Standards: Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules

– in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 12 December 2022.

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[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Committee on Standards, New Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules: promoting appropriate values, attitudes and behaviour in Parliament, HC 227; Third Report of the Committee on Standards, New Guide to the Rules: final proposals, HC 544, and the Government Response, HC 709.]

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I inform the House that I have selected amendments (a) and (b) as listed on the Order Paper. I shall call Chris Bryant to move his amendments at the end of the debate.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 8:31, 12 December 2022

I beg to move,

That—

(1) this House takes note of:

(a) the First Report from the Committee on Standards, on New Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules: promoting appropriate values, attitudes and behaviours in Parliament (HC 227), and approves the revised Code of Conduct for Members annexed to that Report, subject to the following amendment:

In section C (Seven Principles of Public Life): leave out “; as set out below, they are supplemented by descriptors, which apply specifically to Members of Parliament” and the Principles and descriptors as set out in the Report and insert:

“Selflessness

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.”

(b) the Third Report from the Committee on Standards on New Guide to the Rules: final proposals (HC 544), and approves the revised Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members annexed to that Report, subject to the following amendments:

(i) In Introduction, paragraph 14, leave out, “Whilst Members are not required to register Ministerial office” and insert, “Members are not required to register either Ministerial office or benefits received in their capacity as a Minister”.

(ii) In Chapter 1 (Registration of Members’ Financial Interests), paragraph 17, at end insert: “() Donations or other support received in a Member’s capacity as a Minister, which should be recorded, if necessary, within the relevant Government Department in accordance with the Ministerial Code.” with effect from 1 March 2023, except that paragraph 8 of Chapter 3 of the Guide to the Rules shall only have effect in respect of past financial interests or material benefits from six months after the date on which the revised code and guide come into effect.

(2) previous Resolutions of this House in relation to the conduct of Members shall be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.

The House is being asked to consider a motion today which would take note of the first report from the Committee on Standards, “New Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules: promoting appropriate values, attitudes and behaviours in Parliament”, and approve the revised Code of Conduct for Members annexed to that report. The motion would also take note of the third report from the Committee on Standards, “New Guide to the Rules: final proposals”, and approve the revised Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members annexed to that report.

This is House business, and Members will be asked to make up their own minds on these matters—I sense the panic already, but I hope Members, even if they do not contribute to the debate, will feel free to ask questions and fully apprise themselves of the issues at hand. As Members of Parliament we must uphold the highest standards in public life, acting with integrity and professionalism. I believe these reforms are an important step in that process, building on the progress this House made in October when we approved the introduction of a new formal appeals process.

I am grateful to the Committee on Standards for its work reviewing the code of conduct for Members and the overall operation of the standards system in the House of Commons. I welcome the engagement that is happening in this area and the conversations I have had with the Chair of the Committee, Chris Bryant; I look forward to hearing from him and I expect he will wish to take Members through the details of his Committee’s work, so I will not steal his thunder.

The Government have carefully considered his Committee’s recommendations and reports. The Committee has proposed around 20 substantive changes; at the time of the Government response, we had disagreement with five of those, but that has subsequently been reduced to disagreement with just two.

We have already acted in one vital area. In October, the House of Commons unanimously agreed the introduction of an appeals process for standards cases. We have reflected upon and now accept the Committee’s recommendation on the “serious wrong” exemption, and the recommended introduction of a requirement for Members who undertake outside work to obtain a written contract or separate letter of undertaking that their duties will not include lobbying or the provision of paid parliamentary advice. The Committee has also moved on its position on initiation versus participation, and now agrees with the Government. I hope those changes will show that the Committee and the House are listening, and that we are seeking ways of finding cross-party consensus on addressing these issues.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

I think the Leader of the House means that the Government now agree with the Committee, because the Committee certainly has not changed its position on initiating and participating. I think that that was the tenor of the letter that she sent me last week.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I understood that it was the other way around, but the important point is, I think, that we agree. My remarks will, for the benefit of Members, focus largely on the areas in which we disagree, because I think those are what people would like to hear about.

The first area is in relation to the seven principles in public life. Amendment (a) in the name of the hon. Member for Rhondda seeks to reinsert into the code customised descriptors of the seven principles in public life. The Government have chosen to leave out those recommendations from the Committee and maintain the status quo in relation to the seven principles. The Government believe that those principles and their descriptors should remain the basis of the MPs’ code of conduct, and that the principles, as set out in the code, should be updated to the version published by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2013. The strength of the principles lies, in part, in the fact that they are a long-standing and widely understood set of standards expected of all public office holders. Adjustments of the kind suggested to the descriptors would undermine that universality. It is therefore preferable to retain the descriptors put forward by the Committee on Standards in Public Life when the principles were last updated as a whole.

The second area of disagreement is in relation to ministerial declarations. The hon. Gentleman has claimed that there is an exception for Ministers. That is not the case. We have two systems of reporting interests. First, there are MPs’ interests, which are in accordance with the rules of this House and subject to oversight by the commissioner, the Committee on Standards and, ultimately, the House. Secondly, there are ministerial declarations, the basis of which is the ministerial code. The rules regulating Members’ interests and ministerial interests are distinct for a good reason, reflecting the underlying constitutional principle of the separation of powers and the operational differences between the role of an MP and that of a Minister. In addition, Members should not have to use the resources of their parliamentary offices, which should be focused on constituency business, to declare ministerial interests.

The hon. Gentleman is asking in amendment (b) for dual reporting. He wants, by March, to make Ministers and envoys—trade envoys and others—report on a monthly basis information that will, at that time, be available only quarterly. If an MP is in breach, they may face two possibly concurrent investigations—one on the ministerial route and one by this House. Nor is it clear how that would be applied. Perhaps in his remarks, the hon. Gentleman could clarify for the House what the threshold for a Minister would be. If the hon. Gentleman wants parity between Ministers and MPs, is he asking for the threshold to be £300 or the current, more stringent threshold for Ministers of £140? Could he confirm whether that applies to shadow Ministers?

Despite the problems that I have outlined, and the suggestion of the hon. Member for Rhondda, I agree that there needs to be more parity between MPs’ and ministerial reporting. I will set out the changes that the Government intend to make.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

I am grateful for the way in which the Government have moved on many aspects of the report by the Committee on Standards, but I hope that the Leader of the House agrees that there is a problem with ministerial reporting. On many occasions, Departments fail to deliver their quarterly reports. I understand that the Government have some proposals and I am looking forward to hearing them, but will my right hon. Friend assure us, given that we will vote tonight, that the proposals will be delivered in a timely manner so that there is transparency about the way in which Ministers publicly report their receivables?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right: the current situation is unacceptable and the Committee has a valid point. I hope that I will suggest a way in which we can address that. However, it is important to say that if we do it in the way that the Committee suggests, we will end up in some difficulty, which I shall explain.

First, we have extensively reviewed the existing guidance on transparency data. I have also audited each Department’s returns and sat down with the propriety and ethics team to look at ways in which we can improve the timeliness, quality and transparency of Ministers’ data and ease of access to it. The guidance, which we have reviewed, will be published online on GOV.UK for the first time. It commits Departments to publishing data within 90 days of the end of each quarterly reporting period. That is a modest, but necessary first step.

Our goal will be first to ensure that all Departments are complying with their current obligations consistently, as reflected in the new guidance as soon as it comes into effect. We will then look to move to a system of reporting that provides the parity that the Committee on Standards is seeking on transparency and timeliness. That means monthly reporting.

The Cabinet Office will also consider the alignment of ministerial returns with the House’s system and the frequency of publication, as part of the Government’s wider consideration of the Boardman and Committee on Standards in Public Life recommendations. It is reasonable to conclude that work by the start of the summer. My plan is therefore about three months’ adrift of that of the Committee on Standards.

The Government are fully committed to transparency and to ensuring that all Ministers are held to account for maintaining high standards of behaviour and upholding the highest standards of propriety, as the public rightly expect, but we need to avoid creating a system that delivers further confusion and unintended consequences. That is why I have outlined the alternative proposal from the Government today. I have worked closely with colleagues across Government to set out how we will improve our system, and if the Committee on Standards remains concerned, I commit to revisiting the issue and engaging with ministerial colleagues to drive further improvements.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements

I am grateful for the way in which the Leader of the House has engaged with the matter. The whole House understands that there are what a “Yes Minister” script would describe as “administrative difficulties” with recording ministerial interests in a timely manner. However, surely the objective should be—we had a lot of evidence about this—that a member of the public can find in one place where Members have registrable interests, whether they are Ministers or not. Could we end up with a system, even if it were just a reporting mechanism that put stuff on the register without obligation, whereby the Register of Members’ Financial Interests showed all ministerial declared interests as well as all other Members’ interests in one place? That is the sort of accountability and transparency that the public are entitled to expect.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I have had those discussions with the propriety and ethics team. This needs to be taken in steps, and we have to get Departments producing the right data in a consistent fashion for that to happen, but I have already had discussions with them about how we would design a system that puts all this in one place. I am very clear that the objectives the Standards Committee have are that this information is as accessible as the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and on a par with the timing of the register. In amendment (b) the hon. Member for Rhondda proposes a system of reporting immediately in March, when this comes into effect, that the Whitehall machine will currently not be able to deliver on.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

