-east Asia and was presented with a tin bowl. I saw the same bowl in a shop priced at the equivalent of £130 in local currency, so I gave it to my private secretary. At the airport on my way home, I saw it again priced at £65, so I asked for it back. [Laughter.]

There will be boundary problems of that kind whatever limit is set, but my general view is that a limit of £130 or £180 would be better, and that it would even better to make the limit the same as that applying to gifts presented to Ministers. As for the question of Members' including on their websites gifts whose value was below the minimum, the Registrar could advise us if we tried to include details that were not required according to the interpretation of the rules.

In view of your ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall not add to what has already been said about the motion on all-party groups. If it is possible for me to attend the meeting of the all-party group that has been mentioned, I will happily do so.

Let me, in passing, pay tribute to some people in my constituency. When I was involved with students from the Three Faiths Forum, I was delighted that the senior Jewish woman in my constituency was willing to meet us, as were representatives of the local Islamic society and mosque, the Salvation Army and the Worthing Churches Homeless Projects. It was immensely valuable that people were able to share that experience, and learn along with members of other faiths and people with different views. I also pay tribute to members of my local mosque, who have been pleased to attend the holocaust memorial event in Worthing. I hope that its organisers will at some stage focus on the massacre at Srebrenica. It should be borne in mind that the most recent modern massacre in Europe was a massacre of Muslims, both secular and otherwise, by people claiming membership of other religions.

I have no strong views on the issue of all-party groups, but there seems to have been a bit of "creep". Paragraph 13(b) on page 5 of the All-Party Groups report by the Committee on Standards and Privileges, the eighth report of Session 2008-09, HC 920, states that in future such groups should have to

"register any commercial company with a direct interest in the work of the APG which contributes materially (say more than £5,000 or 5%, whichever is the lower) to meeting the central costs of the charity."

According to the motion,

"The charity or not-for-profit organisation must agree to make available on request a list citing any commercial company which has donated either as a single sum or cumulatively more than £5,000".

Perhaps the Minister who replies to the debate will tell us whether the movement from the requirement for a "direct interest" to no qualification was deliberate, and, if it was not, whether it could be considered when the resolutions are before the House.

Let us suppose that, for instance, the Army Benevolent Fund were to provide the secretariat for an issue-based all-party group. I am not saying that it should do so. Given that it has raised millions of pounds for our armed forces, I think that it would be going too far to have to list every commercial company that has given it money for that purpose, whether by gift aid or otherwise. At one stage I was chairman of the Church of England children's society. A fair amount of money was donated to us by commercial companies for events and other purposes. I think that we might be putting a burden on some charities and not-for-profit causes if the resolution followed the motion-which will obviously be accepted-rather than the committee's report.

Let me return briefly to the issue of earnings as opposed to gifts. For a number of years I have tried to avoid having any outside earnings. I failed in the current year, because I wrote an obituary for a friend and, rather to my surprise, received a cheque from the newspaper that kindly published it. I have given the money away, but it clearly constituted earnings, and I think that I am obliged to declare it. I believe that the sum was £300. A long time ago, between 1979 and 1984, I was personnel director of a fairly major commodities trading company. I should have been very prepared to declare the salary that I received for that.

On another occasion, I was an adviser to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I gave it advice that it did not take and did not want, but its founder asked whether I would do more work for it, which I did, although it did not take any notice of what I said. That relationship came to an end in time.

What is clearly employment or something done for the purposes of an organisation for which one is paid should be declared, and what one is doing outside ought to be. However, I have a warning. Let us suppose that Peter Thurnham, who was a colleague at one stage in this House and who bought two machine tools when he was unemployed and set up an engineering business, entered the House of Commons when the business was on its feet. How would he calculate the time that he was putting into the business? That seems to be a very difficult thing to do. When James Callaghan was a farmer after being Prime Minister, how much time did he put into it? When Michael Foot was writing his biography of the founder of the health service, how much time did he put into it? If I, for example, had to put in the number of hours that I spent on the obituary, I would have to guess. It is obvious that we have to be prepared to put down rough and ready figures, which will not be easy.

