Motion to Agree
My Lords, the House is being invited this afternoon to agree two reports from the Committee for Privileges. The first report invites the House to agree to the committee’s conclusion that the House has the power to suspend any Member who has been found guilty of serious misconduct. The second report contains the committee’s conclusions and recommendations on the conduct of the four Peers who were the subject of allegations in the Sunday Times on 25 January. It embodies the findings of a detailed investigation by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, which were then reviewed by the Committee for Privileges.
We are debating these reports together. But I shall do my best to separate out the two sets of issues: the important points of general principle raised in the first report; and the questions of personal conduct covered in the second. However, I should make it clear from the outset that if the first report is not agreed to, I shall not be moving the Motion to agree the second report or the two subsidiary Motions on the Order Paper.
The first report arises out of the Leader’s letter to me dated 26 January, in which she asked if the Committee for Privileges could look into,
“the question of any sanctions in the event that a complaint is upheld”.
We sought the advice of the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General. We are grateful to her for her advice, which is published in full with this report. Essentially, the Attorney-General advised caution. In particular, she advised in clear terms that the House did not have the power to expel a Member permanently, since to do so would,
“interfere with the rights of a peer conferred by the Crown by letters patent”.
We fully endorse this conclusion in our report. As for temporary suspension, the Attorney-General acknowledged that the issue was “less clear”, and that a “respectable argument” could be made that the House’s power to regulate its own procedures does include a power of suspension. However, she advised that the “safer course” would be to wait until a legislative framework could be devised to confer such a power on the House.
It may be helpful if at this point I say something in general terms about the role of the Attorney-General in relation to the House of Lords. As the Government’s recent consultation paper on the role of the Attorney-General states, historically he or she,
“was expected to officiate as adviser and attendant when called upon but without enjoying any responsibility in the Upper House’s determinations”.
So once the Attorney-General’s advice has been given, it is for the House, on the recommendation of its committee, to consider it and to decide whether or not to accept it. A decision not to follow the Attorney-General’s advice will not be taken lightly, but the responsibility for the final decision rests with the House alone.
The committee decided on this occasion, as it has done in the past, and in light of the Attorney-General’s acknowledgement that a “respectable argument” could be advanced that the House had the power to suspend, to seek a second opinion. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a member of the committee and, of course, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, had already submitted a short note summarising his reasons for believing that the House did possess the power to suspend, and we therefore invited him to develop his initial note into the full memorandum which is annexed to the report. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, not only for his formal written advice, which is printed with our report, but for his counsel throughout recent months.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, endorsed the Attorney-General’s conclusion that expulsion would not be lawful. However, on temporary suspension, where the Attorney-General saw the arguments as balanced, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, advised very clearly that the House did have the power to suspend its Members. I will not try to summarise his arguments in detail, but in essence his advice was that the wording of the Writ of Summons implies the acceptance by Members of certain rules of procedure and conduct which are absolutely necessary if the House is effectively to perform its constitutional role as a Chamber of the legislature.
I draw noble Lords’ attention to the key paragraph in the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay: paragraph 38, on page 15 of the report. It states:
“I consider that the House’s existing power to adopt the procedures necessary to preserve ‘order and decency’ includes a power to suspend, for a defined period within the lifetime of a Parliament, a Member who has been found guilty of clear and flagrant misconduct. I consider further that the exercise of such a power would not affect the rights conferred upon Members by virtue of their letters patent; rather it would affirm the conditions implied in the writ of summons, that Members must conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of the House”.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, also advanced a secondary line of argument, and I would like to draw Members’ attention to the closing section of his paper, from paragraph 50 to the end. As recently as 1999, the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, while recommending that the House’s power to suspend be “clarified and confirmed”, stated in terms that the House of Lords,
“has power to imprison indefinitely”.
As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, says,
“the greater must include the lesser”.
The idea that the House has power to put a Member in jail, yet is powerless to impose a relatively short suspension, seems to me to be untenable.
Moreover, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, notes, the decision as to how the House imposes discipline on its Members,
“falls within the undoubted privilege of the House to regulate its own procedures”.
In short, the committee was unanimously persuaded by the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and concluded, therefore, that the House does have the power to suspend its Members.
Until recently, many of us have felt that standards of conduct in the House were so high and “peer pressure” so potent that the House needed no sanctions for dealing with misconduct other than “naming and shaming”. That was the view of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2000 and the view of the Committee for Privileges as recently as last year. But in light of recent events, we can no longer defend that position. We have to get our house in order. It is not just a matter of the conduct of the four Peers. The crisis facing the House has gone far wider than their conduct, and our response similarly must go wider. That is why I urge noble Lords, whatever their views on the second report and on the conduct of the four Peers, to agree the conclusions set out in bold on pages 4 and 5 of the first report, namely that the House has the power to suspend its Members for a defined period, not longer than the remainder of the current Parliament.
I turn now to the committee’s second report, on the conduct of the four Peers. Again, I must, on behalf of the House, express my thanks to the chairman and members of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests. The sub-committee was only appointed on Monday 19 January; less than a week later it found itself in the eye of the storm and engaged in probably the most arduous investigation of its kind ever undertaken by a committee of this House.
I should also like to express our gratitude to the staff of the House, and I personally add my own thanks. An astonishing amount of work has gone into the reports that are before us today. It reminds us how lucky we are in this House to have staff of the quality that we do.
As for the report itself, of course it is long, but I trust that noble Lords will have read it closely. It is accompanied by an even longer evidence volume. Everything has been published; the barest minimum, such as personal contact details, has been redacted. Again, I shall not attempt to summarise or paraphrase the report; it speaks for itself. However, I shall briefly set out the main conclusions and recommendations before closing with some more general comments.
I turn first to the code of conduct itself. Much of the sub-committee’s time, particularly in the initial stages of the investigation, was spent considering the meaning of certain specific provisions within the code of conduct. The first part of its report sets out its findings, and the Committee for Privileges, in paragraphs 15 to 35 of its report, confirms them. I invite all Members of the House to read the committee’s conclusions carefully. Of particular importance is the third bullet point, which confirms that any Member who expresses,
“a clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct thereby demonstrates a failure of ‘personal honour’ and [is] thus in breach of paragraph 4(b) of the Code”.
The code of conduct is not just about registration and declaration of interests; it is about Members’ conduct in their parliamentary duties, which includes the central requirement that Members should act on their personal honour. The no paid advocacy rule is another key provision against which the rest of the code must be read. The House, by agreeing the second report, will demonstrate that it is determined to ensure that the code of conduct is properly and rigorously applied and that it expects high standards of behaviour from its Members.
