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House of Lords

Wednesday, 17 December 2014.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

The Duke of Somerset took the oath, following the by-election under Standing Order 9.

Royal Assent

11.07 am

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

Childcare Payments Act

Wales Act

Taxation of Pensions Act

Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act

Childcare Payments Bill


11.08 am

Asked by Baroness Shephard of Northwold

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what specific estimates they have made of the impact of the Childcare Payments Bill on maternal employment rates and the level of income tax paid by working mothers.

Lord Newby (LD): My Lords, the Government expect a positive impact on both participation in employment and hours worked as a result of the Childcare Payments Act, although it is not currently possible to quantify this, given the lack of recent literature evidence for the UK. Further evaluation of the evidence around employment effects can be found in the recently published updated impact assessment available on the parliament.uk website.

Baroness Shephard of Northwold (Con): I thank my noble friend for his typically detailed reply. I wonder whether he is aware that the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, on which I serve, has been requesting an answer to that question from the Treasury for some months. The committee has been deeply disappointed by his department’s apparent inability—refusal, even—to provide a Minister to give evidence before it, even though the Exchequer Secretary has specific and named responsibility for childcare, women and the economy. Would my noble friend, whose own accountability credentials are impeccable, care to comment on his department’s understanding of parliamentary accountability, it being the season of good will?

Lord Newby: Thank you for that. My Lords, it is standard practice that Treasury Ministers appear before only the Treasury Committee and the Lords Economic Affairs Committee when specific Treasury policy leads. I personally regret that, but I failed completely to get my Treasury colleagues to see the error of their ways.

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Baroness Massey of Darwen (Lab): My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a member of the Affordable Childcare Committee. Does the Minister agree that matters of children and families should be cross-departmental as well as cross-party? Does he not therefore think it disgraceful that the Affordable Childcare Committee could not attract a Minister or anyone from the Treasury to comment on our proceedings? We lack its expertise on that.

Lord Newby: My Lords, as I said, I have considerable sympathy with the noble Baroness’s view. However, when I was on the Economic Affairs Sub-Committee on the Finance Bill, not only did the Treasury refuse under Gordon Brown to send a Minister, it refused to send officials or to answer a detailed letter.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, I also declare an interest as a member of the committee. Does my noble friend share my concern that, during our deliberations looking at the effect of childcare affordability and availability on maternal employment, we found that there was a distinct lack of research on where the tipping points are for families when they make a decision about whether both parents should work? In the light of that concern, does my noble friend share our frustration that we could not get a Minister there? The Department for Education provided an excellent Minister, who gave us a lot of answers to questions that arose out of his evidence, and that is the advantage of having a Minister in front of you. We did not have the opportunity to do that with the Treasury.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I absolutely take that point. However, as my noble friend will be aware, the chairman of the committee wrote to my honourable friend and she replied to the chairman of the committee a couple of days ago, I hope giving useful information which will be for the benefit of the committee.

Lord McFall of Alcluith (Lab): My Lords, on the issue of childcare, as chairman of a civic welfare and benefits group in Scotland, along with my colleagues in the churches, trade unions, local authorities and charities I visited a food bank in Drumchapel last week. We were informed there that over 25% of the clients were working poor, mostly women with childcare needs. That supports research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which stated last year that there were more working poor in the UK than non-working poor households. Given that situation, if the Government are to live up to their rhetoric of helping hard-working families, is there not a case for Iain Duncan Smith—who, incidentally, visited Drumchapel—to look at this situation urgently so that we can indeed help the working poor and so that the Government can live up to their promises?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Government are doing a whole raft of things to help the working poor. One of the main reasons why the working poor are quite so poor is that they are not working as many hours as they would like to work. One of the interesting findings from recent survey evidence is that nearly a quarter of

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employed mothers said that they would increase their working hours if they could arrange reliable, convenient, affordable and good-quality childcare. Many of those are exactly the kind of parents to whom the noble Lord referred.

