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House of Lords: Code of Conduct

Volume 713: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009


My Lords, on 21 May this year I reported to the House that I intended to establish a leader’s group to consider the House’s code of conduct and the rules relating to Members’ interests, and to make recommendations. I am now in a position to report to the House that the Leader’s Group, chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has now completed its work. The group’s report is being published today. Copies are now available in the Printed Paper Office and will be published online. This is a unanimous report, from a group chaired by a Member from the Cross Benches and including representatives from all the political parties. I urge all Members of the House to study and consider it.

On behalf of the whole House, I place on record my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, all the members of the group and the staff of the House, who provided the secretariat for the group’s work. The group also included, until his untimely death, the late Lord Kingsland, in one of the last of his many acts of service for the House. It may be helpful to the House if I indicate now the process which we are proposing for the consideration of the report.

I said in May that the report would go to the Committee for Privileges, but I am advised that precedent suggests that the report should come directly before the House, and my proposals are in line with that precedent. It is intended that the House will have an opportunity on Monday 30 November to debate the report and approve the proposed new code of conduct. In addition, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, is proposing to hold a number of meetings with Members of the House to discuss the report in advance of its consideration by the House as a whole. These meetings will include one open to all Members, to debate and question the report, which will take place on Thursday 5 November. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, will also be holding a press conference on the report today. I understand that it will take place shortly.

I undertake to continue to keep the House informed on these and related issues. I believe that the report of the Leader’s Group offers a vital blueprint for the future of the House. It is a thorough and important piece of work, which deserves careful consideration by Members of the House. I am confident that Members will give it that consideration, and I commend the report to the House.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for taking the first available opportunity to make that announcement. I echo her thanks to the group for its sterling work, and I thank her for her kind words about Lord Kingsland. I am also grateful to her for setting out so clearly the procedure that is to be followed for the discussion of this important report. Like all Peers, I am delighted to hear that precedent means that it will go before the whole House first.

My Lords, from these Benches I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his group, and particularly my colleague and noble friend Lady Hamwee for serving on a group that has done such great service to the House. I also associate myself with the tribute to Lord Kingsland; it was indeed one of his last great services to this House.

We need to study the report carefully, as the Leader of the House has said, and I welcome the offer from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, of a further consultation with Peers, and the offer of a debate on 30 November. I also put on record my thanks for the leadership shown by the Leader of the House and the Lord Speaker in carrying this forward. It is because of that leadership that we have had, at this end of this building, a welcome absence of political point-scoring while we tried to go through this process. A year ago I said that the rules governing this House were vaguely drawn and lightly policed. That light-touch regulation produced one of the cheapest and most cost-effective legislatures in the world. However, we all recognised that things could not stay as they were. The Eames report is one more example of the determination of this House to put our house in order. This House does a good job, and this report—and the SSRB study that we will receive very soon—is an exercise in improvement, not in collective punishment. In that spirit, I welcome the report, promise full co-operation from these Benches and again record my thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his colleagues.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, regrets that she could not be present in the House, but we also thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for both the substance and the clarity of the report. At the current time, when we have so much speculation about parliamentary business, I think the clarity will be very much welcomed in this House, especially on the issue of paid advocacy and in emphasising our first duty—to be mindful of the public interest. We are content with the approach taken. We also welcome the chance for some meetings with Members before the report comes to the full House, and we thank the Leader of the House for her statement.

May I introduce a slightly discordant note? First, I have not read the report, and therefore am unable to join all the leaders in saying that I welcome it—I would prefer to read the report before welcoming it, because I might not welcome it. Secondly, did I understand my noble friend the Leader of the House to say that when it comes to be debated in the House, it will be on the basis of whether we accept it or not? My own judgment—given the soundings I have been taking on a whole range of suggestions to do with our future—is that it would be much better if we had a Take Note debate on this report, so that we could listen to each others’ views on the matter, and then come back to a more controversial debate in which we might amend or not. Given the other pressures that have come on to us from other reports, a Take Note debate would be an ideal way of finding out their Lordships’ views on this subject.

My Lords, I take note of the views expressed by my noble friend, and he is absolutely right to say he should not welcome the report until he has read it. When he has read it, he might then think that a Take Note Motion is not the most appropriate one, but we will discuss that among our colleagues and the usual channels, and we will come back to the House on that.