Committee on Standards

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5.4The operation of the Code of Conduct is overseen by the Committee on Standards (previously the Committee on Standards and Privileges). In 2009 the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that there should be at least two lay members on the Standards and Privileges Committee.1 Three lay members were first appointed in January 2013.2 Since Session 2015–16 the Committee has consisted of seven lay members and seven elected members.3 A quorum of both lay members and elected members is needed for a meeting of the Committee.

The House appoints the lay members on motion following a fair and transparent recruitment process for a non-renewable term of up to six years. The recruitment process is run by the House of Commons Commission which is responsible for laying a report on the Table of the House on the outcome of each round.4

The lay members have similar rights to elected members and play a full part in proceedings. They now have the right to vote and move motions.

Previously, lay members were unable to move any motion or amendment to a motion or draft report, and did not have a formal vote. The restriction arose from caution about whether the Committee's proceedings would fall within the scope of proceedings in Parliament if lay members had voting rights, a matter on which there were divergent views.5

In December 2018 the Committee recommended that lay members should be given a formal vote, without prejudice to any further decisions that might be taken to implement the Cox report. It considered that the desirability of this outweighed the small risk of challenge in the courts.6 The Committee on Standards noted the previous advice from Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, former Chair of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, that:

‘The rationale on which immunity from court process is accorded to a committee composed entirely of parliamentarians is equally apt, no less and no more, to a committee onto which Parliament has chosen to invite non-parliamentarians to serve, whether in a purely advisory capacity or in a voting capacity. The presence and participation of lay members does not change, or detract from, the essential nature of the function being exercised by the committee.’7

Referring to previous recommendations that there should be legislation on voting rights, the Committee also noted that:

‘legislation is not required in order to confer voting rights on lay members, but to provide a precautionary safeguard in relation to privilege if those rights were conferred.’8

In January 2019 Standing Order No 149 was amended to remove restrictions on the way in which lay members could participate in Committee meetings.9

In one respect, lay members may retain a stronger role than elected members on the Committee. The right to append an opinion to a draft report remains: any lay member who is present at a meeting where a report is agreed has the right to submit a paper setting out their opinion on that report which will then be published as an appendix.10 Each report records whether or not the lay members wished to submit such a paper. This was introduced to ensure that the views of lay members could not be ignored. Similarly, as an interim measure before full voting rights were introduced, it was an instruction to the Committee that before proceeding to a vote on a motion, the Committee should hold an indicative vote including both lay and elected members conducted as any other division, with the results recorded in the Minutes of Proceedings. There was no requirement that the Committee should proceed to a formal division of elected Members alone after such a vote.11 This provision has now been removed.12

The Committee on Standards is also responsible for oversight of the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. In its report on the Implications of the Cox Report, the Committee set out the principle that ‘that the Committee does not seek to direct the Commissioner's operational decision-making’ and put forward proposals to allow her to decide whether to open investigations into cases more than seven years old or involving former Members, and formally to remove the requirement that the Commissioner should seek the Committee's approval before referring a matter to the police, saying that in advance of such change, it would not regard her as under any obligation to seek the Committee's approval before referring any matter.13 In January 2019, these proposals were agreed to by the House.14

Since June 2020, the Committee no longer has a role in determining complaints brought under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.15

Footnotes

  1. 1. Committee on Standards in Public Life, MPs' expenses and allowances, Cm 7724, November 2009.
  2. 2. CJ (2012–13) 417.
  3. 3. See Committee on Standards, Sixth Report of Session 2014–15, The Standards System in the House of Commons, HC 383 for background; CJ (2014–15) 637; Votes and Proceedings, 7 March 2015.
  4. 4. See for example, House of Commons Commission, Lay members of the new Standards Committee: Nomination of Candidates, HC 709, October 2012; House of Commons Commission, Additional Lay Members of the Committee on Standards: Nomination of Candidates, HC 848, April 2016.
  5. 5. For an account of the history of the proposal for lay members, including the potential privilege issues, see Procedure Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010–12, Lay membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, HC 1606.
  6. 6. Committee on Standards, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 1726.
  7. 7. Ibid, para 47.
  8. 8. Ibid, para 44.
  9. 9. Votes and Proceedings, 7 January 2019; HC Deb (7 January 2019) 652, c 124.
  10. 10. SO No 149. An elected member could, in principle, bring forward an alternative draft report which could be entered on the Minutes of Proceedings relating to the report, but this would have to be prepared before the meeting, and could not contain reflections on the process.
  11. 11. SO No 149; Votes and Proceedings, 19 July 2018; see Committee on Standards, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, Implications of the Dame Laura Cox report for the House's standards system: Initial proposals, HC 1726; Minutes of Proceedings for an example of such an indicative vote.
  12. 12. Votes and Proceedings, 7 January 2019.
  13. 13. Committee on Standards, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 1726, paras 55–61.
  14. 14. Votes and Proceedings, 7 January 2019.
  15. 15. HC Deb (23 June 2020) 1270–72 (see para 5.5A ).