Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords - Contents


CHAPTER 5: Members' Conduct

5.01  Members' conduct in the course of their parliamentary duties is governed by a Code of Conduct, agreed on 30 November 2009, and an accompanying Guide to the Code of Conduct, agreed on 16 March 2010, and amended on 9 November 2011. The full text of the Code, which came into effect at the start of the 2010 Parliament, is as follows:

CODE OF CONDUCT FOR MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS

Introduction

1.  The House of Lords is the second Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament. As a constituent part of Parliament, the House of Lords makes laws, holds government to account, and debates issues of public interest.

2.  Membership of the House is not an office, and does not constitute employment; most Members' primary employment is or has been outside Parliament. In discharging their parliamentary duties Members of the House of Lords draw substantially on experience and expertise gained outside Parliament.

3.  The purpose of this Code of Conduct is

(a)  to provide guidance for Members of the House of Lords on the standards of conduct expected of them in the discharge of their parliamentary duties; the Code does not extend to Members' performance of duties unrelated to parliamentary proceedings, or to their private lives;

(b)  to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary duties.

4.  This Code applies to all Members of the House of Lords who are not either

(a)  on leave of absence;

(b)  suspended from the service of the House; or

(c)  statutorily disqualified from active membership.

5.  Members are to sign an undertaking to abide by the Code as part of the ceremony of taking the oath upon introduction and at the start of each Parliament.

General principles

6.  By virtue of their oath, or affirmation, of allegiance, Members of the House have a duty to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, Her heirs and successors, according to law.

7.  In the conduct of their parliamentary duties, Members of the House shall base their actions on consideration of the public interest, and shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest at once, and in favour of the public interest.

8.  Members of the House:

(a)  must comply with the Code of Conduct;

(b)  should act always on their personal honour;

(c)  must never accept or agree to accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence;

(d)  must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services.

9.  Members of the House should observe the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. These principles will be taken into consideration when any allegation of breaches of the provisions in other sections of the Code is under investigation:

(a)  Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

(b)  Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

(c)  Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

(d)  Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

(e)  Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

(f)  Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

(g)  Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Rules of Conduct

10.  In order to assist in openness and accountability Members shall:

(a)  register in the Register of Lords' Interests all relevant interests, in order to make clear what are the interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their parliamentary actions;

(b)  declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with ministers or public servants, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion;

(c)  act in accordance with any rules agreed by the House in respect of financial support for Members or the facilities of the House.

11.  The test of relevant interest is whether the interest might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to influence the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties: in the case of registration, the Member's parliamentary duties in general; in the case of declaration, his or her duties in respect of the particular matter under discussion.

12.  The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether a reasonable member of the public might think that this might be the case. Relevant interests include both financial and non-financial interests.

13.  Members are responsible for ensuring that their registered interests are accurate and up-to-date. They should register any change in their relevant interests within one month of the change.

14.  A Member must not act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House; that is to say, he or she must not seek by parliamentary means to confer exclusive benefit on an outside body or person from which he or she receives payment or reward.

15.  Members are not otherwise debarred from participating in proceedings in regard to which they possess relevant interests, financial or non-financial; but such interests should be declared fully. Members of the House should be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others.

Enforcement of the Code of Conduct

16.  A House of Lords Commissioner for Standards is appointed to investigate alleged breaches of this Code, or of the rules governing Members' financial support or use of parliamentary facilities. Any such investigation is conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the Guide to the Code of Conduct.

17.  After investigation the Commissioner reports his findings to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct; the Sub-Committee reviews the Commissioner's findings and, where appropriate, recommends a disciplinary sanction to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct. The Member concerned has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct against both the Commissioner's findings and any recommended sanction.

18.  The Committee for Privileges and Conduct, having heard any appeal, reports its conclusions and recommendations to the House. The final decision rests with the House.

19.  In investigating and adjudicating allegations of non-compliance with this Code, the Commissioner, the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct and the Committee for Privileges and Conduct shall act in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness.

20.  Members shall co-operate, at all stages, with any investigation into their conduct by or under the authority of the House.

21.  No Member shall lobby a member of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct or the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct in a manner calculated or intended to influence their consideration of a complaint of a breach of this Code.