The key point is to back a system where people will feel embarrassed if they know that they are doing something wrong, rather than having an enormous box-ticking exercise. I hope that when we ask the Committee on Standards and Privileges to review the matter and it conducts a consultation, more people will agree that 0.1% is too low and could be at least doubled or trebled without disadvantage to the House or to the interests of the public.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee 9:11 pm, 7th February 2011

The vast majority of hon. Members who have spoken agree that these motions should go through tonight and that we should alter the arrangements.

Sir Peter Bottomley raised the issue of the limit of 0.1% of a Member's salary. We have tried to find a seer in public life to tell us what the approximate worth of a gift should be. Some local authorities have a level as low as £25, and some have no levels at all. It seems to us that £66-some people interpret the figure as £65-is about right. We will reconsider the matter, if we feel that it is not working in future.

On all-party groups, it would clearly be a matter for the House to consider the provision, if it is a burden on some all-party groups. The aim is to find out who is behind the secretariats of all-party groups and not necessarily their motivations, which is a point that has been raised tonight. We need the situation to be transparent if a commercial organisation is effectively funding all-party groups. I am not saying that that would necessarily be wrong-I am not sure whether the House would say that that is necessarily wrong-but it is right that we know exactly who the secretariat are and how they operate.

Simon Hughes discussed duplication and overlap. I once considered setting up an all-party group on all-party groups to see how many members we could get to join. I chair all-party groups, which are an effective aid to legislation. This House should practise a wider democracy, and people with knowledge about individual issues come and talk to us on a regular basis-there is nothing wrong with that in my view. However, the situation needs to be transparent, so it is clear what has motivated them to do that and what is motivating us to make arguments on the Floor of the House.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown raised the issue of pro bono advice to an all-party group rather than secretarial support. As my hon. Friend Helen Jones said from the Front Bench, we need to consider that matter, but it should not take us away from making improvements tonight.

My hon. Friend Chris Bryant said that any reasonable person knows the difference between a gift and remuneration, but, as Members of Parliament, we do not always deal with reasonable people. I have had 27 years in this place and on the odd occasion I have dealt with people who are not reasonable. [Interruption.] I was talking not only about people outside here, but some in here too. The Committee has said:

"A Member who chooses to treat as a gift the bottle of wine he or she receives after making a speech exposes him- or herself to an allegation that he or she has failed to register a payment received for a service provided."

That is the reality of the situation. It might be that people have seen someone receive a bouquet of flowers, a declaration has not been made and nobody has made a complaint, but an unreasonable person might think that that is open to investigation and might write in, and that would start an investigation. We are trying to stop that happening and that is what we are going to do.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

I am aware that I slightly bounced the right hon. Gentleman with my question about paragraph 13(b). If he is not able to say tonight whether the reference to

"a direct interest in the work of the APG" was taken out deliberately, could he ask someone to let me know whether it was deliberate or whether it was just one of those things?

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets that information.

The Committee also said:

"The trivial nature of some of these payments and the disproportionate effort involved in recording and then registering them has called into question the utility of the rule. The February 2010 edition of the Register contained over 100 more pages than the June 2008 edition."

The figures were 264 pages as opposed to 157. If what we have heard is correct, it is clear that the many hon. Members who have not registered bouquets of flowers, pots of honey and so on could eventually find that they are outwith the register. Given those circumstances, we need to address this area.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Justice) (Political and Constitutional Reform)

But the main change was that previously we had to register remuneration in our capacity as a Member of Parliament and we did not have to register things all the way down. We have introduced much greater transparency, which has meant that we now know about earnings of hon. Members that have nothing to do with their membership of the House.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I accept that, although I believe that my hon. Friend said that he saw no real difference between gifts and remuneration. It seems to me that if I make a speech to a company and am given a £500 gift, it is more likely that that is remuneration, it is declarable and should be declared in the Register of Members' Financial Interests. As I said in my opening speech, this is a grey area and we are trying to make things as clear as we can. Both these motions will help the House and I hope that the House will support them.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolved,

That-

(1) this House agrees with the recommendations in the Tenth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, on Registration of income from employment (HC 749); and

(2) accordingly the resolution of the House of 30 April 2009 relating to the Registration of Members' Financial Interests be amended, by leaving out paragraph (2) and inserting:-

"(2) That such a payment shall be registered

(a) where its value exceeds one tenth of 1 per cent. of the current Parliamentary salary; or

(b) where the total value of payments from the same person, organisation or company in a calendar year exceeds 1 per cent. of the current Parliamentary salary."