Motion to Agree
I remind the House that, under Standing Order 68, reports from the Conduct Committee resulting from an investigation under the Code of Conduct are non-debateable.
My Lords, I beg to move that the third report of the Conduct Committee be agreed to. As your Lordships are aware, and as has just been said, the House, by Standing Order 68, has decided that such a report is decided without debate, so I will confine myself to a brief introduction.
On 3 November last year, the House agreed to a recommendation from the Conduct Committee, consistent with the independent reports of Naomi Ellenbogen QC, as she was, and Alison Stanley, that all Members of the House be required to undertake Valuing Everyone training—a study course—by 1 April this year. Nearly all Members did so by the deadline.
The House recognised that some Members might, for exceptional reasons, not be in a position to undertake this. In a report on 18 May, the commissioner identified seven Members as falling within this category. She held that a further 47 Members were in breach by failing to take the course by the deadline, but she accepted sufficient remedial action, arrangements or promises made by them to undertake the course in the immediate future.
The four Members who are the subject of the present Conduct Committee report did not proffer any exceptional reason for not taking the course. Of the four, one, although in breach, then explained to the Commissioner that she was willing to undertake the course; she has now done so. A second, the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, has very recently, since the Commissioner’s report was published, also agreed to undertake the course and has signed up to do it tomorrow.
The second Motion in my name before the House therefore relates only to the two remaining noble Lords, Lord Kalms and Lord Willoughby de Broke, who have not appealed the Commissioner’s finding that they breached the Code of Conduct, and have continued to refuse or fail to undertake the course. This second Motion therefore seeks to restrict their access to staff of the House and other Members of the parliamentary community, as well as facilities, until they undertake the training. The Committee believes that this is a proportionate sanction which balances the importance of protecting staff with the undoubted right of the two noble Lords to continue exercising their core parliamentary functions.
I include a further word on Standing Order 68, under which the two Motions in my name fall to be decided. The report recommending the new Standing Order was agreed in a full sitting of the House after nearly two hours of debate on 30 April 2019. Members who are the subjects of reports by the commissioner have a full right of appeal to the Conduct Committee, a right which I stress again that neither noble Lord has exercised in this case, but certain sanctions can only be imposed by the House itself on recommendation of the committee. The Standing Order was designed to promote an objective and independent process protecting complainants who cannot speak for themselves and ensuring that future complainants know that their conduct will not be debated on the Floor of the House. A similar Standing Order exists in the House of Commons.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is a matter for the House. There is little that I wish to say. Standing Order 68 will apply on 12 October, as the House will be no more or less legitimate then than it is today. Delay would not change the appropriateness of the sanction but could convey an unfortunate message about the House’s willingness to enforce its own agreed code. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
My Lords, I have put down this amendment for one simple reason. By voting for it—and I intend to test the opinion of the House—we will give ourselves time to reflect on the wisdom of Standing Order 68 and to decide whether it is in accordance with natural justice to impose penalties on those who have done no personal wrong or injury to anyone within or outside the House but who are being punished because they have not followed, within a prescribed time and in a difficult year, an instruction to follow a training course on how to behave. Standing Order 68’s constraints, within which I am having to speak, do not permit of others to speak in this debate. However, I know that many in your Lordships’ House share my concern.
The Standing Order prevents discussion. I know that a number of colleagues share my feeling that in the high court of Parliament we should not be forbidden from exercising our judgment on the recommendations of a small group of colleagues and outsiders who are deciding sanctions on a small group of other colleagues. We may debate at length the recommendation of every other Select Committee but, to those reports from the Conduct Committee, we can only say “content” or “not content”.
This final week of term is a very full one, and our brief September sitting is very crowded, with four long days devoted to the vast and important Environment Bill. In October there should be a chance to look at how we regulate and organise ourselves, perhaps reflecting on Harold Macmillan’s famous reminder that:
“Quiet, calm deliberation disentangles any knot.”
I submit that we have tied ourselves in a very restraining knot. I urge that we begin to untangle it today. Do we really want to treat former captains of industry and others as recalcitrant schoolboys and say: “Because you didn’t do your prep, you can’t go to the tuck shop or the library,” especially as the Library has a number of books on good behaviour?
I urge those of us who share my concerns to vote for this amendment, which does not pass any judgment on the report that the noble Lord, Lord Mance, has moved, but which gives us an opportunity, during the forthcoming recess, after a very tiring and difficult year, to reflect, “Have we got this right? Is this the way to treat colleagues?” I beg to move.
To resolve that, in accordance with paragraph 159 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct, and without prejudice to their ability to carry out their parliamentary duties, Lord Kalms and Lord Willoughby de Broke be denied access to certain facilities of the House and be restricted in their access to certain services, as set out in paragraph 18 of the 3rd Report from the Conduct Committee; and that these arrangements shall continue until they have completed Valuing Everyone training.