Geoffrey Cox backs changes to Parliamentary Standing Orders

18th March 2015
Geoffrey Cox backs changes to Parliamentary Standing Orders as proposed by the Committee on Standards of which he is a member.
Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): It has been my privilege to serve on the Committee on Standards under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) throughout this Parliament, and I put on record my gratitude to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the registrar and the staff of those offices for the extraordinary diligence with which they have pursued their functions and roles. It has been an enormous pleasure to collaborate and work with them.
It is extremely important to remember the division of functions between the commissioner and the Committee. The commissioner is the rapporteur to the Committee. 
She will investigate and establish the facts and make recommendations. Ultimately, however, it is for the Committee to decide what the response and reaction to her report should be.
I remember very few occasions when the Committee has ventured to disagree, and even then it has done so with considerable trepidation and diffidence, and only in cases where the commissioner herself evinced a degree of uncertainty as to the correct conclusion. That is exactly the dialogue that should exist between commissioner and committee—a dialogue of mutual respect and collaboration, but of independence. Like the Chair of the Committee, I am not certain that the relationship between the two is always fully understood. I hope that it will be in future, and that the motions before the House will assist in the clarification of the roles and true function of the Committee.
The involvement of lay members was an innovation that some greeted with scepticism, but I have to say that having worked with them it is important to put on record the gratitude of all the elected members of the Committee for the way in which they approached their roles. It has been uniformly constructive, so much so that one of them was an extremely good chairman of the Sub-Committee responsible for one of the reports. It is a good report, and their involvement has been thoroughly constructive and helpful.
I therefore support the recommendation for an increase in the number of lay members, with some reservations. I am extremely pleased that no vote has been accorded to the lay members. There is no doubt, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, that the inclusion of unelected members on a House Committee would present considerable constitutional and legal complexities. It may well make the Committee susceptible to judicial review, with all the panoply of judicial intervention that that would mean, and I do not think that anybody in the House would really have wanted that. What I think we do need is a situation where the lay members’ influence is telling and, as it has been sometimes, decisive. That can be better done by the moral influence they exert and the constant sanction that exists—that they may append a minority report. That is, in many ways, a more compelling, more persuasive and more telling influence on Members’ thinking than any vote would be.
I commend the motions to the House. I heard the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) on the Opposition Front Bench express a concern that there may be a perception that the Whips have some mischievous and nefarious impact on the deliberations of the Committee. I can say two things to that. In four and a half years, I have never had a Whip try to influence me. I do not know whether that is just something to do with me or something to do with the fact that the Whips demonstrate commendable and appropriate restraint. However, I think that members of the Committee with whom I have served over this Parliament would reject with disdain any attempt by a Whip to influence the impartial and anxious consideration, which I have witnessed time and again, accorded by members of the Committee to very difficult individual and sometimes complicated circumstances in which a judgment is never right or wrong, never black or white, but can admit of disagreement.
If a Committee comprising a number of elected Members, with all their shared experience of the House, together with the one who is accused and lay members, can reach a consensus as we uniformly do, generally, I would submit, it is more likely than not that the right conclusion is reached. That is why I say to the hon. Lady that in many ways to bandy about the idea—I am not criticising her for a moment; I do understand the perception she speaks of—or even to suggest that Whips may have some influence or role on the Standards Committee is not helpful. It simply would not be tolerated by members of that Committee, in my experience. It would be, as I have said, rejected with disdain.
It has been an enormous privilege to serve on the Committee. It has caused a great deal of soul searching in many of the cases that have come before us. Some have been controversial and some have been less so, but throughout we have been assisted by the extraordinary skill, sophistication and professionalism of the officers who support us. I, for one, am deeply grateful to them, to the Chairman of the Committee and to all other members of the Committee with whom I have had the honour to serve.

Surgery Dates

Geoffrey holds regular surgeries. To book an appointment please click here or call 01822 612925.
Saturday 14th July
Holsworthy, Tavistock
Saturday 28th July
Bideford, Torrington