Page last updated at 17:12 GMT, Tuesday, 21 July 2009 18:12 UK

The new rules for MPs explained

Houses of Parliament

The Parliamentary Standards Bill drawn up in response to the MPs' expenses scandal has been rushed through Parliament in a matter of days. It faced opposition and numerous concessions were forced. Here is a guide to which bits survived and which were dropped:


A legally binding code of conduct for many aspects of MPs' behaviour was pledged by Gordon Brown at the end of May. At the time it was thought it could mean MPs who did not meet minimum commitments to their constituents could be fined. But the code did not make it past the second day of debate on the bill in the Commons. Amid criticism it would lead to a flood of legal challenges and a "culture of blank cheques for lawyers", Justice Secretary Jack Straw agreed to drop it "in the interests of consensus". The bill does however contain plans for an MPs' code of conduct purely for financial interests - but the details have been left to the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to work out.


There was plenty of criticism of an early proposal which would have allowed MPs' words in the Commons - now protected by Parliamentary privilege - to have been used against them in court. As worded, the original bill said "no enactment or rule of law which prevents proceedings in Parliament being impeached or questioned in any court" should stop "any evidence from being admissible in proceedings" against MPs accused of breaking rules. It was not just MPs who had their doubts. The most senior official in the Commons, Malcolm Jack, warned it could have a "chilling effect" on MPs' freedom of speech. The government stuck with it but were defeated when more than 20 Labour MPs rebelled to vote against it - among them former cabinet ministers John Reid and Margaret Beckett. A new clause, explicitly preserving Parliamentary privilege regardless of anything else in the Act was later added.


The government had planned to bring in three new criminal offences specifically aimed at MPs in the wake of the expenses scandal, which prompted many calls for the police to bring prosecutions. The three offences related to providing false information about expenses claims, breaking rules on the registration of interests or the ban on paid advocacy - MPs being paid to raise interest groups' issues in the Commons. There was some criticism in the Commons that they were redundant anyway as the offences were already covered by existing fraud and theft laws. A Parliamentary committee warned that, as drafted, they could breach MPs' human rights . Jack Straw argued they should stay because they were "fundamental" to ensuring public confidence. But the paid advocacy offence - which could have seen errant MPs fined up to £5,000 - was dropped by the government when the Bill reached the Lords. Lords leader Baroness Royall said the move followed cross-party consultation and it needed "further consideration". The government accepted a new offence in the draft Bribery bill covered the same ground better. The following week the financial interests offence was also removed due to "strength of feeling" among peers.


In early stages of the debate on the bill Justice Secretary Jack Straw, said he expected its arrangements to apply "in due course" to the House of Lords as well as MPs. And he said that eventually the Parliamentary Standards Authority would cover both the Commons and the Lords. On 8 July Lords leader Lady Royall stated that the bill "categorically" would not apply to peers after she "fully reported the very strong, very proper and very cogent views of this House to the government". A new clause explicitly excluding the Lords from the Act has since been added into the bill. Separately a committee of peers had heavily criticised the bill .


The bill creates an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to run MPs' pay and allowances and review financial interest rules. The IPSA will be responsible for paying out salaries and expenses - or turn down claims - review the allowances scheme regularly and conduct investigations. Originally it was intended it would have the power to instruct errant MPs to repay allowances or amend the Register of Interests and recommend sanctions. But those powers were removed as the bill went through the Lords, instead the decisions will be taken by the existing standards and privileges committee.


Two more new clauses were added in during the Lords stages - one making the investigation and enforcement provisions of the bill subject to a two-year renewal clause. The other requires the new IPSA to provide tax advice to MPs.

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