Motion to Agree
My Lords, I shall speak also to the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, which invites the House to agree the second report from the House Committee. These Motions represent the culmination of almost a year’s work by the two committees, by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, by the Leader’s Group chaired by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and by the various domestic committees. I thank all Members and staff who have contributed to this work.
Noble Lords will recall that following publication of the report of the Leader’s Group last October, the House agreed, on 30 November, a new code of conduct. At the same time, the House debated the report of the Leader’s Group, and in particular the group’s proposal for an accompanying guide to the rules on the conduct of Members. The House also agreed that the report of the Leader’s Group,
“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”.
The first report on today’s Order Paper is made in accordance with that instruction.
After the debate in November, I wrote to the chairman of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, to request that she and her colleagues undertake a detailed review of the guide. I trust that noble Lords will agree that the sub-committee did an impressive job. It consulted widely, and, in respect of the rules on the use of facilities, invited the domestic committees of the House to agree appropriate rules in each area. These rules are set out in the House Committee report, which I shall come to shortly.
The guide produced as a result of the sub-committee’s work, and the further scrutiny of the Committee for Privileges itself, closely follows the guide that was originally proposed by the Leader’s Group. That guide was fully debated on 30 November, and therefore I do not intend to describe its contents in detail. However, noble Lords should be aware of the few significant changes that are proposed.
First, there is the date of commencement. The resolution agreed by the House on 30 November stated that the new code of conduct would come into effect on 1 April this year. Noble Lords will appreciate that such a start date might, as it turns out, be inopportune. We therefore propose that the new code, and the accompanying guide, should come into effect from the start of the new Parliament. Before then, the Registrar will contact all noble Lords to ask them to update their entries in the Register of Interests, in light of the new categories set out in the guide. As long as noble Lords respond promptly, this will allow for publication of the new Register in time for the new Parliament.
Noble Lords will also be interested in the process of appointing the new House of Lords Commissioner for Standards. A lot of work has been put into defining the terms of appointment, and I confirm that the post has now been advertised. It is unlikely that the commissioner will actually be in post at the start of the new Parliament, but I expect him or her to start work not long after. In the mean time, the sub-committee will continue to be responsible for investigations.
We have also proposed certain changes in nomenclature. In line with the changing nature of their work, we recommend that the Committee for Privileges and its Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests should be renamed, respectively, the Committee for Privileges and Conduct, and the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct. These changes will require several technical amendments both to the code of conduct and to Standing Orders, which we hope will bring greater clarity to the roles of the committee and sub-committee.
Noble Lords will recall that in November we debated at some length the proposal from the Leader’s Group’s that, as part of the ceremony of taking the oath, noble Lords would be required upon introduction, and at the start of each subsequent Parliament, to sign an undertaking to abide by the code of conduct. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, tabled an amendment to remove that requirement from the code, although he did not press it to a vote. We have explained in paragraphs 8 and 9 of our report how the undertaking will be made, and noble Lords will wish to pay special attention to those paragraphs. Similar guidance will be sent to all noble Lords, by means of a Lords Notice, at the same time as the Writ of Summons is issued ahead of the new Parliament.
We have also sought to clarify the status of this undertaking. Noble Lords should be in no doubt, first, that the code is binding on all Members of this House who are not on leave of absence, regardless of whether they have signed the undertaking, and secondly, that under the code the signing of the undertaking is mandatory. It therefore follows that any noble Lord who attends the House without having signed the undertaking will be automatically deemed to have breached the code. It will then be for the sub-committee, in accordance with the enforcement procedure described in the guide, to recommend an appropriate sanction.
I do not intend to spend more time speaking to the report of the Committee for Privileges at this stage but, before turning to the House Committee report, I should remind noble Lords that the guide is intended to be a living, evolving document. While the guide before us today is, I believe, workable and comprehensive, it is not the last word. The sub-committee is charged, under the code, with keeping the guide under regular review, and if any difficulties emerge, or if any changes are required as a result of new case law, then the sub-committee will no doubt propose amendments. I hope that on that basis the guide before us today will enjoy the support of the whole House.
I turn now to the 2nd Report of the House Committee regarding the use of facilities provided by the House. Noble Lords will recall that the original Leader’s Group report accepted that these facilities were the responsibility of the various domestic committees, under the guidance of the House Committee. The Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests therefore sought the views of these domestic committees on the various facilities for which they are responsible, and their decisions are reflected in the House Committee report before us today.
We have sought to avoid excessive detail and bureaucracy. The overriding principle must be that facilities and services available to Members which are either provided or subsidised at public expense are intended primarily to support Members in their parliamentary work. While respecting this principle, the House Committee and the domestic committees have also sought to provide sufficient latitude to enable Members to continue working on their outside interests, as they have a right to do in an unsalaried House which relies on the experience and expertise of its Members, as this one does. I hope that noble Lords will feel that the report strikes the right balance.
I should also point out that the report must be read in conjunction with the House Committee’s 3rd Report of 2008-09. This sets out the rules on banqueting functions and has already been agreed by the House.
Standards of conduct in this House have been under close and often painful scrutiny over the past year or more, but these two reports show just how well the House has responded. They have not been imposed upon us: they are the fruits of the labour of many Members of your Lordships’ House—by my rough calculation, between 60 and 70 noble Lords have sat on the various groups and committees that have contributed to the two reports. Collectively, we have tightened up the rules where necessary, while respecting the essential values of the House and the rights of its Members. These reports represent a real step forward in the way that we as a House regulate our own conduct. I recommend them warmly to the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, the Lord Chairman has set out very fully for the House the issues that we are considering today and I commend him for his clarity.
