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Standards Committee publish report on how MPs’ standards and conduct are regulated

29 May 2024

The House of Commons Standards Committee today publishes a report on the standards landscape: how MPs’ standards and conduct are regulated.

The report, agreed before Parliament prorogued last week and published today, sets out the current bodies and postholders involved in the regulation of parliamentarians’ conduct, and offers practical recommendations to improve and simplify the landscape, to be taken forward as a priority in the next Parliament.

The report is also intended to be a reference guide for anyone who wants to understand the system of standards regulation. It describes the various separate bodies and their roles, grouped according to which aspect of MPs’ conduct they deal with. It provides an organogram to assist in understanding, describes the history of the standards system, and provides much statistical information in a series of annexes.

The Committee acknowledges that the system is complicated but comments it is also coherent and there is logic behind the complexity. There are strong independent elements and the right machinery to address misbehaviour when needed. The many bodies involved have distinctive and necessary roles, and the Committee’s expert witnesses did not support structural change or amalgamations.

Instead the Committee recommends:

  • The creation of a single internet site which will provide centralised information on the roles of the bodies which make up the parliamentary standards landscape, giving details of categories of complaint and providing plain-English guidance on how to complain about an MP.
  • More formal and regular liaison between all the bodies which comprise the standards landscape.
  • A systematic examination of the House’s Rules Register to consider whether each set of rules can be simplified.
  • Implementation of the Government’s commitment to publish departmental transparency returns on comparable timescales to those for the MPs’ Register of Members’ Financial Interests, improving both the transparency and accessibility of this data.
  • Encouraging political parties to explore with each other the development of common standards and process for handling complaints.
  • Improved induction procedures for new MPs and professional development opportunities for all MPs to assist them to understand the system and observe the rules.
  • That MPs should make a public declaration of commitment to the Seven Principles of Public Life when they take their seats.
  • A continuing focus on shortening the length of time taken to complete conduct investigations.
  • A review of the pros and cons of making office management training for MPs a condition of receiving IPSA funding.
  • Post-legislative scrutiny of the Recall of MPs Act 2015.
  • A review by the Standards Committee in the new Parliament of whether lessons can be learned from employment law or elsewhere to assist in developing ‘sentencing guidelines’ and/or more precise criteria to assist the Committee in reaching decisions on sanctioning.

The report supplies data on standards systems in other parliaments within the UK and abroad. It notes that the House of Commons’ system has high levels of independent scrutiny of MPs’ conduct. In particular, Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the Independent Expert Panel and the presence of lay members with a voting majority on the Standards Committee appear to be almost unparalleled in the other jurisdictions studied.

The Committee warns against complacency. There have been recent cases of Members falling badly below the standards the public expects of them. Parliament must be vigilant against the development of cynical or even corrupt practices by any Member. More needs to be done to change the institutional culture which allowed abuses of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct to take place. But the Committee notes that the House has moved decisively from a position in which there were tacit cover-ups or indulgence of bad behaviour, to one where Members know there will be serious consequences if a complaint against them is upheld. This is a foundation on which to build in the new Parliament.

Chair's comment

Commenting on the report, Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Chair of the Committee on Standards, said:

“The parliamentary standards system is no bureaucratic technicality, it is fundamental to people having trust and faith in our democracy. In response to public concerns, the House of Commons has strengthened its approach to stamping out MPs' misbehaviour. But there is much more to be done to enable people to have confidence in our democracy. We make many recommendations for change including that every MP, when they take office, should make a personal public commitment to upholding the Seven Principles of Public Life. We look to the next Parliament to take this vital work forward.”

Further information

Image credit: UK Parliament