Lord Higgins (Con): My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that Treasury Ministers also refused to appear in front of the ad hoc Select Committee on Personal Service Companies, even though that was clearly a Treasury responsibility, and officials were not allowed to appear either. Is this not clearly, whatever the previous precedents might have been, a totally unsatisfactory situation if we are to hold the Government to account? Therefore, if my noble friend cannot persuade Treasury Ministers, should we not have a meeting between the Liaison Committee or the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer? We really cannot go on having matters that we are investigating, which are Treasury matters, with Treasury Ministers refusing to appear or allowing their officials to do so.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I would personally welcome any measures that would put more pressure on my Treasury colleagues to appear before your Lordships’ House.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, on the practical aspects of this Question, does the Minister agree that it is important that not only should the Government support working parents with the cost of childcare, they should also look at ways to help improve access to flexible childcare? What action are the Government taking in this very important respect?

Lord Newby: My Lords, the key thing is to increase both the quantity and the quality of the childcare that is available. A welcome development is the fact that a larger number of primary schools are now providing nursery places. Also, the Government have been supporting, by way of grant, individuals to set up as childminders, as a result of which there are now several tens of thousands more places available than was the case a couple of years ago.

Lord Davies of Oldham (Lab): My Lords, it may be the season of good will, but there is not much good will on the part of the Government to women. Will he confirm that 85% of the additional cash received by the Government through changes to direct taxes and benefits is in fact obtained from women?

Lord Newby: My Lords, that is a figure I have never heard and do not recognise. I would just remind the noble Lord that more women are now in work than ever before, that there is better support in terms of free childcare for young children, that free school meals are provided for all children at a young age and that the pupil premium means, in effect, that families with several young children now get several thousand pounds-worth of direct benefit each year. None of these things obtained under the previous Administration.

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NHS: Dermatology Services


11.17 am

Asked by Lord Kennedy of Southwark

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to improve dermatology services in the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, we want all patients with dermatological conditions to have access to high-quality, patient-centred services wherever they live. NHS England has set national standards to ensure that the needs of patients with the rarest skin conditions are met, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published clinical guidance and quality standards to drive improvement for common conditions, and we are currently investing more than £9 million in dermatology research.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, does the noble Earl believe that we have the balance right between the training that doctors and other healthcare professionals receive and the people they have to deal with, who have conditions ranging from minor skin complaints to serious skin cancers? If we do not have the balance right, what appropriate changes have to be made to make sure that patients are provided with the best possible care?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the Government have mandated Health Education England to provide national leadership on education, training and workforce development. Dermatology is currently a key part of the generalist undergraduate medical curriculum and a component of GP training. The General Medical Council requires that the undergraduate medical curriculum should provide enough structured clinical placements to enable students to demonstrate the outcomes for graduates across a range of clinical specialties, including dermatology.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes (Con): My Lords, with my typical Australian fair skin and the strong sunlight there, I had a skin cancer some years ago. I have to go back and be checked and I consider that I am being looked after very well. However, the one thing that the consultant always says when he sees me on this annual basis is that there is a lot of unhappiness about the research money. When people apply for research funding, it tends not to go to those who are actually doing the work, but to someone who carries the name of being the research officer in the department. The money is spent on administration rather than on actual research. Can my noble friend tell me whether that has improved since I last raised this point, which must be about two years ago?

Earl Howe: My Lords, the National Institute for Health Research’s clinical research network is currently recruiting patients to more than 60 studies in dermatology. Specifically, it funds a wide range of research on skin cancer. It has awarded £1 million for research on GP

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and patient interventions to improve early diagnosis of malignant melanoma in primary care. Another NIHR award is on understanding the experiences and support needs of patients with melanoma and their carers, and patients are being recruited to 18 melanoma studies. I will take away my noble friend’s point about administrative costs but clearly any research project carries such costs, which must be covered somehow. Unless the balance is wholly wrong, I do not think we should be worried that some funding goes towards administration.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, it is a truism in medicine that one of the greatest stimuli towards the recruitment of doctors into a particular specialty is the example that they respect from their teachers. Many years ago when I was dean of medicine in Newcastle, the standard of dermatological services in the area was relatively poor. The appointment of a new professor who had a stimulating effect on teaching and recruitment made an immense difference. What are the Government doing to encourage Universities UK to recruit new professors in dermatology?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord on that issue. I know that there is not an issue in relation to the number of dermatologists serving in the health service. We believe that number to be satisfactory. But as regards the emergence of leaders in the sense that he has described, I shall have to take advice and let him know.

