Working Group Report on Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords Report



REPORT FROM THE WORKING GROUP APPOINTED BY THE LEADER OF THE HOUSE TO CONSIDER THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE ON STANDARDS IN PUBLIC LIFE ON STANDARDS OF CONDUCT IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

INTRODUCTION

  1.  On 17 January 2001 the Leader of the House (B. Jay of Paddington) announced in a written answer[1] that she had appointed us[2] to report to her on the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life ("the Neill Committee") on standards of conduct in the House of Lords.[3]

  2.  The Neill Committee has made 23 recommendations. It draws attention to public expectations that there will be clear and explicit undertakings from persons in public life on conduct and conflict of interests. Members of the House of Lords are prominent in public life. They have therefore, according to the Neill Committee, a particular duty to meet, and to be seen to meet, public expectations.

  3.  The Neill Committee acknowledged early in its report that its decision to undertake an enquiry into the House of Lords was not prompted by any scandal or crisis.[4] We wish to emphasise this point at the outset of our own report. There has been no loss of public confidence in standards of conduct in the House of Lords, and we are not aware of any instances of misconduct by Members of the House in relation to their parliamentary duties. Indeed, in the six years of its existence, the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, which is charged with investigating allegations of failure to register interests which the rules require to be registered, has met only three times[5]; and no meeting was in connection with allegations of failure to abide by the rules.

  4.  Nevertheless, there are good reasons why the Neill Committee's recommendations should not be rejected as unnecessary. These reasons include:

    —  increasing public interest in the House;

    —  increased expectations concerning the standards of conduct in public life and the fact that such conduct is more rigorously scrutinised today than ever before;

    —  the need to review from time to time the boundaries of acceptable conduct;

    —  the belief that if the House is to retain public confidence, everything must not only be in order but be seen to be in order;

    —  the need therefore for general awareness that the House has rules of conduct and for those rules to be accessible, transparent and consistently applied;

    —  the need to maintain high standards.

The present regulatory regime in the Lords

  5.  In order to evaluate the Neill Committee's recommendations, it is necessary to understand the main features of the present regulatory regime on disclosure of interests in the House of Lords. This regime is based on two resolutions agreed to by the House on 7 November 1995. These resolutions embody the recommendations of a sub-committee appointed by the Procedure Committee in December 1994, and chaired by Lord Griffiths, a Lord of Appeal.[6]

  6.  The main features of the present regulatory regime are:

    (a)  two guiding principles:

      —  that Lords should act always on their personal honour; and

      —  that Lords should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence.

    (b)  a long-standing custom, that Members with a direct financial interest in a subject on which they speak in the House should declare it. Members should also declare any non-financial interest of which their audience should be aware in order to form a balanced judgment of their arguments. Such interest may be indirect or non-pecuniary[7]

      (c)  a register of interests, containing two mandatory categories and one discretionary category, as follows:

          1.  consultancies, or any similar arrangements, whereby Members of the House accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing parliamentary advice or services (registration mandatory);

          2.  any financial interests of Members of the House in businesses involved in parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients (registration mandatory);

          3.  any other particulars which Members of the House wish to register relating to matters which they consider may affect the public perception of the way in which they discharge their parliamentary duties (registration discretionary)

      There are strict limits on how Members who have registered interests in categories 1 or 2 can participate in parliamentary proceedings.[8]

      7.  There is an important distinction between item (b) above, declaration of interest, and item (c), registration of interest. All interests falling within the mandatory categories must be registered but only those interests germane to a particular debate or communication with ministers must be declared in it. Different opinions have been expressed about the relative importance of declaration and registration.[9] Declaration is directed primarily at those who are listening to a speech in the House, whereas registration is helpful also to those outside the House, who can consult a public record of interests. A register is also valuable in the case of a Member who votes following a debate in which he has not spoken and who has not therefore had the opportunity to declare the interest.

    THE NEILL COMMITTEE'S RECOMMENDATIONS

      8.  We consider below the Neill Committee's recommendations in turn.

      Neill Recommendation 1: the House of Lords should adopt a short code of conduct.

      9.  In the past ten years many Parliaments based on the Westminster model have introduced a code of conduct for their Members.[10] The House of Commons did so in 1996. A code of conduct serves two purposes. The first is to provide clear, consistent and common guidance for Members. The second is to contribute to the openness and accountability necessary to ensure public confidence in the way in which Members perform their parliamentary duties.

