The Code of Conduct together with The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members - House of Commons - The Code of Conduct Contents

Chapter 4: Procedure for inquiries

Requirements of the House

1. Paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Code of Conduct provide:

    17. The application of this Code shall be a matter for the House of Commons, and particularly for the Committee on Standards and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards acting in accordance with Standing Orders Nos 149 and 150 respectively.

    18. The Commissioner may investigate a specific matter relating to a Member's adherence to the rules of conduct under the Code. Members shall cooperate, at all stages, with any such investigation by or under the authority of the House. No Member shall lobby a member of the Committee in a manner calculated or intended to influence its consideration of an alleged breach of this Code.

2. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards:

·  considers complaints alleging that a Member of Parliament has breached the Code of Conduct and its associated rules; and

·  if he or she thinks fit, investigates specific matters which have come to his or her attention relating to the conduct of a Member; and

·  exceptionally inquires into a matter referred to the Commissioner by a Member in relation to his or her own conduct.

3. In all cases, the Commissioner will only initiate an inquiry if he or she is satisfied that the evidence put before the Commissioner is sufficient to justify such an inquiry. It is not sufficient to make an unsubstantiated allegation and expect the Commissioner to look for any supporting evidence.[61] The receipt of a complaint or the initiation of an inquiry by the Commissioner does not imply that there has been a breach of the rules of the House.

4. Details of the Commissioner's current inquiries are provided monthly on the Commissioner's webpages.

5. Complaints about the misuse of the scheme for parliamentary expenses since May 2010 are a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. However, where the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or its Compliance Officer consider that a Member's conduct justifies it, they shall refer that Member, with the relevant evidence, to the Commissioner for the Commissioner to decide whether to inquire into a potential breach of the Code of Conduct and its associated rules.

Submitting a complaint

6. Complaints must:

a)  be submitted by an individual, whether a member of the public or a Member of Parliament. Complaints from organisations, or made on behalf of someone else, cannot be accepted; and

b)  be made in writing and signed, and provide the complainant's name and full postal address; and

c)  make clear in what respect the complainant believes that the Member may have breached the Code of Conduct and its associated rules. Allegations should be supported by sufficient evidence to justify the initiation of an inquiry.

7. 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.

8. Further guidance on the complaints procedure is available in the Commissioner's procedural note, which can be found on the parliamentary webpages.[62]

Parliamentary privilege

9. Communications between a member of the public and the Commissioner are not covered by parliamentary privilege unless and until the Commissioner has accepted the matter for inquiry.

Initiating an inquiry

10. When considering any reference to the Commissioner, he or she will first consider if the matter is within his or her remit. If so, the Commissioner will consider whether in his or her view, sufficient evidence has been provided to justify the initiation of an inquiry into whether the Code of Conduct and its associated rules may have been breached.

11. The Committee has made it clear that it would expect the Commissioner to consult it before exceptionally initiating an inquiry into a former Member or in respect of a matter which goes back more than seven years. The Committee would expect to authorise such inquiries only in exceptional circumstances.

12. If, in the Commissioner's view, he or she has received, from the complainant or otherwise, sufficient evidence to justify the initiation of an inquiry into whether a named Member has breached the Code of Conduct or its associated rules the Commissioner will institute such an inquiry. That decision is made by the Commissioner. If the Commissioner considers that an inquiry would be disproportionate given the nature and seriousness of the allegation made, the Commissioner may decide not to inquire into that matter. If the Commissioner considers the evidence received is insufficient to justify an inquiry, or the matter falls outside the Commissioner's remit, he or she will so decide and inform any complainant. The Commissioner will report briefly to the Committee on the consideration of all formal complaints and allegations submitted.

Resolution of inquiries: Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

13. If the Commissioner accepts a matter for inquiry the Commissioner will notify any complainant and invite the Member to respond to the allegation. The Commissioner will then make any subsequent enquiries he or she considers necessary.

14. Under the Code of Conduct Members are required to cooperate with any inquiry into their conduct. Members must also not lobby the Committee or the Commissioner in a manner calculated to influence their consideration of the matter. The Committee on Standards and Privileges[63] has regarded any breach of this rule as particularly serious and it alone has led to suspension from the House

15. If, after or during the course of an inquiry, the Commissioner concludes that the allegation has not been substantiated, the Commissioner will not uphold it and will report that conclusion briefly to the Committee. The determination letter and the evidence relevant to that inquiry will be published on the Commissioner's webpages. It is, however, open to the Commissioner to decide to submit a memorandum to the Committee into an allegation which the Commissioner proposes should not be upheld. This may be because of the particular seriousness of the allegation or because the inquiry raises matters of wider interest or relevance. The Committee will then consider the Commissioner's conclusions and submit its own report to the House.

