New Code of Conduct for MPs will tighten loopholes and improve standards in Westminster for all
To read some of the press, you would think every single MP is an identikit crook, thief, and habitual liar. But politics is an honourable profession. It is based in public service and many colleagues have made phenomenal contributions to our national life, often way beyond the call of duty.
Yes, we have had some terrible recent scandals and every single one of us (including me) is flawed. That’s why the standing of MPs, and of Parliament, is at an all-time low and why the public wants us to do better. It’s why we need clear, unambiguous rules for MPs – and ones that don’t just trip MPs up for no purpose.
The Standards Committee’s new Code of Conduct for MPs includes robust new measures aimed at tightening lobbying rules, removing loopholes, and introducing an outright ban on paid parliamentary advice.
For the first time, MPs are barred from providing parliamentary advice to an outside employer
At the heart of this code is a renewed commitment to transparency, accountability, and ability to scrutinise those who repeatedly fail to uphold high standards in elected office. This can only be a good thing.
For the first time, MPs are barred from providing parliamentary advice to an outside employer. This includes providing or agreeing to provide services as a parliamentary adviser, consultant, or strategist – which was effectively selling the title of MP on the open market.
Secondly, a Member who takes on an outside role must obtain a written contract or statement specifying their duties won’t include lobbying ministers, MPs or public officials on behalf of the employer, or paid parliamentary advice, and the employer may not ask them to do so.
Thirdly, the code has tightened lobbying rules to bring restrictions on participating in proceedings in Parliament and approaches to ministers in line with the restrictions on initiating proceedings and approaches. Together, with increased time limits under the lobbying rules (from six to 12 months), MPs can neither initiate nor participate in proceedings or approaches to ministers, other MPs, or officials that seek to gain a material benefit for a client who has paid them or rewarded them in the last 12 months. We have laid out more clearly what a material benefit means so that perfectly sensible speeches about whole sectors or better foreign relations are not captured.
Fourthly, we are closing the “serious wrong” loophole. Previously, the whistleblowing provision had been claimed by a small minority of Members as a way to drive a coach and horses through the rules. 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 and provide evidence of a wrong on a single occasion.
The new code is designed to make compliance with the rules easier, encouraging MPs to seek advice from officials. A new safe harbour provision means that Members will not be found in breach of the rules if, before acting, they seek and follow the advice of the registrar on matters like registration, declaration, or paid lobbying.
This is certainly not the end of the road. We will continue to keep the code under review and hope to produce proposals on tightening the rules on All-Party Parliamentary Groups soon.
The vast majority of MPs are assiduous and diligent in upholding the highest of standards – they simply want to do the right thing. It cannot be right that when a small minority of individuals show disregard for the rules they bring the whole House of Commons into disrepute. This new Code of Conduct will help support Members who want to follow the rules while holding those who repeatedly break them to account. More importantly than that, I hope it can be an important step in reassuring the public that MPs are committed to high standards in public life.
Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda and chair of the Standards Committee.
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