Sir George speaks on Members Allowance Committee proposals
3 Mar 2009
This is the text of a speech Sir George made on proposals relating to Members Allowances

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): To pick up a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I think that it would be difficult to say that every Select Committee Chairman shall be paid except this one. I understand where he and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) are coming from, but the principle has been conceded already. Moreover, I suspect that the new Committee will be quite important and busy, so it would be unfair to say that every Select Committee Chairman shall be paid but not the one who chairs the Committee on Members’ Allowances. Therefore, if there is a Division, I shall be in the opposite Lobby from the hon. Member for Thurrock. That may not happen often. I welcome the appointment of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) to the Liaison Committee. Many of the matters that we discuss may impinge on the responsibilities of his Committee and it will be useful to have him there.

I want to add a footnote to the very helpful exchange that we heard earlier, and to set out my concern when I saw what was on the Order Paper. Motion 16(2)(d) makes it clear that the Committee on Members’ Allowances will determine

“‘the application of the rules in such individual cases as may be referred to them by hon. Members, in accordance with procedures prescribed by the Committee’”.

The question arises how that fits in with the existing procedure—what one might call the post-Nolan settlement, whereby we established an independent parliamentary commissioner reporting to the Standards and Privileges Committee, which published his findings on any complaint, along with the conclusions. At first sight, that sentence seems to take away from the existing Committee and the commissioner the responsibility for seeing whether the rules on allowances had been broken, and gives it to the new Committee—hence the concern that I expressed in the amendment that has not been selected.

It is important that the House of Commons retains those elements that we now have. Indeed, the other place may be looking at such a structure to resolve some of the difficulties—the Deputy Leader of the House is looking worried already. I give way.
Chris Bryant: I was not looking worried. I am never worried when the right hon. Gentleman is on his feet. I was merely going to say that some hon. Members may have misunderstood, possibly because there is an element of ambiguity in motion 16, paragraph (2)(d). The expectation of the Committees that originally proposed the reference to

“the application of the rules in such individual cases as may be referred to them by hon. Members”

was not that one hon. Member would refer an issue about another hon. Member to the Committee, but that a Member would refer a matter relating to his own allowances. That is very different from the expectation in the case of the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee.

Sir George Young: Yes, that takes part of the trick, but it does not resolve the fundamental problem. Even in those circumstances where a Member self-referred himself to the Members’ Allowances Committee and got the go-ahead, there would still be the possibility of double jeopardy, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The self-referring Member may well get the green light from the Members’ Allowances Committee and go ahead. There may well be a complaint from a member of the public to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who may well feel that there is a prima facie case and go ahead. There is an element of risk of double jeopardy.

The answer is a good working relationship between my Committee, the commissioner and the new Committee, to make sure that we minimise the risk of double jeopardy. I personally welcome the establishment of the Committee, and I hope it will produce guidelines that clarify the rules and reduce the risk of Members making mistakes.

I was reassured by the statement of the Deputy Leader of the House on the record that notwithstanding anything that may be before the House this evening, the duties, powers and responsibilities of the Committee on Standards and Privileges or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are not affected. It was enormously helpful to have that on the record, endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan). That takes the trick.

There was concern on my Committee at the possibility of the Nolan settlement being picked away. Against the background of the assurances that I have been given, I am much happier than I was and I look forward to working with the right hon. Member for Islwyn and his Committee in driving up standards in the House.



 
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