16. Under Standing Order No. 150 the Commissioner may decide that the matter can be resolved through the rectification procedure.[64] If so, and the Member agrees and apologises, the Commissioner will determine the matter on that basis and report the fact briefly to the Committee. The determination letter and the evidence associated with that inquiry will be published on the Commissioner's webpages. In the case of non-registration, rectification requires a belated entry in the current Register in bold italic type with an appropriate explanatory note.[65] In the case of non-declaration, it requires an apology to the House by means of a point of order in accordance with the procedure established for such apologies by the Speaker. In cases involving parliamentary facilities or resources, the rectification procedure normally requires the Member to make any repayment or other relevant rectification.

17. If, after inquiry, the Commissioner finds that there has been a breach, which is not suitable for the rectification procedure, or that the inquiry raises issues of wider importance, the Commissioner will normally report the facts and his or her conclusions to the Committee in the form of a memorandum. The Committee will then publish the Commissioner's memorandum on the case, alongside a report setting out its conclusions in the matter, including any recommendation to the House on whether further action is required.

Resolution of inquiries: Committee on Standards

18. The Committee considers any matter relating to the conduct of Members, including specific allegations against a Member in relation to alleged breaches of the rules of the House which have been drawn to the Committee's attention by the Commissioner.

19. The Committee may, under Standing Order No. 149, send for persons, papers and records; order the attendance of any Member before it; and 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. The Committee will decide whether evidence is to be taken in public or in private. Its normal practice is to take evidence in private. The Committee is empowered to refuse leave for the broadcasting of any public sessions. The Committee's internal discussions are always held in private.

20. Where the Commissioner has concluded that there has been a breach of the rules, and the Committee agrees in whole or in part, those concerned face a range of penalties. In a very few cases, the reputational damage of an adverse report will be deemed sufficient, together with any action required to remedy the breach. In more serious cases the Committee will make recommendations for further action. The Committee may recommend:

a)  a written apology;

b)  for relatively minor failures to declare interests, an apology on the floor of the House by means of a point of order;

c)  an apology on the floor of the House by means of a personal statement;

d)  for non-Members, withdrawal of Parliamentary passes, either indefinitely or for a fixed period;

e)  suspension from the service of the House for a specified number of sitting days (during which time the Member receives no salary and must withdraw from the precincts of the House.)[66]

In the most serious cases the Committee has the power to recommend expulsion. While the House itself decides whether a Member should be suspended, its practice has been to accept the Committee's recommendations on such matters.

21. The Committee may also report to the House on other matters referred to it by the Commissioner.

Remit of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

22. Subject to paragraph 16 of the Code, the House of Commons has agreed a number of exceptions to the Commissioner's remit. As a result the Commissioner is unable to investigate complaints about:

a)  policy matters;

b)  a Member's views or opinions;

c)  a Member's handling of or decision about a case (whether or not anyone involved is a constituent of the Member);

23. The following matters, which fall outside of the Commissioner's remit, may be referred by the complainant to the relevant body or individual:

a)  conduct in the Chamber, which is a matter for the Speaker;

b)  complaints about the misuse of the scheme for parliamentary expenses since May 2010, which are matters for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and its Compliance Officer;

c)  allegations of criminal misconduct, which are normally a matter for the police;

d)  the funding of political parties and the permissibility of donations, which are matters for the Electoral Commission; and

e)  alleged breaches of the Ministerial Code, which governs the conduct of government Ministers in their capacity as Ministers and which are matters for the Cabinet Office.

24. Complaints of non-registration by Members' staff and journalists will be considered by the Registrar of Members' Financial Interests. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards will consider complaints about All-Party Parliamentary Groups.

61   Select Committee on Members' Interests, First Report of Session 1992-93, HC 383, paragraph 4 Back

62   The procedural note (now known as an Information Note) has been approved by the Committee on Standards and issued by the Commissioner. Back

63   Now the Committee on Standards.  Back

64   Standing Order No. 150(3) Back

65   A rectified entry remains in the Register in that form for 12 months or until the next printed edition, whichever is the later. Back

66   The House of Commons agreed on 26 June 2003 that a Member's salary could be withheld even if he or she was not suspended. The Committee on Standards and its predecessor have not so far recommended such a penalty. Back

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Prepared 14 April 2015