As for the four Peers, with regard to the noble Lord, Lord Moonie, the sub-committee concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish that he had expressed a clear willingness to breach the code of conduct. It is clear that some of his comments to the undercover journalists were inappropriate, and he has been invited to make a personal statement of apology to the House, but the report exonerates him of breaching the code of conduct.
Secondly, with regard to the noble Lord, Lord Snape, the sub-committee concluded, on balance of probabilities, that he had expressed a clear willingness to breach the code of conduct, and therefore found that he had failed to act on his personal honour. The Committee for Privileges, having considered the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, reversed this decision. While clearly he spoke loosely and used inappropriate language, as I think he would acknowledge, we were not persuaded that there was a clear willingness to breach the code. We accordingly exonerated him while recommending that he, too, should make a personal statement of apology to the House.
Finally, I turn to the cases of the noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn. In both cases the sub-committee found that they had expressed a clear willingness to engage in paid advocacy, and concluded therefore that they had failed to act on their personal honour. The Committee for Privileges unanimously endorsed these findings. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, the sub-committee stated that,
“the evidence against Lord Truscott is so clear and plentiful that we have little doubt that Lord Truscott was advertising his power and willingness to influence Parliament in return for a substantial financial inducement”.
In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, the sub-committee found that his conversations with the journalists,
“display his clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct by engaging in paid advocacy”.
Indeed, the claims of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to the undercover journalists regarding his past achievements were so outrageous that the sub-committee concluded either that,
“he had breached the Code in the past and was agreeing to breach it again”,
or that he was spinning a story, falsely suggesting that he would breach the code in future,
“in order to secure a lucrative contract”.
Either way, he failed to act on his personal honour as required by the code.
The appeals made by the noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor, against the sub-committee’s findings entirely failed to persuade the Committee for Privileges. We found them by turns misguided and implausible. We therefore upheld the findings of the sub-committee in full.
This episode has done serious damage to the reputation of the House. We all have responsibility, individually and collectively, to uphold that reputation. That is why personal honour remains the cornerstone of the House’s code of conduct. The noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn, have not, we believe, acted on their personal honour.
I know that one or two noble Lords may be concerned about a guidance note that was issued to the four noble Lords at the start of the investigation, to the effect that the House had no power to suspend its Members. This was standard guidance drawn up last year and subsequently published online. It is clear that the guidance, in stating this view without any qualification, was inaccurate. That is extremely unfortunate, but the fact is that, even as recently as last year, no one could possibly have anticipated the seriousness of the allegations that were made against the four Peers.
That is why the committee has had to look again at the powers of the House and has reached the conclusion set out in the first report. In particular we have concluded that the House has, and has always had, an inherent power to discipline its Members, and that the means by which it chooses to exercise that power falls within the regulation by the House of its own procedures. In accordance with that conclusion, we therefore recommend that the House should suspend the noble Lords, Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor, from the service of the House until the end of the current Session of Parliament.
I commend these two reports to the House, and I beg to move that the first report be agreed to.
My Lords, we are today at a dark moment for our Parliament and our democracy. The standing of Parliament is diminished, the reputation of parliamentarians is degraded, the trust that people place in Parliament and parliamentarians has sunk like a stone and people’s disgust with Parliament is palpable. Politicians have plunged Parliament and politics to the low at which we find ourselves. Democracy requires the consent of the people for it to function, but we stand at the point where the risk is that we as politicians no longer have the consent required. As a result, not only are our politics, our politicians and our Parliament stained but our very democracy is in danger.
Our job as politicians and parliamentarians is clear and our duty is obvious; we have to acknowledge that we have not been doing our job properly, apologise for what we have done, make radical changes to ensure that there can never be any repeat and, whenever it comes, await the judgment of the people. As a politician and a parliamentarian, I do not exclude myself from this. We politicians have not been doing our jobs in a way that people would want us to: with honesty, integrity and honour. I am sorry for that, and we all have a clear responsibility to do what we can to set right the wrongs that have taken place.
It is for the Commons to deal with the bulk of these issues, and this week’s events have shown that it is doing so. We have seen the Speaker of the other place announce that he is stepping down, and we have just debated a Statement setting out proposals for extensive reform of both this House and the Commons—crucially, a proposal to consult on a move from a system of self-regulation to independent external regulation. In this House, we announced yesterday that we are commissioning an independent external examination of financial support for Peers including allowances. This and other initiatives are significant steps, and I hope that they will help move Parliament as a whole towards a much better way of handling its affairs in these areas.
There remain particular issues, however, for this House to address and wrongs for it to right. We have before us two reports, as set out for the House by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I said to the House last week when we published these reports that I trusted, and knew, that the House would discharge properly the obligations that the reports placed upon it. Now is the moment for us to do so.
I shall address the three issues posed by the reports: first, the question of the sanctions available to this House, which is the subject of the first report; secondly, the conduct of the Members of this House who are the subject of the second report into the allegations made against them by the Sunday Times on 25 January; and, finally, the committee’s conclusions and recommendations in relation to those Members.
On the reports and recommendations on sanctions available to the House, I recognise that the report presents Members with a particular issue: it makes clear that this House has powers that Members may not have realised that it had. Some Members have come to me with a copy of the Companion in one hand, looking in the index in vain for the word “suspension”. Some have been surprised, therefore, that this House has, and has long had, the power to suspend Members.
I understand that point of view and have some sympathy with the perception, but the argument that the Committee for Privileges has put forward in its report is clear and compelling. It concludes that the House does have, and has for long had, the power both to discipline its Members and to suspend them for no longer than the remainder of the current Parliament. The committee had considerable assistance from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, the Attorney-General, and from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former Lord Chancellor. I am grateful to them for their advice.
The House has heard the points made in relation to that advice by the Chairman of Committees, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, in moving the Motion. The committee had two respectable views before it; one from the Attorney-General, which presented us in essence with a choice, and the other from the former Lord Chancellor. The committee decided on balance that, for the reasons advanced by the former Lord Chancellor, the House did have, and for long has had, the power to suspend a Member for a period within a Parliament on the grounds of misconduct.
This House will take a view on the powers in this area. I hope that it will agree with the report of the Committee for Privileges in relation to the sanctions that it has available, and I strongly urge and recommend that it does so. However, the report also makes it clear that the House has no power by resolution to expel a Member permanently. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice said at the time that the allegations were originally made that the Government would if necessary bring forward legislation on this issue, a point made on subsequent occasions to this House by my noble friend Lord Bach.
