House of Lords
Monday, 30 November 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.
Death of a Member: Baroness David
Health: Genomic Medicine
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the two reports on NHS Pathology Services by Lord Carter of Coles and the report on Genomic Medicine by the Science and Technology Committee (2nd Report, Session 2008-09, HL Paper 107), what progress they have made on the consolidation of pathology services; and what savings they expect to achieve by April 2011.
My Lords, we have asked all 10 strategic health authorities to lead work regionally across the NHS to deliver pathology modernisation in the light of the report of my noble friend Lord Carter and to advise us on the transition costs and timescales involved. The report on genomic medicine contained a large number of recommendations. However, we expect to respond before the end of the year.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that it is now nearly four years since my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles was asked to investigate this area? Is she further aware that the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, promised me in a Written Answer in July that we would have a full report on implementation of this service area “later this year”?
My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that change on this scale does not happen across the whole country overnight. All 10 strategic health authorities are now working together to formulate local responses to the consolidation agenda as set out in the Carter report. However, they need time to identify what the transition will look like in terms of time and cost as they decide the future of pathology services in their local areas. My noble friend will be pleased to know that, following the work of my noble friend Lord Darzi, we have warned the NHS that an assumption about improved efficiency in pathology services is likely at some stage to be built into the tariff payments used to calculate all secondary care income.
My Lords, I am pleased to hear from the Minister that the Government will respond to the report on genomic medicine of the Science and Technology Committee, which I had the privilege to chair. Does she agree that, unless pathology services are properly organised for modern diagnostics and molecular and genetic tests, the postcode lottery that currently exists will continue, with more deaths occurring because of late diagnosis, inappropriate treatment and inappropriate monitoring?
The noble Lord is quite right: it is important that we pursue this reform agenda. We support the noble Lord’s report on centralising the genetic labs into the molecular pathology labs. He can anticipate that when we publish our response later this year we will make clear our continuing support for the bringing together of molecular pathology and genetic labs. We agree that this has great potential to benefit patients through better use of the laboratory workforce and more effective uptake.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, no matter how well you bring the services together, pathology is still a science that depends very much on the individual pathologist diagnosing, as opposed to biochemical tests, all of which can now be done more or less automatically? What improvements will be made in ways of monitoring standards after this is done?
The reform recommended by the review was to match the skills of the workforce to the job done, to maximise the contribution of staff and not to save money. In fact, there are job shortages in this area. The reprofiling will bring with it better career opportunities for junior staff, with senior staff freed up to use their expertise to more effect. This is not about reducing numbers but about being more effective. Nor is it about privatisation. The private sector already provides limited pathology services, but the job of the commissioners of services is to find the best and most appropriate sources of services and the best expertise available to them.
I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s contention on the lack of effectiveness of the IT. We expect that built into the reform and the centralising of services will be the need for effective communication. IT services play a large part in getting results back to patients and their clinicians as quickly as possible.
My Lords, our economy depends on healthy, successful small businesses. The Government have taken steps to develop a strong enterprise culture, giving everyone the opportunity to be entrepreneurial, irrespective of background or location, and seeking to ensure they have the skills they need. We have developed an environment in which enterprise can flourish, reducing red tape, ensuring small businesses can access the finance they need, and providing easy access to advice and support though the Business Link network and website.
I thank my noble friend for that reply. Did he see the first shot at an innovation index, produced by NESTA last Thursday? The index attempts to gather together all those entrepreneurial and enterprising activities that go into creating and running a business. Do the Government think that the index gives a fair and accurate picture of the benefits that innovation brings to our economy?
I thank my noble friend for his question. We welcome NESTA’s findings. It is an important topic for which we need better data. The report demonstrates the extent to which UK businesses already invest in innovation, but it also demonstrates that entrepreneurship is a critical element of successful innovation. Because the UK is strong on entrepreneurship, we are well placed to transform good ideas into successful innovation.
My Lords, I was interested that the Minister mentioned background and geography with regard to entrepreneurship being encouraged, but what about gender balance? It is so obvious still that although women are able to participate in entrepreneurial and business activity, there is still a very skewed distribution as regards participation, even at the early start businesses. How do the Government wish to correct that balance?
Well, hear, hear. It is a real challenge. Only an estimated 15 per cent of the UK’s 4.8 million SMEs are led by women. There are 1.1 million self-employed women in the UK, which is a 20 per cent increase since 2000, but this is a real challenge for the UK. If we had the same percentage of women in business as the US has, we would have another 700,000 to 800,000 SMEs. That is why the results just published from the women’s taskforce are hugely important. We will implement the recommendations and we need more women in business in Britain.
My Lords, without wishing to undermine the excellent work which I am sure my noble friend Lord Sugar will be doing, the evidence overwhelmingly is that entrepreneurs are born and not made. What is also interesting is how many of them come from overseas or are the children of immigrants. Is that not the important point that we should bear in mind? We need to seek out the entrepreneurs rather than convert people who have no entrepreneurial ability with the idea that we can make the entrepreneurs.
The World Bank still rates the UK as the first in Europe and the second in the G8 with regard to ease of doing business. We need to start educating and inspiring young people to be entrepreneurs and to start new businesses. That is why the Youth Enterprise is important; it is also why we must inspire international students in the UK who decide to stay. We must inspire young people to start new businesses, which is why the Government are giving so much support to Youth Enterprise and to ethnic minority groups.
My Lords, for entrepreneurship and enterprise to succeed, I am sure the Minister would agree that business needs support as well as access to finance. The latest estimates put the amount of support given by the Government to the financial sector and the banks at £1.2 trillion. Have the Government given anywhere near even a small fraction of that to support finance and access to finance to businesses and SMEs, which employ 13 million people in this country? Have the Government got their priorities right? Are the Government listening to the banks or are they listening to business?
We are doing both. We first of all had to recapitalise the banks; we then had to provide real help for small businesses. The variety of schemes that we have introduced, from the Enterprise Finance Guarantee scheme to many other initiatives, have given real help to small businesses. The challenge for next year is to ensure that the banks are there with access to finance as companies grow their turnover and as the economy recovers.
My Lords, despite the Minister’s optimistic initial response to his noble friend’s Question, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s annual report shows that total United Kingdom entrepreneurial activity is down from 7.7 per cent in 2001 to 5.5 per cent today, and that we are falling badly behind our international counterparts. Does he not understand that people feel that the Government have spent too much time talking about helping business and not enough time acting?
Let me give the noble Lord a statistic straight back: the OECD says that the UK has the lowest barriers to entrepreneurship of all OECD countries. We have had 476,700 new start-ups in England and Wales in the year ending March 2009. Huge emphasis is being given to helping SMEs; they are the lifeblood of this economy, which is why the Government are giving them so much support.
My Lords, further to that point, is the Minister sure that tax and other incentives are competitive? I declare my interest as a past chairman of Plastic Logic, an exciting new company in organic electronics. When we came to build our first large facility, the UK was not even on the shortlist of places where we decided to locate that factory—it is now in Dresden. Even New York State and Singapore came in well ahead of the UK in providing incentives for us to place that factory.
I have had the benefit of visiting the premises of that company in Cambridge and have met it in Germany, so I am disappointed with the decision that was made. A 28 per cent corporation tax, with a 21 per cent rate for small business, means that the UK’s corporation tax rate is now at the lowest level ever. We continue to have the lowest corporation tax of the major G7 economies. I understand that the Tories are suggesting that they may one day cut it, but that would be at the expense of capital allowances and reliefs.
My Lords, is not the United Kingdom the only leading European country where government policy options are regularly and routinely hijacked by these dodgy characters who do not pay UK taxes properly and yet insist on inflicting their unpalatable and extremist views on a long-suffering British public? Is it not high time that even the famously timid Press Complaints Commission decided to have a close look at this matter which is of great concern to a growing number of people, not least with the present situation of some rather sinister-looking linkages between the former editor of a Sunday tabloid newspaper and a leading opposition party?
That suggests quite a wide agenda, my Lords. I shall confine myself to the obvious point that the Press Complaints Commission would not be the first body that we would think of consulting about these issues; it has a fairly narrow remit which is nothing at all to do with this issue. A body that is connected with this issue is Ofcom, which is obliged to examine this position every three years. Its latest report came out only a fortnight ago, and it is largely consistent with government policy.
I welcome Ofcom’s decision, but is there not a strong case for either the PCC or someone else to look at the management structure of these newspapers? It strikes you that when complaints are found by the PCC to be correct, very little is done by the newspapers in their management structure either to prevent such abuses happening again or even to help their staff address those problems. We have a rather bizarre position where newspapers are declining in sales and need to improve the quality of their journalism if they are to survive against the internet, and yet in some cases are producing news that has far more in common with creative literature than it has with news reporting.
Well, my Lords, the Press Complaints Commission is the body which provides self-regulation for the press. My noble friend is inviting me to talk about how newspapers are actually managed, which I think would represent a considerable intrusion in the concept of the freedom of the press.
My Lords, does not the Minister simply exude complacency in the face of reality? Not only is there is a strong lack of confidence in the Press Complaints Commission, which is a sweetheart regulator, but our judges are making libel law that makes us a libel tourist destination, while the march of new technologies actually undermines the finances of the printed press. In the face of those realities, is it not unbelievable complacency for the Government simply to sit pat while our newspaper industry is in real peril?
How extraordinary, my Lords, that the noble Lord should upbraid the Government for being complacent when we are introducing a Bill on the digital economy that covers a substantial part of the news media in this country and gives us the opportunity to examine Ofcom’s report on this aspect. As for the newspaper industry’s financial future and the health of the press, those are matters for the newspapers to sort out themselves. We all recognise that in a pluralist world, they are certainly under greater pressure; however, if the free press enjoys freedom from government intrusion on what it contains, it also enjoys freedom from government intrusion on how to safeguard its financial interests.
My Lords, the Minister has just praised self-regulation, yet later this afternoon this House will propose that we no longer have self-regulation. There seems to be a gap in the Government’s thinking on this. However, is it not time for a royal commission on the press which could take into account all the views that have been expressed here this afternoon and in the wider country?
My Lords, the difference with regard to self-regulation is that Members of this House are paid from public money, while the newspaper industry gets its finance from private resources.
On the more general point of a royal commission, this Question, as I have indicated, is about news. The quality of the news is a crucial part of the Digital Economy Bill, which will get its Second Reading on Wednesday and will be before the House for consideration way before any royal commission could ever dream of acting constructively.
Does the Minister agree that as the independent chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, I hardly represent someone who is the “sweetheart” of the press, having had no background in the industry whatever? I am not quite sure why that view has been expressed today. Is he also aware that the Press Complaints Commission has set up a review of our governance and structures to try to counter some of these accusations and perceptions, which we are very determined to overcome?
Presumably, my Lords, the “sweetheart” aspect was in respect of the whole Press Complaints Commission, not just the chairman, however fondly the noble Baroness is regarded in this House. I am grateful for her identification of the steps that the commission is taking against a background which she is the best placed of all to appreciate regarding the constant anxieties about the way in which certain sections of the press act.
I have no answer to that; it is a matter for the Press Complaints Commission. My task is to report on the Government’s actions, and I hope I have identified how the Government intend to address themselves to what we all recognise are the important issues of the media, media ownership and media opportunities in the digital age. As I indicated, the House will be addressing itself to those issues on Wednesday this week.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that press standards sometimes hit a new low? The other day, I saw a photograph in the New Statesman of Ted Heath, Georges Pompidou, Willy Brandt and various others sitting around a table over a caption which said, “Ted Heath presiding over his Cabinet”.
Employment: Liability Insurance
My Lords, state support is available through the industrial injuries disablement benefit scheme and additionally, for some dust-related diseases, lump-sum awards are payable for those who cannot obtain civil damages.
We are actively considering measures both to improve the processes for tracking and tracing employment and insurance records—including establishing a database of all current and future employers’ liability policies and those historic policies that have been identified—and to support individuals who are unable to trace such records.
I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he not aware that, especially as far as long-latency diseases are concerned, it can be impossible to trace the insurer because records have been lost or destroyed? That means that people cannot claim compensation, which they need and deserve. That may affect many vulnerable people. Would it not be possible to move towards the establishment of what one could call a fund of last resort in order that individuals who otherwise would not be able to claim compensation for serious injuries that they sustain at work could then obtain compensation through that means?
My Lords, we fully accept that the current arrangements for tracing employers’ liability insurance policies are not satisfactory and that too many individuals are not able to access the compensation that they deserve, particularly in relation to long-latency diseases such as mesothelioma. As well as the database that I just mentioned, we are looking keenly at establishing an employers’ liability insurance bureau exactly as my noble friend suggests—a fund of last resort. We are actively working on that proposition that I hope to be able to say more about it shortly.
My Lords, I acknowledge to my noble friend that trade unions are heavily involved in this, as they should be. They have great experience and are often intimately involved in helping people receive justice. As well as discussions with the ABI, trade unions are involved.
Yes, my Lords, there is merit in that proposition. Existing arrangements through the IIDB scheme are essentially no-fault arrangements. Certainly, it is it is not only a question of being able to access compensation at the end of the day; the process and the costs involved are an important issue. The bureau for the fund of last resort could play a significant part in reducing those costs.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the last people to suffer as a result of these industrial accidents and illnesses should be the very people themselves? Some arrangement should be made for a fund of last resort along the lines suggested by my noble friend who asked the Question.
My Lords, as I said, that is something that we are actively looking at. Of course, there are tracing arrangements at the moment. Although they have improved in performance, there is still a long way to go. If you look at the most recent data for mesothelioma claims, you will see that only 52 per cent of claimants are able to trace a policy. Since 1972, employers’ liability insurance has been compulsory, so that is not a good outcome. We need to do better.
My Lords, I cannot give a precise timetable. We wish to move ahead and examine this quickly, by which I mean in a matter of weeks, rather than months. It is not only the bureau itself; there is merit also in having a tracing office to replace the current code of practice so that progress can be made on current and future policies, as well as the fund of last resort, which is—effectively—to look at policies from the past which cannot be traced.
Leeds City Council Bill
Motion to Agree
Reading Borough Council Bill
Motion to Agree
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Monday 7 December to allow the Motion in the name of the Earl of Onslow to be taken before the Motions standing in the names of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood and Lord Jopling.
Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill [HL]
Motion to Refer to a Second Reading Committee
Social Security (Contributions Credits for Parents and Carers) Regulations 2009
Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2009
Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2009
Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (Designation of Participating Countries) (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) (No. 3) Order 2009
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Welsh Language) Order 2009
Motions to Refer to Grand Committee
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, since there is no speakers list for this afternoon’s debate, it may be helpful if I say a little about the expected running order. My noble friend the Leader of the House will open the debate, and will be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza. At that point, it may be for the benefit of the House to hear from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who chaired the Leader’s Group. After that, the House may wish to hear from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, before the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, speaks to his amendments to the second Motion on the Order Paper.
At the conclusion of the debate on the Code of Conduct, my noble friend the Leader of the House will repeat the Statement on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Following that, my noble friend Lady Thornton will repeat the Statement on Basildon and Colchester hospital trusts.
House of Lords: Code of Conduct
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report of the Leader’s Group on the code of conduct (HL Paper 171, Session 2008-09); and that Part 3 of the Report be remitted to the Committee for Privileges, with an instruction that it reports a Guide to the Rules on the Conduct of Members of the House of Lords to the House.
My Lords, this is an important day for this House. It is a day on which we look to the future; a day on which we bring some of our key practices up to date; a day on which we take a major step to put our house in order. On 21 May, following the decision of your Lordships’ House the day before to support in full the second report of the Committee for Privileges, I announced the appointment of a Leader’s Group on the code of conduct for Members of this House. On 29 October the group reported.
Before I begin, I set out formally my thanks to all Members of this House who served on the Leader’s Group and, in particular, to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who chaired it; all those Members and officials of this House, and others, who gave evidence to it; the staff who supported it so ably; and, especially, to the secretary of the group, the Clerk of the Journals, Christopher Johnson. I again place on record my particular thanks to the late Lord Kingsland for his work with the group before his untimely death. I am particularly grateful to those members of the group who took part in the range of meetings with Members of this House, dealing with issues that a number of Members had in relation to the Leader’s Group report.
We are today considering two Motions on the Order Paper, as I set out in my letter to all Members last week. The first takes note of the report of the Eames group and refers to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the detailed guidance put forward in the report. The second details the new code of conduct proposed by the Eames group and seeks its approval by the House. I urge all Members to support and approve both these Motions.
The context of the issues that we are considering today is important. First, we should remember exactly what we are and are not considering today. We are not today considering the system of allowances for Members of this House. We are not considering the report published last week on financial support for Members by the Senior Salaries Review Body. I recognise that the report and recommendations of the SSRB are much more recently in the minds of Members of this House than is the Eames report, but it is important that we keep the two issues apart today. We will be able to debate separately the SSRB report. Our intention was always to do so before the Christmas Recess, if at all possible. I am now in a position to inform the House that we will consider the SSRB report on Monday 14 December.
We are instead today considering the report of the Leader’s Group, a new code of conduct for this House and an associated guidance note. There is an overlap with the issue of allowances in that the proposed Commissioner for Standards will be able to look at issues in relation to allowances as well as in relation to the code of conduct, but otherwise the two issues are separate and we should strive today to keep them apart. Today we discuss the code of conduct and two weeks today we shall discuss the SSRB report.
Secondly, we should recall what led to the report of the Leader’s Group that we are considering today. I established the group following the decision of this House to suspend two Members of this House to the end of the previous parliamentary Session and to ask two other Members to apologise to the House. That decision followed serious criticisms in the media of Members of the House—criticisms that I judged to be serious enough to refer the Members concerned for consideration by the sub-committee. The sub-committee, and the Committee for Privileges, then considered the issues involved and reported to the House. However, it was clear that, beyond the cases of the individual Members examined by the sub-committee and the Committee for Privileges, broader issues arose from the investigation of relevance to all Members of this House, to the House as a whole and to Parliament, politics and the country in general.
Thirdly, we should not fail to keep in mind the overall context of this report. As my noble friend Lady Symons noted in moving the Motion recently on the gracious Speech, this year has indeed been an annus horribilis for Parliament, politics and politicians. We have seen the action of politicians, not just in the other place but in this House, grievously damage the reputation, standing and, indeed, the very value of politics, politicians and Parliament. That clearly does not apply to all politicians. I believe that the vast majority of politicians in this House and in the other place are decent and honourable people with a strong commitment to public service, who have been as appalled as anyone else at some of the practices that have taken place. Even so, we have seen the public’s view of Parliament and politicians plummet. We have seen trust in Parliament and politics collapse. We should not make the mistake of thinking that, just because we are now some way from the height of the storm, particularly as regards MPs’ expenses, the public’s position has changed. People’s ire and anger may have abated but the fundamental shift in the public’s attitude remains. Although the public were unaware of what had been going on, once particular practices had been exposed the people wanted none of it. They wanted it to stop and they wanted it to stop straightaway.
There have been real improvements. In the Commons there have already been far-reaching changes to MPs’ practices, including their expenses system. The further reforms proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, will bring about more changes once they have been implemented by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the new body established as a result of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which I had the privilege of taking through your Lordships’ House.
Improvements have been made in this House, too: the adoption of a more clearly defined procedure for considering complaints against Members of the House; the enactment of that procedure by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and by the Committee for Privileges; the determination by this House of its power to suspend Members; the decision by this House on the suspensions themselves; the establishment of the Eames group; and the proposals in the current Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill to provide, based on the ideas first brought forward in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and others, measures including the expulsion of Members of this House. All these are real reforms, real improvements.
The actions of the overwhelming majority of Members of this House do not, of course, prompt such provisions—far from it. But when the allegations that lay behind the report and recommendations that we are considering first emerged, I made it clear to this House and beyond that, if there were wrongs to be righted, we would right them and that, if there were abuses to be rooted out, we would root them out. That clearly seemed to be our job then and it seems equally clearly to be our job today with the report and the recommendations in front of us.
The report that we are considering is excellent. As well as thanking the Members who served on the Leader’s Group, I congratulate them on producing a report of such insight and clarity on a range of complex issues. The central vision of the report is that this is a good and hard-working House of central value to the system of politics and of Parliament and to our constitution as a whole. That is right. Although we on these Benches have proposals for further reform of your Lordships’ House, which we will place before the public in the coming general election, I have no doubt about the House’s place and value as one of the essential checks and balances in our system, whichever political party is in power.
If those circumstances change through further reform—if, for example, we move in line with the Government’s proposals for a salaried House—we may well need to reconsider the issues before us. But ahead of that, as the report rightly stresses, we need to deal with the House as it is now: a House of high standing and renown; a House that works hard at all that it does and where external expertise and experience should be deployed in an appropriate way in the Chamber; an unpaid House in which Members need to be able, should they so choose, to earn a living outside it; a House where self-regulation is essential; and a House where the concept and practice of personal honour are absolutely vital. That is the House that, to an overwhelming extent, we have now. That is the House that we want in the future.
The report and recommendations of the Eames group are an essential building block for that House of the future. The report, the proposed code of conduct and associated guidance must be the bedrock for this House from now on. The Eames report makes clear the case for change—not change driven by outside organisations or the media, but change that this House judges, after due consideration of the issues involved, is necessary for this House and what it does.
We have, of course, embraced change before. This House looked at its own standards of conduct in 1974, 1990, 1995 and 2001. People outside this House might be surprised to know that it had no formal code of conduct before it agreed to changes in 2001, which a notable academic study on parliamentary regulation said would have been unthinkable even five years earlier. The study by the Study of Parliament Group, based on work by the Constitution Unit at University College London and by the University of Reading, notes that inquiries conducted into the regulation of standards in the Lords have been in response to a general desire to ensure that standards of conduct expected from Peers were those expected of everyone in public life, rather than in response to allegations of misconduct.
It is not yet clear that this has changed. The report shows that the level of complaints against Members of this House is rising. But, of course, this does not necessarily indicate an increase in wrongdoings by Members of this House, although it may. It may also helpfully indicate a greater openness and transparency about this House and, perhaps, an even greater interest in what it does. Whatever the explanations, the report strongly indicates a clear need to improve our practices in the area of Members’ interests. What was appropriate for 2001, when we first brought in a proper code of conduct for this House, may well no longer be appropriate in a world where, in even a few short years, not only has the level of transparency, openness and scrutiny increased exponentially, but the technological ability to access in detail what we do and how we do it has increased exponentially.
In some ways, the dilemmas behind any set of rules remain the same, regardless of a changed context. For some, in any organisation—very much including this House—the need for extensive, all-encompassing rules is paramount; the rules should be so full, comprehensive and detailed that they could deal with any event that arises. For others—again very much including Members of this House—the opposite is the case. They believe that no devisable system of rules, no matter how full, comprehensive and detailed, can in the final analysis deal with all the events likely to occur. Examples exist of both approaches, but the right approach is likely to be that which the Eames group successfully adopts—that is, to strike the right balance between the opposing poles of opinion, to provide a sufficient regulatory framework to ensure probity and accountability, yet at the same time to ensure that there is enough flexibility to deal with unfolding events that are often unforeseen.
That is what the Eames group does. The group’s report proposes a code of conduct that, as the report says, sets out in general terms the principles of conduct and the main duties of Members of the House. The report also proposes a more detailed guide to the rules that, again as the report says, will explain the principles and duties in more detail, focusing in particular on the rules for registration and declaration of interests. The regulatory framework will set out standards of probity and detailed guidance that is designed to be dynamic and will be kept under review by the relevant sub-committee of this House. It is also designed to be updated to take account of changing events and circumstances while never moving away from the key principles behind the code, which, crucially, include the concept and practice of personal honour and the duty to act in the public interest.
