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House of Lords Commissioners for Standards

Volume 812: debated on Wednesday 26 May 2021

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the House approves the appointment as House of Lords Commissioners for Standards of (1) Martin Jelley QPM for a period of five years beginning on 1 July 2021, and (2) Karimullah Hyat Akbar Khan for a period of four and a half years beginning on 1 June 2021.

My Lords, the Motion standing in my name invites the House to appoint two new Commissioners for Standards. It does not relate to membership of the Conduct Committee, a subject that was recently raised by several noble Lords. I have written to them separately to address those points. Today’s Motion concerns only the appointment of two new Commissioners for Standards.

The office of an independent commissioner investigating breaches of the code and guide goes back to a decision of the House in 2009. The first commissioner served two three-year periods. The current commissioner, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, has served a five-year period and was engaged to commit five days a month. Her term expires at the end of this month.

I take this opportunity to say a word of thanks to our current commissioner for her work during her term in office. In her time, the work of the commissioner has changed radically, in particular with the introduction, in 2009, of provisions relating to bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct which, sadly, have received quite a bit of attention in the commissioner’s reports since then. The size, nature and complexity of her case load is therefore quite different from when she was appointed in 2016. She has dealt with several challenging investigations, some of which have come to the Conduct Committee on appeal, which could not have been foreseen by her, or by anyone, when she took up the post. It is the changing nature and volume of the work of the commissioner that leads us to recommend the appointment of two commissioners to replace Ms Scott-Moncrieff, each with a basic commitment to five days a month. By having two commissioners, we are building greater capacity and resilience into the enforcement of the code.

I chaired the recruitment panel, which was made up of three Members of this House in addition—the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay of St Johns, Lady Donaghy and Lady Hussein-Ece—and two external members of our committee, Cindy Butts and Vanessa Davies. After a detailed process, guided by recruitment experts and accompanied by a shortlist, and consideration of the dozen shortlisted and interviews of five, we concluded that Mr Martin Jelley and Mr Akbar Khan should be appointed.

Martin Jelley is a distinguished police officer and currently chief constable of the Warwickshire Police, with huge experience in professional standards and in Parliament, having successfully introduced new police misconduct regulations for England and Wales, which have fundamentally changed their position. He also chaired a police conduct exercise. Akbar Khan has had a diverse career, as a qualified barrister and as a qualified attorney in New York state. He is a workplace investigator for the Foreign Office and secretary-general to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, as well as the legal director of the Commonwealth Secretariat. Short biographies of Mr Jelley and Mr Khan are available in the Printed Paper Office and on the parliamentary web pages, setting out their career backgrounds.

This Motion asks the House to approve their appointments for single non-renewable terms. The present commissioner’s term is also non-renewable. To account for slightly different circumstances—in particular when Mr Martin Jelley retires, which is only on 1 July—their terms are slightly staggered. That will also allow an overlap at the end, which is good from the point of view of continuity. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to you and apologise for speaking on a similar topic three times in as many weeks, but I am profoundly concerned by the manner in which the retiring commissioner handled the issue of noble Lords who had failed to complete their compulsory training within a certain time. On both occasions when I spoke before, I raised the insensitive way in which the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, in particular, has been handled. It seemed to be a mixture of gracelessness, insensitivity and ineptitude. If we are to continue to have a commissioner—I accept that we are—I would like to address one or two questions to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. I am delighted that he is with us in the Chamber on this occasion, so that we can talk to him directly.

I am not entirely persuaded that we need two commissioners. I wonder why we cannot have one doing 10 days a month, rather than two doing five. In that way, the person concerned would surely get to know your Lordships’ House rather better. The basic problem, until now, has been an inability fully to understand the nature of your Lordships’ House and how it works. I regret that we have to have outside commissioners, but I accept that what has happened will continue to happen. Within its membership, this House has an enormous range of wisdom and experience. It is unlike any other institution in the country in its size, complexity and the variegated wisdom of its Members. It is very important that, whether one commissioner or two, he or they—they are both men in this case—should get to know what we are all about.

