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Parliamentary Standards

Volume 494: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2009

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to update the House on the issue of parliamentary standards, but first I would like to offer you congratulations on your election yesterday. I look forward to working with you on issues of concern to members of the public and Members of this House.

The public want to have full confidence in the parliamentary system. Members want there to be full confidence in the system, so that the cloud of suspicion is lifted and the reputation of the House can be restored. Like you, Mr. Speaker, I strongly believe that the overwhelming majority of Members of Parliament are decent people who work hard to serve the public interest, not to serve their own self-interest, but that is not the impression the public have, and so we are taking action.

It is the actions that are under way that I want to set out to the House today. They are the changes to our allowances that we have already made; the publication last week of our last four years’ allowances; the publication of our 2008-09 allowances; a revised code of conduct for Members, updated by the Standards and Privileges Committee and published today; the introduction later this afternoon of the Parliamentary Standards Bill; the proposal, to be debated this Thursday, for a new Committee of the House, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), to strengthen the role of Parliament; a new registration system, starting on 1 July, for full transparency on Members’ second jobs; the work of Sir Thomas Legg, who is leading a team to establish what might need to be paid back from claims over the last four years; the work of the Committee on Standards in Public Life to propose a new allowance system; and then, the new independent parliamentary standards authority, which is starting work and taking over the whole of our allowances system and running it.

First, changes have already been made to our allowances system. Since 19 May this year, and arising out of the meeting between the then Speaker and the party leaders, there can now be no claiming for furniture and no changing the designation of a main home. There is a cap on monthly rent or mortgage payments, every claim must be backed up by a receipt, and MPs who are couples can only claim for one second home.

On publication, last Thursday, every claim by and payment to all Members over the last four years was published by the House authorities on the House of Commons website. Of course, we must protect Members’ security, but for the publication of the 2008-09 receipts this autumn, the question of redaction will be looked at again, having considered the advice of the Information Commissioner.

On payback, work has begun by Sir Thomas Legg, who has been contracted by the House authorities to lead a reassessment of all claims over the past four years and, having reconsidered each claim and the evidence submitted to support it, to report whether it was within the rules as they obtained at the time, with a view to ensuring that where there has been overpayment, it is paid back. The public expect that over-claims will be paid back, and that will happen, together with any necessary disciplinary action.

Work is under way by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which, with Sir Christopher Kelly as chair, is undertaking a root-and-branch review of the allowances and will make recommendations. It is taking evidence and will complete its work in the autumn. I have already given oral evidence to the committee, and set out for it the principles that I believe that the House would want to underpin a new allowance system. Those principles are that the system should be simple and transparent; that it should reduce the cost to the taxpayer; that second-home arrangements should be consistent as between the allowance system and the tax system; that the system should sustain the all-important constituency link; that it should sustain our ability to work effectively on behalf of our constituents and communicate with them; that it should support the inclusion, as Members of this House, of those with family responsibilities and those with disabilities; that it should allow us to decide for ourselves how we do our work and not put us in a straitjacket; that it should protect the ability of those on low incomes to come into the House; and that it should command public confidence.

This afternoon, the Parliamentary Standards Bill will be published. It will establish a new, wholly independent authority to take over the role of the Fees Office in authorising Members’ claims, overseeing a new allowance system, following proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and maintaining the Register of Members’ Interests. I assure the House that as the new independent authority for allowances is established, we will work closely and sympathetically with the House authorities on the future of the staff currently working in the Department of Resources.

The Bill will also create new criminal offences of knowingly making a false claim for an allowance, failing without reasonable excuse to register a relevant interest, and contravening without reasonable excuse the rules on paid advocacy. That will put Members of the House on the same footing as we have, in legislation, put local councillors and Members of the Scottish Parliament. I shall set out in my business statement the date for Second Reading of the Bill, but the House should know that we intend its Committee stage, as well as Report and Third Reading, to be taken on the Floor of the House. We hope that there is sufficient consensus, following the consultation that has been led by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, for it to gain Royal Assent by the time the House rises for the summer recess. The new authority could then be ready to start work with the Kelly committee’s recommendations by the end of this year.

