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Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Volume 627: debated on Thursday 20 July 2017

I beg to move,

That Kathryn Stone be appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the terms of the Report of the House of Commons Commission, HC 294, dated 19 July 2017.

The motion is in my name, as spokesperson for the House of Commons Commission, and those of other commissioners and of the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron), the recently re-elected Chair of the Committee on Standards.

In 2003 the House decided that the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should be held for a non-renewable term of five years. As the House will be aware, the commissioner’s principal responsibilities include maintaining the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and other registers; monitoring the operation of the code of conduct and proposing possible modifications to the Committee on Standards; and receiving and investigating matters relating to the conduct of Members and reporting findings to the Committee where appropriate. The appointment of the current commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, comes to an end on 31 December and the House therefore needs to appoint a new commissioner.

I should begin by expressing the appreciation of the House of Commons Commission for the work Kathryn Hudson has done during her tenure as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. During that time she has handled a wide range of complaints against Members and has also contributed to the development of the standards system as a whole, including through instituting greater opportunities for training Members and their staff, and working on the respect policy and review of the code of conduct and guide to the rules.

Kathryn Hudson took up her post at the same time as the first lay members arrived on the Committee on Standards, and she has played a full part in ensuring the success of those new arrangements in addressing standards issues in the House. Throughout her time in office she has demonstrated great integrity, resilience, patience and persistence, and she will be remembered for her real dedication to public service. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in thanking Ms Hudson for her work.

The recruitment process for her replacement was rigorous. Advertisements were placed on the websites of The Sunday Times and The Guardian, and a range of other web-based methods were used to attract applications. In total, 81 applications were received. The process included the right hon. Member for Rother Valley, Dr Jane Martin, who was an external member of the recruitment panel and is a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and members of the Commission. Full details of the recruitment process are available in the Commission’s report.

Kathryn Stone is currently the chief legal ombudsman of England and Wales, a post she has held since January 2016. Prior to that, Ms Stone held posts as an independent police complaints commissioner and as the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland. The Commission is confident that Ms Stone has the necessary experience and skills for the role, and that she will bring to it the authority, independence, discretion and strength of character required.

Ms Stone’s appointment will commence at the beginning of 2018, if the House approves the nomination. I am confident that Ms Stone will fulfil her responsibilities to the same high standard as her predecessors, and I commend this nomination to the House.

Let me begin by putting on the record the gratitude of the House for the work undertaken by Kathryn Hudson since her appointment in 2013. She has played an important role in the work of the House. New Members will be able to testify to her valuable advice on their conduct and responsibilities. She has investigated and reported on complaints with all the diligence that we and the public would expect of her. She has also, of course, ensured transparency through the operation of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and the other registers.

I would also like to make it clear that we owe a debt of gratitude to the staff of the House who support the commissioner in delivering standards, and to the Chairman of the Standards Committee for his work.

Although I have not personally been involved in the recruitment process, I am encouraged by the remarks of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake). We are all grateful to the selection board for sifting the candidates. Kathryn Stone will no doubt serve the House with the same diligence as all her predecessors. On that basis, I hope that the House will endorse the motion.

I welcome the comments of the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and the Leader of the House. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I echo the thanks to the outgoing Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson. From my personal experience of meeting Kathryn when I was a new Member, I know just how important the role is in supporting all hon. Members. I thank her for her work.

I also thank all those who sat on the interview panel for following a robust process and selecting a successor, Kathryn Stone. Her Majesty’s Opposition welcome and endorse the appointment of Kathryn Stone and wish her well in her new role.

As a member of the Commission and, for some time, a member of the Committee on Standards, I support the motion. I endorse the positive comments about Kathryn Hudson, who worked extremely hard. She arrived at a difficult time, when the Standards Committee first had lay members; there was a steep learning curve for the lay people and for Kathryn Hudson. She faced problems because every time she was perceived to have slipped, the press were after her. It is a difficult role, which she played exceptionally well. I wish her well in her retirement and thank her on my behalf and on behalf of the Standards Committee. I suspect that the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) will support the motion shortly.