Advice and review

22.  The operation of the Register is overseen by the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, assisted by the Registrar of Lords' Interests. The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House, and may consult the Sub-Committee when necessary.

23.  A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct in that regard. However, the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to participate in proceedings to which that interest is relevant rests with the Member concerned.

24.  The Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct reviews the Code of Conduct once each Parliament. Its findings, along with any recommended changes to the Code, are reported to the House.

25.  The Sub-Committee also keeps the Guide to the Code of Conduct under regular review; recommended changes are reported to the House and will not take effect until agreed by the House.[179]

5.02  In accordance with paragraph 5 of the Code of Conduct, members are to sign an undertaking to abide by the Code as part of the ceremony of taking the oath upon introduction and at the start of each Parliament. Any member who has taken the oath but attends the House without having signed the undertaking is deemed to have breached the Code; it is for the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct to consider an appropriate sanction.

THE GUIDE TO THE CODE OF CONDUCT

5.03  The operation of the Code of Conduct is kept under review by the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct, a sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct. As well as reviewing the Code itself once each Parliament, the Sub-Committee keeps the "Guide to the Code of Conduct" under regular review.[180] This Guide has been agreed by resolution of the House, and is binding upon members. Any change to the Guide must be reported to the House and no change can take effect until agreed by the House. Copies of the up-to-date text of the Guide are available online, from the Printed Paper Office or from the Registrar of Lords' Interests. The Registrar is also available to advise members on the rules governing members' conduct.

5.04  What follows is a summary of key points within the Guide to the Code of Conduct which relate to members' conduct in the House and its committees. However, the Guide itself is the authoritative source of guidance on members' conduct.

GENERAL PRINCIPLES AND RULES OF CONDUCT

5.05  Members are required both "to comply with the Code of Conduct" (paragraph 8(a)), and to act always "on their personal honour" (paragraph 8(b)). These paragraphs of the Code, taken together, mean that members are required not only to obey the letter of the rules, but to act in accordance with the spirit of those rules and the sense of the House. Members are under a general obligation to bear in mind the underlying purpose of the Code, which is to provide "openness and accountability".[181]

5.06  Members are required under paragraph 7 of the Code to base their actions on consideration of the public interest. Acceptance of financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence would necessarily contravene this principle. Paragraph 8(c) of the Code therefore states that members "must never accept or agree to accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence".

5.07  Paragraph 8(d) of the Code describes the specific application of the principles described in paragraphs 7 and 8(c): members "must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services".

5.08  The prohibition on accepting payment in return for parliamentary advice means that members may not act as paid parliamentary consultants, advising outside organisations or persons on process, for example how they may lobby or otherwise influence the work of Parliament.

5.09  The prohibition on accepting payment in return for parliamentary services means that members may not, in return for payment or other incentive or reward, assist outside organisations or persons in influencing Parliament. This includes acting as a "paid advocate" (see below), or making use of their position to arrange meetings with a view to any person lobbying members of either House, ministers or officials.

5.10  Paragraph 14 of the Code states that a member "must not act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House; that is to say, he or she must not seek by parliamentary means to confer exclusive benefit on an outside body or person from which he or she receives payment or reward."

5.11  This "exclusive benefit" principle would mean, for instance, that a member who was paid by a pharmaceutical company would be barred from seeking to confer benefit exclusively upon that company by parliamentary means. The way in which the benefit is conferred should be interpreted broadly: all proceedings of the House are included. The nature of the "exclusive benefit", on the other hand, should be interpreted narrowly. The same member would not be debarred from tabling an amendment, speaking or voting on matters relevant to, for instance, the pharmaceutical sector as a whole; National Health Service spending on drugs; or government policy on drug licensing and patents.

5.12  A member who seeks to confer benefit on an organisation in which he or she has a financial interest, but who considers that this does not constitute an "exclusive benefit", should make it clear in debate how he or she is acting not only in the interest of the organisation, but also the wider sector or community of which that organisation forms a part.

5.13  Paragraphs 8(c) and 8(d) of the Code (which prohibit payment for exercising parliamentary influence and payment for providing parliamentary advice and services) and paragraph 14 of the Code (which prohibits paid advocacy for exclusive benefit) do not apply to the Lords Spiritual, to ministers of the Crown, or to members or employees of non-departmental public bodies (whether commercial or non-commercial in character) in relation to those specific roles. Members and employees of public boards may take part in proceedings affecting the boards of which they are members or employees, subject to the usual rules on declaration of interests (see paragraph 4.69).