I wish to pick up where the Lord Chairman left off. He said that standards of conduct in this House have been under close and painful scrutiny over the past year or more but that these two reports show just how well the House has responded. I agree with that judgment. We have come a long way over the past year or so. Both Houses of Parliament have experienced considerable and critical public and media scrutiny. The scrutiny of the other place was, at its peak, far more intense than has at any point been the scrutiny of your Lordships’ House. However, the scrutiny of this House has been long-running and is continuing. Some of it has been unfair, some of it has been wrong but, where it has led to the exposure of wrong-doing, we have taken action and we will continue to do so.
I said at the beginning of last year that if there were wrongs they must be righted and if there were abuses they must be rooted out. That is what we have been doing. The issues in front of us today are a key point in that process. We have taken action over Members’ expenses; the House Committee made a request to the Prime Minister to commission the SSRB’s report; we have a process to consider the issues in the SSRB’s report, which is being carried out by the ad hoc group under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham; and next week there will be action over the principal residence of Members of the House. There is of course more to do. We have taken action over Members’ conduct—the House deciding that it did have the power to suspend Members, suspending two Members of this House, and establishing a Leader’s Group to propose a new code of conduct; and the House approving a new code of conduct, developing and I hope, today, adopting the new guidance associated with that code.
This is a considerable programme of change and reform but it is necessary so that we can be more confident in ourselves and the public can have more confidence in us. I recognise that the steps that we have taken are not quick enough for some. I and many other Members of this House have been impatient for change, but these are complex, serious and important issues and it is right to consider them carefully, cautiously and comprehensively. That is what we have been doing. I have no doubt that we have more work to do on these matters. I have no doubt, too, that we will continue to face scrutiny.
We are getting our rules and systems right. Today is a significant day for two reasons; not just because it marks the important step of putting fully into place the new code of conduct and its associated guide as well as the rules governing the use of facilities for this House, but because it marks the moment when this issue moves from those who have been involved in drawing up these rules—and I echo the Lord Chairman’s thanks to the large number of Members and officials of the House who have taken part in this work—to us Members of the House ourselves. It is for the House to draw up and to decide on its rules, regulations and provisions. But it is now up to us, the Members of this House, to abide by them.
I know that many Members of this House have felt, and continue to feel, tarnished by activities that they regard as dishonourable or worse. I know, too, that the vast, overwhelming majority of Members of this House act not just in accordance with the rules of this House but with their own standards of personal honour, morality and conduct. That is right; that is proper. However, Members of this House do have an obligation and a responsibility placed on them by the code of conduct which the House has already agreed and by the guidance to that code which is in front of us today.
It is the responsibility of us all, each and every Member of this House, to abide by those rules, to behave in accordance with them, and, if necessary, to adjust our behaviour to ensure that we do. We all face the mirror test. When we look at ourselves, are we satisfied not just with what we do but with the way in which we do it? Are we satisfied that the public are satisfied with the way that we conduct ourselves?
I do not for a moment believe that such self-examination will be difficult for the Members of this House. I believe that the Members of this House are dedicated to the idea of public service, to the essential role that this House has as part of our legislative process and of the checks and balances in our constitution, and to the responsibility that they have in discharging their role—discharging it fully but also sensibly, moderately, fairly and honestly. I am confident that the new provisions that we are putting in place will be of real assistance in helping them to do so, and helping the House to deal with any failures if or when they happen. The responsibility on us all as Members of your Lordships’ House is real; it is rigorous and it is right.
In conclusion, I said last year when the scrutiny level of this House intensified that we needed to put our own house in order. That is what we have been doing, and that is what we are doing today. The proposals before the House are considered and correct and I urge the House to adopt them and to continue our processes of reform and improvement.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in wishing to convince your Lordships to agree the Motions laid by the Lord Chairman of Committees relating to the new code of conduct. A great deal of thought has gone into this and there has been wide consultation in the House. As has already been said, the House should rightly be grateful to the Leader’s Group led by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, to the Committee for Privileges and, specifically, to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. An enormous amount of reflection and discussion has been undergone in the past few weeks. While I may or may not agree with every nuance—and your Lordships may have your own detailed questions—overall, a good balance has been struck. I unequivocally support the reports that are before us and I hope that your Lordships will support them too.
There is an air of “bash the House” about. There is a fashion for breast-beating and people, including some who have recently come among us, saying that everything in the old House was bad. There is talk of systems being wrong in the past and the need for radical change. I do not defend the old systems. I recognise and urge the need for change. Equally, as one who has been here for nearly 25 years, I would say that Members of this House have in that time overwhelmingly acted on their honour and with a deep sense of propriety and of commitment to public service.
If there are problems—and there have been problems which have had to be and will yet have to be dealt with—they have been the errors not of the many but of the few. Let us not fall into the trap of letting anyone set up this House, this unpaid House, as a den of thieves and chisellers. It was not so in the past, and it is not today. However, given the degree of public distrust of politics and politicians, it is vital that in our daily conduct we should follow clear and understandable rules and that what we do and the way we do it are both transparent and fully accountable.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Mr Jack Straw have recently leaked plans for a paid, fully elected Chamber from which we will all be removed, but that is for a future Parliament to decide. Unless and until that day comes, we will remain as we are now: an unpaid House drawing heavily on the expertise that noble Lords bring from other walks of life and from their interests—without the ability to speak about their interests, we would be in a sorry state. In such a House, we need clear rules that enable Peers to earn a living outside and to play a full part here. I think that this code meets that challenge.
I know that some object to the idea that we should sign a document acknowledging our acceptance of the code. Some feel that it impugns their honour, that it demeans the House or purports to place a condition on the Writ. These are important questions, no doubt, but there is also no doubt that the House may enjoin rules on Peers. There are many things that we sign in life far less important than an undertaking to abide by the rules set by this House, which shares in making law for every subject of the Crown.
