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Standards of conduct in this House have been under close and often painful scrutiny over the past year or more, but these two reports show just how well the House has responded. They have not been imposed upon us: they are the fruits of the labour of many Members of your Lordships' House-by my rough calculation, between 60 and 70 noble Lords have sat on the various groups and committees that have contributed to the two reports. Collectively, we have tightened up the rules where necessary, while respecting the essential values of the House and the rights of its Members. These reports represent a real step forward in the way that we as a House regulate our own conduct. I recommend them warmly to the House and I beg to move.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, the Lord Chairman has set out very fully for the House the issues that we are considering today and I commend him for his clarity.
I wish to pick up where the Lord Chairman left off. He said that standards of conduct in this House have been under close and painful scrutiny over the past year or more but that these two reports show just how well the House has responded. I agree with that judgment. We have come a long way over the past year or so. Both Houses of Parliament have experienced considerable and critical public and media scrutiny. The scrutiny of the other place was, at its peak, far more intense than has at any point been the scrutiny of your Lordships' House. However, the scrutiny of this House has been long-running and is continuing. Some of it has been unfair, some of it has been wrong but, where it has led to the exposure of wrong-doing, we have taken action and we will continue to do so.
I said at the beginning of last year that if there were wrongs they must be righted and if there were abuses they must be rooted out. That is what we have been doing. The issues in front of us today are a key point in that process. We have taken action over Members' expenses; the House Committee made a request to the Prime Minister to commission the SSRB's report; we have a process to consider the issues in the SSRB's report, which is being carried out by the ad hoc group under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham; and next week there will be action over the principal residence of Members of the House. There is of course more to do. We have taken action over Members' conduct-the House deciding that it did have the power to suspend Members, suspending two Members of this House, and establishing a Leader's Group to propose a new code of conduct; and the House approving a new code of conduct, developing and I hope, today, adopting the new guidance associated with that code.
This is a considerable programme of change and reform but it is necessary so that we can be more confident in ourselves and the public can have more confidence in us. I recognise that the steps that we have taken are not quick enough for some. I and many other Members of this House have been impatient for change, but these are complex, serious and important issues and it is right to consider them carefully, cautiously and comprehensively. That is what we have been doing. I have no doubt that we have more work to do on these matters. I have no doubt, too, that we will continue to face scrutiny.
We are getting our rules and systems right. Today is a significant day for two reasons; not just because it marks the important step of putting fully into place the new code of conduct and its associated guide as well as the rules governing the use of facilities for this House, but because it marks the moment when this issue moves from those who have been involved in drawing up these rules-and I echo the Lord Chairman's thanks to the large number of Members and officials of the House who have taken part in this work-to us Members of the House ourselves. It is for the House to draw up and to decide on its rules, regulations and provisions. But it is now up to us, the Members of this House, to abide by them.
I know that many Members of this House have felt, and continue to feel, tarnished by activities that they regard as dishonourable or worse. I know, too, that the vast, overwhelming majority of Members of this House
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It is the responsibility of us all, each and every Member of this House, to abide by those rules, to behave in accordance with them, and, if necessary, to adjust our behaviour to ensure that we do. We all face the mirror test. When we look at ourselves, are we satisfied not just with what we do but with the way in which we do it? Are we satisfied that the public are satisfied with the way that we conduct ourselves?
I do not for a moment believe that such self-examination will be difficult for the Members of this House. I believe that the Members of this House are dedicated to the idea of public service, to the essential role that this House has as part of our legislative process and of the checks and balances in our constitution, and to the responsibility that they have in discharging their role-discharging it fully but also sensibly, moderately, fairly and honestly. I am confident that the new provisions that we are putting in place will be of real assistance in helping them to do so, and helping the House to deal with any failures if or when they happen. The responsibility on us all as Members of your Lordships' House is real; it is rigorous and it is right.
In conclusion, I said last year when the scrutiny level of this House intensified that we needed to put our own house in order. That is what we have been doing, and that is what we are doing today. The proposals before the House are considered and correct and I urge the House to adopt them and to continue our processes of reform and improvement.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in wishing to convince your Lordships to agree the Motions laid by the Lord Chairman of Committees relating to the new code of conduct. A great deal of thought has gone into this and there has been wide consultation in the House. As has already been said, the House should rightly be grateful to the Leader's Group led by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, to the Committee for Privileges and, specifically, to the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. An enormous amount of reflection and discussion has been undergone in the past few weeks. While I may or may not agree with every nuance-and your Lordships may have your own detailed questions-overall, a good balance has been struck. I unequivocally support the reports that are before us and I hope that your Lordships will support them too.
