Committees on Standards and of Privileges

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38.76The Committee of Privileges and the Committee on Standards have for historic reasons had close links. From the seventeenth century it was the practice of the House to appoint a Committee of Privileges to consider specific matters relating to privilege referred to it by the House. In 1995, that committee was replaced with a Committee on Standards and Privileges, with a remit expanded to include consideration of matters relating to the conduct of Members.1 This change was made in conjunction with the House's creation of the post of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, whose work the Committee was given the responsibility of overseeing, and in anticipation of the House's approval in 1996 of, a Code of Conduct.2

In 2010, the House accepted the principle that non-Members of the House should be added to this Committee to provide an element of independence in the standards system.3 In 2011, the Procedure Committee recommended that the participation of lay members should extend only to standards and not to privilege issues and that therefore the Standards and Privileges Committee should be split, with lay members being included only in the Committee responsible for standards.4 In 2012, separate Committees of Privileges and on Standards were created, and in 2013 the first lay members were appointed to the latter: initially three (with 11 elected members), but since 2015 seven (with seven elected members).5 Both committees have a quorum of three elected members; in addition, the Committee on Standards has a quorum of three lay members. The elected members are nominated for the duration of a Parliament; the lay members are appointed (following recruitment through open and fair competition) for fixed non-renewable terms not exceeding six years. The lay members have the same rights as elected members to vote or move motions or amendments to motions or draft reports.6 Any lay member has the right to append a paper to a report by the Committee.

It has been the practice of the House to nominate the same elected members to both committees; and the Chair of the Committee on Standards, who is one of the Chairs directly elected by the House, has by practice been elected by the Committee of Privileges as its Chair.

In 2003, the Government agreed that no single party should have a majority on the Standards and Privileges Committee and that parliamentary private secretaries should not be members of the Committee.7 These conventions applied until the 2019–21 Parliament, but the extension of voting rights to lay members means that the recent practice of appointing in rough proportion to representation in the House ensures there is no government majority in practice. Standing Order No 122B(8)(f) provides that no Member may be a candidate for the Chair of the Committee on Standards unless their party is that of the Official Opposition. The committees are empowered to appoint sub-committees, with a quorum of three (which in the case of a Committee on Standards sub-committee must comprise at least one elected and one lay member). Both the committees and any sub-committee have powers to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding the adjournment of the House and to appoint specialist advisers. The committees also have the power to order the attendance of any Member before them or any sub-committee and to require that specific documents or records in the possession of a Member relating to the inquiries of the committees, any sub-committee or (in the case of the Committee on Standards) the Commissioner, be laid before it or any sub-committee. The committees may also exclude the broadcasters from their public sittings. Under the standing order, the law officers of the Crown who are Members of the House may attend.8

The Committee on Standards also has responsibilities in relation to certain sanctions arising from cases under the Parliamentary Behaviour Code considered, within the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme, by the Commissioner for Standards and the Independent Expert Panel. If a sub-panel of the Independent Expert determines a sanction which would otherwise engage the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act 2015 the Committee on Standards must recommend an equivalent sanction.9

Footnotes

  1. 1. CJ (1994–95) 554.
  2. 2. CJ (1994–95) 555; ibid (1995–96) 527–28.
  3. 3. CJ (2010–12) 312–13.
  4. 4. Procedure Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010–12, Lay membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (HC 1606).
  5. 5. CJ (1994–95) 554; ibid (2012–13) 417; Votes and Proceedings, 18 May 2016.
  6. 6. Votes and Proceedings, 7 January 2019; previously, SO No 149 provided that ‘lay members may not move any motion or any amendment to any motion or draft report, and may not vote’, though a procedure to provide for lay members to participate in an ‘indicative vote’ was introduced in July 2018 (see Votes and Proceedings, 19 July 2018 and Fifth Report from the Standards Committee of Session 2017–19, HC 1726). See also the fuller account in Chapter 5.
  7. 7. HC Deb (2002–03), 407, c 1240.
  8. 8. SO Nos 148A(9), 149(12).
  9. 9. See www.parliament.uk/about/independent-complaints-and-grievance-scheme/ and SO Nos 150A–150E.