I confess that I cannot share the anxiety of some on this point. I ask your Lordships to reflect on how it would be seen were the House to oppose such a proposal from your Lordships’ Committee for Privileges. The British public, drowned as they are under a mass of forms, undertakings and regulations to sign and abide with, would not begin to understand what was in your Lordships’ mind. I hope that we will not let ourselves be caught up on that small hook and lose sight of the significance of the code before us.
I defend the honour and integrity of this House; I condemn the actions of a few; but I urge your Lordships to accept that greater transparency and clarity has been made necessary and to give these Motions your support.
My Lords, often, when I am showing people around this building, I say that I have worked here for more than 40 years and that I never enter it without a sense of awe for what it stands for, for what it is. As we are very close to the alarums of battle, I can also say, as one who is slightly to one side of it, something that I said yesterday. I think that this House has been very well served by the Leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition in the way that they have approached these very difficult circumstances. It would have been very easy for this to collapse into easy point-scoring on one side or another. The fact that we have progressed so far on this road is in no small measure due to the leadership that we have had from those two Front Benches.
That is not drawing together in a common defence, but a real addressing by this House of the problems that we face. The vast majority of people in this House feel the sense of honour, duty and responsibility to which I referred. What we have had to come through has been extremely painful for many. I cannot remember which noble Baroness said at a very early stage, “For the first time, I came in this morning feeling ashamed of being in the House of Lords”, because of some splash in one of the newspapers. We have come through it, thanks to the work of the committees, especially the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and her committee. The Leader of the House's speech could well bear reading by the press, because it brought together very well the whole raft of reforms which are coming forward now to repair the reputation of this House.
I shall not repeat that, but I will echo the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I know that some colleagues will feel that the request to sign up to the code of conduct is a “When did you stop beating your wife?” declaration, but we must realise that the mood outside needs clear demonstrations. Members may well feel the affront of being asked to sign such a declaration but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, it is a fairly small price to pay for that outward show of determination to put our House right.
On the use of facilities, we must remember that the outside use of facilities is also a subsidy. It would be almost impossible to run the facilities of this House commercially with the sitting days and the hours that we sit. The real clue—I again echo the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—is transparency. If we know who is booking what, the chances of abuse are scant. I hope that we do not put the shutters up on the use of facilities by outside organisations because it is one of the benefits of this House.
The times, they are a-changin’. We cannot run the House in some of the comfortable ways that we have run it in the past, even though those ways were entirely innocent as well as being comfortable. We cannot just look at ourselves and have confidence in each other. We have to satisfy an external audience, and the work that we are putting in hand today goes some way to doing that.
My Lords, the final draft of the Guide to the Code of Conduct was agreed by the Committee for Privileges on 1 March and published last week. The fact that we are debating it today is evidence of the priority it has been given. Many of your Lordships will recognise the difficulty in codifying personal honour, which underlies much of what is in the guide, with a degree of clarity that will allow anyone who picks it up to know what is expected from him or her. I do not think we are quite there yet, and there will, no doubt, be some test cases which gradually refine usage and practice. Indeed, this is anticipated in the expressed intention to keep the guide under review. Among other functions, this excellent guide will help all to keep to forefront of our individual and collective minds what precisely our obligations are.
I, among many others in this House, have long argued for incremental reform. I consider the publication of this report and its intended implementation in the new Parliament to be such a reform. It may possibly have unanticipated consequences, as many small changes often do, but these are likely to be in the direction of greater clarity, transparency and accountability. There may then be the final recognition that this House must be subject to external audit not only of expenses, but of all other aspects of the ways in which we carry out our constitutional function.
If we are to embrace change, then let us do so not with mealy-mouthed reluctance but with conviction. Public perception is not to be manipulated but to be heard and responded to when it is appropriate. However, I have to say that I do not believe that our hair shirt should extend to the eradication of your Lordships' House as we know it. In any case, this would not be the answer.
As I look around the House today, I see so many hugely distinguished Peers who would not dream of putting themselves up for election. We would be a lesser House without them, and the public would be the poorer. We are moving towards professionalism, which some may regret, but the days when the concept of personal honour alone held sway are over; accountability to the taxpayer is paramount. No doubt there will be some who pick away at this code to find gaps, but gaps do not mean loopholes. They mean areas which have yet to be identified and remedied. Our job is to climb out of perdition by accepting these conditions and enhancing their implementation.
A favourite strategic vision question that is often asked in interviews is, “What would you like to see in five or 10 years’ time?”. I should like a much smaller professional House of experts from a very wide range of disciplines: a House with a well-oiled machinery for ensuring accountability and transparency that is therefore fit to carry out its pre-eminent function—to scrutinise and revise legislation.
I thank and congratulate all those who have worked so hard to produce and finalise this document.
My Lords, the code of conduct which the Leader’s Group presented to this House was considered in detail by the House last November. As the Hansard report of that discussion indicates, there was general support for the thinking behind our recommendations. We were, however, conscious that great importance should attach to the substance of the guide as well as to the code. It is one thing to produce a code or statement of how a Peer should regard his or her conduct in Parliament; it is surely an equally important task to provide interpretation of and guidance on that conduct. Therefore, the Leader’s Group welcomed the decision to invite the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, to lead the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests in examining the guide in detail.
When I had the honour of presenting the report by the Leader’s Group in November, I tried to emphasise that we recognised the importance of such a review, and I pay tribute to the work involved on the part of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and her colleagues. The sub-committee’s work closely identifies with the guide that was debated on 30 November.
