Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
Committee on Standards publishes report on the conduct of Andrew Bridgen MP
The report arises from a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner Standards that Andrew Bridgen MP had breached paragraph 12 of the Code of Conduct for Members by making approaches to Ministers and public officials on behalf of Mere Plantations, from whom he had received registrable financial benefits.
During her investigation, the Commissioner also considered whether Mr Bridgen had breached paragraph 14 of the Code, on registration and declaration of interests.
- Read the Report
- Andrew Bridgen - Correspondence bundle
- Andrew Bridgen - Evidence bundle
- Andrew Bridgen - Oral evidence transcript
- Correspondence between the Commissioner and Mr Bridgen dated 20 and 21 September 2022
- Letter from Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards dated 30 August 2022
- Letter to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards dated 11 August 2022
The Committee is grateful to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone OBE, for her investigation and memorandum, which is appended to the Committee’s full report.
The Committee on Standards’ report briefly summarises the Commissioner’s opinion before setting out the Committee’s own analysis and conclusions.
The Commissioner’s opinion
Following her investigation, the Commissioner advised the Committee that Mr Bridgen had:
- Breached paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct, on registration of interests, by having an inaccurate entry relating to his advisory role with Mere Plantations throughout the whole period it appeared on the Register of Members' Financial Interests, 17 June 2020 to 15 May 2022;
- Breached paragraph 12 of the Code of Conduct, on paid advocacy, by initiating five, and participating in three, approaches to Ministers or public officials which sought to confer a benefit on Mere Plantations, having received “outside reward or consideration” from them;
- Breached paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct, on declaration of interests, by failing to declare a relevant interest in six emails to Ministers;
- In further advice to the Committee, the Commissioner stated that she considered that Mr Bridgen had breached the rules on declaration of interests in two further emails to Ministers.
The Committee’s findings
Registration of interests
Paragraph 14 of the Code provides that: Members shall fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of the registration of interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Mr Bridgen accepted a role to act as an advisor to Mere Plantations in April 2020, paying £12,000 per annum against invoices. He signed a contract to this effect on 6 May 2020. Mr Bridgen initially registered the role as a “Director” on 17 June 2020, which he amended on 22 December 2020 to state that he was an advisor, and subsequently registered the role as unpaid on 17 November 2021. In his oral evidence, Mr Bridgen told the Committee that he decided in early May or June 2020 not to take payment from Mere Plantations. Mr Bridgen also told the Commissioner, and the Committee that he never undertook the duties under the contract, and that the role, in effect, never started. Nevertheless, Mr Bridgen did not revoke or repudiate the contract.
If Mr Bridgen had no intention of taking payments from Mere Plantations at any point, the Committee agrees with the Commissioner that Mr Bridgen should have sought to have the contract amended to state this—or ensured that there was a written exchange with Mere Plantations confirming it. The Committee stated that if Mr Bridgen had no intention of undertaking the duties associated with the role, it would have been better for him to have asked to terminate the contract altogether. The Committee concluded overall that Mr Bridgen's dealings in relation to the contract were “a mishandling of the conflict of interest of which he was aware”.
In circumstances where Mr Bridgen did not revoke the contract, and left open the possibility that he might invoice for payments in future, the Committee concluded that the most transparent approach would have been to register the role as paid, as Mr Bridgen originally did until November 2021, unless there was a formal variation or revocation of the contract. Mr Bridgen's register entry was therefore correct between December 2020 and November 2021, but not before or after that period. On that basis the Committee found that Mr Bridgen breached paragraph 14 of the Code, noting he evidenced a “careless and cavalier attitude towards the House’s rules.”
Declaration of interests
Mr Bridgen received three registrable benefits from Mere Plantations: a contract for an advisory role, a trip to Ghana in August 2019, and a donation of £5,000 to the North West Leicestershire Conservative Association on 31 October 2019 by Mere Plantations.
Under the rules, in addition to registering the interests, Mr Bridgen should have declared them whenever he engaged in relevant proceedings or communications with Ministers and officials for the following twelve months. The Commissioner considered six emails from Mr Bridgen during her investigation (and a further two in subsequent advice to the Committee) which were all addressed to Ministers and related to Mere Plantations, and in which Mr Bridgen did not declare any interest.
Mr Bridgen also held a number of meetings with Ministers and public officials after he had received registrable benefits from Mere Plantations. Mr Bridgen told the Committee that he did not think he declared an interest in these meetings.
To decide whether or not they need to declare an interest, Members of Parliament should apply the “test of relevance", namely, whether the interest (or interests) might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions or words as a Member, in that context. The Committee decided the test of relevance was obviously met and Mr Bridgen was therefore at fault – amounting to a breach of paragraph 14 of the Code.