It will not, but we can move to that system. At the moment Departments can produce this information only on a quarterly basis, and by March that will still be the case.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Imagine I am a layman: may I ask why? This does not seem beyond the wit of man; we all have to do it as Members of Parliament. There are considerably more staff in Whitehall than I have in my office. So I simply ask: really?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am afraid so, and if the hon. Lady would like to know more I can bore her for hours on this. I have been through literally every single Department’s processes and returns, and some of the information takes a while to extract, such as that from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That is not an acceptable situation and it needs to change. I have set out how we will do that and by when I think we will have been able to do so, but I cannot stand at the Dispatch Box today and say that by March we will have a system where Labour Members of Parliament and Members of Parliament on the Government side of the House, if they are envoys or Ministers, will be able to report on a monthly basis. We can move to that system, and I think for the sake of a few months we should do this properly and get Whitehall in the place it needs to be in.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

I am concerned to hear that the Leader of the House is hiding behind officials, really. Members on the Opposition side of the House have a responsibility to make sure our records are correct; surely that applies to Members on the Government side of the House, whether they are a Minister or not?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point, because this does apply to those on his side of the House: among his colleagues on his Benches there will be trade envoys and other people undertaking work for the Government, and this will apply to them. I do not disagree that there should be parity between the two systems in access, transparency and timeliness; what I am saying is that the way in which the Committee has suggested this happen in amendment (b) will fail, and in a few months’ time—beyond March, when this system will come in—we will be in a position where we can succeed. That is what I am setting out for the House; it is for Members to decide, and they can vote whichever way they like. I am just apprising them of the facts. Anyone who wants to come and look at the audits I have done will regret it, but they are more than welcome.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Given that we have not had ministerial reporting since the end of May 2022 and the Leader of the House is now asking us to give her more time to bring a process into place, when can we expect to see up-to-date ministerial reporting?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

As I have outlined in my speech, the new guidance has been put in place and will come into effect this spring. By the time the Committee wants the reforms we are voting on today to come into effect, Whitehall will be back up to what it is supposed to be doing now, and I think a few months after then, as we head into summer, we should have a system in place that will enable us to report at the same timeframes as MPs’ interests. Then we can potentially look at moving to having just one system rather than separate reporting by each ministerial Department. Those are the conversations I have had with the propriety and ethics team.

The effectiveness of our standards system and the code of conduct rests on its commanding the confidence of both the public and Members on a cross-party basis. Approval of the proposed reforms and strengthening of the rules will represent an important step towards restoring and strengthening trust in our democratic institutions. We support the work being done to undertake and introduce measures to empower the standards system in Parliament, and I am committed to continuing conversations both within Government and with parliamentary colleagues to continue to bring forward any further improvements proposed by the Committee on a cross-party basis.

I assure the House that my door is always open to discuss these matters with all Members. I hope that hon. Members will approve the reforms in the main motion, which I commend to the House. I thank the Committee for its work.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 8:50, 12 December 2022

I start by thanking my hon. Friend Chris Bryant and his cross-party Committee for all the hard work that they put into their comprehensive and far-reaching inquiry into the operation of the code of conduct for MPs. They worked diligently, thoughtfully and cross-party with their external members. They came up with sound proposals, consulted carefully and revised their proposals further. It then fell to the Government to table the motion—I will come back to that. I also thank the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and her team for all their dedication to making sure that rules are understood and, when not adhered to, thoroughly and fairly investigated. I also thank them for their recent review.

Since 1695, as my hon. Friend once told me, Parliament has had rules against lobbying and taking payments for conferring or attempting to confer benefits on an individual, business or organisation. Until 2015, those rules only ever got stronger, which is the right and only reasonable direction that the public would expect. When a respected Select Committee does its job—consults, revises and employs independent judicial expertise—and makes its recommendations, my view is that that should be respected fully by the Government. So it is bittersweet to be debating the Government’s eventual motion today. After months of many of us calling for the full set of recommendations to be implemented as recommended, the Government have tabled a motion, but in the process they have ditched crucial elements that would have strengthened parliamentary standards still further. I am dismayed but hardly surprised, because this is, unfortunately, a Government with form.

Let us remember how, just over a year ago, the Tories took an approach to standards taken by no Government before them. The then MP Owen Paterson had been found absolutely bang to rights, having taken a large amount of money for a large amount of access to benefit the company who paid for him. Most importantly, the Commissioner for Standards and the Standards Committee had investigated the claims carefully, reviewed the evidence, considered every angle and concluded a sanction. That is the backdrop to the motion: a Government who, within the past 12 months and roughly three weeks, did that to their system of standards—and there was more to come.

The Government, led by the then Leader of the House, Mr Rees-Mogg—I have notified him of my intention to mention him—along with many others in the Cabinet and on the Government Benches, tabled and supported a motion as recommended, but in name only. The then Leader of the House spoke for 40 minutes in support not of the motion in his name but of the amendment in the name of his predecessor, Dame Andrea Leadsom. In so doing, he simultaneously tabled a motion and undermined the standards system and the case in hand by trying to introduce a new process.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

Does the hon. Member accept that the amendment tabled was designed to set up a Select Committee to look exactly at the problems that we are debating? That was its intention.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention. It may have been the amendment’s intention in the abstract, but, by introducing it during that process, the Government undermined that existing, living process. Their case when approaching matters of standards is affected even now by that decision to propose a motion and then basically speak in support of one undermining it in the middle of a live process.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I take the point that the hon. Lady makes, but will she not accept that the Opposition deliberately sought to conflate the two issues of Owen Paterson’s guilt and that of procedure? I voted against the procedure; I was not voting on whether Owen Paterson was guilty or not.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I cannot answer for the hon. Gentleman’s decision-making process, but I note considerable dissent in various parts of the House.

Concluding that an existing structure and process had delivered an undesirable outcome, the Government seem to have believed that the structure and the outcome must be at fault, not the person involved, and decided to change the process when it was nearly complete to try to get a different outcome. I am afraid that that is the backdrop. The resulting vote caused chaos.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

My recollection of that vote is slightly different from that of my hon. Friend Michael Fabricant, as the hon. Lady may realise. What the Government are doing today is incredibly well intentioned and I would ask her to tone down the political tone, because we are all going to make our own decisions on the motion. The Leader of the House is trying to find a way forward, with the complications she has spoken about with regard to Whitehall and the principles of public life. I had some real concerns with what the Committee was putting forward and I will be voting with the Government tonight, despite the fact that I voted against them in that vote back in 2021.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do support the motion—I will vote for the motion, should there be a Division. I will also vote for the amendments tabled by the Committee, and I will come on to the reasons why shortly. I just want to make sure we are clear about the backdrop. A Government did ask their MPs to support the indefensible and to vote for what appeared to be nonsense.

The farce, unfortunately, continued the very next day. The right hon. Member for North East Somerset undermined himself still further by reversing the impact of the amendment, which had passed thanks to his Government’s own urging. I will not go over that in detail, but it is worth noting that it created a mess in the middle of the ongoing process. It meant that an MP then resigned rather than working with the system of standards, as the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire said, with the good intention of attempting to strengthen and improve the system.

By this point, the Committee on Standards had already begun its work and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards had announced her review of the code of conduct to complement the Committee’s activities. I am glad the Government have brought forward some of the Committee’s recommendations. It is already Labour policy that MPs should not be paid parliamentary lobbyists or consultants on how to get better access to Parliament and Government. Where MPs do have an outside job, it is right that strict protocols are followed, so I welcome the measure that will require them to have a written contract making it explicit that their duties cannot include lobbying Ministers. I am glad that has Government support. A Labour Government would go further and ban second jobs altogether, with limited exceptions.

I note the commendable work of the right hon. Sir Ernest Ryder, who conducted the independent review into the system. The Committee made good use of his extensive experience and reflections on the very important issues of fairness, natural justice and the right to appeal. Unfortunately, some Members, in their attempts to defend their friend—an urge I completely understand; to defend one’s friends is a good quality—attacked the system on the grounds of fairness, natural justice and the right to appeal. They were exposed further on when Sir Ernest Ryder concluded that the present inquisitorial procedure for standards inquiries is fair and complies with article 6 of the European convention on human rights, or the right to a fair trial. He made further recommendations, including introducing a more formal appeal stage to the process, while noting that the existing standards process contained such a right, but that it was not clearly identified. I welcome both his and the Committee’s recommendations.

However, the Government have ditched some key reforms. I note what the Leader of the House says, and I do not doubt that her intentions are honourable. I am glad to hear her say that more things are coming. I think she will recognise, however, that I am growing rather weary of hearing the word “soon”. That does not just come from her—she is not the only one. In fact, I do not think she did say “soon” this evening. But if it is not soon, then when? The Government have had the recommendations for some months. Given the backdrop I have outlined, on what basis does the Leader of the House think there is a moral basis for picking and choosing which of the standards they will accept and which ones to ditch? They appear to be ignoring that backdrop.

