Speaking as Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Commmittee, Sir George paid tribute to the outgoing Commissioner - Sir Philip Mawer - and welcomed his successor John Lyon.
See speech below
"It gives me great pleasure to support the motion, moved by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), to appoint John Lyon as the House’s new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has just said about resources from the House. As he explained, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, I played a part the selection process, and I can confirm its rigour and integrity.
The current commissioner, Sir Philip Mawer, will be a hard act to follow, and he was the benchmark against which I judged the applicants. John Lyon has a similar pedigree. He has a distinguished record as a career civil servant and a good insight into the ways of the House and its Members, both through his private office experience in the Home Office and his involvement with our legislative programme. He has demonstrated his ability to deal effectively with sensitive matters and to balance conflicting interests, not least in some of his work in Northern Ireland. He has shown his ability to act discreetly and fairly and I am sure that he will prove to be a worthy successor to Sir Philip. Both the Committee and I look forward to working with him.
What are the skills that John Lyon will need? It is self-evident that an ability to act fairly is essential. The commissioner must also be able to prioritise, and to identify and concentrate on, the key issues. He must be resolute in the face of obfuscation, as successive commissioners have demonstrated. Given the extent of the commissioner’s direct personal involvement in investigating complaints, he needs the ability to run investigations, and to draft complex reports succinctly.
Besides ensuring that the system runs successfully, the commissioner needs to keep the wider picture under review. The standards system is a dynamic one, and the commissioner plays a leading part in ensuring that it continues to meet expectations, both inside and outside the House. He also has to seek to ensure that the system's achievements are better known. The commissioner’s annual reports—referred to by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey)—the most recent of which was published a couple of weeks ago, have an important part to play in this.
John Lyon will inherit a standards system that is in much finer fettle than that which awaited his predecessor in February 2002. Then, there was a distinct feeling, inside and outside the House, that the arrangements the House had put in place in 1995 were failing and were in need of radical reform. The Committee on Standards in Public Life initiated an inquiry, which could have recommended an end to our self-disciplinary procedures. The committee, rightly in my view, put its faith in continued self-regulation, and subsequent events have shown the wisdom and foresight of that decision. That the reputation of self-regulation was restored is due in no small part to the work of the current commissioner.
I have already mentioned that the standards system is a dynamic one, and the commissioner has a key part to play in ensuring that it develops effectively. This debate provides a welcome opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Sir Philip Mawer in this respect. The Standards and Privileges Committee supported a three-legged strategy: first, emphasising prevention; secondly, carrying out impartial and robust investigations of complaints; and thirdly, proposing initiatives aimed at ensuring that the standards arrangements continue to reflect expectations both inside and outside the House. Sir Philip has enhanced the reputation of the House’s standards arrangements.
On the first count, the proactive work of the commissioner and his team, particularly at the start of Parliaments, but also at other times—including when changes are made to the system—has helped to reduce the scope for inadvertent breaches. That is important, because all breaches, deliberate and inadvertent, impact on public perceptions of, and confidence in, Members generally and the reputation of the House as an institution. In tidying up the registration requirements and rationalising, where possible, those of the House and the Electoral Commission, he has made it simpler for Members to meet their obligations. He has also improved the visibility of Members’ interests: up-to-date versions of the register are now more readily accessible as a result of the decision to update the internet version fortnightly when the House is sitting.
On the second count, the commissioner has made 47 formal reports to the Committee, one of which—that relating to the complaints against the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway)—was the most lengthy and one of the most complex reports ever undertaken. On the basis of those reports, the Committee required remedial action in six cases, and the House took action against Members, on the Committee’s recommendation, in three further cases. Sir Philip’s inquiries have been fair and thorough in all cases, and his reports clear and succinct. I am heartened, though, that so few serious cases have arisen on his watch, which reinforces my own view of the generally high standards of Members’ conduct.
On the third count, the commissioner has led a review of the code of conduct, approved by the House in 2005, and a review of the guide to the rules, which the Committee expects to report on soon. He has introduced extensions of the rectification procedure, to increase the range of circumstances in which minor infractions can be dealt with effectively without the formality of a report to the House. Other developments are also in prospect, as outlined in the commissioner’s most recent report.
Sir Philip Mawer has been an outstanding commissioner, who took over one of the most difficult jobs in public life and made a success of it. He has played a key part in restoring confidence in our disciplinary procedures. The extent to which his experience is sought out internationally is a tribute to the distinguished service he has given the House for some five and three quarter years. We wish him well in his new post as the Government’s adviser on ministerial interests, and we welcome his successor to the post."