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Parliamentary Standards Bill

Volume 712: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

Third Reading

Moved by

Moved by

Clause 9, page 6, line 14, after “procedures” insert “or any conditions under subsection (5)(b) or (7)(c)”

My Lords, when we discussed this question earlier on Report, I said, on the basis of some amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that I was happy to go away and consider an amendment which would make it clear that IPSA should consult when deciding what conditions it would specify for the commissioner to be able to exercise his or her powers to settle an investigation without referring it to the Standards and Privileges Committee. This amendment fulfils that commitment. Unlike the noble Lord’s amendment, which was to subsection (9), this amends subsection (10) so that it reads:

“In determining the procedures or any conditions under subsection (5)(b) or (7)(c), the IPSA must consult”,

the bodies set out in the clause—that is, the Leader of the House of Commons, the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, the commissioner and any other person the IPSA considers appropriate.

As I explained on Report, the conditions may go beyond those which relate simply to the rectification of the error. That is another reason why we could not accept the noble Lord’s amendment as it stood, but we accepted the principle that IPSA should consult on setting the conditions. I hope that the House will agree that this fulfils the commitment that I made. I beg to move.

My Lords, I believe that the noble Baroness has been as good as her word and that we have improved this clause. I was very grateful when she indicated her acceptance of the amendments that I moved earlier today, and I consider her latest amendment to be an improvement. I think we have improved the Bill but whether we have improved it enough to make it a tolerable piece of legislation is something that I must leave to other people to judge. I do not think that it is.

My Lords, with Third Reading we now have a Bill, hatched and dispatched in a great deal of hurry, which I believe is far better than when it started out, thanks to the work of noble Lords on both sides of the House—in particular, those who involved themselves in the complexities of the legal aspects of the Bill, which had to be faced and were faced. The noble Baroness has been of great benefit to those of us who have an interest in the Bill. Her patience has been extraordinary and she has been very relaxed and amenable about the Bill.

We have to face the fact that the Bill has been hatched and dispatched in a great hurry as we were facing, and still are facing, a crisis of confidence in the other place. They had it coming to them. I am sorry that they are depressed; I am sorry that they are having nervous breakdowns; but when I look back some 40 years to when I first went to that House, I remember we had votes every night at 10 o’clock and very much later and we had votes every morning in Standing Committees on Bills. Members of Parliament came from all the professions, from business, from industry and from trade unions and they were an adornment in that House.

What has happened subsequently has not happened overnight but over 20 or 30 years and outside interests are now frowned on. Members bring outside expertise to the House—they have more time to pursue those interests as the House does not sit anything like as long as previously—but in the Bill we still have the provision about outside interests. I am disappointed that we still have the silly provision in Clause 8(10)(b),

“indirect financial interest (such as a financial interest of a member of the family of the member concerned)”.

Some families are very large and it seems to me that we are expecting a great deal of them. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has helped me to digest the indigestible by dealing with the compliance section in regard to this far more favourably. I am very grateful to her, as I am sure are all noble Lords.

My Lords, as we come to the end of this Bill it is perhaps appropriate to say one or two things. This has been an interesting Bill to be involved with. The circumstances are quite difficult and strange. As I said at Second Reading, it is one of those Bills that we shall somehow have to put up with. It has had a fair amount of chewing in this place and it was chewed even before it got to the other place in informal pre-legislative scrutiny.

The word “privilege” has been raised on many occasions. Privilege is something we have in this place: we have the privilege of being asked to come here and at the moment we do not have to seek the views of electors every four or five years. I am very conscious of those who have to seek the views of the electors every four or five years. However imperfect the Bill is, it may have assisted a little those who have to seek the views of electors. I am very aware of those who have gone home, weekend after weekend, to comments about this place being a place of abundance and being asked how much of that abundance they have been able to take on themselves. If the Bill assists those outsiders who are to look at the allowances, expenses and salaries in the future, I believe that will be to the advantage of democracy in this land.

