“The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has written to the chairman of the standards committee asking him to consider whether select committee chairs should have any outside commercial interests.
Bercow has acted in the light of the energy and climate change committee chairman, Tim Yeo, standing aside following allegations that he was willing to coach witnesses with whom he had a commercial relationship. Yeo has insisted he has done nothing wrong and did not offer to coach any witnesses. The Conservative MP for South Suffolk has referred himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
In his letter to Kevin Barron, chair of the Commons standards committee, released on Wednesday, Bercow said the “commissioner will conduct her own investigation into the particular circumstances and none of us would seek to interfere with, or pre-judge, that investigation”.
However, he discloses that last November he expressed private concerns to the government chief whip, Sir George Young, and the parliamentary commissioner for standards “about what many might regard as an inherent incompatibility between chairing a select committee and having commercial interests, even though fully transparently registered, in the sector covered by that committee”.
Bercow said he had aired these concerns on behalf of the Commons.
He continued: “At present, chairs of select committees are required simply toregister such interests, but they are not prevented from having them. As I believe that there is a reputational issue for the house involved, I should be most grateful if your committee would consider this specific and important matter, with a view to making a recommendation to the house. Colleagues would then have the opportunity to decide whether to maintain the status quo, or to introduce a new rule on the subject.”
Barron has a registered interest of up to £5,000 from a pharmaceutical company, but gives the money to charity.
Bercow is understood to have been frustrated by reports in newspapers suggesting the government is keen to clamp down on outside commercial interests of select committee chairs. He is thought to be unimpressed since he had found the government at best unresponsive and at worst obstructive when he raised the issue with ministers.”