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House Committee

Volume 751: debated on Thursday 16 January 2014

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That the 1st Report from the Select Committee (Sanctions for Breaches of the Code of Conduct) (HL Paper 91) be agreed to.

My Lords, from time to time, the House believes it is right and proper to impose sanctions on Peers who have been found to be in breach of the Code of Conduct. That is always a difficult and unpleasant business. There are currently only two sanctions available to the House. Peers found in breach of the Code of Conduct can be required to apologise. The other sanction available to the House is that of suspension. The House does not have the power to expel and, without primary legislation, it cannot give itself that power.

The impact of suspension is severely constrained by the fact that a suspension expires at the end of the Parliament in which it is imposed. This can give rise to major unfairnesses. Behaviour which the House feels warrants a lengthy suspension may be subject to a relatively short period of a few weeks if it is imposed towards the end of a Parliament. The situation could well arise where behaviour that was a serious breach of the Code of Conduct resulted in an effective suspension for a shorter time than a much less serious breach of the Code of Conduct, merely due to the stage in the Parliament when the sanction was imposed.

The House Committee was of the view that such an outcome would be unfair. The House Committee was also of the view that it would be helpful to have some alternative sanctions which fall short of full suspension but are greater than an apology. The remedy proposed by the House Committee is the introduction of two new sanctions. The first sanction would prevent Peers from claiming any financial support by way of expenses or allowances from the House. The second sanction would prevent Peers from using the facilities of the House. Neither of these sanctions would prevent the Peer from taking part in the proceedings of the House in the Chamber or its committees. These sanctions could be used in addition to suspension from the House or as an alternative to suspension. Unlike suspension, the sanctions could be applied for a period extending beyond the end of a Parliament. They would be applied for a fixed period and therefore are not equivalent to expulsion. They would not be retrospective. The Clerk of the Parliament’s advice is that these sanctions are compatible with both the Letters Patent and the Writ of Summons.

As to the process, it would be for the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct and the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to recommend the appropriate sanctions, and it would be for the House as a whole to agree them. The two committees consider all cases on an individual basis and are able to take into account the individual circumstances of Peers in recommending proportional sanctions. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise not to criticise in any way the intent behind the proposed new sanctions, but to question a little the scope of the sanction referred to under paragraph 1(b):

“denial of access for a specified period to the facilities in the House”.

Paragraph 2 sets out what might on one footing be examples of the facilities access to which is to be denied and on the other footing might be thought to be intended to be definitive of the facilities that are to be denied. A number of the facilities of the House are not mentioned in paragraph 2—the most obvious of which is use of the lavatories of the House. There are other facilities, such as hanging up one’s hat and coat downstairs and things like that.

If paragraph 2 is intended to be definitive, those facilities would still be available. If all facilities are to be denied, those facilities would not be available. If paragraph 2 is intended to be definitive, what is the scope of the proposal that dining and banqueting facilities be denied? Does dining include luncheon or tea? Does it include any use of the House Dining Room? These may seem nit-picking criticisms, but it is important if new sanctions are to be introduced that their scope should be clear and understood and not capable of ambiguity.

I have to confess to the House that I do not like this proposal. It is basically expulsion, but not named as such. What is the person who is the object of these sanctions supposed to do? It is said that he is entitled to remain a Member of the House and is entitled to come here, but will be denied all the facilities which are deemed necessary in the case of every other Member of the House to do that actual job. If we are going to go down the road of saying that we should expel Members from this House, we should do that openly and not, with respect, by a back-door sidle. We are talking in effect of expelling people from this House but are not prepared to name it as that.

I would add a gloss to what the noble Lord has just said. As I understand it, we do not have the power to suspend the effect of a Writ of Summons to the House. That would open a whole bag of snakes.

My Lords, paragraph 2 of the report is, in fact, a definitive list. The dining facilities and banqueting facilities are, in effect, all the facilities that are under the control of the Refreshment Committee. It is not a series of examples; it is a definitive list.

It is not expulsion because it is for a defined period of time, a limited period of time, so the Member can resume full activity and have full access to the financial support and facilities of the House. We do not have the power to expel. That would require us to receive it through primary legislation and the advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments is that these sanctions are totally compatible with the Writ of Summons and the Letters Patent.

Motion agreed.