The Committee on Standards of the House of Commons is, nominally at least, the body responsible for ensuring that MPs adhere to a Code of Conduct which, nominally at least, ensures that they act properly and in the interests of their electors and no one else, and are otherwise above reproach. Yet these functions are exercised in name only. The facts of the committee’s recent record demonstrate beyond doubt that it is wholly unable to discharge the responsibilities it claims for itself.
Last year, the committee failed almost laughably to act in the cases of Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw, despite clear evidence gathered by this newspaper that both were willing to act for a commercial company in exchange for payment. Since then, one member of the committee, Geoffrey Cox, has resigned after he neglected to register more than £400,000 of outside earnings as the Code demands. Another member, Tommy Shepperd, is under investigation for failing to declare shareholdings worth £200,000.
And now Sir Kevin Barron, the chairman of the committee, has agreed to “stand aside” pending an investigation into his dealings with an organisation called the Japanese Pharmaceutical Group. Quite why the MP for Rother Valley in South Yorkshire should be so keen to assist the Japanese drug industry is a question for another day, though Sir Kevin says his fees were paid to charity and declared in the register. For now, what matters is that the MP who is supposed to oversee rules that prohibit MPs from using Commons resources to “confer any undue personal or financial benefit on themselves or anyone else” thought it appropriate to organised two dinners and a breakfast in Parliament for that pharmaceutical organisation.
Under the rules as they stand, Sir Kevin will now be investigated by a standards commissioner who answers to the committee he still chairs (he has “recused himself”, not resigned) and judged by his parliamentary colleagues on that same committee. It is hard to think of more egregious example of a discredited system of self-regulation that fails utterly to serve the electorate.