It is a very small thing, but I am somewhat put off by the biographical notes. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, rightly referred to Mr Khan and Mr Jelley, but they are referred to by their first names throughout the biographical details that we have been given. It is a small point, but there has to be a degree of formality and it is not here.

I have talked about the necessity for these commissioners to understand the nature of your Lordships’ House. I hope that there will be a compulsory training course for them both to attend and that they have a proper opportunity to be introduced to the nature of your Lordships’ House. I would very much like to hear what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, has to say on that point.

It is also important that the five days a month include at least a couple of days of what I call acclimatisation and getting to know exactly how this House works. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, referred to Mr Jelley’s parliamentary experience. It was experience of putting into practice what Parliament had decreed, not of how Parliament actually works. I think it is important that he has that experience.

On paper, both these gentlemen are eminently well qualified, and I say nothing specific against their appointments, but it is crucial that they know their way around, in every sense. We should all do our bit to help them. That is very important and I hope that there is a structured opportunity for them to meet groups of Members, so that we can get to know them and can talk to them, formally but properly.

I will not oppose the Motion, as I said at the very beginning, but I go back to where I began. We have had some unhappy experiences recently and there has been widespread concern across your Lordships’ House; I know that from the number of colleagues who came to me after the very brief debates we have had and said how much they shared the concern I sought to express. There must be sensitivity above all things: the issues with which the commissioners will be confronted, which will not all be black and white cases, demand that they can understand and have a sensitive regard for the Peer or Peers concerned. I would be exceptionally grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, if he could address some of these points; then perhaps, together with colleagues, we could meet him to discuss these things.

My Lords, I will not repeat what my noble friend Lord Cormack said, except to say that I did not disagree with anything he said. I also echo that it is a pleasure to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, in the Chamber.

My first question is why we need the commissioners to spend 10 days a month looking at the standards in the Lords. Have they slipped so far? Secondly, why do we need two commissioners? Will they each have a caseload? I would have thought that it would be better if we had one commissioner, who would get to know the House better by doing 10 days a month. I would rather that he was doing the days necessary to do the job, up to 10 days a month, because I am aware, from a long life of bureaucracy, that it tends to expand to fill the gap available—he would then say that it should be 11 days, because 10 days is not quite enough. I am always concerned at the length of time set aside.

My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to the former Speaker of the Commons and the difficulties there. One of the first things that should be done is to publish, for the general public to see, this course that we have all taken, because I found it patently ridiculous, frankly. It taught me absolutely nothing, apart from the fact that there is some very easy money to be made out there by designing courses that are pretty irrelevant.

I came into contact with the commission over a much more minor, but fundamental, case; that of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. I always felt happy defending the noble Lord, because there was absolutely nothing I agreed with him on in politics. I did not agree with his attitudes to divorce, abortion, Northern Ireland or anything at all, so I always felt that I could look at his case as a straightforward one of whether or not he should have been suspended. To me, the way in which the procedure worked, with no opportunities for any input and no appeal, was unsatisfactory. Maybe we need some sort of private hearing—maybe we do not want it on the Floor of the House—but we cannot have a system that is quite as closed as that one.

My second point is that there does not appear to be any sort of decent trade union representation in this outfit. I know that the noble Lord can defend himself, but when I looked through his case, I saw that there were dozens of points that I would have picked up had I been a TU official. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, should make some provision for people to be accompanied by, effectively, a representative to put their case.

My final two points are these. The punishments being given by this body—and they are punishments—are way out of line with those of the House of Commons. I am not saying that the House of Commons is right, but in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, his political career was effectively ended by this body. That was also the case with Lord Lester. Their careers were ended. In the House of Commons, people tend to be suspended for a time and then they come back. In my view, the punishments here are far too harsh.

