Changes in the new Code of Conduct
The new Code of Conduct (“The Code”) comes into force on 1 March 2023.
The Code does not apply retrospectively, any alleged breaches that occurred before 1 March will be dealt with under the Code in force at the relevant time.
The operative rules are contained in the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members (“The Guide”).
The purpose of this document is to assist Members in considering and applying the Code; it is designed to supplement, and not supersede or contradict, specific provisions of the Code. Where specific or formal advice for a particular situation is required, the Registrar will be happy to provide it in accordance with the Guide.
Purpose of the Code
The purpose of this Code of Conduct is to assist all Members in the discharge of their obligations to the House, their constituents and the public at large by:
a) establishing the standards and principles of conduct expected of all Members in undertaking their duties;
b) setting the Rules of Conduct which underpin these standards and principles and to which all Members must adhere; and in so doing
c) ensuring public confidence in the standards expected of all Members and in the commitment of the House to upholding these rules.
The purpose is to:
a) build a common understanding of what behaviour and attitudes the House wishes to promote or considers unacceptable;
b) ensure the openness and accountability essential to the proper functioning of a representative democracy;
c) protect and enhance the reputation of the House of Commons, in order that the public can have justifiable confidence in it;
d) ensure all Members can and do speak and act without fear or favour; and
e) give clarity for Members and the public about the rules of conduct which underpin these standards, which are expected of all Members in undertaking their duties.
Scope of the Code
It remains the case that the Code does not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives.
The reference to the law has changed from, “Members have a duty to uphold the law, including the general law against discrimination” to “no Member is above the law”.
It is specified that the application of the Code shall be a matter for the House of Commons, including the Committee on Standards, the Independent Expert Panel and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
It is also specified that, whilst the Commissioner cannot investigate breaches of the Seven Principles of Public Life, they will take the Principles into account when considering allegations of breaches of the rules.
These have been amended, in line with the Seven Principles of Public Life.
Selflessness - Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.
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.
Objectivity - Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.
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.
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.
Honesty - Holders of public office should be truthful.
Leadership - Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
Safe Harbour provision
Seeking and following advice on the rules
No written guidance can provide for all circumstances, and the references and examples in this Guide should not be regarded as exhaustive. Members are encouraged to seek advice from the Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests if they are in any doubt about whether a course of action is in line with the Code and Guide.
A Member who has sought in advance and followed the advice of the Registrar of Members’ Financial Interests on a course of action (or, in respect of the stationery rules, the Clerk of the Journals), so long as they have provided adequate information for that advice to be relevant, will not have acted in breach of the rules in respect of that action.
1. Members must treat their staff and all those visiting or working for or with Parliament with dignity, courtesy and respect.
It remains the case that breaches of this rule will be investigated through the ICGS.
2. Members must base their conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest.
3. The acceptance by a Member of a bribe to influence his or her conduct as a Member, including any fee, compensation or reward in connection with the promotion of, or opposition to, any Bill, Motion, or other matter submitted, or intended to be submitted to the House, or to any Committee of the House, is contrary to the law of Parliament.
Rules 2 and 3 remain unchanged from the previous Code (formerly paragraphs 11 and 13 respectively).
4. Members must rigorously follow the rules on lobbying set out in the Guide to the Rules
Previously paragraph 12: “No Member shall act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House”
The Rules apply equally to proceedings as to approaches
There is no longer a distinction between initiating and participating in proceedings or approaches
The operative rules are set out in the Guide
The time limit prohibiting has been extended from 6 to 12 months
The test of whether a proceeding or approach “seeks to confer a benefit” has been clarified to say that “financial or material benefit” should be interpreted narrowly, and not where the benefit was widely distributed
There is a new exemption for frontbench spokespersons – note that the interest would still require registration and rules on declaration would also still apply
The “serious wrong” exemption has been amended
The test in respect of overseas visits has been clarified
Safe Harbour provision applies (Registrar only)
5. Members must fulfil conscientiously the requirements of the House in respect of the registration of interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. New Members must register all their current financial interests, and any registrable benefits (other than earnings) received in the 12 months before their election within one month of their election, and Members must register any change in those registrable interests within 28 days.