This is striking the right balance. However, in striking the right balance, the Eames group is still able to put forward a series of specific provisions that are of great value to the House, including an outright ban on parliamentary consultancies, a new definition of paid advocacy, a clarified definition of what constitutes a relevant outside interest, simpler and more self-explanatory categories for the regulation of interests, a requirement that Members abide by the rules in respect of financial support and the use of the House’s facilities, the reining back of so-called registration creep in relation to interests that should not in future be declared and the appointment of the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards to investigate all allegations of misconduct and to report any breaches of the code to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests.
As well as the particulars of the code of conduct and the help and advice offered by the guidance relating to Members’ interests and conduct, the provisions mark a new and necessary high-water mark for regulation—for self-regulation at that—for the House, which will provide a high degree of security for the House, for Members of the House and for the public.
I know from the meetings with Members of the House that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his team have held that a number of Members have raised issues in connection with the report. Some Members may wish to raise their concerns in today’s debate. Members will be keen to know that the points that they have raised, which in the main are about the guidance rather than the report or the code of conduct, will be fully taken into account as the guidance is considered. As I mentioned last week in a letter to all noble Lords setting out the procedure for today’s debate, we now have in place a clear process to do precisely that. We will hear later from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He has informed me that the Leader’s Group met today in advance of the debate and that, in line with the process that I set out in the letter, his group will draw together all the points that noble Lords have raised since his group’s report was published and detail them for the sub-committee now chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller.
I have had discussions with the noble Baroness and as a result am able to inform the House that the sub-committee will consider the issues raised by Members of the House with urgency and will report early enough to allow the code of conduct, if approved by the House today, to come into force on 1 April. The points that Members of the House have raised will be taken fully into account in preparing the next iteration of the guidance, exactly as envisaged by the Eames group. I hope that this process will be properly and fully started at the end of the debate by Members of the House voting for the Motion to take note of the Eames report and to remit the guidance to the Committee for Privileges.
I turn briefly to the code of conduct itself. In line with the approach taken by the Eames group and the balance that the group has striven to strike, the code is a clear and up-to-date statement of the principles that Members of the House must observe, of the practices that they must follow and of the necessary associated enforcement mechanism. Some Members have questioned whether we need to adopt the code now and have suggested that we should delay. However, there is a strong case for adopting the code now.
If the House approves the Motion today, it will be in line with the recommendations of the Eames group; it will maintain the momentum for reform and improvement, which the work of the sub-committee, the Committee for Privileges, the decision of the whole House on the committee’s report and the work of the Eames group have so well exemplified and enacted; it will provide Members of the House, the House itself and the public with the protection that they all need against abuses; it will provide Members of the House and the House itself with the clarity needed over issues of conduct and Members’ interests; it will put in place a new investigatory mechanism, which the House needs, notwithstanding the best efforts under the current arrangements of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Clerk of the Parliaments; it will allow the House authorities to proceed with the job of recruiting the right candidate to be the House’s Commissioner for Standards; it will ensure that the recruitment process will be able to produce the right appointment by the time that the mechanisms come into place on 1 April; and it will be the right step for this House to take—again, not to meet external pressures but to meet what Members of this House and the House as a whole need and deserve. We have in front of us a good code—a code that is fit for purpose, a code that is right for the times and a code that is right for this House. I urge the House to adopt it today.
In conclusion, following the publication last week of the SSRB’s proposals on financial support for Members of this House, we have to hand a set of recommendations on allowances for Members of this House. That, as I said at the start of my remarks, is a matter for another day. However, even without that, we have in front of us a clear, thought-through, concerted and comprehensive package of reform of what has increasingly been a difficult area for this House and what has especially been a difficult area this year. Even so, I believe that this House has handled the difficulties with consideration, composure and care and I believe that we should continue to do so today. Doing so is the right course of action—the right course of action for this House, for Parliament and politics and for the wider public beyond. As politicians, we know that we have a long way to go to repair the damage to politics and political institutions that has been done in the recent period. Today, we have in this House an opportunity to take not only an important step towards that goal but also an important step for the benefit of this House and its Members and towards a positive future for the House as a whole. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for what she has said and for taking some time and trouble to explain what lies behind the Motion that she has put before the House. The fact that she has laid out so much allows me to be considerably briefer in what I shall say.
I strongly support what has been said by the Leader of the House and I hope that it will not embarrass her if I say that her handling of this issue ever since the first shock of the allegations against several noble Lords has been sure-footed and wise. She has very much included the House in her thinking, she has taken the actions necessary to defend the House, and she has also led us, quite rightly, to review whether the code that we had was sufficient for the standards required. I make no secret of the fact that I believe that self-regulation and the sense that a Peer acts on his or her honour must still be at the core of how we behave. How demeaning it would be to act on the assumption that Members of your Lordships’ House lack the qualities to manage our own proper behaviour.
However, we need clarity and transparency about what those standards are, so I strongly supported the invitation to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, to review the code of conduct, and I greatly welcome his authoritative report. The House should be grateful to him and to the other noble Lords involved in preparing what will remain a guiding standard for the House for many years to come.
The House will also know that in the past I have rather opposed the idea of an independent commission. However, I now accept the proposition that there should be a commissioner to assist the House in the investigation and enforcement of allegations of misconduct by Members. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has tabled an amendment that would remove the commissioner from the code, and I speak to the amendment now only because I shall not be speaking later and do not want to prejudice anything that the noble Lord will say.
I have changed my mind on the case for an independent commissioner because, over the past 12 months, the world which we now inhabit has changed dramatically, not just because of what has happened in another place but also because of how that has impinged on your Lordships’ House and on individual Peers. Therefore, I believe that we need someone to come forward to act as commissioner. However, I hope that that appointment will be structured in such a way that it is a resource which can and will be used when, and only when, it is necessary to use it. It should not be the beginnings of a permanent office, which has a growing staff paid for by taxpayers and which looks around for something to do. We need the resource to be able to crack down on misconduct which, as your Lordships showed so firmly last Session, we are ready to do. We do not need to create a new bureaucracy at a time when the public are looking for the cost of politics to be reduced. I know that was not the aim of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and I agree with the emphasis which he has put on the differences between this House, which is unpaid and which draws so much on the expertise of its Members, and another place.
There are some who believe that both Houses of Parliament should be treated identically in respect of registration and regulation. I am very concerned by that belief. The Houses are not identical; they are very different and they should be treated differently. I believe that the noble and right reverend Lord has struck the right balance in the code between our duty to protect the House and to reassure the public and the avoidance of what the report calls “regulation creep”.
I welcome the reining back of some of the more intrusive and unenforceable elements in the previous code, such as the need to register the interests of friends. I very much welcome paragraph 5 of the code, which is the requirement that every Peer should sign the code at the start of every Parliament. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has tabled an amendment to remove it; it may be that he has a very good reason. I assure him—this is not an invitation for him to speak on it now—that I shall listen very carefully to the arguments he puts forward. I thought that all Peers being required to sign the code was a rather welcome point.
I hope that the House will agree to endorse the code as recommended. We could spend a great deal of time this afternoon picking it apart with no great gain to ourselves as individuals or collectively or in terms of reassuring the public. I do not think that there is any real lack of clarity about what is proposed. However, I agree with the suggestion of the noble Baroness that the detailed guide to the rules issued with the code should be remitted to the Privileges Committee for further detailed consideration. There are aspects of this that some noble Lords have highlighted outside the House; for example, the de minimis levels of registration of hospitality or the practicality of restrictions on the use of computers for various types of personal messages. No doubt there are other details that need further consideration without breaking the fundamentals of the code before us, but they need not and should not hold up the adoption of this reformed code.
The House needs to show in its resolutions, as it has shown in its actions, that it takes misconduct by any Peer extremely seriously. Let us demonstrate that clearly again today, as the noble Baroness has proposed. I support the Motion.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I first of all thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his team for an excellent piece of work. It is a fitting finale to the parliamentary life of Lord Kingsland. I also associate myself with the praise by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, of the leadership of the Leader of the House. I agree with so much of what she said that, like the noble Lord, I hope to be reasonably brief.
I realise that what we are proposing today comes as difficult for many Members of the House. We all belong to a generation which assumed that all parliamentarians were honourable, just as we believed in a City where my word was my bond and in a financial services industry where a twitch of the Governor of the Bank of England’s eyebrow could put things right. Those old ways are no longer fit for purpose. We live in less deferential times, where public confidence must be won and retained by transparency and accountability, and we work against a background of a media who are both cynical and, often, hostile.
I came to this House in January 1996, and one of my first tasks was to appear before Lord Griffiths and his committee to clarify what I could and could not do as an employee of a public relations company that offered lobbying services. The fact that I was able to continue to work in PR until 2004, following the Griffiths guidelines without falling foul of them, is a demonstration that such a dual role was possible.
Nevertheless, the Griffiths rules were clarified and tightened in 2001, and the present review came, as has been said, in the light of the Sunday Times sting earlier this year. I will not go over old ground, other than to repeat my earlier assessment that, exposed as they were in an entrapment exercise, our rules were vaguely drawn and lightly policed, but they were in place and needed to be followed. Let me make it clear that the responsibility for following those rules was ours and ours alone. Officers of this House have carried out their duties with all proper diligence. They are not police officers and do not have the powers of police officers, which is why personal honour always did and will continue to play a key part in underpinning our rules.
Incidentally, I noticed yesterday that the Sunday Times again asserted that it had earlier this year revealed how Peers were willing to amend legislation in exchange for cash, without explaining how any Peer, no matter how well financed, could change legislation in that way. It is of significance that the Sunday Times, with all its resources and Insight team experience, has been unable to produce a single example of legislation being changed in the way that it claims to have exposed by its entrapment exercise.
Nevertheless, its exercise exposed weaknesses, to which we have responded, first, by moving rapidly and decisively to deal with the issues raised, as the Leader of the House said, and, secondly, by asking the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his colleagues to conduct a review. Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I hope that the House will today agree to the code proposed and will remit the guidance notes for consideration in the light of this debate and the other contributions and observations received. That is the sensible way forward.
I will not take up the time of the House today with a detailed analysis of the points made, but let me make just two observations from personal experience. First, as I said, I was able to work for a company offering lobbying services while observing the Griffiths rules. Nevertheless, I believe that the committee is right to call for a ban outright on parliamentary consultancies and outlaw any concept of “Peers for hire” in the conduct of parliamentary business. I also welcome the clarification and strengthening of the “no paid advocacy” rule proposed in paragraph 62 of the report. I confess that I feel that I am kicking away the ladder by which I ascended, but, as I said, times have changed.
I also support the appointment of a House of Lords commissioner but, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I believe that that appointment needs further thought and examination. We are not appointing a witch-finder general to chase every piece of tittle-tattle or to respond to the insatiable demands of bloggers. I believe that those complained against should have the right to know the identity of complainants. There will also have to be a certain self-restraint by the political parties—in this I include my party—to avoid tit-for-tat complaints, which may buy a cheap headline but which drag down the reputation of the House in the process.
I know that some Members will find it distasteful, having made an oath of loyalty, to be asked to sign a further declaration of good behaviour. We will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, on this. All I would say is that it is a small price to pay if, in so doing, we underpin public confidence in what we do.
Other tweaks to the guidance are needed. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned that the thresholds set for financial declarations will simply clutter up the Register. We should also not be too hair shirt about the use of facilities. Bringing business interests, NGOs and others into the Palace to promote contacts should be welcomed both as a help to balancing the books and as a convenient way of encouraging such contacts. A simple web page that listed who has booked which facility and on whose behalf would quickly weed out any abusers.
I could go into a long rant about the media and how they misrepresent us but, as I said before, that is the world in which we live. We have a media who are as prone to harlotry as they were in Baldwin’s day, and we have to live with that. This report makes it clear that this House is part-time and unsalaried, but it is a privilege to serve in this House, and with such privilege goes responsibility. Those with outside interests have to accept the need for full disclosure. By adopting the resolutions before us today, we demonstrate the determination of this House to protect its reputation with vigour and to carry out our public service with personal honour, underpinned by transparency and integrity in all we do.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this excellent report and acknowledge the thoughtful work that has gone into it. The House will be grateful to the Leader for commissioning the report and to the distinguished group that forged it. The report stands as a fitting tribute to the greatly missed Lord Kingsland.
Specifically, I welcome the tone of the report and the development and strengthening of the existing culture of honourable conduct. However, obeying the rules, as the report points out, has not proved sufficient. Higher standards are expected, and rightly so. I applaud the emphasis on the public interest and the invoking of the useful perception of the reasonable man as to what is or is not in the public interest.
I note the amendments that have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, but believe that the code should be accepted in its entirety. I regret only that these changes had to await public censure when steps could have been taken some three years ago. Can we learn from this experience? Are there other areas that we might look at proactively before they become the subject of media scrutiny? Could further measures be taken without too much upheaval?
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill is coming our way with some welcome changes. I propose one such change for early consideration, if your Lordships will allow it. It relates to attendance. The Eames report, as it will now always be known, tightens up paid advocacy and reintroduces the vital concept of personal honour. In the near future, Members will receive an allowance. The House may feel that it is not yet in a position to monitor the duration of attendance, but of the 180-odd Cross-Bench Peers, 36 have not turned up in years—one has not turned up for at least 10 years—and 25, some of whom are among the most recently appointed, attend very rarely. Some of the remaining 140 attend only occasionally and often for no more than a few minutes. They do not always contribute significantly to the work of the House in revising and scrutinising legislation. Wearily, one turns again and again when looking for a combination of expertise and reliability to the same few who do the bulk of the work. These patterns are grist for the media mill, although it must be said that many continue distinguished careers outside the House and that their contributions, although rare, are greatly respected.
We are told that the House may be increased by quite a large number, perhaps even by up to 100, following the election. We are the largest second Chamber in the world, and we may soon be grotesquely large. This, too, will draw the adverse attention of the media, and with some justification.
We should take seriously the question of retirement from this House. Sadly, there are those who are too infirm to attend and are unlikely to return to this House. These same people would surely not suffer additionally if they were offered retirement. Retirement would be an honourable way to help in reducing the numbers, although there may be some rare attenders who would be reluctant to take this step. However, it makes something of a mockery of the system of membership of this House if we continue to count those who have not made an appearance in 10 years. Surely it would not go against the tradition of a self-regulating House to draft some courteous but firm letters once the reform aspects of the forthcoming Bill have been passed.
I hope therefore as we move ever closer towards a more professional and more professionally perceived House, a House which has not flinched from suspending Members, that we can take a further step in opting for retirement based not on age but on contribution, or the lack of it. The report of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has opened the way for discussing these issues and acting on them, and I congratulate him, his group and its staff on this service.
My Lords, as chairman of the group whose report is now before the House, perhaps I may begin by thanking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for the way in which she introduced this debate, for her kind remarks about our report and our work, and for the energy with which she has taken our recommendations forward since they were published last month. The House has faced difficult and unprecedented challenges over the past year and her leadership in meeting those challenges has been exemplary.
I would also like to thank my colleagues in the group, whose appointment was announced by the Leader of the House on 21 May. They embodied what is best about this House in experience, wisdom and a willingness to put aside political differences in order to find practical, effective solutions to difficult, even intractable, problems. I believe that our report is testimony to the qualities of the members of the group and the House as a whole. I know that my colleagues would wish me also to acknowledge the expertise and great support provided by Christopher Johnson, the Clerk of the Journals, who was our secretary.
I shall not add to the many tributes which have been paid to the late Lord Kingsland. Since his untimely death in July, suffice to say that we have sorely missed him. Indeed, he is still missed. Nothing would have made me feel, as chair, more confident coming into this debate than the knowledge that he would be supporting me from the Benches opposite. It is a great sadness that that was not to be.
Our report came out more than one month ago. Many of your Lordships have read it and I am grateful to the many noble Lords who have written to me with comments, taken part in meetings or have simply spoken to me or my colleagues outside the House. I visited groups of Peers and I hope that I addressed most, if not all, of their questions. I do not propose to go through the report in detail. My sense is—I hope that I am right—that there has been broad support for what we have tried to achieve and for our general approach. But there are some concerns over the detail and the way in which the new rules would work in practice. I shall therefore limit myself to outlining our approach in general terms before touching on a few of the points of detail that have emerged in discussion over recent weeks.
First, on the general outline of our report, we took the House as it is presently constituted as our basis; that is, an unsalaried, part-time House, whose Members derive their primary income not from membership but from outside sources. Many things flow from that starting point. We must respect the right of Members to continue to earn a living in the wider world. It would be disproportionate to place wide-ranging restrictions on this right or to subject Members’ outside employment to burdensome regulation. If one day the House were to be reformed with a full-time, salaried membership, or even if there was a possibility that Members could retire from the House, it might be time to revisit this issue, but that is for another time and it was not for our group. The unsalaried, part-time nature of membership brings with it an enormous benefit in the wide range of expertise and experience that Members are able to bring to the House. The great quality of this House is that, whatever the subject of debate before us, there will be Members who have first-hand experience and who can contribute on the basis of that real, high-level experience, past or present. No other legislature in the world can call on such a body of expertise. We wished to protect that unique quality. It lies close to the centre of the ethos of this House and we submit that it must be protected.
These considerations are reflected in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the proposed code of conduct as set out in today’s Order Paper. We wanted the code to be more than a set of rules and regulations; rather, we wanted it to say something of what the House of Lords is and should be, and what Members are expected to contribute to its work. It should convey a positive message to demonstrate to Members and the public that, in drawing on their experience of the outside world, including what constitutes “interests” in the technical sense, Members are in fact contributing in the best way they can to the wider public good. Above all, as a group, we wanted to remind all noble Lords that membership of this House is a privilege and that that privilege is worth defending. We have proposed that this positive statement of the role of the House should be backed up by a formal undertaking given by each Member at the same time as he or she takes the oath upon introduction or at the start of each new Parliament. This would be an undertaking to abide by the code of conduct and the standards of behaviour expected of all of us by our peers. It will need to be backed up by a greater emphasis on the induction and education of new Peers in particular.
We have heard much of the supposedly outdated and antique concept of personal honour. Is personal honour out of date? Is honour no longer relevant to our work in the House? We believe that, far from outliving its value, personal honour, which has been defined by the Committee for Privileges as,
“an expression of the sense of the House as a whole as to the standards of conduct expected of individual Members”,
and which will be reinforced by these formal undertakings, remains a fundamental element of self-regulation and of the ethos of this House. To be entitled to serve in this House is an honour that is bestowed on us and which carries with it responsibilities and duties best expressed in terms of our own personal honour. We believe, as a group, that to erode personal honour would be to fracture so much of both the privilege and the duty of membership of the House of Lords. At this time of public scrutiny and scepticism, we should not be afraid to say such things.
At this point, perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words regarding the first amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I should emphasise that I respect the noble Lord’s views. He has been entirely consistent, arguing strongly against such an undertaking in his written contribution to our consultative document. However, I cannot agree with him.
The noble Lord proposes the removal of paragraph 5 of the code, which would require Members to make the undertaking I have just described. We have to revitalise the concept of personal honour in its broadest sense. We are already required by law to swear an oath or to make a solemn affirmation of allegiance to Her Majesty. None of us questioned that public declaration. Earlier this year, in a formal opinion given to the Committee for Privileges, which was agreed by the House on 20 May, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, established that there are implied conditions inherent in the Writ of Summons by virtue of which we are entitled to sit in the House. One of these implied conditions is that Members must conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of the House, including the code of conduct.
So we are all bound by the code of conduct simply by virtue of the fact that we are here; that we have responded to the Writ of Summons. Why should we not make a public acknowledgement of our willingness to abide by the code? Such an undertaking would strengthen the code and strengthen the House. It would turn the code from what some might be tempted to consider as a fairly dry set of rules and regulations into a living document in which we all have a stake. Therefore I cannot accept the noble Lord’s amendment.
While trying to protect and foster what is best about the House in its present form, we also have to acknowledge that it has been damaged by recent events. Allegations of misconduct have proliferated, as shown by the figures that we quote in our report. While many of these allegations may be misconceived or baseless, some, sadly, are not. I have no doubt that among the media hype there is a genuine public concern over standards of conduct in Parliament. We serve the public and we owe it to them to respond to their concern by increasing transparency, by improving the robustness and clarity of our self-regulation and by ensuring that unacceptable conflicts of interest are avoided. That surely means—it must mean—that we require clearer, more detailed rules of conduct, not only so that the public know what to expect of Members of this House, but so that when we are in doubt—as we all must be from time to time—we can call upon clear and authoritative guidance to help us make the right decision.
Clearly there is a tension here and, as a group, we did our best to square the circle. That is why we have proposed a shorter code focusing on general principles of conduct, accompanied by a much more detailed guide to those rules. Both will require formal agreement by the House but, beyond that, they are very different documents. The code on the Order Paper today will, I hope, be adopted by the House by resolution as an enduring statement of the core values and principles governing all our conduct. It should, of course, be reviewed occasionally—probably once each Parliament—but we trust that it will not need major changes for the foreseeable future, or at least not until further House of Lords reform.
On the other hand, we intend the guide which accompanies it to be a living document, kept under regular review by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, with any changes reported to and agreed by the House as a whole. It will need to adapt; it will need to change, to keep pace with experience, with case law and with changing times. What we proposed in our report was necessarily provisional. We fully expect the sub-committee over the coming months to revise it and to make improvements to iron out any wrinkles and correct any oversights.
That process will be stage 2; today, we are at stage 1. We have in the course of many meetings over the summer and in recent weeks become aware of specific concerns raised by individual Members and will forward those concerns, as the Leader of the House has already said, to the sub-committee. However, I hope that the process that both I and the Leader of the House have outlined will reassure noble Lords not only that there is time to get things right before next spring, when the code is proposed to come into effect, but that there will opportunity even after that to raise concerns and to see them addressed.
In conclusion, I shall spend just a moment addressing specific points that have been raised in our consultation and with me personally when I had the privilege of visiting various groups. I must also say a few words regarding the second amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
First, I believe that there is now general acceptance that our proposed ban on the provision of parliamentary advice and services in return for payment is necessary. At the same time, there is entirely legitimate concern over how it will work in practice. Let me make it absolutely clear that we as a group are interested not in labels but in the actual nature of the work done or the service provided. It does not matter whether it is called a “parliamentary consultancy” or a “non-executive directorship”, or some other name yet to be invented. The point is that noble Lords, whatever their job title, should not profit from their membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment in return for providing parliamentary influence or advice.
There will always be an uncertain dividing line between what is permitted and what is not. We have done our best to help identify that line in paragraphs 11 to 18 of the proposed guide. But written rules cannot provide all the answers, which is where personal honour—individual conscience—comes in. The director on the board who is asked in general terms about how legislation is passed through Parliament need surely feel no embarrassment in answering; but if the next question posed to him is, “So how do we influence the process so as to get the such and such Bill amended?”, then a moral line has been crossed, and it is up to that individual Member, surely, to take a stand.
I remind noble Lords that under the present code there are no fewer than four separate categories of interest under which services which a reasonable member of the public might regard as “parliamentary services” might be provided. Each of these categories is subject to different rules. There is no clarity as to their definition. We believe that our proposed code and guide simplify the rules by focusing on the nature of the service being provided. We also believe that the proposals should take the House a long way down the road to removing the prospect of any future allegations that Peers are “for hire”.
Secondly, I should like to touch briefly on the section in our report on the use of facilities, found on page 43. I admit that this is the least finished part of the report, and I make no apologies for that. The House has several domestic committees—the Refreshment Committee, for instance, and an Information Committee. It was not for us to override these existing structures and prescribe rules on how the facilities for which those committees are responsible should be used. That is why, in paragraph 94, we suggested that these committees should propose their own rules, which will in due course be annexed to the guide. I still believe that that is the right way to go about it, and would therefore urge noble Lords not to take anything in this section of our report as representing a considered or final view. There is still much work to be done in this area in the coming months. That is part of what I have referred to as stage 2.
