Motion to Agree
My Lords, I am moving the fifth report of the Conduct Committee on behalf of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance. I should explain that I am moving the report because the noble and learned Lord could potentially be affected by one of the proposals contained in it, on registration of foreign interests. He similarly recused himself from the committee’s consideration of this issue.
I want to emphasise at the outset that all the members of the committee appreciate that we have asked the House to make many changes to the rules on conduct since we were first appointed. If the relatively modest proposals contained in this report are approved today, we will have dealt with our top priorities.
The main part of the report proposes the first major update to the code of conduct for House of Lords’ Members’ staff since it was introduced in 2014 by a predecessor committee. The access given to such staff brings significant privileges, and it is important for our democracy that their outside interests are transparent for all to see. This report therefore proposes to clarify and broaden the categories of interest that staff must register to cover; for example, directorships or outside paid work, and certain non-financial interests.
The report also seeks to extend to Members’ staff the provisions on paid parliamentary advice and services and on external investigations and imprisonment, which already apply to Members of the House. Finally, it aims to improve the enforcement provisions to make them clearer and more comprehensive.
The second part of the report proposes two changes to the Guide to the Code of Conduct for Members. The first proposed change is very minor. It concerns the new provision on registering work for foreign Governments and government-controlled entities. When I moved the second report implementing the provisions on 20 April, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, raised the question of Members who had started arbitrations before the House first introduced the new rules and who would not complete them by the time the grace period expires on 31 December this year. He said that they could be faced with the choice of having to take leave of absence or withdrawing from the arbitration, potentially causing it to collapse. I promised then that the committee would keep the matter under review, and we have done so.
It is clear to us that a small number of Members—not just lawyers—could face the type of dilemma outlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. The report therefore proposes that Members in this position should be able to seek from the registrar case-by-case extensions to the grace period. They would need to satisfy four tightly drawn conditions for such an extension to be granted, which are set out in paragraph 21 of the report, on page 5. This temporary provision does not require a change to the code or guide.
Finally, the report seeks to rectify an anomaly in the existing processes for investigating alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct. We propose that Members under investigation should in future be shown the commissioner’s draft account of the facts and their draft findings at the same time rather than in two stages as at present. This will not in any way reduce a Member’s opportunity to challenge the commissioner’s draft report. Instead, it will benefit all parties, including Members of the House, by simplifying and reducing the length of investigations.
In conclusion, the Conduct Committee has delivered what we believe is a coherent set of rules which will provide clarity for Members of the House while commanding the confidence of the public whom we all serve. We cannot guarantee that changes will not be needed in future; we are all at the mercy of events. However, we will try to ensure that if changes are required, the House considers them once or twice a year to provide as much stability in the rules as possible. I beg to move.