- In Britain, the Queen personifies the State. In law, she is the Head of the Executive, an integral part of the legislature, head of the judiciary, the Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of the Crown and the supreme governor of the established Church of England. As a result of a long process of evolution, during which the monarch's absolute power has been progressively reduced, the Queen acts on the advice of her Ministers.
Organs of Government
- The organs of the Government in the United Kingdom, as mentioned below, are readily distinguishable although their functions often intermingle and overlap:-
(i) The Legislature, the Supreme Authority in the realm.
(ii) The Executive, which consists of (a) The Government i.e., the Cabinet and other Ministers of the Crown, who are responsible for initiating and directing National Policy; (b) Government Departments, most of them under the direct control of Ministers and all staffed by Civil Servants who are responsible for Administration at the national level; (c) Local authorities which administer and manage various services at the local level and (d) Public Corporations generally responsible for the operation of particular nationalised industries or of a social or cultural service.
(iii) The Judiciary, which determines Common Law and interprets statues and is independent of both the Legislature and the Executive.
- Parliament is the supreme Legislative Authority in the United Kingdom. The Parliament is composed of the Sovereign (the Queen), the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
- The Lords Spiritual and Temporal sit together, and jointly constitute the House of Lords. The Lords Spiritual are the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester, and 21 next most senior diocesan bishops of the Church of England. The Lords Temporal consist of
(i) all hereditary peers and peeresses of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom (but not peers of Ireland);
(ii) life peers created to assist the House in its judicial duties (Lords of Appeal or 'Law Lords'); and all other life peers.
House of Commons
- The House of Commons is elected by universal adult suffrage and consists of 651 Members. Of the 651 seats, 524 are for England, 38 for Wales, 72 for Scotland and 17 for Northern Ireland.
- General elections are held every four years or earlier after a Parliament has been dissolved and a new one is summoned by the Queen.
Standards of Conduct
- In November 1995 the House of Commons agreed to significant changes in its rules and machinery relating to perceived possible conflicts between the outside financial interests of Members and their duties in the House. This followed the Prime Minister's initiative in October 1994 in setting up a committee of inquiry as a result of public disquiet about press reports questioning standards in public life.
- The Committee's remit was "to examine cur rent concerns about standards of conduct of all holders to public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in the present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life." Lord Nolan, a distinguished judge, was appointed Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Nolan Committee Report on standards in Public life.
- The Nolan Committee took is sues relating to Members of Parliament as one of the topics for its first report, which appeared in May 1995. The Committee stated clearly that it remained desirable for the House to have Members with a wide variety of outside interests, since Parliament would, otherwise, be less well informed and less effective. Lord Nolan also thought it important that the House should continue to have Members from a wide variety of backgrounds and felt that any ban on Members having outside paid interests might lead to a narrowing in the range of able men and women who would be attracted to stand for Parliament.
- The Nolan Committee was, nonetheless, critical of the rules which governed Members' outside interests. Bribery had, for centuries, been an offence against parliamentary law, and there had, for 20 years, been detailed requirements for the registration of members' financial interest; but in other repeats, questions of conduct and propriety tended to be left to the general good sense of members rather than to formalized rules.
- A 1947 resolution of the house prohibited contracts between a Member and an outside organization which rested on an undertaking to act in parliament in accordance with the wishes of that organization, thus limiting the Member's freedom of action in the House.
- The Nolan Committee considered calling for a ban on all form of advocacy in Parliament by Members pursuing the interests of those with immediate ban would be impracticable. Instead, it recommended a prohibition on parliamentary consultancies with public relations or lobbying firms which acted for multiple clients, and a review by the House of the merits of allowing Members to hold parliamentary consultancies at all.
- Nolan also called for consultancy and trade union sponsorship arrangements, and the payments arising from them, to be fully disclosed.
- Other recommendations related to improving the guidance available to Members on the questions of conduct, and to improving the arrangements by which the House of Commons enforces its own rules.
- The Nolan Committee had called for drawing up of a Code of Conduct for members of Parliament setting out the broad principles which should guide the conduct of Members and should be restated in every new Parliament.The committee has set out seven principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way.
Select Committee on Standards in Public Life
- Following a debate on the Nolan Report, the House set up its own Select Committee on Standards in public life to advise on how the Nolan recommendations relating to the rules and procedures of the House might be clarified and implemented. After intensive deliberations, the Committee produced two reports which provided the basis for the decision taken by the House."
- In one important respect the Select Committee's recommendations (and the subsequent decisions of the House) went significantly beyond the Nolan Committee's recommendation.
Select the Committee's deliberations
- Nol an had recommended a ban on multicli ent consultancies; but after a great deal of thought the Select Committee concluded that the difficulties of definition were too great to make this approach workable. The Select Committee identified the main source of public anxiety as the notion that Members were open to improper influence, and, accordingly, it recommended that those actions by Members which seemed to give rise to such suspicions- namely, those which could be seen as constituting advocacy in Parliament on behalf of any outside organisation of whatever kind, in return for payment- should be prohibited altogether.
- The House accepted the Select Committee's advice that the 1947 resolution should be extended to provide that: no Member of this House shall, in consideration of any remuneration, fee, payment, reward or benefit in kind, direct or indirect, which the Member or any member of his or her family has received, is receiving or expects to receive: (i) advocate or initiate any cause or matter on behalf of any outside body or individual, or (ii) urge any other Member of either House of Parliament, including Ministers, to do so, by means of any speech, question, motion, introduction of a bill, or amendment to a motion or Bill.q In making this recommendation, the Select Committee gave general guidance on what it intended, but emphasized that the interpretation of the new resolution in particular circumstances should be a matter for a new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, advised by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who would not be drawn from Parliament itself, under arrangements already agreed to by the House in July, 1995.
The Committee on Standards and Privileges
- The Nolan Committee said there was considerable uncertainty about the respective roles of the House of Common's historic Committee of Privileges, which had investigated the "cash for question" case, and the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which supervised the Register and the arrangements for registration and also dealt with allegations that members had failed to register or declare their interests.
- Both Committees have now been replaced by a new Committee on Standards and Privileges. This Committee considers complaints about Members' conduct referred to it after an independent investigation by a newly created parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has been given several unique powers, including the power to compel Members to attend before it and to produce specific documents. In order to give the Committee legal assistance, the Law Officers are empowered to take part in its proceedings and receive papers.
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
- Following Nolan's recommendation to introduce an independent element into the House's system of self-regulation, the House has any relevant overseas analogues.
The Commissioner is an independent officer of the House, appointed by the House, who is charged with giving advice to Members about questions of propriety and conduct, including the interpretation of the code of conduct, and with investigating complaints against Members and reporting to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.