Finally, I turn to the second amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, which would, in effect, remove all reference to a Commissioner for Standards from the code, and leave us with an investigatory system approximating to that currently existing. In other words, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests would conduct investigations. I can do no better than refer noble Lords to paragraph 68 of the first part of our report, on page 21. There we say in the clearest terms that,
“we believe that a demonstrably independent investigatory function is now needed to reinforce public confidence in the House’s ability to regulate the conduct of its Members”.
This is an absolutely fundamental point of principle. We are not seeking to overturn self-regulation. The commissioner would be appointed by the House; we have retained the existing committee structure, so that the commissioner would report to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and, ultimately, to the House as a whole. The commissioner could, in extreme circumstances, be dismissed by resolution of the House. Moreover, the commissioner’s investigations would be proceedings in Parliament, and would enjoy the full protection of parliamentary privilege. So the continuance of self-regulation is guaranteed.
But we cannot dodge the fundamental point: we need a commissioner who has full operational independence, and who, crucially, is seen by the public to have that independence. Self-regulation is a vital part of this House but, if we are not careful, there are those outside this House who will be only too eager to present self-regulation as the spirit of the gentleman’s club—as “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. We need to retain and build on public trust. We need transparency and accountability; we need an investigatory function that is independent, fair and efficient. The noble Lord’s amendment would be a body-blow to all these aspirations. I therefore urge all noble Lords to oppose it.
Once again, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for the trust she placed in me and my colleagues, and wish her well in taking our recommendations forward. If today’s Motions are agreed, we as a group intend to submit a paper to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, setting out those areas of the guide which it might wish to pay particular attention to—but with that, our role will cease. I hope that our report will find favour in today’s debate, and I will support the Leader of the House when she moves the Motions which stand in her name.
It is a great privilege to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, who is held in such high regard in this House in general and on these Benches in particular. I commend him and the other members of the group for the quality and clarity of their report and pay tribute, as others have done, to the much missed Lord Kingsland, whose influence we can still feel in your Lordships' House.
At the outset, I need to make clear that it was with some regret that it was not possible for a representative of the Bench of the Lords spiritual to give evidence to the committee’s deliberations. This should in no way be taken as a sign of any detachment on our part on the issue of revising the code or, heaven forbid, as a suggestion that we are above such things or that we are not committed to full involvement in the wider work of the House. Rather, it reflected nothing more than the process of the changing of the guard with regard to convenorship of the Bench. I hope that my contribution today will indicate the wide support of the Lords spiritual for the proposed reforms.
Our view is that the report is thorough, reasonable and measured. It strikes the right balance between respecting the self-regulating nature of the House and the stock placed in the personal honour of its Members on the one hand and the need to overhaul the oversight and transparency procedures on the other.
As other noble Lords have done, I underline the significance of several points in particular. The first is the importance of a shortened code outlining the principles of conduct and the more detailed guidance offered to support it. The second is the placing of the emphasis in the code on what your Lordships’ House does, rather than on what its Members are prevented from doing. We particularly welcome the specific inclusion in paragraph 1 of the code of the statement of what the House does and its relation to the public interest. The third is the suggestion that a post of independent commissioner for Lords standards be created, and the fourth is the incorporation of the principles of the Committee on Standards in Public Life into the code. The fifth is the group’s conclusion that a statutory commissioner or register would be a disproportionate step—effectively, an overreaction to some isolated incidents of abuse, which are, lest we all forget, very much against the grain. Lastly, there is the emphasis on personal integrity, honour and the need for Members at all times to be acting in the public interest.
I draw particular attention to one or two detailed points. First, will the noble Baroness the Leader be able to confirm the position of the Lords spiritual in relation to the paid-advocacy rule in paragraph 14 of the new code? The Church of England might be seen by some to be involved in advocacy in a number of areas—for example, in education and social care—and therefore it might be possible to see the bishops as paid advocates, people placed in this House by virtue of our office, for which we receive a stipend from another body. Will that clause affect the ability of the Lords spiritual in their important advocacy role in this House?
Secondly, we need to be careful to ensure that we strike an appropriate balance between regulation and the need to take proper account of public opinion. Anyone following debates in another place might feel that the court of public opinion has tended to overstep its authority and that there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far. Introducing a new requirement for Members of this House to sign the code of conduct at introduction and at the start of each Session, to underline each Member’s obligation to abide by its principles, may be considered by some as unnecessary but it surely gets the balance right with regard to regulation and public reassurance.
Some of your Lordships may have noticed recently the number of new Members joining the Bishops’ Bench. This Bench is committed not only to observing the highest standards of probity when exercising its function within the House but also to be seen to be doing so. To that end, many new Members and some older ones may be concerned that they do not, by omission rather than intention, find themselves on the wrong side of the rules.
Although we have a new parliamentary unit in place to help guide and advise the Lords spiritual on expenses, the Register of Lords’ Interests, and so on, many bishops’ offices find it difficult to get their heads around what is required of them and their bishops. I make a plea, therefore, for as much clarity as possible when issuing future guidance.
I should like to make two final short points. First, no one should be in any doubt that the need for the new code and the events that prompted its revision should not in themselves necessarily signify a need for a wider reform of this House. I took the opportunity to set out the views of this Bench on that issue during the debate on the gracious Speech.
Secondly, we welcome the group’s discussion in part 1 of the report, at paragraph 29, of the concepts of personal honour and integrity and its conclusion that nothing in the new code ought to replace or undermine the well-established principle of self-regulation or the assumption that Members act with integrity. The guide makes it clear that Members ought to be expected to act at all times in full accordance with the spirit as well as the letter of the rules and this, surely, is of fundamental importance.
When the MPs’ expenses issue was first breaking news, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote an article for the Times, from which, with your Lordships’ permission, I would like to quote:
“In recent months, we've had a number of examples … of people saying when challenged that ‘no rules were broken’. Some of the initial responses to public anger about MPs' expenses have amounted to much the same thing. And this suggests a basic problem in our moral thinking. The question, ‘What can I get away with without technically breaching the regulations?’ is not a good basis for any professional behaviour that has real integrity.
Integrity is about what we value in ourselves or our work for its own sake—what's worth making sacrifices for, what we're glad to have done simply for the kind of act it is. If I do something just because I'm told to, or if I hold back from something simply because of fear that I shall be caught out, it's a very different business. It has nothing to do with that sense of being glad to have done something. And without that sense, no-one is really going to see public life as a vocation in the old-fashioned meaning of the word—a task you perform because you find yourself in the doing of it.
Without that sense, we always slip back towards to the shabby calculation of what we can get away with. ‘No rules were broken’: I may have done something that is manifestly against the spirit of the rules or regulations, but technically I'm safe, even if I haven't even begun to think through from the inside what kind of person I've been making myself; what the cost is to my moral health, the person I am”.
It is because this code does much to secure the moral health of this House that it is warmly supported by these Benches.
My Lords, I had hoped that we would first discuss the Eames report, if I can call it that, of the Leader’s committee and then come to conclusions about it. The reason I put down my amendment then is that that opportunity did not arise. Decisions are to be made on it of a fundamental and innovative character. I have outlined those in the two amendments that I tabled, and that is the reason for them. I would have preferred the opportunity to have made these points and then taken a decision at a later date. However, that has not happened and I shall move the amendments at a later stage.
I have a few words about the report in general. First, I congratulate the Leader’s Group on the work that it has done and in particular the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and the Leader of the House on the way that they have handled the report today, on the information that they have given and the explanatory notes to their report. I agree with most of the report. Indeed, in my written submissions to the group, I supported a good deal of what is now in the report. However, the first thing I said in my written submission was that:
“I am not at all sure that this exercise is really necessary and neither the Leader’s Group nor the House itself should allow themselves to be panicked into making hasty and ill considered decisions in the wake of problems which have arisen in the House of Commons over expenses”.
That puts my view on the committee generally. I think that it was not necessary, but nevertheless it has done the job and done it very well.
The exercise has taken place and certainly clarity has now been given to the standards of behaviour and actions that are expected of noble Lords and the circumstances in which they should declare their interests in the Register and the Chamber. As I said, most of the recommendations are in line with the points I made in my submission. However, as my amendments indicate, there are two recommendations with which I do not agree. In fact, I fundamentally disagree with them. I do not believe that the House would be wise to accept those particular items.
In tabling the amendments, I hope to concentrate minds on two fundamental changes to our procedures. The first amendment seeks to remove paragraph 5 of the Code of Conduct, which states that:
“Members are to sign an undertaking to abide by the Code as part of the ceremony of taking the oath upon introduction and at the start of each Parliament”.
That means signing to be of good behaviour. For Members of this House to have to do that is demeaning to the House and insulting to noble Lords. Most if not all noble Lords follow the broad tenets of the Code of Conduct and live by its ethos, and to require that they should sign an undertaking to do so must surely be unthinkable. Why on earth in this place would you sign on a piece of paper that you are going to be decent and honest? I do not believe that that is the right thing to ask noble Lords to do. To treat people of experience, standing, intelligence and probity like naughty delinquents is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to me, anyway, nor, I hope, to noble Lords.
Furthermore, by signing such an undertaking noble Lords may well be signing a written contract which could, perhaps, be justiciable. No doubt this matter will be covered by parliamentary privilege. Indeed, I think we have already had that assurance from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. We really have to be careful about that. Members of the House of Commons believed that they would be covered by parliamentary privilege over disclosure of details of their expenses claims. How wrong they were. We have to be careful of assurances over what privileges this House has. We should all be very careful about signing such a document.
There are other problems. I had a look at my letters patent over the weekend. It is worth quoting from. The extract says that,
“he may have, hold, and possess a seat, place, and voice in the Parliaments and Public Assemblies … of Us, Our heirs and successors … amongst the Barons, and also that he may enjoy and use, all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences, immunities, and advantages to the degree of a Baron”.
That cannot be taken away under any circumstance, whatever this House might decide to do. The Writ of Summons itself is a command from the Queen, not a request. No resolution must impede noble Lords from obeying that command. That leads naturally to the question of what happens to any noble Lords who refuse to sign such an undertaking. That is the question that I hope the noble Baroness will answer.
This House does not, I believe, have the power to disbar a person because he will not sign a piece of paper saying that he is honest. I give way.
I wondered whether a stronger argument for the noble Lord—if I may modestly suggest it—was given by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, when he said that it was implicit in the oath of affirmation that we were doing this anyway. Therefore, to sign something beyond that would seem to be superfluous.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord for his assistance. I believe that to be the case. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason to sign a further document when one has already sworn an oath or made an affirmation to be of good behaviour. We really need the answer to that question. If there is no sanction, there is no point in signing the declaration. I believe that it would be unlawful to introduce such a sanction. Will the noble Baroness, in replying, say whether this is voluntary or compulsory? That is a very important question. From that answer, I shall make a decision as to whether to test the opinion of the House. Frankly, this proposition has not been properly considered. This afternoon the noble Baroness ought to accept my amendment on the basis of giving further consideration to what is proposed. I hope she will consider that between now and when the vote, perhaps, will come.
My second amendment seeks to reject the appointment of a House of Lords Commissioner for Standards and to continue with the existing arrangements. It seems to me that appointing an outside person to deal with alleged breaches of the code shows a lack of confidence in ourselves. We have every reason to be confident in ourselves and, indeed, our ability to handle our own affairs. If we cannot sort out our own problems and require outside supervision, we could be open to the charge that we cannot be trusted with the governance of the country. I gave my views to the Leader’s Group. I should like to quote a paragraph from my submission but I cannot find it. That is very inefficient; it must have dropped out of the pile. Basically, I said that the Members of this House, who include two archbishops, 24 bishops, retired clergy of the Church of England and other clergy do not need to be supervised by somebody outside this House. Judges and people who have demonstrated exceptionally good behaviour do not need to be supervised by a civil servant or somebody similar.
We must ask ourselves why a retired judge or top civil servant would be better able to deal with alleged breaches of the code of conduct than senior noble Lords who possess integrity, have long experience inside and outside this House and understand the way the House works. We already have a well established system to deal with any misdemeanours that may occur. After all, this House has handled its internal affairs for centuries, and has done it pretty well. Indeed, in the previous Session, the House proved that it could deal swiftly and decisively with noble Lords who breached the code, for which it received praise and thanks from a number of quarters. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House received well deserved praise for her zeal, determination and effectiveness in dealing with allegations against Peers. She did so quickly, efficiently and fairly. Having shown that we can deal with the problems that we had during the previous Session, why on earth do we now have to invite somebody from outside to do that job for us? That fundamental recommendation should be rejected.
I doubt very much whether a Commissioner for Standards could have done any better. He could not have acted more speedily than did this House, or produced any better result than was achieved through our own procedures. If we have an outside commissioner, things could get worse. If an extra tier of investigation is imposed, there could be delay in dealing with complaints. Any disagreement between the commissioner and the House committees could cause complications and further delay in settling complaints. I note that the Leader’s Group in its report states that it does not expect a large workload for the commissioner, and that he or she could be retained on a part-time basis, and, presumably, remunerated on a per diem basis.
Finally, I reiterate that we should be careful of farming out the regulation of this House to an outside commissioner. I do not believe that there is much enthusiasm for the measure among Members of the House—but, of course, we shall find out during the ensuing debate. I hope that the Leader of the House will also accept my amendment for the proposals to be reconsidered. I regret that I have taken up the time of the House in making these points. It would have been very much better if we could have considered these matters at a later stage.
My Lords, I support the Leader of the House in her Motion that the House should adopt the revised code of conduct—it is included in full on the Order Paper—resulting from the thorough inquiry by the Leader’s Group. I also support the view of the Leader’s Group that we need the code of conduct and a guide to the rules of conduct, the text of which is in Part 3 of the report of the Leader’s Group but which we are not being asked to approve today, given that it will go to the Committee for Privileges before being submitted to the House. Overall, this approach is sensible.
I understand the motivation behind the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, but I support the view of the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, that the text on the Order Paper responds best to the desire to strengthen our position against unjustified criticism and any misplaced public perception. I stand by the text.
I have two brief comments that reinforce my approval of the text. First, the wording in paragraph 8, which enshrines the ban on parliamentary consultancies, and the new text on paid advocacy are expressed in much clearer language. That is important. If you believe, as I do, in such bans, the text is fully acceptable. Secondly, I note that there is no reference in the code to the use of the facilities of the House—a rather tricky point—but, for the avoidance of doubt, it is useful that the text is set out in paragraphs 92 to 95 of the draft guide to the rules of conduct.
A revised code of conduct and a guide to the rules of conduct are necessary, but I should stress that, in the 11 years that I have been in the House of Lords, attending every day or almost every day, my overall impression of the House is that its Members give up a lot of their time, some elements of their family life and, in many cases, their money in order to participate in its work. I would not like the reality to be forgotten when we discuss codes, guides and discipline.
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will hear, briefly, from another Member on the Cross Benches. In its briefing note mentioned in paragraph 72 of the report, the Hansard Society described the existing code as an uninspiring document—uninspiring because it is largely negative in character. The Eames group has met that challenge and has tried to make the code more inspiring by emphasising the positive aspects of our purpose in life as Members of the House of Lords. In this, the Eames group has largely succeeded and has made the code much shorter, so it is much to be welcomed.
I venture to comment on two respects in which the new code differs from the existing code. One is the subject of the first amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. Under paragraph 5 of the new code, Members will be asked, on taking the oath, to sign an undertaking to abide by the code. This is of great importance. When we debated the case of the four Peers on 20 May, it was necessary for us to rely on an implied undertaking to abide by the code in order to justify the sanctions that we imposed. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. What we did on 20 May was perfectly correct in law, for the reasons given at the time by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, with which I agreed, but how much better that in future we should be able to rely on an express undertaking, should the need arise. Therefore, I regret that I cannot agree with the first amendment tabled by the noble Lord.
The second amendment deals with the commissioner. The point has been made that the appointment of a commissioner would undermine the principle of self-regulation. It would do no such thing. The appointment would be to carry out a preliminary investigation of complaints, make a preliminary finding of facts and report in due course to the sub-committee. Far from undermining self-regulation, it would assert it. Therefore, again with regret, I cannot support the second amendment.
My second point about the code arises from paragraph 19, which deals with procedural safeguards. The existing code provides that safeguards must be,
“as rigorous as those applied in the courts and professional disciplinary bodies”.
There was evidence that this test placed an almost impossible burden on the sub-committee. The Hansard Society briefing note describes the test as having become “a lawyers’ charter”. Therefore the language has been changed to make the test less rigorous. Under the new paragraph 19, the sub-committee must act,
“in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness”.
Fairness is the principle that underlies all procedural safeguards in the courts. The rules of natural justice have come to have a specific content in law. Nevertheless, I support the change in the wording if it will enable the sub-committee to proceed more expeditiously.
My last point is that in paragraph 27 of its report the Eames group considered and rejected the idea of putting the code on a statutory basis, which, it was said, would open up the prospect of judicial review on matters of internal discipline. I entirely agree that a statutory code would have been disastrous, but we deceive ourselves if we think that, because of the change in wording, a lawyer will never be able to find something about which to complain—and they may still seek leave to apply for judicial review. To have excluded judicial review in express terms would have been fatal to our purpose, but we must remember that an application for judicial review lies only with leave. Our best protection, therefore, rests on the good sense of judges in refusing leave to apply for judicial review in unmeritorious cases and on our own good sense in ensuring that our procedures are as fair as we can make them.
The proposed safeguards set out in paragraphs 111 to 116 of the guidance are a very good start. If difficulties arise, the safeguards can always be reviewed from time to time by the Committee for Privileges. That seems to be the great advantage of separating the code from the guidance. One is intended to be flexible, the other not—or, at any rate, less so. The Eames group has, in my view, done us a great service by proposing this separation of the code from the guidance. I hope that we will accept the thrust of the report and adopt the code today.
My Lords, after so many long and magnificent speeches, I shall be very brief. Nothing has yet been said, apart from by the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, of any great merit about what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is really getting at. I support him because he is seeking a reconsideration of the appointment of the Commissioner for Standards for your Lordships’ House. That matter should be reinvestigated.
The reason for appointing the commissioner is set out in paragraphs 16, 17 and 19 of the code—I am not looking at my notes but I think that I have that right—and is reflected in paragraph 68 of the report. It is a fundamentally flawed reason because it is said that this is necessary to ensure that the public have confidence in the House. However, the public have confidence in the House; the ripples of the pool into which the stone of the other place was cast have not reached the doorstep of this House. Nevertheless, what has happened has produced what is in the code. I think that it is a magnificent document but what troubles me is that it is made on a flawed basis. I ask noble Lords to look at paragraph 68.
There is no evidence that this House has lost the confidence of the public. One has only to look at what happened the other day regarding the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Waddington. It related to a matter of great concern to the public. Our mailbags were full and were accompanied by many e-mail messages. What my noble friend Lord Waddington did was restore my amendment. That amendment had been supported by Lord Russell, and it was he, not me, who carried the day with his exposition on the distinction between religion and race. The amendment was opposed by the Attorney-General and there was a sort of cooked-up administrative guidance which was going to be distributed, but the amendment was won by quite a margin due to Lord Russell’s speech. I received messages saying, “You helped us before, so will you support Lord Waddington?”. I seldom, if ever, talk about what I do, but now I am attacking a flawed reason. My personal experience shows that it is flawed and that is why I have spoken about it.
One also has to take the greatest care not to allow the image of another place to be engraved on our doorstep, unless there is a really important reason. The only reason given here is flawed. Is it not better to abide by the conventions so that each House retains mastership of its own procedures?
My last point relates to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. A committee could easily be chaired by a retired Law Lord, a noble and gallant Lord, a right reverend Prelate, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, or anyone on the committee. Why do we have to go outside? Why is there this terrible error? What is it all about? What are we afraid of? The question is unanswerable. They have got it wrong. Please will they have a look at it to see whether they can get it right?
My Lords, the work done by the Leader’s Group, so ably led by the noble and right reverend Lord, has been superb. I agree with almost all of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, has tabled two amendments and I want to say a word about the one that would delete paragraph 5. Signing an undertaking is a serious matter for an individual, particularly within the House of Lords, a Chamber of Parliament. It has been described by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, as a small price to pay. I do not equate signing a solemn affirmation as a small price to pay for anything; it is a very serious undertaking indeed. So I have a certain amount of sympathy for part of the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. When a Peer signs a solemn undertaking in this House, in my view that Peer has an absolute right to expect that its clauses, rules or whatever are capable, beyond peradventure, of only one interpretation. If we make a solemn affirmation, we are in dangerous territory if the clauses or items that describe the conduct that we have to pursue are capable of different interpretations.
Although there has been talk of safeguards—I respect what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has said—in the light of experience I believe that, where there may be difficulties of interpretation, they must be reviewed by the Committee for Privileges, which would then report to the House, not by the independent commissioner. For me, the signing of an affirmation is a serious matter. When I sign one, I want to know exactly what I am signing up to. If there is any doubt, I know that it can be reviewed at a later stage.
I accept the noble Lord’s point, but I always have a slight tingle down the back of my spine when I hear us being asked to do something to inspire public confidence. What we want is to inspire the confidence of our fellow Members of this House, first and foremost. If we can indeed inspire the confidence of the public, so much the better, but what will the public say about our signing an affirmation here? They will say, “They have signed another piece of paper. Is that a guarantee that they are going to behave?”. We do not know the answer to that. I believe that it is such a serious matter to sign an affirmation, a declaration or whatever we call it that it is essential that we are clear what we are signing up to. If we find out later that there is a lack of clarity, it should be properly reviewed so that, beyond peradventure and beyond any doubt, we know what it is that we sign up to.
My Lords, I accept the broad thrust of the Motions tabled by the noble Baroness and the proposals contained in the documents that go with them. I accept also most of the detail in the documents and the Motions. I have a small number of detailed points, one of which I have already raised with the noble Baroness. That is a matter for the committee that will now consider the detailed guidance, to which I shall make representations, so I need not trouble your Lordships with it. Against that background, I fear that I cannot support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
My Lords, perhaps I can say just a few words. I support the report and I hope that it goes through without amendment, because it is of good quality. I generally take the view that the declaration of an interest is the most important thing that a member of any legislature can do because, by and large, people in this House, any other House or outside will make a sound judgment as to what are your motivations when you make a speech or act in any way. Obviously, voting is critical and you should not vote where there is a financial interest.
Having said that, I have already raised one concern in principle with the Leader of the House and a few others and in one of the committees at which Members spoke. It concerns five magic words that appear several times in the report, most notably at page 27 in paragraph 15. I will not cite the whole paragraph, but just the last sentence, which states:
“Members of the House should be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others”.
What do the words “and shared by few others” mean? I tried to find out. I asked two members of the committee and one Clerk who had some responsibility for drafting them. My noble friend on the Front Bench may have been able to do rather better research than I, but I have yet to get an answer to that. I understand that they first appeared in a 1995 Resolution of the House. They were then taken out of the Companion in 2001, but put back in again in 2003—at paragraph 480, I believe.
They are important words, because they could undermine the meaning of that paragraph or reinforce it. If nobody knows what they mean, that is a concern. If they have no meaning, at some suitable point in future and without interfering with anything else that we do today, we ought to omit them. If they are there for a reason, we ought to know what that reason is. I asked myself that question, and I ought to run past the House the only examples that I could come up with in case they are the reason. The first is that it could possibly relate to shareholdings where people hold shares in a company common to many. That seems unlikely, but it is possible.
