Standards and Privileges
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House approves the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 624), Registration of Interests by Members who have not taken their seat, and resolves that its provisions should come into force three months after the date of this Resolution.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Mr. Speaker, I can introduce the Standards and Privileges Committee's report very briefly. The House will recall that, on 18 December, we debated a Government motion to allow Members who had chosen not to take their seats to use the facilities of the House and to claim certain allowances. In answering an intervention from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) during that debate, the Leader of the House said:
"The motion will enable the four Sinn Fein Members to make an entry in the register. They are not required to do so under the rules, which provide that Members shall be obliged to make an entry only within three months of taking their seat. If that disappoints Opposition Members, I can give them the assurance that the motion will bring the four Sinn Fein Members within the scope of the remit of"
the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards,
"who will be able to apply the code of conduct."—[Official Report, 18 December 2001; Vol. 377, c. 158.]
When the House reassembled after Christmas, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and other Ulster Unionist, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members made representations to me to the effect that it was unacceptable for the four Sinn Fein Members to be exempted from the requirement to register their interests. I told the right hon. Gentleman that the Standards and Privileges Committee would look into the matter.
The Committee sought authoritative advice from the Clerk of the House, who explained succinctly the position of the four Members vis-à-vis the rules of the House, and made a practical suggestion for ending the anomaly that the debate of 18 December had brought to light. His memorandum is published with our report.
I should explain to the House that Members who, for whatever reason, have not taken their seat are still Members of this House. The code of conduct and the rules on registration and declaration of interests apply to all Members of this House, whether or not they have taken their seat. However, the rules are so worded that Members have three months from taking their seat to comply with the requirement to register their interests. So a Member who does not take his seat is not exempt from the requirement to register, but is, in effect, given an unlimited period within which to do so.
We propose that the rules be changed, so that Members have to register within three months of their election. For the vast majority, that will reduce by about a week the time available to complete and return the registration form. I doubt whether that will cause them any inconvenience.
I am entirely content with the proposition on the Order Paper that Members of the current Parliament who have not taken their seat should have three months' grace in which to put their affairs in order, although I understand that three of the four Sinn Fein Members have already completed and returned their registration forms. Their entries will be included in the next update of the register, which is available in the Library and will be available on the internet in a few days' time. I commend my Committee's report to the House.