Improper influence

15.16Attempts to influence Members in their parliamentary conduct by improper means may be considered contempts. One of the methods by which such influence may be brought to bear is bribery; and it is as culpable for an individual to offer a corrupt consideration to a Member of either House with a view to influencing their conduct in that capacity as it is for the consideration to be accepted.

A committee of the Commons concluded that ‘pressure’ involved a positive and conscious effort to shift an existing opinion in one direction or another; and premeditation was not an essential precondition. Thus, the committee considered that the Chairman of a select committee (on Members' Interests) had exceeded the bounds of propriety in participating in a conversation with a government whip about matters within that committee's remit, and the whip ought not to have raised with the Chairman a matter critical to the deliberations of the committee.1

Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt improperly to influence Members in the discharge of their duties but having a tendency to impair their independence in the future performance of their duty may be treated as a contempt. An example of such a case is the Speaker's ruling that a letter sent by a parliamentary agent to a Member informing them that the promoters of a private bill would agree to certain amendments provided that they and other Members refrained from further opposition to the bill constituted (under the procedure then in force) a prima facie breach of privilege.2

Influence by private solicitation in certain circumstances has also been found objectionable. The Lords have resolved that the private solicitation of Members on matters of claims to honours or other judicial proceedings was a breach of privilege.3 Upon the same principle, it would be a contempt, when Members are acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity, eg when serving on committees on private bills, to attempt, by letters, anonymous or other, to influence them in the discharge of their duties.4

Footnotes

  1. 1. Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, First Report, HC 88 (1996–97).
  2. 2. CJ (1962–63) 251. The Member concerned, having received an apology, did not submit a motion to the House.
  3. 3. LJ (1802–03) 227.
  4. 4. LJ (1810–11) 332, 341; CJ (1884) 167 and Parl Deb (1884) 287, c 11; and HC Deb (1921) 145, c 831. See also Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, First Report, HC 88 (1996–97).