HC Deb 22 February 2000 vol 344 cc844-5W
Mr. Olner

To ask the Chairman of the Administration Committee if the Committee has considered the matter of membership of All-Party Parliamentary Groups and of Associate Parliamentary Groups by those hereditary peers excluded from the House of Lords under the House of Lords Act 1999; and if she will make a statement. [111911]

Mrs. Roe

Over the past few months, the Committee has been considering a number of matters in connection with All-Party Parliamentary and Associate Parliamentary Groups, including membership of the groups by "excluded" hereditary peers. I am now able to announce a number of measures, which I am sure the hon. Member will find of interest.

With respect to those hereditary peers excluded from the House of Lords Act, the Committee has agreed that:

  1. (i) for prospective groups, while excluded hereditary peers may be ordinary members of such groups, they may not be officers, nor should they be counted as one of the 20 "qualifying" Members of either House; and
  2. (ii) for existing approved groups, which may have excluded hereditary peers as officers or qualifying members:
    1. (a) if the peers concerned are retained as ordinary members of a group, and are allowed voting rights, then it should amend its title immediately to Associate Parliamentary Group, if not already so termed;
    2. (b) groups should elect new officers to replace excluded hereditary peers by 31 July 2000; and
    3. (c) groups should recruit replacement qualifying members, also by 31 July 2000.

The Committee has also agreed: that the definition of "full member" of an All-Party Parliamentary or of an Associate Parliamentary Group means a member of a group who has voting rights; that before it can be accepted onto the Approved List, a prospective group must hold an inaugural meeting to elect its officers, and that the meeting must be advertised as such on the All-Party Notices; in addition, the Committee agreed that any elections of officers of an approved group must be advertised on the All-Party Notices; and that therefore the relevant point of the declaration, which prospective groups have to sign, will be amended to read "the group elects its honorary officers, who are all Members of either House, every 12 months; this, and any other election of officers, must be announced in advance on the All-Party Notices."; that a group must advise the Registry of Members' Interests of any change in the information contained in its Information Sheet and its Register entry within 28 days of such a change occurring; and an additional declaration will therefore be added to the application form, namely, "the group undertakes to notify the Registry of Members' Interests of any change that is required to its records (ie, its Register entry and its Information Sheet) within 28 days of such a change occurring; where there is no change to its records following an AGM, the group will sign and return its records as correct."; that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards may authorise checks to establish whether or not a group's records are correct, and may authorise the removal of a group from the Approved List if the group fails to comply with the rules; and that groups will be required to keep a record of their meetings and those attending so that, if challenged, they can demonstrate that they have met at least three times per year and that there were never less than five Members of the Commons present at each meeting; the declaration will be changed accordingly to state "the group undertakes to keep a record of every meeting so that, if challenged, it can demonstrate that it has met at least three times a year (a year starts on the date of the group's last registered AGM, and ends exactly 12 months later; AGMs cannot be included in the total of three); and also that there are present at every meeting a minimum of five Commons members of the group, including at least one Commons officer".

Finally, the Committee expressed concern over the proliferation of groups dealing with similar matters; it has therefore agreed, later in this Parliament, to re-examine the question of overlap between groups, and in particular to consider whether a formal policy on this matter should be adopted, in order to ease pressure on House facilities caused by such a proliferation.