5 June 2023 - Explanatory Note on the Commissioner’s powers to indicate concern and issue words of advice to Members without opening an investigation
1. Under Standing Order No. 150(5), the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (‘the Commissioner’) has powers to—
(a) instigate informal discussions with a Member to indicate concern about the Member’s reported attitude, behaviour or conduct; and
(b) require a Member to attend a formal meeting at which the Commissioner may indicate concern about or give words of advice on the Member’s reported attitude, behaviour or conduct.
2. It is for the Commissioner alone to decide whether indication of concern and/or words of advice under SO No. 150(5) should be issued in response to a Member’s reported attitude, behaviour or conduct. SO No. 150(5) powers are not exercised in every case where the Commissioner decides not to open an investigation into the alleged conduct of a Member.
3. The content and issuance of indications of concern and words of advice under SO No. 150(5) are subject to Parliamentary privilege, and are confidential and remain confidential even if the Commissioner subsequently opens an inquiry into a matter to which those concerns/words of advice relate.
Commissioner’s power to indicate concern under SO No. 150(5)(a)
4. SO No. 150(5)(a) powers are typically used to indicate concern about a Member’s reported attitude, behaviour or conduct which does not engage one or more of the rules in the Code or Guide, and is therefore not investigable by the Commissioner.
5. No action results from exercise of the Commissioner’s powers under Standing Order No. 150(5)(a). Members are encouraged by the Commissioner to consider the Commissioner’s indication of concern and to take it into account in the future. Members are welcome to contact the Commissioner to discuss the indication of concern received if they wish to.
6. Generally, indications of concern under SO No. 150(5)(a) are sent electronically by letter to the Member’s Parliamentary email address, and no formal record is kept of those concerns.
Commissioner’s power to indicate concern/issue words of advice under SO. No. 150(5)(b)
7. SO No. 150(5)(b) powers are typically used where the reported conduct (or behaviour or attitude) of the Member that is the subject of the indication of concern/words of advice would likely result in an inquiry being opened, if that conduct were to continue and/or new evidence were to emerge after issuance of words of advice, or in other circumstances.
8. The issue of indication of concern/provision of words of advice under SO No. 150(5)(b) are generally by letter, which is handed to the Member at a formal meeting with the Commissioner. That letter is kept on file by the Commissioner’s Office for a period of six months, and the Member is informed that a formal inquiry may be opened if the relevant conduct is continuing, in response to new evidence or in other relevant circumstances.
9. If the Member prefers not to accept indications of concern/words of advice under SO No. 150(5)(b), they can write to the Commissioner to that effect.
Standing Orders of the House of Commons - Public Business
Committee on Standards, Seventh Report of Session 2019–21, Sanctions in respect of the conduct of Members, HC 241
Committee on Standards, Twelfth Report of Session 2019-21, Sanctions and confidentiality in the House’s standards system: revised proposals, HC 1340