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2.59 pm

Asked By Lord Ahmed

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, other than press reports, the UK Government do not possess information about whom the Israeli Government have called up to serve in the Israel Defence Forces or the Israeli Defence Reserves, including any dual nationals. Only the Israeli Government would have this information.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. He referred to the press reports in the Sun, the Daily Mirror and the Guardian that British citizens have been serving in Gaza. Is he aware that there is a lot of evidence from Amnesty International, UNRWA and many media reports that international law has been broken and war crimes committed in Gaza? Will he assure the House that if British citizens have been involved in breaking the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention or committing war crimes, they will be prosecuted on their return? Will he also assure the House that no one will escape prosecution if they breach the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention, as Major-General Doron Almog did in September 2005?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that this House shares the concern that war crimes may have been committed. A number of investigations are now under way. The Human Rights Council last week established different mechanisms to investigate these allegations. We need to wait until these investigations are complete before we can decide what steps, if any, are necessary. I am not sure that it is right to distinguish between British nationals and others. Anybody who has broken the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention deserves to meet justice in some court or another.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, is the Minister aware, and is he not concerned, that every summer many Jewish school children from this country go to Israel for military and citizenship training by the Education and Youth Corps of the IDF?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I was not aware of that, but those who are dual nationals and who carry Israeli passports—perfectly understandably, given the situation of Israel—do make a commitment to do

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national service. That is part of the requirement of Israeli citizenship. As to those who are solely UK nationals, it is very unlikely that any of them would have been serving in the recent operations.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, in certain cases, Britain allows people of dual citizenship and even non-citizens to serve in our forces. Does my noble friend agree that, as Israel is a country with immigrants of many nationalities, it is inevitable that its defence forces will include people who retain the citizenship of their country of origin, including our own? Does he agree that we should be proud of our citizens who fought against the terrorist organisation bent on the destruction of a sovereign and democratic state?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as so often with my noble friend, I was with him until half way through the question. There is a marked difference between the Israeli forces undertaking action against a terrorist organisation and action taken against another state. The Act that governs this is the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, which makes it an offence for a British subject without licence from Her Majesty to enlist in the Armed Forces of a foreign state at war with another foreign state which is at peace with the UK. Clearly, that does not govern this situation. Regarding dual nationals, it has never been suggested that someone who also holds an Israeli passport should not meet the obligations of citizenship in that country, which include military service.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, do we not need to look again at the 1870 Act? In the light of the huge number of dual citizens in this country, including a great many from Pakistan, and the number of citizens from other Commonwealth countries—3,000 Fijians and 1,000 people from Caribbean countries serving in the British Armed Forces—perhaps we need to look at this sensitive area again.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. This has raised important issues, and we need to look at them.

Arrangement of Business


3.05 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the House will be aware that I have allowed a Private Notice Question by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to the Leader of the House on recent allegations concerning certain Members of the House. It may be helpful for noble Lords to know that two Private Notice Questions on these issues were submitted, one by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and one by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. After discussion with the parties concerned, I would suggest that it might be convenient for the House if the supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, were followed immediately by a supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The Leader of the House could then reply to both supplementary questions before questions from other noble Lords.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, further to the remarks by the Lord Speaker, I suspect that a number of noble Lords will wish to ask questions to my noble friend the Lord President because of the special importance of this issue to the House. The Companion tells us that proceedings on a Private Notice Question are expected to take not more than 10 minutes. If at the end of this 10-minute period a significant number of noble Lords still wish to intervene, I suggest that we make a maximum of a further five minutes available on this occasion. I remind the House that proceedings on PNQs follow the rules for Oral Questions. Supplementary questions should be brief and confined to not more than two points.