In total, the Committee found that Mr Bridgen breached paragraph 14 of the Code by failing to declare a relevant interest in eight emails to Ministers, and in five meetings with Ministers or public officials, which it described as “a significant litany of errors.”
In relation to paid advocacy, Mr Bridgen maintained that he was not subject to the lobbying rules because his trip to Ghana was of "negative financial benefit" to him and because the donation to his constituency party was not to him personally. The Committee agreed with the Commissioner that, under the rules, both these interests did count as "outside reward or consideration". The Committee also found that Mr Bridgen had a “firm and specific expectation” of payment under the lobbying rules for the duration of his contract with Mere Plantations, because in not revoking or cancelling the contract, Mr Bridgen maintained the right to invoice for payments.
Mr Bridgen argued that even if he was subject to the lobbying rules, his approaches were permitted by the constituency exemption, that is, that he was “pursuing a constituency interest” because he was seeking to protect the commission revenue of The Curious Guys Ltd.
The Committee agreed that Mr Bridgen’s approaches to Ministers about the tax treatment of Mere Plantations fell under the constituency exemption, because, on this point, “the interests of Mere Plantations and The Curious Guys were indistinguishable.” However, the Committee found the constituency exemption did not apply when Mr Bridgen made approaches to Ministers about carbon credits on behalf of Mere Plantations, because he was not acting in pursuit of a constituency interest.
Overall, the Committee found that Mr Bridgen breached paragraph 12 of the Code, on paid advocacy, in making five approaches to Ministers relating to carbon offsetting that sought to confer a financial or material benefit on Mere Plantations.
Mr Bridgen's accusations toward the Commissioner
Shortly after the Commissioner referred her memorandum to the Committee, Mr Bridgen emailed the Commissioner with correspondence containing the following comments:
‘I was distressed to hear on a number of occasions an unsubstantiated rumour that your contract as Parliamentary Standards Commissioner is due to end in the coming months and that there are advanced plans to offer you a peerage, potentially as soon as the Prime Minister’s resignation honours list. There is also some suggestion amongst colleagues that those plans are dependent upon arriving at the ‘right’ outcomes when conducting parliamentary standards investigation […] I do apologise if you find the contents of this letter offensive, it is certainly not my intention, but I would be grateful if you would provide me reassurance that you are not about to be offered an honour or peerage and that the rumours are indeed malicious and baseless.”
Mr Bridgen invited the Committee to interpret his email as purely “seeking assurance”. The Committee stated, however, that Mr Bridgen “clearly did not need to seek official reassurance from anyone about rumours that he himself described as ‘unsubstantiated’ and likely ‘malicious and baseless’”. The Committee noted that Mr Bridgen failed to apologise for his email in oral evidence before the Committee or acknowledge that he should not have emailed the Commissioner as he did.
The Committee concluded that Mr Bridgen’s email “appears to be an attempt to place wholly inappropriate pressure on the Commissioner. This was completely unacceptable behaviour.”
The Committee therefore found that Mr Bridgen attempted improperly to influence the Commissioner, breaching paragraph 20 of the Code.
The Committee’s conclusions and recommended sanctions
The Committee found the following points to be aggravating factors:
- Mr Bridgen breached the rules of the House on registration, declaration and paid lobbying on multiple occasions and in multiple ways. (The Committee noted that each of these breaches could have led it to recommend a suspension from the service of the House);
- Mr Bridgen has demonstrated a very cavalier attitude to the rules on registration and declaration of interests, including repeatedly saying that he did not check his own entry in the register;
- Mr Bridgen is an established Member of the House, having been elected in 2010;
- Mr Bridgen's email to the Commissioner called her integrity into question on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated and false allegations, and attempted improperly to influence the House's standards processes.
The Committee found the following points to be mitigating factors:
- Mr Bridgen sought alternative means of funding his trip to Ghana before he accepted the funded visit from Mere Plantations. Because none was available, he turned to Mere Plantations;
- Mr Bridgen's actions began as the pursuit of a constituency interest, and even those approaches we have found in breach of the lobbying rules appear to be motivated in part by a passion for, and interest in, issues of climate change and international development;
- Mr Bridgen has reflected on his conduct and, when pressed, told the Committee in oral evidence that he would act differently in a similar situation in the future;
- The offer of a role with Mere Plantations was unsolicited.
The Committee recommended that Mr Bridgen is suspended from the service of the House for a total period of 5 sitting days. This is the sum of a recommended suspension of 2 sitting days for the breaches of Paragraph 12 and 14 of the Code of Conduct, and a further 3 sitting days’ suspension for a “completely unacceptable attack upon the integrity of the Commissioner” – amounting to a breach of paragraph 20 of the Code.
The Committee also recommended that Mr Bridgen should apologise to the House and to the Commissioner by means of a personal statement.
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