The first specific issue I want to mention is the register of ministerial interests and the measures, which have been raised briefly already, requiring Ministers to register gifts and hospitality in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The history is fascinating. A 1993 report from the Select Committee on Members’ Interests stated that Ministers were required to register benefits they received in just the same way as other Members, even if it was in a ministerial capacity. Subsequently, the 1997 ministerial code provided that Ministers should register hospitality in their capacity as a Minister in the House if it was

“on a scale or from a source which might reasonably be thought likely to influence Ministerial action”.

The 2007 ministerial code went even further, providing that Ministers should register hospitality with both the permanent secretary in their Department and the House.

Only in 2010 did the ministerial code completely separate the registering of ministerial and Member interests. It is worth noting that there was a change of Government that year, and it feels to me as though the subsequent amendment in 2015, with the then Government introducing the provision that

“Members are not required to register either Ministerial office or benefits received in their capacity as a Minister” was a step backwards. I would like us to have transparency, with Ministers registering all hospitality above a certain agreed level with the House so that there is parity with Members, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda will explain in more detail. However, I feel this is an opportunity for the Leader of the House just to reconsider. Will she do so? The Government have had months to respond to these proposals, and I am really disappointed to see them thus weakened.

My second criticism is about the examples of the principles of public life. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the House referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, so she must know that the chair of the committee said in oral evidence to the Committee:

“We strongly support the idea that although the seven principles remain central and important for standards issues right across the public realm, they need to be interpreted for particular institutions and organisations.”

Are we not a particular institution or organisation? We are. He also pointed out that

“the civil service code…takes the same sort of direction…but identifies specific priorities and principles that are relevant to the civil service”,

so why not Parliament?

Does the Leader of the House agree that MPs should not misuse our position to gain financial or other material benefit? If so, the Government should not be nervous of making the principles of public life specific to our profession, as the Committee has recommended. In particular, I wonder about the weakening of the example given by the Committee on leadership. What, I ask, have the Government got against the recommendation that Members

“should actively promote and robustly support the principles, abide by the Parliamentary Behaviour Code”,

and what have they got against the recommendation that we

“should refrain from any action which would bring Parliament or its Members into disrepute”?

Surely that is something the Government should support.

The other part of the backdrop is the loss of two independent ethics advisers in a matter of months. I will not take up too much of the House’s time on this point, but I do want the right hon. Lady the Leader of the House to convey to the rest of the Government our dismay that, week after week, when I or my colleagues ask when we are going to get an ethics adviser, the answer is always “soon”. I am sure the right hon. Lady wants to give us something clearer than “soon” soon.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

I asked the Minister in the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee what “soon” meant. There was an offer—given that the previous ethics adviser resigned shortly after giving evidence to our Committee—of a private session about the process, but the Minister said that there would not be time, as it would come very soon. If the offer still stands, we could work with the Government to try to expedite the process.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I can only echo my hon. Friend’s call to the right hon. Lady to give us some more clarity on what “soon” actually means.

The new Prime Minister’s reference to previous Governments was to show that he would bring in a new professionalism, and so on and so forth, but this is exactly the same cast: there has just been another round of ring-a-ring o’ roses, and one of them tumbled into the middle to become Prime Minister. In this brave new world, their dictionary proclaims that “soon” means “as far down the road as we can kick this without actually having to deal with it”. The word “soon” is an important one to define when it relates to such important constitutional matters, and to transparency, ethics and integrity. We know that ethics matter and standards matter, and they matter whether or not the demonstrator on Parliament Square is calling for them—in fact, all the more so—because I am afraid that this lot skipping ring-a-ring o’ roses around successively failing Prime Ministers has cast such a long shadow on ethics that the Parliament Square demonstrator thinks everyone here is just as bad and that none of us can be trusted. That should shame the Governments responsible for it, because Members are subject to rules and standards. There are systems: there is a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who investigates fairly and there is a Standards Committee that goes on to do likewise. Those checks and processes are designed to hold us all to account and ensure appropriate consequences if we fail. The vast majority of Members register their interests properly.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

I was not planning to intervene, but the hon. Lady struck a chord when she spoke about the watering down of standards and what people on the street—the public and voters—think. We are all tarred with the same brush when Members break the rules egregiously. The reality is that that makes our jobs more dangerous right now, and it makes it more dangerous to go into politics, which we want to be accessible to all. Does she agree?

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I completely agree, and that brings me back to the deletion of descriptors in “Seven Principles of Public Life”, and the Committee’s recommendation that Members

“should refrain from any action which would bring Parliament or its Members into disrepute.”

Watering down standards does exactly that, so I completely agree with the hon. Lady.

The vast majority of Members from all parts of the House, as I have said, correct the record when mistakes are made, register their interests properly, do their job diligently, and work in the national interest and that of their constituents. Every time this shadow falls—every time a Government try to protect one of their own by meddling with the system—it falls, as the hon. Lady said, on us all. Worse still, it falls on the system that we have built up over centuries to protect the public from political corruption.

I do not want to detain the House, but we have a Government whose use of the word “soon” is as casual as to be the equivalent of a parent answering a demanding child at the start of a car journey about the time of arrival, and who refer to whether or not they need an ethics adviser when clearly they do. When they do those things, it affects us all.

In closing, I am saddened but not surprised that this has happened, and that there has been a mangling of what I regard as a very good set of recommendations. I support the motion—of course I do—and I encourage colleagues from all parts of the House to back the work of their colleagues from all parts of the House on the Standards Committee and do likewise. It should not be this way, so I also urge colleagues to back the amendments tabled by members of the Committee.

The Leader of the House and her colleagues had an opportunity today to draw a line. Instead, by messing around with the recommendations, making us wait for months and omitting key parts, they have undermined the strength of the argument. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members will work to strengthen standards and make a commitment that we will not tolerate their weakening. We will only ever support their strengthening and the creating of new transparency. I urge all Members to vote for the motion and the amendments on the Order Paper.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements 9:07, 12 December 2022

The former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom, might want to speak before me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but that is at your discretion. Thank you very much for calling me to speak.

It is important that the House understands that the Committee on Standards recognises what a huge amount of anxiety and tension the regulation of standards in the House of Commons can cause. The vast majority of Members strive—I was going to say “manfully”, but womanfully as well—to uphold the seven principles of public life and our standards, and to observe the rules. When I first joined the Committee, I was struck by how different the conversation is within the Committee from the conversation outside. I have argued forcefully that we need a much more intensive engagement and understanding between the Committee and Members so that the conversations in the Tea Room about what our code of conduct means are supportive and constructive, rather than fearful and about “How do I just stay out of trouble?” I am afraid that quite a lot of the conversation is about that.

The shadow Leader of the House would acknowledge that something that came out of last year’s debacle was the appeals process. The main contention at the time was that there was not a sufficient appeals process. There was a form of appeal, but when we had it reviewed by a retired judge, Sir Ernest Ryder, who looked at our processes and their compliance with article 6 of the European convention on human rights, it was found that our system could be made substantially better by introducing a completely separate appeal process. Had that appeal process existed last year, I do not think the debacle would have happened.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I totally agree with what he says. It was the appeals process that many of us objected to and, additionally, the fact that the commissioner gave her view on that case before the inquiry had begun. As it happened, I agreed with her view, but it is not for a judge to state it beforehand. That was, I think, the objection of most of us.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements

My hon. Friend touches on a key change, which is that in the serious cases that come to the Committee on Standards, the commissioner will now present her findings, but will not present a conclusion. It will be for the Committee to adjudicate on the conclusion, and then for the subject of the inquiry to appeal that conclusion on various grounds to an Independent Expert Panel. That is a significant improvement, and it should significantly reduce the anxiety that Members felt about the system before.

There are only two other points I wish to make about the areas of contention. First, I argued very strongly for the changes to the descriptors of the seven principles of public life, because the bald descriptors of the seven principles on the Committee on Standards in Public Life website are difficult to translate into what we actually do as MPs. For example, selflessness—how do you become an MP if you are completely selfless? You have to advance your own interests. How do you have influence as an MP, unless you advance your own interests and you advance your publicity? Navigating selflessness as a Member of Parliament is a complicated business, and to anybody who says that it is easy to apply the seven principles of public life to all our activities, I say no. We are navigating a difficult landscape where we are constantly beset by conflicting values that we have to reconcile, and the idea is that these revised descriptors will help inform the conversation.

The idea that these descriptors will have a chilling effect on the free speech of Members is a nonsense, because the descriptors themselves have no force in the rules whatever. They simply are there for information and conversation and to help Members to think about how we apply the seven principles of public life. Indeed, any Member who has fallen foul of the rules who could argue in front of the commissioner, “Here are the seven principles of public life, and here are the descriptors, and I felt I was following these principles”, would certainly have a mitigation, in that they had thought about the principles they were seeking to uphold, but nevertheless had fallen foul of the rules. These descriptors are completely innocuous. They are designed to help Members, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government have decided to object to them. I do not understand the argument that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has presented.

We did not argue long and hard over the question of the declaration of ministerial interests. We would not be having this conversation if we had the situation described by my right hon. Friend, with timely, publicly accessible and regular declarations of ministerial interests on a par with the declarations that Members—non-Ministers —have to make as a matter of course in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I wish that we were not in this situation.

