Proposal to overhaul Westminster standards includes extending Nolan principles to eight

[But Boris Johnson is said to be “uncomfortable” with numbers. – Owl]

Alexandra Rogers www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

MPs could be investigated if they launch “excessive” personal attacks as part of a recommended package of reforms to overhaul standards in Westminster.

The Committee on Standards, which looks into the behaviour of MPs and ministers, has suggested adding a new rule to the code of conduct which would ban members from attacking others in any medium.

The rules around ministers’ gifts and hospitality could also be tightened under the proposed reforms to standards, which have garnered interest in the wake of the Owen Paterson lobbying row.

Under the proposed draft new rules, which are out for consultation, a loophole which allows ministers to not declare on the Commons register gifts and hospitality what they receive in a ministerial capacity would be ended — a move that would force Boris Johnson to declare a recent holiday he enjoyed in Spain.

Under the current rules, the prime minister was not forced to declare the cost of his stay at the luxury Spanish villa of personal friend Lord Goldsmith, because it was logged under the minister’s register of interests rather than the Commons register for MPs.

Meanwhile, the standards committee has also proposed extending the seven principles of public life to include an eighth principle of respect, whereby MPs must “abide by the parliamentary behaviour code and demonstrate anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours through the promotion of anti-racism, inclusion and diversity”.

The debate around MPs’ standards was ignited in the wake of the Paterson scandal, in which the former Cabinet minister was found guilty by the standards committee of an “egregious” breach of parliamentary rules by lobbying ministers on behalf of two firms that were paying him more than £100,000 between them.

The government initially tried to put the committee’s recommended 30-day suspension of Paterson on hold on the grounds it believed that parts of the process that found him guilty was unfair.

However, it then abandoned its support for Paterson, triggering his resignation as an MP.

Paterson’s actions led to heightened scrutiny around MPs’ work outside parliament and calls to tighten the rules around second jobs.

The committee said there should be an outright ban on MPs providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services.

It also recommended a new requirement that an MP must have a written contract for any outside work which makes clear that their duties cannot include lobbying ministers, members or public officials, or providing advice about how to lobby or influence parliament.

Following the report’s publication, Chris Bryant, chair of the standards committee, said: “The past few weeks have seen a number of issues raised about MP’s standards, but the key overarching issue here is about conflict of interest.

“The evidence-based report published by my committee sets out a package of reforms to bolster the rules around lobbying and conflicts of interest.

“These aren’t the final proposals we’re putting to the House. This report is the committee’s informed view on what changes we need to tighten up the rules and crack down on conflicts of interests following a detailed evidence-led inquiry.”

He added: “We will consult and hear wider views on what we’ve published today before putting a final report to the House for a decision in the New Year. If approved, these robust proposals will empower the standards system in parliament to better hold MPs who break the rules to account.”

Earlier in the day Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner proposed her own overhaul of the standards system regulating MPs, and argued that ministers should be banned from work relating to their past job for five years after leaving government.

She also said Labour would set up an “independent integrity and ethics commission” that could launch investigations into ministers’ conduct without the permission of the prime minister, as is the case currently.