5. Members' conduct
5.1 Members’ conduct in the course of their parliamentary duties is governed by a Code of Conduct, and an accompanying Guide to the Code of Conduct.(1) The full text of the Code is as follows:
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. Save for paragraphs 18 to 25, the Code does not extend to members’ performance of duties unrelated to parliamentary proceedings, or to their private lives. Paragraph 18 sets out the standards of conduct required of members in their treatment of those with whom they come into contact in the course of their parliamentary duties and activities, whether on the parliamentary estate or elsewhere.
(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. 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.
5. This Code applies to all members of the House of Lords who have taken the oath and signed the undertaking in that Parliament and are not either:
(a) on leave of absence;
(b) suspended from the service of the House; or
(c) statutorily disqualified from active membership.
However, when on the parliamentary estate or using the facilities or services of Parliament, all current and retired members are subject to the provisions on (i) bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct and (ii) the use of facilities and services, regardless of their membership status. All current members are also subject to the provisions on imprisonment.
6. The Lord Speaker, the Senior Deputy Speaker and the 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. They 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. A candidate for office may ask the Conduct Committee for a derogation from these rules in exceptional circumstances to enable them to retain an interest or interests in one or more of these categories. The Committee may grant a derogation if it deems that requiring the member to give up the interest in question (a) is not necessary for them to perform the office effectively and impartially and (b) would in all the circumstances also be disproportionate. Interests held by an office-holder’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.
7. By virtue of their oath, or affirmation, of allegiance, members of the House have a duty to be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty The Queen, His heirs and successors, according to law.
8. In the performance 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.
9. Members of the House:
(a) must comply with the Code of Conduct;
(b) should act always on their personal honour in the performance of their parliamentary duties and activities;
(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.
10. 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 and should act as a guide to members in considering the requirement to act always on their personal honour:
(a) Selflessness: holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
(b) Integrity: holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.
(c) Objectivity: holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
(d) Accountability: holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.
(e) Openness: holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.
(f) Honesty: holders of public office should be truthful.
(g) Leadership: holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
11. Members of the House should observe the principles set out in the Parliamentary Behaviour Code of respect, professionalism, understanding others’ perspectives, courtesy, and acceptance of responsibility. These principles will be taken into consideration when any allegation of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct is under investigation.
Rules of conduct
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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 would be the case. Relevant interests include both financial and non-financial interests.
15. 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.
16. A member must not seek by parliamentary means to confer exclusive benefit on an outside body or person (a) in which he or she has a financial interest (including by way of salary, fees, shareholding or other arrangement) or (b) in return for payment or reward.
17. 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. In participating in such proceedings they shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest at once, and in favour of the public interest.
18. Members are required to treat those with whom they come into contact in the course of their parliamentary duties and activities (including parliamentary proceedings) with respect and courtesy. Behaviour that amounts to bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct is a breach of this Code.
19. New members must, within three months of introduction, arrange to attend one of the seminars established by the House to raise awareness of, and to prevent, bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. In addition, members returning from Leave of Absence or disqualification who have not previously attended such a seminar must, within three months of their return, arrange to do so. A failure to arrange to attend a seminar within the specified period is a breach of this Code.
20. Members must, within 10 working days of being notified by the relevant authority, inform the Clerk of the Parliaments if they are:
- arrested in connection with a criminal offence;
- charged with a criminal offence;
- placed under investigation by a body which regulates the occupation which they practise; or
- placed under investigation for an alleged breach of the Ministerial Code.
21. Members must, within 10 working days of being notified by the relevant authority, inform the Clerk of the Parliaments if they are:
- convicted of a criminal offence;
- found in breach of rules governing the occupation which they practise; or
- found in breach of the Ministerial Code.
22. If either paragraph 20 or 21 applies, members who are the subject of an investigation under this Code must also so inform the Commissioner for Standards either at the start of the Code investigation or, if the external investigation begins after the Commissioner has launched their own investigation, as soon as possible.
23. Members must inform the Chair of the Conduct Committee if they receive a sentence of imprisonment, suspended or not, within 10 working days of the sentence being handed down.
24. A member sentenced to imprisonment in the United Kingdom, whether the sentence is suspended or not, shall be deemed to have breached the Code. If the sentence does not engage the provisions of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014, a case shall be referred to the Conduct Committee for it to recommend a sanction.
25. A member sentenced to imprisonment outside the United Kingdom, whether the sentence is suspended or not, shall be presumed to have breached the Code; such a case shall be referred to the Conduct Committee for it to consider whether the presumption should apply in that case and, if it should, for the Committee to recommend a sanction.
Enforcement of the Code of Conduct
26. House of Lords Commissioners for Standards are appointed to investigate alleged breaches of this Code, or of the rules governing members’ financial support or use of parliamentary facilities. Commissioners decide on alleged breaches independently of one another. Any investigation is conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the Guide to the Code of Conduct, and during the investigation the member must adhere to any restrictions on their access to the facilities and services of the House which the Commissioner may impose. The Commissioner may also inform the complainant and the relevant senior managers of any such restrictions.
