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Animals Act 1971 (Amendment)

Mr. Stephen Crabb, supported by Daniel Kawczynski, Mr. Roger Williams, Mr. Richard Benyon, Mr. Laurence Robertson, Mr. Edward O’Hara, Kate Hoey, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Tim Farron and Barry Gardiner, presented a Bill to amend the Animals Act 1971 to limit strict liability for damage done by animals: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 March, and to be printed [Bill 18].

Food Products (Marketing to Children)

Nigel Griffiths, supported by Mary Creagh, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Brian H. Donohoe, Andrew George, Bob Spink and Stephen Williams, presented a Bill to make provision about the advertising, marketing and promotion of food and drink products to children; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 April, and to be printed [Bill 19].

Environmental Protection (Transfers at Sea)

Mark Lazarowicz, supported by Mr. David Anderson, Derek Conway, Nigel Griffiths, Mr. David Hamilton, Mr. John MacDougall, Anne Moffat, Bob Spink, Dr. Gavin Strang, Mr. Mike Weir and John Barrett, presented a Bill to make provision about transfers of cargo at sea; to provide for environmental safeguards in relation to such transfers; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January, and to be printed [Bill 20].

Health and Safety (Offences)

Keith Hill presented a Bill to revise the mode of trial and maximum penalties applicable to certain offences relating to health and safety: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 1 February, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 29].

Energy Saving (Daylight)

Mr. Tim Yeo, supported by Peter Bottomley, Sir John Butterfill, Mr. David Chaytor, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. David Kidney, Mr. Robert Marshall-Andrews, Lembit Opik, Richard Ottaway, Dr. Desmond Turner, Mr. John Whittingdale and Sir George Young, presented a Bill to advance time by one hour throughout the year to create lighter evenings, for an experimental period; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 March, and to be printed [Bill 21].

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Voting Age (Reduction)

Julie Morgan, supported by Natascha Engel, Jo Swinson, Roger Berry, John Bercow, Dr. Alan Whitehead, Jenny Willott, Mrs. Betty Williams, Peter Bottomley, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Hywel Williams and Ms Katy Clark, presented a Bill to reduce the voting age for parliamentary and other elections to 16 years: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed [Bill 22].

Fixed Term Parliaments

David Howarth, supported by Mr. David Heath, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander, Lynne Featherstone, Mr. Nick Clegg, Mr. Paul Burstow, Paul Rowen, Mr. Graham Allen and Mr. Peter Bone, presented a Bill to fix the date of the next general election and all subsequent elections; to forbid the dissolution of Parliament otherwise than in accordance with this Act; to allow the House of Commons to change the day of the week on which a general election is held; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 16 May, and to be printed [Bill 30].

Forces Widows’ Pensions (Equality of Treatment)

Mr. Michael Mates, supported by Mr. Bruce George, Sir Menzies Campbell, Patrick Mercer, Mr. Michael Clapham, Nick Harvey, Peter Viggers, Derek Conway, Simon Hughes and Sir Michael Spicer, presented a Bill to provide for the equal treatment of Forces widows’ pensions in respect of retirement from military service for the periods before 1973 and between 1973 and 2005; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 1 February, and to be printed [Bill 31].

Leasehold Reform

Simon Hughes, supported by John Hemming, Mr. Nick Clegg, Greg Mulholland, Paul Rowen, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mark Hunter, Stephen Williams, Andrew Stunell, Paul Holmes, Bob Russell and Lynn Featherstone, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to long leaseholders; to confer further powers on leaseholders; to make provision in relation to leaseholders in local council owned property and property owned by other social landlords; to confer powers on landlords to create sinking funds; to make requirements of landlords relating to the management of property; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 22 February, and to be printed [Bill 32].

Borough Freedom

Derek Conway, supported by Mr. Graham Allen, Janet Anderson, Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. David Clelland, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mr. Roger Gale, Daniel Kawczynski, Mr. Adrian Sanders, Mr. Keith Simpson and Mrs. Betty Williams, presented a Bill to enable rights of admission to the freedom of cities or towns to be extended to women; to enable other amendments relating to admission to be made; to confer powers to admit persons as honorary freemen of certain places in the Confederation of the Cinque Ports; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 1 February, and to be printed [Bill 23].

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Sound Recordings (Copyright Term Extension)

Pete Wishart, supported by Mr. Ian Cawsey, Mr. Mark Field, Sandra Gidley, John Robertson, Rosemary McKenna, Adam Price, Mr. Greg Knight, John Hemming, Stewart Hosie, Kelvin Hopkins and Janet Anderson, presented a Bill to extend beyond 50 years the copyright term of sound recordings; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 March, and to be printed [Bill 33].

Environmental Protection (Airports)

Justine Greening, supported by Mr. David Evennett, Mr. Nick Hurd, Adam Afriyie, Mr. John Randall, Mr. Edward Garnier, John McDonnell, David Taylor, Susan Kramer, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mr. Mark Prisk and Mr. Greg Hands, presented a Bill to promote the protection of the environment near airports; to establish a body to monitor the environmental impact of airports and to report on levels of pollution; to confer certain powers on that body; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 March, and to be printed [Bill 34].

