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House of Lords: Code of Conduct

Volume 715: debated on Monday 30 November 2009

Motion to Adopt the Code

Moved By

That this House adopts the following Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords to replace the present Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords with effect from 1 April 2010:

Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords

Introduction

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; the Code does not extend to Members’ performance of duties unrelated to parliamentary proceedings, or to their private lives;

(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. This Code applies to all Members of the House of Lords who are not either

(a) on leave of absence;

(b) suspended from the service of the House; or

(c) statutorily disqualified from active membership.

5. 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.

General principles

6. By virtue of their oath, or affirmation, of allegiance, Members of the House have a duty to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, Her heirs and successors, according to law.

7. In the conduct 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.

8. Members of the House:

(a) must comply with the Code of Conduct;

(b) should act always on their personal honour;

(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.

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:

(a) Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

(b) Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

(c) Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

(d) Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

(e) Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

(f) Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

(g) Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

Rules of Conduct

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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 might be the case. Relevant interests include both financial and non-financial interests.

13. 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.

14. A Member must not act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House; that is to say, he or she must not seek by parliamentary means to confer exclusive benefit on an outside body or person from which he or she receives payment or reward.

15. 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. Members of the House should be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others.

Enforcement of the Code of Conduct

16. A House of Lords Commissioner for Standards is appointed to investigate alleged breaches of this Code, or of the rules governing Members’ financial support or use of parliamentary facilities. Any such investigation is conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the Guide to the Rules.

17. After investigation the Commissioner reports his findings to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests; the Sub-Committee reviews the Commissioner’s findings and, where appropriate, recommends a disciplinary sanction to the Committee for Privileges. The Member concerned has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges against both the Commissioner’s findings and any recommended sanction.

18. The Committee for Privileges, having heard any appeal, reports its conclusions and recommendations to the House. The final decision rests with the House.

19. In investigating and adjudicating allegations of non-compliance with this Code, the Commissioner, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges shall act in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness.

20. Members shall co-operate, at all stages, with any investigation into their conduct by or under the authority of the House.

21. No Member shall lobby a member of the Committee for Privileges or the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests in a manner calculated or intended to influence their consideration of a complaint of a breach of this Code.

Advice and review

22. The operation of the Register is overseen by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, assisted by the Registrar of Lords’ Interests. The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House, and may consult the Sub-Committee when necessary.

23. 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.

24. The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests reviews the Code of Conduct once each Parliament. Its findings, along with any recommended changes to the Code, are reported to the House.

25. The Sub-Committee also keeps the Guide to the Rules under regular review; recommended changes are reported to the House and will not take effect until agreed by the House.

Amendment to the Motion

Tabled by

My Lords, I have listened to the whole debate. Indeed, I have heard every speech and have been very interested in them, and I thank all those who mentioned my amendments.

The first amendment seeks to get rid of a nasty proposition—a Stalinist proposition, if I may say so—that asks people to sign a document that they are honest. That is precisely what it does. If Members wish to sign that document to ensure in writing that they are honest, that is a matter for them, but it should not be enforceable through sanctions that could remove the right of a Member to do his duty according to his Letters Patent and to the Writ of Summons. That could happen, because if the matter was referred to the commissioner, the commissioner said that he was in breach of the rules, the Committee for Privileges agreed, the House considered it and said, “Yes, let’s kick this fellow out for six months”, he could do nothing about it. Those are the implications.

I have not approached Members about this, but we have had a long debate and a long discussion about this item and I do not wish to keep the House any longer than necessary or worry it tonight with a vote. However, let us make no mistake; after noble Lords have considered the implications and what they have heard, they may want to change their minds at a later stage, and I may very well be tempted to give them the opportunity to do so. On that basis, I will not move the amendment.

Amendment not moved.

Amendment to the Motion

Tabled by

As an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out paragraphs 16–19 of the Code of Conduct and insert the following:

“16. The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests shall investigate alleged breaches of this Code, or of the rules governing Members’ financial support or use of parliamentary facilities. Any such investigation is conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the Guide to the Rules.

17. After investigation the Sub-Committee shall report its findings to the Committee for Privileges. The Member concerned has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges against the Sub-Committee’s findings.

18. The Committee for Privileges, having heard any appeal, reports its conclusions and, where appropriate, recommends a disciplinary sanction to the House. The final decision rests with the House.

19. In investigating and adjudicating allegations of non-compliance with this Code, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges shall act in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness.”

My Lords, I do not want to keep the House for too long, but I must deal with the realities. This afternoon, we have heard from the Leader of the House that the Government want this commissioner, as do the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Benchers. I would probably be very foolish if I pressed my amendment to a vote in such circumstances and, as I do not want to be humiliated at this stage, I will not do so. Again, however, there may be an opportunity to come back to this, and the House may very well regret that it ever agreed to it.

Amendment not moved.

Motion agreed.