I now come to the second report of the committee. The material issues there are in relation to the conduct of Members of this House and whether their behaviour constitutes a breach of this House’s code of conduct. Before I address those issues, I turn to the conduct of the Sunday Times newspaper. From the moment at which my office and I became aware of the Sunday Times allegations, which was on the Friday before the Sunday on which they were published, this House has rightly treated those allegations seriously. At no point did we try to dismiss them or suggest that they were without foundation. Indeed, we did the opposite. On the very day that the allegations were published, I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, asking her as chair of the sub-committee to investigate them, a point that I was able to reinforce formally some weeks later once the police had made it clear that they did not intend to mount an inquiry into the complaints that they had received in relation to the allegations. I was then able formally to become the complainant to the sub-committee. It is precisely because we have taken these matters seriously and have continued to offer the Sunday Times assistance with legitimate inquiries in line with the other media outlets that I am able to comment further on the behaviour of the Sunday Times.
Like other media organisations and other journalists in similar situations, the Sunday Times claims that the subterfuge of its journalists in masquerading as public affairs consultants who sought to recruit Peers to table amendments on behalf of a commercial client was necessary to demonstrate something which it believed could not be demonstrated in any other way; classically, that the ends justified the means.
I am aware that many Members of this House disagree profoundly with this view. They regard the subterfuge deployed as deceit; they regard the masquerading as something rather more simple—lies— and they regard the action of the Sunday Times as entrapment. I can certainly see the force of those views, especially in the light of the Sunday Times’s recent pursuit of Members of this House, which some might regard as proper investigative journalism but others regard as the journalistic equivalent of stalking. I can see why such views are so strongly held by a number of Members of this House.
Some Members accordingly believe that we as a House and I as its Leader have given too much weight and credence to the allegations made by the Sunday Times. They point out with some force that the allegations are exactly like the “cash for questions” allegations, made again by the Sunday Times, about Members of the other place a decade or so ago—they are exactly like them, in fact, apart from the fact that, in this case, no cash changed hands and no amendments were tabled. But the value of the report that we have in front of us is precisely that it is not a piece of journalism, however noble or ignoble that may be, but a serious and sustained examination of, and inquiry into, a set of journalistic allegations.
Having considered the issues scrupulously and thoroughly, including the examination in person of all the Members who agreed to appear before the inquiry, the sub-committee came to its conclusions. The Committee for Privileges considered the findings of the sub-committee and considered, too, any appeals lodged by Members. As the complainant, I absented myself from any consideration of the appeals; the committee then accordingly made its recommendations, including in one case accepting one of the appeals. I fully concur with the conclusions of the committee of which, as Leader, I am a member. Its conclusions seem to me appropriate, fair and just; accordingly, they seem to me to be conclusions that this House will wish to endorse.
Thirdly, I turn to the penalties that the committee is considering. The committee is inviting two of the Members concerned to make personal statements to the House; I hope that the House will agree that this is an appropriate course of action and, if that were to be the decision of the House, I trust that the Members concerned would want to do no other than carry out what the House has decided.
In the case of the other two Members of the House, the penalties proposed arising from, but not linked to, the recommendations that the committee is making on the sanctions available to the House, including suspension, are rigorous. They are severe; they are tough. However, in line with the outcome of the investigation, I believe that they are also appropriate, fair and just. I know that some Members of this House would prefer less exacting penalties; I know, equally, that some Members would prefer even more considerable penalties. I believe that the committee has struck the right balance in the penalties that it recommends.
Much has been made of the fact that the proposed penalties for the two Members found by the Committee for Privileges to be in breach of the code of conduct would, if approved by the House today, mark the first suspensions of Members of your Lordships' House since the time of Cromwell. Just as the revelations of the past 10 days in relation to the other place may mark historic changes, so do we in this House stand at an historic moment. I believe that this House wants to see justice done for the Members of this House who have been found by the Committee for Privileges to be in breach of the code of conduct. I believe that this House wants to see a fair and just settlement and that such a settlement in the cases before us is there in the conclusions and their associated penalties that the committee proposes.
I believe, too, that the House wants to see justice done for itself and for the Members of this House more widely. During the course of this long process of inquiry, which is due to conclude today, Members of this House felt damaged and diminished by the conduct of Members of this House. I have had Members of this House come to me, as I am sure have other leaders from all parts of the House, and tell me what that has at times meant—being shouted at in the street, and their spouses reluctant to go into their local communities because of what people were saying, and Members’ sense of their own standing being demeaned and their reputations cut to ribbons.
I am proud of this House—proud of what it does, proud of how it does it, proud to sit on these Benches, and proud to be the Leader, and the servant, of this House. But I am saddened when the reputation of this House is sullied. I know that Members on all sides of this House have felt stained and ashamed at the disrepute to which this House has been brought. Shakespeare, of course, has the definitive word. Cassio, Othello’s loyal aide, catches the issue precisely when he tries to explain to the villainous Iago, who has manoeuvred to discredit him, what loss he has endured:
“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial”.
We have not, I believe, descended into the level of the beast. Indeed, if we take the right decisions—the decisions that the committee is recommending—I believe we can now start on the rebuilding of our reputation which this incident requires. Parliament is a building block of our nation, but the reputation of Parliament and parliamentarians is at stake. The honour, the integrity and the honesty of Parliament and parliamentarians is at stake, and the trust people have in Parliament is at stake. Make no mistake—we have a role to play; we have duties and responsibilities to discharge for the people whom we are here to serve. The moment is now to start on that task, and I urge this House to seize that moment, to make that start and to begin our part in the rebuilding of our Parliament and our politics. That is what our democracy requires.
My Lords, clearly, this is an extremely difficult day for this House. The allegations made against four Members of this House, whatever you think of the methods involved in securing the evidence, were grave. It was right that the allegations were published. It was in the public interest that they should be. Having seen the allegations, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, whose leadership in this affair has been decisive and effective, referred them to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests.
That was the appropriate action in a self-regulating House. The sub-committee convened within hours. It contacted the four Peers concerned the same day. Anyone who read the report of the sub-committee, who has studied the volume of evidence that it had to review and the transcripts of its many meetings, cannot but express respect and gratitude to the members of that sub-committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, or for the thoroughness and fairness with which they conducted their investigation. I also express my thanks to the Clerks of the House for the exemplary service given to the sub-committee and to the Committee for Privileges.
As a member of the Privileges Committee, I do not presume to speak for all my colleagues, but I can assure the House that every member of that committee treated both the report of the sub-committee and the appeals that were presented with the utmost objectiveness and care. Let it not be said by anyone, inside or outside the House, that those who were the subject of these allegations and findings were not fairly heard and objectively judged. I sincerely trust that we will have no statements inside or outside this Chamber suggesting otherwise.
