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Clause 8(2) relates to the recommendation of IPSA. We are all assuming that the recommendation would depend on findings of fact about improprieties in allowances claims or whatever, but nothing in
subsection (2) confines IPSAs recommendation to such a finding of fact. IPSA might well decide that although there was no allowances impropriety, the Member needed to be disciplined for other reasons. Is that what the House really wants to achieve? Subsection (2) is certainly couched in wide enough terms to allow that interpretation.
Mr. Grieve: My right hon. and learned Friend makes a good point, to which I hope the Minister will respond. She may argue that the terms on which IPSA and the commissioner for investigations are set up would not allow them to stray too far from the main remit of our financial affairs. However, my right hon. and learned Friend has made a perfectly valid point, which illustrates some of the difficulties that we face.
Amendment 32 deals with clause 8(2), but as one reads down the list of enforcement clauses, the whole thing becomes murkier and murkier. I wonder why some of the subsections are there at all. They start dealing with issues relating to the punishment of Members by the House itself. Subsection (6) mentions an agreement between IPSA and the Speakers Committee on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority on a protocol that requires a number of different people to work together. That protocol includes the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
The House does not need to pause for thought for long to appreciate that if the Committee on Standards and Privileges remains included in subsection (6) it will inevitably be embroiled in court proceedings about its functions and independence. That would drive a coach and horses through the Bill of Rights 1689 and what it was designed to achieve.
The protocol must be judicially reviewable, and it concerns relations with the Director of Public Prosecutions andwait for itthe Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I gently point out that a past incumbent of that post was subject to comment about the infringement of the privileges of the House in respect of the problems faced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), a matter currently under investigation. As one goes through clause 8, one asks oneself what in it is really necessary for achieving IPSAs main functions.
Mr. Llwyd: I am a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and we have always transacted our business in complete confidentiality. That will not be the case if we are subject to judicial review; all our papers and dealings and all the matters that we transact will become public. Would anybody wish to be on a Committee dealing with such matters if those things were subject to outside scrutiny by the courts? I doubt it. The change will definitely hamper the Committees business.
Mr. Grieve: I agree with the hon. Gentleman and I go back to the evidence given yesterday to the Justice Committee by the Speakers Counsel; I refer to page 33 of the transcription. He was asked to highlight his areas of concern about clause 8. He contrasted clause 8(2), on which I have touched and whose necessity has been questioned, with clause 8(5):
clause 8(2) is not really saying anything about the basis of the powers for the Committee on Standards and Privileges to act...I think clause 8(5) might be saying something because it says that
the failure may be punished by the House of Commons. If that is interpreted as a kind of statutory permission then there might very well be an issue as to whether the conditions of that permission had been fulfilled. If the Commission had acted unreasonably you would not have the conditions for that permission to operate, whereas contrarily with section 8(2), if I may say so...Dr Palmer is right to say it is simply like some other actor who says something should be done and then the Committee on Privileges does something. It is not a condition of the Committee of Privileges doing something that someone else has probably said something to it.
It is clear that the Government should justify why any of the second part of clause 8below subsection (2), which I suggest should be amendedis necessary to achieve the Houses functions, IPSAs functions and the proper regulation of MPs. That part of the clause is a seriously dangerous step that involves the scrutiny and review in court of how the House of Commons works.
We have tabled amendments. Others have tabled theirs, and will doubtless speak to them. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) has tabled a really important amendment that would take away the Standards and Privileges Committee from the protocol set out in clause 8(6). Our amendment 34 seeks to leave out clause 8(4), which, as far as I can see, is completely unnecessary. There is an amendment proposing to leave out subsection (5). Each one of those needs a response from the Minister justifying the necessity for not making those changes: it should not be for us to have to justify every line that we are trying to take out.
If the Minister is wise, and the Government are wise, this clause in its entirety can be substantially altered. She will then find that the Government have met their objectives of enabling IPSA to carry out its investigation and report to the Standards and Privileges Committee, leave it to the Committee, under our present powers, to implement whatever sanctions are necessary, and avoid the extraordinary mish-mash in the provisions as drafted, which will drag the House of Commons and its procedures into the courts.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): I am looking at subsection (9). Would the hon. and learned Gentleman expect that, if there were criminal proceedings against an MP, in order to avoid double jeopardy the commissioner and IPSA should not be investigating the MP at the same time for the same complaint?
Mr. Grieve: There are clearly potential issues of double jeopardy. Double jeopardy is a rather complicated subject, and once we start putting it on a statutory basis we run much more risk of landing ourselves in the sands than under the current procedures. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point, but given the limited time that I have had to scrutinise the detail of the Bill, I do not have the answer.
Mr. Redwood: I rise to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in all that he says about the detail of the amendments, which would go some way towards abating the problems with clause 8, and in what he says in general about the need to keep Parliament in charge of disciplining Members of Parliament.