I have listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend has said, and I will listen further to the debate. I hope she is saying that this will be sorted out and that, in response to my earlier intervention, we will finish up with a member of the public being able to see on one register all the interests relating to that Member of Parliament, whether a Minister or not. I quite understand the anxiety about dual adjudication of the code and of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. We do not want to get into a situation where—I do not think this is accurate, by the way—there is anxiety that the Parliamentary Commissioner will somehow be adjudicating on matters that are strictly for the ministerial code.

I will listen to this debate. I have added my name to the relevant amendment, but I may well conclude that if the Government need the time to sort this out, we should give them that time, and this would not be some dereliction or watering down of standards. I appreciate that the shadow Leader of the House has to make her points on behalf of the official Opposition, for perhaps not entirely selfless reasons. However, as long as we finish up with both sets of interests being declared within 30 days and the ability to have them all in one place on one website, so that any member of the public or journalist can see exactly what interests are being declared in the name of that Member, we would be in a much better place. I wish we could do that by agreement rather than by dividing the House, but I do not know that we can.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (COP26), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Commons Business) 9:15, 12 December 2022

I will make a brief contribution. It has been very interesting to listen to everything that has been said so far and I look forward to hearing the take of Chris Bryant on all of this.

The Scottish National party welcomes any proposals that ensure that standards in this Parliament are strengthened and that MPs fully represent their constituents, uninhibited by external vested interests. Lobbying is an important part of the democratic process, but only when it is carried out ethically and transparently. As we live in a representative democracy, the responsibility of an MP, first and foremost, is to represent their constituents who voted to elect them to Parliament. Being a Member of Parliament is a full-time role—many of us realise that it is more than a full-time role—and must fundamentally be treated as such. Elected officials should not abuse their power as an MP to earn significant incomes in a second job. The increased transparency of MPs and their interests, financial records, and activities carried out behind closed doors merits and deserves public attention.

We therefore very much welcome the ban on providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services. Second jobs must be limited and regulated, although of course a formal contract enabling MPs to work in public service as doctors or nurses, or in the legal profession is a reasonable proposal.

We are also completely committed to the reform of practices that enable MPs to abuse in any way their positions of power for private gain at the expense of their constituents. It is wrong that influence can be bought in our politics, and we have to make every effort as responsible MPs to stamp that out.

There has been a rise in the reporting of abuses of the system in recent years. That has highlighted its various loopholes and shaken our constituents’ faith in their MPs. It is good to see at least some of those being closed down through the Government’s acceptance of most of the Standards Committee’s recommendations. I pay tribute to the work of the Committee and its hard-working Chair, the hon. Member for Rhondda, and I commend its excellent inquiries and reports.

We welcome the addition to the code of conduct of a new rule prohibiting a Member from subjecting anyone to unreasonable and excessive personal attack. However, I, too, am disappointed that although the Committee recommended a set of descriptors based on the Nolan principles of conduct in public life—which other public bodies have adopted and which form the basis of the Scottish ministerial code—the Government replaced them with a much more generic version, and I think “generic” is being a little kind.

I therefore support the cross-party amendment (a) from the hon. Member, which backs the Committee’s position on that. I again express real disappointment that the Government will not accept those descriptors for Members of Parliament. They are principles that none should object to if they want to stand for public service. As Sir Bernard Jenkin said, they are designed to help Members, so why would we not welcome them?

Improving the transparency and searchability of the House of Commons Register of Members’ Financial Interests is essential. The public deserve to know what is in it. We therefore also support amendment (b), which would end the ministerial exemption that has been in place since 2015.

Many people listening to this debate may not realise that MPs are required to declare any financial interests, including travel, gifts and hospitality worth more than £300 within 28 days. I just cannot see why Ministers should not have to register benefits received in their ministerial capacity in the same way. I listened carefully to the Leader of the House, but I just do not understand the justification. Such benefits are supposed to be published in the Government’s transparency returns, but those returns do not include details and appear only sporadically.

The alternative proposals that the Leader of the House has outlined are certainly a welcome shift from the Government; I look forward to hearing the hon. Member for Rhondda give his views on them. He said that he thinks that some Government Members agree with his Committee’s recommendations as they stand and may support the amendment. I hope they do. It is obviously for Members to decide on these matters, as the Leader of the House says, but personally I think the time for delay is over. I certainly hope that Members across the House will support these amendments.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire 9:20, 12 December 2022

I am really pleased that this debate has returned to the House. I refer to my submission to the Committee on Standards’ review of the code of conduct in February 2022; I had asked if I could give oral evidence to the Committee, but sadly that did not happen. I will refer to some of the points that I made, because I think they are important and I do not think that anyone else has mentioned them yet.

In short, we need a review far broader than the one before us tonight of how the standards processes work in Parliament. All our constituents want to be able to hold us all to account. Most importantly, we want to hold ourselves to account. Members across all parties have said that almost all of us are doing our best at all times, working with honour and integrity and doing the best job we can, yet somehow the drip, drip, drip of bad behaviour is destroying the reputation of this place on a constant and ongoing basis. The measures before the House this evening, which with one notable exception are frankly trivial, are just not going to change that.

As colleagues will know, I was closely involved in a cross-party attempt to create an Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. There are no other colleagues present who were closely involved, but all seven political parties in this place were represented. It was intended to create a change in the culture. What we always see when we come to this place is people pointing fingers—“The Government have done this, the Standards Committee has done that, the Opposition have done this”—and all we do is make it worse.

The ICGS was designed to change the culture by doing things like proper induction for new members of staff, so that people know what to expect; proper exit interviews, so that when a Member has a group of staffers leave every three months, something can be done about it; and proper training programmes for staff and Members. Sometimes people laugh and say, “I don’t need to do unconscious bias training.” Well, my challenge to them is: “Okay, define it, then. If you don’t need to do that training, you define it. Show me how good you are at that.”

The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was set up to tackle those issues, but what we have now is a scheme that has sucked in every single complaint—“So-and-so won’t let me go for lunch on time,” or, “My holiday was cancelled.” Those frankly more trivial workplace grievances, which have nothing to do with the serious challenges, overload the system, so that when there is a serious complaint of serious bullying, sexual harassment or even worse, there is not time for it. The system is too slow. It delivers neither the confidentiality that it was supposed to deliver nor the speed of justice.

I am afraid that, in coming up with this review, the Committee on Standards is looking thoroughly only at non-ICGS complaints, although it has certainly indicated its interest in the ICGS. Since 2018, the ICGS, which is independent—the clue’s in the title—and non-ICGS complaints, which are presided over by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, have got sucked into one amorphous blob. It has become a punishment routine that embarrasses us all, drags us all down and is destroying our reputation.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

May I clarify a point that my right hon. Friend has just made? I think she said that the Standards Committee had not looked at the independent complaints system. That is because, as she probably knows, the Standards Committee has no remit to look at it.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

As a matter of fact, the Standards Committee can look at whatever it wants. It was not established to look at the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. In a sense, however, my hon. Friend has made my point for me: the fact that the Standards Committee is looking at how we can improve the conduct and the reputation of Parliament without looking at the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme is a nonsense, and that is my thesis this evening. We need a much broader review.

I am sorry to say this, because I am extremely fond of the Speaker and all the Deputy Speakers, but the Committee concluded that the behaviour of the Speakers and the Deputy Speaker was untouchable. The fact that behaviour in the Chamber is a matter for the Chair and should be above investigation by the Standards Committee is extraordinary. In very recent history, someone in the Chair was the person who wound up the Chamber the most, making people miserable and bringing the whole House into disrepute, yet for some reason the Committee will not consider the behaviour of those in the Chair. Nor will it consider what is going badly or well in respect of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. If Chris Bryant wants to intervene, he is welcome to do so.

Now, under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has some sort of authority over that. It was intended that the investigation would be carried out independently and confidentially, but we are finding that investigations are now being presided over by the commissioner, who is requiring Members to stand up in the Chamber and apologise. That is outside the remit of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. Some may say, “Fine: if you have been rude to someone, you should stand here and apologise.” My response would be: “You try saying that to someone who works at John Lewis or McDonald’s. Are you seriously going to make them apologise to the entire firm, so that that will be on the record forever?”

There are serious issues involving the mental health of MPs and the way in which we behave in this place—the way in which we protect colleagues from the problems that occur and bring us all down. So many people say to me that they are sick and tired of the fact that we are all tarred with the same brush. It is very easy for people to be tribal and say, “It’s you”, “No it’s not, it’s you”, but actually it is all of us. We are all held in incredibly low esteem, and it is because we have not sorted this out.

