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Conduct Committee

Volume 832: debated on Thursday 14 September 2023

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That the Report from the Select Committee Amendments to the Code of Conduct (4th Report, HL Paper 221) be agreed to.

My Lords, in begging to move that the fourth report of the Conduct Committee be agreed to, I shall speak also to the fifth report.

The Conduct Committee is committed to minimising the number of new editions of the Code of Conduct. These reports propose the first changes since May last year. As I have previously said at the Dispatch Box, I hope to appear here as infrequently as possible.

The code itself is 34 paragraphs long, but the guide is 208. Updating, clarifying and, wherever possible, simplifying remains a work in progress. The fourth report proposes a number of amendments, mostly minor, which the committee has considered in the last year.

First, the report recommends redrafting the scope provisions of the code to make them clear—and this is important—without changing the substance.

Secondly, the report proposes a change to the provisions, setting out what happens when a Member under investigation by the Commissioner for Standards leaves the House. Under current rules, the investigation would come to an end in nearly all cases. The report proposes that the commissioner should, in those cases, be authorised to complete a pre-existing investigation, but only if the Conduct Committee is assured that is in the public interest. I hope noble Lords can think of cases where we would judge that to be so.

Thirdly, the report proposes uprating the threshold for registration of shareholdings from £50,000 to £100,000. This is the first time the threshold has been updated since 2010.

Fourthly—and in this case the committee was responding to requests to look at this from Members of this House, from several noble Lords—the report sets out a way for them to register substantial private equity investments or corporate debt securities. We required some expert help in understanding these issues, which we sought. The provisions would now require Members to register such investments in category 4 and they establish a threshold for doing so.

Fifthly and finally, the report proposes some other minor changes to the code and guide, which are explained in the report.

I now turn to the committee’s fifth report. Earlier this year, the committee decided to review the provisions in the code and guide on parliamentary advice and services for the first time since they were agreed in 2009 and 2010. We were not seeking to tighten the rules, which have broadly worked well, but rather to ensure that they are expressed as clearly and logically as possible, so that all noble Lords understand them. To inform the review, we issued a consultation paper containing draft proposals, to which all noble Lords were invited to respond—28 did so, and I thank them for their thoughtful and helpful suggestions, some of which were incorporated into what we did. We also spoke the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, my noble friend Lord Evans of Weardale.

As the report notes, noble Lords broadly recommended the changes in the draft proposals, although some, naturally enough, queried individual provisions and made drafting suggestions. We considered all these responses and did make changes as a result. We are grateful for that help from noble Lords. The Conduct Committee welcomes engagement from Members of the House on the work it is doing on noble Lords’ behalf.

I will not go through every proposed change in the report, since many of them are straightforward drafting improvements, but I will touch on some of them. The proposed redraft of the provision on paid parliamentary services aims to make it crystal clear that Members cannot—and these are the key words—in return for payment or other reward, either do something or not do something in parliamentary proceedings; engage with parliamentarians, Ministers or officials on the issue; or provide ancillary parliamentary services, such as setting up an APPG or sponsoring a security pass. I repeat: this is in return for payment or any other reward.

The report then clarifies the limited exceptions to these rules, proposing, we hope, a much clearer explanation of the circumstances in which Members can, on occasion, provide parliamentary advice or services to an organisation or person in which they have a financial interest. This allows Members to carry out the full responsibilities of their outside jobs and ensures that the code does not inadvertently make Peers less attractive than non-Members for roles.

Again, with the help of a suggestion from a noble Baroness, we looked at the application of the rules for Members who undertake public sector roles. We are very grateful for being steered in this direction and we propose two key changes. First, we propose that the term “public bodies” is broadened with the clearer phrase “public sector organisations”. Secondly, while we endorse the existing exemption from the exclusive benefit rule, which attaches to such roles, we see no justification for the exemption from prohibition on paid parliamentary advice and services. The report proposes the removal of that exception.

I hope your Lordships will agree that these two reports offer some modest but sensible improvements to the code and the guide. I beg to move that the fourth report be agreed to.

Motion agreed.