The second and final point I would like the noble and learned Lord to look at is that part of the finding against the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, banned him from the Palace of Westminster. I have raised this before, but can the noble and learned Lord and his legal colleagues assure me that we have the right to ban a citizen of this country from entering his Parliament? We did not take his badge away; we banned him from Parliament. I do not believe that we have the power to ban a citizen of this country from approaching his elected Members, but if we do, please let us know in writing.

That concludes my observations. I look forward to meeting the noble and learned Lord. I am in receipt of one of his letters offering to meet me. I would be happy to do so, but I felt that one or two things needed putting on the public record.

Before I call the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I will let the House know that the list has been growing exponentially. After him, I will call the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, then the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, then the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and then the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.

My Lords, I also welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, being in the House today. I have two questions for him to do with Valuing Everyone. I apologise, because I know that the Motion he moved has nothing to do with that, but there are very rare occasions when we can question him and his committee on what they are doing.

When I last spoke on this issue, the Valuing Everyone course was costing the taxpayer £750,000. That now seems to have gone up, and is little short of £900,000. That seems an awful lot of taxpayers’ money to spend on a course of extremely dubious value. When the noble and learned Lord’s committee were spending this amount of taxpayers’ money, why did it not get the people it was commissioning to come and give the course to it before it signed the contract to spend all this money, so that the committee at least knew what course it was inflicting on everybody in your Lordships’ House and in the other House?

The other question is this: is this really the right reaction to a handful of people behaving in a very bad way? It seems an incredibly broad-brush approach to send everybody on a rather questionable course, when most people in your Lordships’ House behave, I would have thought, pretty immaculately. We are talking about a very small minority of people, yet we subject everybody in your Lordships’ House to going on this course and to facing certain restrictions if they do not attend. This is where I might fall out with my noble friend Lord Balfe, but I wonder whether exemplary punishments of the few people who do misbehave would be a much better use of resources and save the taxpayer enormous sums of money.

My Lords, before I call the next speaker I will rehearse the order in which noble Lords will be called. It will be the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, next, then the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, then the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, and finally the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

My Lords, I declare that I am a member of the Conduct Committee and have been for the past year. I was on the appointments sub-committee which appointed the two commissioners that the Motion before the House seeks to recognise.

I want to respond to a couple of points. The appointments were made in line with the Nolan principles of public life. In addition, I want noble Lords to note that we followed the principles of the Governance Code for Public Appointments, which set out another layer of principles based on merit that should underpin all public appointments. I ask noble Lords to have confidence in these appointments. I understand that there is some disquiet, but I give that reassurance. I was involved very vigorously, right the way through the process, and the appointments were based purely on merit. I have no hesitation in supporting the Motion.

Turning to “Valuing People”, which was questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and others, there were certainly questions about it and its cost during the debate on 13 May. According to the report that we received and the House approved, the cost is for the entire Palace of Westminster, not just the House of Lords. If that has not been made clear, I am sorry, but I ask noble Lords to note that it is the cost for the House of Commons and the House of Lords. All Peers who are members of the Conduct Committee had the training at the beginning. I found it helpful, as others have said they did. The feedback from the vast majority of Peers who went on that course has been extremely positive.

Of course, there have been comments on how we could improve and update things, and we have taken them on board. I have my own comments on how we could make it more relevant to noble Lords who do not employ staff. That is something that we must look at, but every other publicly funded institution—local authorities, the police, the NHS—are all training people in these matters: how we value our staff, how we value each other and how we respond to each other. There is no suggestion that the vast majority in your Lordships’ House are disrespectful to staff or to one another, but the staff are also consulted. They are part of the process, and the feedback that we get from staff is that they want Peers to go on this training. They want to be valued.