I find the wide-ranging debate that the Government have opened up on this clause and this Bill quite extraordinary. I have not heard any criticism of the
Committee on Standards and Privileges. I have never heard of a great public controversy because it was doing its job badly. We have not been told that its justice has been inadequate. We have not felt that people have been hard done by under it. We have not felt that those who deserved to be punished have gone unpunished. It is not an issue. It is extraordinary that we are being asked to overturn that and to make the Committee subsidiary to an outside body when there is no case against it and no charge sheet that anyone has heard about. I would like to concentrate on the need, as my hon. and learned Friend said, to recast the clause, if it has to stay at all, in a way that deals with the big issue of how IPSA appears to be superior to the Committee on Standards and Privileges and how it seems to have overturned the Bill of Rights.
If we look at subsection (6), we can see that the Government themselves acknowledge that the clause is a comprehensive muddle and a huge mess. As currently drafted, it does not make clear the relative powers and responsibilities of IPSA vis-Ã -vis the commissioner or the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges. The subsection invites us to agree to a form of words whereby, although we know as legislators that it will not work in its current form and that the Government have not had time to work out how it might function, we would ask IPSA to consult the Speakers Committee on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in preparing a statement saying how all these different bodies could work together smoothly and harmoniously in a way that ensured that no difficult case fell between the gaps and that people were not put through double and triple jeopardy for no good reason. Under the list in that subsection, IPSA has to consult the commissioner, the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, the Speakers Committee on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and any other person that they may have forgotten about. We can see what an absurd, burgeoning bureaucracy this is.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. Am I right in thinking, in parliamentary drafting terms, that because IPSA has been put at the top of the list it has priority in its duties over others?
I would have thought that given its wisdom and experience, the Committee on Standards and Privileges should be the guiding body. Many right hon. and hon. Members have given or are giving good service to that Committee. Several amendments drafted by those who have been working on it have already been accepted by the Government in the realisation that that experience is necessary. The Government should take this clause away and ask the Committee how it thinks it could best be phrased to preserve these two fundamental points: first, that Parliament must be sovereign, as the Bill of Rights rightly asserted, so that the peoples rights are preserved in this Chamber; and secondly, that the good work and experience of the Committee on Standards
and Privileges must continue without being messed upwithout being subject to judicial review and intrusions that would not make it fairer or better but might make its work more difficult.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about clause 8(6). Surely the crucial question is this: could the protocol that is drawn up by IPSA end up giving obligations to everybody else on the list? If so, it is extraordinary that IPSA should give obligations not only to the House of Commons Committee but to the DPP and the police. Surely that is a complete violation of the separation of powers.
My reading of the drafting suggests that none of this is subject to parliamentary approval. IPSA needs the agreement of the Speakers Committee, but we are not told what happens if the Speakers Committee does not agree. IPSA could publish and try to assert its view regardless, because it appears that it is primus inter pares in these matters. No procedure is set down for reconciling disputes between the Speakers Committee and IPSA. The implication is that once IPSA has published, preferably with the agreement of the Speakers Committee, then that is the statement from which not only this House but the courts, if they become involved, will have to operate.
That is totally unacceptable. We are being asked to override not only the Standards and Privileges Committee but our own law-making powers by delegating a crucial element in how this complex and bureaucratic system is going to work to a draft from IPSA that it could not possibly undertake for several months until we know who the chief executive is and that person has a staff who can get to work and take advice. Presumably they would then come to see right hon. and hon. Members from the Standards and Privileges Committee. However, as the drafting makes clear, they do not have to take the view of those Membersthey can come up with their own independent view and assert that.
For all those reasons, I hope that the Minister will realise that this proposal is impractical and cumbersome, that it cannot work, that it will delay justice rather than give justice, and that it will make the House of Commons look ridiculous rather than showing that we take these matters seriously. The overriding of procedures that have worked well is symbolic of a Government who love to railroad their way through traditional institutions that are already functioning in the name of modernisation without thinking about the difficult consequences that may follow. This will not produce more justice or a better administered Parliament; nor will it deal with cases that the present system would not otherwise deal with. It is a recipe for disaster.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): The most painful part of this situation is that we are all now having to confront the reality of the relationship between Government and Parliament. Over the years, all of uscertainly me, in the past 20 yearshave subjected ourselves to an incredible amount of self-delusion in thinking that the House of Commons actually meant something, that its powers were important, that it was somehow, if not an equal partner, then at least an elderly uncle whose advice could be taken seriously and had some impact on the parliamentary process and the legislative process.
What the Government are now doing is honestly, although perhaps not deliberately, stripping away from Members of the House any last illusions that they had about the pathetic nature of the parliamentary branch of government, by not even allowing that misconception to continue. They are placing in statute, in clause 8 and other clauses, the fact that the House of Commons is at best a supplicant to Government.
I am reminded strongly of the process that has taken place under all Governments, and been suffered by all parties, of the atrophy of local government. It was never established in a written constitution, and it never had independence, but in many regards it used to have a degree of separation and functions distinct from national Government. Over a period of 20, 30 or possibly more years we have all seen, and those of us with experience in local government have felt at the sharp end, what has happened to our local government. Those who care about our democracy have seen it, too. Through perhaps 40 or 50 Acts of Parliament, the ability of local government to act independently has been stripped or sliced away. Now, virtually everything at local level is guided by statute, by central Government and by the man in Whitehall.