The Justice Secretary and I are grateful for the constructive cross-party discussions that preceded the Bill’s introduction. A number of those on the cross-party group, including the Government, are prepared to go further. The Bill is the first stage of legislation, and covers the specific but important and urgent task of setting up an independent authority to run our expenses system.

The Prime Minister, in his statement to the House on 10 June, set out his concern that we should make progress on strengthening the role of the House in holding the Government to account. Today we will table resolutions for debate on Thursday that will establish a new parliamentary Committee for a time-limited period, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase, that will look into, and make recommendations on, enabling petitions from the public to find their way into debates and votes in this House. It will also look at strengthening Select Committees, and will consider, and make proposals for, the House choosing non-Government business.

Finally, the public are entitled to know who is making payments to their MP, how much is being paid, and what the MP is doing for that payment. Following the resolution of the House of 30 April, there will, from 1 July, be a new registration requirement, so that any payment to an MP for services, whether in cash or kind, will have to be registered. Guidance from the registrar of Members’ financial interests has been sent to all Members this morning. That will mean that for the first time, the public will be able to see all the payments that are made to Members. The public want to know who, other than them, is paying their MP. The Kelly committee is looking further into that, and will report on whether transparency is enough, or whether we need to do more.

The abuse by some Members of our allowance system has caused a high level of public concern. It has required this comprehensive range of actions to ensure that we can say to the public, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), “We get it, and we’re sorting it.”

May I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for advance sight of her statement?

Over the years, Mr. Speaker, you and I have often joked that we are frequently mistaken for each other—I am not quite sure why. Indeed only last night as I was walking through the Central Lobby, I was accosted by a Bishop who congratulated me on becoming Speaker. Whenever you made speeches in this House, I used to get stopped in the street the next day to be praised for what I had said. I always considered that to be a mixed blessing, but from now on, it is an honour.

This House needs to recognise two things. The first is the depth of public anger that we have faced over the last couple of months. The second is the need to have a Parliament that works and does not become so brow-beaten and rules-driven that it loses all the confidence and freedom it needs to do its job properly.

This statement is very simply a recapitulation of all the various decisions and processes that have been announced over the last few weeks. Internally, the Conservative party has taken a great deal of action and has led the way in bringing a far greater degree of transparency to what was an inadequate and murky system of allowances. We have introduced “right to know” forms for registering family members, strictly limited the things that can be claimed for under the second homes allowance and those on our Front Bench are now publishing online every receipt and relevant piece of correspondence that we have with the Department of Resources.

The Leader of the House and I attended the meeting of the party leaders where the changes that she has just described were discussed and agreed, and they were almost identical to the ones that the Conservative party had implemented. Across the House, we all feel that we have gone a long way to removing the perceived excesses and absurdities of the second homes allowance.

Despite the massive step towards transparency, publication last week of redacted receipts turned out to be an unmitigated PR disaster. Big black splodges, even if they were on top of completely blank paper, looked like censorship on a massive scale, even where they were not. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that only the barest minimum necessary to protect genuinely private information and anything necessary to prevent identity fraud will be redacted when the 2008-09 receipts are published in October?

May I say that Sir Thomas Legg is an excellent choice to undertake an audit of all claims from the last four years as he is a man of unimpeachable integrity? The reports of the Committee on Standards and Privilege enjoy an official status in this House and, although not strictly speaking judicial, their verdict is always taken as authoritative. What does the Leader of the House take to be the status, official or otherwise, of Sir Thomas Legg’s inquiry and the report we expect from him in September? Where in law will it leave a Member who has been reported unfairly as having cheated and fiddled?

In her statement, the Leader of the House re-announced her intention to set up a temporary Select Committee to propose parliamentary reform. She has already proposed that the chairman should be the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Will she confirm that this Committee should do its work and then report just once, probably in November as she originally proposed, and that in setting it up she will agree at the same time to abolish the Modernisation Committee, which has not met for months and is clearly redundant?