These things do not all take place in plain sight. Some cases that have come before us have been unfortunate. Staff have been mistreated and we must respect how they feel. To suggest that we should not have training, and should somehow not be in tune with what the staff are asking us to do, would be remiss. We must be sensitive, not only to each other, here in your Lordships’ House—we are all very privileged to be here—but to the staff who keep this place working and functioning, if they are telling us that they want training and for Peers to be more respectful and to understand the sometimes difficult circumstances that they work in, and the power imbalance.

We must also respect that some staff have found it very difficult to report misdemeanours. I ask that we are mindful that we are not only talking about and among ourselves, but to our staff and to the general public. We all know that we are not much loved in the media or by the general public, and we must enhance our reputation in how we do business. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to support the Motion and to bear in mind that we are being scrutinised more than ever and must uphold these very high standards.

My Lords, I echo almost everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. Given the number of questions raised so far, may I draw the House’s attention to the formal training in equality matters, which has been embedded in the mainstream practice of most institutions and their governance? I welcome its inclusion for all Members and found it most informative. Given our desire for a more diverse management team in this House, I particularly welcome the appointment of Mr Akbar Khan, who will bring significant experience of managing very diverse heads of Commonwealth Governments. I hope we will give him all our support to ensure that his work is effective.

My Lords, this group thought it important for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, to be given support for this Motion, and that we should express our thanks for the work that the Conduct Committee is doing. We fully support the independent commissioners and accept that the demand for them is increasing, as is their work. Therefore, we need extra capacity to deal with it. Every public organisation these days must have some form of independent system for reviewing grievances and complaints, and we, as unelected appointments to this House, should be particularly sensitive to this and fully support the work of the standards commissioners. This is very important.

Some aspects are not totally relevant to the Motion before us, but we have had comments on the training. I went to terrific lengths to ensure that all members of my group attended that training, because it is important to the reputation of the House and respectful of the views of staff, who particularly supported this initiative. Voices in this House are not necessarily critical of the training. The overwhelming body of this House is fully supportive of the work being done by the Conduct Committee, the training that has been initiated and these two appointments to continue the independent supervision of our code of practice.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord McAvoy was hoping to speak, but he has been detained elsewhere. I assume the role of Opposition Chief Whip from 1 June, so your Lordships have me a few days early.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, for his report. I thank the Conduct Committee for its work and the appointments panel. The Conduct Committee is making clear recommendations to the House to appoint two Commissioners for Standards. I have read the papers setting out the eminently qualified Mr Akbar Khan and Mr Jelley QPM. I accept the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance: he needs greater capacity and for the code to be enforced. The Conduct Committee does important work on our behalf and the House should accept the recommendation before us today.

I listened carefully to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who rightly raised concerns shared across the whole House about the treatment of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, one of our most distinguished parliamentarians. We all accept his very fair point. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, will address that when he responds.

There is vast experience in the House; I accept that entirely. However, it is very important that we also have independence, which is why the appointment of these commissioners is before us today. As the commissioners take up their roles, I am sure the noble and learned Lord will report back to them the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about ensuring that they get to know the House and how it works.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, asked why they have 10 days—a very fair question. I think it is about giving us capacity, but I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will respond on that. We must have confidence in what the Conduct Committee does and its recommendations, and we should support what it does today. The noble Lord also raised the “Valuing Everyone” training. We may well need to look at how it is perceived, how it works and how it is developed, but I absolutely endorse its importance and the need for every Member of this House to do it. That is not to say that it cannot be reviewed, updated, and developed as necessary, but it is very important.

The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, raised the training. I disagree with his comments. It is disappointing that we heard words such as “dubious value” and “questionable” when discussing such matters. They do not belong in this House’s discussion of the training. It is regrettable that we needed such training in the first place but, unfortunately, we do.

I endorse the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. I agree with every word she said and support her position today, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham of Droxford. I very much hope that we will agree these recommendations without a Division. If there is a Division, however, I hope every noble Lord will back the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, and the Conduct Committee.

My Lords, is there any other noble Lord present who wishes to speak in this debate? No. I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, to respond.

