4. Procedure for Complaints
103. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
will consider complaints whether from Members or from members
of the public, alleging that a Member has breached the Code of
Conduct and associated rules. All such complaints should be signed
and give a postal address. Further guidance on the complaints
procedure is available in procedural notes approved by the Committee
on Standards and Privileges and issued by the Commissioner. These
are also available on the parliamentary website.
104. Both the Commissioner and the Committee on Standards
and Privileges will be guided by the view of the former Select
Committee on Members' Interests that "it is not sufficient
to make an unsubstantiated allegation and expect the Committee
on Standards and Privileges to assemble supporting evidence"
and "that it would not normally regard a complaint founded
on no more than a newspaper story or television report as a substantiated
The Committee on Standards and Privileges has made it clear that
it would expect the Commissioner to consult it before accepting
for investigation a complaint against a former Member or one which
goes back more than seven years, or where the Member has asked
the Commissioner to investigate an allegation against him or her
but is not the subject of a specific complaint. The Committee
on Standards and Privileges would expect to authorise such an
inquiry only in exceptional circumstances.
105. A number of areas are outside the Commissioner's
remit. As a result, he is unable to consider complaints about
policy matters or a Member's views or opinions, a Member's handling
of or decision about an individual case (whether or not the individual
is a constituent of the Member), the funding of political parties,
alleged breaches of the separate Code governing the conduct of
government ministers in their capacity as Ministers (the 'Ministerial
Code'), or about what Members do in their purely private and personal
lives. The Commissioner will not entertain anonymous complaints.
Conduct in the Chamber is a matter for the Speaker. If the allegation
is of criminal misconduct which may more appropriately be investigated
by another agency, the Commissioner will advise the complainant
to approach that agency.
106. It is a basic courtesy that a Member making
a complaint to the Commissioner should at the same time send a
copy of the letter of complaint to the Member concerned.
107. Communications between a member of the public
and the Commissioner are not covered by Parliamentary privilege
(and may not be privileged at law) unless and until the Commissioner
decides the case has some substance to merit further inquiry.
If he decides to the contrary, he may at his discretion reject
the complaint without further reference to the Committee. The
receipt of a complaint by the Commissioner does not imply that
there has been a breach of the rules of the House.
108. If the Commissioner is satisfied that sufficient
evidence has been tendered in support of the complaint to justify
his taking the matter further, he will ask the Member to respond
to the complaint. If he decides, having received the Member's
response and on the basis of any further enquiries he may decide
are necessary, that the complaint of a breach of the rules of
the House has not been substantiated, he will dismiss the complaint
and report that conclusion briefly to the Committee on Standards
and Privileges. If after enquiry he finds that there has been
a breach of the rules of the House or that the complaint raises
issues of wider importance, he will normally report the facts
and his conclusions to the Committee. Under Standing Order No.
150, however, he may decide that the matter can be resolved through
the rectification procedure. If so, he will determine the complaint
on that basis and report the fact briefly to the Committee. In
the case of non-registration, rectification requires a belated
entry in the current Register, with an appropriate explanatory
note; in the case of non-declaration, it requires an apology to
the House by means of a point of order. In cases involving parliamentary
facilities or allowances the rectification procedure normally
requires the Member to make appropriate repayment. Complaints
of non-registration by Members' staff, All-Party Groups and journalists
may be treated in a similar way to complaints of non-registration
109. The Committee on Standards and Privileges will
consider any matter relating to the conduct of Members, including
specific complaints in relation to alleged breaches of the Code
of Conduct or Guide to which the House has agreed and which have
been drawn to the Committee's attention by the Commissioner.
110. It is a requirement of the Code of Conduct that
Members cooperate at all stages with any inquiry by the Committee
on Standards and Privileges or the Commissioner into their conduct.
It is also a requirement that Members do not lobby members of
the Committee on Standards and Privileges or the Commissioner
in a manner calculated to influence their consideration of complaints.
111. The Committee has power under its Standing Order
to send for persons, papers and records; to order the attendance
of any Member before it; and to require that specific documents
in the possession of a Member relating to its inquiries or to
the inquiries of the Commissioner be laid before it.
112. While it is the practice of the Committee to
deliberate in private, the Committee determines for itself whether
sessions at which evidence is to be taken shall be held publicly
or in private, and is empowered to refuse leave for the broadcasting
of any public sessions.
113. On specific complaints for which the Commissioner
has concluded that there has been a breach of the rules, and the
Committee agrees in whole or in part, the Committee may make recommendations
to the House on whether further action is required. It may also
report to the House on other complaints if it thinks fit.
114. If the Commissioner concludes that a complaint
is frivolous or vexatious, or that an inquiry would be disproportionate
given the nature and seriousness of the allegation made, he may
decide not to inquire into it. In such cases he would report the
circumstances briefly to the Committee.
46 Select Committee on Members' Interests, First Report,
Session 1992-93, HC 383, paragraph 4. The Commissioner will not
entertain anonymous complaints. Back