      10.  A code of conduct can help to reduce Members' uncertainty and possible confusion about their obligations to reveal their interests. It can also provide them with a persuasive defence against allegations of misconduct, since a payment or advantage, duly registered in accordance with the code of conduct, could hardly be regarded as improper. The public expects persons in public life to observe the highest possible standards of conduct. A code helps to maintain public confidence and provides a measure against which the public can judge how standards are being met.

      11.  The House of Lords already has a form of code of conduct in the resolutions described in paragraphs 5 to 6 above, supplemented by advice from the Registrar and the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests. But the resolutions and conventions on standards of conduct are not in a readily accessible form that can be understood by the ordinary citizen as well as by Members of the House.[11] A short code in the form of a pocket guide would bring clarity and accessibility.

      12.  A more prescriptive code of conduct for the House of Lords might bring disadvantages. Some Members of the House described these to the Neill Committee. They included: creating the impression that there had been wrongdoing in the past; the danger of putting people off wanting to become Members; and reducing the scope for Members to rely on their honour and sense of what is right and wrong. On the other hand, every other parliamentary body in the United Kingdom has adopted a code of conduct, in particular the House of Commons. There are important differences between the two Houses at Westminster,[12] but they share one common characteristic. This is the fact that each House and its Members have the right to participate in the legislative process, and to influence matters of national and international importance.

      13.   For the reasons set out above, we have concluded that the House should be invited to accept Neill recommendation 1 and agree that the House should adopt a code of conduct as proposed by the Neill Committee. But this does not mean that the House of Lords must have the detailed and complex code of conduct and written guidance found in the Commons. The House's particular circumstances must be taken into account; and a code must be proportionate to the House's functions.

      14.  A code would be needlessly complex if it were to try to forecast and identify every situation. So, following the principles laid down by the Nicholls Committee,[13] we suggest that the code should be drafted in the form of statements of principle, followed by particular examples. The statements of principle should be able to accommodate novel situations when they arise and the code will thus contain the flexibility needed for the future. We have appended at Annex 1 a proposed code of conduct that incorporates the Neill Committee's recommendations, in some cases with modifications proposed by us. We hope that the House will find this helpful in deciding what action to take.

      Neill Recommendation 2: The Code should incorporate both the Seven Principles of Public Life and the principles adopted by the House of Lords in its 1995 Resolution, viz.

      —  Members of the House should act always on their personal honour; and

      —  Members should never accept any financial inducement or reward for exercising parliamentary influence.

      15.  The Seven Principles of Public Life were stated in 1995 by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, when Lord Nolan was chairman.[14] They are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, honesty, accountability, openness, and leadership. They are set out below.[15] The seven principles acquaint the general public and every person in public life with the standards that are expected to be upheld. It will be immediately obvious that in the main these principles are already to be found in the House of Lords' present regulatory regime. Some merit further examination.

    Openness

      16.  The principle of openness requires a balance to be struck between disclosure and personal privacy. So far as personal privacy is concerned, we consider that Members of the House in their activities outside Parliament have a right to the same degree of privacy as other citizens, when those activities have no bearing on their role as Members of Parliament. Few Members of the House would wish to see a code of conduct that was unnecessarily intrusive. At the same time, the House has always accepted that the personal interests of a Member should be disclosed in relevant circumstances. Under the existing rules, for example, the interests may be both financial and non-financial and may extend beyond the Member to his family and friends.[16] In view of the exceptional position which Members of the Lords hold in public life, and given that modern standards of probity require its acceptance, we recommend that the House formally accept the principle of openness in its code of conduct.

    Accountability

      17.  Constitutionally speaking, Members of the House of Lords are answerable to no-one for their actions in Parliament. They have no constituents to vote them out of office, they cannot be expelled from the House[17] and they hold their seats for life.[18] The principle of accountability formulated by the Nolan Committee would make Members "accountable for their decisions and actions to the public" and Members would be required to "submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office". In some ways this would be a new departure for the House. On the other hand, acceptance of the principle of accountability means, according to the Neill report, that the public should have access to the information "that enables them to understand the interests, financial and non-financial, that may inform" a Member's decisions and actions.[19] The House is well acquainted with this notion of disclosure, and it forms part of its current rules. So we recommend that the House should be invited to endorse formally in its code of conduct the principle of accountability.

