«Disciplinary and Penal General Series Revised September 2010 Powers of the House Contents Members 2 Calls to order, resume seat or leave chamber ...»
Factsheet G6 House of Commons Information Office
Disciplinary and Penal
Revised September 2010
Powers of the House
Calls to order, resume seat or leave
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The right of House of Commons to discipline offenders has been established by precedent and accepted by the courts. The right to do so may date from the time when the King, his parliament and courts, met together in the old Palace of Westminster.
The Commons' ultimate power of discipline over one of its own Members is expulsion, thereby creating a vacancy and subsequent by-election in that Member's constituency. The House also has various powers, albeit rarely used nowadays, to punish strangers (i.e. non-Members) who offend it in some way.
This Factsheet cannot cover every eventuality that may occur and supply an answer to what might happen in any given instance. It is, however, possible to show how the House has invoked its power in the past and give a general overview of these powers.
Contempt, in particular, has been viewed with September 2010 differing degrees of severity over the years, and it FS No.P11 Ed 3.4 is impossible to give guidance here as to how the ISSN 0144-4689 House would react at any one time to an incident.
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Members "To the end that all the Debates in this House should be grave and orderly, as becomes so great an Assembly; and that all Interruptions should be prevented; Be it Ordered and Declared, That no Member of this House do presume to make any Noise or Disturbance, whilst any Member
shall be orderly debating, or whilst any Bill, Order or other Matter, shall be in reading or opening:
And, in case of such Noise or Disturbance, that Mr Speaker do call upon the Member, by Name, making such Disturbance: And that every such Person shall incur the Displeasure and Censure of the House."
HC Journal 22 January 1693 Calls to order, resume seat or leave chamber To participate in a debate or at question time, Members have to "catch the Speaker's eye".
When they have done so, the occupant of the Chair will call on the Member to speak. During debates, Members should be heard without interruption but can allow another Member to speak (give way) whenever they wish. They should not stray from the topic under discussion and are called to order by the Speaker should they do so.
Should a Member disregard this warning, or persistently interrupt another Member, the Speaker may instruct that Member to resume his/her seat. Disobediance may lead to the Speaker requesting the Member to voluntarily leave the Chamber for the remainder of that day's sitting.
Such a request is not governed by Standing Order and the Member may take part in Divisions and stay within the precincts of the House (throughout this Factsheet, precincts refers to all the buildings that comprise the Parliamentary Estate). Further disobedience may lead the Speaker to invoke Standing Order No 43, which requires the Member to leave the House and its precincts for the remainder of that day's sitting.
Persistent interruptions from a sedentary position, questioning a decision of the chair or refusal to withdraw an unparliamentary expression, have all in the past led to Members being asked to withdraw from the Chamber. It is for the Speaker to decide, with regard to the severity of the offence, what power to invoke. If a Member disregards the Speaker's order to leave, then he or she may be named under Standing Order No 44. It is the duty of the Serjeant at Arms to ensure the Member complies with the direction of the Speaker.
Naming of a Member and suspension If a Member has disregarded the authority of the Chair, or has persistently and wilfully obstructed the House by abusing its rules, he or she (after generally being given every opportunity to set matters to rights) may be named. That is, the Speaker says "I name Mr William White (or whoever)". Thereupon, usually the Leader of the House, the Government Chief Whip, or the senior minister present, moves "that Mr William White be suspended from the service of the House". If the motion is agreed to, if necessary after a division, the Member is directed to withdraw and suspension (for five sitting days for a first offence) follows. A second offence in the same Session will lead to suspension for 20 sitting days and a third to suspension for a period the House shall decide. Should a Member refuse to withdraw and then resist removal by the Serjeant at Arms, suspension for the remainder of the Session ensues. Where the Member has been suspended from the service of the House under Standing Order No 44, salary is forfeited during the period of suspension.
3 Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons Information Office Factsheet G6 Following a debate on 6 November 1995, the House approved the setting up of the Standards and Privileges Select Committee (see below). On 24 July 1996, the House approved a Code of
Conduct for Members (HC 633 1996/97), available on the internet at :
http://www.parliament.the-stationeryoffice.co.uk/pa/cm199697/cmselect/cmstand/688/codefc.htm If the Committee considers the abuse of its rules to be serious, the Committee can recommend that a Member apologise to the House. The most recent occurrence of this was the Member for Brent East (Mr Ken Livingstone) who apologised for 'breaching the rules on registration of interests and not observing the principle of openness which then Code of Conduct requires'. The Committee can also recommend that a Member be suspended for a specific length of time. A Motion to this effect is put to the House, and may be debated. The Motion may also call for the suspension of salary for the same period. Such a Motion has been moved on several occasions, a recent case on 8 February 2006 regarded Johnathan Syeed, former Member for Mid Bedfordshire, who was deemed by the House to have an inappropriate financial relationship with a private company. In this instance, a period of suspension for two weeks was agreed to by the House, with suspension of salary.
Although suspended, if already nominated, a Member may continue to serve only on a committee for the consideration of a Private Bill. Other than for this purpose, the Member may not enter the Parliamentary Estate for the duration of the suspension.
The Chair of a Standing or Select Committee does not have the authority either to order a Member from a sitting, or of naming a member. In such an instance, the Chair will move to suspend forthwith the proceedings of the Committee and report to the House. The Speaker then deals with the offence as if it had occurred in the House itself.
If an offence occurs before a Committee of the Whole House, the Deputy Speaker presiding may name the Member. Upon naming, the Deputy Speaker will forthwith suspend the proceedings of the Committee and report the matter to the House. The Speaker will then put the question relating to the motion for suspension, as if the offence had occurred before the House itself.