The Leader of the House has referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life and also to today’s imminent publication of the Parliamentary Standards Bill. Whereas the original Nolan report of 1995 outlined some clear principles about what Parliament should be and what it should mean to be an MP, many of those principles seem to have been completely ignored, distorted and even discarded during the hand-to-mouth reaction of the last couple of months. One such area is what she calls “pay transparency”. The Nolan principles made a clear and deliberate distinction between the payments and income that had a direct bearing on a Member’s parliamentary conduct and other such payments that definitely did not. The resolution of the House about outside earnings has led to a new code of conduct, published today, which many Members have already told me they think is unworkable. Is she satisfied that it is, in practice, workable as the resolution of the House has demanded?

In order to determine the rules that are made to govern our conduct, should we not define in advance a clear set of principles to determine what our Parliament should be? Could we not, for instance, as a bare minimum, say that Parliament should be the free association of elected individuals, unrestrained and untrammelled by any partial interests or rules beyond those wholly necessary for MPs to carry out their duties with honesty and integrity? Perhaps, in future, this House can take definite and further steps on that sort of basis to sort out the mess that it is in.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has undertaken in consultation with the Justice Secretary and me and as a member of the Members Estimate Committee. I think that it is important for the public to be able to see that the whole House of Commons understands that we need to restore the reputation of all Members of the House and for us to work together to that end. I do not think that the public, who looked in dismay at the situation, would be further encouraged to see any party trying to take party political advantage of the situation. We simply need to work together to sort it out.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the redaction of receipts. It is obviously important to ensure that the fullest possible information, compliant with the Freedom of Information Act, is put into the public domain. If public money is paying for the allowances, the public need to know which MP has spent how much and on what.

The way in which receipts were submitted in the past few years means that it is necessary to blot out those items, such as telephone numbers on a telephone bill, that should not be put into the public domain. If we claim for something bought by one of our assistants, and the proof of that purchase is on their credit card account, we should not put the whole of their credit card number into the public domain. We have to cross out those things that have not been claimed for. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that only the barest minimum should be redacted. As he is a member of the Members Estimate Committee, like me, he is in a better position than most other Members of the House to discuss the matter with the new Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the status of Sir Thomas Legg’s inquiry. As a member of the Members Estimate Committee, the hon. Gentleman took part in the discussion that supported the House authorities in contracting Sir Thomas Legg to carry out the inquiry. This work is being done on behalf of the House authorities, and the Legg inquiry will report to the House authorities. When the House is advised that money has been over-claimed, steps will be taken to get that back.

The hon. Gentleman asked where the law stood in respect of someone who was unfairly reported by Sir Thomas Legg as having received an overpayment—[Interruption.]

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was asking where it left a Member if Sir Thomas Legg said that there had been an overpayment. The answer to that question—even if he did not ask it—is that Sir Thomas Legg will notify Members in advance of publishing his report that he has found that there has been an overpayment. That will enable them to say, “Actually, I have got a copy of that mortgage invoice, and here it is.” Members will be able to respond before the report is published and put into the public domain.

The hon. Gentleman made some suggestions about how the new parliamentary Committee should work. I agree that it is a good idea for it to be of limited duration and for it to focus on bringing together much of the work that has been done by hon. Members across a number of Committees so that we can focus and make some progress on strengthening Parliament. I think that meeting over a limited period of time and reporting once sound like good ideas.

I could not quite work out whether the hon. Gentleman was in favour of the pay transparency of the new registration system. He asked whether it was workable. I can tell him that it is and that new guidance has been issued today. The new system will be workable if hon. Members approach it as follows: if they agree to do something for someone in return for money or a benefit in kind, they should register that. I think that that is fair enough.

It is not registered entirely at the moment. Ironically, work that is not related to the duties of a Member of Parliament is not registered at all. A person’s work as a doctor, dentist or barrister does not have to be registered at present, although all details of such income will have to be registered from 1 July.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) asked whether the code of conduct should contain principles. There are principles in the code of conduct, and I commend the work undertaken by the Standards and Privileges Committee to produce the new code of conduct, and the rules relating to the conduct of Members, that have been published in the House today.