Separately, but also importantly, I alert the House to a change of the business advertised for tomorrow. The list of speakers for the important Gaza debate now stands at 40. As it is last business tomorrow and may not start until perhaps 8 pm, or perhaps even 9 pm, we have decided that it is better to allow a crucial debate more time rather than squeeze Back-Bench contributions or sit well into the early hours. The earliest opportunity for us to reschedule the debate is next Friday 6 February, which had been planned to be a non-sitting day.

House of Lords: Conduct of Members

Private Notice Question

3.07 pm

Tabled By Lord Strathclyde

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, a number of allegations were published yesterday in relation to Members of this House. I am deeply concerned about these allegations, and this concern is shared across the House and beyond. Since then, I have referred these allegations to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests. The chair of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has agreed to expedite the investigation into these allegations. Indeed, the committee has already met, and investigations are under way.

I have separately asked the chairman of the Committee for Privileges, the Chairman of Committees the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, to consider any issues relating to the rules of the House that arise, especially in connection with consultancy arrangements, and in connection with sanctions in the event that a complaint against a Member is upheld.

I am also seeing personally each of the Members concerned.

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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, this is a deeply shocking and depressing moment. This House has been mired in a grim torrent of criticism about a culture of sleaze. Does the Leader of the House agree that, if these allegations are true, those involved have shamed this House and must comply with whatever action the House asks of them, including taking a period of absence?

There are no grey areas in the paid advocacy rule. The code says:

“Members of the House ... must never accept any financial inducement ... for exercising parliamentary influence”,

and goes on to say that Members,

It could not be clearer.

The inquiry that the noble Baroness has announced must be rigorous and swift, so we can find out what happened as soon as possible. Will she confirm that any noble Lord involved in these allegations need not wait for the results of the inquiry to come to the House to make a Personal Statement and accept responsibility for any misjudgment or wrongdoing? If the stories are true, would they not be well advised to do so?

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I was a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life at the time of our report in 2000 on the standards of conduct in the House of Lords. The committee accepted the views of a number of prominent Members of your Lordships’ House, including the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the leaders in this House of my party and of the Labour Party, that naming and shaming by a report of the Committee for Privileges was an adequate sanction. Does the Leader of the House agree that the committee got it wrong and that we should have recommended tougher sanctions? Does she also agree that to restore the standing of your Lordships’ House we need to adopt and apply further sanctions for future breaches of rules of conduct, including suspension and possibly, in extreme cases, even expulsion from your Lordships' House?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the allegations are indeed deeply shocking; but they are, at this moment in time, allegations. This is damaging not only to this House but also to Parliament and to politics itself. We in this House have a responsibility to adhere to high standards, and we have to ensure that we adhere to those high standards in order to ensure that there is trust in the whole of our parliamentary process. I am pleased, as I said, to know that a rigorous and swift enquiry is already under way, and I am sure that the committee will deliberate on these issues as soon as it can. As for Personal Statements, that is a matter for the individuals concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, mentioned sanctions. I wholeheartedly agree that tougher sanctions are necessary. That is precisely why I have written to the chairman of the Committee for Privileges asking him to review these matters. I am confident that that will be taken forward swiftly also.

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, this Chamber has undoubtedly become more professional and more effective in the past decade or so, and that necessarily calls for

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greater accountability in governance and in regulation. Does the Leader of the House agree that a full programme of measures, with specific attention to sanctions, should now be drawn up and implemented very shortly?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, I believe that all the rules pertaining to the complaints procedure, and indeed the issue of sanctions, need to be looked at. I am confident that that is what the chairman of the Committee for Privileges will do.