I will refer briefly to just two aspects of the report before us. First, I accept the argument for the date of the implementation of the new code of conduct as the start of the new Parliament. It is surely entirely desirable that by then we will all have had the opportunity to review our entries in the Register of Members’ Interests. As the House will recall, the Leader’s Group proposed the appointment of the Lords commissioner for standards. Since the November debate on our report, a considerable number of Peers have spoken to me and my colleagues of their approval of this decision. Events even since November have surely underlined the importance of this decision. Throughout the work of the Leader’s Group, we were deeply conscious of the need to place the code of conduct within a framework that would do much to address the cynicism and open criticism of Parliament by such a wide cross-section of public opinion. This appointment will do much to meet that situation, but in this debate today it is important to underline that the code of conduct document, together with the guide before us, will form the agenda—the working brief—of the new commissioner.
Secondly, as we stated in November, much of what we are doing is taking us into uncharted waters. There will be a development of interpretations and an evolving precedent of criteria in the observance of a new code and its guide. The acceptance of the new post of commissioner in our daily work as a House will mean that, from time to time, the guidance to the observance of a code will need to be addressed. That is why what this House decided last November and what we decide today is so important. Despite whatever changes may emerge because of experience, surely it must be known and recognised that we are setting out the principles that will make our work transparent, understandable and open to wide scrutiny. The guide as a developing phenomenon must be an instrument which, as far as possible, removes dilemma and doubt as to what is expected of us.
Paragraphs 103 to 128 of the guide refer to the work of the commissioner. Those paragraphs are of necessity a first step in establishing his or her duties. Experience will most likely provoke reviews of particular parts of his or her work. However, I wish to draw attention to one aspect of paragraphs 103 to 128. Irrespective of the details of any individual case of complaint and irrespective of the ultimate outcome, I believe that the House needs to exercise sensitivity towards the opportunities a Peer under investigation has to present his or her case.
Paragraph 115 states:
“Proceedings are not adversarial, but inquisitorial in character”.
Paragraph 117 includes the words:
“They may be accompanied to any meeting by a colleague, friend or legal adviser”.
My concern is—I speak personally—that there could be occasions when a Peer under investigation may find it difficult best to present his or her case by themselves, bearing in mind the seriousness of the occasion and the situation in which they will find themselves. Under paragraph 117 of the guide, they are permitted to consider and to seek the advice of their adviser “off the record”. However, I feel that in due course the procedural guidance may need to be revisited in the light of experience. In the name of natural justice, as the Leader’s Group said in paragraph 74 of the original code, we must remember the seriousness for any of us finding ourselves in such a situation. This is not just an inquiry into a breaking of the code; it is a moment when one’s reputation and standing are under question, and it involves self-respect and personal honour. Therefore, the utmost care is surely needed in the implementation of the code and the guidance to the code so that justice is not only offered but is seen to be offered.
I welcome the fact that the code will be binding on all Members of the House. The nation is demanding nothing less and has a right to expect nothing less. That is why the Leader’s Group places such emphasis on the mandatory nature of the undertaking expected of all Peers and why we suggested more than a mere acknowledgement of the code at the beginning of a Session. While the signing of a declaration may sound to some as overbearing, to say the least, I believe that it sends a symbolic message to the outside world.
I express the hope that in our debate today those who have particular issues or problems with any part of the proposed guide will bear in mind that even now not every word will be cast in stone. The House will ask the sub-committee to keep the new guide under constant review and, where appropriate, to propose amendments for our consideration. That was the spirit behind the proposal of the Leader’s Group that the House received last November. It would be unfortunate if in today’s debate individual difficulties over the interpretation of this guide should prevent the whole House, as it did in November, from moving forward and grasping the opportunities for a fresh beginning, which will push back such negative and divisive images of the immediate past.
In closing, I join those who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and her colleagues for the presentation of this guide to the code. I cannot commit all the former members of the Leader’s Group, for we are no longer in existence, but for myself I unreservedly support the proposed guide.
My Lords, I wish to say a few words about the guide and some residual concerns that I have over implementation. I gave evidence originally to the Nolan commission and to Wicks in his review of the House of Commons between 1997 and 2001. I also prepared a detailed proposal for a guide and code of conduct for the Eames committee.
My first observation concerns presentation. We will have two documents—the code of conduct and the guide—and I suggest that we should publish only one document, which is the position in the Commons. The Commons document has the code of conduct together with the guide to the rules so that there can be no misunderstanding as to what is the relevant document when anyone is considering their position.
I welcome paragraphs 109 and 110, which establish the remit for the commissioner. Following my experience on the Standards and Privileges Committee in the House of Commons in the period 1997 to 2001, I expressed concern to the Wicks inquiry about the remit for the commissioner being tightly defined, unambiguous and clear. There is a danger of remit drift, which can lead to anxiety in the House about the limit of the remit, particularly in the minds of those who are the subject of complaint. Remit drift can also instil a sense of expectation in the media as to what can be investigated by the commissioner.
One area of the remit concerns me. Paragraph 110, which deals with,
“Matters not falling within the Commissioner’s remit”,
includes “Members’ non-parliamentary activities”. That is very broad. There may be circumstances where a breach of public duty responsibilities unrelated to parliamentary activities but related to a Member’s conduct, while not constituting a criminal offence may bring dishonour on the Member and, indeed, on the House. For example, a case might arise in the management of a charity, in third-party influence on a contract or—and I am not political point-scoring when I say this, because it affects all parties in this House and all Members—in accuracy of declarations of domicile. That is an important issue for us all.
Paragraph 5 relates to the Ministerial Code. It has been my view since the early 1990s that the Ministerial Code should be enforced not by the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet Secretary but, in the Commons, by the parliamentary commissioner for standards and, in the Lords, by the commissioner for the House of Lords. That responsibility should be transferred to them and taken away from the Executive.