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, NHS England has set the objective of all patients receiving a timely and accurate diagnosis within three months of referral. Is that objective being met?

Earl Howe: My Lords, as my noble friend has said, there are clear standards in any referral to treatment situation. That includes dermatology. Where those standards are being breached, we expect commissioners to monitor that and bear down on the failure.

Lord Bradley (Lab): My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that the psychological and social impact of skin disease, such as psoriasis, can be devastating. But is he aware of the 2011 survey by Dr Anthony Bewley, which found that of 127 hospitals across the UK only one had a dedicated dermatology psychiatric clinic, only seven had a psychodermatology service, and only one had a children and adolescent psychodermatology service? What action will the Government take significantly to improve psychodermatology services across the country?

Earl Howe: I was not aware of that survey but the noble Lord’s point is well made. Guidance for the management of both common and complex skin conditions set out by NICE and NHS England makes it very clear that access to psychological services for patients should be considered where appropriate. Through the IAPT—Improving Access to Psychological Therapies —programme, NHS England is looking at how best to support people with psychological problems arising from their physical problems, including, very significantly, skin conditions.

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Alcohol-related Disease


11.23 am

Asked by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to address the increase in alcohol-related disease.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, we have set out the Government’s approach to reducing the incidence of alcohol-related disease in the Government’s alcohol strategy. Our ambition is to radically reshape the approach to alcohol and reduce the number of people drinking to excess. We are seeing encouraging signs of change, with the first significant fall for some years in alcohol-related deaths in England in 2012.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, I am sure the whole House would wish me to congratulate the noble Earl on being nominated by Health Service Journal as the 29th most powerful person in the National Health Service.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Coming in at 95, I look on with admiration, but from some way behind. Did the noble Earl notice that a Mr Lynton Crosby came 50th in that list? Does he think that that reflects the rather close relationship between the Conservative Party and the drinks industry—and does that explain the outrageous delay in the publication of the Chief Medical Officer’s review of what safe levels of drinking should be?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord would not expect me to agree with him on the position of Mr Crosby in relation to the drinks industry. We feel it right to engage with the industry because it is in a position of influence over consumers, and we have seen, through the responsibility deals, some real progress, which it has instigated at our prompting. I recognise the issue that the noble Lord raises on price. That, of course, is only one aspect of the issue of alcohol consumption and its prevention.

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, I declare my interest as professor of surgery at University College London. A recent Lancet commission on liver disease in the UK has identified alcoholic liver disease as an increasing cause of mortality in our country. What measures do Her Majesty’s Government propose to take to improve both expertise and facilities for the early detection and treatment of liver disease in primary care?

Earl Howe: My Lords, increasingly, GPs are being made aware of the need to upskill in this area. Of course, it is not just GPs but local authorities who have responsibilities in the arena of public health to

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make sure that excessive drinking is discouraged. I can write to the noble Lord with the precise details of the GP training that I am aware of.

Lord Ribeiro (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend agree with Professor Roger Williams, author of the Lancet commission report on liver disease, that with more than 1 million admissions per year due to alcohol-related conditions, and the developing tsunami of obesity cases, many of whom will present with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, services will be seriously stretched in the future? What efforts are going to be made to try to stem this tide?

Earl Howe: My noble friend is right. I am afraid that the figures for hospital admissions over the past 12 years make gloomy reading. Admissions relating to alcohol-related illness have more than doubled. We welcome the recent falls in alcohol consumption that we are witnessing, and the falls in alcohol-related deaths, but we should not be complacent—and we are not. Harms such as liver disease, as well as social impacts such as crime and domestic violence linked to alcohol, remain much too high, and Public Health England is giving priority to alcohol issues from this year, particularly through support to local authorities.

