Guide to the Code of Conduct - Privileges Committee Contents


Guide to the Code of Conduct


Background

1.  In October 2009 the Report of the Leader's Group on the Code of Conduct[1] was published, which proposed a new Code of Conduct and an accompanying Guide to the Rules on the Conduct of Members.

2.  On 30 November 2009 the House agreed the new Code of Conduct. The House also agreed that "the Report [of the Leader's Group] be remitted to the Committee for Privileges, with an instruction that it reports a Guide to the Rules on the Conduct of Members of the House of Lords to the House". This Report is made in accordance with that instruction.

3.  Following the decisions taken by the House on 30 November, we invited our Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests to undertake the detailed work necessary before the Guide could be finalised. The Sub-Committee finalised its report in February 2010; we considered it at our meeting on 1 March, and agreed a number of amendments. The final text of the proposed Guide (which has been re-titled the "Guide to the Code of Conduct") was then agreed by correspondence, and is printed in the Appendix to this Report.

Recommendations

THE GUIDE TO THE CODE OF CONDUCT

4.  The substance of our recommendations to the House is embodied in the proposed Guide to the Code of Conduct. This is modelled closely on that prepared last year by the Leader's Group, which has already been fully debated. However, a number of changes have been made, which we believe lead to greater clarity and simplicity. Moreover, we emphasise that the Sub-Committee is charged, under the Code, with keeping keep the Guide under review, so that there will be opportunities to address any difficulties that may arise in the course of implementation.

5.  We invite the House to agree the Guide to the Code of Conduct, contained in the Appendix to this Report.

IMPLEMENTATION DATE

6.  The Resolution of 30 November 2009 stated that the new Code of Conduct would come into effect on 1 April 2010. In the event, we are concerned that implementation on that date may lead to uncertainty, as well as increasing the burden upon the administration at a time when it is likely to be fully stretched. We believe that it would be simpler and more fitting for the Code to come into effect at the start of the new Parliament.

7.  We recommend that, notwithstanding the Resolution of the House of 30 November 2009, the new Code of Conduct and the accompanying Guide should come into effect from the start of the new Parliament.

THE UNDERTAKING TO ABIDE BY THE CODE OF CONDUCT

8.  Paragraph 5 of the Code of Conduct states that "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." The Clerk of the Parliaments has made proposals on the procedure for signing the undertaking. These proposals, which we endorse, are as follows:

  •   The undertaking will be signed by Members in the Chamber, immediately after taking the oath and before shaking hands with the Lord Speaker.
  •   On swearing-in days at the start of a new Parliament, a separate table will be provided in the Chamber, manned by a Clerk, at which Members will sign the undertaking.
  •   New Members, upon introduction, will sign the undertaking at the Table of the House immediately after signing the Test Roll.
  •   The undertaking will be in the following form: "I undertake to abide for the duration of the present Parliament by the Code of Conduct as agreed by resolutions of the House from time to time."
  •   The undertaking will be printed in a specially prepared book or folder—Members will sign the book to indicate assent, but will not be expected to read the undertaking out aloud.
  •   The names of Members signing the undertaking will be recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings.

9.  A Lords Notice will accompany the writ of summons issued for a new Parliament to inform Members that they will be expected to sign the undertaking to abide by the Code immediately after taking the oath. The Lords Notice will remind Members of the provisions of the Code of Conduct and the existence of the Guide. The Clerk of the Parliaments will, wherever practical, make new Members of the House aware well in advance of introduction of the provisions of the Code of Conduct and the Guide and the requirement to sign the undertaking. We hope that the House of Lords Appointments Commission will be willing to assist by making potential nominees for peerages aware of the provisions of the Code of Conduct—though it would be inappropriate for the Commission to require a potential nominee to undertake before nomination that they would sign the undertaking.

10.  The formal status of the undertaking was the subject of debate when the Code was agreed on 30 November 2009. It is clear from the wording of paragraph 5 that signing the undertaking is mandatory. The Code of Conduct, having been agreed by Resolution of the House, is binding upon all Members who are not on Leave of Absence—the undertaking is a token of the individual Member's understanding of and commitment to the principles and rules set out in the Code, but does not in itself affect the Code's binding nature. There is therefore no justification for any Member of the House failing to sign the undertaking; indeed, the requirement to sign the undertaking, in pursuance of the rules agreed by the House, is an implied condition of active membership of the House.