As has been said, applicants were extensively sought, and 81 were reduced to six. Those six appeared before a small panel for interview. It included two Members of Parliament —the right hon. Member for Rother Valley and me. It was chaired by the Principal Clerk of the Table Office, whom I thank for her exceptional chairmanship. All interviewees were put through their paces gently—and sometimes not quite so gently. All their advantages and, indeed, some foibles, were drawn out. The panel’s final decision on the two who went forward for final selection was unanimous and solid. I endorse Kathryn Stone’s appointment. Having been part of the interview process, I believe that she will prove an excellent choice and I look forward to her joining us in due course.

I am very pleased to support the motion to appoint Kathryn Stone as the next Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. As the former Chair, and now the Chair-in-waiting of the Committee on Standards, I was involved in the appointment process during the initial selection stage and the first round of interviews, when we greatly benefited from the help of an external member of the board, Dr Jane Martin. I would like to record the House’s appreciation of Jane’s wise advice.

We recommended two highly able and appointable candidates for the final stage interviews so the Commission could not go wrong, but I am very pleased that Kathryn Stone has been put forward. I believe that her experience in some very sensitive situations and her personal qualities will form the foundation for a successful and effective term of office as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I wish her well in the role, subject to the House’s approving the motion today.

I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to another Kathryn, the outgoing Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson. Kathryn was the first Commissioner to be appointed after the establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. She has, we hope, overseen the last of the legacy cases from the expenses scandal and has helped guide the House into calmer waters on standards.

There have been major changes, such as the introduction of lay members to the Committee on Standards and some major challenges, from inside and outside the House. Kathryn has acted throughout with great integrity and exemplary fairness and thoroughness. She has played a full part in developing the standards system and addressing the culture change needed to embed standards in everything we do and win back the confidence of the public.

I know that Kathryn will be sorry if the Committee on Standards cannot complete its work on the new code of conduct and guide to the rules before she departs in December. The general election has made that timetable very tricky, but whenever the new code and guide emerge for the House’s approval, we will all appreciate the thoughtfulness and dedication that Kathryn put into making it more relevant, more clearly expressed and more user-friendly than previous versions. Perhaps I could take this opportunity to ask that the Committee be re-formed as soon as possible to continue this work. My understanding is that it does not need a Committee of Selection to sit for that to happen. I hope that it can happen quickly.

The standards system has changed for the better in recent years, and no doubt it will continue to evolve as the equality of numbers between lay and elected members on the Committee on Standards makes itself felt. Some outside the House continue to call for the regulation of standards to be taken out of the hands of Parliament altogether; others question the multiplicity of regulators involved in overseeing the conduct of MPs.

Some 20 years after the first Commissioner arrived in the House, it may be time to start thinking about how the system as a whole works, but I am clear that the Commissioner’s independence is something of great value, which has proved its worth. For the system to be effective we need a strong, fair Commissioner, whose integrity is beyond doubt. Kathryn Hudson has fulfilled that brief and I look forward to the new Commissioner continuing the tradition.

I, too, recognise the important role of the Commissioner for Standards in building and maintaining public confidence in the House and in Members’ conduct. The public sometimes understand the phrase, “an hon. Member” to be some sort of honorific or title that Members enjoy, but I often reflect to constituents or visitors to this place that it is an injunction to us as Members to conduct ourselves honourably and to live up to the highest standards in public life. Kathryn Hudson certainly impressed that responsibility on me and my colleagues on our election in 2015. On behalf of the Scottish National party, I pay tribute to her work over the years. The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) mentioned some of the effective innovations, such as training. I thank Kathryn Hudson for all the help and support that she has provided to colleagues in her time as Commissioner and wish her all the very best for the future.

Kathryn Hudson’s successor is recommended by the House of Commons Commission. I thank our outgoing Member of the Commission, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), for his work in recent years. This may be my best chance in the Chamber to pay tribute to my predecessor as SNP Chief Whip, Mike Weir. I thank him for all his wisdom, support, advice and friendship before and since the general election. I am conscious of having big shoes to fill and I am glad to have my hon. Friends the Members for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) and for Glasgow East (David Linden) to help me.

I join other Members in warmly welcoming the appointment of Kathryn Stone, who was clearly a very well qualified and highly respected candidate. She met with the approval of the interview panel and the House of Commons Commission, and we wish her all the very best for her term of office. I hope that, if we as Members live up to the standards that are expected of us, her case load will be appropriately light.

Question put and agreed to.


That Kathryn Stone be appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the terms of the Report of the House of Commons Commission, HC 294, dated 19 July 2017.