As has been said, as well as considering the findings of the sub-committee, the Committee for Privileges had to consider sanctions and what penalties are available to the House in dealing with such matters. The committee considered the most useful advice given to it by the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General, for which we were exceedingly grateful. We also had the benefit of a learned paper from my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. Having considered the opinions carefully, the Committee for Privileges decided unanimously that your Lordships’ House has every right to require all noble Lords to conduct themselves in accordance with the orders, rules and standards of the House, and an inherent power to enforce conformity with them.
This House has the right to fine and even to imprison its Members. This was reaffirmed as recently as 1999. The Privileges Committee considered carefully if it also has a right to suspend Members from the service of the House. It concluded unequivocally that it has. I urge the House to accept that advice.
The argument before us is that to suspend would interfere with the right of a Peer to sit and vote in Parliament. The Companion has for years advised us that Peers should be especially cautious before speaking on matters where they have direct interests shared by few others. Is that unlawful? Our Standing Orders contain provision for a resolution that a noble Lord “be no longer heard”. Is that unlawful? Section 4(d) of the code of conduct forbids Peers who have a pecuniary interest from voting on a Bill or Motion, or from promoting anything. Is that unlawful?
Noble Lords have a right to be here by virtue of a Writ of Summons, but surely your Lordships have the power—indeed, the duty—to regulate the behaviour of Members. A House that fines or imprisons its Members must surely be able to exercise a power to suspend. It may be said that this power has not been used since the 17th century, but the fact that it was used then means that it pre-dates the resolution of your Lordships’ House in 1705 which resolved that no new privilege could be created by resolution. No new power is being created today. There is therefore no retrospection and no manufactured new sentence. In these extraordinary times, we have seen in another place action being taken that has not been taken since 1695. I do not hear anyone saying that that was out of order for that reason.
No one raises an eyebrow when an errant Member of another place is suspended; I see no reason why we should not use our power to do so here. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House have introduced the reports before your Lordships. I will not repeat what they have said; their recommendations and the reports speak for themselves. I believe that all four of the Peers concerned fell short of the highest standards the House and the public are entitled to expect. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, the Committee for Privileges found a clear willingness to breach the code of conduct by engaging in paid advocacy. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, the committee found that the evidence was so clear and plentiful that it concluded the noble Lord was advertising his power and willingness to influence Parliament in return for a substantial financial inducement. Both noble Lords were willing to breach the code’s prohibition on paid advocacy and both had failed to act—as the House expects of all of us—on their honour.
These findings make a sad conclusion by the committee. It is an unhappy conclusion, but it is also, in my judgment, a fair and just one. The public expect that this House will react with firmness and unity to show its abhorrence of wrong-doing and any propensity to it. I therefore commend the reports to the House, and I will support the Motions before us this afternoon.
My Lords, I echo the tribute that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has paid to the Lord President. I do not think that any Leader of the House could have been more tested by fire than she has been in trying to deal with this matter. The House is in her debt for the way in which she has led us through it.
Forty-three years ago I sat in Central Lobby, waiting to be interviewed by Arthur Skeffington MP for my first job as assistant general-secretary of the Fabian Society. I still remember the sense of awe I felt for this building and what it stands for. In the four decades since, I have had many roles but I still enter this building with that same sense of awe, combined these days with a sense of privilege at being able to serve here. Therefore, I approach this debate with a sense of duty and responsibility, but also sadness. Sitting in judgment on friends and colleagues is never pleasant. Indeed, there may be some sitting here today who, having read the transcripts of evidence, are thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. For let us be clear, what we are dealing with here is a case of entrapment, not of exposure. It is important for the public to understand that the Sunday Times, with all the resources of its insight team, could not find a single example of a Peer who was actually paid for getting an amendment passed. The reason for that is very clear. In this House—this is one of its strengths since 1999—no single party, let alone a lone Peer, could amend a Bill in this way. If you ask, “What about the claims made by Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor?”, I would reply that it is there that they failed to act on personal honour by allowing a salesman’s hype to get in the way of the truth.
The fact that they were willing to sell their services in the first place is enough to condemn them in the eyes of some. However, I put that matter into context. When I came into this House in 1996, I was employed by a company which involved itself in lobbying. I appeared before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his committee and the rules as drawn up reflect the evidence I gave at that time. It was recognised that there was a difference between advice and advocacy. However, it also recognised that it was proper for noble Lords to offer themselves as public affairs advisers and many have, and still do. We could, of course, draw up far more draconian rules and ban advice as well as advocacy, as does the American Senate, but such rules would have to include the work of law firms and accountancy firms, and others who offer public affairs advice in their capacity as non-executive directors or members of advisory boards.
I have gone into this background in some detail because the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, calls me in aid by name in his appeal. What he says is true. I have long argued that our rules on lobbying are too vague for modern circumstances and include many grey areas in terms of personal behaviour. But it is too easy simply to say that the rules should ban lobbying. Show me a parliament without lobbying, and I will show you a parliament without power.
The key to this matter, as in so much else at present besetting us, is transparency and accountability. The three professional bodies overseeing lobbyists and lobbying companies are in the process of creating a single umbrella organisation for the industry. I hope that Parliament will respond to that by entering into urgent discussions with the new body to create clear and enforceable rules of conduct which will be embodied in the codes of conduct of lobbying firms and Parliament. This could well involve a bar on paying parliamentarians for their advice.
In this, as in other matters, we have to face the fact that we do not receive a salary, and many noble Lords have to earn a living outside the House. Unless we are content to have this House comprised of men and women of independent means living within the M25, we will have to face up to the reality that all noble Lords who earn a living outside the House risk the danger of straying into the grey areas to which I have referred. That is why I welcome the Leader of the House setting up a review of our codes of conduct, and these should be looked at in terms of those who work outside the House.
These points about entrapment and the grey areas in our present rules are, in part, an explanation of why the Privileges Committee restricted the findings to a breach of paragraph 4(b) of the code—a failure to act on personal honour. We were right to do so, and I hope the House and the four individuals concerned will accept the findings when we vote at the end of this debate.
On the matter of the report before us on the powers of the House, it is some measure of the difficulty we faced and had to grapple with that we had to go back four centuries to determine our powers. We were immensely indebted to the Attorney-General and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for their advice. I have no doubt that we came to the right conclusion, and I hope that the House today will endorse the conclusion contained on pages 4 and 5 of the report. To do otherwise would validate the rather unwise words of the noble Lord, Lord Moonie:
“there's virtually nothing they can do”.