Paragraphs 19 and 20 in the appendix to the guide to the code of conduct could cause confusion, not only in the code but in the guide, and could potentially lead to abuse. Perhaps I may quote selectively without destroying the sense intended. It states:
“Members may not … advise outside organisations … on process, for example how they may lobby or otherwise influence the work of Parliament”.
It then states:
“The following is not parliamentary advice … advice in general terms about how Parliament works”.
Paragraph 20 states that,
“a Member may exceptionally give parliamentary advice to an organisation … with whom the Member has a financial interest, provided that the Member can demonstrate that: he or she does not receive payment or benefit in return for the provision of parliamentary advice or services. The Member should … be able to show that the payment or benefit is provided in return for some non-parliamentary advice or service which the Member provides”.
There is a built-in contradiction. While the great majority of the House will, I am sure, honour this part of the code and guide to the letter, it is inevitable that there will be those who breach the provisions and what I believe to be the intentions of the guide.
I am concerned also about paragraph 90, which deals with declarations in Committee. I understand that it has been the case for quite a time—it is not new—that one declares an interest at the beginning of a set of proceedings in Committee; in other words, one does so at the beginning of Committee stage on a Bill. I have never believed that that is satisfactory. What happens in conditions where a Bill may run in Committee for seven, eight, nine or 10 sessions? Is it sufficient for a Member simply to declare their interest at the beginning of a Committee stage on a Bill in a way that covers all amendments that might be moved during it? The public may well be misled and a Member may stand publicly accused of not declaring a relevant interest.
I know that we are here to act on our honour. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, was very careful in his original report—wisely so in my view and, I am sure, in the view of all of us—to emphasise the need for honour in the way in which we conduct ourselves. But I say it again: honour varies between Members and there will be some who do not see it being as important as others do.
The issue of domicile should be dealt with in the code, so that when a Member signs up at the beginning of a Parliament to the code they are effectively signing up to whatever rules might exist on domicile.
My objective in making my observations, most of which I communicated to my noble friend Lord Hart of Chilton during the many months that he spent toiling over the code of conduct along with other members of that committee, is simply to flag up certain issues that the committee may wish to consider when it reviews what the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, referred to as a living and evolving document. The whole code is based on personal honour. I only hope that we are all capable of living up to the very fine intentions as set out both in the guide and in the code.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the Leader of the House and my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition that something of this kind is necessary in the current circumstances. However, I should like to put it on record that I think that this is a sad day. It is a sad day for the House, a sad day for your Lordships and, alas, an even sadder reflection on the declining standards of public life.
I wish only to make a brief comment on the work done by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests. It has done an excellent job in revising the guide to the rules of conduct prepared by the Eames committee and in proposing a change in the name. I can identify few changes between the original guide and what is now proposed. However, there is one change to which I should draw attention. In paragraph 119 of the original guide, the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, as it was then to be called, had the task of resolving any significant contested issues of fact. That is, as I understand it, no longer to be the case, as one can see from comparing paragraph 119 of the original guide to paragraph 130 of the revised guide. Thus the facts are to be found by the commissioner and those facts are final, subject only to appeal under paragraph 131 to the Committee for Privileges itself. Paragraph 133 of the revised guide provides that,
“the Committee will not reopen the Commissioner’s investigation”.
I wish only to ask whether my understanding of the position is correct and, if so, to say that it is an important improvement on what was there before.
My Lords, I am delighted from these Benches to welcome these two reports and the clarity and transparency that they give in our dealings with one another and with the wider society. I am pleased, along with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the point is made in the facilities report that refreshment outlets can be used for raising money for charity. It is an important principle of our life together that we share our privileges with those in need and with other charitable causes. It is good to see that being affirmed in that report.
I welcome the code of conduct and its guide for their specific clarity and, still more, for their refusal to confine and define our behaviour by a set of rules. Our signing the code with each new Parliament, which I very much welcome, will remind us of our solemn duties as Members of this House. I particularly welcome the development of the concept of personal honour, partly through our discussions in this House, expressed in paragraphs 6 to 8. Our daily prayers remind us of the need to lay aside all private interests, prejudices and partial affections. That phrase, which is very appropriate to the whole life of this House, is picked up in this code and its guide.
There is a complex relationship between our personal sense of honour and the standards of the House as a whole. I was particularly interested to hear the Leader of the House taking that up in her introduction to this piece of business. It is well expressed in the balance between my own—or our own—deep convictions and those of the institution to which I am committed, a balance that applies not only to our membership of this House but to those other cultures of which we are a part, whether it is the British Medical Association, a county council, the Church of England or society as a whole. Personal integrity and communal allegiance must go together and I very much welcome the way in which the code and its guide deal with that.
On a more specific issue, I am grateful for the clarification of the role of the Lords spiritual provided in paragraph 29, which is new, although I am also somewhat uncomfortable about it. The paragraph says that the Lords spiritual, along with Ministers of the Crown and members of non-departmental public bodies, are excluded in relation to those specific roles from the prohibitions on receiving payments for exercising parliamentary influence. I take it that that is a reference to our stipends as Church of England bishops, because, on a literalistic interpretation of the code, we could otherwise be excluded from contributing on matters of education or social care, for example. I would be grateful for confirmation from the Lord Chairman that it is our stipends that are being considered in paragraph 29. Apart from those, it is right that Lords spiritual should be bound by these provisions in just the same way as are other noble Lords. I suppose that it is one advantage of our curious dress code that this interest is at least fairly obvious when we contribute in this House.
This code and its guidance ensure that we do not ever again fall into a culture where it is appropriate to argue that no rules have been broken. It will reinforce our moral integrity and remind all of us of the privilege of our service. I welcome it wholeheartedly.