Order. Many Members are hoping to catch my eye, and a great many wish to contribute to the debate that follows. I therefore repeat what Mr. Speaker has said about brief, single supplementary questions. I call Sir Stuart Bell.

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that the institution of Parliament has been severely damaged by the actions of its Members, for which we all accept responsibility? Only by getting our Members to understand their responsibilities can that reputation be restored. My right hon. and learned Friend has talked about the new Bill coming before the House and said that it will become law before the summer recess. She seems to be confident that there will be some kind of consensus on the Floor of the House but, given the remarks by the shadow Leader of the House, may I tell her that I am less optimistic than she is?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his long years of work on the Members Estimate Committee. I believe that public confidence will be restored when it is clearly evident that we have clear rules, and that their operation is wholly independent of the House. Following the extensive cross-party talks that have taken place—and I should like to thank all those who took part in them—I believe that we can achieve a consensus. The public expect us to act, and to do so swiftly. Although the normal extended parliamentary timetable is important for scrutiny, in this case I think that people would see it merely as a cover for us diving into the long grass and rustling around. We have to get a move on with setting up an independent parliamentary standards authority. It is necessary, and we should get on with it.

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement, and for my early sight of it. The public will welcome the fact that a shared view is emerging that fundamental reform is urgent and vital. However, I also suspect that people may be getting a little tired of party leaders trying to claim unique credit for that, whether on the lunchtime news or in this Chamber. I also wish that there was a shared view among hon. Members about the commitment to transparency and openness. I am not yet convinced that that is the case, and it may be something that we still need to work on.

That brings me naturally to the publication of expenses. As far as I am concerned, data protection is important but having acres of black space is a redaction to the absurd. In my published expenses, the address of my local newspaper was removed, apparently because I had put in a receipt for an advertisement that I had placed. That suggests that we need to look at the matter again, and urgently.

The Leader of the House knows that I have also given evidence to the Kelly committee. As she said, what is required is what is needed to do the job as a Member of Parliament—no more, no less. My view is that the right way forward is that basic accommodation costs only should be claimed, but we must wait and see what Kelly says. I ask her to confirm yet again that the Government will accept the recommendations of the Kelly inquiry, whatever they may be. Will she also confirm that she will accept the recommendations of the Committee to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and put those recommendations, whatever they are, before the House, rather than editing them in advance?

On the Parliamentary Standards Bill, the Leader of the House knows that we support the principle of external regulation. Has she given any further thought to registers held by the House, other than the Register of Members’ Interests, that should be covered by the Bill? Will she look again at the common law offence of misconduct in public office? The maximum penalties for the offence are life imprisonment and unlimited fines, which many of our constituents may feel is insufficient for many Members. Will the right hon. and learned Lady look at putting that on a statutory basis, as recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 1997?

Lastly, I welcome the transparency that is being proposed on non-parliamentary income, but I feel there are still problems with the de minimis requirements and their connection with the advocacy rules. I do not want us to be in the position that no Member of the House can visit a factory in their constituency and accept a cup of tea and then say something in the House about the industry or their constituency. I do not think that the code of conduct and the guidance notes yet make the distinction that provides for those circumstances.

The Leader of the House has our general support for the measures she has put forward today. We must now make progress, and the sooner we can do so, the better.

As I said, the House authorities will be looking again at the question of redactions. That exercise, which they undertook for the first time, involved 800,000 pages, so inevitably some things that Members are concerned about will fall either side of the line. Before the 2008-09 receipts are published, Members will be able to look again at all those issues and discuss them with the Information Commissioner, and any Member who wants to can submit suggestions about the issues in principle.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there will be acceptance of the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life under the chairmanship of Sir Christopher Kelly. The hope is that we do not once again have to trawl through all the issues we went through last July and this January. There is the expectation that we will be able to accept the report and we certainly hope that will be the case.

