Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

As has been said, the House of Lords is a separate legislative body with quite different roles and procedures reflecting its scrutiny role. The body to be set up, admirable as it is, might not be the appropriate one to oversee the work and conduct of this House. That is doubly so, as noble Lords have already said, in view of the agreement reached yesterday by the authoritative House committee to set up its own external and independent review on allowances. In addition to that decision, the House has not been slow in setting up another body, the Leader’s group, thoroughly to review the code of conduct as it applies to the very different procedures of the House of Lords. The remit of those groups is to put forward options for the House committee to consider.

Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to convey a message from the Cross-Benches, at least, as to the desirability of seeking some kind of compromise solution whereby the parliamentary standards authority will receive reports from the House of Lords but not be directly involved in regulating it. I am somewhat encouraged in that view by the small but apparent contradiction in the Statement that although the tasks of this new body are clearly stated, it also includes the sentence:

“It is clear that extensive work and consultation will be necessary in order to ensure the agreement of the House of Lords to the effective transfer of responsibilities to the new body”.

I feel that to hand over regulation of this House may be too hasty and a precedent too far.

3.49 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the three noble Lords for their broad support for the Statement which I repeated just now. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that it is true that Mr Cameron has been brooking no wrongdoing, but the Prime Minister has also been very firm in dealing with the members of my party who have breached the rules.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, also mentioned a general election—something that I was expecting, as his party seems to be focusing quite extensively on that at present. Now is not the time to have a general election. It is Parliament that got us into this mess—parliamentarians of every party—and it is the responsibility and the duty of parliamentarians to clean up this mess before we go to the country on the subjects and issues that are important to it.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned that the two Houses are different and that therefore it seems difficult, if not inappropriate, to have one regulator. Yes, we have one Parliament but two Houses of Parliament, so it is entirely proper to have one regulator and two systems. At the moment, we do not have all the meat on the bones of these proposals. These proposals will come before Parliament, so ultimately Parliament—we, sitting in this Chamber—can determine what this body will or will not be responsible for. I assure all noble Lords

20 May 2009 : Column 1390

that in Cabinet I am very proud to be the voice of this House. I always strive to ensure that people understand the differences between us and the other place and that we are not an afterthought, although sometimes that is quite a task.

This is a large-scale and significant change, but, as I say, it is for Parliament to decide on that change. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, mentioned the groups that are being set up. One will look at expenses. The other is the Leader’s group. That has not been announced yet; there will be a Statement on that tomorrow. It is terribly important that the work of these two groups continues, because it will form the basis of whatever happens in the future. The Statement says that the new body will be responsible for,

It does not say what that system should be; it says that it will administer and regulate. It also says that it will be responsible for overseeing the code of conduct, not making it. That is terribly important.

A move to an independent regulator would affect many areas of the House of Lords’ work on regulation, but the practice of self-regulation, such as the conduct of business in this House and the way in which this House manages its own affairs in the Chamber, will not be affected in any way. It simply will not be affected.

Issues such as the Committee for Privileges involve extremely important details, but it is far too early to say what those are.

How much will be in the Constitutional Renewal Bill? There is a discussion at present on how this legislation will come forth and in what form, and I am sure that that will be a matter for discussion with the other parties. As soon as I can give noble Lords further information, I will certainly do so.

I should say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I appreciate that there is quite rightly much talk at the moment about constitutional renewal. We are in a constitutional crisis, I believe, but on the doorsteps people are more interested in health and education than in the constitution. However, that is almost a personal comment.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, suggested that it would be appropriate for the parliamentary standards person to receive reports but not to regulate. The person will be responsible for regulation, but we must clarify that when we come to the details.

I think that I have answered most of the questions that have been put to me so far, and I look forward to questions from other noble Lords.

3.54 pm

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, does the Lord President not accept that Parliament cannot delegate its own responsibility for its own behaviour to any authority? If it tries to do that, it will simply further undermine public trust in itself. Does she not also recognise that, for too long, our democracy has lacked the bracing armature of a written constitution? The flexibility of our political conventions and the archaic justifications of inadequately accountable executive