    Leadership

      18.  The seventh principle is leadership. This requires persons in public life to promote and support the other six principles by leadership and example. According to this principle, Members must "operate at the highest level of ethical probity as currently perceived and indeed set an example throughout the public sector". We believe that Members of the House already meet the requirements of this principle. It should be formally incorporated into the proposed code of conduct.

      19.  We have concluded unanimously that the House should be invited to accept Neill recommendation 2.

      Neill Recommendation 3: The Code should also incorporate the principles which the House of Lords adopts concerning the registration of members' interests.

      20.  This recommendation really deals with a matter of procedure, namely, incorporation into the code of whatever decisions the House takes on the Neill Committee's later recommendations, numbers 4 to 23.

      Neill Recommendation 4: The registration of all relevant interests should be made mandatory.

      21.  We have found this to be one of the Neill Committee's most difficult and controversial recommendations. The question is whether the discretionary element in category 3 of the Lords register of interests should be made mandatory. We draw particular attention to the word "relevant". It is vitally important. It means that the Neill Committee is not suggesting unlimited or unreasonable disclosure of interests. There is no question of Members of the House being compelled to supply inappropriate private or personal information. Rather, the proposal is that Members of the Lords should register only those interests that may reasonably be thought to affect the public perception of the way in which they discharge their parliamentary duties (Neill recommendation 5). Thus Neill recommendation 4 need not mean that a mandatory register in the Lords would contain the same amount of detail now to be found in , say, the House of Commons register of interests. The nature of the House of Lords, the absence of allegations of abuse of office by Members of the House, and the test of proportionality all suggest that the extensive guidance governing the Commons' register would not be needed in the Lords.

      22.  The Neill Committee has summarised the arguments in favour of keeping the present voluntary status of category 3 as follows:

      —  the current register works well and there have been no complaints;

      —  Members of the House are unsalaried and part-time, and it would be unduly burdensome and intrusive to require Members who may attend only infrequently to provide a comprehensive list of their interests;

      —  some Members of the House will be deterred from participating if compelled to register their interests, and potential candidates for peerages might be deterred from accepting peerages;

      —  mandatory registration could make Members less careful to declare their interests;

      —  there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure that Members act in accordance with a mandatory register;

      —  mandatory registration might lead to politically-motivated allegations of failure to register.

      23.  The arguments in favour of a compulsory category 3 are summarised by the Neill Committee as follows:

      —  there is a growing culture and public expectation of openness in public life and the House of Lords is an important part of public life;

      —  the Lords is one part of a bi-cameral legislature and should adopt principles of openness similar to those adopted by the other Chamber and by other public bodies;

      —  the very fact that the Lords is unsalaried reinforces the need for a compulsory register since there is a greater likelihood that Members will have substantial outside interests;

      —  it would partly overcome the problem of voting with an undeclared interest;

      —  it would remove the inconsistency and uncertainty created by the present register where the absence of an entry can be construed as either absence of interests or a decision not to disclose relevant interests;

      —  it would provide a protection for Members of the House.

      24.  Weighing these arguments demands careful judgment. We have examined the arguments closely and at length. We believe that it is unlikely that unanimity of opinion on them would be reached in any large assembly. In recent years the public has shown a growing interest in the House. We believe that the House must take the steps necessary to demonstrate to those outside the House that the highest standards of conduct are being maintained. We are also concerned to protect the House against possible suspicions of secretiveness or wrongdoing. All Members of the House must be aware of a degree of public disillusionment about Parliament. We believe that these arguments lead to the conclusion that the balance of advantage supports a mandatory register of relevant interests. We have reached this conclusion unanimously. We believe that the House should be invited to endorse our conclusion.

      Neill Recommendation 5: The test of "relevant interest" for registration under category (3) should be whether the interest may reasonably be thought to affect the public perception of the way in which a member of the House of Lords discharges his or her parliamentary duties.

      Neill Recommendation 6: Category (3) should cover both financial and non-financial interests and such interests should be distinguished in the lay-out of the Register.

      Neill Recommendation 7: The Register should be supplemented by brief written guidance setting out a list of those interests which clearly fall within the test of "relevant interest".

