Committee on Standards publishes report on Mr Marcus Fysh
18 June 2020
The Committee on Standards today releases a report on the conduct of Mr Marcus Fysh, the MP for Yeovil.
The Committee is grateful to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for her inquiry, which was undertaken following a complaint that Mr Fysh's registration of financial interests were inaccurate. As the allegation related to a failure to register interests, the Commissioner also considered whether there had been a failure to declare them to the European Scrutiny and International Trade select committees of which he is a member.
A detailed memorandum from the Commissioner is appended to the report. Associated evidence is published on the internet.
The Commissioner's findings
MPs are required to register interests in accordance with their Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members. They must record any change to their registrable interests within 28 days.
The Commissioner found that Mr Fysh acted in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct in three respects. She found that:
- A registration of changes to London Wessex Ltd, Wessex Investments Proprietary Ltd and London Wessex Brands Ltd, in which Mr Fysh had registered shares, was not made within the 28 days required (the changes were registered 234, 148 and 140 days late respectively);
- Mr Fysh did not register his unpaid directorships of these three companies and of two others in the Wessex Investment Proprietary Group, which later became Samfire Proprietary Ltd; and
- Mr Fysh failed to declare his and his brother's unpaid directorships to the two select committees when he joined them.
The Commissioner for Standards would usually resolve a breach of this kind through the rectification procedure – where an indication of the rectification, reached in agreement with the Member and usually including an apology, is published on the Commissioner's website. However, Mr Fysh did not accept the Commissioner's findings that he should have registered his unpaid directorships and declared them to the two select committees. This meant that she was unable to resolve the complaint and therefore referred the matter to the Committee.
The Committee's conclusions
Mr Fysh submitted written and (at his own request) oral evidence to the Committee. While he accepted that he was late in registering changes made in 2018 to the companies he had shareholdings in, he argued that he was entitled not to register his unpaid directorships because under the rules Members have discretion as to whether to register such directorships, and these particular directorships “are not capable of having any influence on what I might say or do as a Member, have not done so and could not reasonably be perceived to be at risk of doing so”. He further argued on similar grounds that he was under no obligation to declare the directorships to the two select committees.
Mr Fysh argued that the Commissioner provided no evidence that he had been influenced by his interests and that the Registrar and the Commissioner had not made their judgements objectively.
After considering the evidence, the Committee accepts the Commissioner's finding that Mr Fysh breached paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct in all three respects. The Committee notes that Mr Fysh has apologised for the late registration. It considered carefully his argument in respect of the Commissioner's other two findings, but does not accept it. The test of relevance in respect of such interests is whether they “might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions or words as a Member in the same way as a financial interest”.
The Member is entitled to use his or her discretion in deciding whether this test is satisfied; but the Commissioner is entitled, if a complaint is subsequently made, to decide whether in her opinion the Member came to the correct conclusion. In this case she decided that Mr Fysh's unpaid directorships could be reasonably have been thought by others to influence him. The Committee agrees with her and concludes that Mr Fysh should have registered and declared those interests.
The Committee notes that the test is not whether a Member has been influenced, but whether they might reasonably be thought to have been influenced. Consequently, the fact that the Commissioner produced no evidence of influence is not relevant.
The Committee does not believe that Mr Fysh acted in bad faith. He exercised his right as a Member to express disagreement with the Commissioner's interpretation of the rules and bring the matter before the Committee. However, it also notes that Mr Fysh adopted a deprecatory and, at points, patronising tone towards the Commissioner and the Registrar which was unacceptable, as were his unfounded questions about their objectivity. The Committee also notes that there were unnecessary delays to the Commissioner's inquiry, which began nearly two years ago, because Mr Fysh did not respond to requests in a timely manner. It concludes that this does not represent the “full cooperation” that is expected of Members in the Commissioner's investigations.
The Committee recommends that corrections to the Register outlining Mr Fysh's four unpaid directorships which have continued since he entered the House in 2015 should appear in bold italic type for the next 12 months and that Mr Fysh should make an apology on the floor of the House for both the non-registrations and non-declarations by means of a personal statement. It also recommends that he should apologise in writing to the Commissioner and the Registrar, and that the text of this apology should be agreed in advance by the Chair of the Committee.
The lay members of the Committee, who have full voting rights on the Committee, played a full and active part in drawing up the Committee's report, with which they are in agreement.
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