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Privileges and Conduct Committee

Volume 760: debated on Tuesday 24 March 2015

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That the 3rd Report from the Select Committee (Amendments to the Code of Conduct and the Guide to the Code; Redaction of written evidence to defunct select committees) (HL Paper 143) be agreed to.

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The third report from the Committee for Privileges and Conduct recommends various amendments to the Code of Conduct and the guide to the code, and one other change. If these amendments are agreed, the code and the guide will be republished for the new Parliament.

The first proposal is to allow the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to consider the suitability of a sanction recommended by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct in the absence of an appeal by the Member who has been found in breach of the code. Should the committee decide that a recommended sanction requires further consideration, it will give the Member concerned the opportunity to make representations before deciding whether to alter the sanction.

The second proposal is for this House to follow the House of Commons practice of keeping all terminated interests in the Register of Lords’ Interests for one year after the Member gives them up. At the moment, hospitality and gifts remain in the register for a year, but other interests are deleted as soon as they are given up.

The third proposal is that the Registrar of Lords’ Interests should no longer send an annual reminder to Members inviting them to check and update their entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests. This practice is potentially confusing as it might be taken to imply that Members have to revise their entries only once a year, whereas the code requires the register to be amended within one month of a change in a Member’s interests. Instead of the annual reminder there will be regular reminders through other means.

The fourth proposal clarifies the definition of a personal client as it is used in relation to the provision of public affairs advice in paragraph 57 of the guide.

The fifth proposal is that the requirement to register interests should apply to Members whose leave of absence lapses at the end of a Parliament from the date that they take the oath in the new Parliament. The committee also recommends that the Code of Conduct for Staff of Members of the House of Lords should apply to Members’ staff with a parliamentary email account but no photo-pass.

Finally, the report recommends that the Committee for Privileges and Conduct should have the power to respond to requests to redact personal details given in written evidence to a defunct Select Committee, such as an ad hoc committee that has been disbanded. I beg to move.

My Lords, I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees a question on the first of the proposals in relation to the committee considering sanctions against Members. Paragraph 2 of the report states:

“We believe that in rare circumstances it may be appropriate for the Committee for Privileges and Conduct to consider whether a sanction recommended by the sub-committee is appropriate even in the absence of an appeal”.

On the following page, sub-paragraph (iii) sets out the proposal that the committee should have the power to look at any recommendations that come up from the sub-committee and can take its own decision as to whether they are appropriate. Indeed, it can increase the sanction as well as reduce it. However, it does not say anything about that being in rare circumstances. What is the intention of the Chairman of Committees on this? Should it be an exceptional step for the committee to take or should it be considered, so to speak, pro forma, in which case you do not really need the sub-committee’s decision in the first place? I should be grateful for his views on that.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising that issue. It is important to clarify this matter. The committee saw this as being in exceptionally rare circumstances. It would be a very occasional route to take in very specific circumstances. I have been Chairman of Committees for more than three years now and I can think of only one example that would come anywhere near this. It is certainly not meant to be as part of a routine consideration of a sanction.

I am sorry to follow this up, but in that case should something not be said in the actual amendment to that effect?

I hope that my clarification today will be sufficient, but we will look at it to see whether it would help to put it in the amendment.

Motion agreed.