Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

8.30 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this has been a truly extraordinary debate in which it has been a great privilege to be able to participate. I am very grateful to all the noble Lords who have participated and made contributions and for their personal warmth and their support. We have covered considerable ground and I acknowledge that there are a huge number of issues to be revisited in Committee and on Report.

Before I address many of the points of detail which have been raised this evening, I would just like to recall the points of principle on which I think most of us can agree. I believe that there is a clear public desire for reform of arrangements in the House of Commons. Given the public's legitimate concerns about the conduct of Members in the other House, I think it is incumbent upon this House to act decisively and to build on the interim measures that the other place has already introduced.

I think that we can probably agree on the following fundamental points. First, the current system in the Commons for allowances and expenses must be replaced. We eagerly await Sir Christopher Kelly's recommendations and this is the Bill that will provide the formal structure to put those recommendations into practice. Secondly, a minimum requirement of the administration of the allowances and expenses system is that it should be subject to effective, independent scrutiny. Thirdly, it is important for securing renewed public trust that the House of Commons code of conduct on financial interests should be drawn up and overseen by an independent body. I know that that last point is slightly controversial but I think many people in this House would agree on it.

8 July 2009 : Column 746

I will respond to many of the points made in today's debates. I have to say that I too am not a lawyer. I will do my utmost but I will also from time to time rely on Box notes. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, made a superb opening speech and as the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said, he set the tone of the debate and I am very grateful for that. The noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, referred to Mr Alan Duncan in the other place and the concerns he expressed, and he quoted him saying that the Bill must be right-that we cannot get it wrong. I acknowledge that there is still a great deal of work to be done on this Bill, but in my view the very fact that all the noble Lord's colleagues in the other place voted in favour of this Bill at Second Reading, and that they did not press the issue to a vote at Third Reading, means that Mr Duncan is content that this Bill is broadly right.

Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said about me. I can assure her, and I have actually talked to some Members of the other place this afternoon who have been very anxious to make this point, that the fact that they did not vote at Third Reading does not mean that they are happy with the Bill. Many Members in the other place-including, I have been told, Members of her own party-want substantial changes and are looking to this House to make them.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is a rum old business when the other place relies on this place, is it not? I suggest respectfully that in future if Members of the other place want to vote then they should vote.

The noble Lord raised the issue of MPs and outside interests, as have many other noble Lords this evening, including the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. Nothing in this Bill prevents a Member of Parliament having an outside interest but it does stipulate that those interests must be registered, as they are at present, in order that there is no ambiguity about an MP's motives for raising an issue when he or she is in the Chamber. I personally think that is absolutely right.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, for confirming the intense nature of the cross-party talks. There has been much discussion this evening, or much innuendo, about the cross-party agreements and this, that and the other. There were intensive discussions between the parties and I believe that they were very fruitful. The Bill that we have before us, with all its imperfections, is the result of those cross-party talks.

I am now going to deal up front with the sunset clause, which was first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, and then by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and others. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has either tabled, or is going to table, an amendment asking that there be a sunset clause. I think it would be improper for there to be a sunset clause which covered the whole of the Bill. It would be difficult to set up a new authority to advertise for people to be employed by this new authority without giving them security of employment and, indeed, without allowing this authority to start its work. I recognise however that some clauses could, and perhaps should, be revisited in a period of perhaps two years. I therefore suggest that we come

8 July 2009 : Column 747

back to this in Committee, but I do not think the Government would be opposed to reviewing some aspects of the Bill in a couple of years.

The noble Lord raised the pay of MPs. Of course I should clarify that this Bill will not alter the existing arrangements for sitting MPs' pay. It is determined by the SSRB and approved by the Commons, and IPSA will only administer the payment of salaries.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who I know cannot be in his place, and many other noble Lords suggested that the Bill was premature and that we should wait until Sir Christopher Kelly and his committee reported. I stress again that this Bill provides a structural framework. Sir Christopher and his committee will provide the substance, and I believe it is entirely appropriate that the authority should be set up, with the chair and committee being appointed, while we await the report from Sir Christopher. As I said in my opening remarks, I believe that this is important for Members of the other place now and it is vital that everything is up and running and embedded before the next election so that the MPs who are elected to the next Parliament can get on with their work without having any more of these arguments and discussions about pay and allowances.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and many others, including the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, asked whether the Bill would upset the balance between the courts and Parliament. We do not believe that the Bill is incompatible with Article IX of the Bill of Rights. It makes no specific provision to disapply Article IX and will not change the relationship between Parliament and the courts. A court faced with a judicial review of IPSA functions would not be able to consider proceedings in Parliament, as that would not be possible under Article IX.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked why we should create a separate criminal offence in respect of allowances applicable just to MPs when we already have a criminal offence that would apply. Providing false information on a claim under the allowances scheme could amount to conduct already caught by an existing offence-that is, fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act 2006. However, this would be dependent on whether the elements of this offence were made out. A prosecution for fraud requires additional proof beyond reasonable doubt of dishonest intent and proof that the purpose was to make a financial gain. Fraud is a more serious offence which carries a greater maximum penalty than that envisaged in the Bill, which, as many noble Lords have said, requires only knowingly providing false information. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, says and I note the amendments that he has tabled. Before Committee, I shall certainly reflect on his suggestion to get rid of the whole of Clause 8. However, of course I cannot make any concessions here at the Dispatch Box and it would not be right for me to do so.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, for his excellent reports. They have of course caused me and the Government enormous problems but I still believe that they are excellent. I especially pay tribute to his report on fast-tracked legislation, which I hope will