My Lords, I am grateful for the debate, which I listened to intently. The fundamental principle with which we are concerned is the Nolan principle of accountability, which carries with it considerations of independence and objectivity. The present system was carefully devised as a result of decisions of this House before I took over the Conduct Committee, and I will refer in a moment to the debate in April 2019.

Perhaps I should, for convenience, take the points in the order made, in order not to omit any. First, I hope I am second to none in recognising the need for sensitivity of treatment. I am not, of course, party to the individual actions or the conduct of a particular matter by the commissioner. None the less, if what has happened has caused distress, that is distressing to me and to your Lordships too, especially when individuals are named, whether they are of the distinction of the individual named, or not.

In the present case, since the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, first raised this matter in the House, we have a report from the commissioner, and I hope some of your Lordships have taken the opportunity to look at it. It is quite a short report, and not all these reports are. That is not a criticism; it is just recognition of their complexity in some cases. This is a straightforward report which communicates to the House what was always the position publicly: namely, that the commissioner would, in cases of extenuating circumstances, cease any investigation. That is what she did with the individual named by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and six other Members of the House. In relation to 47 Members of the House who had no extenuating circumstances, she agreed remedial action, which was effectively that they would rectify the position. In relation to only four, she concluded that it was not appropriate to think in terms of remedial action. They may have been entirely irredentist Peers—I know nothing about those cases; we will learn in due course from her final report. Since the outset of the recommendation to the House regarding “Valuing Everyone” training, it has been the position that extenuating circumstances would be taken into account and would lead to the cessation of investigation. That was in the report that was accepted by the House on 3 November last year.

Going back a stage, the recommendation to make “Valuing Everyone” training compulsory has been made repeatedly. It has been made by the very distinguished human resources director, Alison Stanley CBE, by Naomi Ellenbogen QC, and in reports going back to 2019 and repeated this year in Alison Stanley’s second report. That is general; she recommended it across the board. The Commons have not accepted it for MPs yet, but she has repeated the recommendation that it should be compulsory for them, so, although the Conduct Committee considered the matter for itself and made up its own mind, we were endorsing a very well-grounded recommendation.

Going back to 3 November, when the House agreed to that endorsement, the procedure set out in our report then was that monthly reminders would be sent, and I have no reason to believe they were not sent. So, some five monthly reminders will have followed before, on 15 April 2021, the commissioner opened an investigation into those Peers from whom she had not heard. Obviously, in some cases that may have been, sadly, due to extenuating circumstances which would explain the position. As soon as she did hear, she dealt with the matter and issued the report which I mentioned. Although, as I said, I am not party to every step or thinking which the commissioner follows, she did point out the position clearly when she wrote, and she acted on it when it was brought to her attention that there were extenuating circumstances.

I shall move on to some of the points which are more the substance of what we are debating today. I was asked why there are two commissioners. First, this is not necessarily a full-time job. These commissioners, one of whom is about to retire after a distinguished police career, may not wish to work full time and may not be able to, in view of other activities. Certainly, Mr Khan has other activities which he wishes to continue, and Mr Jelley may wish to have a retired private life. There is a synergy, a complementarity, in having two commissioners. There is also a benefit in having an outside portfolio. I am persuaded that it is an onerous job better done by two people, who will be able to discuss difficult cases together. The present commissioner’s job is quite a lonely one. Having practised as a judge at first instance and for many years on appeal, I have to say that there is enormous benefit in being able to discuss difficult points informally with colleagues. Some of the points that arise in these cases are very difficult, and the borderline between conduct which is inappropriate and bullying is a good example, which the Conduct Committee has had to wrestle with.

As to the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we do not need an outside commissioner at all, may I dismiss that entirely? It is true that we have a great range of skills in this House, but I very much doubt whether we can find a paragon volunteer to act as a commissioner. During more than one month, I have spent 45 hours as chair of the Conduct Committee, and that is certainly five days a week, if not more. I do not believe that someone within the House would be prepared to volunteer. If there was a volunteer—there might be one exceptional person, but we would not have had much of a body to select from.