If that were to be proved true by us rejecting the report on powers we would quite frankly become a laughing stock.
I am aware that some noble Lords will argue that by asserting the right to suspend, the Privileges Committee has moved the goal posts. The guidance notes sent to the four Peers did say that,
“the House has no power to suspend or expel a Member”.
As the report clearly demonstrates, that advice was wrong. The House will have to listen to the arguments in deciding whether or not that wrong advice irretrievably polluted the process. For my part, it seems a bit rum to say, “My defence would have been different if I had thought the consequences were different”. Anyone reading the evidence—I echo the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—will see that the sub-committee bent over backwards to be fair, as did the Privileges Committee in receiving the sub-committee report and the appeals of the four Members.
So I am urging noble Lords to approve both reports and the actions they recommend. Like other speakers, I put on record my profound gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and her colleagues, and to the staff of this House. But, as the Lord President indicated, this cannot be the end of the matter. Each and every one of us has to act on personal honour to uphold the honour of this House. This means action this day in voting for the report before us. It means urgent action to clarify the rules governing lobbying and lobbyists—if possible by working out a sanctions-backed code with the new industry body now being established, and a register of lobbyists working in Parliament and their clients.
It means dealing with equal urgency with the allowances regime, which is also vaguely drawn and lightly policed. The House Committee took some steps in that direction yesterday. We should also bring forward the review of the role of the Lord Speaker to see whether that role in protecting the reputation of the House can be strengthened.
Finally—and I make no apology for returning to it—this House has to accept that the next stage of reform cannot be postponed until some time in the next decade. If there is a change of Government, it is likely that the notional membership of this House will rise above 800. I do not believe that the public mood is for accepting such a situation. There is still time in this Parliament to bring forward the reforms, as we discussed earlier.
As I have said, I have now been around this building for 40 years. I love it and what it stands for. I still believe that those who serve here at both ends of the building are, in the main, motivated by a commitment to worthy ideas and ideals and that our public life is still relatively free of corruption. However, protecting that honour requires eternal vigilance and, where necessary, firm action. We are at such a defining moment. Although Parliament has suffered damage, its foundations go deep and its walls are strong. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that Parliament could no longer be run like a gentleman’s club. He is right, and our decisions today will be the clearest indication that the House of Lords has received that message loud and clear.
My Lords, we live in a world of euphemisms—extraordinary rendition, collateral damage and quantitative easing—but I suggest that the word “honour” still has the same currency that it has had for hundreds of years. Moreover, it is fairly straightforward to translate the concept of honour into actions. Your Lordships have the additional guidance of both the Nolan principles, to which all those in public service sign up, and the code of conduct, which applies specifically to your Lordships’ House.
Thomas Jefferson rightly said:
“When a man assumes a public trust, he should consider himself as public property”.
There is an obligation on each and every Member to uphold the dignity of this House and to be seen to be doing so. Why is that so important? It is generally acknowledged that in recent years this House has performed an increasingly decisive democratic role in scrutinising legislation and holding the Government of the day to account. It is also rather widely felt that this role is both essential and well acquitted by your Lordships. The tragedy of the events described and painstakingly analysed in the two reports that we are debating today is that the democratic role may itself be judged to be inadequate and that the work of the great majority of this House’s Members will likewise be denigrated. Not only is this painful for all of us but it has constitutional significance. There is a huge task ahead of building public confidence. Public fury and disenchantment cannot be underestimated.
In Parliament, as a bicameral legislative body, there is a specific role for this House. We are now embarked on a programme to educate the wider public in informal and formal ways about not only what is achieved in this House but what measures are now being taken to ensure future transparency. We would do well to remember that a peerage is for life. We are not subject to a five-yearly public audit, and that is all the more reason to have strong codes—even stricter perhaps than those that operate in the other place. The two reports are part of that process and will be judged by the fairness with which those accused of breaching the code of honour have been treated, as well as the efforts that have been made to impose appropriate sanctions.
The House is an ancient institution, as are its powers, and these, it seems, have not fallen into desuetude. The media may discount the care with which these events have been dealt with and the punishment proposed. However, I think that we know and accept that the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges have considered the cases individually and in depth, and that sanctions, although severe, are indeed appropriate.
Finally, I add my thanks to all those staff who have been engaged in the enormous amount of work involved in producing these reports. I also thank the members of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and my colleagues on the Committee for Privileges for the care, balance and tolerance that they have shown in arriving at their decisions, which I very much hope will be accepted by the whole House today.
My Lords, near the start of what will be a long debate, I shall, if I may, say a very few words about the point of law on which the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, have expressed different views.
They both agree that there is no power to exclude a Member permanently. They both agree that the House has power to regulate its own procedure. The only question that divides them is whether that power includes a power to suspend. The Attorney-General argues in paragraph 14 of her memorandum that the power to suspend is outside what she calls the mere regulation of our own procedures. In my view, the power to regulate our procedure goes wider than she implies.
The House, like any other body, has power to make rules for its own governance. Like any other body, it must have power to enforce those rules. In the case of the most serious breaches, suspension for a limited period would seem to be the common sense answer, unless that is excluded for some reason. The Attorney-General argues that it is indeed excluded because it is inconsistent with a Member’s right under his Letters Patent to sit and vote in Parliament. But that right is not absolute. It is a right that depends for its exercise on the Member receiving a Writ of Summons. The writ itself imposes certain duties on Members, including by implication a duty to obey the rules of the House.
It follows, in my view, that the power of the House to impose sanctions for breach of its rules, including a power to suspend, exists and has always existed by necessary implication in the Writ of Summons. I would take that view even though that power may never have been spelt out until now, and even if it had never been exercised. The Attorney-General also argues that the power to suspend is excluded by a binding resolution of both Houses of Parliament in 1705. I am not sure in what sense that resolution can be said to be binding, having regard to the constitutional principle that no Parliament can bind its successors. Putting that on one side, I cannot agree that by asserting now a power to suspend Members for breach of the rules of the House, the House is thereby creating for itself a privilege in any ordinary or indeed in any possible sense of that word. If it is creating a privilege, it is, for all the reasons I have mentioned, not a new privilege.
