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Proposals on revised sanctions and confidentiality in Commons standards system published

30 March 2021

The Committee on Standards releases a new report 'Sanctions and confidentiality in the House's standards system: revised proposals'. The new report builds on recommendations made in two previous reports by the Committee.

Report findings

In its June 2020 report on "Confidentiality in the House’s standards system", the Committee had supported proposals from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, for changes to the current arrangements on confidentiality in standards cases.

The proposals represented a 'fine tuning' of those arrangements rather than a radical overhaul.

In its July 2020 report on "Sanctions in respect of the conduct of Members", the Committee proposed an improved, expanded suite of sanctions, with varying degrees of severity, for breaches of the MPs' Code of Conduct.

These included new sanctions relating to compulsory training and withdrawal of services from MPs.

The report also contained a list of aggravating and mitigating factors that should be taken into account in deciding upon a sanction.

The two reports' proposals apply both to cases involving alleged bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct (under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme) and to ones involving non-ICGS cases such as breaches of the Code relating to registering or declaring interests, lobbying or misuse of House facilities.

ICGS cases are now dealt with by the new Independent Expert Panel, non-ICGS cases continue to be dealt with by the Committee on Standards.

Following publication of these two reports, the Committee has held further discussions and now publishes some revisions to them.

As part of this process, it has liaised with the Independent Expert Panel, the Government and Opposition.

In its original sanctions inquiry the Committee had taken evidence from a wide range of sources including trade unions, journalists, the House authorities, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and the UK's devolved institutions.

The revisions now put forward include some adjustments to the proposals for new sanctions involving withdrawal of services from MPs, introducing a distinction between sanctions which affect the core functions of a Member and those which don't, and to  the proposed system for taking decisions on those sanctions.

On confidentiality, the report proposes a right to issue public corrections, in certain limited circumstances where significantly incorrect information about allegations against an MP has been made public, and without detriment to the importance of offering appropriate protection to potentially vulnerable parties in ICGS cases.

The Committee believes that its package of proposals on sanctions and confidentiality, with the limited revisions to them set out in today's newly published report, will give the House the opportunity to modernise its sanctions system and to fine-tune its confidentiality arrangements in the interests of fairness to all concerned.

The Committee hopes that the Government will put motions before the House to implement the three reports in the near future.

Chair's comments

Chris Bryant MP, Chair of the Committee on Standards, said:

"This is an important moment in the Committee's efforts to help build a robust, transparent and fair Standards system that everyone in the Parliamentary community can be proud of.

"For too long, the only sanctions available against MPs have been a slap on the wrist or suspension from the House.

"The reality is that breaches of conduct are rarely black and white, and so the sanctions in such cases shouldn’t be either. The proposals we set out will give teeth to the standards system.

"Our Committee also supports calls from the Commissioner for Standards to improve the confidentiality aspect of the system.

"We recommend empowering the Commissioner to improve transparency through a range of measures while also safeguarding our commitment to confidentiality and protecting the identities of the vulnerable.

"I want to extend my thanks to colleagues and lay Members on the Committee, and the range of experts that contributed to our report. We now call on the Government to put these proposals to the House to agree at the earliest opportunity."

Further information

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