Justice Committee report on Parliamentary Standards Bill

01 July 2009

The Justice Committee is today publishing a short report drawing the House’s special attention to evidence on the potential impact of certain clauses in the Parliamentary Standards Bill on the effective safeguarding of freedom of speech in debate, other aspects of the House’s core business and the constitutional boundaries between Parliament and the courts (together, these safeguards are known as ‘parliamentary privilege’).

The Committee took oral evidence from the Clerk of the House, Clerk of the Journals and Speaker’s Counsel yesterday. It also received written evidence from the Clerk, first published on 25 June, and from the Ministry of Justice and from a range of constitutional experts. All this material is available in the Committee’s report.

The Bill is expected to complete all its Commons stages today, Wednesday 1 July, having started on Monday. The Government provided for the consideration of clauses in committee to be arranged so that the House would have the benefit of the Committee’s report and evidence before debate on the clauses of most concern took place; and the Committee is grateful for this.

The Committee concludes: that the creation of an independent statutory body to administer Members’ allowances and pay etc. can be achieved without provisions affecting privilege (as these financial matters are not ‘proceedings in Parliament’); that the Government’s announced intention to drop Clause 6 is welcome; that Clause 10, in particular, could also be withdrawn at this stage; and that a body could still be set up in good time to implement the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in the autumn. The tight timescale for debate on these complex issues is likely to lead to extensive debate in the House of Lords when the Bill is considered there. The Committee notes the Government’s stated intention that the provisions of the Bill would be extended in due course to cover the House of Lords.

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