I agree that we expect the proposals of the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase to come before the House through a resolution. That is the whole point. There is no point a Committee sitting, having a lot of good thoughts and making good proposals if nothing happens as a result. There is a commitment on the Labour Benches to seeing such proposals go forward.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the offence of misconduct in public office should be put on a statutory footing. That is being considered by my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, but it would not be a matter for the Parliamentary Standards Bill, which we have tried to keep narrow and focused.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the difficulty of transparency in the registration of pay. As he is a great champion of transparency on allowances, I ask him to apply that mindset to the question of transparency on pay. If somebody has a cup of tea when visiting a factory, nobody would regard it as payment for services. I think Members can distinguish payment for services from a donation. Different rules will apply to donations from those that apply to payment for services. We all need to make the rules work. This is long overdue: if people take money from their constituents for doing things, the public should know about it.

I fully support all the efforts being made by the Government both to clean up our act and for full disclosure. I have listened carefully to what my right hon. and learned Friend said, but does she accept nevertheless that the blacked-out information released officially last week was very embarrassing? It lost us further public support, was rather farcical and can be described only as a public relations disaster.

As I indicated, the House authorities will look again at redaction. The intent is to put information into the public domain, not to raise even more concerns.

I very much welcome the bulk of what the right hon. and learned Lady announced, but can she confirm that what the Prime Minister announced on 10 June—a statutory code of conduct for Members of Parliament—has now been abandoned as unworkable?

When the right hon. Gentleman sees the Bill that will shortly be published, on which he was good enough to engage in consultations, he will see that it puts the code of conduct on a statutory footing. May I take the opportunity to say that he no doubt was disappointed by yesterday’s result, but in his campaign to be Speaker he suggested a number of important and positive ideas, which I am sure the House will want to take forward. I suppose the benefit for the House is that he can continue his work as Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which is more important now than it has been for many years.

It strikes me that there is a risk of our either rushing ahead to try to fix things, or going very slowly. We failed to take action against the former dishonourable Member for Windsor when he claimed for an utterly fictional address, and since then we have been surprised by Members’ behaviour that is not honourable and have rushed to solutions, some of which, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) emphasised, might not work in practice. I have noticed that colleagues who were originally enthusiastic about the House being the employer of our staff felt less enthusiastic following the consultation about what that might mean. Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure the widest possible consultation on the Bill’s proposals to make sure that we get it right this time, having got it so miserably wrong so frequently?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The longer we take, the more we can go through the details. There is unprecedented public concern about these matters, so we need to act promptly. There will be an opportunity on the Floor of the House for all hon. Members to participate in the Committee stage, Report and Third Reading of the Bill. It deals mostly with the narrow but very important issue of changing the system so that we do not set our own allowances and administer them, but, rather, it is carried out independently. That is not over-complex, and I hope she will participate in the debate.

Does the Leader of the House accept that it is important that the issues relating to the code of conduct of Members should be judged on the same basis as the code of conduct for Ministers? It seems as though the Government are proposing one law for Members and another law for Ministers.

Is there not a case for considering the problems of the revolving door whereby former Ministers trade on their contacts and experience to seek salaries in the private sector? Is there not a strong case for arguing that if there is transparency about the amount of time that Members spend on their other jobs, we should consider appropriate reductions in their salary, on the basis that no Member can do two or more full-time jobs adequately?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The public expect that if we are elected to the House, our focus should be on public representation of our constituents or work in Select Committees more widely. The rules on Ministers subsequently taking work are clear. There will be a difference in future because of transparency. Members will have to think harder about what is acceptable when they know that their constituents will be fully in the picture about how many hours they spend doing work other than representing them or working as Ministers.

Will the Minister explain a little about the time-spent declaration that will have to be made? I have only ever had one job that in any way impinged on my ability to spend at least 60 and often many more hours a week working for my constituents, and that was as a Minister for 10 years. Will Ministers have to spell out how many hours they spend on ministerial work? If not, why not?

When somebody acts as a Minister, what they do is absolutely in the public domain, it is quite evident to the public that they are a Minister and their pay, which is published and transparent, is also in the public domain. Let us face up to it: in this House, quite a large number of Members have had jobs that are nothing to do with being a Member of Parliament and nothing to do with serving the public interest, but to which they have devoted their time and for which they have been paid. We are simply saying that, in future, that information should be in the public domain. It is very important, indeed, that the public are able to see it. The right hon. Gentleman will well know that Ministers’ diaries are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and that everything that we do is totally in the public domain.