PARTICIPATION IN PROCEEDINGS

5.14  In accordance with paragraph 15 of the Code a member with a relevant interest is free to take part in the public business of the House subject to:

  • the rules on financial inducements and parliamentary influence (paragraph 8 of the Code);
  • the rules on paid advocacy (paragraph 14 of the Code);
  • the rules on the registration and declaration of interests (paragraphs 10-12 of the Code); and
  • the resolution of any conflict between personal and public interest in favour of the public interest (paragraph 7 of the Code).

5.15  However, paragraph 15 goes on to state that "Members of the House should be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others." In other words, caution is especially required where a financial interest is direct (the member could personally benefit as a direct result of the proceeding) and shared by few others (the member is one of a small group of people in society who would so benefit).

5.16  More generally, a member who is unsure whether or not to participate in parliamentary proceedings in relation to which he or she has relevant interests should consider the following factors:

  • the nature of the proceeding itself. There would, for instance, be more latitude in the case of a general debate than in proposing or voting on an amendment to legislation. Members with financial interests that are relevant to private legislation should exercise particular caution, and seek advice before deciding to participate in proceedings on that legislation.
  • the nature of the member's intended contribution. A speech urging government investment in a sector in which the member had a financial interest might be open to misconstruction, whereas a speech canvassing issues of more general interest would not.

5.17  Members may consult the Registrar on these matters, but as paragraph 23 of the Code makes clear, "the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to participate in proceedings to which that interest is relevant rests with the member concerned".

REGISTRATION AND DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

5.18  Under paragraph 10 of the Code members are required to register and declare certain relevant interests. A relevant interest is one which might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to influence the way in which a member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties: in the case of registration, the member's parliamentary duties in general; in the case of declaration, his or her duties in respect of the particular matter under discussion.

5.19  Thus the House has two distinct but related methods for the disclosure of the relevant interests of its members. Registered interests are published in the Register of Lords' Interests, which is published online and updated daily. The main purpose of the Register is to give public notification on a continuing basis of those interests held by members that might reasonably be thought to have a general influence upon their parliamentary conduct or actions. The main purpose of declaration of interest is to ensure that fellow members of the House, ministers, officials and the public are made aware, at the point at which the member participates in proceedings of the House or otherwise acts in a parliamentary capacity, of any present or expected future interest that might reasonably be thought relevant to that particular action by the member. There is also a Register of Interests of Lords Members' Staff.

5.20  In cases of doubt members should seek the advice of the Registrar of Lords' Interests. A member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what he or she is required to register or declare as a relevant interest fully satisfies the requirements of the Code of Conduct as regards registration or declaration.

REGISTRATION

5.21  The Guide lists 10 categories within which members are required to register all financial or non-financial interests held by them, and in certain cases by their spouse or partner, which are relevant for the purposes of registration. Full details are given in the Guide, pages 12-18.

DECLARATION

5.22  Under paragraph 10(b) of the Code of Conduct, members must "declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with ministers or public servants, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion". This provision should be interpreted broadly. Thus "speaking in the House" covers members' participation in the work of select committees of the House. "Public servants" includes servants of the Crown, civil servants, employees of government agencies or non-departmental public bodies, and members, officers and employees of local authorities or other governmental bodies.

5.23  The "matter under discussion" is normally the item of business as it appears on the Order Paper. Thus in the case of a bill, the subject-matter is the bill as a whole. A full declaration of any interests relevant to a bill should be made at least on the occasion of the member's first intervention at each stage of the bill's progress.

5.24  Members should declare interests briefly, but in such a way that their declaration is comprehensible, specific, and unambiguous, without either demanding prior knowledge of their audience or requiring reference to other documents, including the Register. An exception may be made at Oral Questions or other time-limited proceedings, where it may be for the convenience of the House that members should not take up time by making lengthy or repeated declarations of interest. On such occasions a brief reference to the published Register may be appropriate, though this only suffices for registered interests.