27. After investigation the Commissioner makes a report of their findings. If the member is found not to have breached the Code, or if the member and the Commissioner have agreed remedial action, the report is normally published only on the Commissioner’s webpages. The Commissioner may make it a condition of any agreement on remedial action which includes training that the member must adhere to specific restrictions on their access to the facilities and services of the House until the training is complete, and the member must adhere to any such restrictions so agreed. The Commissioner may inform the relevant senior managers of any such restrictions. The Commissioner has discretion to submit a report on cases resolved through remedial action to the Conduct Committee. If the member is found to have breached the Code and remedial action is inappropriate or has not been agreed, the Commissioner’s report including any recommended sanction goes to the Conduct Committee. The member concerned has a right of appeal to the Conduct Committee against the Commissioner’s findings and any recommended sanction. In a case of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, the complainant has a right of appeal to the Conduct Committee against the Commissioner’s findings.
28. The Conduct Committee, having considered any appeal, and having agreed any appropriate sanction, reports its conclusions to the House. For the most serious sanctions, the final decision rests with the House.
29. In assessing, investigating, and adjudicating allegations of non-compliance with this Code, the Commissioner and the Conduct Committee shall:
(a) recognise as a primary consideration the constitutional principle of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings, including but not limited to the need for members to be able to express their views fully and frankly in parliamentary proceedings;
(b) act in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness.
30. Members shall co-operate, at all stages, with any investigation into their conduct, or that of any member of staff they sponsor, by or under the authority of the House.
31. No member shall lobby a member of the Conduct Committee in a manner calculated or intended to influence their consideration of a complaint of a breach of this Code.
Advice and review
32. The operation of the Register is overseen by the Conduct Committee, assisted by the Registrar of Lords’ Interests. The Registrar is available to advise members of the House, and may consult the Committee when necessary.
33. 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. A member who realises that he or she has failed to register or declare a relevant interest should contact the Registrar for advice.
34. The Conduct Committee keeps the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Code of Conduct under regular review. Recommended changes are reported to the House and take effect when agreed by the House.
5.2 The operation and wording of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Code of Conduct are kept under review by the Conduct Committee. The Code and Guide have been agreed by resolution of the House, and are binding upon members. Any changes to the Code and Guide must therefore be reported to the House and no changes can take effect until agreed by the House. Copies of the up-to-date text of the Code and Guide are available online, from the Printed Paper Office or from the Registrar of Lords’ Interests. The Registrar is available to advise members on the rules governing members’ conduct.
5.3 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 Commissioners for Standards, who are independent officers appointed by the House as a whole. Each complaint is investigated by one Commissioner only. Following their investigation, the Commissioner makes a report of their findings of fact and offers their own conclusion on whether the Code has been breached. If the Commissioner finds a member to have breached the Code, and remedial action is inappropriate or has not been agreed, then they make recommendations to the Conduct Committee on any sanction that should be applied. The Conduct Committee considers the Commissioner’s report and any recommended sanction, together with any appeal by the member against the finding or the proposed sanction. In cases of alleged bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, the complainant also has the right to appeal against the Commissioner’s finding. Having heard any appeal, the Conduct Committee reports to the House. The agreement of the House is required if a serious sanction is proposed.(2) In such cases, the report and the resolution relating to sanction are decided without debate.(3)
5.4 The House 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 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.
5.5 The House also has a statutory power to pass standing orders under which it may by resolution expel a member or suspend a member for the period specified in the resolution.(4) Standing Order 11 states that a motion to suspend or expel a member must follow a recommendation from the Conduct Committee that the member be expelled or suspended (as the case may be) because the member has breached the Code of Conduct. A motion to suspend or expel a member must state that, in the opinion of the House, the conduct giving rise to the resolution occurred on or after 26 June 2015 (the date the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 came into force) or occurred before 26 June 2015 and was not public knowledge before that time. A motion to suspend a member must specify the period for which the suspension is to last (which may be until the occurrence of a specified event). Notice must be given of a motion to expel or suspend a member. Expulsion or suspension takes effect as soon as the House has agreed the motion.
5.6 In the event of a member being suspended, the member concerned is expected to leave the Chamber without delay.(5) 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 or Library research services.(6)
5.7 For members who retire or resign before a report recommending their suspension or expulsion from the House is agreed, the withdrawal of their access privileges is automatic.(7) In the case of suspension, the withdrawal of access privileges is for the duration of the proposed suspension, although the Commission may agree a longer period in exceptional circumstances; and in the case of expulsion, the withdrawal is permanent.
5.8 In addition to suspension and expulsion, the House may, on the recommendation of the Conduct Committee, agree the following sanctions on a member:
(a) denial of access to specific facilities or services of the House, including services that support parliamentary activity;
(b) removal from membership of select committees; and
(c) denial of access to the system of financial support for members.(8)
These sanctions can be applied for any period of time and may be applied in addition to a sanction of suspension.(9)
2 Serious sanctions are: denial of access to specific facilities or services of the House, including services that support parliamentary activity; removal from membership of select committees; denial of access to the system of financial support for members; suspension from the service of the House; and expulsion from the House.
3 SO 68.
4 House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015, s. 1.
5 Procedure Committee minutes 18 May 2009.
6 House Committee minutes 19 May 2009 and 3rd Rpt 2014–15.
8 Guide to the Code of Conduct, paragraph 188.