The Public Administration Committee recommended five months ago a mandatory register of lobbyists. Will that be covered by the Parliamentary Standards Bill?

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) asked what other registers might be considered, and, as I said in my statement, further progress can be made on regulation and ensuring that things are put on an independent footing. That proposal has been made in the past, and it has been subject to consultation, not least in the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill.

The Leader of the House spoke of the new committee that will consider proposals for dealing with non-Government business. Will she assure me that she does not seek to prevent that committee from considering the idea of a business committee, through which the House could decide how it allocated its time in dealing with the Government’s business, particularly bearing in mind that, in the election to be Speaker yesterday, almost all the candidates who got almost all the votes committed themselves to such a proposition?

I shall table a motion later today setting out the terms of reference that we propose for the committee. Hon. Members will be able to consider the motion, which will be amendable, and there will be a debate on Thursday.

The Leader of the House said that she would work closely and sympathetically with a new, independent authority on the future of our staff, but surely the people who need to be looked after closely and sympathetically are those staff and their trade unions. The best thing the House authorities could do is recognise the independent trade unions, which they will not do at the moment.

The House authorities do recognise the trade unions of people who are directly employed by the House, but there are different issues for staff who are employed by Members. However, I think that some discussions are going on, and it ought to be possible to make progress on that, too.

When I first entered the House, I made myself very unpopular among colleagues by suggesting that no one should have outside interests. I was absolutely and totally wrong. There is not a raging bull market in hiring ex-Members, and I hope that the Leader of the House recognises that it is very important that we allow people in this place to retain a foothold in their profession or in the private sector, so that when they leave this place they are employable and have a future.

The House has agreed not a prohibition but simply transparency, and the measure will come into effect on 1 July. Members may think that their constituents will find their foothold, or whatever else, to be completely acceptable, but it will be for constituents to judge after Members have registered it. Going further than that, the Kelly committee will consider whether the measure goes far enough or whether there should be some restrictions on it.

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement, but will she take a closer look at the really important work involving my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright)? She mentioned petitions in particular, but will she also look into the role of topical debates? She mentioned my speech yesterday; in the context of that, I ask whether there can be greater public involvement in deciding the issue for topical debate. If there were that level of engagement, we could really say that we do get it.

Both those issues, which my hon. Friend raised in his excellent speech to the House yesterday, will be within the remit of the committee that we hope will be established on Thursday.

The House of Commons has a real opportunity to learn from the higher standards that operate in the Scottish Parliament. It is right that there should be criminal sanctions for MPs who break the rules, and I am glad that the Bill takes forward some of the provisions from the Scotland Act 1998. I notice, however, that it does not emulate the same high standards when it comes to the declaration of Members’ financial interests. Will the Leader of the House confirm that should the Scottish National party propose amendments to introduce such measures into the Bill, the Government will listen closely to the arguments?

We will, of course, listen closely to all the arguments. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has played a thoroughly constructive role in the discussions prior to the introduction of the Bill. We have had the opportunity to draw on his knowledge of the Scottish Parliament.

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s proposals and the speed at which they are being undertaken. As part of that process, does she intend to produce or publish any further material that will seek to make a clear and durable distinction between the standards relating to Members, for which an outside body should have reference and sanctions, and the privileges of the House? It is difficult to see such a body, or a body associated with it, taking the same action on that issue as the action envisaged as far as the standards of hon. Members are concerned.

The standards for which the new authority established in the Bill would be responsible would relate to the allowances and claiming for them. There is no proposal in the Bill for the authority to have further powers that would deal with the privileges of the House.

On several occasions in the past few weeks, the Prime Minister has suggested that he will extend the new transparency and accountability to other bodies funded by the taxpayer. Was he just trying to deflect some of the heat or are the Government genuinely considering extending the provisions to publicly funded bodies? If so, which ones?

