New Code of Conduct for MPs launched today
1 March 2023
Today, a new MPs Code of Conduct and Guide to the rules come into effect. The refreshed Code introduces a brand new outright ban on paid parliamentary advice, while tightening loopholes and improving transparency.
What is the Code of Conduct for MPs?
The Code of Conduct for MPs sets out the standards of behaviour expected of all Members of the House of Commons, applying in all aspects of their public life. The Code also contains the rules concerning the additional income, gifts and personal interests that must be declared by MPs and published in the Register of Members' Interests.
Alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members can be investigated by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. If the Commissioner considers there has been a breach of the Code, they can, in less serious cases where the Member agrees, use the “rectification” process, or otherwise refer the matter to the Committee on Standards, who can recommend a range of sanctions, or not, depending on the facts of the case and severity of the breach.
Why was the Code updated?
The Code of Conduct is typically reviewed by the Committee on Standards in every Parliament, but with early general elections in 2017 and 2019, this refreshed Code now represents the first significant review in more than eight years. The Code and accompanying guide to the rules coming into effect today are the culmination of widespread consultation, four interlocking reports and an extensive inquiry undertaken by the Committee.
The Committee published its final recommendations in July 2022. After that the Government tabled motions for the House to debate the Committee’s recommendations. The Government’s motions accepted the majority of the recommendations of the Committee (read the debate Hansard here and watch it back here).
What are the main changes in the new Code of Conduct?
The ban on paid parliamentary advice
For the first time, the Code now explicitly prohibits Members providing parliamentary advice to an outside employer. This includes providing or agreeing to provide services as a parliamentary adviser, consultant or strategist.
Outside roles requiring a contract or written statement
The Code now also requires Members to have a written contract for any outside work, where the contract (or a formal letter) states that they cannot lobby for their employer or give paid parliamentary advice, and that their employer cannot ask them to do so. This contract should also detail a Members particular duties required in their role.
Tightening the lobbying rules
The Code also tightens the lobbying rules so that Members can neither initiate nor participate in proceedings or approaches to Ministers, other Members or officials that seek to gain a material benefit for a client who has paid them or rewarded them in the last twelve months. This has been extended from six months. The test of whether a proceeding or approach seeks to confer a benefit has also been clarified.
Closing the “serious wrong” loophole
From now on, if a Member wants to claim this exemption when approaching a Minister or official, they must show that any benefit to their client is merely incidental to the resolution of the wrong or injustice. A Member must now state that they are providing evidence of a serious wrong, on a single occasion – to ensure that the whistleblowing exception cannot be used as a tool to make repeated approaches.
The new refreshed Code of Conduct for MPs comes following MPs approving a package of proposals from the Committee on Standards on 12 December 2022.
Following the House of Commons approving the Committee on Standards' proposals for a new refreshed Code of Conduct, the new Code took effect from 1 March 2023. You can watch the Chair of the Committee on Standards, Sir Chris Bryant MP, discuss the new Code of Conduct in a video clip here. Read more about how the Committee developed their proposals for a new Code of Conduct in this online article from the Committee.
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