I then thought—and if this is correct, it is a bit more worrying—that it might relate to certain professions or groups which are in the House in some significant number. To use an obvious example, I have noticed that there are quite a few lawyers in this House. I have often thought that lawyers speaking in this House need to declare an interest more often than they frequently do. A most obvious case is where legal aid may be involved in any way and there is a pecuniary advantage either to a chamber or to that lawyer. Let me make it absolutely clear that I do not want to stop lawyers speaking, including on such matters. Indeed, it is important that they do speak, but not if,
“and shared by few others”,
means letting the lawyers off the hook.
The other group that occurred to me was farmers, who again often have general subsidy advantages and frankly ought to declare an interest more often than they do. Again, I emphasise that I do not want to stop them speaking—indeed, I want to encourage them to speak because what they have to say is often very important and very helpful to the House—but I can think of no other possible explanation of why those five words are there. I would be glad if my noble friend could enlighten me when she sums up. If not, can we take a longer look at this and either drop those words or have a note telling us whether we are one of the few or one of the many?
My Lords, first, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that I was a member of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests in the previous Session. Our work earlier this year convinced me, and I think my colleagues, that the wording of the code needed careful reconsideration, and the whole House is grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his colleagues for their work and their report.
I have two points to make today. If today’s Motion is carried, and assuming that I am reappointed to the sub-committee, I will be of one of those who will consider the detailed wording of the proposed guide. One of the difficult questions that we will need to consider—I, for one, would welcome advice from your Lordships on this either in this debate or afterwards—is how to word the code and the guide in a way that prevents Peers from profiting from their parliamentary activity and knowledge but still permits them to continue to have important outside interests of every kind, where inevitably they will sometimes be asked their advice and opinion on current legislative, parliamentary and governmental matters.
We all value the contribution of colleagues on their specialist subjects, and visitors and outside observers often comment on the amount of world-class expertise in your Lordships’ House. The distinction of so many noble Lords is what gives this House its special flavour and value within our constitution, but that very expertise is of less use if it is all in the past. Current practice in every field advances faster and faster these days, and we are all in danger of becoming out of date. For that reason alone, we need to allow Peers who have significant outside interests to continue to have them. We also have to recognise that those with significant outside interests will simply not come to the House if they are forced to give them up in order to do so. The Members of another place are likely to become ever more specialist politicians, which makes it all the more important that your Lordships’ House should not become so. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his colleagues say in the report that the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable interests is not always obvious. I entirely agree. The wording of the guide in this respect needs the most careful consideration.
The other matter that concerns me is the blurring of the lines of responsibility over Lords’ expenses. The proposed new code and guide provide that the new commissioner should investigate complaints not only about alleged breaches of the code of conduct, as the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests did earlier this year, but about alleged breaches of the rules on expenses and, for that matter, on the use of facilities. The Committee for Privileges and our sub-committee are to be responsible for dealing with expense allegations and facilities allegations on appeal from the commissioner’s findings.
At present, the control of expenses is part of the regular financial procedures of the House of Lords administration. As in every other government body, it is the responsibility of the accounting officer. In a government department, that is the Permanent Secretary. Here, the Clerk of the Parliaments is our chief executive. The finances in every particular are subject to internal and external audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. That process, and sometimes the details of it, is supervised by the Audit Committee of the House. It is to the Chairman of the Audit Committee that House of Lords staff who want to become whistleblowers are at present encouraged to report any wrongdoing which they believe is occurring at a high level.
That system is an important element in the whole structure of public finances. In my ministerial days, I observed that when the Permanent Secretary was facing criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor-General or, even more, was going to have to appear before the Public Accounts Committee, that is when the fur really flew in the department. When he or she was to be the man or woman in the spotlight, everyone in the department would go that extra mile to ensure that the Permanent Secretary in the department came out as well as possible. Apart from anything else, the Permanent Secretary was ultimately responsible for every civil servant’s career, which could not be said of the Secretary of State or any other Ministers who may be here for the moment, but may not be in a short while. The code proposes instead to give the responsibility—but only part of the responsibility—for investigating complaints to the new commissioner and to the Committee for Privileges. They will look only at complaints about expense claims received and not the financial system. They will only by chance see something that is systemically wrong.
It was on the recommendation of the Audit Committee that the question of Peers’ expenses was referred to the SSRB. We now have its report, which picks up the Eames committee’s recommendation of a role for the Committee for Privileges and its sub-committee. But neither the Eames committee nor the SSRB advance arguments in favour of this change and neither appear to have considered the overlapping responsibilities which it would create. For that matter, none of the opening speeches from the Front Bench and so on have dealt with that question either. Will the internal and/or external auditors examine the work of the new commissioner or will the auditors and the commissioner each leave some aspects to the other and risk a lacuna? What role will the accounting officer have, with his statutory responsibilities, to make sure that fraud and errors are discovered and dealt with?
If we are going to amend or augment the basic financial control systems which apply throughout the public sector, we need to give careful thought to how the new elements of the system will work with the existing elements to make sure that our controls are not weakened by confusing the lines of responsibility. But I suppose that that will be another matter to be considered by the Committee for Privileges and its sub-committee.
My Lords, in order to help us to make up our minds about the first amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House tell us whether there is any other legislature in the developed world whose Members are obliged to sign a solemn declaration that they will behave themselves and will refrain from cheating or engaging in other forms of dishonesty, or do we stand to be unique?
My Lords, I support the report and the code. I congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, on the job that has been done and the work of the Leader of the House in pushing it forward. I am afraid that some of our colleagues have brought obloquy on the House and to refer this report back now would be badly misunderstood.
However, I want to raise a slightly different point, which I think was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. I have reservations about the repeated reference made, I think, by the noble Lord, by the right reverend Prelate, by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and by the Leader of the House, to us being a part-time House. I do not think that that is now true, and it does not subtract from the important point that we all have hinterlands of width and depth. It also does not subtract from the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that when it comes to remunerated employment and interests, we have to be very careful.
When I came here—I think that all my colleagues on the Labour Benches and indeed many on the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches had the same experience; certainly since 1997—my noble friend Lord Grocott, the Chief Whip at the time, when interviewing me asked, “Are you prepared to be a working Peer?”. I said, “Yes”, and it was arranged so that I left the TUC’s employment on the same day that I came here. I could not possibly have continued as a trade union official at the same time as being here because there would have been an obvious conflict of interest—I was going to say “conflict of loyalty”, but I do not see it as that. However, it would have been difficult to ride both horses together. Others ought to reflect on that. On the one side there is the question of hinterland, while on the other there is the question of current employment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said, many of us are working virtually a full day here. We do not expect to get £68,000 a year for that, and I do not want to intrude—we have been told not to—on the debate to be held in two weeks’ time. But the fact is that paragraph 2 of the code and some of the obiter dicta in the narrative are not quite correct in saying that we are mostly remunerated outside the House. I do know whether the committee of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, did any statistical research into this, but I think it would have entailed us filling in a form showing the nature of our incomes if that had been the case. I think that it is guesswork.
However, I repeat that these days, most of us are asked to come here on the basis that we will be working Peers. I think that that is a good thing, and it does not mean that you cannot be a dentist at the same time, which may be necessary for some professions. But for the most part, it does not mean that we are simply a copy of the House of Commons and that we cannot bring a breadth of experience to this House if we are not here generally on a part-time basis. Indeed, I think it would be dangerous if a doctrine were to be proclaimed that we are a part-time House.
My Lords, I respectfully agree with the various reasons that have been suggested to your Lordships for approving the Eames report and the proposed code of conduct. There are two matters, one of principle and the other a technicality, which I want to draw attention to. Before I come to those, however, perhaps I may say simply that I do not agree with the proposed amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. It seems to me, in agreement with my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, that nothing can be the matter with asking noble Lords to agree expressly to that which ought to be implied anyway. That deals with the proposal to leave out paragraph 5.
As to the amendment regarding the commissioner, my belief, bred from a certain amount of experience—albeit not much, or any, in the criminal courts—is that a fact-finding tribunal of one adjudicating individual is a more efficient way of proceeding than an adjudication by means of a committee. The downside of a single individual being the adjudicator is that it becomes all the more important to ensure that the procedures observed are consistent with fairness and natural justice. That is the point of principle that I wanted to mention.
I had the feeling when reading the Eames report that there might be a belief that the decisions of this House on disciplinary matters which go through the various existing procedures and end up before this House are not amenable to challenge in any court. There might be a belief that the domestic courts of law lack jurisdiction to supervise decisions of this House in any respect—due to parliamentary privilege, or whatever may be the historical origin of that belief—and it might be right. However, I am not here to engage in difficult constitutional issues. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has suggested, judicial review might be available; it has never been tried, but it might be. But that is for the future.
However, a complaint to Strasbourg would be more dangerous than the procedures of this House being subjected to judicial review domestically. A complaint to the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg would have to be preceded by a conclusion that domestic remedies had been exhausted, as they would have been if judicial review were not available. This feature would be a good reason for regarding judicial review procedures as desirable and for making them available. If they are not, I can see no answer to the Strasbourg court accepting jurisdiction to consider a case which—however the matter may eventually turn out—plausibly appeared well founded on the basis of lack of fairness or natural justice.
The procedures that must attend the determination of disciplinary allegations are all important. If the proposals of the Eames report have any Achilles heel, it will lie in the procedures’ vulnerability to attack on grounds of alleged unfairness or absence of a feature of natural justice. It is desperately important that when the Committee for Privileges comes to consider the detail, the procedures which are employed should be as foolproof as careful debate and careful drafting can make them. We would be living in cloud-cuckoo-land to suppose that the matter would end with this House if there were an allegation of unfairness or a failure to observe the rules of natural justice. I do not believe that it would.
The technical point that I wish to mention arises out of rule 14 of the code of conduct. It states:
“A Member must not act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House”.
Like all other noble Lords, I know what that is aimed at. Until recently, however, the Appellate Committee of the House heard regularly from paid advocates, some of whom were Peers. Now that the jurisdiction has gone to the Supreme Court, that has not put an end to the possibility of barristers who may also be Peers appearing before committees of the House. The example that I have in mind is the case of Private Bills where barristers appear before the committee and recommend—for which recommendation they are paid—a course that is advantageous to their client. That is not a mischief at which rule 14 is aimed. However, when the contents of the guide are compiled, the language of the rule will require consideration to make it clear that barristers who have the advantage of also being Peers are not precluded from that line of practice.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Leader’s Group’s report, the code and the guide. I was here in 2001, as were many others, when the tone of the debate was quite different from what we are experiencing today. Then, the late lamented Lord Williams of Mostyn, a man who could persuade the birds to come down from the trees and charm the House, ran into a brick wall when he came to move his code through this House. I recall it being one of the strongest and fiercest debates that I had heard for a good many years. We have moved on since then, but it is worth reminding ourselves—I pick up the prompting from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester about honesty—that we have made one or two other changes which have been prompted not so much of our own volition as on the basis of the media’s intervention.
Three years ago, following criticism of the alleged misuse of parliamentary passes, a register of interests of Lords Members’ secretaries and research assistants, and, I presume, anyone else whom they supported for a pass, was introduced. This is not mentioned in the report or the guidance. It should have been picked up during the examination and referred to, at least in the guidance. I should be grateful if my noble friend the Leader would comment on that.
Overall, I welcome the revised code and the guidance and I oppose the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart—he is endeavouring to fight against the tide and the other problems that may arise. The report and, in particular, the guidance, which will become increasingly important, move the House in the right direction, although, as I have mentioned to members of the committee, there may still be more that can be done.
It may come as a surprise to some of my colleagues that I welcome the changes, because I am one of eight out of more than 700 Peers who registered as a parliamentary consultant. Assuming that the measures go through—and I shall support them—it means that that will come to an end. I wish to say a few words about the background to that and the problems that may arise as a result.
When I came into the Lords, I was already working as a consultant with several organisations, one of them being an international firm, Accenture plc. When the Register was introduced, I complied. As I had worked with those organisations before I entered Parliament, I registered them as non-parliamentary consultancies. Subsequently, Accenture, particularly its American counsel, decided that it wanted to review my contract. Understandably, it is protective of its reputation and extremely fearful of any adverse publicity that may come its way and harm it. It therefore went through the House’s 2001 code of conduct in fine detail and incorporated much of it into a contract, which I have before me. It runs to 14 pages and extends even to the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 to 1916 and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. However, it specifically states that I must not infringe the “Advocacy Rule” and sets out a long list from the code of what I cannot do, such as,
“vote on any bill or motion, or ask any question of the House or a committee, or promote any matter on behalf of Accenture”.
I could read out all the others, but I shall not take up more time. However, it is very restrictive. I therefore say to the House that I have never breached the rule on parliamentary advocacy as a parliamentary consultant. If I had done, I think that Accenture would have sacked me, because it has a contract with me that prevents me from so doing.
I registered this contract with the authorities here. Notwithstanding the fact that it makes much mention of parliamentary activities, as I have just described, I did not view it personally as a parliamentary consultancy. I have never had any dealings with Accenture’s individual clients—in many instances, I do not even know who its clients are—but have been engaged primarily as a strategic adviser. The authorities here took a different view and insisted that it was registered as a parliamentary consultancy. On balance, at the end of the day, I fell in line with them. It was even said that I had a model contract, which, if it was used by others, would avoid many of the problems that have arisen in this House.
Of course, it has been open to me simply to override the authorities’ judgment; that is in the report and remains there. I could reclassify myself as a non-parliamentary consultant. I know that others in the House have done that. The authorities have wished to see them classed as parliamentary consultants, but they have decided themselves—with the freedom of the House—to classify themselves as non-parliamentary consultants. My contract has been open to the public, my salary has been declared publicly and, of course, my conduct has been under close examination, by anyone who has chosen to spend a bit of time looking at the contract and my remuneration. I have had some problems with that recently.
Noble Lords might ask why I am telling them all this and what it has to do with the Eames report. My first reason, as noble Lords have probably gathered, is that this is the sole opportunity for me to respond to what is in effect a summary ban on an employment engagement that I have. For the record, and contrary to what the media have said recently, I am still with Accenture plc. Indeed, I have had a troubled weekend with the media, but Accenture has been in touch with me and has given me full support to ensure that the right thing is done. I am still with Accenture but, in the light of what the House decides, given the decision that I took earlier, I shall in due course fully comply with the decisions that we take and will end my engagement with that firm.
My second reason for giving noble Lords all this information, which is more important in the broader sense, is that while the group’s report abolishes the confusing distinction between parliamentary and non-parliamentary consultancies, it does not appear to have seen too many problems in that area with a non-parliamentary consultancy. As a parliamentary consultant, I have sat and watched and moved around the House and I am surprised that only eight people were designated as parliamentary consultants. Indeed, we have between 150 and 160 non-parliamentary consultants, as noble Lords can see from the Register—quite a substantial number of people in the House. As I said, some have changed their views about where they stand and I believe without any doubt that they will be able to justify the position that they have taken. However, we must try hard to ensure that we avoid some of the criticisms that we have had in the past by making the guidance that we bring in cover as far as possible all the eventualities that might lead to criticism.
I suggested to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and previously to the Leader, that, while I recognise that the House cannot enter into a contract between itself and individual Peers, we should encourage individual Peers, particularly those who fall in the non-parliamentary consultancy arena, to follow best practice. By that I mean that I hope that we might explore the possibility of drawing up model contracts, which Peers might seek to introduce into the employment contract that they have with people outside. I think that it is worth having a look at that. It may mean additional bureaucracy—I heard what was said during the noble Lord’s introduction—but this is an area where we may come under close examination in future and model contracts would help us significantly in beefing up our position. I would welcome my noble friend’s views on that.
I will close fairly quickly now. I just make the point that, if that were agreed, it would be in the guidance and Peers would decide on a voluntary basis—nothing compulsory—whether they wanted to use it. If they did, I believe that it would support the culture that the code is endeavouring to enhance; it would be a positive and additional safeguard for individual Peers in covering outside activities and avoiding some of the criticisms that they may fall foul of. It would also be a clear demonstration to the outside world of Peers’ desire to practise self-regulation; again, it would be an element of self-regulation.
Staying on the guidance, I welcome particularly the changes on directorships in paragraph 39 on page 35. Giving a broader indication of the company’s business as distinct from simply listing it, as at present, is quite a move towards greater openness and accountability. However, I do not understand why paragraphs 41, 42 and 52 positively prohibit the disclosure of remuneration, the value of shares or the percentage of shares in a company owned by any Peer. That is a retrograde step away from the existing code, which states at paragraph 14:
“Members of the House are not required to disclose how much they earn from the financial interests set out in paragraphs 12 and 13”—
that is, non-parliamentary consultancies, directorships, regularly remunerated employment, shareholdings and so on—
“but they may do so if they wish”.
For some reason we are deleting,
“but they may do so if they wish”.
No explanation is given for that, and I would welcome one. I would like to be convinced that deleting those words adds to more transparency and openness for this House; I fear that, as I read it, it does not. I look forward to answers on those points.
I come to my final point, which, to a degree, may have been covered already. I refer to paragraphs 100 and 101 on page 45 of the guidance, about making complaints. I have no difficulty as a Peer in confronting another Peer on an issue where I do not feel happy with their conduct; indeed, I have done so previously. On previous occasions, not with my present Leader but with previous Leaders, I have also made complaints about the conduct of Peers and I have complained to previous Clerks about what has been happening. One of the great difficulties here is that you make a complaint and it disappears. We need to be aware of that and ensure that we have proper processes in place. I wonder whether all Peers are able to make the complaints that they would like to and whether they are comfortable with facing up to other Peers. I am not sure about that, but I leave it as it is.
One area that I am interested in, though, and I pick this up from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is that a reference is made in paragraph 101 to non-Members who are required to confront a Peer if they are not acting honourably. I would like to know who those people are, because if they are non-Members they cannot be covered by the code. Are we talking about the staff of the House? This is where I pick up on the noble Lord’s point; I suspect that it may be House staff. May we please have some clarification on who these non-Members are and where they fit in?
As the noble Lord referred to me, perhaps I might do my best to assist, although I have no authority on the point. It means anyone who is not a Member. It may be a member of staff, a member of the public or a member of the press; all the paragraph says is that someone making a complaint about a Member should, normally at any rate, raise it with the Member first to see whether there is a reasonable explanation that would cause them not to pursue it.
While I am on my feet, let me say that if the noble Lord made a complaint in former times to a previous Leader of the House, Clerk of the House or whatever, he obviously did not do so officially. If he had done, he would have made it to the interests sub-committee and it would have been investigated, as complaints were. Anyone can have a private word, of course, which will not be followed up unless the person making the complaint wishes it to be.
I suspect that my complaints have been private, in that sense, rather than public.
I would like clarification on who is being referred to. If it is indeed anyone, then they are certainly not covered by the code. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally: if someone makes a complaint, you should know who it is. To seek to have them approach the Peer in advance before they make their complaint, however, is quite unrealistic and is not the real world that we are living in. That needs to be examined.
I feel that proper whistleblowing facilities should be available for the staff of this House. It has been recommended by Kelly that they should be introduced in the Commons. If we have those already, then fine; if we do not, can they be considered? They will be needed and they would help us rather than hinder us.
My Lords, I want to raise a much more limited point, but one that may be significant to a number of Members of your Lordships’ House in the decision that we have to make. To come back to the terminology in paragraph 68, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House clarify whether the officeholder, who is grandly titled,
“Commissioner for Standards in the House of Lords”,
is, as I understand them to be, an investigating officer who does not reach determinations but rather reports to existing House structures? That is how I read the documents but I think that some noble Lords may have been reading them in a different sense. It would be of great use to have that clarified.
My Lords, I shall say a few words based on my extremely limited experience as chairman of the Committee for Privileges Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests. I was encouraged to take that role on the basis that it would not be a particularly demanding one, based on the previous experience of the House. I learnt quickly, however, that that was far from the case. I have to tell your Lordships that I found it one of the most difficult tasks that I had had, notwithstanding the fact that I had rather long experience as a judge. The difficulties were created by the lack of certainty about both the process and the matters to be investigated.
I congratulate the committee over which the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, presided on the significant improvement that it has achieved. Before listening to this debate, I would have been quite content to say, “This is something that the House should wholly welcome, and it would undoubtedly improve the situation”. However, because of the amendments proposed, I thought that it may be of assistance if I said a word about the commissioner, whose role I believe has just been correctly identified. I am bound to say that I would have found a commissioner of that sort—an independent person finding the facts—a huge benefit during my period on the sub-committee. I feel that we must accept that recommendation, whatever other parts of the report are qualified by the House.
Some of the matters that it is clearly intended should not be permitted need the most careful definition possible. It is only, I believe, with experience of the investigation of complaints about them that their proper definition can be determined. I suggest that the division between the two roles—a firm code that sets out general principles, supported by what I would call a case law system—is something that we should welcome because it will achieve the practical and fair results that we want.
I listened with great care to what my noble and learned friend Lord Scott said about the dangers of seeking to take this investigation to Strasbourg. I hope that any such event would be rare and that Strasbourg would deal promptly and summarily with any attempt to take such action. The article that would be relied on would be Article 6, which requires fairness. I hope that, where there was an investigation into the conduct of a Member of this House, the sub-committee and the committee would ensure that fairness would occur. Nothing that I have read about what is proposed would prevent the two committees from achieving fair procedures. As long as they took that course, it seems to me that in practice there would be no danger of any interference by the European Court of Human Rights.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the Leader of the House on the very sensible decision that we should endorse the code of conduct but remit for further work the draft guidance on the code. I take this opportunity to say how valuable the Leader of the House has been to us in taking account of the House’s views on these matters. She always does it, and it is a very important measure of the soundness of a Leader of your Lordships' House. I am sure that her successor will be every bit as sound. In paying that tribute to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, I also pay tribute to and thank the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who always enlightens and entertains us with his powerful mind and gifts of oratory. In fact, if he were the leader of the whole of his party, I think that my party and the Labour Party would have more to fear.
We all recognise that this exercise has been made necessary by the sad fall in public trust in Parliament caused primarily by the foolish, insensitive and very occasionally dishonest behaviour of a minority of Members of the House of Commons. Many of their woes have arisen as a result of poor and confused administration of their expenses system, which itself derived from poor guidance as to the letter of the rules. It is precisely that error that we have to avoid repeating.
The lesson that has been made clear to me from this debate so far is that things are nothing like as simple as we would wish them to be. We have heard three views from noble and learned Lords and they have not, to my untutored ear, entirely coincided. We have also had a very interesting intervention from my noble friend Lord Cope on some important technical points; and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, spoke very clearly of the quandary regarding signing an affirmation of readiness to abide by the code. Does such an affirmation cover equally the guidance, because that is where the difficulties can arise? If we are to talk about which things can be complained about and which are justiciable, it is very important to get this right.
I hope that the Leader of the House is being realistic in thinking that the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, can report quickly. It must not report with unanswered questions. There should be a sort of Second Reading of the guidance when it is produced to make sure that we get it right. I do not think that people in general will see a distinction between the code and the guidance. The guidance is every bit as important and, in many ways, much more difficult to produce. My recommendation is that it should be as general as possible. The current guidance is far too specific, covering how many e-mails you can have, whether you are waiting for an important vote or doing something private as justification for being here. Frankly, it is a little absurd. The committee has done a jolly good job on the code of conduct, but it needs, in many ways, almost to start from scratch on the guidance.
We are all aware that there have been a number of allegations of improper behaviour by a very small number of Members of your Lordships' House. From reading the press reports, all of them, with a tiny number of exceptions, seem to have been unfair, inaccurate and on occasion clearly defamatory. That said, all those who have done wrong must in my view be sternly dealt with. We took some steps in that direction earlier this year when we suspended two Members; in my opinion, they actually got off quite lightly.
