Amendments to the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Code - Committee for Privileges and Conduct Contents


Part 1: Amendments To The Code And Guide To The Code

The seven principles of public life

4.  The seven principles of public life (the "Nolan principles") are incorporated in paragraph 9 of the House of Lords Code of Conduct and provide the context within which the Code is read and implemented. The Committee on Standards in Public Life has reviewed the seven principles and concluded that the terms in which they are described could usefully be updated. The revised descriptions are in Box 1.

BOX 1

Revised descriptions of 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. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

5.  We recommend that the revised descriptions of the seven principles of public life should be included in paragraph 9 of the Code of Conduct in place of the existing descriptions.

6.  Paragraph 9 of the Code requires members to observe these principles, and states that they are taken into consideration when any allegation of breach of other sections of the Code is under investigation.[4] We believe that the principles are also a guide to Members in meeting the requirement in paragraph 8(b) of the Code to act always on their personal honour, and so we recommend the addition of the following words at the end of the second sentence in paragraph 9 of the Code: "and should act as a guide to Members in considering the requirement to act always on their personal honour." The opening sentences of paragraph 9 of the Code would therefore read as follows (new text in bold):

"9.  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."

Paragraph 9 of the Code would then set out the new descriptions of the seven general principles of conduct as set out in paragraph 4 of this report.

Clear willingness to breach the Code

7.  The Guide to the Code discusses the term "personal honour" in paragraphs 7 and 8 and explains that Members are required to act always on their personal honour. However, this raises the question of what precisely constitutes an "act". In 2009 we concluded that "Members who express a clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct demonstrate a failure of "personal honour", and are thus in breach of paragraph 4(b) of the Code."[5] The House endorsed that conclusion.[6] The issue of personal honour again arose in four recent cases considered by the Commissioner for Standards; and two Members were suspended from the service of the House because they were found to have demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate an agreement which would have involved breaching the Code.[7] We believe that it would be helpful for the Guide to be clear about these findings and so we recommend that the following sentence, which does not express a new principle but codifies existing practice, should be added after paragraph 7 of the Guide to the Code:

"A member who expresses a clear willingness to breach the Code (for example by attempting to negotiate an agreement to provide parliamentary services in return for payment) demonstrates a failure to act on his or her personal honour, and is thus in breach of paragraph 8(b) of the Code."

Lobbying

8.  Significant concern about lobbying of Members, and about lobbying by Members, has been expressed in the media in recent times. This concern is reflected in the GRECO report, which recommends "that the Codes of Conduct and the guidance for both the Commons and the Lords be reviewed in order to ensure that the Members of both Houses (and their staff) have appropriate standards/guidance for dealing with lobbyists and others whose intent is to sway public policy on behalf of specific interests".[8] The matter was also addressed in a recent report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life on lobbying.[9] We believe that Members would welcome a statement of principles on how to deal with lobbyists. We therefore recommend that the following paragraphs should be inserted in the Guide to the Code after paragraph 30:

"Dealing with lobbyists

30A The Committee on Standards in Public Life has concluded that lobbying has an important part to play in securing "the democratic right to make representations to government and to have access to the policymaking process [which] is fundamental to the proper conduct of public life and the development of sound policy."[10] Many organisations play an important role in informing members of the House of Lords. However, some lobbying can give rise to a suspicion of improper influence over Parliament. Members must have regard to such public perceptions. Members' dealings with lobbyists should always be governed by the principles of integrity and openness.

30B Members should take particular care not to give the impression of giving greater weight to representations because they come from paid lobbyists; representations should be given such weight as they deserve based on their intrinsic merit. Members must in their dealings with lobbyists observe the prohibitions on paid advocacy and on the provision of parliamentary advice or services for payment or other reward. Members should decline all but the most insignificant or incidental hospitality, benefit or gift offered by a lobbyist."

9.  We have also identified an apparent anomaly in paragraph 21 of the Guide to the Code, which elaborates on the prohibition on Members providing parliamentary services in return for payment or other reward. As currently drafted it prohibits Members from setting up a meeting with a view to someone else lobbying ministers or officials, but it does not explicitly prohibit Members themselves lobbying ministers or officials in return for payment or other incentive or reward. We do not believe this loophole was intended when the prohibition on providing parliamentary services in return for payment was introduced in the 2010 Code. In addition, recent cases on which we have reported indicate that some Members seemed to believe that providing parliamentary services in return for payment is within the rules so long as it is registered and, where appropriate, declared. That is evidently not the case, but for the sake of clarity we propose additional words at the end of the paragraph. We recommend the following amendments to paragraph 21 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct (deleted words struck out; new text in bold)—

"21. The prohibition from on accepting payment in return for parliamentary services means that Members may not, in return for payment or other incentive or reward, assist outside organisations or persons in influencing Parliament Members of either House, ministers or officials. This includes seeking by means of participation in proceedings of the House to confer exclusive benefit upon the organisation (the "no paid advocacy rule"); or making use of their position to arrange meetings with a view to any person lobbying lobby, or to help others to lobby, Members of either House, ministers or officials, by whatever means. A Member may never provide parliamentary services in return for payment or other incentive or reward (regardless of whether the Member intends to register and declare the interest)."

Threshold for registration of gifts, benefits and hospitality

10.  The Committee on Standards in Public Life and GRECO both invite the House to consider lowering the threshold for registering gifts. We see merit in this suggestion and we recommend that the threshold for the registration of gifts, benefits and hospitality to Members from third parties should be reduced from £500 to £140. This would bring it into line with the threshold in the Ministerial Code.

Threshold for registration of shareholdings

11.  We have considered a suggestion from GRECO that the threshold for the registration of shareholdings in any public or private company should be reduced. The current threshold for such registration is any shareholding which either (a) amounts to a controlling interest, or (b) does not amount to a controlling interest but which exceeds £50,000 in value. We have reviewed the matter carefully and have found no evidence that this threshold gives rise to any misgivings. We therefore recommend no change.

Registration of gifts, benefits and hospitality available to all Members

12.  At present benefits available to all Members, such as concessions offered by the Houses of Parliament Travel Office, must be registered. We do not believe that such registration is necessary since such benefits cannot reasonably be considered to influence all Members in the conduct of their parliamentary duties. Moreover, one purpose of registration and declaration of interests is to inform Members of the interests of other Members so that they can make informed judgments about what is said in debate. Given that Members are already aware of such interests in the case of benefits available to all of them, no purpose is served by the present rule. The House of Commons does not have an equivalent rule, and we think it desirable for the two Houses to be in step on this matter. We recommend therefore that the last sentence in paragraph 72 of the Guide be deleted and replaced with:

"A gift or benefit available to all Members should not be registered."


4   A complaint will not be entertained solely on the basis of alleged failure to abide by the seven principles: see paragraph 10 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct. Back

5   Committee for Privileges, The Conduct of Lord Moonie, Lord Snape, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn (2nd report, 2008-09, HL Paper 88), paragraph 30. Back

6   LJ (2008-09) 537. Back

7   Committee for Privileges and Conduct, The Conduct of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (9th report, 2013-14, HL Paper 95); The Conduct of Lord Laird (10th report, 2013-14, HL Paper 96). Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate was found also to have actually breached the code. Back

8   Op. cit., paragraph 53. Back

9   Committee on Standards in Public Life, Strengthening Transparency Around Lobbying, November 2013: http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/2901376_LobbyingStandards_WEB.pdf Back

10   Sixth report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Reinforcing Standards: review of the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Cm 4557-I, January 2000, paragraph 7.10. Back


 
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