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.
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
180. We believe that we propose a package that can
be supported by all major partiesmany of its elements have
already been supportedand 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