      Neill Recommendation 8: A member of the House of Lords who registers a relevant financial interest under category (3) should not be required to disclose in the Register the remuneration derived from that interest.

      25.  If the House accepts Neill recommendation 4 that the registration of all relevant interests should be made mandatory, the question arises: what constitutes a relevant interest? The existing category 3 test in the House of Lords is subjective: it is left to individual Members of the House to decide.[20] As a result, the existing test has been criticised as loose, uncertain and inconsistent.[21] Neill recommendation 5 puts forward a more objective test, measured against what could reasonably be thought to affect public perception of how a Member carries out his parliamentary duties. This new test is intended by the Neill Committee to build on the firm foundations of the existing rules on conduct.[22] We agree with Neill recommendation 5 and with the new definition of relevant interest.

      26.   We have listed in the proposed code of conduct in Annex 1 the interests that we believe are so fundamental to the public perception of the way in which Members discharge their parliamentary duties that, whenever the new definition of relevant interest is applied, these interests will always be found to be clearly registrable (paragraphs 11 and 14 of the code). Some of these interests were suggested by the Neill Committee,[23] others are to be found in the House's 1995 resolutions; and in most cases we have been able to agree unanimously that they fall clearly within the test of relevant interest. However, in the case of some interests, we have been able to decide only by a majority vote[24] that the interests are clearly registrable. In the code these disputed interests are indicated by square brackets. The House itself must determine the category into which these various interests fall.

      27.  There are other interests that in our opinion may or may not satisfy the new test of relevant interest, depending on the significance of the interest. These less clearly registrable interests are listed in paragraphs 12 and 15 of the proposed code.

      28.  The lists that we have set out in the proposed code of conduct would still leave to a Member's discretion, applying the objective test, whether or not to register an interest not listed in the code. We would anticipate that in most cases Members of the House will already have reached under the subjective test the same conclusions about what to register as the public would reach under the objective test. So there should not be any great new rush to add to the list of interests already registered.

      29.  In applying the objective test, Members of the House must have guidance. Neill recommendation 7 proposes that there should be set out, in brief written guidance supplementing the Register, a list of interests which fall clearly within the test of "relevant interest". We believe that it would be handier for Members if an initial list is also included in the code of conduct itself. The House should be invited to accept Neill recommendation 7 with this modification. Our proposed code of conduct includes lists of relevant interests and makes it clear that category 3 should cover both financial and non-financial interests (Neill recommendation 6). A Member of the House who registers a relevant financial interest under category 3 is not obliged (under Neill recommendation 8) to disclose any remuneration derived from that interest. We agree. But a majority of us[25] also believes that Members should be able to do so if they wish. The House should be invited to accept Neill recommendations 6 and 8, and to consider our amendment to 8.

      Neill Recommendation 9: The mandatory Register should apply to all members of the House of Lords.

      Neill Recommendation: Rules on private financial interests akin to those in the Ministerial Code should not be applied to opposition spokesmen and women.

      30.  The present register of interests applies equally to all Members of the House. The Neill Committee considered whether any category of Member should be exempted from the requirement to register relevant interests, for example bishops or law lords. The evidence from Members of the House was greatly in favour of treating all Members equally.[26] We can find no reason why this principle should not apply to a mandatory register, so that all Members of the House (including bishops and law lords) would be required to disclose relevant interests (Neill recommendation 9). Neill recommendation 10 does not change the present regulatory regime. The House should be invited to accept both recommendations.

      Neill Recommendation 11: Members of the House of Lords should continue to be allowed to hold parliamentary consultancies, subject to the existing prohibition on paid advocacy.

      Neill Recommendation 12: The guidance on the operation of category (2) should be amended. It should be made clear that the requirement to register is not confined only to those members with interests in lobbying firms, narrowly defined.

      Neill Recommendation 13: The guidance on the operation of category (2) should also be amended so as to make it clear that members who register under that category should refrain from participating in parliamentary business only when that business relates to their own personal clients.

      Neill Recommendation 14: A member of the House of Lords who has an agreement for a consultancy or any similar arrangement under category (1) should deposit a copy of that agreement with the Registrar of Lords' Interests.

      Neill Recommendation 15: The House of Lords should ensure that deposited agreements and details as to the remuneration derived from parliamentary services under category (1) be made available for public inspection.

