From time to time, we talk about the House being at its best. I regret to say that I do not think that the House has been at its best in the way in which it has handled standards issues over the past week. I would like to make a few points about where we are now and where we might get to if we can approach the issue in a genuinely constructive and non-partisan spirit.
In my role as Speaker, I am required to maintain strict impartiality. That includes, for example, responsibility for giving the House the opportunity to consider orderly amendments that attract considerable support, whatever my own view of them may be. But I also feel a weighty responsibility to ensure that the House deals with these issues effectively and fairly, and that its reputation reflects that.
One issue is clear. Owen Paterson has resigned as an MP, so it no longer falls to the House to decide whether he should be suspended, although I note that the House has not reached a decision on the report of the Select Committee on Standards. I understand that the Committee is nearing the end of its review of the code of conduct. After that report has been published, there may be some way of working with the Committee to build on its work.
On Thursday, the Leader of the House indicated that he believed that there was cross-party support for reform of the standards process, and particularly for looking at a mechanism for appeals. He also said that
“a Committee cannot work effectively without Opposition Members on it”.—[Official Report,
I agree. If the House wishes to review the system, it must do so on a cross-party basis. Opposition parties have made it clear that they will not participate in the Committee established on Thursday. We therefore need to find a different way forward. I would also expect the Chair of the Committee on Standards to be invited to have a role in any process, given the extensive work that his Committee has already undertaken.
In finding that way forward, I want to remind the House of two things. First, I repeat what I have said before about the importance of not criticising officials in this House who are not able to respond. Of course it is possible to make proposals to improve processes and practices, but please do not criticise the Commissioner for Standards, who is doing a job that we have appointed her to do. Secondly, I know that there have been concerns about what recent events mean for the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. Let me be clear: the decision taken last Wednesday did not in any way affect the operation of the ICGS or that of the Independent Expert Panel. Let me say to those people who feel that they are not going to come forward because the ICGS will not be there that it is there: do not think that there is a barrier to people coming forward.
Finally, and again in a spirit of finding the best way forward, I say to the House that I will do everything I can to help to ensure that all Members feel confident that we have an effective and fair system, and that those who follow our proceedings feel the same.
I granted the debate today because I thought it was essential to sort out the mess that we are in. We can start to do that today, but it requires two things: for us all to tone down the party political sniping and focus calmly on making sure the system is as effective as it can be, and for everyone to recognise that, if we are going to achieve progress, we will only do so on a cross-party basis. I also want to remind the House that it is not in order to make allegations of impropriety against other named Members, unless the House is considering a substantive motion dealing with the issue directly. There are other routes for raising such claims. So please, use the routes that are available.
I sincerely hope that all Members will take the approach I have recommended, and that by the end of this debate we will have a clearer sense of how we can move forward together on this important subject. Please, let us see the House at its best, as we have certainly seen it at its worst.