8 July 2009 : Column 748

guide us in the future. Of course, I disagree with his view that the Bill will not enhance public support. I believe that it will because the public are frustrated with what is going on and they do not understand the niceties of our debates and our scrutiny. They want good legislation but they want action, and this Bill provides us with that.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for earlier giving me a copy of his document written in 2000. I always listen to him very carefully due to his vast experience, and I wholeheartedly agree that Members of both the Commons and the Lords should give obedience to the unenforceable. However, that has patently not been happening, and that is why we have this Bill before us.

My noble friend Lord Peston and others referred to the Statement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice. In his concluding remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, also went back to the question of whether the Bill would ever be applicable to the Lords. Again, I categorically state that this Bill will not be used as a model for your Lordships' House, and there is no intention of this or any similar Bill applying to this House. We will not apply this legislation to this House. Having said that, I add that what I say at this Dispatch Box cannot bind future Parliaments, but that is the view of this Government. I am being honest with your Lordships.

My noble friend Lord Peston referred to the Constitution Committee's reports, which, as I said, are excellent. He, like the committee, suggested that the Bill should not be fast-tracked and he referred to deals and stitch-ups. As I said, there were no deals; the position arrived at was consensual.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is true-I wish that noble Lords had all been flies on the wall.

Lord Peston: My Lords, has my noble friend listened to the speeches from the two opposition Front Benches? There is no deal. Did she not listen to what they said?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I listened respectfully to the Front Benches and to all noble Lords in this House, as I always do. There was no deal; there was a consensual position. I believe that the Front Benches of all parties-

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, was there not a consensual agreement between Molotov and Ribbentrop in 1939?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not think that that remark is worthy of a reply.

I shall turn to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. Of course, he is absolutely right when he says that Members of the other place do not understand your Lordships and your Lordships' House. It is incumbent on us all to try to ensure that there is more knowledge about this place in the other place. I hear what the noble Lord and so many others have said about the desirability for more time to scrutinise the Bill. I shall return to that shortly.

8 July 2009 : Column 749

Lord Goodlad: My Lords, the Leader of the House said that I had said that the Bill would be counterproductive in its purpose of reassuring public opinion about Parliament. I think that what I said on behalf of the Select Committee was that it would be counterproductive in terms of influencing public opinion if it were given inadequate time for consideration.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, forgive me if I misquoted the noble Lord. I beg your Lordships' pardon.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, in her speech, will the Leader of the House be turning to the human rights implications raised by me on behalf of the committee?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, my very next page says "Lord Lester". The noble Lord proposed that there should be a tribunal. My note says that the IPSA, an independent body in itself, with a former judge as a member, has limited powers. It can make a direction to repay an allowance or update the register, or it can recommend additional sanctions to the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges. Enforcement is left to the House of Commons and the Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges. That means that enforcement will not happen without the House of Commons saying so. We have committed to considering whether the commissioner should simply make a finding of fact so that he has even fewer functions. However, I undertake to look into the proposal made by the noble Lord that there should be a tribunal.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred to the word "privilege". This might seem a silly point but, like him and so many others in this House, I deeply regret that the word brings with it so many misconceptions. That is one of our problems. It is a hugely important concept and it is a right that protects parliamentarians and, through parliamentarians, their constituents. Like all noble Lords, I am concerned about that.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, that we have to do something to confront the evils facing the House of Commons. I listened to his proposals with care but I believe that the Bill helps to confront some of those evils.

I understand the view of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, that we should rescue the Commons from itself. I believe that this Bill is what the Commons wants. The hard-working Members of the other place are suffering from the terrible opprobrium that has fallen on them and their families in the past weeks. They know far better than we do how ghastly it has been and what needs to be done.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, that hindsight is wonderful. I agree that action should have been taken earlier, but that is easy for us to say now. When he talks about the dominance of this Government, I respectfully remind him that his own Government were dominant for 18 years.

