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I have had a long-standing interest in Tibet, preceding by many years the two visits to Dharamsala referred to in the BBC report, and hold positions as Vice-Chair of the All-Party Tibet Group and President of the Tibet Society. Both these positions are unpaid, and so no declaration is needed, though I have publicly referred to both positions on many occasions.
In respect of the two visits, such visits have to be registered in the Register of Members' Interests if the cost met from an external body constitutes more than 1% of salary, in other words around £600. In fact, it was not clear in either case that this threshold had been breached, but I thought it right to declare these visits just in case. I therefore entered them in the Register to err on the side of caution and to be fully accountable publicly.
The BBC report has therefore used information contained in the Register of Interests and identified where those entries have not been cross-referenced in subsequent parliamentary activities. They have therefore identified an administrative error.
The MPs' Code of Conduct (pdf downloadable from here) says (Paragraph 74):
"It is the responsibility of the Member, having regard to the rules of the House, to judge whether a financial interest is sufficiently relevant to a particular debate, proceeding, meeting or other activity to require a declaration. The basic test of relevance should be the same for declaration as it is for registration of an interest; namely, that a financial interest should be declared if it might reasonably be thought by others to influence the speech, representation or communication in question."
This paragraph is designed to protect against MPs adopting a position because they have received a financial incentive to do so. I do not think any fair-minded person would suggest that that applies in this case. Indeed, it is interesting that of the MPs from all three parties who visited Dharamsala on these trips, none has cross-referenced their register entry in subsequent parliamentary activities.
That notwithstanding, having decided on balance that I would register these visits, it would have been logical to have then declared a relevant interest in respect of the parliamentary activities listed. It is an unintended oversight that I did not. It will not happen again.
Contact Norman at:
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Tel: (01273) 480281.
Fax: (01273) 480287.
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