There are two crucial considerations: first, we must have a full recognition that for the majority of Members of this House—I say this in deference to the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall—there is a duality of life, which has always been the raison d’être of this strange institution which harnesses the experience, achievement, wisdom and energy of those who are mainly past the peak of their career but who are prepared to work for the public good of our country, enabling them to make such a contribution. That means that not only must there be transparent outside interests, but it must be recognised and, indeed, proudly emphasised that there can be a real synergy between outside interests and membership of this House. If one looks at the Register of Interests of the two Houses one is struck—at least I was—by the far less impressive and often much less relevant interests of Members of another place.
We must also bear in mind that there are some in the media—there probably always have been and always will be—whose schadenfreude, in this case against politicians and perhaps Parliament, will encourage them to use the letter of whatever written document there is, however absurdly, as the basis of accusations. Let us face it: this schadenfreude is much more widely shared among the public, often with justification, especially in moments of national crisis that are perceived as being the product of bad government and parliamentary control over government. We all know that in politics perception is reality.
My Lords, I should like to say one or two words in my capacity as chairman of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. In that capacity, I greatly welcome the report and the clarification that it provides of the role of the House of Lords and the responsibilities of Members of the House. The commission is firmly of the view that membership of the House is of course a privilege and an honour, but that it is much more than that. There is increasing public expectation, which the commission shares, that Members of the House, by whichever route they enter it, should play an active and effective role in its business.
The greater the clarity about the role of the House and about the responsibilities of its Members—and though it is not the subject of today's debate, the greater the clarity too about the financial support arrangements for Members of the House—the greater the chance that the commission will receive the kind of nominations that will enable it to continue to recommend appointments of people of real merit to your Lordships' House, who will contribute significantly to its work. I therefore greatly welcome the revised code of conduct and I welcome in particular its emphasis on what Members are expected to do and not just on what they are expected not to do.
On one specific point—this echoes what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has just said—I greatly welcome the clear statement in the report that Peers’ experience and expertise gained outside Parliament should be regarded as an asset and,
“one of the greatest strengths of this House, which should be protected”.
We know and see that every day. One of our tasks collectively is to ensure that that is recognised more widely. The measures in the report to clarify and prevent potential or actual conflicts of interest will contribute greatly to that end.
I welcome the proposed appointment of the House of Lords commissioner for standards and I am particularly grateful for the clarification on that point provided by my noble friend Lady O’Neill and my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf. It may not have been necessary in the past, but there is widespread public disenchantment with the political process in, I fear, both Houses. I wish that I could share the confidence of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that the waves of disenchantment are not lapping at our own House: I fear that they are. I believe that this provides a strong argument for such an appointment today in order to provide public reassurance about the transparency of the processes of this House. I am happy therefore to support both Motions before us today.
My Lords, as a member of the Leader’s Group, I should like to make a few comments in the light of the debate. First, I pay tribute and give my warm thanks to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for his quite superb chairmanship—I am sure that my colleagues would agree with that—which was demonstrated by the quality of his speech this afternoon. Of course, the death of Lord Kingsland was a sad loss for us, but I emphasise that we had agreed on all the major points before he died and I am sure that they would have had his support.
I have three points to make about the Lords commissioner for standards. First, in no way will that threaten self-regulation. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, were absolutely right about the very precise role that we gave the commissioner. It is worth repeating that the report states that we should appoint a commissioner,
“to conduct investigations, to make findings of fact and to draw conclusions as to possible breaches of the Code, and to report these to the existing committee structure”.
The self-regulation lies with the existing committee structure.
Secondly, we were at pains to minimise the cost of the commissioner. We suggested that it might be sensible for him to be paid on a per diem basis. We very much hope that the workload will be nothing like the workload in the House of Commons. We certainly do not want to build a new bureaucracy at considerable expense. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about avoiding tit-for-tat. That was a very serious issue in the House of Commons when I was there, particularly leading up to election times, although I am glad to see that it is much diminished. I am sure that it would never happen here.
My third point is in relation to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, about the precise nature of the Clerk and the recommendations that we make. There is a difference between the accounting officer in a department with responsibility for the accounting issues affecting employees in that department and the position of Parliament. For a start, we are not employees. I am not convinced, as the new chairman of the Audit Committee, that the Audit Committee is the right committee to look at individual cases. I have not discussed this with the Clerk of the Parliaments, but I feel, particularly in relation to accusations from outside about abuse of allowances, that the Clerk, who is a very senior officer of this House, is put in an invidious and difficult position compared with a Permanent Secretary. I feel that we have got that right. I am happy to look at it again in the light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, but he would have to persuade me very strongly because I think that we have got the position right.
We were very clear, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, made it clear in his opening speech, what we were proposing in guidance. We did not cover everything and we did not feel that we always reached the right conclusions in detail. We were trying to establish the principles and clarify a number of the points that Members of this House had put to us where they felt that the existing guidance was not clear. We covered the points that needed to be covered and gave some indication of what we thought were the right answers. I have to admit that in some cases, among ourselves on small points of detail, there was considerable discussion before we put forward figures. For example, the de minimis figure for gifts and hospitality was put forward as a figure for wider consideration. Therefore, I stress to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, among others, that we are not wedded to every detail of the guidance. I am glad that it will be looked at and explored further in the light of the responses given to the report by colleagues.
I would also say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that an important point in the guidance is the point that Lord Kingsland himself constantly stressed. That was the point, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, put it, of developing case law in the guidance as cases, which very often will raise unusual issues, are decided in the process of consideration of the case. Case law will be an important point.
Finally, I would say to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that in looking at the many different examples of paid advocacy, it never occurred to us to include the position of the Bishops.
My Lords, with an eye on the clock— as we know, we have been considering this matter for getting on for three hours now—I shall be very brief indeed. I join the universal chorus by saying that I, too, congratulate the authors of the report, particularly the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I think that they got the sense of the House correctly. I, too, agree that the report is comprehensive and of the very highest quality. It is against that background that I shall comment briefly on the two amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, particularly the suggestion that we delete paragraph 5.
I, too, felt that paragraph 5 was demeaning—I was irritated by the requirement to sign such a declaration. I, too, ask whether we are the only second Chamber in the world that would have to do so. I have regard particularly to paragraph 8, which says that Members of the House must comply with the code of conduct. Do paragraphs 5 and 8 sit comfortably together? Had we been considering a Bill in your Lordships’ House, I would almost certainly have tabled an amendment to the wording of paragraph 5 to say that the code should be binding on all Members taking the oath. In other words, it would tie in that requirement to the very powerful requirement under the oath—an oath to the sovereign—to behave in the way that your Lordships and I understand.
However, I would not support the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, on this. To do so would set us into very deep water. The general public have a view of Parliament at the moment. It is often misguided, but we all know what it is. We are now engaged in a public debate on the conduct of our House. To start to unpick individual wording and paragraphs in this report would set us on a course that would be totally misinterpreted, certainly by some elements of the media and probably by many members of the general public. We would be seen to try to duck and dive and wrestle out of the very things that we are trying to correct today. I, too, support both Motions today and will not support either amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
My Lords, as a member of the committee, perhaps I may briefly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I also pay tribute to the chairman and the clerk for their excellent work in producing the report.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, spoke of the “demeaning” possibility—I think that is the word he used—of every Member having to sign something when they take the oath and at the beginning of every Parliament to say that they will comply with the code of conduct. Members of the House, notably my noble friend Lord Grenfell, have raised serious points about the seriousness of this commitment. I very much welcomed the later intervention of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to say that this was a small price to pay for public confidence, rather than that it was a small price in itself. Perhaps I may make one practical point about this suggestion, since it was discussed by the committee.
Many of us do not have immediately in front of our minds every aspect of the code of conduct. I include myself in this, having been a Member of your Lordships’ House for 17 years. It has been very clear to me, in discussing the work and the outcome of the committee with various friends who are of my generation of Members of the House, from the beginning of the 1990s, that they certainly do not intend to break any aspects of the code of conduct. They certainly have no mal-intention towards it, but it is not something that they have actively considered for many years. One of the purposes of signing the code of conduct at the beginning of each Parliament would simply be to revive people’s memories of what it was that they were committed to in a practical way.
I make one further practical point on that question. I think it says explicitly in the commentary on the report that we asked the Clerk of the Parliaments—and he has agreed—to look at how this could be implemented in a way that is consistent with the formality of taking the oath. I do not speak for all members of the committee because we did not explicitly discuss this, but I do not necessarily see this as part of the ceremony of taking the oath at the beginning of a Parliament. It could, for example, be done at the same time, but outside the Chamber. It does not necessarily have to be involved in the ritual that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, quite rightly described in relation to the Writ. That issue was remitted to the Clerk of the Parliaments. I make those two practical points in order to put some context around the concerns that noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dear, have raised about signing a declaration of this kind.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, though not because I do not think that this is an extremely important subject for your Lordships’ House. However, as the newly appointed chair of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests—and remembering what I heard earlier from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—I believe that it is up to the House to decide what the committee’s role and remit is in reporting to the Committee for Privileges, and what its relationship is to any commissioner so appointed.
I make just two observations. The House’s reputation, fairly or unfairly, has been severely damaged by events here and in the other place over the summer. We delude ourselves if we try to persuade ourselves otherwise. Last week I said in a debate that I had been accosted by more than one taxi driver who said, “You’re not one of those, are you?” when I said that I wished to go to the House of Lords. I was tempted to confirm his opinions by lying and saying that I was only coming here for tea. Against that background, the status quo cannot prevail.
Secondly, I very much welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said. Commissioner for Standards is a rather grand title for the role that this individual will have, but there is also a strong need for a person with that role. The committee, of which I was a member, found that there is a lot of work to do and that it would be a great help to have the assistance of somebody whose job is to find facts before the work reaches us.
Thirdly, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues and say that if the House charges us with doing this work, we will try to do it—particularly on the guide—as speedily as possible, but with the knowledge that it is important to do it fairly and carefully, and taking into account the opinions of this House. We will not be able to rush it.
My Lords, I, too, am a member of the Leader’s Group. I do not wish to make a full speech but should like to answer a couple of points in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and one other point. I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, in her thanks to both our chair and our clerk, who made the drafting much more tolerable than it might have been otherwise.
I depart from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, only in one small point. We discussed the practical arrangements, only to park them and leave them for further thought; but we acknowledged that the signature of an undertaking was not, in our minds, part of the oath of allegiance. We were not, for instance, suggesting that the oath should be changed in any way at all, only that it was an occasion on which the undertaking could be given and the code acknowledged. It has been said that if there is no sanction for not signing an undertaking, there is no point to it, but I think that there is a point. It is an acknowledgement of the code and the concept of personal honour, which remains in the code and all of our minds. It may be novel for a legislative chamber, but it is not novel for any part of government in this country. In another sphere of government, I—and no doubt many other noble Lords—have signed an undertaking to abide by a code of conduct. I never found that demeaning or insulting in any way. It is a purely practical and sensible acknowledgement of the situation.
As regards, the commissioner, I agree that it is rather a grand title for what we had in mind. Its position is only to investigate facts, not to recommend sanctions. The sanctions would remain the responsibility of this House through its committees and, eventually, the House itself. We were made very much aware of the enormously heavy work load that even one complaint can generate. In a climate where the public are less deferential than they were some decades ago, and I welcome that, it seemed right to propose putting this mechanism in place. In response to my noble friend’s point about the role turning into a witchfinder-general, the post holder would be answerable to this House. Indeed, there is a reference to that in the code; any such investigation must be conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the guide to the rules. This is not the witchfinder-general role that my noble friend fears.
During our discussions I asked whether the phrase “shared by few others” had ever been contentious, as I was aware that it had been in use for some time. I was assured that it had not been contentious. However, paragraph 17 of the guidance refers to a contentious issue. Perhaps the guidance could be made clearer. I am sure that the sub-committee looking at this matter will apply common sense, which I do not think has been referred to this afternoon. We must not lose sight of common sense, or the moral sense which underlies the code.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate except to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that I was playing my full part in the work of the House. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Hamwee, have jogged my memory. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, it is not novel to sign an undertaking to abide by a code of conduct, not only in relation to other organisations but, if I am not mistaken, in relation to this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, joined the House a good deal longer ago than I did, so she may not remember this. However, if I am not mistaken, when I joined the House three years ago I was sent the code of conduct, and I signed an undertaking to abide by it. It seems to me that it is not that novel. If my recollection is a little hazy, I hope that that does not mean that I treated the signing of the undertaking—
In that case, it is understandable that the noble Baroness has no recollection of it. There certainly was a code of conduct when I became a Member of the House. I think that I am right in saying that I signed an undertaking to abide by it. Therefore, it would be perverse of me to object to signing a further undertaking to abide by the new code of conduct.
I support the eminently sensible proposition of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on how we should deal with this situation.
It is imperative, in my view, that Members of this House should be given an unambiguous steer on what they can and cannot do. Former European Commissioners, such as myself, receive a pension from the European Commission. Senior police officers also receive a pension. There are numerous examples of that kind. It is imperative that such people should be able to participate in debates that affect their pension rights and other issues. As a former European Commissioner, I hope that I can say something useful about the European Commission, and other noble Lords would have something to say about the police. This applies also to former judges and House of Lords members of the judiciary.
Essentially, the aim must be to advance the fundamental purposes of this House and the organisations with which Members may be connected. That is precisely what the Eames committee has sought to do. It has tackled the immensely difficult problem of trying to reconcile different themes. Overall, I support the Eames committee, but I have certain reservations about it, as the noble and right reverend Lord well knows.
In the main, people are selected to represent an organisation because they have practical experience or knowledge which the members of that organisation do not possess. Of course, that has a two-way advantage. The members of the executive in question speak intimately about the issues that primarily affect the membership. The president is concerned with political and external matters that also have a major effect on the trade union or other organisation concerned.
I illustrate this with my own case. I have been the president of the British Airline Pilots’ Association for some 29 years, long before I was a Member of this House. I have never been a pilot, but I have been an aviation Minister. In the European Commission, I served as transport and environment commissioner, both issues of great concern to BALPA. In consequence, while I do not always agree with the line taken by the trade union, in both Houses I have provided an insight into how pilots react to situations. I also provide Ministers and this House with an understanding of what motivates pilots. Ministers may or may not take that view into account, but at least, as a result of hearing it, they know how pilots feel.
BALPA’s national executive committee meets monthly. I render a parliamentary report, on which I may be questioned, and occasionally offer my views on other matters. I also meet with the chairman and general secretary every month, when we exchange views which are of moment to the trade union. For all this I receive a relatively small stipend. Should I be disqualified as a consequence of speaking about such matters? I contend that to deny that approach would be self-defeating. To argue that no payment should be made and that no travel expenses should be met would have certain undesirable consequences. To render services for nothing would be undesirable and contrary to the wishes of certain Members. It would, moreover, lead almost automatically to the recruitment of somebody outside politics who would not be affected by similar constraints. To deny any travel expenses would inevitably mean that the representative concerned would have to bear this himself or herself, or simply be unable to attend.
I have tried to allude to some of the practical difficulties that should loom large in our deliberations. There is a world of difference between being a fully paid advocate of a trade union or another organisation and having a keen interest in promoting matters of mutual concern. I am not sure that that has been wholly addressed by the Eames committee.
I do not dissent from the vast majority of the recommendations that the committee has put before us, and the House is considering, but the House should be able to highlight some of the practical problems which arise.
My Lords, I welcome the report. I have heard reference made to the other place. I shall not go into all the details regarding its problems, because that would certainly keep the House up all night. However, I have a worry which I should like to put to the Leader of the House. I have no objection to there being a Commissioner for Standards, or whatever name we may wish to give that person, but the House must make sure that that commissioner gets a proper job description. I shall tell you why.
Three parliamentary commissioners served while I was Speaker in the House of Commons, and they all approached their work differently. Some Members felt that if they had been investigated by a previous commissioner, they might have been treated fairly or differently. It used to be the case that self-referral to a parliamentary commissioner in the House of Commons was not acceptable, but because so many honourable Members were being badgered by the press for an investigation by the commissioners, many Members have sought, and have been able to obtain, self-referral. Self-referral is not necessarily a good thing, because it means that people can be bullied into going to the parliamentary commissioner.
We all talk about the freedom of the press, and no one would wish to take that away. However, the press have an awesome power. I have looked at some of the stories that they have covered in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I have heard Peers who are legally qualified. The press often do not make even a prima facie case in a newspaper. Members of the press love to get someone to say that they are reporting an honourable Member to the parliamentary commissioner.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, was right to say that the practice of one Member making a complaint against another has dwindled away. However, what certainly happened in the other place was that when the media were looking for a complainer, they tried to get one of our own. That is what they will do in the House of Lords—they will try to get a Peer to complain about another Peer. That is not a reason for not having a parliamentary commissioner, but it is a reason for giving them a proper job description.
I should not like a case to go to Strasbourg. However, in the other place, it is frowned on when an honourable Member brings a lawyer as a representative before the parliamentary commissioner. In the outside world, whether in an unfair dismissal tribunal or any other hearing, if someone brings a lawyer, everyone would say that they have a right to do so. Sometimes people are not necessarily articulate in front of an investigative body, no matter how articulate they are in other ways. If a parliamentary commissioner can find against a Member in a case, although it would be taken to a committee of your Lordships, that could lead to the destruction of a reputation or a career. We must ask ourselves whether such a case could one day be taken to Strasbourg when a person has not been treated fairly. If a person is refused a lawyer at the beginning of an investigation, some people might argue that that is unfair. I do not know. It may be that others will be able to say whether it is. However, it is a worry.
I recall one commissioner complained bitterly and was put up as a victim by the media. Although that commissioner’s four-year contract had expired, he said “I should not be dismissed”. I do not know, but I have worked in factories, and if I had been told that my one-year or four-year contract was up, I would have no solid complaint and I would have fulfilled my contract. However, a commissioner put such a case, to the extent that every subsequent commissioner in the other place has been given a non-renewable contract of employment. That is why I say that a commissioner’s terms of employment must be explicit.
Members of the other place have a secretarial allowance, additional costs, a communications allowance, an office costs allowance and travel expenses. Consider the amount of funds at the disposal of Members of the other place and Members here. I may be wrong, but I think that the commissioner in the other place works a three-day week. Our allowances are far smaller than those in the House of Commons. I think that I am right in saying that one of the first paragraphs of a publication of this House states that your Lordships boast that they are cheaper than the House of Commons. We do not cost as much. If that is the case, the parliamentary commissioner that we employ in this House will certainly not have the volume of work that exists in the other place.
On fairness, complaints about someone can be very vexatious. Perhaps a candidate has an eye on a marginal seat. That will not be the case here, but there can be vexatious complaints. The Leader of the House should examine the cases that have been brought before the parliamentary commissioner in the House of Commons. She will see that some of them have been very minor indeed—items which should have been resolved by the Speaker saying to the Chief Whip, “It has come to my notice that this Member has breached the rules on the use of parliamentary mail or the communications allowance”, for example. As a result of the way complaints go around, very small items have been brought before the commissioner and the Committee on Standards and Privileges and have been acted on. In other cases, a Member might have been in the wrong but other people did not made a complaint against him: or he might have been involved in a matter of misconduct that was far larger, but because there was no complaint, nothing happened.
I end by saying—noble Lords who are lawyers will perhaps tell me whether this is just—that, until recently, when I complained, it was the case that when a report was made about a Member, even if the Member was found not guilty, and in fact when the Member was found not guilty, there was an item on the back of the page of every report referring to, “The case against the honourable Member for such and such”—in other words, even the “not guilty” verdicts were published in every report that went out courtesy of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. If, God forbid, I was brought up on a charge in Glasgow sheriff court and found not guilty, when the next person was charged and found not guilty, there would be nothing on his docket saying, “By the way, Lord Martin was up here last week and was found not guilty”. That was the nonsensical situation that we found ourselves in because no one tightened the job description of the parliamentary commissioner.
I said that that was my last point, but one more thing has come to mind; the Americans call it the statute of limitations. There is a ruling that parliamentary commissioners do not go back more than so many years. There is some logic to that, because you cannot have a sword of Damocles hanging over someone for 15 or 16 years. However, a case has been looked at by the Commons parliamentary commissioner that went beyond seven years. That is unfair. The matter should have been dealt with at least within five years.
I ask the Leader of the House to look at these matters. It is one thing to say that we have an all-singing, all-dancing parliamentary commissioner; it is another when the problems start with the media looking for one of our own to report another Peer, so that they can say, if the matter goes on for weeks, “By the way, this person is under investigation by the parliamentary commissioner”. That would put a taint on them. I know that we are all equal, but they will look for the great and the good.
My Lords, the House is anxious to hear from the Minister, and therefore I will speak very briefly to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, for his remarks. This House is moving in what is to some extent uncharted territory, and he has had direct experience, not of precisely the same issues but of cognate issues. It has been of value to hear him this afternoon.
I, too, entirely accept the general thrust of the Eames report and am grateful to those who have acted, as they had to do, in a relatively short time. The amount of evidence that they took in that time was formidable. None the less, by virtue of the fact that this is broad and concise document, there are some areas of opacity, and we should be as clear as we can possibly be at the outset about how we wish to see this process function. Most important—this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin—is what we expect of the independent Commissioner for Standards. Is it a court of first instance? Is the court acting as judge and jury as well as inquisitor? As things are defined in the report, there is room for doubt.
The Commissioner for Standards is to be a finder of fact, but he or she will also say whether there has been a possible breach of the code. Does that mean that it is not the role of the commissioner to pronounce that there has been a breach of the code? Is that judgment to be left to the sub-committee? The role of the sub-committee must also be thought about with some care. It appears that it is not necessarily to reconsider the facts, but may simply be to decide what is an appropriate penalty or sanction. It does not seem sufficiently clear in the report which role is to be discharged, or whether both are.
What is helpfully clear in the report is that, at all stages of the triple-tier process, the rules of natural justice and fairness must be followed. If the optimism of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, is to be subscribed to by the House, we shall understand very clearly what is meant by natural justice and fairness at all these stages. Knowing what case you have to answer is part of this. Having an opportunity to state your case in answer to the charges is another. Transparency ought also to be part of it in the public interest. However, the interests of the individual should perhaps be protected by a certain degree of privacy before a prima facie case has been made. These matters are important and are not entirely clear from the report.
I hope that, in considering the recommendations on implementation, the Government and others will give consideration to these practical questions of procedure in order to ensure that natural justice and fairness are discharged. For many people, the deprivation of that could not be remedied after the event. I heard with great interest what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, said about the possibility of taking this beyond the House. As we are in uncharted territory, it has to be a possibility. However, even ex post facto remedies would not necessarily save a ruined reputation. We have to consider that very carefully in our approach to setting up the procedures to implement this report, which I wholly endorse for its substance and necessity at this time.
My Lords, in three and a half hours we have heard 29 speakers and it would not be useful to comment on them all. What has been absolutely clear is the general tenor of support for the work of the committee led by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I see no reason to take a different view. We asked these people to take on this piece of work and they have delivered it. This is now the right thing for us to take on.
That is not to say that all sorts of concerns and hesitations have not been mentioned by many people during the debate. Perhaps I may refer to just two or three speakers. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said that signing an undertaking to abide by the code would be useful for new Peers. However, I think that it would also be a great reminder for old Peers that in each Parliament, as they enter this place, they undertake to abide by the code that their peers have set down for them.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, also said that he was not interested in labels, whether one is talking about non-executive directors, consultants or employees. He then referred to the possibility of a non-executive director speaking to a group of directors about how Parliament works and their saying to him, “Can you help us further?”, with the line perhaps being crossed. I think that the time has come to be blunt. Where will the line be crossed? It seems to me that the response from that non-executive director should be, “You’ll need to talk to someone else about it, not me”. I suspect that that is the answer, but these practicalities need to be looked at.