To my noble friend Lord Barnett I say that this is not a response to the media. It is a response to the concern of the public that may have been engendered

8 July 2009 : Column 750

by the media. A little flame was ignited and, now that that public flame is there, we have to do our best to deal with it.

I have huge respect for the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, and I completely agree that most Members of Parliament are upright, hard-working men and women. They work their socks off for their constituents. However, I do not agree that the public concern is temporary. Public life has changed fundamentally and we have a duty to deal with the situation as we find it now.

Of course, I agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that scrutiny is needed. I note his views about the reporting chain from the commissioner to IPSA and to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I undertake to look at that carefully, as I will the many other issues raised by the noble Lord.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned the Committee on Standards in Public Life; I mentioned the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I was ill reading my words. Forgive me. I know exactly what the noble Lord was referring to.

The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, asked whether IPSA and the commissioner would not be able to perform their functions because the provision on privilege in the Bill as introduced disapplied privilege to permit IPSA and the commissioner to perform their functions. The prohibition on questioning proceedings in Parliament in Article IX of the Bill of Rights applies to,

Neither IPSA nor the commissioner is a court. "Place out of Parliament" should not be taken literally. It obviously does not prevent newspapers or the public from commenting on Parliament. In 1999, the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege stated that "place out of Parliament" includes tribunals where witnesses give evidence on oath but not non-statutory tribunals or inquiries.

I note the views expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lyell of Markyate, about the need for salaries to be increased to take account of second home expenses. I am sure that the other place will come back to that, but that is a matter for it.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, said about the nature of the public anger that it is the allowances themselves, not the way in which they are administered, that is important. Sir Christopher Kelly's committee is looking at the allowances, but the Bill is necessary to provide the structure so that, when the new allowances system is brought in, it can be implemented in the best possible way.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, posed a number of questions. I shall answer just one of them. Yes, the Bill carefully separates the functions of IPSA and those of the commissioner. Both IPSA and the commissioner have their functions conferred separately on them. They are established separately. The only link is a duty on IPSA adequately to resource the commissioner. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 2 is about

8 July 2009 : Column 751

separating the administrative functions of IPSA-for example, setting the allowances scheme. I will respond to the noble Lord in writing.

To the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I say that I have no illustrious ancestors. I bought all my own furniture. I came from peasant stock and mining stock, but my stock were also men and women of integrity. They, like me, had a sense of history. Like the noble Earl, when I come into this place, I feel that it is a very special place. Because I feel that it is a special place, and because this Parliament belongs to the ancestors of both of us, and to the people of this country, who are so angry, we have a duty to deliver a Bill that will help to promote understanding and assuage that deep anger.

I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said about the excellent work of the Constitution Committee and I assure him that I have listened throughout the debate.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that nobody thinks that this is a total solution. This is part of the solution, along with Sir Christopher Kelly's committee, the work by Sir Thomas Legg and many other things that are now being implemented in the House of Commons.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is right to say that the public do not understand why MPs should be solely responsible for their pay and conditions. That is why the Bill is so important. He was right to mention the excellent paper written by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to whom I pay tribute. I will come back to the noble Lord in writing on many points. Is there a difference between dishonesty and knowledge? There is a great difference between the elements of dishonesty and knowledge of an offence. Dishonesty requires a higher threshold for the prosecution to overcome and is determined by a two-stage test.

I think that I have answered many of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I love dancing and I wore the appropriate shoes today. Yes, of course it is our duty to scrutinise and improve the Bill and I am determined that that is exactly what this House should and must do. I have heard what many noble Lords have said about the arrangements that we have proposed to debate the Bill before the Recess. I have really listened and I know that the House wants more time to scrutinise the Bill. I respect those views and, while I may not go quite as far as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, suggested, I undertake to go away and discuss the arrangements with the usual channels in the light of what has been said today to try to find more time. I have to say that we have very few days available to us and there is a great deal of business still unfinished, but I note what has been said seriously and vehemently in this House today. I assure the House that, whatever happens, the Government will bring forward their amendments for the Committee stage in very good time so that noble Lords have ample time to reflect on them.

This is an extremely important Bill. I have listened to and noted the views of noble Lords. I believe that passing the Bill as expeditiously as possible is the right thing to do. My feelings are clear; the feelings of the

8 July 2009 : Column 752

Government are clear. I accept that the Bill requires an awful lot more work, but I know that this House is the right place to undertake that work and that, with its assistance, the Bill will be greatly improved. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time.

8.56 pm

Committal Motion

Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House. Normally, as this House knows, that would be all that I would say as Leader at this point. However, with the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, we are in unusual territory, and I would like to take this opportunity to make a few short points.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page