In essence, that is now our fate. Our role is being prescribed in a way that was never the case before because we did not want to disturb the people in the House of Commons or have crowd control difficulties. We wanted them to believe the mythology of parliamentary sovereignty. Just as local governments sovereignty is a thing of the pastwe are all poorer for that, although many of us acquiesced in itso parliamentary sovereignty is being condemned to the dustbin of history, not even with a nod and a wink but by statute.
We let that go at our peril. I am not necessarily suggesting that today is the day when we can halt the process, but we will rely upon the other place, and upon the Government themselves to retreat to some extent when they bring the Bill back to this House. We are relying on them to improve this dogs breakfast of a hurried, precipitate piece of legislation, caused by our fear of what the media have managed to concoct and reveal about goings-on in this place. I hope that the Government will retreat from some of the more extreme things that we see in the Bill. If they do not, that pointit may be only a couple of weeks awaywill be a real watershed for our democracy.
Mr. Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is making an extremely important point. These are vital issues for the future of Parliament. I put it to him that this matter cannot be resolved in another place, because there are issues of privilege. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) articulated them better than I can. This House will have to resolve the matter, and if it cedes authority, it will be finished as the supreme legislating authority in this land.
I am not suggesting that we should rely upon the other place, but even the fact that the Lords will have had a few more days to read the Bill, which I suspect colleagues in this place have not done, will allow them to table some serious amendments. The Bill will
then return here, and I hope that at that point, those of us who have been in the Chamber for these debates will take up the challenge. There have been incredible contributions from all parts of the House, which I hope will be studied in detail in years to come as evidence of some of the days when Parliament said no to this process. I hope that we ensure that all colleagues understand what the consequences will be if we allow provisions such as clause 8 to go through unamended.
Mr. Hogg: I have just a brief point. I agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. We are establishing an important precedent that could be invoked time and time again by future Governments. We need to be chary about doing that, because it will be a declaration about the relationship that Parliament deems that it has with our external authorities.
Mr. Allen: Indeed, and the louder the Government talk about democratising the House of Commons, the more careful we ought to be to study the legislation that comes forward. There is talk about reforming the House through a Select Committee, for example, but at the moment there is no resolution to establish such a Committee, and no terms of reference that command agreement throughout the House have yet been on the Order Paper.
There is ever stronger rhetoric about rebuilding our democracy, but of course the rhetoric can be belied by the lack of means to create that democracy. Indeed, the very means to undermine it further may be in front of us, but some of us may be missing them because of the loudness of the rhetoric about increasing and improving our democracy.
Mr. Redwood: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his work over a sustained period to try to get the House to take more power over the Executive. Does he agree that it makes for better government if Ministers see the need to come to the House early and have things exposed to proper debate, as I hope they will with this Bill?
Mr. Allen: That is a measure of the fear with which Governments unnecessarily view this House. If we have a strong House of Commons and a strong Parliament, Government themselves are the main beneficiary. We have better value for money, better legislation and more public involvement, and it does not require eight efforts to get child support legislation right. At least once a year we try to get the criminal justice system right. We should have proper pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, yet there are those in government who run in fear of that, wishing instead to have legislation drafted by unelected officials in their Departments and rubber-stamped by the House. We all lose in that deal, and we could all win in a deal whereby a strong Executive had self-confidence and the judgment to take the view of the House when it had been properly and responsibly expressed. The only greater beneficiary than the Government would be the British people.
On the drafting of legislation, to which the hon. Gentleman has rightly referred, the evidence that has been heard in the past few days has had alarming characteristics. The most obvious is that first parliamentary counsel appears to have prepared the memorandum upon which the so-called Lord High Chancellor and
Secretary of State for Justice is relying. It is clear that there is a complete difference of opinion between the Clerk of the House and first parliamentary counsel. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that ought to worry people a great deal?
Mr. Allen: I do not want to stray too far from the clause, but one day, when we have a self-respecting and self-confident Parliament, we will have our own parliamentary draftspeople and our own right to legal advice on going to war or whatever it may be. We will have our own capabilities to transform the legislative framework. At the moment, we have an Executive who are not directly elected by the British people taking the advice of a civil service that has no familiarity whatever with the ballot box. Members of this House are being overseen by people who have no understanding of electoral politics and our democracy, but who decide on the rights of Members. Those rights have been sacredperhaps too sacred, but they have been in place for many years. I hope that colleagues will press their case to the Secretary of State, and that he will take away the expressions of anxiety that he has heard in the past day or soand will hear until the end of the dayand rework the Bill so that it does what we all thought it intended to do: create a strong parliamentary standards authority to ensure that abuses that have happened in the past cannot happen in future. As part of that, it should construct a much broader framework, so that our legislature, rather than becoming a quango, an advisory body or a quaint but withered part of our constitutional arrangements, can play not only the role that it fulfilled in years gone by, but an important role in rebuilding our democracy and peoples trust, which has been so sorely tested in the past month or two.
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