Finally, the Attorney-General draws attention to a view expressed by the then Clerk of the Parliaments in 1998 in evidence before the Joint Committee on Privileges. Any view coming from that source is entitled to the greatest respect. I have looked at that report and its predecessor, but we should not regard ourselves as being bound by that view, especially as the committee itself reached no conclusion one way or the other. It follows that I agree with the views more fully, and I suspect much more accurately, expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and summarised so well in paragraph 8 of the report. There is only one very small respect in which I would venture to disagree with the noble and learned Lord, when he says in paragraph 36 that he would expect the period of suspension for breach of the rules to be relatively short. He was not of course talking about this particular case, and nor am I. But I can imagine cases of a serious breach occurring near the beginning of a Parliament in which the suspension of the Member would be longer, perhaps very much longer, than is possible in these cases.
My Lords, perhaps I may detain the House briefly with a matter that has already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and others. It relates to the advice given to the four Peers before and indeed during the committee’s sitting. These are matters of which many noble Lords may be unaware and the references made in those speeches were, if I may say so, dealt with very lightly, and do not give the full picture. It may assist the House to have just a little more background.
In January, before the Committee for Privileges sat, as I understand it, each of the four Peers, but certainly the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was sent a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, accompanied by the code of conduct and by a document that is now in the Printed Paper Office—I know that it was not earlier when other noble Lords were asking for it—headed, Guidance for Members of the House of Lords against whom a Complaint is made. Paragraph 6 of that guidance note states in the clearest possible terms:
“The House has no power to suspend, expel or fine its Members. If a complaint is upheld, therefore, the only sanction available to the Sub-Committee and the Committee for Privileges is to bring the conduct of the Member concerned to the attention of the House”.
It then continues to describe other matters that relate to failure to declare interests. That was the guidance that each of those four Peers received before they were summoned before the committee. That guidance has been dismissed as wrong, but it was of course wholly in accordance with the advice that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, gave subsequently, which was that there was no such power to suspend. No doubt whoever drafted the guidance did so on the basis of that position.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, handed those documents to his legal advisers and took their legal advice, which was based, in part, on that guidance. As a result, he did not himself give evidence before the committee, although he was represented. As we have heard, there was the later, detailed advice from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and now a suspension is recommended to this House in two cases as a result of that advice being accepted by the committee.
That advice may be right, it may be wrong. It is for your Lordships to make up your minds. I am not a constitutional lawyer and I do not propose to try to argue one way or the other. I listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, just said. What was undoubtedly the position was that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, did not know of that advice until after the report was published. Indeed, it is not clear to me from the few members of the committee to whom I have spoken whether they were made aware of the guidance that had been sent to the four Peers beforehand.
As a matter of natural justice and fairness, surely it cannot be right to start what was in effect a disciplinary procedure on one basis, conduct the proceedings on that basis and subsequently change tack, so as, in effect—I deliberately use these words—to impose a retroactive punishment. Certainly one of the noble Lords took advice based on the guidance given by this House. Whether he would have given evidence or not otherwise, I clearly do not know, but it seems that there has been a breach of natural justice in the procedure adopted that could lead to an extremely embarrassing legal challenge subsequently, if we proceed to suspend.
It may be that we disregard natural justice in relation to matters about which we feel particularly strongly; I hope that we do not. It may be that although the European Convention on Human Rights makes it clear that we are entitled to a fair trial, sometimes the greater political need causes us to be blind to that. I urge the House to be very slow indeed in rejecting paragraphs 14 and 15 of appendix 1 to the report in which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, urges caution. There are many ways in which we can expel people from this House in ways that do not involve the word expulsion. We can, for example, invite them to take leave of absence. We can also, if they insist on coming, move that they are no longer heard. We have many ways of making this House’s displeasure known.
We have come here, all of us, with heavy hearts, to try to protect the integrity of a place about which we care greatly. That is all the more reason, in an atmosphere packed with emotion, that we should get it right. If we suspend, having told these four Peers in advance that that was not going to happen, it seems to me that we are running a grave risk of breaching natural justice, which we want to see preserved.
My Lords, the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is of great constitutional significance, and, having heard the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, it would be presumptuous of me to say anything more than that I respectfully agree. I therefore need say nothing more about the first report of the Committee for Privileges, except that I hope the House will agree with it and endorse the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay.
The second report deals with the conduct of the four Members of the House. I shall deal in a few moments with the plea in mitigation which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has just made and with which I profoundly disagree. That report deals with the fairness of the procedures of the sub-committee’s report, with the interpretation of the code and with the conduct of the Members found to have breached the code.
The sub-committee is not a court of law and has not determined any criminal charge. Nor has it determined any civil right. It has performed its role as a disciplinary body acting on behalf of the committee and the House under the House’s extensive and essential powers of self-regulation. In doing so, the sub-committee and the committee as a whole have acted independently and impartially, with conspicuous fairness, in accordance with the fundamental principles of natural justice, and with scrupulous care as to the evidence. Because the committee and the sub-committee have not determined a criminal charge or a civil right of any Member of the House, it is quite clear that there is no question of any breach of the European convention. If the noble Lords, Lord Truscott or Lord Taylor, were to complain to the European Court of Human Rights of any alleged violation of their convention rights, their complaints would undoubtedly be declared inadmissible.
The sub-committee and the committee decided, in the light of the seriousness of the allegations, that particularly strong evidence was required before they could be satisfied that the allegations were proved. The four Members were fairly informed of the case against each of them. They each received legal advice. They each had a fair opportunity to answer what had been put to them, both in writing and orally. The record of their interviews, which is now before the House, shows the conspicuous, courteous and fair way in which the sub-committee questioned them. However, the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, a former Minister of the Crown, who had the benefit of the advice both of a partner of the firm Bindman and Partners and apparently of the former DPP Sir Ken Macdonald QC, treated attack as his best line of defence. He alleged in his letter before the House of 4 May to the chairman of the Committee for Privileges that the sub-committee’s report bore very little relation to the evidence he had given at the hearing. He described the sub-committee’s conclusions as,
“a crude attempt to arrive at a predetermined judgement”—
an allegation of actual bias on the part of the members of the sub-committee. He also claimed that the report was,
“surprisingly and disappointingly intellectually flawed”.
The noble Lord’s letter of appeal continues even more bizarrely:
“At the Hearing itself I felt like a Guantanamo inmate. I was continually interrupted, with one Member in particular being aggressive and descending at times into sarcasm. I at once felt that my ‘guilt’ had been prejudged. My wife, whose uncle spent time in the Gulag, can't escape a feeling of déjà vu. 1930s Russia. Stalin is in power. Political committees decide an individual's fate on the basis of ill-founded allegations and without any evidence of actual wrongdoing”.
I have read and reread the entire record and the sub-committee’s full report. There is no basis for the extraordinary attack that was mounted by the noble Lord, which aggravates his misconduct and demonstrates a total lack of judgment or self-knowledge.
