FAQs for complainants
What is the role of the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards?
The independent Commissioners for Standards are responsible for considering any alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members of the House or Lords and the Code of Conduct for House of Lords Members’ Staff.
This Code covers members of the House of Lords (and, in respect of some provisions, former members) and their staff. It does not cover MPs, MPs’ staff or staff employed by either House administration.
The Code and the Guide to the Code can be found here.
There are two House of Lords Commissioners for Standards. Each has the same role and authority.
What’s the difference between the Commissioners for Standards and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards?
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards deals with complaints relating to the House of Commons.
More details may be found here.
The House of Lords Commissioners for Standards deal with complaints relating to members of the House of Lords and their staff only.
What can the Commissioners investigate?
The Commissioners can investigate allegations of breaches of the Code of Conduct.
The provisions of the Code relate to members’:
- registration and declaration of interests,
- conflicts of interests (including rules against exercising parliamentary influence for reward),
- use of the facilities and services of the House,
- use of the allowances and expenses scheme, and
- the provisions in the Code dealing with bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.
What is the scope of the House of Lords Code of Conduct?
The scope of the Code of Conduct is set out in paragraph 3 of the Code. For the most part, the Code applies to members’ discharge of their parliamentary duties and does not extend to their performance of duties unrelated to parliamentary proceedings, or to their private lives.
With regard to allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, the Code 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.
The Code also sets out rules governing staff sponsored by members of the House.
What is outside the remit of the Commissioners’ powers to investigate?
For the most part, the scope of the Code is restricted to members’ conduct in the course of “the discharge of their parliamentary duties” or, in the case of the provisions on bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, “parliamentary duties and activities”. Where matters fall outside the scope of the Code, the Commissioners are unable to act.
Certain matters are specified as being outside of the Commissioner’s remit to investigate irrespective of whether they would otherwise fall within the remit of the Code. These include:
- policy matters or a member’s views or opinions;
- the funding of political parties;
- alleged breaches of the separate code governing the conduct of Government ministers as ministers; and
- members’ non-parliamentary activities.
Someone’s membership of the House or, for example, their use of a title in correspondence or on social media is not, in itself, sufficient to demonstrate that their conduct forms part of their parliamentary duties or activities.
Can I complain if I consider that a member has breached the seven principles of public life (Nolan Principles)?
The Code says that members of the House “should observe the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.”
The Code provides that these principles will be taken into account during any investigation into an allegation of a breach of a specific part of the Code. However, the Guide to the Code is clear that complaints will not be entertained solely on the basis of alleged failures to abide by the seven principles unsupported by specific evidence of a breach of the Code.
Who can make a complaint?
Anyone can make complaints.
In the case of complaints alleging bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, third party complaints are not allowed: only someone directly affected by the relevant conduct may make a complaint. Complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct cannot be made on the behalf of the person directly affected.
How do I make a complaint?
Complaints must be made in writing to:
- email@example.com, or
- The Commissioners for Standards, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW
A complaint form is available on the parliamentary website that people may use if they wish.
For complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, complaints may also be made via the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) Helpline:
- 0808 168 9281 (freephone)
The Helpline is open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
What do I need to include in my complaint?
Complaints must be supported by sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there is a case for opening an investigation. Unsubstantiated allegations are unlikely to pass preliminary assessment.
Anonymous complaints are also unlikely to proceed to investigation.
A Commissioner may also choose not to consider complaints which are clearly trivial or vexatious, or which substantially repeat allegations which have already been assessed or investigated (unless there is significant fresh evidence in their support).
What happens when I make a complaint?
The first step in the process is that a Commissioner will make a preliminary assessment of the complaint. This includes checking whether:
- the complaint falls within the scope of the Code; and
- is supported by sufficient evidence to warrant proceeding to investigation.
At this stage, the Commissioner has the discretion to dismiss:
- anonymous complaints or ones where the complainant is not prepared to have their name and complaint disclosed to the member whose conduct is criticised;
- complaints which are clearly trivial or vexatious; and
- complaints which substantially repeat allegations which have already been assessed or investigated (unless there is significant fresh evidence in their support).
If a complaint passes this preliminary assessment, the Commissioner will launch an investigation. The steps taken in any investigation will depend on the nature of the complaint.
Can I make a complaint anonymously or withhold my identity from the member I’m complaining about?
The Guide to the Code says, “The Commissioner will not without good reason consider either anonymous complaints or ones where the complainant is not prepared to have their name and complaint disclosed to the member whose conduct is criticised.”
The default position, therefore, is that the identity of a complainant is made known to the member concerned. This will happen whether a Commissioner accepts the complaint for investigation or dismisses it at the preliminary assessment stage.
Where a Commissioner dismisses a complaint of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct at preliminary assessment, he has the discretion not to disclose this information or to withhold the identity of the complainant. However, complainants should make any concerns about being identified clear in their initial complaint.
Where a complaint proceeds to full investigation, the complainant’s identity will always be made known to the member concerned.
In cases of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, the identity of a complainant would not usually be made public in the final report unless the complainant desired otherwise.
Can I complain about members of the House of Lords who are Government ministers?
Complaints may be made about members of the House of Lords who are also ministers but only in respect of their conduct as parliamentarians.
Where complaints relate to their conduct as ministers, these should be directed to the appropriate Government department. Constituency MPs may also be able to help in such matters: members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP
What happens if I want to withdraw my complaint once it has been made?
In cases involving bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, subject to the Commissioner’s discretion, complaints may be withdrawn at any time.
Other complaints, once made, cannot be withdrawn.
How long will it take for a Commissioner to consider my complaint?
The length of time taken to respond to a complaint will depend on the nature and the details of the complaint. In all cases, the Commissioners work to deal with complaints in a timely fashion.
Who else can I complain to if I’m not satisfied with the Commissioner’s response?
The Commissioners for Standards are independent.
However, in cases of allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct (but not in other cases), the complainant may appeal their preliminary assessment of a complaint to the Conduct Committee, the committee of the House responsible for overseeing the Code of Conduct and the work of the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards.
In cases of allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct which proceed to full investigation, the complainant may also appeal against a Commissioner’s finding to the Conduct Committee.
What do I do if I believe a member of the House of Lords has broken the law?
Any allegations of members breaking the law should be made to the police.
A Commissioner may continue an investigation into an alleged breach of the Code if the police or another agency are investigating a related allegation of criminal misconduct, but in such circumstances the Commissioner will not finalise his report on the case until the criminal process concludes. Before finalising his report, the Commissioner will take account of any relevant issues which arose during the criminal process.
How do I know what is already under investigation or has already been investigated?
Other than in cases of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, brief details of matters under investigation are published here.
Complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are confidential until any report is published.
Complaints that have already been investigated will typically have resulted in a report being published. In some cases these will have been reported here. Others will have been reported by the Conduct Committee on its webpages.