There is an air of "bash the House" about. There is a fashion for breast-beating and people, including some who have recently come among us, saying that everything in the old House was bad. There is talk of systems being wrong in the past and the need for radical change. I do not defend the old systems. I recognise and urge the need for change. Equally, as one who has been here for nearly 25 years, I would say
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If there are problems-and there have been problems which have had to be and will yet have to be dealt with-they have been the errors not of the many but of the few. Let us not fall into the trap of letting anyone set up this House, this unpaid House, as a den of thieves and chisellers. It was not so in the past, and it is not today. However, given the degree of public distrust of politics and politicians, it is vital that in our daily conduct we should follow clear and understandable rules and that what we do and the way we do it are both transparent and fully accountable.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and Mr Jack Straw have recently leaked plans for a paid, fully elected Chamber from which we will all be removed, but that is for a future Parliament to decide. Unless and until that day comes, we will remain as we are now: an unpaid House drawing heavily on the expertise that noble Lords bring from other walks of life and from their interests-without the ability to speak about their interests, we would be in a sorry state. In such a House, we need clear rules that enable Peers to earn a living outside and to play a full part here. I think that this code meets that challenge.
I know that some object to the idea that we should sign a document acknowledging our acceptance of the code. Some feel that it impugns their honour, that it demeans the House or purports to place a condition on the Writ. These are important questions, no doubt, but there is also no doubt that the House may enjoin rules on Peers. There are many things that we sign in life far less important than an undertaking to abide by the rules set by this House, which shares in making law for every subject of the Crown.
I confess that I cannot share the anxiety of some on this point. I ask your Lordships to reflect on how it would be seen were the House to oppose such a proposal from your Lordships' Committee for Privileges. The British public, drowned as they are under a mass of forms, undertakings and regulations to sign and abide with, would not begin to understand what was in your Lordships' mind. I hope that we will not let ourselves be caught up on that small hook and lose sight of the significance of the code before us.
I defend the honour and integrity of this House; I condemn the actions of a few; but I urge your Lordships to accept that greater transparency and clarity has been made necessary and to give these Motions your support.
Lord McNally: My Lords, often, when I am showing people around this building, I say that I have worked here for more than 40 years and that I never enter it without a sense of awe for what it stands for, for what it is. As we are very close to the alarums of battle, I can also say, as one who is slightly to one side of it, something that I said yesterday. I think that this House has been very well served by the Leader of the House and the leader of the Opposition in the way that they have approached these very difficult circumstances. It would have been very easy for this to collapse into easy point-scoring on one side or another. The fact that we
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That is not drawing together in a common defence, but a real addressing by this House of the problems that we face. The vast majority of people in this House feel the sense of honour, duty and responsibility to which I referred. What we have had to come through has been extremely painful for many. I cannot remember which noble Baroness said at a very early stage, "For the first time, I came in this morning feeling ashamed of being in the House of Lords", because of some splash in one of the newspapers. We have come through it, thanks to the work of the committees, especially the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, and his committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and her committee. The Leader of the House's speech could well bear reading by the press, because it brought together very well the whole raft of reforms which are coming forward now to repair the reputation of this House.
I shall not repeat that, but I will echo the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I know that some colleagues will feel that the request to sign up to the code of conduct is a "When did you stop beating your wife?" declaration, but we must realise that the mood outside needs clear demonstrations. Members may well feel the affront of being asked to sign such a declaration but, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, it is a fairly small price to pay for that outward show of determination to put our House right.
On the use of facilities, we must remember that the outside use of facilities is also a subsidy. It would be almost impossible to run the facilities of this House commercially with the sitting days and the hours that we sit. The real clue-I again echo the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde-is transparency. If we know who is booking what, the chances of abuse are scant. I hope that we do not put the shutters up on the use of facilities by outside organisations because it is one of the benefits of this House.
The times, they are a-changin'. We cannot run the House in some of the comfortable ways that we have run it in the past, even though those ways were entirely innocent as well as being comfortable. We cannot just look at ourselves and have confidence in each other. We have to satisfy an external audience, and the work that we are putting in hand today goes some way to doing that.
Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, the final draft of the Guide to the Code of Conduct was agreed by the Committee for Privileges on 1 March and published last week. The fact that we are debating it today is evidence of the priority it has been given. Many of your Lordships will recognise the difficulty in codifying personal honour, which underlies much of what is in the guide, with a degree of clarity that will allow anyone who picks it up to know what is expected from him or her. I do not think we are quite there yet, and there will, no doubt, be some test cases which gradually refine usage and practice. Indeed, this is anticipated in the expressed intention to keep the guide under review.
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I, among many others in this House, have long argued for incremental reform. I consider the publication of this report and its intended implementation in the new Parliament to be such a reform. It may possibly have unanticipated consequences, as many small changes often do, but these are likely to be in the direction of greater clarity, transparency and accountability. There may then be the final recognition that this House must be subject to external audit not only of expenses, but of all other aspects of the ways in which we carry out our constitutional function.
If we are to embrace change, then let us do so not with mealy-mouthed reluctance but with conviction. Public perception is not to be manipulated but to be heard and responded to when it is appropriate. However, I have to say that I do not believe that our hair shirt should extend to the eradication of your Lordships' House as we know it. In any case, this would not be the answer.
