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The Committee on Standards has released a report on the conduct of Stephen Flynn MP

This report arises from an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into whether Stephen Flynn MP had breached paragraph 8 of the 2023 Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament and the Rules for the use of House of Commons stationery.

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The Commissioner supplied the Committee on Standards with a memorandum relating to these matters, which has been published as an Appendix to this report. This includes details of Mr Flynn’s response to the allegations against him, and comments requested by the Commissioner from the Clerk of the Journals, who has responsibility within the House of Commons service for giving advice on the interpretation of the stationery rules.

Background

The Commissioner opened his investigation into Mr Flynn on 1 August 2023 after a complaint was made by a member of the public regarding Mr Flynn’s use of House provided stationery. The House provides a limited amount of stationery for Members to use in their parliamentary duties. The House’s rules on the use of stationery provide that “The stationery is to be used for Parliamentary duties [and is] not to be used for party political campaigning”. Breach of this rule constitutes a breach of Paragraph 8 of the Code of Conduct.

The complainant argued that on 19 July 2023, Mr Flynn had used House-branded compliments slips inserted inside mugs for party political purposes. The slips contained the message: “The Labour Party has a new range of mugs in production. They’re made in China – just like Sir Keir Starmer’s latest policy…”. The accompanying mugs contained text reading “Controls on family sizes. What’s the point of Labour?”. Thirteen mugs and slips were distributed to the House press lobby.

Having conducted an investigation, the Commissioner gave his opinion that, based on the evidence he received, Mr Flynn’s use of the compliments slips constituted “party political campaigning”, which did not comply with the House of Commons stationery rules and, therefore, breached paragraph 8 of the Code of Conduct.

Mr Flynn argued that his use of the compliments slips supported his parliamentary duties, rather than party-political campaigning, and therefore did not amount to a breach of the Code. He maintained that in his use of the slips he was “representing and furthering the interests of the public, scrutinising and holding Government (and Official Opposition) to account”, referring to the examples of a Member’s duties in the annex to the stationery rules.

Mr Flynn also argued that the content of the slips could only be understood in conjunction with the message on the mug and his parliamentary questions to the Prime Minister about the impact of Government and official Opposition policy on child poverty.

The Commissioner offered Mr Flynn the opportunity for rectification under the process outlined in Standing Order No.150. This would have involved confirmation that Mr Flynn accepted the Commissioner’s opinion, an acknowledgement he had breached the rules, and an apology. Mr Flynn declined this offer, and therefore the Commissioner was required to refer this case to the Committee. 

The Commissioner’s opinion

Having given careful consideration to the arguments adduced by the Commissioner and Mr Flynn, the Committee concluded as follows:

“In the Committee’s view, the boundary between the legitimate use of House-provided resources within Parliament and “party political campaigning” can be a porous and disputable one.

“The Committee appreciates that this may make it difficult to interpret the reference to such campaigning in the stationery rules. If Members are in doubt about the interpretation of this rule, the Committee urges them to seek the advice of the Clerk of the Journals and to err on the side of caution in the use of House-provided resources, which should not be used for party-political point-scoring as opposed to internal communications or in response to constituents.

“The Committee do not believe that in Mr Flynn’s case, issues of great moment are engaged. The Committee regret that it did not prove possible to conclude this matter at an earlier stage without the need for a formal referral to the Committee.

“The Committee takes the opportunity to draw Members’ attention to the requirement in the stationery rules that House-provided resources should not be used for party political campaigning, but do not consider it would be proportionate for us to take any further action in this particular case.”

Further information

 

Channel website: http://www.parliament.uk/

Original article link: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/290/committee-on-standards/news/198755/the-committee-on-standards-has-today-released-a-report-on-the-conduct-of-stephen-flynn-mp/

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