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Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (Appointment)

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2022

I beg to move,

That Daniel Greenberg be appointed Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the terms of the Report of the House of Commons Commission, HC 694, dated 6 September 2022.

I will try to be brief. On 20 July, the House of Commons Commission nominated Daniel Greenberg as the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and the motion is in my name as the spokesperson for the Commission.

I will just provide a little bit of history, if that is all right. In 2003, the House decided that the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards should be held for a non-renewable term of five years. The duties of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are set out in Standing Orders. For the benefit of those interested, and I know many are, they include: maintaining the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and other registers established by the House; advising the Committee on Standards and individual MPs on the interpretation of the rules; monitoring the operation of the code and registers, and making recommendations to the Committee on Standards; independently investigating complaints against MPs, or matters where they have evidence there may have been a breach of the code of conduct—a theatrical pause because this is a long list—and overseeing investigations into complaints against MPs under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme if the case goes to a full investigation, acting as the decision-making body on them, and either determining the appropriate sanction or referring more serious cases to the Independent Expert Panel to determine sanction.

The appointment of the current commissioner ends on 31 December and the House needs to appoint a new commissioner on the basis that it is a single five-year term with no option for renewal. Kathryn Stone, the retiring commissioner, has held her post for nearly five years and was the sixth office holder. On behalf of the House of Commons and the Commission, I thank her for her service to this House. It has not been easy all the time; in fact, it is a very difficult job. She has absolutely done it diligently and to the very best of her abilities.

The Commission, which I am on, has been responsible for running the recruitment campaign, as it has in the past—this is something the Commission always does. It engaged recruitment consultants to support the search and that included a national advertising campaign. I have to say that finding willing volunteers was difficult. This is not a hugely attractive job, for obvious reasons. Talented people still put their names forward but not in the same number as have in the past.

Following the shortlisting, there was a two-stage recruitment process. The first included two external panel members and both myself and the Chair of the Standards Committee, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is sitting opposite. A second panel afterwards was drawn from the Commission, including the Speaker, the former Leader of the House and the current shadow Leader. Full details are in the Commission’s report, for anyone who would like to read that.

Daniel Greenberg is a lawyer. He currently serves as counsel for domestic legislation. He was parliamentary counsel for 20 years and counsel, Office of Speaker’s Counsel, House of Commons from 2010 to 2016. The Commission is confident that he has the necessary experience and skills for the role, and that he will bring to it the authority, independence, discretion and strength of character required.

I have known Daniel at a distance since I have been a Member of Parliament; he has appeared before a couple of Select Committees that I have chaired, notably the Procedure Committee. He is a man of formidable intelligence and we are very, very lucky to have him. All that remains to be said is that the new post will commence on 1 January, a bank holiday, so I expect he will be getting down to business shortly after that date.

I again declare an interest in this matter as a member of the Commons Standards Committee.

The Scottish National party welcomes this appointment. Elected Members of this Parliament are rightly expected to meet the high standards in public life as defined by the Nolan principles and expected to adhere to the House of Commons code of conduct and related rules of the House. The role of the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is an absolutely crucial appointment in maintaining public trust that Members of Parliament adhere to these principles, and to ensure that all MPs have confidence that any allegations of breaches of the MPs’ code of conduct are investigated fairly, impartially and free of political bias.

I understand that Mr Greenberg has been through a rigorous and open recruitment and selection process and is recommended for appointment by the House of Commons Commission. From what I know of Mr Greenberg’s previous experience, I am confident that he will make an excellent independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and I support the motion.

May I pay tribute to the outgoing Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, who leaves this position at the end of her five-year tenure in December? The role of commissioner is a difficult and challenging position which Ms Stone has carried out with utmost fairness, professionalism and integrity. Both Parliament and the public are indebted to her for her service and wish her well in her new role as the chair of the Bar Standards Board.

Me again. It would be fair to say that the search company found it quite difficult to get lots of good candidates to apply. In fact, significantly fewer applied than five years ago. I asked it why that was and it said, “Well, you’ve only got to read the newspapers to see why.” Kathryn Stone has faced pretty ferocious, sustained attacks in the media, including from quite a number of colleagues in the House. There have been times when I have felt such admiration for her because she has managed not to soldier on—that is not quite the kind of person she is—but to keep going with clarity and without any sense of bearing a grudge or anything like that. However, it must have been tough for her. That has made it difficult for us to find candidates.