I thought that it was somewhat brave of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, to go into detail about the position in which he found himself. It is worth pondering a little further on his comments. He talked about being salaried, which suggests that he was an employee. Some people used the word “consultant”. My guess is that, had he been a non-executive director of the concern, these matters would not have arisen. There is a problem around the whole business of being a consultant, an employee or a non-executive director and it needs to be looked at seriously. There is something about the term “non-executive director” that suggests that a person who fills that role is somehow up and beyond and that clearly such people could not possibly be in any way money-grubbing or anything like that. Yet they have a greater responsibility to the firm than an employee or a consultant. It seems to me that that is still an area where not everything is absolutely clear.
There is a simple way of looking at this issue. If you stand up to speak, write a letter or put down a Question and there is money in it for you that is directly attributable to doing that act, you should not do it. In my view, matters need to be set out with that sort of plainness and bluntness and I hope that some of it will appear in the guidance so that there is no doubt about what is right and wrong.
With those few comments, I shall now be delighted to hear from the noble Baroness, or anyone else for that matter.
My Lords, I have a bad back and that is why I am rising somewhat hesitantly today. It has nothing to do with the contents of the report.
In concluding today’s debate, I think that one thing is crystal clear: this House is looking to the future—to the future of politics and of Parliament but, crucially, to its own future, too. This has been an excellent debate with many important issues raised. I assure noble Lords that, if the two Motions before us today are agreed to, all those issues will be considered in due course.
As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others have said, it is a privilege to be a Member of this House. It is indeed a good and hard-working House of central value to our system of politics and Parliament, and I, like all your Lordships, am proud to be a Member. I believe that the proposed code of conduct is an enduring statement of the core values and principles governing Members’ conduct. It will strengthen this House and strengthen our ability to deal with future challenges. I also agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester that the code would improve the moral health of this House. While we must all be responsible for our own actions and our own moral code, it always helps to have a clear and transparent code to guide us.
I am grateful, first, to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, for their strong support. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is right when he says that self-regulation is and must be the core of how we behave. However, we need greater clarity. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said, public confidence has to be gained and retained by transparency.
In relation to the proposed House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, it is right, I think, that we do not wish to employ a witchfinder-general or spawn a burgeoning bureaucracy. It is clear that we would not need to employ a full-time commissioner but, rather, a part-time person, and he or she would not need a huge support mechanism. I completely agree with the noble and right reverend Lord that the new post is a fundamental point of principle and crucial to retaining and building public interest. We should of course heed the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Martin, about the need for a clear job description. The Clerk of the Parliaments has already prepared the first draft of a paper setting out some proposals, but I think that we should certainly take the noble Lord’s views into consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Martin, raised the question of a statute of limitations. Annexe 1 on page 50 of the report states:
“The Commissioner will not accept for investigation a complaint … going back more than four years”.
That is a very important point. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, also drew our attention to the need for clarity in relation to the role of the commissioner. He is right. However, I believe that there may be more clarity than he thinks is the case and I would take the views of the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, into consideration. However, if more clarity is needed, then more clarity there must be.
The report says that the commissioner makes findings of facts and offers the sub-committee his conclusions as to whether or not the code has been breached. However, it is then for the sub-committee to review the commissioner’s finding, and the final decision rests with the House. That very important point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, who was completely correct in her analysis.
I do not agree with the views expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart and Lord Campbell of Alloway, in relation to the need for a commissioner. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, was right to draw our attention to paragraph 68 of the report, which cites the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. However, I do not agree with the position that he takes because, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, we live in changed times. That is sad but true and, with our own security and well-being in mind, I think that the House now needs some sort of independent commissioner. That is not to say that we are going to follow everything that the other place does. As many noble Lords have said, this is a very different House and we must maintain our own identity in everything that we do.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lords, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Lord Scott of Foscote and Lord Woolf, for their wise words. We benefit greatly from the experience of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, who served on the sub-committee when it undertook the investigation. I take very seriously their view that the committee would have found the existence of such a commissioner invaluable. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, I agree that we delude ourselves if we think that our reputation has not been dented over the past few months or years. I, too, have had similar moral dilemmas while travelling in taxis.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, asked whether the procedures are foolproof or whether they will open up the possibility of a case going to Strasbourg. Various noble and learned Lords addressed that point. The Strasbourg court has so far shown no appetite to interfere in the self-regulation of the internal disciplinary procedures of national legislatures. Of course, the procedures will have to be fair and rigorous but I believe that the procedures, as outlined in the report, are fair. I believe that the appropriate value is given to the concept of natural justice, which must always be adhered to.
Broadly, there is great support for the proposal that Members should sign an undertaking to abide by the code at the start of each Parliament. For me, that is a clear testament of the important concept of personal honour, a principle to which we all adhere and a principle that I believe will be strengthened by the code. It is a means of ensuring that Members recognise and accept the responsibility of knowing and abiding by the code. As my noble friend Lady Jay pointed out, it is useful at the beginning of each Parliament for us to remind ourselves of the importance of such a code. I certainly do not think that it is demeaning in any way. I draw noble Lords’ attention to paragraph 32 of the report, referred to by my noble friend Lady Jay, which says:
“The Clerk of the Parliaments has undertaken to look further at how in practice such a requirement could be implemented”.
That is very important.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves that point, perhaps I could say that I asked her a specific question, which was whether this declaration would have any effect on a Member of the House being able and having the facilities to carry out his duties according to his Letters Patent and the Writ of Summons. That is extremely important. Are there any sanctions or will it be a voluntary act?
My Lords, I was going to come to that important point in due course. If a Peer refused or failed to sign such an undertaking, he or she could be viewed to be in breach of the code and so would be subject to the enforcement mechanisms set out in the code. I believe that to be the case.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, for his words about the desirability of not amending the code.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness again, but that needs further clarification. If a Member does not agree to sign this declaration—in other words, a declaration that he is honest, that he is on his honour and that he is a decent person—will he then be referred to the parliamentary commissioner? What will happen?
My Lords, the signing of such a declaration is an integral part of the code. I believe that not to adhere to such a declaration would be a breach of the code. Therefore, the matter would go to the parliamentary commissioner, to the Committee for Privileges and then to the House. The whole procedure would be set in motion. This is an integral part of the code and, if a Member did not comply with this part of the code, he or she would be in breach of the code.
My Lords, I almost never agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, but I think that he has made an important point. I plead with my noble friend to ensure some clarification of whether this will be compulsory or voluntary. What happens if someone does not sign it? I listened carefully to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames—he can correct me if I am wrong—but I understood him to say that taking the oath or making the affirmation was in itself a clear indication that we accept the rules of this House and that no further declaration is necessary. If that is the case, as I said in an intervention earlier, this is superfluous; it is quite wrong for us to be asked to make this further declaration. I ask for further clarification, if not tonight then on some other occasion, before we rush into this and find ourselves in difficulty later on.
My Lords, I think that I have been clear. This evening, I am asking noble Lords to agree to the code of conduct. Paragraph 5 of the code of conduct says:
“Members are to sign an undertaking to abide by the Code as part of the ceremony of taking the oath upon introduction and at the start of each Parliament”.
That is part of the code and Members of this House will sign up to it. I suppose that it is voluntary but, if Members do not wish to sign up to the code and do not wish to sign the declaration, the procedure that I outlined will be set in motion. However, I note the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, that the code should be binding on all Members taking the oath. I also note what the noble Lord said about the desirability of not amending the code today. As has been clear throughout the debate—the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, referred to this in his introduction—it is intended that the code will be looked at during each Parliament. I therefore suggest that we should adopt the code as it stands today and, when the code is looked at in the next Parliament, we could and should return to this issue.
My Lords, this is a vital issue. If people do not agree to sign a document saying that they are honest, they could be prevented from carrying out their duties in this House. If the matter is to be referred to the commissioner and then to go through the processes of the House, when the House can decide to suspend a Member not for being dishonest but because he will not sign a document to say that he is not dishonest, that simply cannot be right. I do not want to press this matter to a vote if I can possibly avoid it but I shall have to unless the noble Baroness can give an absolute assurance that this will be reconsidered by the committee or by some other committee of the House and that tonight’s decision will not be final.
Yes, my Lords, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that I have just explained that the code, as I interpreted it just a few moments ago, clearly states that Members should, at the beginning of each Parliament, sign an undertaking that they will abide by it. I also said that the code is due to be looked at, revised and reconsidered during each Parliament and this is an issue which I would suggest should be reconsidered in the next Parliament. For the moment, I am asking Members of this House to consider and agree to the code as it now stands. If, in due course, the noble Lord wishes to press it to a vote, that is entirely a matter for him.
My Lords, I promise that this will probably be my last intervention. The noble Baroness says that it could be reconsidered in the next Parliament. As things stand, Members will have to sign the declaration before the next Parliament. Can we not consider it before the next Parliament? Then I would be satisfied.
My Lords, I would like to be able to satisfy the noble Lord, but that will not be possible because we take very different views. My view is that the code as it stands should be adopted today. It is clear what the code states: that Members should sign a declaration at the beginning of the next Parliament that they will adhere to the code of conduct. In answer to my noble friend Lord Lea, in a way, it is dancing on pinheads, because we all want to be fundamentally honest. This is just a public testimony of our wish to adhere to the code of conduct. As I said, I do not think that it is demeaning in any shape or form.
The noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, made some interesting observations about the size of the House and some interesting proposals about retirement. I am glad that she raised those issues. We should think about those things in the future and discuss them further, but perhaps not today. I would, however, draw the House’s attention to Clause 32 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, currently in the other place, which enables or allows a Member to resign.
I warmly welcome the contribution from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester and entirely understand why, due to the Changing of the Guard, the Lords Spiritual did not give evidence to the Eames committee. Although respecting the code of conduct, like the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, I do not think that the Lords Spiritual should be required to refrain from their specific role of advocacy in this House. It is hard to envisage circumstances in which a Bishop would advocate matters to be of exclusive benefit to the Church, but if there are differing views on that, perhaps that is a matter for the sub-committee.
I move on to two or three important issues raised in today's debate. My noble friend Lord Soley raised the issue of the words “shared by few others” in paragraph 15 of the code. The entire sentence is taken verbatim from the 1995 resolution and was later included in the Companion. The Eames group took the view that, rather than change an accepted term, and thereby focus on it, it was better to leave it to the discretion of members and officials to work out the meaning on a case-by-case basis. In the absence of definition, the words should be understood in the most obvious, literal way possible. A Member could have a shareholding in a major bank, say, but that would be an interest shared by many thousands of people. On the other hand, a majority shareholding in a private family business would be shared by few others, and special caution would therefore be required.
The rule has been in place for almost 15 years without causing undue difficulty, but it may well be that the sub-committee will wish to consider whether further definition could be incorporated within the guide. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his broad support, and I will certainly refer the specific point he raised with me to the sub-committee. I am also grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson.
I note the point made by my noble friend Lord Lea of Crondall about this not being a part-time House. I believe that we have a rich and varied House and that Members rightly spend varying degrees of time in the House. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, drew our attention to important issues that must be addressed by the sub-committee, and I am glad that we will continue to benefit from his wisdom and common sense as a member of that committee.
Yes, we will have to ensure that there is no duplication between the Clerk's role as accounting officer—that is, working with internal and external audit and the Audit Committee—and the role of the commissioner, and there will have to be proper co-ordination. However, the commissioner's role is quite specific: investigating specific complaints against a Member. The role of the Clerk of the Parliaments, the Finance Department and the auditors is to consider the regularity, propriety, et cetera, of our systems across the administration. Also, the House of Commons has had a commissioner for some years who has worked alongside the accounting officer. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, that currently we place the Clerk of the Parliaments in a somewhat invidious role. I hope that, in future, his role will be somewhat easier.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe raised some crucial issues. We certainly need to avoid issues that have led to past problems, and that requires clear guidance. I note that my noble friend is still with Accenture, but that he will end his contract in due course if the code is adopted. I am grateful to him for that and for his openness. I add that the code would not be enforced until 1 April, so my noble friend and others who may be in a similar situation have time to extricate themselves from current contracts.
In relation to the register of passes for the staff of Members, my noble friend is correct to say that that is an issue that should perhaps be dealt with or considered by the sub-committee in its deliberations on the guidance, but that is a matter for the sub-committee.
My noble friend also raised the issue of a model contract. I am informed that although the registrar and staff of the House of course advise Members as best they can, Members will be aware that it is not as simple as just including in a contract a reference to the provisions of the code of conduct. Parliamentary privilege means that a court could find it difficult, if not impossible, to construe the code in resolving any subsequent dispute. We would need to be cautious in offering advice that could end up creating difficulty for Members. Having said that, I have a degree of sympathy for my noble friend’s point. I should like to look at that a little further, but that will be for the sub-committee. My noble friend asked why delete,
“but they may do so if they wish”,
from paragraph 14 of the present code. The problem is inconsistency, and what the group calls “registration creep”. If some Members disclose remuneration information, it puts moral pressure on others to disclose, so consistency is the key.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in his role as the chair of HoLAC, and for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. He is right about the importance of the guidance, but I am sure that he will have heeded the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that her committee will work swiftly and with care on the guidance. Of course, it will come back to this House for approval—we should not forget that. The question of case law is extremely important, and it will serve us well in the coming years.
My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked whether he should be banned from speaking on matters that are relevant to his work for BALPA. The sub-committee will wish to look very carefully at the issue of representative bodies and how it relates to the no paid advocacy rule. The general principle is set out in paragraph 25 of the guide, but the sub-committee will no doubt wish to reflect the comments made in this debate. In the mean time, noble Lords would be well advised to exercise caution.
I think that I have dealt with many of the issues that have been raised today, and I am confident that any issues that I have not considered will be properly considered by the sub-committee in due course if today’s Motions are approved. I ask the House strongly to support the two Motions before us today and to reject the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I believe this House acknowledges that we need to make changes—that is contained in the Motions before us—but we also need to ensure that we maintain points of principle that are important to this House, of which the principle and practice of personal honour is the most significant. That is what we have before us today. The report of the Eames group strikes a balance between continuity and change: the new steps that we need to take, including taking full account of the public interest, combined with current principles, such as personal honour, which are central to this House.
Members are rightly concerned about the detail, implementation and operation of the recommendations of the Eames report, as the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, said. They have rightly raised issues of concern in today’s debate and in previous discussions, and I hope that I have gone some way, both today and earlier, to help Members with those issues. I do believe that the Eames report offers the right blueprint for this House and that the measures that are drawn from the report and that form the basis of the Motions are right: for this House, for the Members of this House, for Parliament and politics, and for the public beyond—the public whom we serve.
We have the opportunity today to make the right decision. This is an important step forward for this House and beyond, and I urge noble Lords to take it.
House of Lords: Code of Conduct
Motion to Adopt the Code
That this House adopts the following Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords to replace the present Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords with effect from 1 April 2010:
Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords
1. The House of Lords is the second Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament. As a constituent part of Parliament, the House of Lords makes laws, holds government to account, and debates issues of public interest.
2. Membership of the House is not an office, and does not constitute employment; most Members’ primary employment is or has been outside Parliament. In discharging their parliamentary duties Members of the House of Lords draw substantially on experience and expertise gained outside Parliament.
3. The purpose of this Code of Conduct is
(a) to provide guidance for Members of the House of Lords on the standards of conduct expected of them in the discharge of their parliamentary duties; the Code does not extend to Members’ performance of duties unrelated to parliamentary proceedings, or to their private lives;
(b) to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary duties.
4. This Code applies to all Members of the House of Lords who are not either
(a) on leave of absence;
(b) suspended from the service of the House; or
(c) statutorily disqualified from active membership.
5. Members are to sign an undertaking to abide by the Code as part of the ceremony of taking the oath upon introduction and at the start of each Parliament.
6. By virtue of their oath, or affirmation, of allegiance, Members of the House have a duty to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, Her heirs and successors, according to law.
7. In the conduct of their parliamentary duties, Members of the House shall base their actions on consideration of the public interest, and shall resolve any conflict between their personal interest and the public interest at once, and in favour of the public interest.
8. Members of the House:
(a) must comply with the Code of Conduct;
(b) should act always on their personal honour;
(c) must never accept or agree to accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence;
(d) must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services.
9. Members of the House should observe the seven general principles of conduct identified by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. These principles will be taken into consideration when any allegation of breaches of the provisions in other sections of the Code is under investigation:
(a) Selflessness: Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
(b) Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
(c) Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
(d) Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
(e) Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
(f) Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
(g) Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
Rules of Conduct
10. In order to assist in openness and accountability Members shall:
(a) register in the Register of Lords’ Interests all relevant interests, in order to make clear what are the interests that might reasonably be thought to influence their parliamentary actions;
(b) declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with ministers or public servants, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion;
(c) act in accordance with any rules agreed by the House in respect of financial support for Members or the facilities of the House.
11. The test of relevant interest is whether the interest might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to influence the way in which a Member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties: in the case of registration, the Member’s parliamentary duties in general; in the case of declaration, his or her duties in respect of the particular matter under discussion.
12. The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member’s actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether a reasonable member of the public might think that this might be the case. Relevant interests include both financial and non-financial interests.
13. Members are responsible for ensuring that their registered interests are accurate and up-to-date. They should register any change in their relevant interests within one month of the change.
14. A Member must not act as a paid advocate in any proceeding of the House; that is to say, he or she must not seek by parliamentary means to confer exclusive benefit on an outside body or person from which he or she receives payment or reward.
15. Members are not otherwise debarred from participating in proceedings in regard to which they possess relevant interests, financial or non-financial; but such interests should be declared fully. Members of the House should be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others.
Enforcement of the Code of Conduct
16. A House of Lords Commissioner for Standards is appointed to investigate alleged breaches of this Code, or of the rules governing Members’ financial support or use of parliamentary facilities. Any such investigation is conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the Guide to the Rules.
17. After investigation the Commissioner reports his findings to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests; the Sub-Committee reviews the Commissioner’s findings and, where appropriate, recommends a disciplinary sanction to the Committee for Privileges. The Member concerned has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges against both the Commissioner’s findings and any recommended sanction.
18. The Committee for Privileges, having heard any appeal, reports its conclusions and recommendations to the House. The final decision rests with the House.
19. In investigating and adjudicating allegations of non-compliance with this Code, the Commissioner, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges shall act in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness.
20. Members shall co-operate, at all stages, with any investigation into their conduct by or under the authority of the House.
21. No Member shall lobby a member of the Committee for Privileges or the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests in a manner calculated or intended to influence their consideration of a complaint of a breach of this Code.
Advice and review
22. The operation of the Register is overseen by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, assisted by the Registrar of Lords’ Interests. The Registrar is available to advise Members of the House, and may consult the Sub-Committee when necessary.
23. A Member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct in that regard. However, the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to participate in proceedings to which that interest is relevant rests with the Member concerned.
24. The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests reviews the Code of Conduct once each Parliament. Its findings, along with any recommended changes to the Code, are reported to the House.
25. The Sub-Committee also keeps the Guide to the Rules under regular review; recommended changes are reported to the House and will not take effect until agreed by the House.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, I have listened to the whole debate. Indeed, I have heard every speech and have been very interested in them, and I thank all those who mentioned my amendments.
The first amendment seeks to get rid of a nasty proposition—a Stalinist proposition, if I may say so—that asks people to sign a document that they are honest. That is precisely what it does. If Members wish to sign that document to ensure in writing that they are honest, that is a matter for them, but it should not be enforceable through sanctions that could remove the right of a Member to do his duty according to his Letters Patent and to the Writ of Summons. That could happen, because if the matter was referred to the commissioner, the commissioner said that he was in breach of the rules, the Committee for Privileges agreed, the House considered it and said, “Yes, let’s kick this fellow out for six months”, he could do nothing about it. Those are the implications.
I have not approached Members about this, but we have had a long debate and a long discussion about this item and I do not wish to keep the House any longer than necessary or worry it tonight with a vote. However, let us make no mistake; after noble Lords have considered the implications and what they have heard, they may want to change their minds at a later stage, and I may very well be tempted to give them the opportunity to do so. On that basis, I will not move the amendment.
Amendment not moved.
Amendment to the Motion
As an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out paragraphs 16–19 of the Code of Conduct and insert the following:
“16. The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests shall investigate alleged breaches of this Code, or of the rules governing Members’ financial support or use of parliamentary facilities. Any such investigation is conducted in accordance with procedures set out in the Guide to the Rules.
17. After investigation the Sub-Committee shall report its findings to the Committee for Privileges. The Member concerned has a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges against the Sub-Committee’s findings.
18. The Committee for Privileges, having heard any appeal, reports its conclusions and, where appropriate, recommends a disciplinary sanction to the House. The final decision rests with the House.
19. In investigating and adjudicating allegations of non-compliance with this Code, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges shall act in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness.”
My Lords, I do not want to keep the House for too long, but I must deal with the realities. This afternoon, we have heard from the Leader of the House that the Government want this commissioner, as do the Opposition, the Liberal Democrats and the Cross-Benchers. I would probably be very foolish if I pressed my amendment to a vote in such circumstances and, as I do not want to be humiliated at this stage, I will not do so. Again, however, there may be an opportunity to come back to this, and the House may very well regret that it ever agreed to it.
Amendment not moved.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, let me begin this Statement on Afghanistan by once more paying tribute to our Armed Forces.
Since 2001, our forces have been fighting in Afghanistan one of the longest military campaigns of recent times—longer, indeed, than the world wars of the last century—as part of our century’s fight against global terrorism. At all times, our Armed Forces have shown the highest professionalism, dedication and courage, which make them the most admired and best in the world. They have endured heavy and tragic casualties and deserve our utmost gratitude. Let me acknowledge the presence as visitors to the House today of members of 19 Brigade who have served with distinction in Afghanistan.
Decisions to continue military action are as critical as those that commence military action. There are two prior questions that people ask of our mission with our American and coalition allies in Afghanistan: one about the present, one about the future. Rightly, both questions have to be answered. The first is why, today, our Armed Forces are in Afghanistan. The second is how and when Afghanistan can take responsibility for its own security so that our troops can come home.
The origins of our intervention in Afghanistan and the scale of the terrorist threat are known to us all. Around the world, thousands of men and women of all religions, including thousands of the Muslim faith, have been murdered in al-Qaeda outrages. The London 7 July bombings cost 52 lives and injured over 750 people. Most recently, we have seen the 2006 Heathrow liquid bombs plot, the 2007 London and Glasgow bombings and this year an al-Qaeda-inspired conspiracy to target shopping centres. There are now over 120 convicted terrorists serving sentences in British prisons. The security services report to me weekly on the hundreds of would-be terrorists who seek to operate within and to target our country.
Now, to counter this ever present threat we have, since 2001, trebled the resources available to our intelligence services. We have more than doubled the number of operatives and today nearly twice as many regular police officers are engaged in full-time work to counter the terrorist threat. Suspect travellers are now checked at the border in real time against watch lists and an increasing number are excluded on national security grounds from Britain. Because this is a fight for hearts and minds against violent extremism and those ideologies that would pervert the true Islamic faith, we have stepped up our work with our allies to expose the damage that murderous and violent ideologies do and to support those working across all faiths to uphold the common ground of dignity, tolerance and respect for all.
Our security in the UK and our effort to counter terrorists and their propaganda have been and continue to be strengthened at all levels. Faced with the terrorist threat, some have argued that the most effective strategy is simply to defend Britain within our own borders—a fortress Britain. Some have asked why British troops are in Afghanistan at all if al-Qaeda can organise in Britain, in Somalia, in Yemen, in other places and even in internet chatrooms in every part of the world. But as long as the Afghan-Pakistan border areas are the location of choice for al-Qaeda and the epicentre of global terrorism, it is the Government’s judgment that we must address the terrorist threat at its source. Indeed, as long as three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against Britain have links to these Pakistan-Afghan border areas, we should be failing in our duty if we did not work with our allies to deal with the problem where it starts. A more stable and secure Afghanistan and Pakistan will help to ensure a safer Britain.