Public Sector Buildings (Energy Performance)

Anne Snelgrove, supported by Lyn Brown, Colin Challen, Mr. Elliot Morley, Mr. John Gummer, Andrew Gwynne, Mrs. John Humble, David Howarth, Martin Horwood, Mr. Michael Meacher, Mr. Tim Yeo and Dr. Alan Whitehead, presented a Bill to make further provision about energy efficiency and microgeneration in public sector buildings; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 April, and to be printed [Bill 35].

Foreign Nationals (Statistics)

Mr. William Cash, supported by Mr. Frank Field, Nick Harvey, Sir John Butterfill, Mr. Desmond Swayne, Mr. Richard Shepherd, Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Bernard Jenkin, Mr. Michael Fallon, Mr. John Whittingdale and Mr. Tom Clarke, presented a Bill to establish a requirement on local authorities to transfer certain statistics relating to nationality to the Office for National Statistics; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 9 May, and to be printed [Bill 36].

Disqualification from Parliament (Taxation Status)

Mr. Gordon Prentice, supported by Paul Flynn, Kelvin Hopkins, David Heyes, Ms Katy Clark, Dr. Richard Taylor, Dr. Gavin Strang, Lynne Jones, Dr. Ian Gibson, Clive Efford and Andrew Mackinlay , presented a Bill to make provision for disqualification from membership of the House of Commons and the House of Lords on grounds relating to residence and domicile for taxation purposes; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January, and to be printed [Bill 24].

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[1st Allotted Day]


Cabinet Office

Standards of Conduct in Public Life

[Relevant documents: Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Public A dministration, Session 2006-07, HC 121-I, on Ethics and Standards: The Regulation of Conduct in Public Life, and the Government’s response, First Special Report, Session 2007-08 HC 88. ]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

2.6 pm

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to introduce this debate on some of the work of the Public Administration Committee, and in particular its work on “Ethics and Standards: The Regulation of Conduct in Public Life”. I was going to say that this is a timely debate, but I could have said that at almost any point in the recent past.

I wish to begin by paying a most sincere tribute to my fellow Committee members. They are an outstanding collection of people. I have been privileged to have a number of them as members of the Committee for some time, and then for it to have been refreshed by some excellent new arrivals. I am sure that the Committee has built up a collective spirit and a way of operating that has contributed greatly to its work. I also pay tribute to the Committee’s excellent staff, particularly our departing Clerk, Eve Samson, who managed to keep us on the straight and narrow in our dealings with Scotland Yard in the past year or so, which was not always entirely easy. We had a party for her last night, and I hope that Eve was feeling all right this morning.

The PAC’s work concerns itself with the conduct of government in a general sense, and it is worth reminding ourselves that that concern has two main aspects, and that it always has done. We can go back 150 years to the famous Northcote-Trevelyan reforms, which reformed the civil service and put it on its modern basis of appointment by merit. The importance of the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms was that they concerned themselves with the proper conduct of government in two senses. One sense was propriety—that patronage was wrong. The other was that patronage was inefficient—that it produced an inefficient state. Therefore, the Committee has always concerned itself with those two elements of what the proper conduct of government is: the more narrowly defined issue of propriety, and the more general issue of effectiveness and efficiency. That is consistent
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with the traditions of public service reform that began in the 19th century on the back of Northcote-Trevelyan, the foundation of the system associated with the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the civil service commissioners. Those are the great 19th century reforms that we have built on in our own times.

The Committee’s recent work has ranged widely over the conduct of government in the sense of propriety—I shall leave aside the question of efficiency and effectiveness for the moment. We have concerned ourselves with the need for a Bill to bring the civil service into statute, and I am delighted that we are finally to get that. The Committee is unique in having vented its frustration at not getting such a Bill by drafting one itself and showing the Government how it could be done. I believe that this is the first time that that has happened in the modern period, but I am sure that it helped the Government to frame their thoughts, and I am glad that the Bill is to be included in the constitutional reform legislation.

The Committee has examined, and said things about, the constitutional relationship between Ministers and civil servants. We have examined prerogative powers and suggested reforms in that area—indeed, such reforms will be in the constitutional reform Bill. It is almost as though someone in government has discovered our back catalogue. We are delighted about that, because we labour on these issues year in, year out, thinking that no one takes much notice of what we are doing, but suddenly people discover the corpus of our work and we find that much of it is to be translated into legislation. This is an exciting time for us.

The Committee has examined the ministerial code and has called for an independent investigator under it. We can claim to be the people who got the code changed to insist that announcements should be made in Parliament first—that is important. We have examined the role of special advisers and made recommendations. We have reformed the honours system. We have considered the system of business appointments—indeed, we have reformed the House of Lords.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): More!