When we went through the process, I felt that only one person was really appointable. Although the Commission had asked us to take forward two names, the second name dropped out. All that being said, we have an absolute corker to take on the job.

Daniel Greenberg is quite phenomenal; my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) knows him from his advice to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. He has advised the Standards Committee several times, and done so with considerable wit, rapier intelligence and sometimes rather frighteningly.

More importantly—I do not think that I am breaking a confidence—we were advised by those who did the initial interviews that he might be a little shy about providing his opinions. I do not think that is the issue at all. He was absolutely magnificent at interview; I was giving him 10 out of 10 on every single one of the key criteria on experiences and abilities needed to fulfil the role. I am certain that he will do a splendid job for the House.

I do, however, want the House to embrace the appointment. Part of what I said earlier about upholding the standards of the House and maintaining its reputation for future generations involves not attacking those whom we have entrusted with managing that job. Sometimes, he may need additional financial and staffing resources to be able to do the job properly.

I pay tribute to Kathryn Stone for the magnificent way in which she has done her job—I hope that we will have an opportunity to do that properly before she departs later in the year—and the phenomenal members of her team. In particular, I have worked closely with Helen Reid, who is clear, concise and fair. Kathryn has managed to create a team that I think she will hand on in very good nick to Daniel Greenberg when he starts on 1 January.

There is just one area where I hope that Daniel will be able to work clearly. I have some sneaking concerns about the operation of the ICGS. Sometimes, the quality of people who have been employed to do the early investigations has not been up to scratch. Because the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has a sideline to that role, it is important that Daniel can work closely with whoever will be running the ICGS in future. Having said all of that, Daniel is a magnificent appointment and I am glad that the Commission has agreed with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and myself.

May I agree with what everyone else has said? Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the outgoing commissioner, Kathryn Stone. We thank her very much for her work and extend our best wishes to her for whatever roles she continues in the future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, it has been a difficult role at a difficult time—that was alluded to earlier in the debate—but she has done it really well. Standards are vital to us. They exist to hold us all to account. Everybody who works in Parliament, but particularly hon. Members, should be held to the highest standards and we thank her for all she has done in that role.

I welcome the new commissioner, Daniel Greenberg. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), the shadow Leader of the House, was involved in the interview process. She told me that he was an absolutely exceptional candidate and that his application was of the highest standard. As a member for many years of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I know that Daniel served the Committee with distinction for over 12 years, including six years advising the Committee as counsel for domestic legislation. On behalf of our small but dedicated Committee, I thank him for all the work he has done on our Committee.

The work of the JCSI perhaps does not have the highest profile in Parliament, but it is an important Committee that does the job of considering statutory instruments. That work is of the utmost importance. Daniel’s role as leading counsel advising the Committee, working with the excellent team we have, has been much appreciated, as has his vigorous attention to detail, fair-mindedness and, as the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) said, formidable intellect, as well as his humour and lightness of touch. That thoroughness will be an asset to us in Parliament in his new role. Those of us who listened to his excellent contributions on “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4—essential listening for those of us on the JCSI—are also well aware of his thoughtfulness and empathy, qualities he will undoubtedly bring to his work as commissioner, so we welcome him.

I would like to begin by endorsing the thanks and appreciation that hon. Members have given for the work undertaken by Kathryn Stone since her appointment in 2017. It has been a tough shift for her, but she has helped to develop the standards system. She played a key role in the implementation of the ICGS and helped the Independent Expert Panel in establishing its working practices and procedures following its establishment in 2020. I have not personally been involved in the recruitment process for her successor. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mark Spencer) sat on the final selection panel with three other members of the Commission. I would like to express my gratitude to all those who were involved in the selection panels and assessing the candidates. The whole House owes them gratitude.

It is vital that we all have confidence in the standards system and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has a key role to play in that. The comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and the information contained in the Commission report have certainly reassured me that Daniel Greenberg possesses the necessary skills and experience to carry out the role extremely effectively and build confidence in the system. It is therefore my hope that the House will approve this nomination and that we can welcome him and wish him well in his new role.

Thank you. I certainly recall that, when I was a Minister, there was always a huge sigh of relief when Daniel came in to give us advice. I am sure he will do a magnificent job.

Question put and agreed to.