As for the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, his lawyers alleged in his appeal that the finding against him could not stand,
“because it was reached through an unfair process”,
and that he was,
“denied basic procedural safeguards guaranteed by domestic and international law, and by the House of Lords own rules. Not least of these is the right to know the charges against you and to test the evidence against you through cross-examination … and the right to confront your accuser”.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, declined the invitation to present his appeal in person to the Committee for Privileges. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, also refused to appear before the sub-committee. Instead, he submitted a statutory declaration. As a result, the sub-committee at no stage had the opportunity to question him on the detail of his defence. However, the evidence against him was cogent and compelling.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was advised throughout by Finers Stephens Innocent. His lawyers raised procedural and legal objections based on what the sub-committee rightly described as a “fundamental misconception” of its role. In my view, they were also based on a fundamental misconception of both domestic law and international human rights law. In his letter of 17 February, Mr Mark Stephens alleged that the sub-committee,
“appear to wish to proceed by flouting both the letter and spirit of the right to a fair trial, guaranteed under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
In his letter of 12 March, he referred to what he described as the “pretence in the code” about the fairness of the procedures. These and other criticisms were entirely misguided.
A further point is now made in an attempt, I think, to persuade the House not to suspend either the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, or the Lord Taylor, from the service of the House until the end of the current Session. It is apparently said by Mark Stephens, the lawyer of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and repeated fairly and properly by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that they were not warned that the House had the power to suspend and that the guidance sent to them stated clearly—as it did—that the House had no power to suspend, so they will face a retrospective penalty. That might be a good argument if it could be shown that it would have made any difference to their conduct or their dealings with the sub-committee or committee if they had known that there was a power to suspend. However, that has not been suggested by Mr Stephens or the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. It would be entirely unrealistic to suppose that if the noble Lords had known of the possible penalty, they would have advanced any defence of their conduct that has not already been considered by the committee.
Accordingly, that does not constitute a good and sufficient reason for this House to reject the committee’s recommendation as to the sanction of suspension that it has proposed. I really respect the commitment of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, to natural justice and fairness; I entirely share it as a human rights lawyer and a public lawyer. However, I do not consider that there is a breach of the principles of natural justice or fairness, which are flexible principles. They are not conceivably breached in this case, and the penalties are in my judgment entirely proportionate.
My Lords, I shall talk briefly on this issue; I do not think this is an appropriate occasion for a long debate. I do not intend to focus at all on the contents of the two reports in so far as they deal with the facts. If we wish to have a plausible process in which we consider the disciplining of our Members, we can do it only on the basis that those who look in detail at the evidence are respected in relation to what they do. I have read both reports. The work done by the sub-committee is utterly unimpeachable. There were 18 hearings. It has heard the evidence and analysed it with great care, and we should leave it to make the conclusions. It would not be fair for us to deal with an analysis of the facts on the basis of a casual look ourselves.
It must be clear that we are determining this on the basis of the facts, not on any basis to pander to public opinion. It must be our decision, based on the facts. I shall focus therefore only on the process. First, I believe that the advice given by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland opened the door, quite rightly, to the possibility that there was a power to suspend. I believe it to be right that the body which decided whether or not to say that there was the power to suspend was the Committee for Privileges, which was greatly assisted by my noble and learned friend in doing that. I agree entirely with the memorandum put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who gets it precisely right.
Secondly, I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who says that there is necessarily a clash between what my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland says and what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, says. It does not matter. We should support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, says, because it seems to me to have a plausible disciplinary process. The idea that you cannot suspend is, with respect, not plausible.
Thirdly, paragraphs 39 to 53 of the sub-committee’s report, which is published as an annex to the second report of the Committee for Privileges, give a totally clear and insightful account of our obligations in relation to paid advocacy. We should adopt them as a House because they make absolutely clear that there is no real doubt about what is across the line. For example, is there anyone in this House who cannot distinguish between the eminent doctor who speaks in this House and urges it to give more money for the National Health Service where she may be employed and will therefore benefit—about which we have no complaint—and a Member of this House who is willing to make speeches and try to persuade other Members to pursue a particular aim in legislation because they are paid? That is where the line is drawn and that is the point that my noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg makes clear. Do not be distracted by any arguments about the greyness of the line. The position was very clearly identified.
The third and final point—
My Lords, to quote my successor, accountancy was never my strong point. Tragically, everyone is nodding. On the point made by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, if one looks at the evidence bundle, there is a letter in which those acting on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, say that this is a process which affects, “my reputation and my livelihood”. I completely agree with that analysis. I find it totally implausible that, “Because I did not realise the House could suspend me, I thereby conducted my proceedings in a different way”. I have thought very carefully about this important point, which was made incredibly well by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, and I do not think that it would have made any difference. Therefore, the view I have formed is that it will not affect the way I vote. I will vote in favour of the first report and, if it is accepted, I will vote in favour of the second report.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General for their assistance. It is one of the duties of the Attorney-General to advise Parliament, sometimes at short notice and frequently in uncharted territory. The Attorney-General has referred to a respectable argument. When I hear these words, I reach out for an illusory book of precedents. I have had to use it myself. It does not mean that there is solid and unassailable authority for a conclusion. In the absence of firm authority, it is the best that one can do. Having read them very closely, I prefer the conclusions of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. The Attorney-General is right to conclude that the safer course is to create a legislative framework to confer a power of suspension. She is right about that. However, such legislation could not be retrospective. We are dealing with the situation as we find it.
It is common ground that we cannot exclude a Member permanently. Otherwise, a wicked majority might wish to exclude the whole of the Opposition. That could have advantages for some. Secondly, the House, on this common ground, could imprison, despite practical difficulties, or fine. The latter, in the present circumstances, has its own attractions.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has argued that we would not be extending our privileges if we adopted our procedures to preserve order and decency. It is a long-standing power. We have done so in other contexts. We draw up the rules about the House, and we have undoubtedly used that as part of our privileges.
While nothing is certain in this field, I conclude, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has done, that we have the inherent power to suspend for a defined period within the lifetime of a Parliament a Member guilty of clear and flagrant misconduct. It is dangerous and unnecessary to give alternative illustrations of facts. We are dealing with particular facts as found by the Committee for Privileges. I ask myself: if a Member behaves in an inappropriate fashion—which is, of course, subject to a subjective judgment—is the House powerless to act? I conclude that it is not.
There is no valid argument against suspension, except that it has not been done before for a long time. Common sense dictates that, if you can imprison or fine, it should be within our power to impose a lesser penalty.
