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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the stimulus from a VAT measure is immediate and benefits those with the highest propensity to consume, and we want to increase spending. The noble Lord appears to be
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this week.
The JSF is currently in the system development and demonstration phase. A decision will be made early in the new year on the purchase of aircraft to allow the UK to participate in the joint operational test and evaluation of JSF with the US services.
I am grateful for the Answer. When the Secretary of State made his recent announcement to defer the carriers, he made great play of aligning the timing of their introduction with that of the joint combat aircraft. Is the intention to equip the carriers with new aircraft from the outset, all other things being equal and the evaluation being satisfactory, or is it to run the Harriers on and involve them with the new carriers?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, raises an interesting question. The JSF aircraft were never going to be ready in time for the aircraft carriers on the old timescale, and it is unlikely that they will be ready on the new timescale. It has always been the intention that the Harriers would be deployed on the aircraft carriers when they first came into service.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, does the Minister recall the pinch-point data recorded in the MoDs recent autumn performance report? It showed shortfalls approaching 49 per cent in junior Fleet Air Arm Harrier pilots and over 57 per cent in experienced RN Harrier instructors. Will this not seriously jeopardise the Fleet Air Arms ability to provide the fast jet command and leadership required to operate the full
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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: No, my Lords, we intend to have two carriers. There is pressure on the Harriers at present, which is one of the reasons why they will be replaced by Tornadoes in Afghanistan, to try to relieve the burden of continuous operational activity there.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we, too, send our condolences to the family and friends of Lieutenant Lewis, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan. Is the Minister aware of the Joint Strike Fighter joint estimate teams conclusion that the project is underfunded by up to $15 billion? In the light of that, can she confirm that the Government are urgently dusting off their plan B?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the forecasts of the costs of the programme to date have been pretty accurate. This country was asked to make an extra contribution to system design, but it was possible simply to reschedule our allocation and to reprofile the way in which we spent the money. Therefore, the UK contribution has not gone up, and that is a reason why it is right to have an incremental approach to this programme, and to many others, so that we are in command of all the facts when we decide to go to the next stage of investment.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, in view of the announced delays to the carrier programme and the uncertainties still surrounding the JSF programme, to which the Minister has referred, would this not provide an opportunity for a more fundamental reassessment of the air equipment to be assigned to the carriers, for example, to include the French Rafale?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the French Rafale was looked at as a possibility in the early days and ruled out. I do not think that there are uncertainties per se about JSF. So far it is on track. As I say, we are taking an incremental approach to investment. It will be a very significant step forward, because JSF will be fifth generation aircraft, which will have low observability, and in that respect it could provide a very important role.
Lord Addington: My Lords, can the Minister assure us regarding the concerns raised that US arms export controls will not allow sufficient transfer of technological information to allow us to use American aircraft independently? Can the Government assure us that this is not the case, and that if we take on these aircraft we will have the correct technical back-up to use them independently?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: Yes, my Lords. When we were in the process of agreeing the production, sustainment and follow-on development memorandum of understanding, these issues were taken into account. So far, we have had access to all the information that
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Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Baroness address the question that was implicit in the substantive question of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley? What will be done about the evident shortage of experienced pilots for these aeroplanes?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we have a programme for training pilots. We have made some significant progress, and the recent contract is being discussed to extend training. I think we can be confident that we will be using the best pilots possible in all of our fleet.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend the Lord President will repeat a Statement made in the other place, entitled Iraq. She will repeat the Statement at the end of the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, this Bill is the same as the Banking (No. 2) Bill, on which the House had a full debate on Tuesday. I will shortly move the Motion to withdraw that Bill. If these Motions are agreed to, all further consideration will take place on the Banking Bill.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House that as well as speaking to this Motion on the committees 3rd report of the last Session, I shall also speak to my second Motion and the 4th report, which is the more substantial of the two reports on the Order Paper.
First, I shall briefly comment on the 3rd report. It arose out of two complaints made against the noble Lord, Lord Warner, relating to the declaration of relevant interests in debate. The conclusions of the Committee for Privileges are, I hope, self-explanatory. We dismissed the complaints and agreed unanimously that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, had not acted improperly in breach of the Houses Code of Conduct. However, we also felt that the complaints had highlighted two significant gaps in the guidance currently available to noble Lords: first, whether they are required to declare future interests in debate; and, secondly, whether, and if so how often, declarations of relevant interests should be repeated in the course of proceedings on Bills. Our conclusions are as follows.
First, we believe that Members should, where there is a clear prospect of a future interest, declare that interest in debate. This is essential so that both participants in and readers of the debate can gauge the interests that might be thought to affect the actions of the Member concerned. In making this recommendation, we are simply reinstating guidance previously agreed by the House in 1990 and 1995, which applied until superseded by the present Code of Conduct in 2001. I should emphasise that we are talking only about declarations of interest in debate; we do not believe that any requirement to register future interests would be workable or appropriate.
