Select Committee on Public Administration Second Report


8  Concluding thoughts

177. Recent events have undoubtedly been damaging to trust in British public life, already in decline since the early 1990s. The Cabinet Secretary told us that they had also been a major distraction for the last Prime Minister in his final period in office.[153] No doubt many others were distracted too. More than one party was investigated. The fact that no charges were brought did not diminish the damage that had been done.

178. It fed the perception that British public life was mired in corruption. We do not believe that this is so. The evidence suggests that standards are generally higher than they once were, and that Britain ranks creditably in international comparisons. However this episode is a sharp reminder that there are certainly no grounds for complacency. There are issues that need attention if public trust is to be restored and high standards of conduct in public life are to be strengthened.

179. Our hope is that out of this affair there will be a renewed impetus for reform. Proposals on party funding are already being considered. The Electoral Commission is to be refocused on enforcement of the rules. Our proposals complete the package. Corruption legislation will close loopholes in the legal framework around dishonest behaviour in public office. Breaking the link between honours and seats in Parliament will discourage much temptation. Most important, reforms to House of Lords appointments of the kind we describe can restrict patronage and remove the room for abuses.

180. We believe that we propose a package that can be supported by all major parties—many of its elements have already been supported—and by those who have very different views of the future of the second chamber. We hope that recent events will provide the impetus to make these proposals, much discussed but never implemented, the political priority they need to be. We intend to campaign to get them enacted.

181. There is one final point. Although we have made legislative proposals, and believe this is the right way to proceed, it would be possible to achieve much of what we recommend without legislation. If there are problems about parliamentary time, or concerns on the part of the Government that a limited Bill might get derailed by wider issues of second chamber reform, there is a remedy to hand. Just as the last Prime Minister set up the House of Lords Appointments Commission without legislation, the current Prime Minister could make changes without needing Parliamentary approval. For example, he could implement tomorrow all the changes we suggest to House of Lords appointments procedures. He could call on all parties in future to submit longlists of nominees to the Appointments Commission, and give the Commission the formal power of selection. He could undertake never to veto or change any decision on either honours or peerages, effectively withdrawing himself from the process. He could allow the Commission to determine the size and party balance of the second chamber, on agreed principles. All of this ought to be formalised through legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, but the point is that it could be done now if the Government wanted to. We believe that it should, as an immediate and proper response to the lessons to be learned from recent events.


153   Oral evidence taken before the Public Administration Select Committee on 15 November 2007, HC 92-I, Q 7 Back


 
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Prepared 18 December 2007