My Lords, I shall make a historical reference. In case some of your Lordships are not aware of the earlier history, I came into the House at the end of 1997 and had just been appointed as the second chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Our first report was about how elections should be conducted and money provided to the parties. The second one was about your Lordships’ House because at that time, in 1999, there was concern that the House of Lords rules seemed to be laxer than and not as enforced as those down the Corridor. There was a feeling that all was not well. When I was introduced into that situation, I had four separate meetings where I was invited to address all the parties and the Cross-Benchers. Without disclosing any confidences, I can say that there was not unanimous enthusiasm for the role that I was trying to urge upon Members of your Lordships’ House; indeed, there were quarters where one might almost say that voices of dissent were heard.
It would have been inconceivable in 1999 that two documents like today’s could have come before the House of Lords. They would have been turned down, and the attitude would have been wholly different from the responses, such as nodding, that it is getting around the House today. The House is behind these documents. It wants them to be put in place and voted upon, and I fully agree with that.
My only word of warning relates to how we have got to the position that we are in. There has been a gradual shift in opinions during the decade from 2000 to 2010. Then we had these terrible cases that seemed to start in another place but effectively came to include Members of this House. The allegations that were made, if true, were serious and deeply disturbing. One asked oneself: how could any Member of this House have indulged in the alleged conduct?
Now, not all the cases have been taken to trial, as it were. Two cases that were judged by committees of your Lordships’ House have been dealt with and led to penalties. Other cases have not had judgment, and I think that one should apply the ordinary rule that a man or woman is deemed innocent until proved guilty by due process, which has not been fully carried out. Nevertheless, allowing common sense to intrude, one’s suspicion has to be that some of what one read was true. That is deeply worrying.
My only message for the future is that there must be some recognition in the House that this has to be watched. We cannot wait for another torrent of media revelations to get us into the right frame of mind. How exactly that will be done, I do not know, but it is an important consideration that we should keep in mind.
My Lords, I shall follow up on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. I have two questions. The first relates to an issue that I spoke on back in November when I expressed my unease at the inability to raise issues that would lead to changes in the code of conduct, which at that time I felt was deficient.
Paragraph 4 makes it clear that the sub-committee will review the guide and the code and change it as appropriate. However, if an individual Member of the House has cause for dissatisfaction, not with another Peer, but feels uneasy about particular rules or paragraphs in the guide or the code, how can that individual raise the matter and ensure that it is examined and acted upon if appropriate? I have described previously how, when one felt unhappy and went to different Leaders or Clerks, quite often the complaint disappeared somewhere within the machinery of the House. I would like some clarity on that.
If there is a requirement for a change, I hope that at that point we might pick up on my previous suggestion to my noble friend the Leader of the House. We need a reference to the Register of Lords’ Interests, Members’ Interests, and those of secretaries and research assistants. The House will recall that the press went into this some years ago and, as a consequence, we were required to draw up such a register. I felt that the lack of reference to this was an omission from the report of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I understand that there is an indirect reference in the facilities document which comes before us later this afternoon, but quite frankly, it has disappeared. Unless we cover issues such as accountability, we leave ourselves open, the press will come back to them and the House will be in difficulties again. I hope that I can finally have an answer on what will happen in that regard. Do I need to continue pursuing the issue in one form or another and, if so, what is the mechanism for doing so?
My final point concerns the undertaking in paragraph 9, on which we have had a full discussion and which I fully support. It states:
“We hope that the House of Lords Appointments Commission will be willing to assist by making potential nominees for peerages aware of the provisions of the Code of Conduct—though it would be inappropriate for the Commission to require the potential nominee to undertake before nomination that they would sign the undertaking”.
I would like to know why. I have spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, about some of the issues arising from the operation of the Appointments Commission. We see at the other end that more examination of public appointments is taking place. I am in favour of elections, but I do not foresee them in the near future, and I find it amazing that we may have 80 or 90 new Peers entering this House without any changes in the procedures under which they will be appointed.
I would have hoped that we might have given a stronger indication to the Appointments Commission on how it might conduct its affairs. If promises are given to or required of individuals to enable them to enter the House, that should be known publicly. It should be open to the public and to the House to examine those issues in due course. We should ask the Commission very firmly to ensure that the code of conduct is signed in advance by anyone who wants to enter the House.
My Lords, as a member of the Leader’s Group under the chairmanship of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, I would like to follow him in saying that I support unreservedly the entirety of the guide as it is now and the changes made to it. I do not propose to talk about the content, but I should like to say a word about the process, which I think has helped to bring about this improved guide.
There were only six of us in the Leader’s Group. We worked at speed; we took as much evidence as we could and we received some representations, but not that many, from colleagues. All of us on the committee were clear and unanimous about the code, and that was accepted by the House in November. In addition, to assist the House, we agreed to a unanimous report on the text of the proposed guide. On the latter, it would be fair to say that in the time available, it was not possible to explore every nook and cranny in detail. Indeed, there was some disagreement on detail among us, but as we did not regard ourselves as the repository of all wisdom, we thought it reasonable to put forward concrete suggestions in order to enable wider consultation and comments on those details before they were finalised. An illustration of that was when we put some of the figures in brackets.
In the context of the debate on 30 November, I received a number of comments from colleagues on some of the details. I felt that it right, therefore, to put my submission to the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and I put forward five changes that should be made to the report that we had all agreed. Four of those were accepted. One on shareholdings was not, but I quite understand that. However, my point is, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, made clear, that the text in front of us is the fruit of the labour of many Members. It has been greatly improved as a result of that and is the better for that wider consideration.