While I am on the subject of big subjects, let me say that in my opinion—this is open to discussion and challenge; does anyone want to intervene?—it is all about the House of Commons Commission. Talk about a totally opaque organisation! It is chaired by the Speaker, it has appointments, and it is simply extraordinary. It is not accountable, and it makes financial decisions with very little transparency. Ultimately, all the authority in this place to establish Committees, to appoint Committees and so on, comes from the House of Commons Commission. In my opinion, we should have a fundamental review of that and then take it from there. The Standards Committee should look again at the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme and make sure it is doing what it was set up to do.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

My right hon. Friend is making some very good and important points, and I hope that those who are listening to the debate may come up with a mechanism whereby we can review some of these issues. We are always told that they are issues for the House to decide, but what is never obvious to me is the process we can undertake to effect the discussions to which my right hon. Friend is referring.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

That—I say this slightly tongue in cheek—was the point of the amendment that was tabled last year, but nevertheless that did not happen during the debate on standards that took place then. It seems to me that we need something like the Straw Committee, which, back in the day, reviewed the way in which the processes of the House worked much more fundamentally than this review.

The one development that I genuinely think has been brilliant is the new appeals process. It was essential and has been a long time coming, and I hope it will get the balance right between just punishing MPs and trying to change the culture in this place and give people fairness.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards 9:29, 12 December 2022

Dame Andrea Leadsom knows that I agree with nearly everything that she has said, and in particular what she said about the Commission. Indeed, further to the point that was made earlier by my fellow member of the Committee, Andy Carter, I think we on the Standards Committee would like to look more at the independent complaints and grievance scheme. We were conscious that when she set it up, part of the rationale was that MPs should not get their sticky fingers on this area of the work, so I feel as if I have been charged by her to carry on looking at this area of work. She and I have had quite a few conversations about this and, as she knows, I have some concerns of my own. It is important that we get this absolutely right.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements, Chair, Liaison Committee Sub-Committee on National Policy Statements

We need to remember that the ICGS came into being because Members of Parliament were not trusted to adjudicate on these matters. If the Committee is going to look at this, will the hon. Gentleman join me in making an undertaking that in no respect are we going to interfere with the process or the adjudication of cases, but that we are possibly going to look at the governance of the process and the governance of the scheme as a whole?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

Absolutely; I completely concur with every single word that the hon. Gentleman has said, not only just now but in his speech earlier. He and the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire have made the point that we are in the business not only of setting up rules but of trying to change the culture. That is normally a more difficult process, and I will come on to that.

If I might irritate the House briefly, a constituent has asked me to remind everyone that we pronounce “Rhondda” as “Rhontha”, with the “dd” sounding like a “th”. I apologise to everybody.

Advent is, as we know, a penitential season, and it was the 35th anniversary of my ordination as a priest last week, so let me start with my traditional confession that I am no better than any other Member in the House, with not just feet of clay but ankles, calves and thighs. I have to say that, as I look round the Chamber every day, I see colleagues of different stripes and from different parties who have made considerable contributions, often way beyond the call of duty, to our national life. Politics really is an honourable profession, but it is also true that the public want us to do better.

I am painfully aware that 18 Members of this House have been suspended or have withdrawn for a day or more during this Parliament. That is quite a significant number. That may in part be because we are getting our act together, and that things that were formerly swept under the Pugin carpet are now dealt with not secretly and behind closed doors but through a proper process. I am also conscious that on top of that we have 15 Members in the independent group who have been suspended from their political parties, and justice sometimes comes through these processes very slowly. That is not fair to complainants, and it is not fair to the Members either. I want to make sure that Members are entitled to fairness. That is why I want us to have a set of rules that is clear, simple and unambiguous, and it genuinely worries me, as I know it does the whole Committee, that we now have 12 separate bodies that regulate Members of Parliament, and that we are now even considering creating a 13th. Whether that is right, I hate to think. I am sightly conscious, however, that other countries have it even worse. The House ethics manual in the United States of America consists of 456 pages, so I think we have been remarkably concise.

I am grateful to the Committee, and especially to its lay members: Mehmuda Mian, Tammy Banks, Rita Dexter, Michael Maguire, Paul Thorogood and Victoria Smith, plus the former members who played a part in getting us to this point, Arun Midha and Jane Burgess. This has been a long, iterative process, and Sir Bernard Jenkin—who I sort of think of as the deputy Chair of the Committee—is absolutely right to suggest that the lay members often bring an insight, as we bring an insight to them, that results in a creative mix that is in the interests of the whole House.

Let me deal briefly with a few important changes that we are making as a result of today’s motion, because it is important that Members understand them. First, we are completely banning MPs from providing paid parliamentary advice, including providing or agreeing to provide services as a parliamentary adviser, consultant or strategist. I believe that that always was, effectively, selling the title of MP on the open market.

Secondly, we are requiring a Member who takes on an outside role to obtain a written contract or a written statement of particulars detailing their duties. The contract, or a separate letter of undertaking, must specify that the Member’s duties will not include lobbying Ministers, MPs or public officials on behalf of the employer, or providing paid parliamentary advice, and that the employer may not ask them to do so. I think that is a very good defence for a Member who takes on outside earnings.

Thirdly, we are significantly tightening the rules on conflicts of interest resulting from outside interests by extending, from six months to 12 months, the period during which an MP cannot engage in lobbying on a matter in which they have a financial interest.

Fourthly, we are closing the “serious wrong” loophole that Owen Paterson sought to exploit. From now on, if a Member wants to claim this exemption when approaching a Minister or official, they must show that any benefit to their client is merely incidental to the resolution of the wrong or injustice. They must state at the outset that they are providing evidence of a serious wrong, and they may not make repeated approaches, otherwise it just becomes a loophole through which they can drive a coach and horses. I am glad the Government now agree with us on that.

We are also ending the false distinction between a Member initiating and participating in a proceeding and an approach to a Minister or official where they have an outside financial interest. It is not enough simply to register and declare an outside interest. It is surely axiomatic that a Member who is in receipt of outside reward or consideration should not seek to confer a benefit through parliamentary or political means on the person or organisation providing that outside reward or consideration. That is paid advocacy and, as my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire said, it has been banned in some shape or form since 1695.

I now turn to the matters on which the Government disagree with the Committee. First, like the other members of the Committee, I simply do not understand the Government’s argument on the Nolan principles. They have got it wrong, and it is not in the interests of the House or of individual Members to stick with the Government’s position. Acting on the advice of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which originated the Nolan principles, the Standards Committee drafted and consulted on more detailed descriptions of the individual words—selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership—as they apply specifically to Members of Parliament. Lord Evans, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told us:

“We strongly support the idea that although the seven principles remain central and important for standards issues right across the public realm, they need to be interpreted for particular institutions and organisations.”

That is why, for instance, the police have gone down precisely this route and produced their own set of descriptions.

More importantly, the Nolan principles need fleshing out in a parliamentary situation. What does “selflessness” mean in the context of Parliament? I would argue that a Member cannot be entirely selfless, unless they renounce any form of payment, unless they travel to London every single day from their constituency, wherever it is in the land, and unless they eschew any ambition whatsoever. But if they have no ambition, would they want to come to Parliament in the first place?

We have written descriptions to help explain not only to us but to our constituents and to members of the public, who might be the people complaining about our behaviour, precisely how those principles apply to how we do our business. Put simply, I think the Standards Committee’s version is more helpful to MPs and the public than the Government’s version.

Secondly, I think ministerial declarations are a no-brainer. I understand the arguments, but I do not think they particularly wash with the public. I start from three basic principles. First, Ministers in the House of Commons owe their position to their membership of the House, and they are answerable to the House. Secondly, all MPs should be treated equally under the rules. And thirdly, the public have a right to know, as close to real time as possible, of any financial interests that might reasonably be thought to influence an MP’s speeches, actions, decisions or votes. As Ministers actually make decisions, whereas most of us in the Chamber just talk about other people’s decisions, transparency is even more important for them, not less important.

Following those principles, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West said, the 1993 Select Committee on Members’ Interests—at around the time of cash for questions—concluded that

“Ministers are and should be subject to the House’s rules for the registration of financial interests in exactly the same way and to the same extent as all other Members of the House.”

That was the House rule under the Major Government. On the back of that, the new ministerial code in 1997, under Major and then under Blair, said that Ministers should register hospitality received in their capacity as a Minister in the House if it was

“on a scale or from a source which might reasonably be thought likely to influence Ministerial action.”

The 2007 ministerial code provided that ministers should register hospitality both with their permanent secretary and the House.

It was only in 2015—really quite late in the day—without any announcement, discussion or debate in the House, or any comment in a Select Committee report, that the rule was changed to grant Ministers in the code of conduct of this House an exemption from registering anything that they considered they had received in a ministerial capacity. The theory is, as the Leader of the House helpfully explained, that in exchange for that exemption, Ministers register through their Department any gifts, hospitality and travel that they have received in their ministerial capacity. That is published somewhere between three and nine months later, but without the value, which is a key point. That means that a member of the public cannot judge whether the hospitality was on a scale that might reasonably be thought likely to influence ministerial decisions.

The Committee, Transparency International, the Institute for Government, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the 1922 committee, the Labour Front Bench, the Scottish National party Front Bench, a substantial number of Ministers and I think that the system is manifestly unfair for the ordinary Back-Bench MP. They declare it all within 28 days and can be investigated and sanctioned if they fail to declare it correctly. However, the Minister’s declaration, without details, appears months later and cannot be investigated. It is not uncommon for a group of MPs—some of whom are Ministers and some are not—to go to the same event, which might cost more than £300. The Back-Bench MPs all declare it and the Daily Mail writes a story about it, but the Minister’s attendance is recorded nine months later and nobody notices. That seems somewhat unfair to me.