5.25  Members should not take up the time of the House, particularly during time-limited proceedings, by declaring trivial, frivolous or irrelevant interests.

5.26  Members are also required to draw attention to any relevant registrable interests when tabling written notices in House of Lords Business. The symbol [I] appears after the member's name in House of Lords Business. The Table Office also arranges for online publication of the specific interest.

MEMBERS' FINANCIAL SUPPORT

5.27  Membership of the House of Lords is not salaried. Members of the House are, however, entitled to claim financial support in respect of their parliamentary work. The House Committee is responsible for proposing rules on the financial support available to members, which are reported to and agreed by the House. The available support and the rules relating to the scheme are set out in the Guide to financial support for Members.

5.28  Paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct states that members shall "act in accordance with any rules agreed by the House in respect of financial support for Members". A breach of such rules therefore constitutes a breach of the Code of Conduct and could lead to an investigation by the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards.

5.29  The Finance Director is responsible for the administration of the scheme, and any member may seek the written advice of the Finance Director before determining what use to make of the scheme. The responsibility for deciding what use to make of the scheme rests with the member concerned.

USE OF FACILITIES AND SERVICES

5.30  The House provides various facilities and services for members, the cost of which is either met in full or subsidised by the public purse. These facilities and services are provided primarily to support members in their parliamentary work. The domestic committees are responsible for proposing rules on the use of facilities by members, which are reported to and agreed by the House. The available facilities and services and the rules relating to their use are set out in the Handbook on facilities and services for Members of the House of Lords.

5.31  Paragraph 10(c) of the Code of Conduct states that members shall "act in accordance with any rules agreed by the House in respect of … the facilities of the House". A breach of the rules therefore constitutes a breach of the Code of Conduct and could lead to an investigation by the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards. The Handbook identifies which official is responsible for the provision of each facility or service and a member who acts on the advice of that official in determining what use to make of a facility fully satisfies the requirements of the Code of Conduct in that regard.

ENFORCEMENT

5.32  The procedure for investigating complaints is set out in full in the Guide to the Code of Conduct. In summary, responsibility for investigating alleged breaches of the Code rests with the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, who is an independent officer appointed by the House as a whole. Following his investigation, the Commissioner reports findings of fact to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct and offers his own conclusion on whether the Code has been breached. The Sub-Committee reviews the Commissioner's findings, may comment on them and, where appropriate, recommends a sanction. The reports of the Commissioner and Sub-Committee are presented to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct, and the member concerned has a right of appeal against both the Commissioner's findings and any recommended sanction. Having heard any appeal, the Committee for Privileges and Conduct reports to the House and the final decision rests with the House.

DISCIPLINARY POWERS

5.33  The Houses possesses an inherent power to discipline its members; the means by which it chooses to exercise this power falls within the regulation by the House of its own procedures. The duty imposed upon members, by virtue of the writs of summons, to attend Parliament, is subject to various implied conditions, which are reflected in the many rules governing the conduct of members which have been adopted over time by the House. The House has no power, by resolution, to require that the writ of summons be withheld from a member otherwise entitled to receive it; as a result, it is not within the power of the House by resolution to expel a member permanently.[182] The House does possess the power to suspend its members for a defined period not longer than the remainder of the current Parliament.[183]

5.34  In the event of a member being suspended, the member concerned is expected to leave the Chamber without delay.[184] Suspended members have no access to the precincts of the House of Lords estate (including as guests) or to services provided to members. Suspended members' security passes are cancelled, as are those of their staff, spouses and partners. Suspended members are ineligible to claim financial support from the House during the period for which they are suspended, are not entitled to receive parliamentary papers from the Printed Paper Office, and cannot use any parliamentary ICT applications.[185]


179   Minutes of Proceeding, 30 November 2009; amended 16 March 2010. Back

180   Privileges 2nd Rpt 2009-10. A second edition of the Guide was published in November 2011. Back

181   Privileges and Conduct 10th Rpt 2010-12. Back

182   See Report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, HL Paper 43-I, 1998-99, paragraphs 272, 279. Back

183   Privileges 1st Rpt 2008-09. See HL Deb. 20 May 2009, cols 1394-1418. Back

184   Procedure Committee minutes 18 May 2009. Back

185   House Committee minutes 19 May 2009. Back


 
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