|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I was struck by the final remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that there may be even more flaws revealed in this Bill than have already been exposed during the course of this debate. In all the 39 years that I have been in Parliament, I have never seen an important Bill handled in such an extraordinary way and I am tempted to say such a scandalous way. As early as Second Reading in another place, it was announced that Clause 6, which provided that the Commons should continue to have a code of conduct, was being dropped after deadly criticism by the Clerk of the House of Commons.
I am certain that never in my 39 years here has the Clerk thought it necessary to make a similar intervention to protect not just the rights of Parliament, but its ability to serve the people whom it represents. I very much doubt that there have been many, if any, similar interventions in the history of Parliament. Before the other place had concluded its rushed and curtailed consideration of the Bill, the Government were defeated in a Division on Clause 10 as a result of an amendment that, because of the guillotine, was not even debated. Clause 5, to which I will return, was inadequately debated, although it was the subject of particularly devastating and destructive speeches, and an important subsection was removed.
Sometimes, when there are genuine emergencies threatening the state, it is justifiable to rush through legislation with minimum debate, but this is not one of them. Most of the conduct rules could have been approved by the other place without any legislation. The Standards and Privileges Committee in the other place said that there should have been a draft Bill that went through due process to get it right. Consideration of the Bill could have been held over until the autumn, with the advantage that it might then have been able to take account of the Kelly committee report. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, suggested that it was a mistake to pass a Bill to enforce standards yet to be established.
The Bill could have been divided and, if it was really necessary, a one or two-clause Bill could have been put on the statute book before the Recess. As it is, the Bill is likely to leave a large number of important questions still unresolved, because it has taken apart one system, transferred some functions and left other functions spinning in an unresolved vacuum. Sir George Young's analysis of those problems at Second Reading deserves study.
I completely understand the need for new arrangements to deal with the pay and allowances of MPs. It is all too clear that the existing scheme has been a disaster. Like my noble friend Lord Jenkin, I suppose that I have to plead guilty for some responsibility, having been a member of a Cabinet that refused to increase the pay of Members of Parliament and said that it
8 July 2009 : Column 717
I was not much comforted by the statement by the Leader of the House in her opening speech that IPSA must have some-I am pretty sure that she said "some"-understanding of the way that Parliament works. My fear is that it may not have enough understanding of matters that are essential for good parliamentary government. I was also not entirely comforted by her intervention in the speech of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. She said that the Bill would not apply to the House of Lords, but I fear that it may be the model for a Bill that will apply to the House of Lords. I do not think that she said that IPSA would not be the body that would be responsible for dealing with the affairs of the House of Lords, either.
The 18th report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, published only today, raises some very significant issues, referred to by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, about the necessity to ensure the political neutrality of IPSA. It draws attention to the fact that the statute-based prohibition of paid advocacy and the creation of a criminal offence of engaging in paid advocacy may open up a possible area of conflict between the courts and Parliament. The committee also pointed out that the decision-making powers of IPSA should be subject to the possibility of appeal. It draws attention to the complex human rights issues, also raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We were given no consolation at all by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, who said that the Government do not agree with the Joint Committee. I fear that we are getting into very murky waters.
I had always intended to say some robust words about how this House should deal with the Bill, but then I read the 17th report of the Select Committee on the Constitution, chaired by my noble friend Lord Goodlad, which was published on Monday. The committee's language was more robust than even I had in mind, and its opinion much more authoritative. I take simply its last conclusion as my text:
It is in the face of that recommendation that I heard with surprise and dismay that only one day was being set aside for Committee and one for Report and Third Reading. I understand that because Members in the other place are anxious to conclude the whole business as quickly as possible, the usual channels have concluded what I can only describe as an unholy pact and accepted a timetable that fails to meet the Constitution Committee's requirements and will almost certainly be inadequate to complete our work as it should be completed.
I very much welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth has tabled an amendment to the Motion to follow this debate. I will support it, and I hope that others will. I very much hope that it will be passed. If it is not, I fear that that is a decision that we will all come to regret. At the very least, we must get a sunset clause into the Bill. The Bill has been introduced by a dying Government into a demoralised and shell-shocked House of Commons. It is likely that about half the Members of that House will not return after the election, so we will have an elected Chamber in which there may even be a majority who will be entirely new. We are legislating not so much for this Parliament, but for its successor. That means that a refreshed Parliament, with a new mandate, should have the opportunity to revisit the Bill.
Earlier, I mentioned Clause 5, which has had subsection (8) removed. At a recent meeting in this building, one of my noble friends said that the original clause was aimed by the Prime Minister at the heart of the Conservative Party. I responded by saying that in my view it was aimed at the heart of the effectiveness of the House of Commons. It is true that the damage was done before the Bill appeared when, in April, the other place agreed a new code of conduct-or perhaps it was earlier, when the Nolan rules were accepted rather too easily, without enough realisation of some of their consequences.