20 May 2009 : Column 1391

power are leading our country on a long, winding, downward path. Despite what she says about the doorsteps, the public are very well aware of that. We can and must arrest that decline with a careful, comprehensive and popularly endorsed programme of public political reform.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says about a written constitution; such views are long held by many Members of this House, and are things to be discussed. A written constitution is not on the table, but many issues relating to the constitution are in the forthcoming Constitutional Renewal Bill. The noble Lord is absolutely correct to say that Parliament cannot delegate responsibility for the behaviour of Members of either House. We are all responsible for ourselves, and we see from their behaviour that some Members of Parliament have let themselves down. However, in some cases the system is also at fault.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I ask the Leader of the House to look specifically at the Statement made by the Chairman of Committees last night and give us some greater guidance about how the new,

relates to the announcement that has just been made. What is the timescale for the exercise? Who will appoint the external adviser? Who will give the remit to the external advice process? What will then be the relationship back to your Lordships' House? As we all know to our cost, it is not the advice that is important but the action taken on that advice. Indeed, the other end of the building would not be in the sorry state that it was if successive Governments had taken the independent advice on the remuneration of their Members, instead of constantly putting it on a back burner and allowing the allowance system to take over instead. What will be the relationship between the advice given by the PSA, as I suppose that we will have to call it, and the exercise being set up by your Lordships' House?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, yesterday’s decision was taken by the House Committee. That committee will decide the process and procedure—very shortly, at its next meeting in June—on the basis of a paper from the Clerk of the Parliaments. However, I assure noble Lords that this House will be kept informed throughout and will be part of that process. As I mentioned earlier, the work of that new small body is extremely important, because it will relate to us as we are now. The new regulatory body will simply be there to administer and regulate, but it is up to us in this House how to take the new small body forward and whether we accept whatever proposals it might come forward with.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, the Statement on the parliamentary standards authority arises from the discussions yesterday by the leaders of the various political parties in the other place but, as has been mentioned, it has an impact and effect on the House of Lords. Were any of the groups in the House of Lords involved in that decision? Especially, was one of the largest groups in this House—the Cross-Benchers’ independent group—invited to be involved?

20 May 2009 : Column 1392

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, yesterday, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had discussions with Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron. I had a brief discussion with the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, when did this House decide that there should be a regulatory body?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this House has not decided. The decision has not yet been taken. This proposal has been agreed to in essence by the party leaders, but there will be a legislative process. Therefore, in due course, it will be up to this House to say whether it wishes to have this new regulatory body.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee is still due to report in the autumn. But am I right in thinking that if its recommendations do not include or are not based on a new parliamentary standards authority, they will be of no worth?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as I understand it, the proposals of Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee will not relate to an independent regulator. Whatever proposals Sir Christopher puts forward will be implemented by the new regulatory body.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, is it not ironic that the other place, which took such an interest in reforming this House—a House largely made up of people of vast experience who in life have done a real job before they have come here—has found a fall guy in Mr Speaker as far as this hiatus is concerned? Is it not time that the other place looked at the initial deceit from which the problems were derived; that is, the deceit that said that Members of Parliament are worth half of what a GP is paid, but that a trough would be created into which people could put their snouts to make up the deficit? That was a dishonest basis on which to expect the other place to function.

Will any regulatory body understand the complexities of a House like this with experienced people, vis- -vis the other place where a large proportion are boys and girls sent to do men’s jobs—people without experience and without having made their way in life?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I feel rather old, if “them down there” are boys and girls. It would be inappropriate for me to speak of whatever happened at the other end. However, I agree with the noble Lord on one point. It is widely agreed that the system—whereby salaries down the other end were not put up as the SSRB recommended and, instead, there was a system of allowances—was enabled to implode. I am utterly confident that the new regulator will understand the needs of this place because we will ensure that we tell him or her of our needs.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords—

Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords—

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 think that the House wishes to hear from the right reverend Prelate.

20 May 2009 : Column 1393

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her Statement. I should like to reassure the House of the continuing support and prayers of the Lords spiritual. Is the noble Baroness aware that over the past few months we have been affected, as have others, by the challenges to the integrity of both Houses, for different reasons? In terms of exercising our role in this House, the Lords spiritual clearly hold dearly to the principles that bring us and others here. We know that there are those who are being tarnished by guilt by association.

We want the noble Baroness to be reassured of our continued support. Is she aware that we hold ourselves in readiness to be of whatever service we can to ensure that we can restore such as needs to be restored in order that this House and this Parliament can be of service to the country in such a way as we all wish and desire it to be?

Is the noble Baroness aware of that wonderful comment by that illustrious political commentator, Groucho Marx, who said:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”?

I think I can say on behalf of the Lords spiritual that today’s Statement goes some way towards not only diagnosing the situation correctly but also applying the right remedies. I thank the noble Baroness for the Statement and ask her to bear us in mind when it comes to being of service to her and others as the future unfolds.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, these are turbulent times for us all. We are all grateful for the support and prayers of the Lords spiritual. I am confident that with this new independent parliamentary regulator, we will be assisted in diagnosing the right remedies.

Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, speaking as an honorary prelate, I suggest that it would be sagacious and acceptable to noble Lords of all persuasions to move on to the next business on the Order Paper.

Arrangement of Business


4.06 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, taking that as my cue, I am sure that I need not say that we are about to consider a very important and serious piece of business. It may be helpful to the House if I say a few words at this point to outline how we envisage today’s debate working.

The usual channels have given very careful consideration to how today’s debate should progress. We have taken the view that the best approach is to have one debate on the two Motions before the House to approve the reports from the Committee for Privileges. The debate will be opened and closed by the Lord Chairman. After the Lord Chairman has opened the debate, it will be normal for him to be followed by my noble friend the Lord President, the other leaders and the Convenor of the Cross Benches. After this point, any other noble Lord who wishes to speak should do so. Then the Lord Chairman will make a closing

20 May 2009 : Column 1394

speech and will endeavour to answer any points raised. After the debate on the two reports, the House will be asked to make decision in sequence, approving each report and then approving the two subsequent Motions on sanctions.

Finally, I should perhaps remind the House at this point that the normal rules of debate apply, as do our conventions on courtesy and conduct. Noble Lords should confine their remarks to the content of the reports before the House today.

Privileges Committee: First Report

1st Report: Privileges Committee

Motion to Agree

4.07 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, the House is being invited this afternoon to agree two reports from the Committee for Privileges. The first report invites the House to agree to the committee’s conclusion that the House has the power to suspend any Member who has been found guilty of serious misconduct. The second report contains the committee’s conclusions and recommendations on the conduct of the four Peers who were the subject of allegations in the Sunday Times on 25 January. It embodies the findings of a detailed investigation by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, which were then reviewed by the Committee for Privileges.

We are debating these reports together. But I shall do my best to separate out the two sets of issues: the important points of general principle raised in the first report; and the questions of personal conduct covered in the second. However, I should make it clear from the outset that if the first report is not agreed to, I shall not be moving the Motion to agree the second report or the two subsidiary Motions on the Order Paper.

The first report arises out of the Leader’s letter to me dated 26 January, in which she asked if the Committee for Privileges could look into,

We sought the advice of the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General. We are grateful to her for her advice, which is published in full with this report. Essentially, the Attorney-General advised caution. In particular, she advised in clear terms that the House did not have the power to expel a Member permanently, since to do so would,

We fully endorse this conclusion in our report. As for temporary suspension, the Attorney-General acknowledged that the issue was “less clear”, and that a “respectable argument” could be made that the House’s power to regulate its own procedures does

20 May 2009 : Column 1395

include a power of suspension. However, she advised that the “safer course” would be to wait until a legislative framework could be devised to confer such a power on the House.

It may be helpful if at this point I say something in general terms about the role of the Attorney-General in relation to the House of Lords. As the Government’s recent consultation paper on the role of the Attorney-General states, historically he or she,

So once the Attorney-General’s advice has been given, it is for the House, on the recommendation of its committee, to consider it and to decide whether or not to accept it. A decision not to follow the Attorney-General’s advice will not be taken lightly, but the responsibility for the final decision rests with the House alone.

The committee decided on this occasion, as it has done in the past, and in light of the Attorney-General’s acknowledgement that a “respectable argument” could be advanced that the House had the power to suspend, to seek a second opinion. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a member of the committee and, of course, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, had already submitted a short note summarising his reasons for believing that the House did possess the power to suspend, and we therefore invited him to develop his initial note into the full memorandum which is annexed to the report. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, not only for his formal written advice, which is printed with our report, but for his counsel throughout recent months.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, endorsed the Attorney-General’s conclusion that expulsion would not be lawful. However, on temporary suspension, where the Attorney-General saw the arguments as balanced, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, advised very clearly that the House did have the power to suspend its Members. I will not try to summarise his arguments in detail, but in essence his advice was that the wording of the Writ of Summons implies the acceptance by Members of certain rules of procedure and conduct which are absolutely necessary if the House is effectively to perform its constitutional role as a Chamber of the legislature.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the key paragraph in the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay: paragraph 38, on page 15 of the report. It states:

“I consider that the House’s existing power to adopt the procedures necessary to preserve ‘order and decency’ includes a power to suspend, for a defined period within the lifetime of a Parliament, a Member who has been found guilty of clear and flagrant misconduct. I consider further that the exercise of such a power would not affect the rights conferred upon Members by virtue of their letters patent; rather it would affirm the conditions implied in the writ of summons, that Members must conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of the House”.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page