Sir David Davis comments on Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards investigation into MPs Register of Interests


As published by The Daily Telegraph:

Boris Johnson expected to top list of Tory MPs under investigation by parliament’s sleaze watchdog.

Kathryn Stone will publish the names of those accused of breaking the Code of Conduct, and the nature of the alleged breaches.

Boris Johnson is expected to top a list of Tory MPs “named and shamed” for being under investigation by parliament’s sleaze watchdog.

From Monday, Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, will publish the names of those accused of breaking the Code of Conduct, and the nature of the alleged breaches.

The Prime Minister is already facing a probe over who paid for his Christmas holiday to the Caribbean island of Mustique, and may now also faces investigation over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

Ms Stone, who was appointed in 2018, announced last month that she is publishing the names to “encourage greater confidence in the Parliamentary standards system”.

It comes after MPs agreed an amendment to House of Commons’ Standing order 150, giving her permission to publish “information about complaints received and matters under investigation”.

Yet eyebrows were raised when she initially advised MPs she would be lifting their anonymity “from May 4”, two days before the local elections when Britain was in a state of pre-election ‘purdah’ and parliament prorogued.

Accused of a “bungle” by one cabinet minister, and facing outrage from both Tory and Labour whips, she agreed to a six-day delay.

A spokeswoman for Ms Stone denied she had named a date in the original letter, despite correspondence seen by The Telegraph which clearly stated “from May 4”.

The ill-timed misstep has raised questions about the influence wielded by the “independent officer of the House of Commons” charged with ensuring “all investigations are independent, impartial, thorough and fair.”

There are growing concerns about how “secretive” and “opaque” investigations are being handled by the former social worker, 57, who was awarded an OBE in 2007 in recognition of her “outstanding contribution to public service”.

The sixth commissioner to be appointed since the post was created in 1995, as well as enforcing the MPs’ Code of Conduct, Ms Stone has responsibility for overseeing Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

Because MPs under investigation will be prevented from publicly defending themselves after being named under the rules governing parliamentary privilege, there is mounting disquiet over the length of time Ms Stone, who works part-time, is taking to carry out probes amid fears the allegations will more easily be weaponised by political opponents both in parliament and the press.

Calling for the whole system to be overhauled, former minister David Davis said: “It should be quasi-judicial, with a judge and legal representation on both sides. At the moment those under investigation feel there is a presumption of guilt and that it is an overly lengthy process which leaves politicians’ careers and reputations hanging in the balance for months.

“If you are going to have a naming and shaming process like this that can be weaponised for political purposes then it should be anonymised until you get to a conclusion, because the MP is unable to respond to the allegations.

“The current system would surely fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

Much has been made of Ms Stone’s political allegiances after she hit the headlines in 2013, when she was Victims’ Commissioner for Northern Ireland, for declining to call members of the IRA and UVF “terrorists”.

As the Belfast Telegraph pointed out at the time, the Terrorism Act states that anyone who is a member of a proscribed organisation such as the IRA or UVF is a member of a terrorist organisation.

She also courted controversy in 2019 after the Committee on Standards, to whom Ms Stone refers the most serious cases, initially blocked an investigation into former Commons Speaker John Bercow for alleged bullying.

The committee’s chairman, Labour MP Chris Bryant, has done campaigning work with a company which compiles material on Covid-19 contracts and asserts supposed links between Tory MPs and private companies. He has made repeated references on Twitter to contracts for Tory “mates”.