Committee on Standards publishes report on the conduct of David Morris MP
17 September 2020
The Committee is grateful to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for her inquiry, which was undertaken following a complaint that Mr Morris had breached the paid advocacy rule when he asked a Topical Question and sent a follow up email to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Commissioner also considered whether Mr Morris had also breached the rule on declaration of interests.
The Commissioner’s findings
Under the paid advocacy rule, MPs are prohibited, for six months following receipt of a donation, from lobbying for financial or material benefit for the person or organisation they received the donation from.
This includes initiating proceedings or approaches to Ministers, other Members or public officials, and tabling and asking a Parliamentary Question, including a Topical Question.
The Commissioner found that Mr Morris had acted in breach of the paid advocacy rule when asking a Topical Question on 22nd October 2019. In September 2019, Mr Morris had accepted a £10,000 donation from Aquind Ltd, which was registered on his register entry.
In his Topical Question, Mr Morris sought for Ofgem to make regulations in order to "protect" companies such as Aquind Ltd through a regulatory regime. The Commissioner concluded that this Topical Question sought to confer a financial or material benefit on the company.
On the following day, Mr Morris also emailed the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, copying the Official Report text of his Topical Question and the Minister’s reply on the previous day with additional follow-up questions.
The Commissioner found that sending this email also breached the paid advocacy rule (paragraph 12 of the Code of Conduct).
The Commissioner also found that Mr Morris had acted in breach of paragraph 14 of the Code of Conduct (which relates to declaration of interests) when sending his email.
While Mr Morris made a brief declaration of a relevant interest, by copying the Official Report text of his question which referred to his Register entry, the Commissioner concluded that it did not meet the requirements set out in the Guide to the Rules, because others could not have understood the nature and relevance of the interest without reverting to the Register.
The Commissioner accepted that Mr Morris’s breaches of the rules were inadvertent but also concluded that she found Mr Morris's conduct during her investigation to be "regrettable and disrespectful of the House's system of standards".
During the investigation, Mr Morris repeatedly questioned the Commissioner’s remit and her right to consult other officials. Mr Morris subsequently apologised to the Commissioner and the Registrar and outlined factors he considered had influenced how he had engaged with the investigation.
The Committee’s conclusions
The Committee agrees with the Commissioner’s finding that Mr Morris breached paragraphs 12 and 14 of the Code of Conduct. While the Committee agrees that these breaches were inadvertent, the Committee recognises that any breach of the paid advocacy rule in particular must always be regarded as a serious matter.
The Committee considered Mr Morris’s communication with the Commissioner during the earlier stages of the investigation as an aggravating factor.
They also recognised a number of mitigating factors, including that Mr Morris had acknowledged he breached the rules and apologised; had arranged and attended a virtual briefing from the Registrar; and had been dealing with particularly challenging and stressful personal circumstances which may have affected his judgement and behaviour during the investigation.
The Committee recommends that Mr Morris should apologise to the House by means of a personal statement, which should be agreed in advance with Mr Speaker and 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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