Former Members sentenced to imprisonment - Standards and Privileges Committee Contents



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.[1] Those arrangements were intended to ensure that the Committee did not inadvertently prejudice criminal proceedings.

Inquiries into former members now convicted

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.[2]

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 Arms:

"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[3] 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.

Resettlement Grants

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.[4] 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.[5]

9. On 8 February 2010 the Members Estimates Committee[6] 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";[7] 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."[8]

Future sanctions

10. The 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

2   See Appendix Back

3   1981, c 34 Back

4   CJ (1990-91), Members Estimate Committee, Third Report of Session 2007-08, Review of Allowances, HC 578-I, paras 235-238 Back

5   IPSA, Annual Review of the Expenses Scheme 2010-11, 25 March 2011  Back

6   The Committee has the same membership as the House of Commons Commission, and its decisions can be found on the Commission's webpages. Back

7, CJ (2009-10) 216 Back

8 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 15 June 2011