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, on the point the noble Earl made earlier about Public Health England and dissemination of funds to local authorities, he will remember that that before Public Health England was set up, £800 million that was ring-fenced for drug use and drug treatment was given to the new body to disseminate to local authorities. Can he say how much of that funding is now diverted from the essential treatment that drug users need to people misusing alcohol, thus probably raising drug-related deaths, acquisitive crime and drug use generally across the country?

Earl Howe: The noble Lord was kind enough to give me prior notice of that question just before we came in. I have taken advice on it, and the advice I have received is that there is no wholesale evidence of a shift of funding from drug treatment to alcohol treatment. There may be the odd example of that, but I can tell the noble Lord that Public Health England is monitoring this issue in local areas, to make sure that that shift does not take place in a disproportionate way in relation to the need in those areas.

Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, the BMA states that the misuse of alcohol is costing the UK £25 billion a year and imposing immense burdens on our overloaded health and criminal justice systems. Is not the answer to increase alcohol duty, starting with the alcohol duty escalator, which was withdrawn by the Chancellor, forfeiting £1 billion in revenue over the next five years, thereby also making it more difficult for us to meet our fiscal commitments? Increases in alcohol duties are the answer, as everybody who has studied the matter agrees.

Earl Howe: My Lords, we have acted on alcohol pricing. We have to look at this in the round and in relation to what is happening. Alcohol consumption

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per head has fallen in recent years. Reduced affordability of alcohol—influenced, I may say, by tax rises above the RPI each year to 2013—has certainly been one factor in that, we believe. We are committed to reducing alcohol-related harm. We have already banned alcohol sales below the level of duty plus VAT, meaning that it will no longer be legal to sell a can of ordinary lager for less than about 40p.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab): My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of the British Liver Trust, which was associated with the Lancet commission report. I am sure that the Minister will agree that deaths from liver damage related to alcohol are increasing, not decreasing. Although the Government have made changes to pricing, why is Public Health England stating that there needs to be significant movement on pricing and easy access to alcohol before there will be any effect not just on deaths but the wider problems that arise from alcohol harm?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord is referring to minimum unit pricing, among other things. The long-term trend in alcohol-related deaths is indeed upwards, although there has been a dip over the past four years. Minimum unit pricing is a policy that is still under consideration. It has only ever been one part of the Government’s alcohol strategy, which includes a range of national and local actions, including partnership with industry, as I said, and increased powers for local communities to tackle harm. There are various ways in which we can address the problem, which the noble Lord rightly highlights.

Police: Funding


11.32 am

Asked by Lord Cormack

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the comments by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, what plans they have for the funding of policing over the next five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, the provisional police grant report to be published shortly sets out the Government’s decisions on police funding for 2015-16. No decisions have yet been taken on police funding beyond March 2016. However, as the police have shown categorically under this Government, it is possible to deliver lower crime while reducing budgets.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer and congratulate him on his Dispatch Box manner, which has been exemplary since he became a Minister. However, does he not realise that there is very real concern in the country—not least in Lincolnshire, where the chief constable made a similar statement to Sir Bernard’s just a week before him? Is my noble friend confident that, apart from anything else, we will be able to continue to recruit candidates in the right number and of the right quality, because public confidence in the police service is being somewhat damaged by these statements?

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Lord Bates: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks, which are of course reciprocated. On the budgets that we are talking about, it is important to say that we inherited a very difficult set of financial circumstances, and the police had to take their share of the pressure. The reality is that although absolute police budgets have fallen by 16% in cash terms, crime has fallen by 20%. That is welcome. Indeed, in Lincolnshire, where Neil Rhodes is, there has been a 20% reduction in overall crime levels against a 10% change in overall officer numbers. That gives some encouragement that it can be done.

