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

Annex 2

Letter from Lord Elton and Lord Kingsland to the Leader of the House of Lords

  We thought it important that we explain the background to our reservations about parts of the proposed Code of Conduct. The Code is attached to the Chairman's report to you on the recommendations of the Neill Committee on Standards of Conduct in the House of Lords.

  We begin from premises endorsed by the Neill Report and supported by the Chairman's Report: that there are distinct differences between the House of Lords and the House of Commons as legislative bodies; that there is no lack of public confidence in standards of conduct and no evidence of wrongdoing in the House; and that Peers have had, and will continue to have, the sense of honour and public duty to behave in accordance with the long standing principles of public life that are defined by Lord Neill.

  In our discussions in the Leader's Committee and with other Peers—and also in much of the evidence presented to the Neill Committee—there has been broad support for the fact that the existence of outside interests and knowledge is one of the great strengths of what remains an unpaid, part-time legislative body. The House is not comprised of professional, full-time politicians: it is comprised of people of independence and experience, of all parties and of no party.

  We do not believe that a sense that there might, in future, be wrongdoing justifies bringing in, now, the kind of Code that has been introduced in the House of Commons. We note, moreover, that the existence of such a Code has failed to enhance the standing of another place. Indeed, a habit of mutual denunciation is emerging, in which suspicion is cast on all outside interests; and the dignity of another place correspondingly undermined. We would not wish to journey down that route.

  We believe significant and relevant interests should be registered and, where appropriate mentioned in debate. We endorse the Neill Committee's and the Chairman's view on that score. But, in our view, parts of the proposed Code of Conduct, itself, are disproportionately intrusive, failing to strike an appropriate balance between what is legitimately made public, to reinforce public confidence, and what is legitimately private. Accordingly, we propose the following changes:

        In paragraph 11, in the second part of the first tiree (bullet point), omit the words: "and the remuneration received by Members for advice in relation to parliamentary matters." Although this addition was recommended by Neill, the position is that the rules of the House of Lords are—and have long been—exceedingly restrictive on this score. Peers with interests of this type can neither speak, nor vote, on related issues. In our view there can be no justification for infringing the confidentiality of financial relationships where the rules of the House already prevent a Peer from exercising any influence whatsoever. The requirement is disproportionate to achieving the intended objective.

        In paragraphs 11 and 12: We believe that the list put forward by the Chairman's Report is too widely drawn and is disproportionate to achieving the intended objective. We therefore propose dividing interests into three categories—those connected with the provision of parliamentary services, those which are objectively clear and substantial and which the House should advise Peers to be relevant, and those which may potentially be relevant, but where the good sense of Peers and the Clerks can be relied on to strike a reasonable discretionary balance. We recommend this to the House as a sensible middle way that extends the ambit of the Register, as proposed by Lord Neill, without creating a climate of intrusiveness and an encouragement to engage in fishing expeditions.

  These recommendations would be reflected by the following drafting:

Relevant financial interests

  (i)   Relevant financial interests connected with the provision of Parliamentary services include parliamentary consultancies, receiving payment for advice in relation to parliamentary issues, and employment or other financial interests in businesses involved in parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients, including public relations, accountancy and law firms. Members are obliged to refrain from speaking or voting on any matter connected with the provision of parliamentary services. However, Members of the House involved with organisations that offer commercial lobbying services are not obliged to refrain from participating in parliamentary business in connection with all clients of that organisation, but only their personal clients. All Members of the House must:

    —  Register in the Register of Lords' Interests any consultancy agreement under which they provide parliamentary advice or services

    —  Deposit a copy of any such consultancy agreement, excluding levels of remuneration, with the Registrar of Lords' Interests so that it is available for public inspection

    —  Register any financial interest in a parliamentary lobbying business

  (ii)   Other relevant financial interests are:

    —  Remunerated directorships and partnerships

    —  Remunerated employment (excluding occasional income from speeches, lecturing, broadcasting, journalism and writing)

    —  Provision by an outside body of secretarial and research assistance

    —  Any remunerated service which Members of the House may provide by virtue of their position as Members

  (iii)   In addition, relevant financial interests may also include:

    —  Significant shareholdings

    —  Significant landholdings (other than Members' homes)

    —  Any other financial interests or inducement, which might reasonably be thought to influence a Member of the House.

  In paragraph 13 we would omit the otiose words ("but they may do so if they wish")

  The Neill Committee was explicit in its recommendations that the quantum of interests need not be declared for parliamentary consultancies. We agree with their view. We think it would be a mistake to add guidance to the Code of Conduct which might encourage some Peers to declare a quantum while others did not. This could lead to a misunderstanding that some Peers were concealing a quantum they should reveal. We therefore support Neill's view that the Register should not include quantities of income. Doubtless if some Peers wished to declare their income they could do so, either via a deposit of documents in the House of Lords library or on a web-site, We do not believe the Register should be used in this way.

  In paragraph 15 we would qualify the expression "other trusteeships" by expressly excluding trustees of family trusts.

11 April 2001

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