1. The House of Commons' system for investigating
alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct and imposing sanctions
for any such breaches is disciplinary in nature. It is not, and
does not purport to be, a substitute for criminal proceedings.
There can however be an overlap between actions which are breaches
of the Code, and the subject of complaints, and criminal behaviour.
Other than in the limited context of participation in proceedings
in Parliament, the position of a Member of Parliament is no different
in respect of alleged criminal behaviour than that of any other
person. Decisions about criminal investigations and prosecutions
are matters for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
A predecessor Committee discussed the handling of complaints against
Members which might also raise questions of criminal liability,
and reported on the arrangements for liaison between the Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standards, the police and the Committee in April
2008. Those arrangements
were intended to ensure that the Committee did not inadvertently
prejudice criminal proceedings.
Inquiries into former members
2. In the last Parliament a number of individuals
were the subject of police investigations. Mr David Chaytor, Mr
Eric Illsley, Mr Jim Devine and Mr Elliot Morley have now been
convicted on charges relating to their expense claims. Three of
these, Mr Chaytor, Mr Devine, and Mr Morley were under investigation
by the Commissioner.
3. We have already announced that we have agreed
to the Commissioner's proposals that he should close his inquiries
into Mr Chaytor and Mr Devine. The Commissioner has also proposed
that he should close his inquiry into Mr Morley. We agree. The
announcements made on each decision are set out in the Appendix
to this Report.
Passes of former Members convicted
4. When we announced that our agreement that the
investigation into Mr Chaytor's conduct should be closed, we added:
the Chair of the Committee, Kevin Barron MP, has
written to Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, the Chair of the Administration
Committee, inviting it to consider whether the rules relating
to passes for former Members should be amended, to disqualify
automatically any former Member who has been convicted of a criminal
offence and has been sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
Sir Alan has now responded:
The Committee recommended on 24 April that the following
paragraph be included in the rules operated by the Serjeant at
"Former Members' passes should not be provided
to any Member convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to
a period of imprisonment of one year or more."
Mr Speaker has accepted that recommendation, and
I have accordingly asked the Serjeant to incorporate that passage
within the rules.
This decision means that Mr Chaytor, Mr Devine, Mr
Illsley and Mr Morley will not be entitled to passes.
5. Section 1 of the Representation of the People
Act 1981 provides:
A person found guilty of one or more offences (whether
before or after the passing of this Act and whether in the United
Kingdom or elsewhere), and sentenced or ordered to be imprisoned
or detained indefinitely or for more than one year, shall be disqualified
for membership of the House of Commons while detained anywhere
in the British Islands or the Republic of Ireland in pursuance
of the sentence or order or while unlawfully at large at a time
when he would otherwise be so detained.
6. The change to the rules means that the House's
rules on the terms of access to the precincts for former Members
are slightly different from the rules relating to disqualification
of sitting Members convicted of an offence. This is appropriate:
a judge sentencing a Member of Parliament will be alert to the
terms of the Representation of the People Act 1981, and take into
account that automatic expulsion depends on a sentence of more
than a year. The House can take its own decision if
a sentence of less than a year is given, and the Member concerned
does not resign voluntarily.
7. Access to the precincts, and the terms on which
such access is granted, is and should be, purely a matter for
the House; there is no statutory provision relating to such access.
Any such provision would be inappropriate, since it would limit
the House's control over its own precincts. Given that sentencing
guidelines are written in terms of "12 months" imprisonment,
reproducing the statutory requirement exactly when considering
the provision of ex-Members' passes could result in former Members
found guilty of wrongdoing serious enough to merit a significant
custodial sentence retaining their entitlement to a pass unless
the House took further action. We do not believe this is right.
8. Until the most recent general election, the House
of Commons had a system of resettlement grants for those Members
who retired at dissolution, or were not returned at the subsequent
election. Since the
IPSA expenses scheme came into operation on 7 May 2010 there has
been no provision for resettlement grants. IPSA has announced:
Given its integral link to MPs' pay and pensions,
IPSA does not believe it can properly consider the issue of whether
there should be a resettlement grant or how it should be formulated
as a separate issue. IPSA will not, therefore, introduce an interim
measure but will consider the issue as part of its planned review
of MPs' pay and pensions once the legal responsibility for those
matters passes to IPSA.
9. On 8 February 2010 the Members Estimates Committee
agreed that "Mr Speaker should instruct the Accounting Officer
for the Members Estimate that Resettlement Grant should be withheld
from any Member charged with an offence relating to Members' allowances
until the conclusion of any criminal proceedings";
on 29 March 2011 it further agreed "that Resettlement Grant
should not be paid to any former Member convicted of an offence
of dishonesty relating to Members' allowances."
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is charged with the responsibility
for conducting inquiries. He must judge each case on its own merits,
and it is impossible to set out an absolute rule. Nonetheless,
as a general principle, if in the future the Commissioner proposes
to close inquiries into the conduct of former Members who have
received substantial custodial sentences, we are likely to agree.
In cases where a former Member has both been imprisoned, and is
consequently no longer entitled to the privilege of an ex-Member's
photo-pass, it is unlikely that this Committee will have any further
sanction to impose.
1 Standards and Privileges Committee, Eight Report
of Session 2007-08, The Complaints System and the Criminal
Law, HC 523 Back
See Appendix Back
1981, c 34 Back
CJ (1990-91), Members Estimate Committee, Third Report of Session
2007-08, Review of Allowances, HC 578-I, paras 235-238 Back
IPSA, Annual Review of the Expenses Scheme 2010-11, 25 March 2011
The Committee has the same membership as the House of Commons
Commission, and its decisions can be found on the Commission's
CJ (2009-10) 216 Back