Focus on Special Collections

Welcome to our Focus on Special Collections blog!

Each month we will look at different collection and find out about the person or people who created it, the historical and social background, the contents of the collection and its possible research applications. This month we are looking at the Nolan Committee Papers.


The Nolan Committee, properly called the Committee on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, was set up in 1994 by the Prime Minister, John Major. The Committee was appointed to investigate concerns at that time about standards of conduct of holders of public office, civil servants and National Health Service bodies. This followed two highly-publicised cases of members of Parliament accepting payment for asking questions in the House of Commons (the “Cash for Questions” scandal.(1)

The first chair of the Committee was Lord Nolan of Brasted (from 1994-1997) and he was succeeded by Lord Neill of Bladen (1997-2001). The Committee remains in existence as an independent body which advises the Prime Minister on ethical standards in public life and monitors and reports on issues relating to the standards of conduct of all holders of public office.(2)

The “Nolan Principles”

Although it was initially devised to address the question of corruption in accepting payments for questions in Parliament, the scope of the Committee was broadened by Lord Nolan. The result of the committee’s investigations was the establishment of 7 principles of public life, also known as the Nolan principles. The principles established acceptable standards for conduct by holders of public office, as follows: (3)

1.1 Selflessness

Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

1.2 Integrity

Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

1.3 Objectivity

Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

1.4 Accountability

Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

1.5 Openness

Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

1.6 Honesty

Holders of public office should be truthful.

1.7 Leadership

Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

The Collection

The collection deposited with the Library contains:

  • The first, second, third, fourth and fifth reports of the Committee on Standards in Public Life
  • Written evidence gathered by the Committee
  • Video recordings of Committee meetings
  • Interviews and speeches given by Lord Nolan
  • Press releases
  • Press cuttings

Research applications

The Nolan Committee Papers will be of interest to those studying politics, government or aspects of accountability in public office

Using Special Collections

The Special Collections room remains closed to visitors at present, researchers wishing to use the collections should contact the team by email at to discuss the options for scanning and document supply. We look forward to welcoming visitors when protection levels allow.


1.         DOIG A. ‘Cash for Questions’: Parliament’s Response to the Offence that Dare Not Speak its Name. Parliam Aff. 1998 Jan 1;51(1):36–50.

2.         Committee on Standards in Public Life [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2021 Apr 8]. Available from:

3.         The Seven Principles of Public Life [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2021 Apr 8]. Available from:

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