I am not going to comment on the use of first names, except to say that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will probably be appalled to hear that members of Conduct Committee, lay and Peer, address each other by their first names.

I have dealt with compulsory training courses. As to acclimatisation, I wholly agree. First, I am very willing to meet Members of the House at any time or to discuss matters by Zoom or phone. Secondly, as to acclimatising the new commissioners, we have that well in mind. At our meeting last week, we discussed that sort of subject. We believe it to be extremely important, and we are going to follow it up.

I move on to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, which, again, are not directly related to the present issue. The noble Lord said that there was no appeal in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. There was an appeal. If the noble Lord cares to see me afterwards, I will show him the decision of the Conduct Committee on the appeal and the original document. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said that there is no trade union representation. The House has taken a decision. When I and others stand in this House, we occasionally hear muttered “Not a lawyer”. The fact is that we have decided as a House that we will not allow legal representation before the Conduct Committee. That point is certainly debatable—different people have different views—but that is the present position. On the other hand, you can take legal advice and have someone help you as a “McKenzie friend”, as it is called in court. That does happen. We have quite elaborate, legally drafted submissions put to us.

As to the suggestion that punishments are out of line with the House of Commons, they can never be the same because MPs represent constituents, which makes it rather difficult to suspend or exclude them.

As to the level of punishment, I am afraid I must ask your Lordships simply to consider the reports. I hope that we and the commissioner are not excessively severe. We take that aspect very seriously. I am afraid to say that in previous comments in this House the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has in my view undervalued or underestimated the significance of the findings against the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. I have written to him on that subject but I do not think this is the place to debate individual cases.

To go back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, on the cost of the “Valuing Everyone” training, I understand that three-quarters of a million pounds or £900,000 is completely out of question. The House of Lords cost is, I am told, £100,000 and the cost of the actual training attributable to Peers is £45,000. As I say, the value of this training is questioned by some but the overwhelming majority of the reception to it has been favourable. We have passed on complaints where they have been made—we are not directly responsible for setting the course—and I understand that adjustments have been made.

It is important, if only in the interests of the House of Lords as a whole and its reputation, that even those who see little need or value in this training should co-operate in what is not a burdensome exercise. If they approach it with a degree of good will and perhaps in a spirit of intellectual or even emotional curiosity, they might be surprised and get something from it. There have been cases which suggest that it is, sadly, in some cases necessary.

I should express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, not only for the stalwart work that she does on the Conduct Committee but for her comments today. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and the noble Lords, Lord Stoneham and Lord Kennedy. I assure your Lordships that we on the Conduct Committee are trying to be sensitive to the mood of the House and produce realistic changes where we think that changes are necessary. I hope this system will bed itself down so that there will not be continuous change. We have one big report with minor points to come to shortly but the present system has been carefully constructed, as I said, for very valuable reasons: to match the needs in the modern world for accountability.

I said that I would refer to the report which led to this. It was the then Senior Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord McFall, now our Lord Speaker, who said on the Motion accepted by the House:

“The independent … Commissioner for Standards should continue to investigate complaints … The role of proposing a sanction should be carried out by the commissioner, rather than the conduct committee. This is another step forward in making the process more independent of Members. Reports from the conduct committee relating to the behaviour of individual Members, including those imposing sanctions, should be decided by the House without debate. There are Members who wish us to go further and faster in delivering a system more or wholly independent of the House”.—[Official Report, 30/4/19; col. 864.]

But, he said, this is not the time; nor am I suggesting that this is the time. At the moment the Conduct Committee works, I believe, harmoniously and sensibly with its composition of five Peers and four lay members. The fears expressed by some in the past that there might be a Peer/lay split have certainly not materialised.

Motion agreed.