Daventry MP could face commissioner's inquiry after alleged code of conduct breach

Chris Heaton-Harris
Chris Heaton-Harris

Daventry MP Chris Heaton-Harris could be the subject of a commissioner's inquiry after a complaint was brought against him.

Mr Heaton-Harris, who caused a stir last month when it emerged he had sent letters to universities on House of Commons-headed paper asking about Brexit-related course content and a list of the teachers' names, is alleged to have breached paragraph 15 of the Commons' Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament.

The Daventry MP said he is unable to comment at this time because the investigation is already in preparation.

Any inquiry will be carried out by Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, in private and once information related to the allegation is submitted and deemed worthy of further investigation.

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards deals with the application of the Code of Conduct and related rules that apply to Members of Parliament in aspects of their public life.

Paragraph 15 of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament states: "Members are personally responsible and accountable for ensuring that their use of any expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters.

"Members shall ensure that their use of public resources is always in support of their parliamentary duties.

"It should not confer any undue personal or financial benefit on themselves or anyone else, or confer undue advantage on a political organisation."

Any individual can bring forward a complaint to the standards commissioner.

The result of Mrs Hudson's inquiry, along with the identity of the complainant and evidence used to arrive at a conclusion, would be published on Parliament's complaints and investigations website.

Mr Heaton-Harris' letter drew criticism from university lecturers when it became public knowledge, with some calling it "sinister" and others decrying it as a "McCarthyite" witch hunt.

In response, universities minister Jo Johnson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Chris was acting in an individual capacity as an MP rather than as a government minister… Chris has a very longstanding interest in European affairs and the history of European thought.

"He was pursuing inquiries of his own which may, in time, lead to a book on these questions. It was more of an academic inquiry rather than an attempt to constrain the freedom that academics rightly have."

Universities minister Jo Johnson said his colleague, a government whip, was "regretting very much" his decision.

Mr Johnson added that his colleague "probably didn't appreciate the degree to which this would be misinterpreted", and said: "I am sure Chris is regretting this very much."