Old Clause 5 would have taken Parliament a very big step down an increasingly rocky road. Then, in the face of sustained criticism, Clause 5(8) was deleted. The overall effect of Clause 5 in the amended Bill may not be very different. It gives statutory authority to what were rules and are now a code under which Members must register the precise amount of each individual payment, the number of hours worked during the period to which the payment referred, the nature of the work, and the name of the individual or organisation who made the payment.
Under the conventions that govern our conduct, I believe I should not quote the words of Members in another place unless they are Ministers. If that were not so, I would have liked to quote a large part of the speech of Mr Frank Field. I beg noble Lords to read it. He spoke of representative government, the principles that should underlie it and how the House of Commons should, through those who sit in it, be a mirror of the society that they represent. Over the centuries, Parliament has been about representing interests, but now it is judged that the great interests in this country should not be represented and that if Members attempt to do so, they might be expelled or imprisoned. He spoke of the change that had come over the other place during the past 50 years, during the course of which the pool from which MPs are drawn has become narrower and narrower. He thought that Clause 5 would further change the nature of the House and that it is unworkable.
The nature of the House has changed in a fundamental way since I entered it in 1970, and not for the better. Then, it was full of people with wide experience representative of and knowledgeable about trade unions, business, industry, law, farming, the services and so many other things besides. There were many who, because of outside incomes and the ability to find
8 July 2009 : Column 719
I had no private income, and I could never have contemplated becoming a candidate, let alone an MP, if I had not had another job. It is true that the pay then was far less and that the allowances that we were entitled to claim would hardly register on the scale of the modern system but, even today, I am certain that there are many capable of giving good public service who would not feel able to sacrifice their own and, more importantly, their family's standard of living if it became impossible for them to hold down other jobs as well as fulfilling their parliamentary duties.
Still more will be deterred by a system that is intrusive and unworkable. The language being used about those with other jobs is frequently offensive and nonsensical, born of ignorance or jealousy. "Moonlighting" is one such description. I won a seat not held by my party for 42 years, and I held it in every subsequent election that I fought. I did not win it or retain it by neglecting my constituents. I did not establish a reputation in the House, become a Front-Bench Opposition spokesman, a shadow Secretary of State and, in due course, a Secretary of State by neglecting my parliamentary duties. In those days, we sat for far longer hours-frequently through the night-and we were not provided with the plethora of secretaries and political aides now available. I did not give up my principal outside employment until the last months as the shadow Cabinet prepared for the election we won and for office. As a Minister, like other Ministers, I then had to work harder and for longer hours than I had ever worked before, but I still had to nurse my far-flung constituency and look after my constituents.
Like Mr Frank Field, I strongly oppose a measure that makes a mockery of what he and I thought public service was all about and provides for stopwatches or egg timers to be started every time an MP undertakes anything outside his parliamentary duties. The scheme is preposterous. On the one hand, we are asked to believe that every MP without an outside job is endlessly engaged on political work. Does he or she never enjoy the sun on the Terrace, spend long hours drinking in the bars, watching television in his or her sumptuous offices or just gossiping in the Tea Room? Back in the constituencies where MPs now spend so much time, do they really spend all their time in frantic political activity? I do not believe it, and if they do, it is curious how little many of us observe of those activities.
In the real world, it is virtually impossible to disentangle minute by minute the time spent on each activity. In the days when I had a job in the City, I might have
8 July 2009 : Column 720
A number of noble Lords referred to the misunderstandings about the privileges of Parliament, many believing that they simply provide protection for a whole lot of cosy rights for Members of Parliament and Lords. The reality is that those privileges are there to protect the most basic rights of the citizen. There are clauses that make changes that go to the very heart of Parliament's independence and what the Bill of Rights 1689 was all about. There are questions about the ability of individual Members to be treated justly with the proper protection of the law. The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights is as relevant to our consideration of the Bill as that of the Constitution Committee.
I finish my remarks as I started them, by expressing a sense of outrage at the way in which this Bill is being handled. We must do our best to give it the examination it needs. I hope that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth's amendment will be carried. We need to insert a sunset clause to give a new House of Commons the opportunity to carry out wider scrutiny and consultation in order to prepare a Bill more likely to serve the interests of both Parliament and people.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I declare an interest as the second chairman of the Committee on Standards
8 July 2009 : Column 721
"Parliamentary privilege consists of the rights and immunities which the two Houses of Parliament and their members and officers possess to enable them to carry out their parliamentary functions effectively. Without this protection members would be handicapped in performing their parliamentary duties, and the authority of Parliament itself in confronting the executive and as a forum for expressing the anxieties of citizens would be correspondingly diminished".
To summarise, parliamentary privilege exists to protect Members of Parliament and thereby to benefit the public. If, by a Bill such as this, you diminish the House of Commons, you thereby injure the public.