      31.  The present regulatory regime on disclosure of interests imposes an absolute ban on paid advocacy, but permits parliamentary consultancy agreements (mandatory registration under category 1) and also financial interests in businesses engaged in parliamentary lobbying (mandatory registration under category 2). Neill recommendation 11 proposes no change in this regard.

      32.  Neill recommendation 12 is intended to make clear that category 2 applies not only to those Members with financial interests in commercial lobbying businesses but also other types of professional firms (law, accountancy, management, etc) involved in parliamentary lobbying. So all Members with an interest in any lobbying business and not just "public affairs" or "political consultancy" firms must register. This clarification does not involve a matter of principle, although it may have the effect of drawing more Members of the House into the ambit of category 2.

      33.  Neill recommendation 13 clarifies the scope of category 2. Are Members of the House who are directors or employees of parliamentary lobbying firms forbidden to participate in parliamentary proceedings on issues relating to all clients of the firm or only those clients with whom the Member has a direct professional relationship? Neill recommendation 13 makes it clear that the prohibition relates only to Members' own personal clients. This clarification has already been included in the foreword to the latest Register of Lords' Interests, published in March 2001, and we have also included it in our proposed code of conduct.

      34.  The House should be invited to agree to Neill recommendations 11 to 13.

      35.  Neill recommendations 14 (copy of consultancy to be deposited) and 15 (remuneration from parliamentary services to be disclosed) are intended to reassure the public about parliamentary consultancies. Members who have an agreement registrable under category 1 would be required to deposit a copy of the agreement with the Registrar of Lords' Interests; and the agreements and details of remuneration would be made available for public inspection.

      36.  We were all agreed on Neill recommendation 14, but some Members of our Group[27] dissented strongly from Neill recommendation 15, which would require disclosure of remuneration derived from parliamentary services under category 1 of the 1995 resolutions. Those who supported Neill recommendation 15 took the view that category 1 interests were so significant that total transparency was essential to reassure the public that Members' conduct was beyond reproach. Those who disagreed took the view that the limits on the parliamentary activity of those with interests in category 1 were so restrictive that the amount of money derived from those services was not relevant. We were not able to reconcile these differences. We concluded by a majority[28] that the House should be invited to agree to Neill recommendation 15, so that remuneration from a parliamentary consultancy should be made available for public inspection.

      37.  We do not however believe that it would be necessary to print the details of consultancies and remuneration in the register. They should be available on request.

      Neill Recommendation 16: The House of Lords should reconsider the existing induction arrangements for new members of the House with a view to providing more detailed guidance about the scope and operation of the conduct rules.

      Neill Recommendation 17: The general advice of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests on the application of the guidance on the declaration and registration of interests should be reported, through the Committee for Privileges, to the House.

      Neill Recommendation 18: Members should be encouraged to raise in the first instance any allegation about breaches of the rules in a private communication with the member about whom the complaint is made.

      Neill Recommendation 19: Thereafter, if the complaining member chooses to pursue the matter, that member should, in accordance with the Griffiths Committee's recommendation, refer the allegation directly to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, through its Chairman.

      Neill Recommendation 20: The Committee sees no need for the appointment of a standing Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in the House of Lords but recommends that the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests should be able, in appropriate cases, to appoint an ad hoc investigator.

      Neill Recommendation 21: The Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests should continue to be responsible for the adjudication of allegations relating to the conduct of members.

      Neill Recommendation 22: In serious cases, the procedures adopted should meet the "minimum requirements of fairness" set out by the Nicholls Committee for such cases.

      Neill Recommendation 23: A member of the House of Lords who receives an adverse ruling from the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests should have a right of appeal to the Committee for Privileges.

      38.  These eight recommendations relate to compliance with the rules on disclosure. The present system of compliance has the virtue of simplicity. There is an induction procedure at which the rules can be explained to new Members. There is an authoritative source of advice: the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Registrar. There is machinery for investigating alleged breaches, namely, the Sub-committee on Lords' Interests appointed by the Privileges Committee. There is an adjudication procedure vested in the Sub-Committee. As explained above, this system has never been applied because there have been no allegations of non-compliance since it was established in 1995.

      39.  The Neill Committee detected in the evidence given to them by Members of the House a desire for the present induction procedures to be improved in order to give Members more detailed guidance.[29] Although the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests has rarely met, it seems desirable that any general advice it gives on interpretation of the rules should be available both inside the House and outside.