Dr. Wright: If only the rest of the world would catch up with us. The Committee has examined, and recommended reforms to, the system of public appointments. We have examined the balance of interests in the publication of memoirs and made the most important and significant contribution to that matter since Lord Radcliffe examined it a generation or so ago. We are about to produce a report on propriety and peerages in the wake of the Scotland Yard investigation into cash for peerages, and we have just embarked on an inquiry into lobbying. It is clear that the Committee has a consistent track record of examining the propriety side of government in a constructive way that is designed to improve the system and to make recommendations that can be acted upon.

I must confess that the Committee is also probably responsible for some delay in the Government’s appointing a new chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, because they knew that we were about to produce a report on ethics and standards, including a review of that Committee, and I think that they probably thought that we were going to recommend single, non-renewable terms. That might partly explain a delay in the appointment.

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The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Gillian Merron): I thank my hon. Friend for his explanation to the House. It might help him, the Committee and the House if I were to announce that the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Christopher Kelly as Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be glad to know that that follows a recommendation by his Committee that the appointment should be for a single, fixed term of five years. I am sure that he will also be glad that the appointment process was regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

Dr. Wright: It is good to have that announcement. My Committee did not recommend a particular nominee, but I am sure that the appointment is an excellent one. We did recommend that all jobs of this kind—ethical regulators—should have single, non-renewable terms. That removes the silliness about whether people should be renewed in such jobs.

This whole area is necessarily sensitive, and it can be difficult for us. I remember thinking about that soon after I joined the House in 1992. I foolishly took part in a debate on Members’ travel allowances. At that time, the system was that Members who had larger cars received larger allowances, and that seemed silly to me. When I joined the House, various Members at the time recommended that I buy a Ford Sierra diesel—it was called the MP’s car because it had a huge engine and, as a diesel, did huge mileage. I did not buy a car, but I noted the suggestion. Even back in the early 1990s, I thought that rewarding people for driving the largest cars was not sensible, so I made the mistake of saying in the debate that I had been given that recommendation, that I did not think it made a lot of sense and that we should surely have a different kind of remuneration system. A Labour colleague, who is now a senior Member of the House, came up to me afterwards, looked me in the eye and said, “You know, you will never be forgiven for what you have just said.” He may have been right—I may have never been forgiven for what I said—but at that point I learned that these are sensitive areas where one has to tread carefully.

I also vividly remember the day when John Major, who had his back to the wall and was engulfed by sleaze allegations, announced that he was setting up the Committee on Standards in Public Life and that it would sit on a permanent basis—it was never going to go away. I remember being in the taxi queue down at the Members’ entrance that night, where there was a little collection of Conservative Members, one of whom was spitting blood about the announcement and saying, “Life will never be the same again, because someone is going to poke around into our affairs and identify all the ways in which Members are working for outside interests and do something about it.” That was not going to be done in the usual way of inquiries, whereby they sit for a few months and then go away. This Committee was not going to go away; it was going to keep coming back to issues time and again to ensure that we put our political system in some kind of order. Those two examples remind us that these are difficult matters.

My proposition is that we all should share a commitment to high standards in public life—that should be a given across Parliament and across parties. We know that such a commitment is crucial in maintaining public
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confidence, but it is also crucial in its own right, because it is what we would expect of our political system. On the whole, our system does reflect a commitment to high standards. We do not have the kinds of corruption that are seen in some other political systems. If one were to look historically—at where we have come from—one would find that things are much better now. Comparatively—where we sit in relation to other countries—we also do rather well. In terms of the hard definition of corruption, which is the use and abuse of public office for private gain, our system does exceptionally well. Even when there are lapses, as sometimes happens, they are usually lapses for party gain, rather than for personal gain. That is not to be recommended, but such lapses are not corruption in its core sense. They happened for a period in the 1990s, but only in very small measure and at the margins.

The problem is that the reality is, in some ways, less important than perceptions. There is a perception, fed by certain sections of the media in particular, that public life in this country is corrupt, and that it is a moral sewer or cesspit. That perception is poured out each day and it is thus unsurprising that some people think it is true. We should consider the judgment of Sir Hayden Phillips, who has been conducting the review into the funding of political parties. He said in his interim report that

That judgment was also made by the very first report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and, on the whole it is correct.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I agree with what my hon. Friend has been saying, and I congratulate him on his speech. Does he agree that constantly making reference to the relative performance, both historically and internationally, of British politics compared with others is not enough? Does he agree that we need some kind of absolute standards, and we need to say, “We are going to aim at that”? We should not just say that we are not as bad as other people.

Dr. Wright: Of course we have to have standards of our own that we believe in and want to see enforced. I was just seeking to point out the need to take a step backwards from the daily headlines. Some people want to persuade the great British public that our political system is corrupt. I do not believe that it is corrupt, and we are entitled to say that. However, that is not to say that we should not be eternally vigilant. We should not be complacent and there are issues that require attention, but on the central judgment we are entitled to say that the historical evidence and the comparative evidence suggest that we do not do too badly.

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