Sir George Young is chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. Yesterday he addressed the House of Commons.
His committee has published a report suggesting the end of "dual reporting" – whereby MPs have to report donations to both the Register of Members’ Interests and Electoral Commission. The committee says that MPs should just record the donations on the Register and the Electoral Commission should then extract the information.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and Health Secretary Alan Johnson are both thought to have been caught out by the current requirement to report to both bodies.
Herewith some highlights from Sir George’s statement, which was supported by the Government:
"The reporting regime, which is one of the most demanding in the world, needs to be overhauled from time to time to ensure that it is both effective and proportionate. The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that such an overhaul should be carried out once in each Parliament, and today’s package of proposals represents the overhaul in the present Parliament.
In addition to making changes that relate to the end of dual reporting, the revised guide clarifies existing rules, implements earlier decisions of the House—for example, on the employment of family members—and responds to developments outside this place, such as the development of new forms of investment vehicles. The final section of the revised guide sets out in greater detail than before the procedure for considering and investigating complaints that a Member has breached the rules. Many of the changes, however, and most of the red print in the revised guide are there to end dual reporting.
Members may well ask, “Well, what is the catch?” I do not believe there is a catch, but there is certainly some give as well as some take. Members will need to provide more information to the registrar than they did previously. However, this will be offset by the removal of any need to report the same information to the commission, and a single form will be provided for this purpose.
Although hon. Members will no longer have to provide information on permissible donations and loans directly to the Electoral Commission, the commission will remain under a statutory obligation to publish all the relevant information as soon as is reasonably practicable. That means that the commission will publish information on its register within one month of receipt. In order to avoid a four-month gap opening up in the commission’s register, it will be necessary to return to the previous practice of requiring Members to register their interests within one month of their election or re-election to the House, rather than within three months, as at present. Separate deadlines for information required under statute and for information required under resolutions of the House would create confusion and lead to error, and the Committee therefore considers it preferable to have a single deadline."
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Alan Duncan also commented. He found the matter more complicated than he had anticipated:
"I had hoped that this was going to be a very straightforward and simple debate and that all I would need to do was stand up, speak for two minutes, thank everybody and hope that everything was lovely and tidy, hunky-dory and tickety-boo, and that there would be no problems. However, although the House will have appreciated the Minister’s speech, it appears that he has unintentionally somewhat muddied the waters, and I sense that there is now some concern in the House about the precision with which the new system will work. Although what is proposed is billed as the abolition of dual reporting, a sentence on page 19 of the guide to the rules suggests that it is not entirely that:
“Registration by the Member is additional to any registration required of the local organisation.”
We have hit on a point that seems to be muddy. The underlying principle is that if any of us, as an individual Member of this House, appears to be benefiting from the raising or giving of money, we should declare it openly. However, two issues have given rise to concern in the 45 minutes of debate that we have had: the phrase “linked to” and the operation of our local constituency associations. I do things, as I am sure do the Minister and others in this House, to raise money for the Conservative party—in the Minister’s case, of course, it is not for the Conservative party—and I would like to think that if I am speaking at a fundraising dinner I can raise more than a thousand quid for the party. [Hon. Members: “No problem!”] Indeed; we could add a nought—we never know if people are queuing at the door. However, that is not for my benefit. I think that the Minister said, rightly, that I would not receive the benefit, but it is fair to say that in some of his answers he gave he gave a slightly different impression. Likewise, if I attend a meeting of my association—a dinner at which I, as the local Member of Parliament, might be speaking—and it raises more than £1,000, we are in a grey area where it may or may not be declarable. At the moment, in attending such an event, I would be raising money for the European and county council elections. That is of no benefit to me whatsoever, beyond the broader political advance that those elections will lead to. That is, however, in no way a direct contribution to me or my campaign."