That leads me to the more general point that I want to make. There seems to be a view in some quarters that when committees are set up to comment on points in relation to either House, we should simply accept en bloc and without question the recommendations of those committees. The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, has referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life and I was proud to serve under him for two sessions of the committee. I remember that period very clearly because I was in the other place and had to come and defend our report here in this House. We put forward reports on the House of Lords and on the funding of political parties. Not all of our recommendations were agreed and it was quite right that those with much wider experience and from different elements of experience were able to comment on those reports. In fact, two of us from the other place were on the Committee on Standards in Public Life at that time and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Neill, will agree that there was benefit to the committee in our knowing the inside workings of that place to be able to make recommendations.
The point is that this is the view of a committee. I have seen the Committee on Standards in Public Life at work subsequently and I have considerable reservations about some aspects of the report that it recently produced on the other place. I have also had something to do with the Senior Salaries Review Body. Sometimes, I felt that wider experience would have helped it rather more in coming to some of its recommendations. Having been subjected to them as a Minister, I can say that the same is true of royal commissions or committees of inquiry into issues of accidents on the railway and so forth. We do not always accept the royal commission’s recommendations or all the recommendations of the committee of inquiry, and quite rightly.
When we debated the Senior Salaries Review Body's report earlier, I said that I supported the broad framework and thrust of the report but had reservations in detail on some of the recommendations. It is entirely reasonable for the longer process that we have taken on the code of conduct to be applied in those other cases too. Of course, we have to bear in mind that self-interest is at stake here and we should not talk in terms of our own self-interest. We should take very seriously the recommendations of these bodies, but sometimes they do not get all the details right. The report that we have in front of us now on the guide is all the better for the wider consideration that has been given to it by others. I hope that we can accept that that should apply in other cases as well.
As a member of the Eames group, may I for the record also associate myself with the sentiments expressed by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and say that the guidance that has now been revised is in my view better focused and has greater clarity than when it left us. I thank the group for the work that it has done. I also say that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, associates herself with those remarks, so there is a whole set of Eames group members agreeing with what has been proposed this afternoon. We should also pay great attention to the fact that, in due time, inductions and mentoring will also play a part in a better explanation of the code and the rules of guidance when newcomers come into the House.
My Lords, I, too, agree with the general thrust and the vast majority of the recommendations of the report. I have just two reservations. I have been waiting for the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, to raise again the matter that he raised in the previous debate on the subject and which I supported. Outside this Chamber many people told me that they also agreed with it; I do not know why no account has been taken of it. It relates to the signing of the undertaking. I had assumed that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and I said in the debate, it was implicit in taking the oath that you accepted all the rules and regulations of this House, including the code of conduct. Why is there any reason to sign a separate undertaking?
I want an explanation of this in the reply. I would also like to know, because I am a suspicious character, as some here know already, where this idea for the separate undertaking came from. Who suggested it? Was it a member of the committee or was it the Clerks?
I am sorry—I do not mean that in a derogatory way. The Leader of the House, for whom I have great respect, looks upset. I would just like to know because sometimes the bureaucracy suggests things that are not in the best interests of the Members. As Members, we need to recognise that.
I am most grateful. I thank the noble Lord. Now we are getting into a debate. We have had a series of monologues until now and I like debates. Now that my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, has said that the suggestion came from Members, I would be interested to know which Members it came from, the reason behind it and an explanation as to why it is necessary in addition to the oath. As I said previously, I almost never agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, on other occasions, particularly on the European Union, but on that occasion he argued a very sound case. Outside the Chamber many people came up to him and to me to say that they agreed with it, yet nothing has happened. No account has been taken of it between that debate and this report. I just do not understand why.
I come to the second point on which I have some reservations. I was encouraged by the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds agreed with me. He did not understand why Lords spiritual were excluded from the code of conduct. I do not either. We may be coming at this from different points of view. I hope he will not take offence at this, as Members took offence when I even hinted that the Clerks might come up with suggestions, which they do from time to time. However, I would have thought that there is probably no purer example of paid advocacy in this House than the Bishops of the Church of England. They are an absolutely perfect example. They come along and argue their case. The debates and votes that they participate in are on matters that have direct relevance to the teachings, work and actions of the Church of England. With the single exception of the retired generals, they are probably the most eager advocates of their case. I hope that in the reply we will get an explanation of why the Lords spiritual are excluded from this.
My Lords, I will be quick because I want to refer only to three paragraphs of the Privileges Committee’s report. I played no part in the preparation of these documents, so I can be objective in congratulating all those who have been involved. However, I was involved more than 10 years ago in the Griffiths committee on the code of conduct. I disagreed profoundly with our conclusion then that we should retain this phrase in paragraph 15 of the code of conduct:
“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”.
“direct, pecuniary and shared by few others”,
is of ancient origin. It was devised by a committee chaired by Lord Greenwood of Rossendale in the 1960s or 1970s. It ought at that time—and ever since—to have been an unequivocal exclusion from acting in this House, just as it would be in any local authority. Yet we have, frankly, three paragraphs of equivocation. If Members have interests which are,
“direct, pecuniary and shared by few others”,
they should not be acting in Parliament—period.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, drew attention to the fact that I had not spoken this afternoon. The reason I have not spoken up to now is to see how many people would get up on this point. I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, got up on the point and made a very good case as to why this onerous chapter has appeared in the guidance. I thought very closely about this matter when I saw the final report and saw that there had been no alteration. I was considering putting down another amendment but decided not to do so because this House has been under pressure lately and I did not want to put it under further pressure. However, I continue to believe that the recommendation for a signature to be appended to the swearing-in ceremony that you will obey the code of conduct—which you would be expected to do anyway—may have unfortunate consequences at a later date. I can see that the House has no great objection to it and, as I welcome and support the rest of the report, we shall just have to see how it goes. However, I wanted to put on record that I still believe that such a document is unnecessary and will in time be seen to be unfortunate, and perhaps will eventually be withdrawn.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this fascinating and wide-ranging debate. However, I hope noble Lords will agree that it is time for me to try to answer the points that have been made. Although I cannot guarantee to answer every point, I shall certainly write to those whose points I have not managed to answer this afternoon.
