Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu has called on political parties to “evolve a consensus on a code of conduct for their members, both inside the legislature and out of it”, so that people do not lose faith in political processes and institutions. A Code of Conduct for members of Rajya Sabha has been in force since 2005; there is no such code for Lok Sabha.
Codes of conduct for high constitutional functionaries and representatives of the people have been discussed for long. A code for Union ministers was adopted in 1964, and state governments were advised to adopt it as well. A conference of Chief Justices in 1999 resolved to adopt a code of conduct for judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts — this 15-point ‘Re-instatement of Values in Judicial Life’ recommended that serving judges should maintain an air of “aloofness” in their official and personal lives.
In the case of MPs, the first step was the constitution of Parliamentary Standing Committees on Ethics in both Houses. The Committee in Rajya Sabha was inaugurated by Chairman K R Narayanan on May 30, 1997 “to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of the Members and to examine the cases referred to it with reference to ethical and other misconduct of Members”.
Code in Rajya Sabha
The First Report of the Ethics Committee was adopted on December 15, 1999, and its framework was reiterated in subsequent reports of the Committee. The Fourth Report was adopted by Rajya Sabha on April 20, 2005, and a 14-point Code of Conduct for members of the House has been in force since then. These include:
* “…If Members find that there is a conflict between their personal interests and the public trust which they hold, they should resolve such a conflict in a manner that their private interests are subordinated to the duty of their public office”;
* “Members should always see that their private financial interests and those of the members of their immediate family do not come in conflict with the public interest and if any such conflict ever arises, they should try to resolve such a conflict in a manner that the public interest is not jeopardised”; and
* “Members should never expect or accept any fee, remuneration or benefit for a vote given or not given by them on the floor of the House, for introducing a Bill, for moving a resolution or desisting from moving a resolution, putting a question or abstaining from asking a question or participating in the deliberations of the House or a Parliamentary Committee”.
Rule 293 of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States states: “There shall be maintained a ‘Register of Member’s Interests’ in such form as may be determined by the [Ethics] Committee which shall be available to members for inspection on request.” This is accessible to ordinary citizens under the RTI Act.
Code in Lok Sabha
The first Ethics Committee in Lok Sabha could be constituted only on May 16, 2000, when GMC Balayogi was Speaker. The issue has been raised in every Lok Sabha since then, but has not been taken to its conclusion. The Report of the Ethics Committee — with regard to amendments to the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha — headed by L K Advani was presented to the Speaker on December 16, 2014, and laid on the table of the House on December 18, 2014. Its recommendations were included in the report of the Rules Committee of Lok Sabha tabled in Lok Sabha on August 5, 2015. It said that [the Ethics Committee] shall “formulate a Code of Conduct for Members and suggest amendments or additions to the Code of Conduct from time to time”. The matter has since been pending with the Ethics Committee, which is still headed by Advani.
The report of the Rules Committee tabled on August 5, 2015, said that “the Rajya Sabha is already maintaining register of their Members’ interests. In view of the above, the Committee recommends that the Committee on Ethics may examine and recommend the nature of Members’ interests to be declared and the form of Register of Members’ interest to be maintained for Members of Lok Sabha.” This matter, too, is under consideration of the Ethics Committee.
While the Ethics Committee headed by Advani recommended that “Any person or member may make a complaint relating to unethical conduct”, the Rules Committee, headed by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, added the provision that the “if a complaint is made by any person, it shall be forwarded by a member (and)… shall be countersigned by the member forwarding the complaint to the Speaker”. This provision is different from that in Rajya Sabha, and is similar to the Ethics Committee rules of the US Congress, which says: “Information offered as a complaint by an individual not a Member of the House may be transmitted to the Committee, provided that a Member of the House certifies… that (he) believes the information is submitted in good faith and warrants the… consideration of the Committee.”
In the UK, a code of conduct for MPs was “prepared pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 19 July 1995”. The Canadian House of Commons has a Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner with powers to examine violations of the Conflict of Interest Code at the request of another Member or by Resolution of the House or on his own initiative. Germany has had a Code of Conduct for members of the Bundestag since 1972; the US has had a Code since 1968. Pakistan has a Code of Conduct for members of the Senate.