Appendix 2: Parliamentary Standards: policy
on the disclosure of information about the handling of complaints
against Members of Parliament
1. This note sets out the policy, agreed by the
Committee on Standards and Privileges ("the Committee")
and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards ("the Commissioner"),
on the disclosure of information about the handling of complaints
against Members of Parliament. Its publication meets the suggestion
by the Committee on Standards in Public Life that:
the relationship between the Commissioner and
the media should be more formally defined. The existence of such
a published strategy statement, which would set out what is to
be expected when enquiries are made of the Commissioner, would
give the clarity which has hitherto been lacking. (Eighth Report,
Cm 5663, para 8.56).
2. Both the Committee and the Commissioner will
seek to be as open as they can about complaints and the operation
of the complaints system, consistent with maintaining the integrity
of that system and ensuring fairness both to the complainant and
to a Member who is the subject of a complaint. In practice this
means that they will aim for:
? as much openness as is possible about the process
followed in considering a complaint;
? confidentiality wherever appropriate about
individuals, especially during the investigation of a complaint.
3. This approach reflects the need to hold
several, potentially conflicting, principles in balance. One is
the public's right to know, not least in order to have confidence
in the effectiveness of the system for considering complaints.
On the other hand, accused Members are entitled to a fair consideration
of the complaint against them. Their public reputation is at stake
and should not be put at hazard without proper cause. Nor is it
necessarily in the interest of complainants for information to
be disclosed, for example if this would prejudice a successful
investigation of their complaint or put potential witnesses under
Information about the complaints process
4. The Committee has agreed that in future the
Commissioner should report annually on the system for promoting
and sustaining high standards of conduct among Members and on
the operation of the complaints process. These reports will be
published. On each occasion, the Committee will consider taking
evidence from the Commissioner in public on his report.
5. The Commissioner's report will include information
on the number and types of complaints received and their outcome,
including those cases dealt with by the Commissioner under the
rectification procedure. Such information is not routinely published
at present. The first report is expected to be published in the
summer of 2003.
6. Working together, the Committee and the Commissioner
also intend that policy or practice notes should be published,
making clear the approach which they take to various procedural
issues, and in such other circumstances as are considered appropriate.
In February 2003, guidance notes were published setting out the
procedure for considering complaints against Members. The Committee
and the Commissioner hope these will be helpful both to Members
and to the public.
7. A distinct section of the Parliamentary web-site
has been established, containing information about the Code of
Conduct for Members, the Register of Members' Interests and the
system for considering complaints against Members, to ensure that
this information is more readily available to the public.
Information about individual complaints
8. Neither the Committee nor the Commissioner
considers it appropriate to release information to the media or
the public about individual cases before these have been the subject
of full and proper inquiry by the Commissioner, and the Committee
where appropriate, and the latter has decided, in cases coming
before it, in what terms it wishes to report to the House. Premature
release of information may jeopardise effective inquiry into a
complaint as well as the chances of a fair hearing for the Member
9. With this in mind, on receipt of the complaint,
the Commissioner will take steps aimed at ensuring that the Member
concerned is immediately informed of this, and of the nature of
the allegations. However, he will not otherwise take the initiative
in announcing that he has received a complaint. His office will
nonetheless respond to inquiries, and in the case of an inquiry
that relates specifically to a complaint that has been received,
will be prepared, other than in exceptional circumstances, to
confirm its receipt. At no time will the Commissioner reveal the
specific details of inquiries he may be making.
10. When acknowledging that a complaint has been
received, the Commissioner's office will make clear that the mere
fact that a complaint has been received does not signify that
it is well-founded. This approach is consistent with that recommended
by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in its Eighth Report
(Cm 5663, recommendation 25(a)).
11. The Commissioner's office will also
be ready (again, if asked) to acknowledge:
a. when the Commissioner has dismissed a complaint
(because, on the evidence available, it did not meet the criteria
for further investigation or further investigation of the matter
by him was not, in his view, justified); or
b. when an inquiry has been postponed or suspended
because the subject matter of the investigation is the subject
of a police investigation or court proceedings; or
c. when he has submitted his report on a complaint
to the Committee. In these circumstances, the Commissioner's office
will make clear that the fact that he has reported to the Committee
simply means that the Commissioner has completed his inquiries:
no inference can be drawn from this as to the outcome of those
The Commissioner will ensure that both the Member
complained against and the complainant are aware of the position
before he releases any such information.
12. When the Commissioner has submitted a report
on a complaint to the Committee, the Chairman (or the Clerk acting
on his behalf) will, if asked, confirm that it has been received.
While they will be prepared to indicate when the Committee is
next meeting, they will not give any information as to when the
Committee might be expected to consider the Commissioner's report,
nor will they speculate on whether (or when) the Member might
be called to give evidence or on when the Committee might be expected
to agree a report to the House.
13. When the Committee has agreed a report, the
Clerk informs the Member and the complainant of the publication
arrangements.. Once this has been done, the Chairman and the Clerk
will, if asked, give out details of these arrangements in response
Publication of the Commissioner's Report
14. The Commissioner's report will continue to
be published as an appendix to the report of the Committee to
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and
15. The Commissioner is an Officer of the House
who at the same time is appointed from outside to provide an element,
independent of Members, in the monitoring and enforcement of the
Code of Conduct and Rules for Members. It is important that Members
have confidence in the confidentiality of their dealings with
the Commissioner and that the public know and understand the arrangements
for upholding standards and considering complaints.
16. Accordingly, the Commissioner and the Committee
have agreed that he and his staff should and will be free to talk
at any point, in general terms, to the press and others about
the system for regulating Members' conduct and investigating complaints.
17. They have also agreed that neither the Commissioner
nor his staff will talk to the press or others, whether in the
context of any more general interview or otherwise, about any
individual complaint, other than within the framework laid down
in this note, unless it has been finally disposed of. In the case
of a complaint in respect of which the Committee has recommended
further action against the Member by the House, this period will
be regarded as having ended when the House has come to a decision
on the recommendation.
18. This means that the Commissioner would not
normally expect to have contact with the press about individual
cases (except where indicated earlier in this note or if individual
journalists are themselves involved in a particular complaint).
The Chairman of the Committee will normally take the lead in dealing
with inquiries from the press about the published reports of the
Committee, and will discuss with the Commissioner the handling
of press interest in each particular case.