The Secretary of State for Justice is reviewing the Freedom of Information Act, for which his Department is responsible. The issues raised by the Prime Minister will be part of the review. If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions, I hope that he will contribute to the consultation.

Most of my constituents and those of other Members would believe that being a Minister is a second job. Given that, why should not the same conditions of transparency apply to Ministers as apply to any other second job?

Transparency does apply to Ministers. Their diaries are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and Ministers’ pay is in the public domain. There is a tight regime for registering not only Ministers’ financial interests but those of any of their relatives. Those provisions are already very much in place.

The constitution of the House is that Ministers should be Members of the House of Commons or of another place. We do not have an American system. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is proposing a completely different constitutional arrangement, under which Ministers would not be Members of this or another place and would not be accountable to either House of Parliament. I do not think that that would be a good idea.

I welcome much of what was in the statement today, but there was one important omission, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) mentioned. I hope that the committee chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) will be able to consider the programming of Government Bills on Report. Scrutinising Bills is one of the most important jobs that we do, and it is very important that amendments on Report should be grouped in such a way that all parts of a Bill are discussed. I hope that the committee will be able to look at that aspect of programming.

We will table today the motion to establish the remit of the committee, which we hope the House will pass. There will be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to examine it and, if necessary, propose amendments.

May I urge upon the Leader of the House the need to have all minority opinions within the House properly represented on the committee? May I ask her to reflect on the answer she gave the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee? She said that the code of conduct would be on a statutory footing. It clearly will not, because if it were to be, it would be the subject of a separate Bill. If the Government wish—I believe wrongly—to pursue a code of conduct on a statutory footing, will she ensure that we have a proper draft Bill and full pre-legislative scrutiny of it?

The minority parties, and the hon. Gentleman himself, played an important role in the discussions leading up to the publication of the Bill today, and I hope that they will play a part in the committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase.

We hope to provide enough time on the Floor of the House for debate on the Bill, but we are providing an opportunity for the other business of the House to move in such a way that we hope to have the Bill in and out of Parliament, with Royal Assent, by the time the House rises. We need to reassure the public that as well as having a payback system for the past four years’ expenses and having transparency, we will no longer run the system ourselves. The public do not accept that we should regulate ourselves in relation to our expenses in future, so we should get on and do what I have described.

My average working week when the House is sitting, including travel to and from my constituency, is 86 hours. Although I am in favour of full transparency of any income from a second or even third job—I believe that that is important—does a Member of Parliament have no time of their own in which they can carry out other activities? It is quite intolerable that they should be expected to provide a timesheet in respect of jobs that they do outside their parliamentary duties. Do they not have time of their own in which they can do other work?

Obviously, all hon. Members have time that is not devoted to their parliamentary duties and their duties on behalf of their constituents. The issue is whether they are paid for it. If a member of my staff who was working hard for me on behalf of my constituents had another job that paid her three times as much as I paid her, I would wonder about her commitment to my constituents and to working for me, and I would certainly want to know about it. That is the point of transparency. The House has already agreed to a register that will put the information in the public domain. If the hon. Gentleman’s constituents think that it is all right for him to earn five times as much doing other work, they will make that judgment.

I am sorry, I did not mean to cast any aspersions on the hon. Gentleman; I am just doing a “for example”. Transparency is very important, and people will be able to judge on the information available.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The new Speaker has made it very much his remit to ensure that Back Benchers get more rights and privileges in this Chamber. You will have noticed from recent exchanges on the Parliamentary Standards Bill that there were two schools: those who have already seen the Bill in draft, or almost final, form, and those of us who have not, even though we know it is about to published. Would it not have been much better for the Bill to have been published before the statement, so that we could all have been acting on the same basis?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It is indeed an interesting one, but it is none the less not a point of order for the Chair.

Bill Presented

Parliamentary Standards

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Ms Harriet Harman, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Secretary Alan Johnson, Mr. Secretary Woodward and Barbara Keeley, presented a Bill to make provision establishing a body corporate known as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and an officer known as the Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations; to make provision relating to salaries and allowances for members of the House of Commons and to their financial interests and conduct; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 121) with explanatory notes (Bill 121-EN).