Lord Snape: My Lords, as one of those involved in this incident, may I first apologise to your Lordships for bringing this House—if I have done so—into disrepute? However, these are allegations in a Sunday newspaper. I appeal to noble Lords in all parts of the House to allow me the opportunity to refute those allegations before your Lordships’ House and elsewhere.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, I reiterate what has been said—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I wonder if we could just allow the Leader to respond to each question.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s intervention and note what he says.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, as one of those named in this article which alleges that I have committed an error, I most humbly apologise if I have done anything that has brought this House into disrepute. However, as my noble friend said, a committee of inquiry will take place. I would love to give evidence before that committee. I feel within my own conscience that I have followed the rules and the directions given in this House over the 31 years that I have been a Member.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I note the comments made by my noble friend. I know that the committee will undertake its procedure swiftly and justly.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the committee as set up have power to subpoena witnesses if necessary? If we are to have a really thorough enquiry, we need to make sure that we can establish the underlying issues at stake.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not know whether the committee can subpoena witnesses but it can invite witnesses to appear before it.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that although I was not named in yesterday’s articles in the Sunday Times, I was approached by the undercover journalists in question? I hope she is aware that this morning I therefore wrote to the noble Baroness,

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Lady Prashar, to say that I feel it would be appropriate to give evidence to any inquiry which the sub-committee might conduct. I am confident that I did not breach any of the House’s rules, nor did I offer to do so, but I nevertheless think that it is important—as I was the subject of the journalists’ deception and attempted entrapment—that I be given the opportunity to be questioned by the sub-committee.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I was aware of the letter from my noble friend. I am sure that the whole House will welcome the action that he has taken.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has rightly said that the rules about paid advocacy could not be clearer. I wonder whether the Leader of the House can confirm—I am speaking not about this case but in general—that it is as bad for a Peer, for reward, to get another Peer to exercise influence over legislation as it is for the Peer him or herself to do so?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct. It would be absolutely against the rules of this House, and against any standards that we uphold, for a Peer to ask one of his or her fellow Peers to act in a way which is against the rules of this House.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, has the committee been asked to review the code of conduct in its entirety? It is very important that our rules are absolutely crystal clear. I also commend my noble friend for acting so swiftly, and agree with those who have said that it is important that we await the outcome of any review.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments from my noble friend. I have not asked the chairman of the Committee for Privileges to review the code of conduct in its entirety, but I will take up the issue. The views expressed in the House today have shown that that is what the House as a whole would wish to happen.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that while it may be necessary to revisit and review the code of conduct, especially as it relates to paid advocacy, and possibly to tighten and clarify the rules, it is not possible to draw any conclusions from possible breaches of the code of conduct about the route by which Members may come into this House? These are separate issues and ought to be kept distinct.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I shall have to read carefully the question from the noble Lord, but I think that he is right.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, does not this whole affair—with so much bad publicity over the weekend being transmitted all over the world; regardless of whether the allegations are proven or unproven—indicate that some aspects of self-regulation simply do

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not work, with the result that the House is being brought into disrepute? Should we not now be considering adopting the Nolan approach, which arose after a major scandal in the House of Commons, and appoint a commissioner for standards and privileges, as in the Commons? Is not the price we are paying for self-regulation the fact that our procedures prevent the Speaker of this House from intervening from the chair to demand higher standards and action to protect the integrity of this House? We need a rethink on the powers of both the Speaker and the Committee for Privileges.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, my noble friend is correct: the allegations and stories in the Sunday Times have in essence brought this House into disrepute in the whole of the world. We therefore have to take whatever actions are necessary to restore trust and confidence in this House. This is a good House. We have high standards and we have to ensure that they are properly adhered to. My noble friend has raised many other issues—wider issues which we have to take into consideration—but I do not believe that it would be proper for me to comment on them at this moment at the Dispatch Box.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is it not important that we should take this whole affair in stages? And is it not perfectly clear that first we have to establish the facts? Is it not also perfectly clear that what my noble friend has already announced are significant steps in the direction of establishing those facts? Therefore, does my noble friend agree that perhaps it is time to stop commenting on the basis of, “If these allegations are true, then so and so will happen”, and that we should let these investigations proceed? I hope they will proceed quickly and I hope they will be thorough.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree. The investigations are now in place. We have to let them run their course. I am confident that they will be rigorous and swift and then we will take whatever action is necessary.

Banking Bill

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