Secondly, we believe that it would assist Members and the general public if the principles governing the need to repeat declarations were clarified. We suggest that constant repetition of declarations of interests would be time-consuming and futile. A balance has to be struck. We therefore recommend that, as a minimum, a declaration of any interests relevant to a particular Bill should be made on the occasion of the first intervention at each stage of the Bills progress. If
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Members will be aware that the Code of Conduct, agreed in 2001, is couched in very broad terms. Although paragraph 19 of the code sets out some key principles concerning the examination of complaints against Members for alleged breaches, it provides no detail on how investigations should be conducted. Consequently, neither complainants nor noble Lords against whom complaints have been made have up until now been able to refer to any guidance as to how the process works or what their rights and expectations are. Nor has the Sub-Committee on Lords Interests, on which responsibility for examining complaints falls, been able to draw on agreed procedural guidelines to assist it in its work.
Until recently, none of this really matteredto put it bluntly, there were no complaints against noble Lords, so there was no need for a detailed description of the procedures for dealing with them. However, as we are all aware, times have changed. We live in a world of media scrutiny, transparency, freedom of information, and a complaints culture that affects all walks of life. The House of Lords is not immune from these influences.
Hitherto we have, in practice, relied on successive chairmen of the Sub-Committee on Lords Interests to take a heavy personal responsibility for dealing with complaints as they saw fit. Here, I pay tribute to all those chairmen and, in particular, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who has chaired the sub-committee since 2006 and has presided over a period in which the number and complexity of complaints have increased substantially. I have always thought that one of the great strengths of this House is that we manage without having an overly complex set of rules and procedures. That we have done so has been down in no small measure to the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and his predecessors.
However, as I have already said, times change, and in the past year or two it has become increasingly obvious that the general principles in the code need to be supplemented by more detailed guidance, giving Members of the House, potential complainants and the general public a clear and accessible source of information on how we deal with complaints, on the rights of those concerned in complaints, and on the range of possible outcomes.
The Committee for Privileges therefore set up a working group in July, composed of myself, the Leaders of the three main parties and the Convenor, to bring forward proposals for new guidelines. The group, which was assisted by the Clerk of the Parliaments, reported back to the main committee in November, and the conclusions of both the working group and the committee are embodied in the 4th report now before the House.
I shall not take up the time of the House by going through the report in detail. The content is self-explanatory and I hope that all noble Lords will take the time to
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In conclusion, we need a process for considering complaints that is clear and workable, but reasonable and proportionate, and which respects the Houses tradition of self-regulation. We believe that these proposals fit the bill. They are consistent with the terms of the existing code of conduct, which sets out the fundamental principles governing conduct of Members. There is no attempt here to change any of these principles. We are concerned with how to clarify the way in which they are implemented in practice. We have to ensure that noble Lords against whom complaints are made are aware of their rights, and able to exercise them, while at the same time the legitimate expectations of the general public are respected.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I am concerned about aspects of the 3rd report. My concerns do not centre on the reports recommendations in the case of my noble friend Lord Warner, but on the proposal in the report to incorporate in future editions of the Companion new wording set out in paragraph 2 on page 6 of the report. It reads:
On certain occasions, such as Oral Questions and the stages of a Bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Members should not take up time by making repeated declarations of interest. In particular, during a Committee or Report stage, constant repetition of declarations of interest is unnecessary. But a full declaration of any interests relevant to a Bill should be made at least on the occasion of the first intervention at each stage of the Bills progress
in other words, at the start of Committee stage, the start of Report stage or the start of Third Reading. In essence, that wording is taken from a resolution of the House in November 1995, which states:
On certain occasions such as Starred Questions and the various stages of a bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Lords should not take up time by repeating declarations of interest but Lords should make a declaration whenever they are in doubt. The nature of the interest should be made clear notwithstanding that it may be well known to most other Lords present in the Chamber.
In 2000, a recommendation was made by the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life that the House should adopt seven principles on conduct in public life, along with a code of conduct for Members. In 2001, before my time, the then Leader of the HouseI think the noble Baroness, Lady Jayestablished a Leaders group which, in April 2001, recommended that many of the Neill committees recommendations
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The committee wisely resisted incorporating those words in the code of conduct. Yet seven years later, the Privileges Committee is recommending that the words be incorporated on the basis that they are tightening up and removing ambiguity.
I believe that the effect will be the reverse. The inclusion of those words is an open invitation to some Members to make use of the new wording, on occasions, to avoid making subsequent declarations when a declaration has been made earlierto a lesser extent at Question Timeand far more importantly, it would enable some Members to avoid making declarations on specific amendments in Committee or on Report or at Third Reading where a pecuniary interest is particularly pertinent to an amendment. The idea that at the commencement of Committee, Report or Third Reading such a declaration is sufficient, when the Long Title is vague or remote, is ludicrous. The Long Title of a Bill may in the perception of the public fail to indicate any connection with the nature of the amendment. I shall give an elementary example. Let us take a local government (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and an amendment that deals with late-night café opening where a pecuniary interest might be involved. There is clearly no identifiable connection between the two. I recognise that most Members of the House are scrupulous in the declarations that they make, but some are not. I believe that a specific amendment where there is a pecuniary interest must carry with it a declaration. The House cannot tolerate a failure to make a clear declaration on amendments where there is a pecuniary interest as defined under the code.
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