My Lords, I support the Bill. I congratulate my noble friends on the Front Bench on the marathon in which they have been involved in getting this legislation to its present state. As a member of the Constitution Committee, I would have liked more time to consider the Bill, although I did not support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, which I believe would unfortunately have had the effect of kicking it into the long grass until October. Criticisms about parliamentary recesses and nothing being seen to happen for three months would have put us in a very difficult position.

My main purpose is to make a brief intervention, which follows from what the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, said. During this debate, a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Crickhowell and Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, stressed that the other place is increasingly dominated by people without outside experience. I am not sure that that is the case. I have recently looked at the House of Commons research papers on the background of Members of another place, and there are many MPs with a range of outside experiences. We should not confuse outside experience before coming into the other place with the debate about whether Members of the other place should be doing other jobs while they are full-time Members of Parliament. That is a different debate, and we do not want to get the two things confused.

It was said that the other place is finding it difficult to find people to fill the law offices. The figures that I have seen show that while the number of barristers has reduced over the past 15 years, the number of solicitors has increased. There are 70 or 80 Members of the other place with a legal background, which does not seem to be too small a pool from which to draw law officers in future. It is true that there are fewer manual workers and fewer miners in the other place than there were, but that simply reflects society, as does the increased number of women, and that makes for a better reflection of society than in the past.

Outside experience before coming into Parliament is important, and the figures show that there are more people who were politicians or political researchers in the other place than there used to be. However, the figures need to be looked at with some caution because they merely record the jobs that people had immediately prior to entering Parliament, not the jobs that they may have had prior to that. In those circumstances, people who have been MEPs are recorded in the figures as being politicians or political researchers, whereas most of us had other jobs prior to becoming Members of the European Parliament.

It frequently seems that when we talk about professional politicians, it is always done with a sneer. We would not say professional doctors, professional accountants or professional any other profession with a sneer, and we ought to be prepared to defend the idea of professional politics. Professionalism in politics is important. We all know that we keep on learning in the political forums in which we are active over many years. I support the provisions of the Bill, but I would like to think that the Government and the Opposition will be prepared to defend the profession of politics and the role of politicians, which are so important for the future of democracy in our country.

My Lords, I shall speak briefly. There is a good article in the Times today that makes the case for public policy being evidence-based. It is clearly a very powerful case. My concern is that the Bill would not fall into that category. It has been justified by the argument that the public are outraged and demand action. I do not dissent from that view, but we have been presented with no evidence that the Bill constitutes the action that the public demand. My concern is that it has been rushed through in order to assuage public concern and may not be that well directed at achieving that. We were told that the offence that we were discussing on Report sends a clear signal to MPs. My concern is that it may be used simply to send a signal to constituents that something has been done. I am not at all clear about whether this is the action that should have been taken. It would have been better if we had had the time to discuss the Bill in some depth, so I reiterate my criticism of the process because we cannot discuss the substance without having the time to do so and to make sure that we are proceeding on the basis of clear evidence.

Having said that, I get to my feet really to pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who has done an extraordinarily good job in responding to the concerns of the House. She has been receptive, has listened to what has been said and has operated as the Leader of the House, for which she deserves enormous credit. Although I am still very critical of the Bill, it is a less bad Bill as a result of what has been done in your Lordships’ House. The noble Baroness has facilitated that enormously, so we should place on record all the hard work that she has done on the Bill on behalf of the House.

My Lords, I had intended to say much the same thing as the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, in the Bill do now pass debate, but perhaps it would be more convenient to the House if I said something briefly now.

Whatever criticism there may have been recently of Parliament, politicians and us in this House as well as Members of the other place, we should take some credit for the way in which this House has handled the Bill. Certainly we should give credit to the Leader of the House and her ministerial colleagues, who have done a very good job. While those of us who have been concerned about the fast-track procedure have complained about it, we cannot complain about the way in which she and her colleagues have sought to make the minimum of difficulty out of that considerable fast track. After all, the amendment was put together only earlier this evening. It has been with us for at least long enough for us to consider it carefully, and we should give full credit for that.