The events that took place in May and June, beginning with the disclosures in the Daily Telegraph, revealed a terrible situation where the public was angrier with Parliament than one has ever known in one's life. There was a double whammy, because even when the first shock waves were going through the country, based on what was in the Daily Telegraph-its sales, no doubt, soared-a second lot of disclosures came from Parliament, no doubt as a result of the grindingly slow process that started with the defeat of the House of Commons in front of the High Court on 16 May 2008, when the court made an order for full disclosure, albeit subject to redactions, which produced those ludicrous publications with hardly a word or even the name of anybody visible. That was the double whammy, because it showed that, left to themselves, the Members of Parliament operating that system would have liked to reduce the amount of information in the public domain to those limited, unintelligible fragments.
That dire situation called for a response. Should it have been mature, measured and consistent with the privileges and traditions of Parliament or a panic reaction designed to capture some laudatory headline in the tabloids, or even the broadsheets? I am afraid that the Prime Minister made it perfectly clear in what he said on 10 June that the route to be followed was that of panic. Now, in reading this passage I bear in mind what the Leader of the House told us this afternoon: that it is no longer the view of the Prime Minister that this Bill should apply to the House of Lords. I would interpret that to mean that it would not even be a model for a Bill. At the time, however, before the U-turn, the Prime Minister referred to a meeting of "the Government's democratic council", which was going to,
In the inner room, no longer smoke-filled, a deal of some sort was, no doubt, done with the leaders of the parties-foolishly, in my opinion-that it was in the interests of all parties that the Bill should be bustled out with that strong-arm appearance.
If you stand back and think about the situation, you see that it is very grave for the Members of Parliament down the Corridor and, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, pointed out, for their successors, who will soon be here-possibly a 50 per cent different team of men and women. But what was the Prime Minister saying in that passage? It was, surely, that the Members of the House of Commons are not to be treated as fit to regulate their own affairs or to conduct self-regulation. Either that is a condemnation, which will add to the worries expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and others about what is happening to the morale of Parliament, or it is a pure funk that, in order to please the media, some new, external body must appear and have an authority over the House of Commons that, with such knowledge as I have, I believe is without parallel in parliamentary history.
The Star Chamber was abolished in 1641. It is as if King Charles walked into Parliament in 1643 saying, "Do you know what I'm going to do? I've decided that you made a mistake when you abolished the Star Chamber. I'm going to set up a body that is superior to you and can give orders to Members of Parliament on how they are to behave". That is inconceivable, for Parliament is sovereign; you cannot create a body out there with those powers. In an election, the electorate can get rid of Parliament but not of those other bodies that are superior to Parliament. I submit to your Lordships that the creation of that new, outside body is wholly unnecessary.
I entirely adopt what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, said. If you reflect maturely on it, why should you not create a system for self-regulation? You can have any amount of assistance on the financial side. The four great chartered accountancy companies that do all the mega-audits-although they were criticised yesterday, on some grounds that I have forgotten-could be asked, "Will you set up a panel for us, that will immediately-the same day, or the next-review any submission for expense or allowance made by any Member of Parliament?". That panel could adjudicate on whether the claim had been supported by the mortgage or whichever receipt. You could set up any amount of independent assistance to help to ensure total integrity and remove all opportunities for people to say, "They are up to their tricks, or stealing, or doing things in a sly manner by flipping from one second home to another". You could eliminate all of that with the greatest of ease, but you do not need to impose that additional, outside body on Parliament.
There is a need to look at, with reflection and mature consideration over the vacation or long recess, what system could be put up in place, in light of the forthcoming recommendations from the Committee
8 July 2009 : Column 723
I agree, then, with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, and with other speakers: this approach is completely wrong. It is totally contrary to history. It negates the privileges conferred in 1689; noble Lords may remember the words about there being no interference with the proceedings in any court or any other place. The committee that the Bill creates is another place, where the proceedings in Parliament would be interfered with. Let us get rid of all that and devise a system that is consistent with our history.
Lord Lyell of Markyate: My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Neill. The commission set up by King James II under Judge Jeffreys reflected on the system that is to be set up under the Bill. I declare an interest in that, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, I sat in the mid-1990s on the rather doleful Privileges Committee that dealt with the cash for questions issue. As Attorney-General, I was indeed counsel in the fascinating Pepper v Hart case, although I confess to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that my recollection of it is a little different from his.
As almost every Member of the House has said, the Bill is dreadfully rushed. It still contains provisions that rightly cause us great concern and need much more than one day in Committee. They need to be looked at carefully, which would be to the huge benefit of the Government. I congratulate the Leader of the House because she works very hard on our behalf. When she has been nipping in and out, I hope that it is to get authority to extend the time before we have to vote on the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth-otherwise, I shall vote for it. We need time to consider the Bill properly. There has been no time for input from public or press and we have not waited for Sir Christopher Kelly's report.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|