Incidentally, in answer to a point that the Leader of the House made, the Committee has said that the Government could set a lower threshold for further ministerial registrations if they wanted to—lower than £300 threshold in the House of Commons. However, it is worth pointing out that, though the ministerial threshold at the moment is said to be £140, since the Government do not publish the value of what is received, we have no idea whether that threshold is being met. I have been to events with Ministers that I have registered, but which the Minister has never subsequently registered anywhere.

I am not convinced that the system is working. I have a great deal of time for the Leader of the House. I love ministerial promises, especially when they come before Christmas and they talk about spring, but previous Leaders of the House have said to me that this would be sorted out by spring—a different spring. That spring has now sprung, and now we are into the winter. It seems extraordinary that Government Ministers will not be able to work out for themselves—not the Department —whether they have been to an event or received hospitality worth more than £300, and to register it in two minutes by sending a quick email to the registrar of interests in the House. I simply do not understand the logistical argument from the Leader of the House.

I urge colleagues to support my amendment, first, because the public expect full transparency and openness, and wonder what Ministers are trying to hide. Secondly, Ministers, in effect, now choose whether to register with the House or the Department. That does not make any sense at all. Thirdly, even if the Leader gets her way, the information will not all be in one place.

Fourthly, nobody presently or in future, so far as I can see, is expected to regulate or monitor the ministerial declarations. Fifthly, there are bizarre anomalies such as the previous Foreign Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, and the previous Home Secretary, Priti Patel, going to a Bond premiere, supposedly in their ministerial capacity because, as another Minister explained, James Bond exercises Executive functions. That argument simply undermines the whole system. I am not making that up, incidentally.

My next point is that this is the bare minimum that the public expect of us. I have had many emails, texts and helpful pieces of advice on Twitter saying that we should not be taking any hospitality or gifts whatsoever. If a person was working in local government or in most of the private sector today, they would have to declare everything. I do worry that sometimes our belief in our own exceptionalism, and Ministers’ belief in their own exceptionalism, grows with every extra day that we are an MP or a Minister.

Ministers have a habit of becoming ex-Ministers, but under the present rules, their registered interests do not come with them to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. So if we stick with the Government’s proposals, they could easily and inadvertently fall foul of the new paid lobbying rules, which now apply for 12 months after the interest is accrued. They might have accrued the interest when a Minister, but then end up not being a Minister any more and wanting to lobby Ministers. They would be precluded from doing that, but then they would not have registered the interest with the House. That is yet another reason why it is simpler—far, far simpler—to return to the system that we had from 1997 to 2015, instituted by both Conservative and Labour Governments on the back of the cash for questions crisis, of treating all MPs equally.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

I am very near the end, the hon. Gentleman will be glad to know, but of course I will give way.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I have been listening very carefully, but I am undecided on this subject. When I was a Minister, the difference was that I had a permanent secretary who was on my case to make any declarations that I needed to make on outside interests, shareholdings and so on. An ordinary Back Bencher does not have that. A Back Bencher may take hospitality because it is quite a fun thing to do, but a Minister may have to attend something that could be seen as hospitality but is actually part of their brief. He or she might not enjoy having to do that, but that comes along with the job. The hon. Gentleman is trying to group everything together as if it were the same, but, actually, receiving hospitality is different case for a Minister and a Back Bencher.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

I have heard the argument, “Oh, we go to lots of events that we don’t really enjoy”, but let me put this case to the hon. Member—it is not a real case, but it is a perfectly possible case. Let us say that Formula 1 invited three MPs: the shadow Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister; the Minister; and the Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The event was at the weekend and the value of the hospitality was about £2,000. The shadow Minister would have to declare it. They might not particularly like Formula 1— They might be going because it is part of their work in that role. I personally cannot imagine anything worse than going to a Formula 1 event—[Interruption.] I can see that the hon. Gentleman agrees.

The Chair of the Select Committee would also have to register the Formula 1 weekend. They would have to register who had paid for it and how much it was worth, which is an important part of judging whether it might be of such a scale that it could influence a person’s decision making. Furthermore, those two people would not then subsequently be able to lobby on behalf of Formula 1. That is a really important part of the rules of the House. However, the Minister merely tells the permanent secretary that they have been on this weekend and does not register the value, and it appears many months later, even though the Minister might be the person who is making executive decisions that affect Formula 1. That is our fundamental problem.

What we have at the moment is a lesser degree of transparency and openness for Ministers who make decisions than for Back Benchers who do not make decisions. The Leader of the House has been very helpful on many of these issues and I do not have a big beef with her, although she is still yet to visit the Rhondda tunnel, but if I am honest, her arguments sounded a bit like Augustine of Hippo saying, “Make me chaste and continent, but not yet.”

There is no reason why we cannot do this. I have heard Ministers promise many things over the years—indeed, I might have promised a couple of things that never came to pass myself when I was a Minister. The easiest way for the House and for Parliament to deal with this is to go back now to the system that we used to have, then if the Government come back to us in six months’ time having sorted out ministerial transparency, they can have the exemption back. All MPs should be treated equally under the rules, just as every member of our society should be treated equally under the law, and that is why I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support the two amendments I have tabled.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I do not wish to curb debate at all, but this debate has to finish in about 40 minutes and I want to give the Leader of the House a good amount of time to respond. I ask colleagues to bear that in mind.

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 9:50, 12 December 2022

I thought I would start by reflecting on something the Prime Minister said back in his days as a junior Minister in the then Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government:

“The conduct of local councils and their councillors has a direct impact on the reputation of an area and of their fellow members. Their ability to lead a community and impact the lives of all those they serve is significant, and it is only right that they are held to a high standard.”—[Official Report, 25 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 521.]

He was speaking in his role relating to local government, but as we again debate how we carry our duties, those words are incredibly relevant to why this issue is important. We could equally say that the conduct of parliamentary parties and their MPs has a direct impact on the reputation of a country and their fellow members—or even the conduct of the Government and its Ministers.

The Prime Minister said it himself: how elected officials behave matters immensely for their institution and for the people they serve. That is why I am pleased that we have consensus on some much-needed improvements to our code of conduct, which will come in as a result of this motion, but it is also why I am disappointed that the Government are failing to implement the code of conduct as recommended by the Committee in its entirety. I hope the Prime Minister has not changed his mind on the importance of integrity in public life since taking senior Government office.

I place on record my good wishes to the Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, as she departs her role at the end of the year, and thank her and her team for their efforts to date. Several hon. Members have brought up the Owen Paterson vote in November last year. Part of my own compunction to table the application under Standing Order No. 24 after that debate was driven by the importance of understanding—given that we all make decisions here as individual Members about what we hear during debates—that what we do and say in this House can have a direct impact on those outwith it. I know the abuse the Commissioner for Standards experienced following that debate.

I will start with the first of the two amendments tabled by Chris Bryant, amendment (a)—I, too, thank the Standards Committee. I have put my name to both amendments, because it seems frankly ridiculous that in this place of a million minute rules the Government would push back on something so sensible as tailored descriptors for the Nolan principles.

That makes me think of my own time in HR. I worked for multinationals and in the public sector, and in many of those organisations there were behaviours or soft skills that all people within an organisation would be assessed against in their appraisals. We provided guidance so that the chief executive of an organisation and somebody on the shop floor were assessed in relation to those behaviours at the level that was appropriate to them, and that is exactly what these descriptors are setting out to do.

The argument that the Government are making is that we do not need any guidance, but basic logic tells us that broad principles such as openness and leadership will mean different things to people carrying out different functions. As the hon. Member for Rhondda said, the Committee on Standards in Public Life acknowledged that in its 2015 report looking into how regulators embody those principles. For example, in the case of a regulator, selflessness—it is funny that we all seem to have touched on selflessness in this debate—means putting aside their own views and opinions, something that we as MPs we definitely do not do. For us, I believe it means ensuring that we cannot be compromised through any outside interests. I would argue that those two ways of interpreting the first Nolan principle for those in different sorts of public office are entirely compatible, and I can see no problem in giving specific guidance to Members, to regulators or, indeed, to any other office holder. In fact, I would argue that additional guidance benefits Members.

It is 12 December 2022. I think we were all up to something else exactly three years ago today. When I came to this place the following Monday, it was pretty overwhelming. There are lots of rules, customs and corridors to get lost in, and constituents instantly need help. But I can also imagine that for someone who has been here a few years, it might feel easy to feel too comfortable and simply to let things slide when we should, arguably, know better. We should never allow a lack of knowledge, or complacency, to be a barrier to how we conduct ourselves in this place. Guidance is arguably a way to help us in that. It sets expectations both for those following the rules and for those making the judgments on whether those rules have been adhered to.

