So the new Parliamentary term begins. 177 first-time MPs take up their seats in Westminster and as new public office holders officially sign up to the Seven Principles of Public Life. Indeed the Speaker’s Statement to a packed House of Commons immediately after the Queen’s Speech reflected this:
"The House has directed the Speaker to make a statement at the beginning of each Session about the duties and responsibilities of hon. Members, in place of the Sessional Orders.
I begin by reminding Members of their duty to observe the code of conduct agreed by the House and to uphold the seven principles of public life that underpin it: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership."
Time and time again, our research confirms that these principles represent the public’s expectation of the standards of behaviour of those who serve them. Last year, we reported on the fact that Parliament was behind the curve in terms of ethical induction and called for this to be addressed. This is not to say new MPs are unethical or unaware. But the situations many will find themselves in as a Member may be judged differently or may present ethical dilemmas that they could not have predicted in their former roles. Mark Philp, Chair of our Research Advisory Board, points out that "the seven principles are not guides to morality. Rather, they set out the common standards that those in public office must respect in their capacity as holders of public office. The challenge is to heighten awareness of the ethical principles, and to do so across the political system. This requires a degree of cross-party commitment. The Seven Principles are non-partisan in character, so that while the judgments politicians make are usually partisan on some dimensions, the common ethical standards that apply to any given decision need to be acknowledged."
This time, the Parties and the House Authorities worked together to put together a relevant programme of induction for new MPs which included ethical awareness. Along with IPSA, the Electoral Commission and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, I spoke to groups of new MPs as part of their induction programme. I was struck how keen many of them were to get it right, asking questions about registering their interests correctly or how to declare donations appropriately. The turnout for these sessions was 93% which is really positive.
Promoting high standards of behaviour in public life starts by making sure people are alert to the principles and rules that should guide their behaviour. Box ticked.