      40.  Neill recommendation 18 poses a difficult issue relating to fair play and good manners, which are traditional strengths of the House of Lords. It seems desirable both as a courtesy and out of fairness that a complainant should raise any concern about another Member's behaviour with the individual concerned before taking the complaint to anyone else. The moment a complaint is made officially, it is likely to be in the public domain and could cause great damage to the accused, who might never have been given a chance to explain himself, and who might be the victim of politically-motivated malice. An accused Member should have a chance to explain himself in private before being accused in public. On the other hand, to oblige a Member in every case to raise a complaint about another Member's behaviour directly with that individual might discourage complaints from being made at all. There is a difficult balance to strike. We have also considered whether potential complainants should be able to seek advice on whether their complaint was relevant before having to confront the Member who they believed was behaving improperly. Many Members of the House would wish to consult their party Leader or Chief Whip, or the Convenor of the Cross Benches. We believe that they should be able to do so.

      41.  We have concluded that any allegation about breaches of the rules should normally be raised first with the Member complained against. However, there may be circumstances[30] when it is more appropriate to raise the matter first with a party Leader or Chief Whip, or the Convenor of the Cross Benches.

      42.  Once a complaint has been lodged, the next step is preliminary investigation to decide whether it should be proceeded with. In order to reduce the possibility of unfairness to the accused Member, the Griffiths Committee recommended that any complaint should go directly to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests. The matter should not be raised on the floor of the House. Neill recommendation 19 endorses this procedure and we believe that the House should retain it.

      43.  At present, if an allegation of failure to disclose an interest is made, the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests undertakes the investigation and adjudication. The Neill Committee has concluded that the House of Lords does not need a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, but has recommended (in Neill recommendation 20) that in complex or sensitive cases the Sub-Committee should be able to have the assistance of an ad hoc independent investigator. We believe that this is a valuable suggestion and we have considered who this investigator might be. We have concluded that it would not be appropriate to appoint someone from outside the House. We recommend that three Members with relevant knowledge (drawn possibly from among retired Law Lords or other legally qualified Members) should be nominated as a standing panel of possible investigators and the Sub-Committee could then choose one of them to investigate any case which might arise. The advantage of such a standing panel is that the machinery would already be in place should it ever prove necessary for the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests to investigate a complaint against a Member. The continuing existence of the panel would also help to reassure the public. It is implicit in this suggestion that we agree with Neill recommendation 21 and we recommend the House to endorse it. We believe that there should be a general presumption that the meetings of the Sub-Committee will be public (except for private deliberation); but if the Sub-Committee wishes on occasions to keep its meetings secret, it should be entitled to do so, provided it reports the reasons to the House.

      44.  In dealing with parliamentary privilege and disciplinary proceedings against Members, the Nicholls Committee[31] proposed important minimum requirements of procedural fairness for the accused Member:

      —  a prompt and clear statement of the precise allegations against the member;

      —  adequate opportunity to take legal advice and have legal assistance throughout;

      —  the opportunity to be heard in person;

      —  the opportunity to call relevant witnesses at the appropriate time;

      —  the opportunity to examine other witnesses;

      —  the opportunity to attend meetings at which evidence is given, and to receive transcripts of evidence.

      45.  These are important safeguards not only for Members but for Parliament itself. As the Nicholls report has pointed out, proceedings in Parliament may fall within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, and if the procedures adopted by Parliament when exercising its disciplinary powers are not fair, the proceedings may be challenged.[32] The Neill Committee recommends the adoption of these minimum requirements in serious cases of alleged misconduct. We would go further. To allay any worries that Members of the House may have in agreeing to the Neill Committee recommendations, we suggest that these procedural safeguards should apply to all investigations into alleged failures to disclose relevant interests in the House of Lords. The House should be invited to endorse our suggestion on Neill recommendation 22.

      46.  Procedural fairness also requires a right of appeal. The appeal must be to a tribunal that has not participated in the investigation and adjudication. We agree with Neill recommendation 23 that a Member of the House who receives an adverse ruling from the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests should have a right of appeal to the Privileges Committee (excluding any members who were members of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests). We believe that the House would be keen to endorse this recommendation. The Privileges Committee should always report to the House the outcome of any findings by the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests and of any appeal to it from those findings.