My Lords, I do not want to prolong the legal debate. However, I would like to make one point about the position of the advice and the contrasting advice that has been given. To disclose my position, I support the conclusions of the first report and, with a heavy heart, the conclusions of the second report.
I had the privilege, when I held the office that my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland now holds, to advise both this House—for example in the debate on reasonable chastisement—and the Committee for Privileges from time to time. I regarded those occasions as occasions for advice and as somewhat different from the occasions when the Government were asking whether a particular course was lawful. I see no dishonour whatever if this House takes the view—and the noble Lord the Lord Chairman is right to say that it is for this House to do it—that it prefers one legal view over another. There is no dishonour at all, not least because the noble and learned Baroness made it clear in her advice that she saw that there was a respectable view both ways. Therefore, I very much hope that, if the House decides to vote for the first report—as I will—she will not take that as any taint whatever on the very high regard in which I certainly hold her and I know that others do as well.
My Lords, I want to say one other thing about this. I reached the conclusion, for the reasons that have been advanced—I do not want to repeat them—that we do have the power to suspend. I am glad to have reached that conclusion, because I would have been unhappy if this House did not have such a power to regulate its own procedure. I would have been unhappy justifying our present position as a self-regulating House if we did not have such a power. I emphasise—I respectfully urge noble Lords to view the matter the same way—that the question is not whether we would like to have the power, but whether we do have the power. My conclusion is that we do have the power and, as it happens, that we should exercise it as well. The reputation of this House is high because we have the ability and we have exercised the power to regulate our procedures and our Members in the past, not because we are going to arrogate a new power to ourselves today.
My Lords, the will of the House indicates that we hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay.
My Lords, I participated in this business with a heavy heart, as many noble Lords have expressed today. But one thing I am absolutely clear about is that all in the Privileges Committee and the sub-committee wanted to be fair to our colleagues in every possible respect. The noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General knows that I have the utmost respect for her and that in the past I have shown some small but tangible evidence of that. She pointed out that there was a respectable argument the opposite way and I did my duty for the Privileges Committee to explore it. I think she would accept that the argument presented in my memorandum is sufficiently respectable to command a good deal of support in this House. But I am not at all dismissive of the opinion of the Attorney-General and of course I spoke to her before I submitted anything to the Committee for Privileges. I said that I was minded to do something like this and we had a conversation, the content of which is between us.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the House will wish to be fair in every respect to our colleagues. The position that has to be kept in mind is that the Committee for Privileges had no power to impose the sanction of suspension. That sanction, if it is to be imposed, is imposed for the first time in this House. By the time we come, if we do, to impose a suspension, it should be noted that the noble Lords in question had been clearly warned that the House, on the advice of the Committee for Privileges, considers that it has the power to suspend. The noble Lords have been warned that these resolutions are going down today and that if they have anything to say in respect of the treatment they have received or can suggest that what they did would have been different if they had realised that, after all, the House has this power, this is their opportunity to do so. It has been made abundantly clear to them that they may speak in these debates and in respect of the resolutions which are to be moved separately from the reports.
My Lords, I apologise if my very brief point appears to be a diversion. We are all grateful to the Lord President, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, the sub-committee, and the Privileges Committee for the energy and determination that they have given to this problem.
Before we forget, five noble Lords were mentioned in the report in the Sunday Times on 25 January. One of them—my noble friend Lord Rogan—said, “No, I can’t do that. It would not be right”. That should not be forgotten today. I am grateful to him for representing what I believe was the honour of the House and I would not like this debate, sad though it is—and “sad” is the dominant word—to finish without those of us here acknowledging that at least one of our Members upheld the honour of this House. I am grateful to him and I think that other noble Lords will also be grateful.
My Lords, as I have now been mentioned in despatches so often, it is only right that I should make clear to the House the position that I hold. But first I should say that it is right that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and I have had a long association. Many noble Lords will know that it was he who had the poor judgment to agree to my taking silk at the age of 35. He reminds me often that it is said that he appointed the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, because he knew she was a Scot, and me because he believed I was a Scot.
My Lords, let me make plain what my position is as Attorney. I was invited to assist the committee in relation to a vexed matter which had tested the House on a number of occasions since 1642. The House had struggled with this matter in 1705 and 1956, and then again in 1999 and 2008. I was clear that any advice I gave to the committee could not and would not bind the House; it is for the House to determine how it should respond. I should also make clear that I felt keenly indeed the position in which the House was placed; all noble Lords are concerned about the honour of this House and would feel besmirched if any of our Members behaved in such a way as to bring us all into disrepute. But my role as Attorney is not to give the House the advice it may wish, but the advice it needs to hear in order for the House then to make its own decision.
It is important that the House understands the constitutional enormity of what it is about to do; in all its history it has never suspended a Member. It is open to the House to do so but it has to consider whether these changed times entitle and oblige it to act differently. However, because there is no external scrutiny of what your Lordships do—no one can gainsay your Lordships’ decision—your Lordships need to be slow, judicious and careful indeed before you exercise this power, particularly at this time when there is a furore about our constitutional arrangements.
We have had a careful and seasoned debate. I make it plain that, as Attorney for the time being, I am much comforted to see past Attorneys, who may have given similar advice which has been rejected, here with me. It is important, therefore, that the House understands that I gave the advice without fear or favour and without even looking at the facts complained about. I will not personally vote on either the first report or the second because I take the view that, as the adviser to the House, it would be inappropriate for me so to do. But I absolutely understand, without any doubt at all, the anger, concern and hurt that the House feels.
It is for the House to determine whether it seeks now to accrue unto itself a power that it has never hitherto exercised. The only time this was ever done was when the republic was in being, Cromwell was in position, and two loyalist Lords were suspended because they went to the King as opposed to coming to this Parliament. For that reason, and that reason alone, they were suspended. In 1705 our House determined that that was not a proper purpose. I do not say for a moment that this House cannot do that which it may choose to do; I simply say be cautious, be proportionate and consider what the best course is. I trust this House and I am sure that it will come to the right conclusion.
My Lords, we have had some impressive speeches today. I have certainly enjoyed the debate. As a non-lawyer, I have found it a great privilege to listen to such eminent legal brains as those we have heard from today, including the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General.
There is little for me to say in summing up. I listened carefully to the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, but I suspect that they were answered far better by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, than I could possibly do. I will say only, in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, that indeed there were those who did not fall for this scam, and we should remember that there are still good people about. However, as the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General said, it is a matter for this House to decide, and I suggest that it now does so. I beg to move.