The Code of Conduct - House of Commons Contents



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 allegation".[46] 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 by Members.

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


 
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