      47.  We recommend that the House be invited to endorse Neill recommendations 16 to 23 with the modifications we have set out above.

    Conclusion

      48.  We believe, in most cases unanimously but in some cases by a majority, that the House should be invited to endorse the Neill Committee's recommendations as indicated in this report. The points of disagreement among Members of the Group are indicated in square brackets in the proposed code of conduct printed at Annex 1.

    ARCHER OF SANDWELL

    WILLIAMS OF MOSTYN (Chairman)

    ELTON

    HAMWEE

    KINGSLAND

    WRIGHT OF RICHMOND

    10 April 2001


    1   Hansard, col WA 133. Back

    2   L. Archer of Sandwell, L. Elton, B. Hamwee, L. Kingsland, L. Williams of Mostyn (Chairman), L. Wright of Richmond. Back

    3   Cm 4903-I. The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life at the time of its report on the House of Lords was Lord Neill of Bladen QC. We use the term "the Neill Committee" as a convenient short way of referring to it. The first chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life was Lord Nolan, a Lord of Appeal. The present chairman (since 1 March 2001) is Sir Nigel Wicks. Back

    4   Paragraph 1.7. Back

    5   The Neill Committee noted that the Sub-Committee had met only twice. The Sub-Committee met again in November 2000, after the Neill Committee had reported. Back

    6   The Sub-Committee was appointed to consider the practice of the House in relation to financial and other interests of Members, and in particular the case for a register of interests. The Sub-Committee reported in July 1995: Procedure Committee, 3rd report, 1994-95, HL Paper 90. Back

    7   Examples of such interests are given later in the resolution and are repeated in paragraph 4.64 of the Companion to the Standing Orders. They include the interest of a relation or friend, hospitality or gifts received, trusteeship, and unpaid membership of an interested organisation. Back

    8   See Companion, paragraph 4.61. Back

    9   See, for example, the evidence of the Clerk of the Parliaments to the Neill Committee, Vol 2, question 796. Back

    10   eg Saskatchewan (1993), Tasmania (1996), the United Kingdom House of Commons (1996), New South Wales (1998), the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies (1999-2000). Similar developments have taken place in the professions and business sector, eg the Greenbury Group on directors' remuneration and the Hempel Committee on corporate governance. Back

    11   This point was made by the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, chaired by Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead (1999): HL Paper 43¸I (1998-99). In our report we refer to the Joint Committee as the "Nicholls Committee". Back

    12   Lord Strathclyde described these differences to the Neill Committee: QQ 2430-2438. Back

    13   Paragraphs 378-379. Back

    14   Standards in Public Life, Cm 2850 (May 1995), paragraph 7. Back

    15   In footnote 1 to paragraph 5 of Annex 1 (proposed code of conduct). Although Members of the House of Lords are not in the strict sense holders of public office, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has always understood its terms of reference to include them (see paragraphs 1.1 to 1.5 of the Neill Committee's report). Back

    16   See footnote 2 to paragraph 6. Back

    17   Nicholls Report, paragraph 272. Back

    18   Except of course for the bishops, who retire from their sees on reaching the age of seventy, and then cease to be Members of the House. Membership of the House may be changed by statute, for example, the House of Lords Act 1999. Back

    19   Neill Committee report, paragraph 2.26. Back

    20   See the terms of category 3 set out at paragraph 6(c) above. Back

    21   See, for example, the comments of Members of the House quoted in paragraph 5.46 of the Neill Committee report. Back

    22   Neill Committee report, paragraph 5.47. Back

    23   Paragraph 5.55. Back

    24   L. Archer of Sandwell, B. Hamwee, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. Wright of Richmond. Back

    25   L. Archer of Sandwell, B. Hamwee, L. Williams of Mostyn, L. Wright of Richmond. Back

    26   Neill Committee report, paragraphs 5.60-5.62. Back

    27   L. Elton, L. Kingsland. Back

    28   L. Archer of Sandwell, B. Hamwee, L.Williams of Mostyn, L. Wright of Richmond. Back

    29   Neill Committee report, paragraph 7.22. Back

    30   For example, if the complainant is a member of the general public. Back

    31   See paragraph 11 above, footnote 1. Back

    32   Nicholls Committee report, paragraph 284. Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001