If a situation of grave disorder arises in the House, the Speaker may, under Standing Order No 46, adjourn the House without question or suspend the sitting until a time of his or her choosing. Suspensions of sittings are of varying length - in the past they have been of between 10 and 30 minutes.
In the above instances, unless specifically stated, the Chairman and First and Second Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means (Deputy Speakers), acting in their capacities as Deputy Speaker, may invoke the Speaker's power to deal with a situation as they deem fit.
A person sentenced to more than one year's imprisonment or detention for an offence committed in the UK or elsewhere (including those repatriated from overseas prisons) is disqualified for election to, or if already a Member of sitting and voting in, the House or its Committees. This detention is relevant if served in the UK or Republic of Ireland and is also applicable to a person unlawfully at large during the time the sentence should be served. The seat of any Member so disqualified is declared vacant and a new writ issued for a by-election. (Representation of the People Act 1981, ss1,2; Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984, s7).
4 Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons Information Office Factsheet G6 When a Member is imprisoned for any length of time, more or less than a year, the sentencing judge or magistrate will inform the Speaker of the detention by letter. Similar notification occurs for a suspended sentence. The Speaker will inform the House of the contents of the letter at the earliest opportunity and order that the text be published in the Votes and Proceedings and Official Report.
If a Member has been detained so briefly so as not to affect attendance at the House, the Speaker does not necessarily notify the House of the arrest.
If a Member is convicted, but released on bail pending appeal, or is fined, the Judge or Magistrate does not have to inform the Speaker.
An adjudged bankrupt is disqualified from election to, or if already a Member, from sitting or voting in, the House or its Committees (Insolvency Act 1986, s427). This disqualification remains in force until either the adjudication is annulled or a court grants a discharge.
When a Member has been declared bankrupt, the Speaker is notified of the adjudication by the Court. The same court will later notify the Speaker that either the bankruptcy has been annulled, or that a period of six months has elapsed without annulment. In the latter case, the seat of the Member is declared vacant and a new writ issued for a by-election. Members who have lost their seats through bankruptcy may seek re-election to the House, once the bankruptcy has been discharged.
As stated in the introduction to this Factsheet, expulsion is the ultimate power available to the House to remove those it considers unfit for membership. Members in the past have been expelled for such crimes as perjury, forgery, fraud and corruption.
The procedure for expulsion is that a motion is moved, generally by the Leader of the House, "that... be expelled from this House". It is customary, depending on the circumstances, that a Member be ordered to attend to offer an explanation. However, if it is apparent that no possible excuse could be given, then the order to attend is not made. Should the Member be already in prison for the offence, then the prison governor may be ordered to bring the Member before the House: however in the case of Mr Baker (see below) no order for attendance was made.
An expelled Member may seek re-election to the House, even within the term of the same Parliament that elected him, a principle established in 1782 as a result of the case of John Wilkes, who was expelled three times and once had his return amended in favour of his defeated opponent.
There have been three instances this century of expulsion:
Horatio Bottomley (Independent, South Hackney), was expelled in August 1922, after being convicted of fraudulent conversion of property and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.
Garry Allighan (Labour, Gravesend) was expelled on 30 October 1947, for lying to a committee and for gross contempt of the House after publication of an article in the World's Press News accusing Members of insobriety and of taking fees or bribes for the supply of information.
Peter Baker (Conservative, South Norfolk) was expelled on 16 December 1954, after being sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for forgery. In this instance, the motion for expulsion 5 Disciplinary and Penal Powers of the House Department House of Commons Information Office Factsheet G6 need not have been moved: under the provisions then still in force of the Forfeiture Act 1870, he would have been automatically disqualified. These provisions were amended by the Criminal Law Act 1967.
A person convicted of treason is disqualified for election to, or if already a Member of sitting and voting in, the House or its Committees. (Forfeiture Act 1870, amended by the Criminal Law Act 1967). This disqualification remains in force until either the sentence has expired or a pardon has been granted.
The provisions of the Forfeiture Act have only once been invoked. In 1903 Arthur Lynch (Nationalist, Galway City) was convicted of high treason for fighting against the Crown in the Boer War. The House was advised by the then Attorney General (Sir Robert Findlay), that as Mr Lynch was automatically disqualified by the Forfeiture Act, it was not necessary for the House either to consider the judgement or move a motion for expulsion. Instead the House immediately proceeded to discuss and move a motion for a new writ for a by-election (see HC Deb, 4th Series, vol 118, c1121 1148, 2 March 1903). Lynch's sentence to death was commuted to penal servitude for life. He was released on licence in 1904 and received a free pardon from the Crown in 1907. He returned to the House as Member for West Clare in 1909, until his retirement in 1918. He unsuccessfully contested Battersea South for Labour at the 1918 General Election.
Members may of course be de-selected by their constituency or national party, or asked to resign immediately according to the practice of the parties concerned. The parliamentary party may withdraw the whip, which effectively isolates a Member from the party machinery within the House, or indeed expel the Member from the Party. The most recent occurrence of this was the expulsion of the Member for Brent East (Mr Ken Livingstone) from the Labour Party for standing as an independent in the election for London Mayor. A Member does not lose his or her seat as a result and continues to sit, either as an independent, or as a Member of a different political party if they so choose.
The House of Commons has the right to punish non-Members for disorderly and disrespectful acts committed against it. This right exists irrespective of whether these acts occur before the House or one of its Committees, within the precincts of the House of Commons or outside it.
Such acts are considered by the House to be a contempt and its power to punish such acts is not challenged by the courts.