Lord Condon (CB): My Lords, I declare my registered interest in policing. Does the Minister accept that it will be prudent for the next Government, of whatever complexion, to consider further police reform, including potential amalgamations, if such reform is shown to provide better value for money, improve public confidence and, most importantly, safeguard neighbourhood policing, which seems to be under threat? Does he agree that the current Government’s support for police and crime commissioners should not get in the way of, or inhibit, further discussion of sensible reform?

Lord Bates: I acknowledge the noble Lord’s great expertise in this area. The current Commissioner of the Met, while warning about cuts, also said that cuts without reform would not work. I think that everyone is signed up to the fact that there needs to be reform. What that reform should be is where the debate lies. Our argument is that perhaps there is greater room for the reform of policing—for example, doing away with targets and making just one target of cutting crime, and being better co-ordinated in terms of procurement between forces. Those are arguments that can be had. I also recognise the importance of local policing, which the noble Lord referred to as well.

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, the Minister is aware that cuts upon cuts to police budgets mean that more functions are now being carried out by the private security industry—even custody suites in police stations. The role of private security is increasing dramatically and it is interacting with the public daily, so why have the Government failed to regulate private security firms? The consultation on this issue had one of the largest responses ever and it was almost unanimous in its support for regulation. The industry itself—that is, the organisations representing those businesses—is calling for regulation urgently, so why will the Government not act in the interests of the public and of the industry?

Lord Bates: Of course the private security industry is the subject of regulation, and I will come to that. The reality is that in the past, in 2010, there were 5,000 police officers who were dealing with back-office and administrative functions. We said that, given the need to reduce overall budgets, the essential thing was to protect front-line policing, and therefore that we needed to move those people out of administrative tasks and on to the front line to actually fight against crime. That is what they have done, heroically, and that has led to a reduction in overall crime.

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Lord Dholakia (LD): My Lords, are there any plans to extend the powers of the police and crime commissioners to investigate serious complaints against police officers? If so, what discussions have taken place with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, and what additional resources does my noble friend have in mind for the crime commissioners?

Lord Bates: There have been no proposals to do that. The Independent Police Complains Commission, to which police and crime commissioners are also accountable, is covered by the present regime. Police and crime commissioners can play a leading role in helping to produce more effective policing locally, as is the case in Northamptonshire, where they have instituted co-operation between the police, fire and ambulance service in order to reduce costs and protect front-line policing.

Lord Blair of Boughton (CB): My Lords, I also declare my interest in policing. I want to go back to the Minister’s Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. After five years in office, is it not rather surprising that the Government do not have a strategy for what to do next?

Lord Bates: Obviously I defer to the noble Lord and his expertise, but the Government do have a strategy. We want the police to focus on cutting crime. We give the responsibility to police and crime commissioners and to chief constables to try to determine what the allocation of those resources should be in their local communities. That is what our strategy is. It is then down to the police and crime commissioners and chief constables to implement that. They are doing a terrific job, which is the reason why recorded crime is down to its lowest level.

Bank Recovery and Resolution Order 2014

Banking Act 2009 (Restriction of Special Bail-in Provision, etc.) Order 2014

Banks and Building Societies (Depositor Preference and Priorities) Order 2014

Banking Act 2009 (Mandatory Compensation Arrangements Following Bail-in) Regulations 2014

Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Carrying on Regulated Activities by Way of Business) (Amendment) Order 2014

Motions to Approve

11.38 am

Moved by Lord Newby

That the draft orders and regulations laid before the House on 18 and 24 November be approved.

Relevant documents: 14th and 15th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Considered in Grand Committee on 15 December.

Motions agreed.

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Recall of MPs Bill

Recall of MPs Bill

Second Reading

11.39 am

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, the Bill fulfils a coalition commitment to deliver a practical recall mechanism to hold MPs to account where they have been found guilty of wrongdoing. The three main parties in their 2010 manifestos committed to establishing such a recall mechanism, and this commitment was again made in the coalition programme for government. Where an MP has been found guilty of serious wrongdoing, the Bill will give constituents their say on whether their MP should remain in office.