Since 2001, progress has been made in driving al-Qaeda into the mountains of Waziristan. Today, for the first time since 2001, tens of thousands of Pakistan troops are now in Waziristan and, with President Obama, I have been urging Pakistan’s leadership, most recently in a conversation with President Zardari on Saturday, to step up its efforts not just against the Pakistan Taliban in this region but also against al-Qaeda.
As an international community, we must intensify our support for the action of the Pakistan authorities, improve co-operation with Pakistan in the months ahead and press ahead with our development programme amounting to two-thirds of a billion pounds over four years, focused increasingly on the border areas and on encouraging the development of schools to counter the propaganda of madrassahs. It is essential that progress in driving al-Qaeda from Afghanistan is matched by actions not simply to isolate but to defeat al-Qaeda within Pakistan.
Success in driving al-Qaeda into Waziristan has led some to propose that it is now sufficient simply to target al-Qaeda there. To explain why this is an inadequate response we must understand the al-Qaeda network, its long-standing links with the Afghan Taliban and the extent to which al-Qaeda continues to seek, as in the past, a Taliban-controlled permissive Afghanistan, which would allow it unfettered opportunities to plan and launch with impunity its attacks on Britain and other countries. Our task is to prevent the Taliban from giving al-Qaeda that safe haven.
While stabilising Afghanistan will not solve all our challenges in Pakistan and elsewhere, instability in Afghanistan can only increase the risk of conflagration where the rest of the world can least afford it. This is why the safety of people on the streets of Britain requires us to deny al-Qaeda the space to operate across Pakistan and the option of returning to operate in Afghanistan. This is the considered view of the 43-nation coalition, which is a unique force of NATO and non-NATO members led by the United States of America and supported by clear United Nations resolutions. Today, our shared purpose is the same as in 2001—that is, to deny al-Qaeda space to operate. But our approach to achieving this has now to be different.
In December 2007, our Government became one of the first to suggest that Afghanistan must be prepared to take far greater control of its own security. Since then we have consistently argued that to weaken the Taliban we have to strengthen the Afghan Government at national level and at local level. The approach is built on our knowledge that the Taliban has only minority support among the Afghan people and our judgment that the long-term security of Afghanistan is best secured by training the Afghan army and police, by building up civilian government at national and local level and through economic development giving Afghans a stake in their future. This has to be supported by stronger international civilian leadership to work alongside General McChrystal to deliver the civilian aspects of this strategy.
It is an outline programme for the transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans, district by district and province by province, with the first districts and provinces potentially being handed over during next year. Let us be clear that this process will depend on the Afghans being ready to take responsibility and control: first, through more Afghan troops; secondly, through better policing; thirdly, through more effective local and national government; and, fourthly, by giving Afghans, as I said, a stronger stake in their economic future.
I can also say that over time our objective is to work for and to encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours, based on their guarantee of non-interference in Afghanistan’s affairs and on a commitment to fostering not only its long-term economic and cultural links with other powers in the region but immediate confidence-building security measures from which we can all benefit.
So I want the London conference on Afghanistan, to be held on 28 January, which President Karzai and the Secretary-General of the United Nations have confirmed that they will attend, to unite the international community behind a programme now and for the longer term to help the Afghans to secure and govern their own country. Against this background, our coalition military strategy is essentially to create the space for an effective political strategy to work, weakening the Taliban by strengthening Afghanistan itself—a military surge, yes, but complemented by a political surge that is, most of all, an Afghan surge.
Today, I want to set out the benchmarks for this approach and in that context to give details of the numbers and deployment of our Armed Forces. First, over the coming year the coalition seeks a major expansion of the Afghan army from 90,000 to 134,000. We expect this surge in recruitment to allow an extra 10,000 troops to be deployed in Helmand, of which 5,000 will be trained and partnered by British forces. We can start now and 600 Afghan soldiers will arrive in Helmand this month—an extra company for each Afghan battalion there. A further 10 Afghan companies —1,000 more troops—will soon reinforce the Afghan army’s 205 Corps across southern Afghanistan. Increasingly, therefore, it will be Afghan forces who clear and hold ground as they prepare for the time when they can assume responsibility for their own security.
Secondly, within the next six months the international community will agree with President Karzai’s Government a police reform plan. We have agreed that, in Helmand, Afghan police numbers will increase immediately to 4,100, with further increases to follow. By mid-2010, the capacity of the Helmand police training centre that we have established in Lashkar Gah will be doubled and we will double the numbers of police trainers provided by the Royal Military Police from 100 this year to 200 next year.
Thirdly, on an effective and accountable local administration, over the next nine months President Karzai will be expected to implement, with our support and that of our international partners, far-reaching reforms to ensure that from now on all 400 provinces and districts have a governor who is appointed on merit, is free from corruption and has clearly defined roles, skills and resources. District community shuras have been formed in Nad Ali, Garmsir, Gereshk and Nawa, with more to come. Nationwide, the number of community development councils will increase within two years from 22,000 to over 30,000.
The fourth benchmark is a clean, effective and inclusive national Government in Kabul—one that reaches out to political leaders and citizens from all strands of Afghan society. While President Karzai has agreed with us on the priority of tackling corruption with a new anti-corruption task force and, last week, the arrest of 12 leading officials, we recognise that the test is not initiatives but delivery on the ground and we will monitor carefully what President Karzai does on the ground. We support President Karzai’s call for a Loya Jirga and for reconciliation. It is the task of military forces—international and Afghan—to weaken and pressurise the insurgency, but it is right and essential that this work is combined with the offer of a way forward for those prepared to renounce violence and to choose to join the political process. Reintegration can be led, and must be led, only by Afghans themselves at both national and local levels.
For Afghanistan to enjoy stability in the future, farmers and working people in towns and villages must have a greater stake in the economic future: a major Afghan-led programme backed by significant funding to identify the likely growth areas in the Afghan economy and to provide Afghans with credible economic alternatives to poppy and the insurgency. With 20 per cent more land growing wheat, this year’s wheat harvest is expected to be the highest in 30 years. Programmes funded by our development department will this year create 20,000 jobs and by 2013 will raise the incomes of 200,000 people.
I turn now to the details of our force levels and deployments. In my Statement to the House on 14 October, I said that to support our strategy of Afghanisation, and in particular to train more Afghan soldiers and police while at the same time maintaining the security of our forces, the Government had agreed in principle a new force level of 9,500 to be implemented once three conditions were met. I can report on each of these conditions.
First, I made it clear that we would increase the number of British personnel in Afghanistan only if we were assured that it would continue to be the case that every soldier and unit deployed is fully equipped for the operations that they are asked to undertake. At this morning’s meeting of the Afghanistan and Pakistan national security committee, the Chief of the Defence Staff gave the assurance that this condition has been met both for the existing force and for the additional 500 troops. The chief reported on the continuing delivery of new equipment. Newly arrived Merlin helicopters have today been given the ‘green light’ for operations in Afghanistan, one month ahead of schedule. Compared with three years ago, we have doubled helicopter flying hours, and this will increase by a further 20 per cent in the coming months.
By the end of the year, the number of heavily armoured, mine-resistant Mastiff vehicles will have almost doubled compared with August. The number of Ridgeback vehicles, a smaller and more agile version of the Mastiff, will have increased by over 75 per cent. By the spring of next year, they will be joined by more Mastiffs adapted for explosive disposal work, along with new Warthog tracked vehicles—showing the results of our investment over the last three years of more than £1 billion from the Treasury reserve in vehicles for Afghanistan. By the end of this year also, the build-up of a 200-strong counter-IED task force, along with dedicated necessary equipment, will be complete. In addition, aerial surveillance hours available to commanders have increased by over 40 per cent. A further 200 specialist troops will be deployed against IEDs by spring 2010.
Three years ago, equipment and support for our forces deployed to Afghanistan, funded from the Treasury reserve, was estimated at around £190,000 for each individual there. This year it is more than double that—around £400,000 and still rising. The best possible support and equipment is what we owe those who are fighting for our country in Afghanistan.
Secondly, I said that our contribution of 9,500 troops must be part of an agreed approach across the international coalition, with all countries bearing their share—a coalition whose principal member, and largest troop contributor, is of course the United States of America. We continue regular discussions with the President and his team about the coalition’s evolving strategy. America, as everyone knows, will make an announcement tomorrow. The Secretary-General of NATO, to whose work I pay tribute, reports that, in addition to the US and the UK, eight countries have already made offers of additional troops and other countries are likely to follow.
It is often said that America and Britain are fighting alone. This is wrong. Excluding America and Britain, the number of international coalition troops will have risen from 16,000 in January 2007 to around 30,000 soon. I believe that over the coming months even more countries will respond and that our effort in Helmand will benefit. Last year, total international force levels in the province were around 7,000. Now they will be above 20,000, three times what they were.
Our third condition for deploying additional British troops was that the military effort of the international coalition must be matched by Afghan effort. President Karzai and his Defence Minister have assured us not only that 5,000 members of the new Afghan national army corps will be deployed to Helmand, to be partnered by British troops during 2010, but that additional recruits will arrive for training in the next few weeks.
With the three conditions now met, I can confirm that we will move to a new force level of 9,500. The extra troops will deploy in early December to thicken the UK troop presence in central Helmand and, from late January, they will make the transition to the partnering role that we envisage for them. For understandable reasons of operational security, we shall continue to withhold information about their deployment and the nature of activities of our Special Forces. But at this time of increasing international effort, it is right to give a more comprehensive account of our total military commitment to the Afghanistan campaign. I believe that the British people have a right to know and deserve the assurance that our highly professional, widely respected and extraordinarily brave Special Forces are playing their full role not only in force protection but also in taking the fight directly to the Taliban, working in theatre alongside our Regular Forces. I want the whole country to pay tribute to them. Taking into account these Special Forces, their supporting troops and the increases announced today, our total military effort in Afghanistan will be in excess of 10,000 troops.
This force level enables us to deliver our military strategy of bringing security to the population. It will support our political strategy of strengthening the Afghan Government at national and local level as they in return take steps to govern in a clearer, more effective and more inclusive way. It will accelerate the development of the Afghan army and police, so that in time they can take over responsibility for security and thus ensure that our troops can come home.
We are ensuring as best we can the safety of our forces. We are today setting benchmarks for Afghanistan to meet. In the last few months, we have worked hard to achieve a stronger military presence across the coalition, with a more equal sharing of the burden. In all we do, we will never forget the fundamental truth of this military campaign: that keeping the streets of our country free from terrorism is our utmost responsibility and that, for a safe Britain, we need a stable Afghanistan. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. It follows the recent meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, which in itself used to merit a Statement. On that point, does the noble Baroness share my dismay at a contribution made as part of a submission to a Royal Commonwealth Society study saying that the Commonwealth is fading away as, I quote,
“a survivor of the old British empire”?
Is not the point of the Commonwealth that it long ago transformed those relics into a forward-looking, international force for good? Is not the truth of it that while other 20th century global institutions are failing, the Commonwealth is clearly a network for the future and a strong global platform for both small and large, rich and poor states? Credit should go to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for their focus on climate change and its significance to the world’s poorest nations, thus putting the Commonwealth at the heart of the debate.
There is a Commonwealth dimension to almost every international issue, and that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some 235 British service and Ministry of Defence personnel have lost their lives in Afghanistan, while many more have been injured. Our forces are doing an extraordinary job. They have the support of the people of this country who are well able to separate doubts about the clarity of past political strategies from support for our service men and women in action.
The rationale for our presence in Afghanistan is to enable Afghans to look after their own security without their territory being a base for terrorist danger to the rest of the world. That is what I take the Prime Minister to mean when he says that the safety of British streets starts on the old North West Frontier. We need clarity of mission, and in so far as we now have it, we welcome it. But when the 500 additional British troops announced today were first announced by the Prime Minister on 14 October, he set three conditions on their deployment, the first of which was more burden-sharing among NATO allies. The Statement repeats that eight countries stand ready to help. Which countries have pledged more troops, how many, when will they be deployed and how many of them will go to Helmand?
The second condition was that our forces had the necessary equipment. I welcome the further news about helicopters. It would be hard, though I fear justified, to say that this is desperately belated. Can the noble Baroness say how, as a result of this announcement, our airlift and support capacity will compare with that of US forces?
The third condition was that additional Afghan forces would deploy to Helmand. We hear talk of 5,000 being ready in 12 months, and we heard in the Statement of others arriving for training. Are these part of the 5,000 or are they part of the striking 50 per cent increase in the Afghan army promised in one year? Exactly how many of them will deploy to the front line in Helmand, and when?
We welcome, of course, the Prime Minister’s tough talk about the responsibilities of the Karzai Government. We need clean government, but that is never easy to believe in after an election disfigured by massive vote-rigging. Why is it only now, some three and a half years after our forces arrived in Helmand, that we are setting out such conditions? Can the noble Baroness clarify the position on provincial governors? The Prime Minister said that some of them must be replaced, but how many, and how exactly is that going to be done?
How will the proposed London conference ensure that the international community pursues a more united strategy? Will a senior figure be appointed to drive forward the political strategy, as happened with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, in the Balkans? After all, we hear that the First Secretary of State is pressing for an international role. Will the Prime Minister take up our suggestion to create a permanent contact group of Afghanistan’s neighbours?
What role will Pakistan play in the London conference? In October, the Prime Minister praised Pakistan, saying that it was,
“planning how to deal with not only the Pakistan Taliban but the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda itself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/09; col. 305.]
Now the Prime Minister has gone out of his way, across the media of the world, to criticise Pakistan for failing to deal with al-Qaeda. What exactly is the Government’s appraisal of Pakistan’s role? Can the noble Baroness clarify current thinking on contact with the Taliban? At some point, is not a reconciliation programme with fighters who can be brought in from the hills a key need? What do the Government believe should happen to the insurgency leaders?
At the Trinidad summit, the Prime Minister spoke about timetables. He said that he wants the London conference to decide the conditions for transferring provinces and districts to Afghan control. He said that he sees potential for some districts and provinces being transferred to Afghan security lead by the end of 2010. He had previously said that this would be possible for one or two districts in Helmand. What are the prospects of the criteria being met? We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, as soon as their job is done, but does the noble Baroness agree that it is vital that we do not send signals to our enemies that the outcome will be decided not by hard-headed appraisal of progress on the ground but by the ticking of an artificial timetable set thousands of miles away? If the Government’s objectives and motivations are muddled they will not easily be forgiven by the British people.
My Lords, this is a long and detailed Statement, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has asked specific questions of the Minister. The Liberal Democrat policy on Afghanistan has always been that we should do it properly or not at all. It is of interest that we should get such a detailed Statement eight years into a war. We have had probably more Statements from the Prime Minister in the past three months than in the past three years. Perhaps that is because of a belated realisation that public support for the war can be sustained only if there is clarity of purpose and an assurance that, at long last, our troops are getting the equipment and logistical support to do the work that is asked of them. It is very easy to pay tribute to our troops because they have indeed done a magnificent job. I do not know why the figure of 500 extra troops has been plucked out. Was it as a result of a request from the military on the ground, a political decision or a bit of both?
It is worth while to say that there now appears to be a clear strategy of Afghanisation of military, civilian, policing and development activities, but with no absolute timescale. I share the belief of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that you cannot put a calendar timescale on this, but it seems to be going in the right direction. Another key factor in improving public opinion would be if the new troop commitments from our allies deliver through into reality. There is no doubt that public support for this war was waning on the idea that only we and the Americans were serious about it. The figure of 43 nations is bandied around as a kind of comfort blanket but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, it would be interesting to know which eight nations are referred to and what troops they are committing.
At the Commonwealth conference, the Prime Minister said some rather harsh things about the Pakistan effort. What assurances do we have that there is a united front between the Pakistan Government, army and intelligence services in facing the threat to their country? We accept that a threat to Pakistan is now on the agenda as well as the threat to our own country.
The Statement seems to indicate an acceptance that there is a moderate element to the Taliban. It will be interesting to see how links and offers of involvement with that moderate element will be furthered.
Will the conference of 28 January involve only existing coalition partners or will an attempt be made to involve any of the other regional powers? As the Prime Minister emphasised, part of the solution will involve the other regional powers and perhaps their involvement in the 28 January conference, if only at the margins, will provide a way forward.
As I said, it is easy to pay tribute to our troops because they have done a magnificent job. If this is the start of trying to do it properly, then we welcome the Statement as such. However, to coin a phrase, the test will be in delivery, delivery, delivery.
My Lords, I am grateful for the broad support of both noble Lords opposite. I note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about doing it properly or not at all; that we are all in this together and we should all support it. However, the noble Lord was then rather critical about what the Government have done to try to engage the wider population in support for the war in Afghanistan and for what our troops are doing. I understand why the noble Lord said that, but it is not only a matter for the Government. Although, of course, we lead on this, it is incumbent on all parties who support the war in Afghanistan to make more of an effort to get out and explain to the public why it is crucial. This is something on which not only the Government but all parties fall down, and the more we can work together on it the better.
I note the dismay of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the report which suggested that the Commonwealth is fading away. I do not agree with the sentiments expressed in that report. Indeed, the successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago would argue against a feeling of dismay. Indeed, the Commonwealth is growing in numbers and in stature.
I am glad that the clarity of mission is now shared. Noble Lords have asked how many Afghan troops will be going to Helmand to train and how many will fight alongside our troops. As the Prime Minister said, 600 additional Afghan troops are arriving in Helmand at the moment, and a further 1,000 will soon arrive across the whole of the south. All these troops will operate alongside ISAF against the insurgency and will be trained and mentored by it, increasing their capability to operate without direct ISAF support.
Transfer of districts in Helmand is a gradual process and the pace will vary from area to area. It is clear that it depends on conditions on the ground and will be done only when all the necessary conditions are met. We hope that there will be a push-ahead next year following development of the process at the London conference.
We will continue to work with the Afghan Government to improve sub-national governance, supporting the independent directorate of local governance to help extend the reach of line ministries into the provinces and districts. We will continue to channel funds—currently, more than 50 per cent—through the Afghan Government to help build their capacity to deliver. However, when governance will be improved is to some extent dependent on the Afghans themselves and Afghanisation.
Both noble Lords asked which countries will send more troops. As indicated in the Statement, the number of international coalition troops, excluding those from America and Britain, will soon have risen to around 30,000 from 16,000 in 2007. That is something to celebrate. Which countries will send more troops is a matter for them, but we have always made it clear that all ISAF partners should bear their fair share of the operational burden in Afghanistan, and we shall continue to call on European allies to do so. We have worked closely with our NATO and non-NATO allies in helping them to determine how they can best increase their contribution.
On whether the Karzai Government were elected by fraud, the elections, while not perfect, were credible. The Afghan Independent Election Commission worked with the Electoral Complaints Commission to investigate and remove fraudulent votes. We are confident that the results reflect the will of the Afghan people.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, asked where the figure of 500 troops came from and whether it was a military or political decision. The decision was taken by the Prime Minister, but it was based, as it should be, on senior military advice. The additional 500 troops are required by the military to thicken the UK presence in Helmand, improving security there, and to train in partnership with Afghan forces, improving their capacity.
The noble Lord returned, perhaps understandably in the light of all the media interest, to whether our troops have the necessary support in terms of equipment. Just last week, I met 20 or so wives and partners of infantrymen from the 4th Battalion The Rifles. As with every person from a military family whom I meet, I said, “Tell me the truth. I read the newspapers; I hear what the Prime Minister is saying. Tell me the truth”. All of them to a woman—there were no men—said, “Our menfolk out there are better equipped now than they ever have been”. I said, “But I hear and read stories about troops buying their own equipment”. They said, “Well, yes, sometimes, our men buy their own boots, but it is not because the boots they have are inadequate; it is just that, from time to time, they find boots which for them, personally, are more comfortable. But it is nothing to do with the inadequacy of the equipment that is provided”. It is very important to emphasise that point.
They also said that their menfolk had recently received new, much lighter body armour which is as good as any armour that the Americans have in their usual kit. I am therefore very confident that our troops are properly looked after in terms of having all the equipment that they need. The assurance that the Prime Minister was given today by the Chief of the Defence Staff that the troops have the requisite equipment to fulfil their duties in Afghanistan, and the fact that the three conditions have been met, are important steps forward.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Along with other Members of this House and Members of another place, I visited Afghanistan in February of this year. I think that all of us were enormously impressed by the professionalism, to say nothing of the courage, of our troops there. They have undoubtedly suffered deaths and, perhaps more worrying, sometimes horrific injuries for the benefit of all of us.
The Statement makes it clear that the strategy is to deny al-Qaeda a permissive base from which to conduct and launch terrorist operations and for training, and that, for that to happen, there has to be a space for a stable Afghanistan to work. Perhaps I may ask my noble friend about two issues. The first relates to governance, because it is clear that it is key to the strategy. There are worrying aspects to it: the flawed presidential election; the endemic corruption, not only at the higher level but also, worryingly, within the Afghan police; and concern about some of the laws that have been proposed. How is progress on governance to be measured? Will my noble friend give a commitment to a regular review and report-back by the Government to Parliament on how governance is being strengthened and what progress is being made?
Secondly, does she agree that, if successful, the benefits of the strategy to the Afghan people are obvious in terms of economic progress and greater freedom? These are issues which I believe the British people would endorse. Does my noble friend agree also that our strategy should be not just to deny terrorism but also to improve life for the Afghan people?
My Lords, I was glad to learn of my noble friend’s visit to Afghanistan. Governance is a key issue for the success of the whole endeavour, but it is key also to the proper functioning of Afghan society and to its becoming the kind of society which will enable the country to flourish. My noble friend asked how progress will be measured on the ground. I am sure that progress will be measured and monitored by both the military and the many civilians who now work in Afghanistan on governance issues. I am sure that they will regularly report to government. When I can, I shall certainly report back to the House on these issues. I am also confident that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will maintain very close contact with President Karzai to try to ensure that all his good words during the past few days are turned into deeds and deliverables. Denying terrorism is the most important aspect of the war in which we are engaged, but I agree that the results must also improve the lot of the Afghan people.
Perhaps I may answer a question to which I did not respond earlier, relating to the London conference and Pakistan. Afghanistan’s neighbours will be invited to the London conference. Pakistan is a key neighbour, particularly given the Prime Minister’s focus on the regional dimension, and will of course be invited to participate.
My Lords, will the Leader of the House say a little more about the reference to the eight states within the coalition other than the UK and the United States that are sending extra resources? Will those resources be similar to ones from the past, which have referred to canteens and hospitals, rather than sharp combat? That is what is needed, rather than some of the other things. Secondly, the noble Baroness will know that for a long time it has been very clear that Pakistan has not been delivering the goods with regard to the border areas. The Prime Minister has at last come out and made this a public issue, but why did he not do it a long time ago?
My Lords, on the eight states in the coalition who will add to the numbers in the coalition in Afghanistan, I do not have any further details at the moment. I shall certainly write to the noble Lord and all noble Lords who are participating in this debate. The noble Lord is correct that more people engaged in sharp combat, as he puts it, are important. However, it is also important for other countries to be encouraged to provide the softer power, because we need both—although I wholly endorse his view that sharp combat troops are necessary.