As I look around the House today, I see so many hugely distinguished Peers who would not dream of putting themselves up for election. We would be a lesser House without them, and the public would be the poorer. We are moving towards professionalism, which some may regret, but the days when the concept of personal honour alone held sway are over; accountability to the taxpayer is paramount. No doubt there will be some who pick away at this code to find gaps, but gaps do not mean loopholes. They mean areas which have yet to be identified and remedied. Our job is to climb out of perdition by accepting these conditions and enhancing their implementation.
A favourite strategic vision question that is often asked in interviews is, "What would you like to see in five or 10 years' time?". I should like a much smaller professional House of experts from a very wide range of disciplines: a House with a well-oiled machinery for ensuring accountability and transparency that is therefore fit to carry out its pre-eminent function-to scrutinise and revise legislation.
Lord Eames: My Lords, the code of conduct which the Leader's Group presented to this House was considered in detail by the House last November. As the Hansard report of that discussion indicates, there was general support for the thinking behind our recommendations. We were, however, conscious that great importance should attach to the substance of the guide as well as to the code. It is one thing to produce a code or statement of how a Peer should regard his or her conduct in Parliament; it is surely an equally important task to provide interpretation of and guidance on that conduct. Therefore, the Leader's Group welcomed the decision to invite the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, to lead the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests in examining the guide in detail.
When I had the honour of presenting the report by the Leader's Group in November, I tried to emphasise that we recognised the importance of such a review, and I pay tribute to the work involved on the part of
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I will refer briefly to just two aspects of the report before us. First, I accept the argument for the date of the implementation of the new code of conduct as the start of the new Parliament. It is surely entirely desirable that by then we will all have had the opportunity to review our entries in the Register of Members' Interests. As the House will recall, the Leader's Group proposed the appointment of the Lords commissioner for standards. Since the November debate on our report, a considerable number of Peers have spoken to me and my colleagues of their approval of this decision. Events even since November have surely underlined the importance of this decision. Throughout the work of the Leader's Group, we were deeply conscious of the need to place the code of conduct within a framework that would do much to address the cynicism and open criticism of Parliament by such a wide cross-section of public opinion. This appointment will do much to meet that situation, but in this debate today it is important to underline that the code of conduct document, together with the guide before us, will form the agenda-the working brief-of the new commissioner.
Secondly, as we stated in November, much of what we are doing is taking us into uncharted waters. There will be a development of interpretations and an evolving precedent of criteria in the observance of a new code and its guide. The acceptance of the new post of commissioner in our daily work as a House will mean that, from time to time, the guidance to the observance of a code will need to be addressed. That is why what this House decided last November and what we decide today is so important. Despite whatever changes may emerge because of experience, surely it must be known and recognised that we are setting out the principles that will make our work transparent, understandable and open to wide scrutiny. The guide as a developing phenomenon must be an instrument which, as far as possible, removes dilemma and doubt as to what is expected of us.
Paragraphs 103 to 128 of the guide refer to the work of the commissioner. Those paragraphs are of necessity a first step in establishing his or her duties. Experience will most likely provoke reviews of particular parts of his or her work. However, I wish to draw attention to one aspect of paragraphs 103 to 128. Irrespective of the details of any individual case of complaint and irrespective of the ultimate outcome, I believe that the House needs to exercise sensitivity towards the opportunities a Peer under investigation has to present his or her case.
My concern is-I speak personally-that there could be occasions when a Peer under investigation may find it difficult best to present his or her case by themselves, bearing in mind the seriousness of the occasion and the situation in which they will find themselves. Under
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I welcome the fact that the code will be binding on all Members of the House. The nation is demanding nothing less and has a right to expect nothing less. That is why the Leader's Group places such emphasis on the mandatory nature of the undertaking expected of all Peers and why we suggested more than a mere acknowledgement of the code at the beginning of a Session. While the signing of a declaration may sound to some as overbearing, to say the least, I believe that it sends a symbolic message to the outside world.
I express the hope that in our debate today those who have particular issues or problems with any part of the proposed guide will bear in mind that even now not every word will be cast in stone. The House will ask the sub-committee to keep the new guide under constant review and, where appropriate, to propose amendments for our consideration. That was the spirit behind the proposal of the Leader's Group that the House received last November. It would be unfortunate if in today's debate individual difficulties over the interpretation of this guide should prevent the whole House, as it did in November, from moving forward and grasping the opportunities for a fresh beginning, which will push back such negative and divisive images of the immediate past.
In closing, I join those who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and her colleagues for the presentation of this guide to the code. I cannot commit all the former members of the Leader's Group, for we are no longer in existence, but for myself I unreservedly support the proposed guide.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I wish to say a few words about the guide and some residual concerns that I have over implementation. I gave evidence originally to the Nolan commission and to Wicks in his review of the House of Commons between 1997 and 2001. I also prepared a detailed proposal for a guide and code of conduct for the Eames committee.
My first observation concerns presentation. We will have two documents-the code of conduct and the guide-and I suggest that we should publish only one document, which is the position in the Commons. The Commons document has the code of conduct together with the guide to the rules so that there can be no misunderstanding as to what is the relevant document when anyone is considering their position.
I welcome paragraphs 109 and 110, which establish the remit for the commissioner. Following my experience on the Standards and Privileges Committee in the
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