We are most grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for his speech. I again thank him for the report that he has produced. I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord that any investigations of noble Lords must be scrupulously fair and consistent with natural justice. The noble and right reverend Lord was dealing with the investigative process at that stage. The sub-committee will keep the guide under review and I am sure that it will bear representation in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked me a number of questions. His first suggestion was that the guide and the code should be a single document. The Leader’s Group took the view that a problem with the existing code was that it was not always self-evident what constituted a rule and what constituted advice. Therefore that group, the sub-committee and the Privileges Committee all supported the introduction of separate documents. Indeed, the House did so when we debated the report back in November.
The noble Lord was also worried about what he called the “remit creep” of the commissioner. In fact, the job description and remit have been pretty tightly drawn. If the noble Lord has not seen the job description, I can certainly let him have sight of it. He also took the view that non-parliamentary activities should be reviewed by the commissioner. They can be reviewed, but the Leader’s Group report was clear that the commissioner should bite only on the code. As for the number of times that one has to declare an interest during the Committee stage of a Bill, paragraph 90 of the guide states that there may be circumstances when a noble Lord may declare more often, but this issue was dealt with back in 2008 in a Privileges Committee report agreed by the House, by the group of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and by the sub-committee, whereby it would be necessary to declare an interest only once at each stage of a Bill. That matter has been dealt with. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said also that the commissioner should vet the Ministerial Code, but that goes straight against the guide and the report of the noble and right reverend Lord.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked about paragraph 29 of the guide. However, this refers to the bishops’ stipend and that is why they and Ministers are specifically dealt with differently in that paragraph. It is only one paragraph of the guide.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether domicility should be included in the code. As noble Lords are only too well aware, there are currently no rules on this. They would be a matter for legislation; they may even be a matter for legislation; but if they become law they could be included in the code. At the moment, they are not included.
I am dealing with the guide to the code before us this afternoon. On those grounds, it would probably be a mistake for me to speculate. I am trying to answer as many questions as I can.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, asked about putting a register of staff in the Register of Interests. That has been done. I shall have to come back to the noble Lord with more detail on that, but we can and indeed will look at improving its accessibility and visibility.
The noble Lord also asked how individuals could give feedback on the operation of the code and the guide. The sub-committee on Lords’ conduct is, as I have said, charged with keeping the guide under regular review. Therefore, I suggest that the noble Lord approaches the chairman of the sub-committee with any suggestions. He also asked about the role of the Appointments Commission and the undertaking. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, confirmed in a letter that I received from him today that the Appointments Commission will inform new Members about the code of conduct, but it would not be right to insist at that stage that the appointee should have to agree to accept the code. That will happen when the noble Lord takes his or her seat.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who is not in his place, said that this was a sad day for the House. I would make just one point in reply. We have had a code of conduct for many years; this is only a revision. I agree that the guide is new, but there is nothing new about having the code of conduct.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, referred to the investigative procedure outlined in paragraph 129. It is different because it takes account of the existence of the commissioner, and not just the sub-committee, the main committee and the House. There is an additional layer, if I may put it like that.
The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, suggested that the SSRB should follow a similar process to this. That, I am glad to say, is a matter for another day. Noble Lords will be aware that its recommendations are currently under consideration by an ad hoc group of Members chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, which will in due course report to the House Committee. There will be ample opportunity to consider the matter. One step in that direction will be debated next Monday: we will leave consideration of the issue until then.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, for his support for the revisions to the guide that the sub-committee and the Committee for Privileges have made to the original recommendations from the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with him.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, raised the question of financial interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by others. He also made the point that these had been around for a long time. The only difference now is that in the guide we give some additional explanation of what these are. The noble Lord will have seen that we define “direct” as meaning that the Member could personally benefit as a result of the proceedings. “Shared by a few others” means that the Member is one of a small group of people in society who would benefit. We believe that this is a workable definition that brings clarity to this long-standing principle. The noble Lord may disagree with the definition.
I am glad that the noble Lord says that it is perfectly clear. Throughout the proceedings, we have tried to strike a balance between not discouraging noble Lords who have experience and expertise in these matters and know what they are talking about from speaking, and at the same time dealing with the matters to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred. I believe that we have found the right balance.
Lastly, I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, which was followed by that of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and concerned the signing of the undertaking. As the noble Lord said, this was dealt with when we debated the report of the Leader's Group on 30 November and agreed the code of conduct. The undertaking is an integral part of the code of conduct that was debated at the time. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said in his speech, the symbolism of the signing is as important as the signing. It means reference can be made to a Member having signed on such and such a date. That is now rather an old argument. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked why we did not take any notice of those who objected to signing the undertaking. The reason is that the vast majority of people did not object to it; in fact, today a number of speakers have said how important it is that noble Lords sign the undertaking at the same time as they take the oath. I think that the opportunity for changing that has now long passed and that therefore that battle is lost from the noble Lord’s point of view.
We’ll see, my Lords. The noble Lord also asked—this is probably the last question that I have to answer—why the Lords spiritual were dealt with differently. As I pointed out to the right reverend Prelate, that is the case only regarding the stipend, and this applies only to paragraphs 8(c) and 8(d) of the code. In every other aspect of the code, the Lords spiritual are treated exactly the same as any other noble Lord.
I am sure that I have not answered all the questions as well as I should have done but I shall certainly write to noble Lords if that is the case. I am grateful to all those who have spoken this afternoon and, again, I commend the report to the House.