The Prime Minister has been working very closely with Pakistan, trying to ensure that it takes the necessary action. We have been and continue to be close to the Government of Pakistan and try to influence them wherever possible. It has got to a situation now in which it is clear that action is needed but, over the past few months, there have been some successful advances in Pakistan with regard to fighting al-Qaeda.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I am interested in the Statement—but I am interested, too, in its timing. We are told that tomorrow we can expect the long-awaited statement from President Obama, and I should have thought that there would have been merit in a statement from our own Government coinciding with that and linking with it, discussing what we are doing in a united operation.
My question to the Minister is about sustainment. While, like other noble Lords, I welcome the assurance from the Chief of the Defence Staff that the equipment is there for the additional troops who are going to Afghanistan—as I welcome the Minister’s report about what people say about the quality of equipment—I am worried about sustainment. There are stories about the fact that equipment bought from the urgent operational requirement budget is asked back from the MoD, leading to extra strains on the budget. The other day there was a report of the withdrawal of money for training the Territorial Army. Can the Minister assure us that the additional money needed to provide this equipment will be provided in future to ensure that the extra equipment is sustained for the extra troops in Afghanistan in the years to come?
My Lords, if my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had waited until tomorrow to deliver a Statement, in some quarters he might have been accused of doing things on the coat-tails of the Americans, and it might have been said that we were failing to act independently. As the three conditions set down in October have been met, it is quite right and proper that he should inform the House.
On sustainment, I am confident that the Government would wish to ensure that the troops in theatre in Afghanistan have the equipment they need and that the situation should be retained throughout their tours of duty and throughout the time that we are active in Afghanistan. I have no doubt that we would not wish to see any of the equipment either brought back or to see any equipment of an inferior quality.
Will the Minister say a bit more about the selection of the figure of 500 troops? She told us that that was the Prime Minister’s decision, based on military advice, as it should have been. Are we talking about British commanders? If so, what was the total that they were asking for? Was it simply the 500, or was it rather more—and, if so, how much?
Secondly, on the reason for today’s Statement, were the 500 troops not agreed to be sent previously because of a shortage of equipment? This Statement ties it in with the provision of more numerous items of equipment. Was the Statement on the 500 delayed until the American decision was expected or until other countries in the alliance had stepped up to the plate, as the Prime Minister said would be a condition in his Statement on 14 October? It is important that the noble Baroness can provide an answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Jopling as to who those eight members are and how much each is producing.
My Lords, the decision taken by the Prime Minister was based on the advice of the British military commanders. I do not know how many troops were requested. I shall certainly come back to the noble Lord in writing.
On the 500 troops, the three conditions were laid down by my right honourable friend in October. Those conditions have now been met, in terms of support from other members of the alliance stepping up their troops, the number of Afghan troops and what is happening with the Afghan Government and the necessary equipment available to the extra troops who go out to Afghanistan. All those conditions have now been met.
My Lords, I wonder whether I can ask the noble Baroness to elaborate a little on the London conference. She says that Afghanistan’s neighbours will be present, but can she confirm whether Iran will be present, despite our relations and current difficulties with it? Has the US special envoy to the region, Mr Holbrooke, confirmed his attendance? Can she also tell us, leaving aside the security imperative in Afghanistan, whether the reconstruction and infrastructure imperatives will be met through the London conference? One of the problems in the current situation is that aid for reconstruction is not available, or not in the amount required. Will the Government make any attempt to reopen the Bonn agreement and look at the trust fund for Afghanistan and seek to get those nations not participating in the security framework to at least participate through economic assistance?
My Lords, on the participation in the London conference, I shall have to come back to the noble Baroness on who will be there. I agree that, notwithstanding the many difficulties that we have in Iran, it is very important in that region and should be doing its bit towards Afghanistan.
On whether the London conference will deal with aid, I was informed last week by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development that in Afghanistan an extraordinary amount of aid goes into the country. At the moment, the problem is with capacity. If there are still some gaps in relation to aid, I am sure that that will be addressed by the conference—and I shall certainly come back to the noble Baroness to verify that. However, as I understand it, the amount of aid is not the problem—it is the capacity to use the aid on the ground.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly welcome the repetition of the Prime Minister’s powerful restatement in the House of Commons of why we are in this vitally important war. From my own experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I can say that unless we defeat the Taliban and its support for al-Qaeda, further deaths will occur in this country. It is vital for the safety of our people that we win this war. Does she share my disappointment at half-hearted and reluctant support, particularly from the Front Bench opposite? What will our troops out there think when we get questions about the timing of the statement and what other countries are doing? When we are at war at a vitally important time, should all the Members of this House, particularly the Front Bench opposite and those who hope to form the Government of this country, not be supporting our troops 100 per cent?
My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s views. With his experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee, he has a special insight into the dangers that we all face and therefore the importance of, as he puts it, winning this war in Afghanistan.
I am confident that the whole of this House is fully behind our troops in Afghanistan and that that will continue to be the case. Sometimes I find it slightly difficult when noble Lords are critical of various aspects of the war. It is right that there is a space for people to question and be critical but, as my noble friend says, the important thing is that our troops, their families and those who are wounded should know that they have the full support of all parties represented in this House, and that they will retain that support until the war is won.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the things that have not been going so well in recent months is what you might call the communications strategy? All the participants in the NATO operations in Afghanistan, lamentably, are finding that support for the military action is on the whole swinging a bit in the wrong direction, although not very far.
First, is it not rather important that in the period ahead, perhaps with the London conference as a focus, the alliance manages to put together a more effective communications strategy than it has had in the past, one that gives an overall picture of what is going on in Afghanistan, not just of what is going on in the particular bit of Afghanistan that one country’s troops are engaged in? You might think from reading the British press that we were fighting a war in a country called Helmand, while if you read the German press you might think that they were fighting in a country called Kunduz. This is not the way to get across the wider picture of what is going on and to get an understanding of how things are gong.
Secondly, could the London conference not be the occasion when the regional dimension was firmed up a bit into a situation where Afghanistan’s neighbours were employed more systematically and in a more structured way in co-operating to deal with the insurgency in that country?
My Lords, I agree on both counts. There definitely needs to be a much better alliance communications strategy. In this country it is incumbent on us all to try to talk in the media, as the noble Lord says, not just about what is happening in Helmand or about troops, sadly, coming home killed or wounded but about our wins; many good things are happening on the ground that people never read about. Sometimes that is because we do not tell them about those, but sometimes it is because they do not think that we ought to tell them.
I agree about the importance of the regional dimension of the London conference.
My Lords, does the Leader of the House recollect that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary—speaking, of course, from the Government Front Bench—told the House of Commons on 15 July that some 90,000 Afghan military people had been trained, but that only 4,000 of them were in Helmand and only 450 had been able to be deployed in Operation Panther’s Claw, in which we were deeply involved and which was intended to make Helmand and Kandahar safe for the elections? Has she heard anecdotally, as I have, that these small numbers of people are seen by our troops as of pretty doubtful quality? Indeed, in one case I was told of actual treachery by Afghan troops. Does she understand our great worry about the reality of the Afghan army being able to take over in the foreseeable future from the coalition forces?
My Lords, I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord. There have indeed been some incidents on the ground relating to the Afghan army or police, but it is the Government’s view that we need to step up our efforts to train these people. Of course there are some rotten eggs out there, but there are also some excellent people doing a fine job alongside our troops. We need to buoy up those people and ensure that we train more people who can and will be excellent.
NHS: Basildon and Colchester Hospital Trusts
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a Statement on patient safety in the NHS. Last week, the regulatory bodies took action in respect of two NHS foundation trusts, Basildon and Thurrock, and Colchester, and I wish to update the House on this.
Separately, questions have been raised about safety standards at other NHS and foundation trusts. I wish to answer those questions directly and inform the House of the further steps that the Government are taking to improve regulation and safety standards.
First, let me set out some important points of context. In 1999 the Government established an independent regulator for the NHS. In tandem, the Department of Health has sought to shine a spotlight on patient safety in the NHS over the past decade by encouraging systematic publication, analysis and comparison of a range of clinical data. This followed the Kennedy inquiry into events at Bristol.
This drive has brought more transparency and a greater focus on safety standards. At all times, patient safety is our overriding concern, and there are signs of significant progress in the NHS as a whole. Overall there was a 7 per cent reduction in the hospital mortality rate in England last year. But there is never any room for complacency. Patient safety must be the subject of a continuous process of improvement. However, there is considerable variation in standards across the NHS from one hospital to another, and in some cases it is unacceptably wide.
This is the case in respect of Basildon and Thurrock NHS Foundation Trust. A year ago, surveillance of data by regulators identified a high hospital standardised mortality ratio at the trust. Since then, they have worked with the trust on a detailed improvement plan. That focus brought improvements and, over the course of this year, the HSMR has fallen. However, following unannounced inspections, the Care Quality Commission has raised further concern with the foundation trust regulator, Monitor, about care standards and the rate of improvement. It agreed that progress was not sufficient and it was felt that the trust was unable to deliver the improvements necessary within an acceptable timescale. A decision was therefore taken to intervene and use formal powers by installing a new clinical leadership at the trust. Two senior professionals from high-performing trusts will provide experienced medical and nursing support to ensure early implementation of agreed clinical and nursing changes. A programme delivery office has also been established to oversee delivery. I can assure the House that, as a result of this action, I expect to see immediate improvements and will provide regular updates on progress.
Monitor has also taken action in recent days in respect of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust. Last Friday, the regulator used its statutory powers to remove the chairman of the trust. Monitor had, over a period of time, raised a series of concerns with the trust in relation to performance and governance. It concluded that they have not been adequately addressed and decided that new leadership was necessary to bring those improvements that patients have a right to expect. I wish to make it clear to the House that the CQC has informed me that no similar action is necessary at any other trust at this stage. As part of regular monitoring, however, it has identified a small number of trusts where action is needed to address concerns and, over the weekend, there has been further analysis of safety in the NHS.
Twelve NHS and foundation trusts have been claimed to be ‘significantly underperforming’ in relation to safety and a number have high standard mortality rates. While I welcome the shining of a spotlight on safety standards, it is important to place this finding in context. Given that deaths in hospital have reduced overall by 7 per cent, it is possible that the trusts with a high rate are not showing the same level of improvement as the rest. That said, it is vital that these questions are investigated and answered.
It is also important to point out that the report by Dr Foster has analysed a more limited set of clinical and quality data than the CQC. The CQC therefore provides the authoritative voice on these issues, and takes a wider view.
The report highlights a number of trusts where there have been issues but many had already been identified and action is in hand. I can assure the House, however, that where legitimate concerns have been identified they will be followed up and updates will be provided as and when necessary.
Patient safety must at all times be the highest priority for my department, the NHS and every single hospital in the country. I expect every trust in England to investigate all serious incidents and unexpected deaths and report them to the national reporting and learning system. This will be mandatory as part of a new registration requirement. Following events at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, hospital standardised mortality ratios for all hospitals in England have been published on NHS Choices since April 2009. From next April, the Care Quality Commission will introduce a stronger inspection regime that provides an in-depth analysis of trust performance in real time. This will also be available online for the public to inspect. However, as a result of concerns expressed, I have asked the department to speed up the implementation of this new system and will bring it in from January.
Already, 90 per cent of CQC inspections are unannounced. I wish to see this at least maintained in any new system and more unannounced visits to trusts that are giving cause for concern. All trusts will be required to screen for MRSA when admitting patients through accident and emergency. Many already do, and I am asking the department to speed up 100 per cent adoption. I will also shortly bring forward plans to link hospital payment more closely to safety and quality.
In conclusion, Lord Darzi’s next stage review made it the mission of the NHS to focus relentlessly on safety and quality. All trusts must constantly review performance and, where necessary, raise their game. Progress has been made but where it is not quick or good enough, we will not hesitate to take action. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. The fact that positively glares at us as we listen to this very disturbing announcement is that the deficiencies evident at these two hospitals are not newly discovered findings. They have been known about for many months and, in the case of Basildon and Thurrock, for at least a year. Although we are told that there has been progress in that hospital since then, when the CQC inspected the trust, it clearly uncovered deeper failings which it deemed sufficient to trigger a complete change in the clinical leadership. That lack of clarity and transparency as to the true situation at the trust prior to the CQC inspection is extremely concerning. When did Ministers first become aware that things were seriously amiss at Basildon and Thurrock as regards its poor standards of nursing and infection control? Was there an opportunity to get to grips with the situation sooner? If press reports are right, there were concerns about Basildon as far back as 2001, when the RCM described conditions there as “third world”. There have been several disturbing reports about the trust since then. In passing, I wonder why the hospital has the word “University” in its name. It is a word that tends to give a misleading impression to the public.
As regards Colchester, we understand that the action taken by Monitor did not relate to hygiene standards, but higher than average mortality rates were a factor along with deficiencies in management and leadership. Will the Minister give us any further details to put the drastic action taken by Monitor into better context?
It is reassuring to hear that the CQC does not believe that similar action is called for elsewhere in the NHS, yet at the weekend Dr Foster published data which tended to suggest that that assessment might be premature. I was unclear about what the Minister was saying about Dr Foster's findings. Was she saying that the mortality figures quoted by Dr Foster were out of date, or that they failed to give a balanced picture of the overall standard of care in those trusts? If it is the latter, it seems odd to presuppose that the so-called wider view offered by the CQC is inherently more valid than performance measures that focus on individual factors or areas of activity such as mortality rates. I am not sure of what Dr Foster stands accused. Equally, it seems strange to seek to excuse hospitals of apparent poor performance on the grounds that the overall trend in performance across the NHS is improving and that in any case everything is relative. That smacks of defensiveness on the part of the Government. In fact, it steers perilously close to complacency.
In a debate of this kind it is easy to sound negative about clinical standards across the entire NHS. I do not for a minute wish to do that because I am personally aware of many superbly run hospitals which deliver a standard of care second to none. Nevertheless, we have recently had a string of announcements about poorly performing hospitals, each of which has been characterised as an isolated case, such as Stoke Mandeville, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, Mid-Staffordshire and, now, Basildon and Thurrock.
The mix of failures at each hospital is unique, but there are recurrent common themes: waiting time targets prioritised above safety and hygiene; a focus on financial issues and ticking boxes at the expense of quality in patient care; and senior management showing a lack of proper leadership, with front-line staff finding that their concerns are not being acted on. I worry that the assessment methodology that the Healthcare Commission relied on, of self-reporting by trusts and prearranged inspection appointments, has not delivered a true picture of those trusts whose standards have subsequently been shown to fall well below what is acceptable. Does the Minister agree that the assessment methodology to be adopted by the CQC needs to move away from that model and to rest much more on what patients actually experience during their time in hospital and on unannounced inspections?
Will that be done? If so, how will it be done? For example, what system can be put in place to enable the CQC to monitor patterns emerging from complaints and from hospital outcome data rather than from how well or badly a hospital is adhering to process-based targets? How can we ensure that the concerns of front-line staff are listened to rather than swept under the carpet?
Finally, I was a little surprised to hear that the CQC feels that it is currently in a position to accelerate the introduction of what the Statement describes as the,
“in-depth analysis of trust performance in real time”.
Is it sufficiently resourced to do that earlier than next April? Something tells me that we shall return to these matters on future occasions, but in the mean time, it is right to wish both Monitor and the CQC well in fulfilling their respective roles.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place earlier. Before turning to the substance of that, I also wish to acknowledge the tremendous amount of very high-quality work done in most hospitals and trusts throughout the United Kingdom. It is always tempting when there is an incident of this kind to lose perspective and work it up into something with which to create panic. I do not believe that we should do that. It is our job as responsible parliamentarians to look at the facts in context and abstract from them relevant conclusions.
That said, at the time of the revelations about failures at Mid-Staffordshire and in light of the failures at Tunbridge Wells, both of which were trusts approved by the CQC, my colleague in another place, Norman Lamb, said that it was time to look at the role of regulators. In view of these two latest incidents in Basildon and Colchester, there is an even more compelling case to look at the role of Monitor, sitting as it does alongside the CQC, and the interventions of Dr Foster. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, observed, there remains a suspicion from all the reports into these incidents that the role of targets is detrimental to clinical priorities. Time and again, in each of the reports, staff make the point that they are having to change their practice to ensure that the hospitals meet targets and fulfil those things that are more likely to be monitored. These may not necessarily be the things that are in the best interests of patient care.
The Statement repeated by the noble Baroness mentions the number of unannounced visits. All noble Lords present this evening were also present during the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill when we debated at length the role of unannounced visits. I take little credit, but I remind noble Lords that that was a point which some of us felt was essential to rooting out poor practice. I, too, ask the Minister whether she can confirm that the CQC, in meeting the accelerated timetable, will continue to have the resources to conduct unannounced visits in all trusts.
It is also worth noting something that was not in the Statement but is none the less important. In Basildon and Thurrock, it was Mencap which drew to people’s attention the fact that four of the people who died had learning disabilities. That happened as a result of Mencap’s campaign, Death by Indifference, which has focused attention on poor clinical services being received by people with learning disabilities. I ask the noble Baroness whether, in the programme of work to bring about change that she has outlined, care of people who have learning disabilities will be part of the improvement.
I will focus briefly on what is at the heart of many of the problems. There are three different bodies, each producing information about the quality of work in trusts. There is CQC, Dr Foster—an organisation co-owned, incidentally, by the Department of Health—and Monitor, each producing its own ratings. Just this last weekend, Dr Foster produced a report which indicated that 12 trusts were in the lowest of its five bands of rating for safety, but one of those—St Helens and Knowsley—has been rated as excellent by the CQC. It seems rather strange that we have three different bodies, each producing vastly differing assessments of what is going on in the same hospitals.
In January 2008, Monitor, in its evidence to the Health Select Committee in another place on the Health and Social Care Bill, said:
“The requirements to meet national standards and targets and monitor and improve quality are a significant element in the Terms of Authorisation”—
for a foundation trust. It continued:
“We have developed a detailed approach to ensuring compliance with these elements of Authorisation. We are working closely with the Healthcare Commission”.
Monitor went on to say:
“For example we have worked successfully with the Healthcare Commission on specific investigations of clinical performance, The Health Protection Agency and the Department of Health on Healthcare Associated Infections and independent auditors on waiting time management. We believe this has provided a robust regime for assuring quality in NHS foundation trusts and should form the basis of the regime going forward”.
Does the Minister agree that that was perhaps misplaced optimism on the part of Monitor and that, in light of these events, following events in Mid-Staffordshire and Tunbridge Wells, it is now time to have a look at the inspection regime in order to bring clarity and consistency to the three different bodies monitoring hospitals? Does she further agree that the criteria for that ought to be to ensure consistency in patient safety and to restore the confidence not just of the public but of the NHS professionals who work in those institutions and who have a right to know that their hospitals are good?
I thank the noble Earl and the noble Baroness for their remarks. I shall try to work my way through the questions that we are addressing this evening. The noble Earl asked when Ministers become aware of these matters. He asked me exactly the same question when we discussed these issues in relation to Mid-Staffordshire. The answer is almost exactly the same; Ministers become aware through Monitor and the CQC—the regulators—that concerns are being expressed about hospitals. Indeed, both the CQC and Monitor took co-ordinated action with regard to Basildon and Thurrock trust, which included the unannounced visit. An action plan was then produced. I have been looking at the timeline of exactly what happened and in what order—I should be happy to share that with noble Lords—which shows that there was enormous co-ordination, which led to the actions that were taken.
The noble Earl asked about mortality rates being out of date and whether they gave a complete picture. The HSMRs are quoted by Dr Foster, but they relate to 2008-09. Since then, the trusts’ own data—I refer to the trusts that were mentioned; I shall come back to the Dr Foster report—suggest that significant improvement has been made. HSMRs are important for alerting further investigation, but as we have discussed previously in the House, on their own they are not a sign of a good or a bad trust; they are a signal that further investigation may be needed.
The noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, referred to the different factors that the CQC will use as we move forward into the new regime. As noble Lords know, that will kick in in April. The annual health check is not at all a tick-box exercise. It will include follow-up inspections of trusts and the analysis of thousands of pieces of information from surveys of hospital patients and of 150,000 NHS trusts and data on waiting times, access to services, cancer survival rates, treatment of stroke and heart patients, mortality rates, infection rates and information on spot checks. I assure the noble Baroness that those checks will continue and will be a very important part of the work of the CQC. The annual health check will also include information from reviews of specific issues such as safeguarding children and information from public groups such as the local involvement networks; in other words, it will be a 360 degree analysis, taking on board all the major formal and informal factors.
That leads me to the point about the difference between Dr Foster and the CQC. We are encouraging a culture of openness and challenge within the NHS, particularly in relation to patient safety data. That is a good thing. Dr Foster’s report uses NHS data, but interprets them in a particular way, using a particular methodology. Some trusts are, indeed, challenging that—and that is their right. Those conversations will no doubt continue. But we set up an independent regulator precisely to be the authoritative voice in these situations. The CQC looks at a much broader range of data than Dr Foster does. It also carries out unannounced inspections, as it did in relation to Basildon and Thurrock. So we are not setting up these ways of looking at patient safety in opposition to each other; we are saying that there are different voices—many voices—which will be heard in a culture of challenge. But the CQC is the body to which we look for patient quality and standards. The analysis that it carries out is the one that we will use to establish whether or not trusts need investigation, irrespective of whether they have assured us that they are not experiencing the kind of failings that we have seen in Basildon and other trusts. While I can see why people might find that confusing, it is a sign of a healthy culture that is challenging the issues on patient safety at all times.
The noble Earl mentioned Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust. On Wednesday, Monitor used its formal intervention powers at Colchester to remove the chair, with immediate effect, and appointed Sir Peter Dixon as interim chair, with effect from today. The foundation trust was found to be in significant breach of its authorisation by failing to comply with healthcare standards and to exercise its functions effectively, efficiently and economically. There were serious and wide-ranging concerns about its governance and leadership. Monitor has done exactly what it was set up to do—to deal with concerns that it had.
I had anticipated that the noble Earl would raise the issue of targets. He may anticipate my answer. We have been clear that no achievement of targets or foundation trust status should be at the expense of patient safety. The targets set from the outset by this Government have reduced waiting lists and increased the speed with which people are treated in accident and emergency. We know that we need to do more, which is exactly why the proposals of my noble friend Lord Darzi in High Quality Care for All set out a vision of the next step, which is making quality the organising principle of the NHS. The noble Earl asked whether the CQC was sufficiently resourced to carry out this job. There are sufficient resources to undertake real-time assessment of providers’ quality, using self-assessment and a range of inspection tools, which I have already mentioned.
The noble Earl and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, talked about patient and staff voices. I hope that I have demonstrated that both matters are built into the continuous monitoring and assessment of hospitals and that both are very important indeed. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about healthcare-acquired infections. The results have been dramatic; we have reduced them.
I am told that I should stop talking, although I wanted to deal with all the questions raised.
We have done a great deal of work to support people with learning disabilities and have recently launched Valuing Employment Now. We must take, and are taking, more care in this area to support Mencap and work with it to ensure that its aims are built into the work that we are doing in hospitals.
My Lords, the Minister has on a number of occasions used the phrase “patient safety” in the context of this Statement and the questions on it. Is she aware of the considerable concern, indeed alarm, in Suffolk, where I live, at reports that the emergency coronary facilities in Ipswich Hospital will be closed and that patients who have heart attacks will be transported either to Colchester, which is not flavour of the month, or to Addenbrooke’s or Papworth in Cambridge, which would be a very long journey? This is a very serious issue for people in Suffolk. If the Minister is not briefed on the subject, I should be grateful if she would urgently write to me.
My Lords, it is certainly true that I am not briefed on the issue. Obviously, patient safety is at the heart of the work that we do, and recent surveys show that 93 per cent of patients rate their overall experience as good or excellent. However, I will undertake to find out specific details for the noble Lord and write to him.
House adjourned at 8.46 pm.