Written evidence submitted by Dr Hannah White OBE, Institute for Government



  1. As requested by the Standards Committee, further to my oral evidence given on Tuesday 8 December, this note considers in more detail the idea of a single, comprehensive parliamentary code of conduct.

A parliamentary code of conduct

  1. A parliamentary code of conduct would replace the separate Commons and Lords codes and the Behaviour Code. The latter is currently referenced in the Commons Code of Conduct but does not form part of the ‘Rules of Conduct’ a breach of which can trigger an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (PCS).
  2. A still more ambitious step would be to incorporate the ministerial code into the parliamentary code of conduct. Although this would be desirable for reasons of consistency and clarity, it would be more challenging to achieve. This is because, while the Commons and Lords codes are agreed by their respective Houses, the ministerial code of conduct is set (and adjudicated) by the Prime Minister of the day. Nonetheless, it would be highly desirable for the ministerial code to be strengthened to bring its requirements into line with those in the new parliamentary code of conduct, in order to ensure that ministers are no longer held to lower standards than other MPs.


  1. In my view, the parliamentary code of conduct should cover behaviour as well as financial

interests. This would:

    1. Allow the PCS to investigate breaches of behavioural standards as well as breaches of financial rules.
    2. Reflect changes in societal expectations of public office holders since the code of conduct was first framed. These include a reduction in tolerance for bullying, harassment, discrimination and racism.
    3. More closely reflect what the public would expect to be included in something called a ‘code of conduct’, clarifying the confusion caused by references to the Nolan principles and Behaviour Code, breaches of which alone cannot trigger a PCS investigation.


  1. A single parliamentary code of conduct would be advantageous because it would:
    1. Establish a shared understanding across parliament of the standards we should expect of parliamentarians, regardless of whether they are elected, appointed or hereditary.
    2. Make it easier for MPs and peers to understand what is expected of them, particularly those who move between the Houses.
    3. Make it easier for the public to understand the standards to which Westminster politicians are held.
    4. Make it easier to resolve cases against politicians who move between the Houses.


  1. The process of producing the parliamentary code of conduct would provide a valuable opportunity to simplify and clarify the drafting of the principles and rules that govern the standards system.




  1. A single parliamentary code of conduct need not be enforced using an identical set of sanctions in each House. Minor sanctions could be mirrored in the two Houses, which would be desirable for consistency, but the ultimate sanction in the Commons of a suspension triggering a recall petition would not be available in the Lords. The most serious misdemeanours in the Lords could still, as now, result in a prolonged suspension or expulsion (under the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015).


  1. In my view, decisions on sanctions for less serious breaches of the parliamentary code should be made by the PCS and Lords Commissioner for Standards – as now. More serious breaches should be determined, and sanctions applied, by an Independent Expert Panel (IEP). This could be the same IEP established for the ICGS augmented with members with financial expertise, or a parallel body. It appears to me that there is no practical reason why the same IEP could not decide cases for both the Commons and the Lords. This would remove the role of MPs on the Standards Committee in adjudicating on breaches of the code of conduct by their fellow MPs – a role in which it is impossible for them to act objectively and which is seen as unsatisfactory by the public.


  1. There would be a continued role for standards committees in each House in:


    1. providing advice on request to the IEP (regarding the role of an MP or peer and the circumstances in which a breach of the code might arise);
    2. framing and keeping the code itself under review; and
    3. providing an accountability mechanism for the PCS and Lords Commissioner for Standards.

Alternatively, this role could be performed by a joint standards committee of both Houses which could ensure consistency in the application of the code across both Houses.

4 February 2021