11.  We conclude therefore that any Member who has not signed the undertaking must be deemed to have breached the Code; it would be for the Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct to consider an appropriate sanction.

INTERESTS OF THE LORD SPEAKER, CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES AND PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES

12.  The current rules governing the Lord Speaker's interests were set out in a Procedure Committee Report in 2006,[2] and need to be updated in light of the new categories of relevant interest. We therefore recommend that the following rules on interests apply to the Lord Speaker from the start of the new Parliament:

"The Lord Speaker is subject to the Code of Conduct in the same way as all other Members of the House and, in order to avoid any perception of conflict of interest, is also subject to additional requirements. The Lord Speaker is expected, during his or her period in office, to lay aside any financial interests falling within categories 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8, as defined in the Guide to the Code of Conduct.

"Interests held by the Lord Speaker's spouse or partner are subject to the same requirements as interests held by the spouse or partner of any other Member of the House.

"The Lord Speaker is also expected to lay aside any political party or group affiliation upon appointment, and to refrain from political activity, including voting in the House."

13.  We believe that the same rules should apply to the other salaried office-holders of the House of Lords, the Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees. However, in the case of these two office-holders the final paragraph needs to be amended to reflect the different conventions attaching to those offices. We therefore recommend that the following rules on interests apply to the Chairman of Committees and the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees from the start of the new Parliament:

"The Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are subject to the Code of Conduct in the same way as all other Members of the House and, in order to avoid any perception of conflict of interest, are also subject to additional requirements. The Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are expected, during their period in office, to lay aside any financial interests falling within categories 1, 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8, as defined in the Guide to the Code of Conduct.

"Interests held by the Chairman or Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees' spouse or partner are subject to the same requirements as interests held by the spouse or partner of any other Member of the House.

"The Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are also expected to lay aside any political party or group affiliation upon appointment and for the duration of their term in office."

CHANGING THE NAME OF THE COMMITTEE FOR PRIVILEGES AND ITS SUB-COMMITTEE ON LORDS' INTERESTS

14.  The Sub-Committee has recommended that its name be changed in light of its changed remit. The Sub-Committee has proposed that in future it should be known as the "Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct". We support this change.

15.  We believe further that the name of this Committee should be changed to reflect the changing nature of its work, which in recent years has focused very largely on matters relating to the Code of Conduct. We recommend therefore that this Committee should in future be named the "Committee for Privileges and Conduct".

16.  These changes will involve minor consequential amendments to the Code of Conduct (new text emboldened):

  •   Paragraph 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."
  •   Paragraph 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."
  •   Paragraph 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."
  •   Paragraph 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."
  •   Paragraph 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."
  •   Paragraph 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."

17.  In addition, the change to the name of the Committee for Privileges will require the following amendments to Standing Orders:

  •   Standing Order 19(3) (Election of Lord Speaker): "The election shall be conducted in accordance with arrangements made by the Clerk of the Parliaments. The Clerk of the Parliaments may refer any question concerning the propriety of the electoral process to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct."
  •   Standing Order 65 (Sessional Committees): "Committee for Privileges and Conduct".
  •   Standing Order 78 (Committee for Privileges and Conduct): "A Committee for Privileges and Conduct shall be appointed at the beginning of every session; sixteen Lords shall be named of the Committee, of whom two shall be former holders of high judicial office. In any claim of peerage, the Committee for Privileges and Conduct shall sit with three holders of high judicial office, who shall have the same speaking and voting rights as the members of the Committee."
  •   Standing Order 79 (Claims of Peerage): "In claims of Peerage the following directions shall apply in regard to claims by Petition which have been referred to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct".
  • ·  Standing Order 81(3) (Claims of Irish Peerages in abeyance): "Every such claim shall be referred to the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to examine the matter and report the same, as it shall appear to them, to the House."
  •   Standing Order 82 (Report of Committee for Privileges if improper arrangement entered into between co-heirs): "If in regard to a claim for the determination of an abeyance existing in a Peerage the Committee for Privileges and Conduct is satisfied that any arrangement entered into between the Petitioner and any co-heir is tainted with any impropriety, the Committee shall make no report to the House except that such arrangement is not shown to have been a proper one."



1   Report of the Leader's Group on the Code of Conduct, October 2009 (HL Paper 171). Back

2   Procedure Committee, 4th Report, 2005-06 (HL Paper 172). Back


 
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