The Code of Conduct and other rules
5.3The Code of Conduct is agreed by the House, on the basis of recommendations from the Committee on Standards. It is reviewed, where appropriate, once a Parliament. The review is usually led by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who makes proposals to the Committee on Standards, which considers them before making its report.1 The draft Code as proposed by the Committee can be, and has been, amended by the House before agreement.2
The most recent version was published in 1 August 2018.3 It states that the purpose of the Code of Conduct is to ‘assist all Members in the discharge of their obligations to the House, their constituents and the public at large’. It ‘applies to Members in all aspects of their public life’.
The Code sets out Members' public duties: to owe allegiance to the Crown, to uphold the law, and to act in the interests of the nation as a whole and their constituents in particular. As to their personal conduct, it requires observance of seven general principles identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life as applicable to holders of public office, and stipulates that any conflict between personal and public interest should always be resolved in favour of the latter. It also states that:
‘Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally.’4
The Code of Conduct is accompanied by the Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members. This sets out in detail the rules which Members are obliged to follow and how alleged breaches will be investigated. As with the Code, these rules are normally reviewed once a parliament and are agreed by the House.5
The Code makes clear that ‘the obligations set out in this Code are complementary to those which apply to all Members by virtue of the procedural and other rules of the House and the rulings of the Chair, and to those which apply to Members falling within the scope of the Ministerial Code.’ The additional rules include internal regulations on the use of House facilities.
The Code does not seek to regulate how Members choose to fulfil their role as a Member of Parliament. Nor does it regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives. However, MPs are required to treat their staff and all those visiting or working for or with Parliament with dignity, courtesy and respect. Like others working within Parliament, they are subject to the Behaviour Code, and the associated independent complaints and grievance scheme.6
Behaviour in the Chamber is a matter for the Chair and alleged breaches of privilege are a matter for the Committee of Privileges to investigate.
- 1. The way in which successive Commissioners and Committees have consulted on their proposals has varied over time. At the time of preparation, the Commissioner and Committee are conducting concurrent reviews: see www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/standards/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry/. See Committee on Standards and Privileges, Nineteenth Report of Session 2010–12, HC 1579 for a description of the review process in earlier Parliaments.
- 2. See CJ (2010–12) 275.
- 3. House of Commons, Code of Conduct, HC (2017–19) 1474.
- 4. HC 1076 (2014–15) Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members. For the possibility of corruption or impropriety constituting a contempt, see paras 15.26–15.29.
- 5. The Guide to the Rules referred to in this work was approved by the House on 17 March 2015 (HC 1076 (2014–15)). A change to the Guide was agreed on 7 January 2019 and it will be reprinted, together with the Code, as HC 1882. For details of the rules in operation at earlier dates, see previous editions of Erskine May. For an account of the background to the introduction of the Code and Guide, see Erskine May (22nd edn, 1997), pp 419–20.
- 6. Votes and Proceedings, 19 July 2018.