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Committee on Standards publishes report on Sanctions in respect of the conduct of Members

21 July 2020

The Committee on Standards publishes a report on 'Sanctions in respect of the conduct of Members'.

The report considers the system of sanctions for breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, concluding an inquiry that was started by the previous Committee in May 2019. The inquiry looked to address a number of issues: 

  • The perceived "sanctions gap" in the current system
  • The need for clarity on why particular sanctions have been imposed in individual cases
  • The need for an expanded suite of sanctions to cover cases of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct by Members under the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme (ICGS).

As part of the inquiry, the Committee took oral and written evidence from a number of witnesses, including trade unions, journalists, the Clerk of the House, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and devolved bodies. 

The present system of sanctions in non-ICGS cases 

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has certain powers under the standing orders to 'rectify' matters where a breach of the rules has occurred. This means the Commissioner can reach agreement with a Member that they will acknowledge a breach of the rules, rectify the infringement and apologise. 

In more serious cases, the Commissioner refers the matter to the Committee, which has the power to impose a limited number of sanctions, in particular a requirement to apologise in person or in writing or to pay back money. In the most serious cases, the Committee can then invite the House to impose a sanction, in particular suspension or expulsion.

The ICGS and sanctions

Following the creation of the ICGS in July 2018, the Committee was given responsibility for dealing with ICGS cases referred by the Commissioner, and appeals, where the alleged breaches of the Behaviour Code were by Members. During the period through till June 2020, while the House considered how to implement Dame Laura Cox's recommendation for a process independent of MPs, the Committee maintained this responsibility. 

On 23 June 2020, the House approved the setting up of an Independent Expert Panel to which the consideration of individual ICGS cases has now been transferred. While the Committee no longer has responsibility for dealing with ICGS cases, the issue of sanctions in ICGS cases formed a major part of its inquiry. The Committee feels it is important that the Commissioner and the Panel should have a full range of suitable sanctions available to them as soon as possible, which they can then look to adapt if necessary. It is not for the Committee to tell the Panel what sanctions they could or should use in any individual case.

The Committee's proposals 

Consistency in the way standards cases are dealt with is vital to public confidence in the system. To ensure this, the Committee publishes for the first time a codified list of aggravating and mitigating factors as a guide for imposing sanctions in non-ICGS cases. The list will be kept under review. Recommendations on aggravating and mitigating factors in ICGS cases will be a matter for the Independent Expert Panel when it comes into existence. 

The Committee is concerned about the lack of  'intermediate sanctions' available in dealing with cases - that is, where a sanction stronger than apology is called for, but less severe than suspension. To address this, it has drawn up a new suite of sanctions which the Commissioner, the Committee, the Panel and the House can, as appropriate, impose in individual cases. These include a requirement to attend training, the withdrawal of services, access to facilities or participation in travel, and dismissal from a select committee.

The Committee provides two tables, with accompanying commentary, which set out the proposed range of sanctions, distinguishing between those suitable for ICGS cases and non-ICGS cases, and also between sanctions which bar a Member from carrying out their core parliamentary duties (which require a higher level of authorisation) and which do not. The tables are set out at pages 26 to 28 of the report.

The Committee recommends that the House should agree its proposals and make the necessary changes to its standing orders as soon as possible.

The lay members of the Committee, who have full voting rights, played a full and active part in drawing up the Committee's report, with which they are in agreement.

Chair's comments 

Chris Bryant MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"We want to ensure that the system is fair, professional and proportionate and that it rewards best practice. For too long the only sanctions available against MPs have been a slap on the wrist or suspension from the House. We hope this new set of sanctions, together with a clear set of guidelines on what will be considered as aggravating and mitigating factors will give complainants, MPs and the public a clear idea of the kind of attitudes and conduct we are trying to promote and those we wish to eliminate."

Further information

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