We should also through the Leader of the House give our grateful thanks to her support team in the Box and to the Public Bill Office of this House. They have done a remarkable job. Perhaps we should also thank the computers. In the days before computers, the process that we have been able to handle at such speed today would surely have been impossible. All the staff of the House at this time of the year deserve our grateful thanks for the way in which a difficult situation has been faced. We have certainly greatly improved this legislation as a result.

My Lords, I, too, pay great tribute to the Leader of the House and echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Norton of Louth and Lord Tyler. Speaking on behalf—if I may be so bold as to do so—of the second largest group in the House of Lords, I must say that the Leader of the House has done the most incredible job in changing this legislation and I hope that she will take on board all the very important points made by all of us throughout the House. I thank her and wish her a very happy and long Summer Recess.

My Lords, I, too, was going to save my few words for the Bill do now pass debate, but I will follow the custom of everyone else in speaking to the amendment. I welcome the amendment, which the noble Baroness rightly proposed on the suggestion of my noble friend, and I am sure that the Bill will be improved as a result of it.

The Bill was born in the most unusual circumstances and immediately created more heat than light, which continued almost until the very end of its process through both Houses of Parliament. I suspect that none of us can tell whether it will have the desired effect. Over the past 15 years or so, there have been almost countless commissions, investigations, inquiries and Joint Committees to look at these great problems and I am not sure that we are any nearer finding the solution than we were before. In some respects, we may have made it even more difficult for Members of another place to stick to the rules and to attain the standards of integrity and probity that we all wish.

As other noble Lords have said, it is unquestionable that the Bill that we return to another place is considerably better than the one that we received only a few days ago in parliamentary terms. I hope that another place will be grateful for the work that we have done and for the improvements that we have made.

Of course, the professional politician has been with us for very many years over generations. It is right that we should continue to have people who have devoted their lives to politics. The complaint that people make inside and outside Parliament is that that balance almost has a ratchet effect in favour of more and more people who know almost nothing apart from politics. No doubt we can argue about the statistics. Anything that creates the impression that people who have had experience in politics, as researchers and such like, have the upper hand in being elected to another place is something that we need to correct.

Everyone who has spoken has congratulated the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on taking on what was undoubtedly an extremely difficult and complicated task, not least because of the speed with which we did it. But the House has demonstrated its flexibility in being able to match up to the challenge of time. I thank the noble Baroness and her team. We have also had the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and this afternoon we had a very special guest appearance from the Attorney-General. So well did she speak that I sat very firmly in my seat and did not pass comment on her words. Why would I have done when I had over one shoulder my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and over the other Lord Kingsland, who is somewhere looking down on us and approving of everything that we have done? We have done a good job and I, too, join the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in wishing everyone as from tomorrow afternoon a very happy Summer Recess.

Amendment agreed.

Motion

Moved by

My Lords, in moving this Motion I hope that the House will allow me to express my thanks to noble Lords on all Benches who have participated in the proceedings on this Bill and have made such a huge contribution. I also take the opportunity to thank the Public Bill Office and especially the excellent Bill team who have really done us proud. They have had the most difficult job of all, which they have done splendidly.

Like other noble Lords, I think that the way in which we have taken the Bill through this House has shown our House at its very best. It is a mixture of politics and pragmatism, a little bit of conflict and a great deal of consensus. We are all reaching for the common good, which is what we do in this House. I know that there was great concern about the lack of time that we had to debate and pass this Bill, but like other noble Lords I firmly believe that this is a much better Bill thanks to our amendments. In this House, we have all participated in some excellent debates, of which I am very proud. I am sure that the Bill that we are sending back to the other place will be instrumental in our efforts to regain the trust of the public in the other place and in our democracy. This Bill will create an independent, transparent and robust system of regulation. As a result of the amendments made in this House, there will now be a number of further safeguards, so we can be much more confident in the Bill as it passes.

This Bill is just the first piece in the jigsaw. We are now keen to set up IPSA and the new regime as soon as possible. The responsibility passes to the other place, but your Lordships have played a vital role in ensuring that this legislation is truly fit now to go on to the statute book. I beg to move.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons with amendments.

House adjourned at 10.54 pm.