Employment and earnings requirements has been simplified to: “Over £300 for the total of payments of whatever size from the same source in a calendar year”. (The “over £100” threshold has been removed)
Payments for opinion surveys no longer need to be registered
Significant, formal, unpaid roles should be registered under category 8, but not informal
Crowdfunded legal funds are registrable under category 8, stating if a benefit received
Safe Harbour provision applies (Registrar only)
6. Members must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its Committees, and in any communications with Ministers, Members, public officials or public office holders.
It remains the case that a declaration must provide sufficient information to convey the nature of the interest without the listener or the reader having to have recourse to the Register or other publication
When contemplating an action that requires a declaration, Members should consider the rules on lobbying or conflict of interest
Examples of where Member must / must not declare an interest remain the same
Safe harbour provision applies (Registrar only)
7. Members must only use information which they have received in confidence in the course of their parliamentary activities in connection with those activities, and never for other purposes.
This is broader than the previous rule, which stated, “and never for financial gain”.
8. Excepting modest and reasonable personal use, Members must ensure that the use of facilities and services provided to them by Parliament, including an office, is in support of their parliamentary activities, and is in accordance with all relevant rules.
This brings the rule into line with previous Committee on Standards decisions
Makes clear that offices are a parliamentary facility
Safe harbour provision applies to the stationery rules (Clerk of the Journals only)
9. Members must not provide, or agree to provide, paid parliamentary advice, including undertaking, or agreeing to undertake services as a Parliamentary strategist, adviser or consultant.
A new rule
Members are encouraged to discuss with the Registrar any proposed outside interests, the Registrar will provide advice in writing
Exceptions are set out in the Guide
To assist Members, the Commissioner has published a Template Provision on Lobbying for Reward
10. A Member who is the Chair and Registered Contact of an All-Party Parliamentary Group must ensure that the Group and any secretariat observe the rules set down for such Groups.
Enforces that Chairs are responsible for the adherence of the rules of APPGs (these rules are currently under consideration by the Committee on Standards).
11. Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally.
Formerly paragraph 17.
Rules relating to upholding the Code
These rules clarify requirements that were previously implicit or set out elsewhere. The Commissioner may investigate a Member’s adherence to these rules.
- Members must co-operate at all times with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in the conduct of any investigation and with the Committee on Standards and the Independent Expert Panel in any subsequent consideration of a case.
- Members must not disclose details in relation to:
- (i) any investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards except when required by law to do so, or authorised by the Commissioner; nor (ii) the proceedings of the Committee on Standards or the Independent Expert Panel in relation to a complaint unless required by law to do so, or authorised by the Committee or the Panel respectively.
- Members must not lobby a member of the Committee on Standards, the Independent Expert Panel or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, or their staff, in a manner calculated or intended to influence their consideration of whether a breach of the Code of Conduct has occurred, or in relation to the imposition of a sanction.
- Members must not seek to influence, encourage, induce or attempt to induce, a person making a complaint in an investigation to withdraw or amend their complaint, or any witness or other person participating in a complaint to withdraw or alter their evidence.
- Members must comply with any sanction imposed by the Independent Expert Panel.
- Members must comply with a sanction imposed by the Committee on Standards or the House relating to withdrawal of services or facilities from a Member.
Requirement for written contracts
Members taking on any formal paid employment with an outside body must now obtain a written contract or written statement of particulars detailing their duties.
The contract must be made available to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on request but Members do not need to lodge copies as a matter of course.
The contract must specify that the Member’s duties will not include lobbying Ministers, MPs or public officials on behalf of that employer, providing paid parliamentary advice and that the employer may not ask them to do either of these.