Turning to amendment (b), I would like to hear from the Leader of the House why she does not support bringing the process for Ministers to declare gifts, hospitality and so on in line with that for other Members. Perhaps she will try again to argue that it is justified on the basis of the separation of powers, as she did when we debated this in October, but I simply do not buy that. Separation of powers takes place when the Government and the legislature are, well, separate. But in case the Government have forgotten, they too are Members of this legislature. This is a combined system—that has its pros and cons—but it is not separate. Even if it were, I just do not find it acceptable to argue that being in Government rather than on the Back Benches means being subject to less scrutiny, and I am pretty sure that my North East Fife constituents do not think so either. I would think that is the case for many Members in this House.

Perhaps I will be told that Ministers should be trusted to do the right thing, but we know that they get things wrong, as recent reports of Ministers using their personal emails for Government work, in breach of security, tell us. Clearly, it is easier for everyone when there is one straightforward system to be used so that mistakes cannot be made.

Furthermore, as colleagues have pointed out, Back-Bench MPs, and even Opposition spokespeople, have 28 days to register financial interests, which are then published every two weeks. We have had two Prime Ministers and countless Secretaries of State and junior Ministers—many of whom now sit on the Government Back Benches—since the last ministerial report was published in June 2022. That is simply not an equal system.

I am here representing my constituents, as is every single Member in this place. I remember the first Monday I was here. I saw the right hon. Member for—oh, I cannot remember where he represents, but I remember seeing him as he was getting coffee and thinking, “Oh my goodness! That’s such and such.” And a little voice in my head said, “No, at this moment in time, he is in exactly the same job as you: he is here to represent his constituents.”

What the Government are proposing is not an equal system. This country rightly has high standards for politicians to meet, and I believe that the vast majority of Members want to put procedures in place so that we meet those standards. We will fail without this change. Ministers are Ministers because they are elected as MPs in the first place. Their constituents should be able to find information about them in one place.

I could go into further changes we need to improve standards in this place and the trust that the country places in us, about which we have heard from other Members, but, in focusing on the two amendments, I will keep it simple: vote for amendment (a) to make it easier for Members to keep to the high standards that we all want in this place. Vote for amendment (b) to make it easier for Ministers to demonstrate the integrity that we rightly demand. If the Government fail to do that, it will not just be them explaining why not; it will be all of us in this place. This Government decision impacts on us all in how we conduct ourselves here.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East 9:58, 12 December 2022

I have listened carefully to all the contributions in the debate. I congratulate in particular my hon. Friend Chris Bryant on the assiduous way in which he has approach this matter as Chair of the Committee.

I will address the Committee’s third recommendation, on the matter of an outright ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services. I welcome that report as a genuine advance. I was given the opportunity to provide oral evidence to the Committee about a Bill that I drafted and introduced last year, which would have banned MPs’ second jobs, with a few exceptions, for example, for those working on the frontline in public services. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] It is interesting that Conservative Members shout out, “Why?” when I talk about the proposal to ban second jobs for MPs, with an exception for, for example, nurses, firefighters, people in the armed forces and doctors. I do not understand why that proposal was met with such incredulity and such a loud chant of, “Why?” from Conservative Members.

When we debated the issue previously, I almost lost count of the Conservative Members who said, “What about nurses? What about doctors?” Yet when those exceptions are mentioned now, they ask why. When Conservative Members said, “What about nurses? What about doctors? You can’t ban second jobs for MPs”, I felt that they were using exceptions as a way of keeping the rotten status quo.

The public do not object to MPs spending their spare time working on an A&E ward as a nurse or a doctor, working as firefighter, or being in the Territorial Army. They rightly object if a Member is paid £1,500 an hour to advise a US investment bank. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] Again, there is a call of, “Why?” That is good evidence for why people outside all too often think that this place and MPs are out of touch with them.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I do not want to be too partisan about this, but were I a writer like Michael Foot, could I go on writing and get my royalties? Were I a farmer like Jim Callaghan, could I keep my farm? Should we say to people like my former colleague, Peter Thurnham, who built up an engineering business, “Don’t come into Parliament. You’ll have to give away your business while you’re here”?

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Labour, Leeds East

I did not expect the Chamber to come to life, but when it comes to attempting to ban MPs’ second jobs, everybody gets energetic. I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I did not want to speak about my Bill at such length, but it deals with his point. Members who write books, for example, could continue to do that, but could not keep the proceeds. That may seem unfair to many, and some people would perhaps be treated harshly under my proposal, but that is because people have found ways of exploiting loopholes. One could imagine a situation whereby, if one could keep the profits from writing, an MP would write a book about the oil industry, get paid a lot of money for it and work for an oil company for free on the side. However, I digress. I understand that MPs are annoyed at any suggestion that second jobs should be banned, but they are out of touch with the public when they get so angry about it.

I welcome the advances that have been made on an outright ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services. I also welcome the advance in requiring MPs to have a written contract. That is a step in the right direction. However, the House must recognise that the public are rightly angry because when MPs chase corporate cash, they short-change the public. The public are also outraged because, a year after the Owen Paterson scandal, MPs are making more money from second jobs than they were a year ago—£5.3 million, the highest figure ever. That is the problem: this place and MPs end up being out of step with what the public want. The public rightly believe that we get paid enough and that being a Member of Parliament is a full-time job.

I am not surprised that my contribution has annoyed Conservative Members so much, but I will support the motion and the amendments. They are certainly a step in the right direction. On second jobs, we need to go further in future. They should be banned with a small number of exceptions. I introduced a Bill on that and the Government repeatedly blocked it. It is still there if the Government want to do the right thing and take it forward. I am glad that Labour Front Benchers support a ban on second jobs for MPs with a small number of exceptions. I hope that we get in at the next election, introduce that proposal, and help to clean up our politics and restore public trust.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure) 10:05, 12 December 2022

I shall be extremely brief. I will support both amendments but do not believe either of them goes far enough. In an ideal world we would all conduct ourselves in public and private by principles conducive not just to our own benefit and wellbeing, but to the benefit of the wider community, but we do not, so we have laws that enable the prosecution of lawbreakers.

In Parliament we like to think we adhere to standards and principles, and we primarily refer to the code of conduct for those in public life; as we all know, the seven principles of public life are the Nolan principles, but like all guidelines, memorandums of understanding and conventions, the Nolan principles only work if individuals have the self-discipline and moral compass to adhere to them. When they do not, the abuse of their position is often clear for everyone to see, but rather than hold them to account, this place too often turns a blind eye or gently reprimands them with a rap on the knuckles.

Unfortunately, past behaviour leads me to believe that we could extend the Nolan principles to 107 principles and those who currently adhere to them would, but those who think they are above and beyond such practices as self-control would ignore them all because they feel entitled to do so. In ministerial and Members’ registers of financial interest, transparency is crucial and that information must be provided in a timely fashion. Why would it not be? Why is it not already? As many MPs have shown time and again during covid, it is one set of standards for them and one set for everybody else.

In summary, while we rely on principles and guidelines and conventions, some MPs will walk right through them, and the time for navel gazing is over.

Photo of Kim Leadbeater Kim Leadbeater Labour, Batley and Spen 10:07, 12 December 2022

Despite the late hour, it is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I rise to speak briefly on the motion today and to speak in favour of amendments (a) and (b).

Members from across the House will understand my personal interest in ensuring our politics and our political discourse are conducted with transparency, respect and civility and are free from the dangerous toxicity we have seen in recent years. I believe we all have a responsibility in this regard, but, sadly, we have seen behaviour in this Chamber and outside that is clearly unacceptable, and we must raise the bar. That is why I am pleased to see us acting to strengthen the code of conduct, which I wholeheartedly support.

We in this House have a sincere duty and obligation to adhere to the highest standards of public life and to set an example of what robust, passionate, healthy debate and discussion in our country looks like. If we cannot demonstrate appropriate values, attitudes and behaviours and find a way to behave with civility and to show respect despite our many differences of opinion and perspective, how can we expect others to do so, and how can we expect them to respect us?

We have seen multiple examples of how the language, tone and behaviour of Members in this House trickles down to wider society both online and offline. It trickles down and creates an unhealthy and dangerous climate and a culture of abuse and intimidation. It trickles down and it puts good people off entering public life, whatever their political persuasion, when we should be working to open politics up to people from every background, creating a welcoming, tolerant and safe environment—one that strengthens our democracy, not damages it.

But this has to start with all of us. Stamping out the type of unacceptable behaviour we have seen in recent times and increasing transparency will undoubtedly help to reduce the toxicity that has spread across our public discourse and help to stop the unfortunate narrative that we in this place are “all the same” or “all in it for ourselves” with little regard for the public interest.

We in here know that the vast majority of Members are in this place to make a difference to their community and their country, with the public interest at heart. But if the public do not see that unacceptable behaviour in public life is effectively and rapidly stamped out, they will be disengaged, breeding suspicion and, at worst, driving people to the extremes.

I believe we have a clear responsibility to stop this happening. I am therefore pleased that we are strengthening our code of conduct today. I believe we can and should go further and therefore also support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, which I believe will bring much-needed further transparency and higher standards in public life.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 10:09, 12 December 2022

I will try to respond to all the points made by hon. Members. I appreciate everyone being in the Chamber at this late hour and listening as well as contributing to the debate. I turn to the points made by the shadow Leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire. She was disappointed that it has taken this long to get to the motion. If we had debated it earlier this year, we would have had not two points of disagreement but five. I hope she recognises that we have not been idle and that we have spent our time well. It has been my mission to try to find consensus on all these issues; that is the best thing for the House.

