Background to the rules on Members' conduct

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5.1Each House asserts its right to control the behaviour of its Members in the discharge of their parliamentary and public duties as an aspect of exclusive cognizance (see Chapter 11). The internal rules on conduct, including on the disclosure of relevant financial interests, derive their authority from resolutions of the House, rather than from statute or the common law, and are therefore enforceable only by the House itself. These rules do not exempt Members from the operation of the criminal law or common-law duties to others (see para 11.8 ).

Provisions to ensure good behaviour amongst Members have a long history (for example, in 1695 the House of Commons passed a resolution against offering bribes to Members) but development has been piecemeal and has largely followed a pattern of reacting to perceived crises. In response to one such crisis, in 1995 the Government set up the Committee on Standards in Public Life, an advisory body which includes independent and political members and which, alongside its wider responsibilities, provides a mechanism for regular review of issues relating to standards and the arrangements for governing Members' conduct. Similarly, in 2009 the concerns over the propriety of MPs' expense claims and the expenses system as a whole led to the division of responsibilities within the House of Commons, with the oversight and administration of Members' expenses and allowances being transferred to the statutory Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) and the House itself retaining oversight for all other aspects of Members' conduct, albeit with a strengthened independent lay element incorporated.

Both the House of Lords and the House of Commons have agreed to a Code of Conduct and guidance governing the conduct expected of Members. The two Houses operate an inquisitorial system. Each has appointed an independent investigating officer who reports to a Committee of the appropriate House or, in the case of ICGS cases in the House of Commons, an Independent Expert Panel. Although the principles upon which they are founded are common to both codes, their provisions are not identical. This chapter therefore deals with the arrangements in each House in turn.