Standards Committee announce plans to tighten lobbying rules

The Committee on Standards today published recommendations for a package of reforms designed to tighten the rules around lobbying, transparency and conflicts of interest in the House of Commons, and make other improvements to the standards system.

The detailed report is now out for consultation ahead of final recommendations being published in the New Year. The report includes a proposed refresh of the MPs’ Code of Conduct, which would introduce robust new measures to empower the standards system in Parliament to better hold MPs who break the rules to account.

Among the recommendations included in the Committee’s report is an outright ban on any Members providing paid parliamentary advice, consultancy or strategy services.

  • It will also seek to introduce a new requirement that a Member must have a written contract for any outside work which makes explicit that their duties cannot include lobbying Ministers, Members or public officials, or providing advice about how to lobby or influence Parliament, and that their employer will give them an undertaking not to ask them to do so, along with clarifying the criteria for the ‘serious wrong exemption’ in the lobbying rules to make clearer the risks of conflicts of interests and put an end to this being used as a loophole.
  • Doubling the six-month limit on reward or consideration restrictions in the lobbying rules to 12 months. Members will still be able to release themselves immediately from the restrictions by repaying any sums received in the relevant period is also suggested.
  • The plans, too, encourages MPs to seek expert advice before acting, the Committee is proposing a new ‘safe harbour’ provision, which will mean MPs cannot be found in breach of the rules if they have sought and followed the advice of the House of Commons Registrar. This ensures that MPs who seek advice from the experts and follow the rules accordingly cannot accidentally find themselves in breach of the Code of Conduct.
  • Ending the exemption whereby ministers are not required to register gifts and hospitality they receive in their ministerial capacity with the Commons Register, so that all of a Member’s outside interests can be found in a single place.
  • Improving the transparency and searchability of the Commons register of members’ financial interests.
  • Adding a new rule to the Code of Conduct, prohibiting a Member from subjecting anyone to “unreasonable and excessive personal attack”, in any medium.
  • Adding an 8th Principle of “Respect” to the Seven Principles of Public Life reflected in the Code of Conduct, to abide by the Parliamentary Behaviour Code and demonstrate anti-discriminatory attitudes and behaviours through the promotion of anti-racism, inclusion and diversity.

In addition, the Committee fully supported in its report the principle that it would be wholly inappropriate for any Member to take on paid employment that prevents them from fully carrying out their range of duties. The Committee raised questions about how this principle could be enforced and now seeks consultation responses on this.

Now the draft proposals have been published, they will be put out for public consultation, ahead of the Committee completing a final report with recommendations in the New Year.

In taking decisions on its final report, the Committee will also take into account the conclusions of a judge-led review which it will commission, into the fairness and compatibility with natural justice of its procedures. A further announcement about this review will be made shortly.

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

“The past few weeks have seen a number of issues raised about MP’s standards, but the key overarching issue here is about conflict of interest. The evidence-based report published by my Committee sets out a package of reforms to bolster the rules around lobbying and conflicts of interest.

“These aren’t the final proposals we’re putting to the House. This report is the Committee’s informed view on what changes we need to tighten up the rules and crack down on conflicts of interests following a detailed evidence-led inquiry.

“We will consult and hear wider views on what we’ve published today before putting a final report to the House for a decision in the New Year. If approved, these robust proposals will empower the standards system in Parliament to better hold MPs who break the rules to account.”