The hon. Lady made comparisons to the situation involving Owen Paterson. I would dispute that and point to the fact that the votes that we will have are free votes. It is controversial, but people can make up their own minds and decide what they think is the right thing to do. The Government clearly need to have a view, and that is what I set out. I also point out that we accepted the serious wrong issue put forward by the Standards Committee.

If the hon. Lady is to support amendments, I hope that she will be consistent in her party’s policy. The Labour Welsh Government’s hospitality threshold is higher than that for this House, and certainly that of ministerial thresholds. The Welsh Government also publish an annual list of gifts. So if she, as I do, wants us to move to monthly reporting, I hope that that Government will follow. I will also give her this quote from page 130 of Gordon Brown’s report, “A New Britain”, in which he says:

The Ethics and Integrity Commission dealing with Ministers should be…separate from the system which investigates ethical breaches by MPs and members of the second chamber, comprised of the Committee on Standards, the Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards, and the Independent Grievance and Complaints System.”

That is a sensible approach.

It is difficult for us to conflate the two systems. I have tried to eradicate the word “soon” from my vocabulary—although I hope that the hon. Lady appreciates that, when I have said “soon”, I have delivered—so I did not say “soon”. I have said, “summer”. Looking at these issues, I think that is a reasonable timeframe—[Interruption.] That is to move to monthly reporting.

With regard to the point made by Chris Bryant about bringing forward guidance and publishing it, the motion originally would have come into effect on 1 January. He suggested that we push it out until March so that everyone can be brought up to speed and know where they are. That is a sensible approach. I will do my utmost to ensure that the civil service meets that deadline of when the motion comes into effect, which I think is reasonable. If hon. Members want this to work well and orderly, that is the timetable that we must work to.

Hannah Bardell pointed out that it is incredibly important that we take care of hon. Members’ wellbeing. It is in our interests to remind anyone who might be listening to the debate that whatever motion is voted on tonight—amended or unamended—it will improve and strengthen the standards of this place. That is an important point.

My hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin, who is also a Member of the Standards Committee, was pleased that we had acted swiftly on the appeals process. We have a different view from him on the Nolan principles, but, as I explained to him earlier, people can vote on it. This is House business. Hon. Members can listen to different viewpoints and vote on that. That is how we should be doing things, and that is how we will do things tonight.

Deidre Brock also supports amendment (b), which would move us immediately to monthly 28-day reporting. That came as a surprise to me, because my understanding is that the Scottish Parliament reports on a quarterly basis. I look forward to the Scottish Parliament moving in line with amendment (b). Maybe we could have a race and see who gets there first.

My right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom spoke about many issues, some directly related to the motion, and she was supported by my right hon. Friend Dame Maria Miller. She is right that we have to build trust in Parliament. We want to be the best legislature in the world. We have to continually address those issues, and I have heard what she has said.

Turning to the hon. Member for Rhondda, the Chairman of the Committee on Standards, I will not repeat the arguments I have made before, but I will just touch on a few points. First, I agree with him when he says it is important that justice is served swiftly. I have shared some concerns with him on how quickly we carry out investigations, and we want to do better on that. I was grateful to him for outlining the many positives that I hope the House will support tonight. We still disagree on the Nolan principles issue. I looked into the police issue he raised; I do not think the police have done as he outlined. What they have done is produce a code of ethics, which was signed off by the Home Secretary, but that is different to what is being proposed for Ministers.

On ministerial declarations, I completely agree with the three principles that the hon. Gentleman set out. What I am interested in doing is getting there in an orderly way, to ensure parity with the House’s reporting system. I am telling hon. Members, having looked at this in detail and probably more than any other Leader of the House, that if they wish this measure to come into effect in March, they will have a problem. It will be a problem not just for Ministers, but for anyone undertaking an envoy role, including Labour Members. The hon. Gentleman also helpfully proposed a manuscript amendment earlier this evening, which chimed with the sentiments of the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Bristol West, with regard to having “scale and source”. Again, I think Members want clarity. They want an amount, a threshold. They want clarity on the rules. I do not know whether it would be means-tested. Is something that is materially important to me materially important to someone else?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards

I am sorry, but it seems to me that the clearest outcome for all right hon. and hon. Members is a single rule of £300 registration for everybody within 28 days, with the full value shown. Everything else is muddying the waters.

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am just addressing the point that he and the shadow Leader of the House raised earlier. The bottom line is that the Government agree that the system has to improve. We agree entirely with the principles that the hon. Gentleman set out. If amendment (b) goes through, he will be requiring Members who are also Ministers, or envoys of some description and trade envoys, to report in March at a pace that he knows the Whitehall machine will not currently be able to deliver on. In a few months after that point, it will. I suggest that we wait until Whitehall can deliver, which will not be far away—I did not say soon; I said summer—and we can move towards that in an orderly way.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

When the Chairman of the Committee on Standards, Chris Bryant, talks about his fallibility, he reminds me of article XXVI of the articles of religion. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has convinced me that amendment (b) is too soon and too rushed. Will she consider having a button or a link on both registers, so that people can find other information about a Member who is also a Minister?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

On that point, which has also been made by the Committee Chairman, who accuses me of using the argument of saying “not yet”, we have already started this work. I have already been working with the propriety and ethics team, and we have audited every Government Department, which is why I can bore Members senseless about why there are some problems. We have already started to look at how we might have a system that everyone in Whitehall could report into, instead of doing it in a million different ways, but also at our goal being that transparency. For example, if someone is looking at their MP, they want to have a comprehensive picture, so we have already started looking at that, and I hear what hon. Members have said.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure)

Can the Minister assure me that we are not trying to delay beyond March because it falls during the current financial year?

Photo of Penny Mordaunt Penny Mordaunt Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

No, I can assure the hon. Member on that point. We have moved the date in the motion from January to March, at the request of the Committee Chair, because we want everyone to know what the new standards rules are that we are voting on today, and we felt that was right.

From Wendy Chamberlain, we had a different view, but I thank her for her contribution. I would ask Richard Burgon—I am just trying to read my own handwriting—to read the report we have been discussing, because it does not come to the same conclusions that he does. I thank Ronnie Cowan for his remarks. I do not think that colleagues are a bunch of rotters; I am sure he was not suggesting that.

Finally, I will end, rightly, on the very salient point that Kim Leadbeater raised, and she is absolutely right. Although we focused on the areas of disagreement, one of the areas where there is huge consensus is about the duty of care we have to each other. She is very genuine, for reasons we all understand, in her remarks.

I would conclude by saying that this is a huge step forward. I thank the Committee for its work. It made 20 recommendations, and the Government want 18 of them brought in. We want, particularly on ministerial interests, for us to move to the position the Committee wants, but in a way that is doable and orderly. This is a free vote. All Members will have heard the arguments and listened, and they will be voting and deciding what the best thing they think is to do. I do not expect, particularly given the subject matter we are debating, any party or Member to criticise the decision that hon. Members will have taken this evening in good faith, me included.

With that, I urge all Members to support the Government motion unamended. This is a big step forward. We do want to move to clarity and parity for both systems, but both systems of reporting should remain distinct.

Amendment proposed: (a), leave out from “annexed to that Report” to

“(b) the Third Report from the Committee on Standards”.—(Chris Bryant.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 124 Standards: Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules

Aye: 135 MPs

No: 240 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 241.

Question accordingly negatived.

More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, this day).

Amendment proposed: (b), under “Leadership”, in paragraph (b), leave out from “annexed to that Report” to

“with effect from 1 March 2023”. —(Chris Bryant.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 125 Standards: Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules

Aye: 133 MPs

No: 239 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 135, Noes 239.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That—

(1) this House takes note of:

(a) the First Report from the Committee on Standards, on New Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules: promoting appropriate values, attitudes and behaviours in Parliament (HC 227), and approves the revised Code of Conduct for Members annexed to that Report, subject to the following amendment:

In section C (Seven Principles of Public Life): leave out “; as set out below, they are supplemented by descriptors, which apply specifically to Members of Parliament” and the Principles and descriptors as set out in the Report and insert:

“Selflessness

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.”

(b) the Third Report from the Committee on Standards on New Guide to the Rules: final proposals (HC 544), and approves the revised Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members annexed to that Report, subject to the following amendments:

(i) In Introduction, paragraph 14, leave out, “Whilst Members are not required to register Ministerial office” and insert, “Members are not required to register either Ministerial office or benefits received in their capacity as a Minister”.

(ii) In Chapter 1 (Registration of Members’ Financial Interests), paragraph 17, at end insert: “() Donations or other support received in a Member’s capacity as a Minister, which should be recorded, if necessary, within the relevant Government Department in accordance with the Ministerial Code.”

with effect from 1 March 2023, except that paragraph 8 of Chapter 3 of the Guide to the Rules shall only have effect in respect of past financial interests or material benefits from six months after the date on which the revised code and guide come into effect.

(2) previous Resolutions of this House in relation to the conduct of Members shall be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.