Motion to Agree
My Lords, I beg to move the 1st Report of the Conduct Committee, which, as you may remember, was increased in size last year to consist of five Peers and four lay members. This is our first report since the House appointed the four lay members. We have been meeting monthly. We have concentrated on reviewing the Codes of Conduct for Members and their staff, with a view to their updating where necessary and their effective operation.
The report today before the House makes a series of recommendations—I will not detain the House by speaking to all of them—and the reasons for each are set out in our report. I am happy to answer questions.
The main focus of the first part—paragraphs 4 to 27—is the independent complaints and grievance scheme, ICGS, through which allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct can be reported. The recommendations seek to ensure that the procedure for determining complaints and any appeals, and the safeguards and sanctions that may be involved, are clear, fair and effective.
I will take but three points. First, the commissioner should have power to restrict access to services or facilities during her investigation; or as a condition of agreed remedial action; or to make a similar recommendation to the Conduct Committee as a sanction for an offence. The code should, furthermore, require observance with any such restriction. That is paragraphs 19, 20 and 22.
Secondly, we consider that the full Conduct Committee need not, and probably should not, be involved in appeals. A subset consisting of three Peers and two lay members—that is our quorum—should suffice. That is paragraph 12. Thirdly, more serious sanctions— suspension and denial of financial support, for example—should continue to require the House’s endorsement; but a sanction that simply requires a Member to regularise the position by apology or training where the Member will not voluntarily do this, or by statement to the House, should be capable of being imposed by the Conduct Committee without need to refer the matter to the House. That is paragraph 16.
The second half of the report relates to some miscellaneous wider matters—paragraph 28 onwards. First, on the investigation of old cases, we propose a single rule for both ICGS and other cases—currently the rules are different—so that both can be investigated if they allegedly occurred within the last six years but with a power to the Conduct Committee to allow older complaints if appropriate. That is paragraph 33.
Secondly, in cases where a Member is imprisoned, we propose closing a loophole whereby a Member sentenced for over a year for an offence committed before 14 May 2014 at present is not susceptible to either exclusion or any disciplinary action under the code—paragraph 35. That is an anomaly which was no doubt an oversight. Thirdly, at the end of the report there are provisions relating to Members’ staff—paragraphs 36 to 40.
I emphasise that this is the first of a series of reports we expect to make to the House in the coming months. We have in particular recently been considering a number of points drawn to our attention by the Registrar of Lords’ Interests and we have had a meeting with the chair of the House of Commons Conduct Committee, Kate Green, on common issues, such as publicity in respect of complaints, and we propose to have a joint meeting of this House’s Conduct Committee and the House of Commons Conduct Committee in April to sort out various matters on a common basis as far as possible, as is obviously desirable.
I should like to take this opportunity, finally, to draw the attention of all Members to the Valuing Everyone training. That is a Parliament-wide training programme designed to ensure that everyone working on the estate is able to recognise bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct and to address it. We strongly encourage and make clear that we expect all Members of the House to attend Valuing Everyone training. It is not at the moment a code matter. We aim at a 50% take-up by the summer Recess, failing which we shall have to consider whether to recommend making non-attendance a breach of the code or to suggest some other sanction. I beg to move.