The Government have sought to steer a sensible middle course in developing proposals to deliver those intentions. The other place was clear that the Bill should not change the position where MPs act as representatives of their constituents and not as delegates. In this regard, the Bill preserves the ability of MPs to take decisions on difficult policy issues without the fear of losing their seat as a result.

I will remind your Lordships of the progress of the Bill to date. The Government published their White Paper and draft Recall of MPs Bill in 2011, and pre-legislative scrutiny was conducted by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on those proposals. The committee made some valuable recommendations, the majority of which were accepted and incorporated into the Bill for its introduction. The Government believe that there is a gap in the current disciplinary measures affecting MPs which needs to be filled, which will provide assurance that where an MP has been found guilty of serious wrongdoing they will be held to account.

The Bill has been considered in detail in the other place. That scrutiny included full consideration of the Bill in a Committee of the whole House. It was open to Members to listen to the arguments presented on a range of proposals to modify the Bill. The Government felt it was important that MPs could vote freely on these proposals, as they concern their own conduct and disciplinary arrangements. MPs agreed a number of amendments, and the Bill before this House reflects these changes.

The central tenet of the Bill is that recall petitions must be based on wrongdoing, and that parliamentarians must, in the absence of wrongdoing, be free to express their views on matters of policy without fear of losing their seat. The heart of the Bill relates to the three conditions under which a petition would be opened. On those conditions, the first “trigger” for a recall petition is that an MP is convicted in the UK of an offence and receives a custodial sentence. MPs imprisoned for more than a year are already automatically disqualified from Parliament, but there is no such measure for those who receive a sentence of 12 months or less or a suspended sentence. Therefore, this trigger will fill that gap. As noble Lords will be aware, the imprisonment of an MP is likely to cause constituents to question

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their faith in that Member of Parliament. Under those circumstances, therefore, it will be up to constituents to sign a petition to decide whether there should be a by-election. As is the case under all three triggers in the Bill, a by-election will be held where at least 10% of constituents sign that petition.

The Bill as introduced to Parliament provided that only those offences committed after the Act came into force would be caught. However, Members of Parliament in the other place voted on a change to allow offences that were committed before the Act came into force to be caught as long as the conviction took place after this time. For the purposes of the Bill, it does not matter whether the offender became a Member of Parliament before or after the offence, only that he or she did so before the relevant conviction.

The second trigger for a recall petition requires that an MP is suspended from the House, following a report from the Standards Committee, for a length of 10 sitting days or more. The length of such a suspension, which is deemed to follow wrongdoing serious enough to warrant a recall petition, was reduced from 21 sitting days following an amendment accepted on Report in the other place. The second trigger has been designed to work alongside the House’s existing disciplinary processes. For this reason, there is no specification of the grounds on which the committee, or the House, should consider a suspension of this length.

The third trigger for a recall petition is a new trigger, the result of an amendment made on Report in the other place. Under this trigger, a recall petition will be opened when an MP is convicted of an offence under Section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, where an MP knowingly provides information in relation to parliamentary expenses that is false or misleading. This trigger is similar to the first in that it involves a court finding an MP guilty of an offence. However, in adopting this additional trigger MPs clearly felt that expenses fraud should be treated particularly seriously. Therefore, any conviction under this offence will trigger a recall petition, regardless of whether the sentence imposed involves detention in custody or the issuing of a fine. All three triggers have been developed to work alongside existing arrangements. The Bill as drafted steers a course between the accountability of Members of Parliament and the sovereignty of Parliament in regulating its own affairs.

I turn to the conduct of petitions which will be held when a trigger is activated. The procedures that have been laid out in the Bill have been designed to fit with the high standard rightly expected by the public of an official democratic election in this country. They will be run by the petition officer, the same person who fills the role of returning officer at UK parliamentary elections in the constituency. The signing period will last for eight weeks. If at the end of this period the 10% threshold is met, the MP will lose his or her seat and a by-election will be held. There will be no legal barrier to the Member of Parliament standing in this by-election. I will not set out the process in detail here, but I assure noble Lords that the necessary safeguards have been put in place to ensure that the process is robust, fair and open.

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The Government believe that the Bill strikes the right balance in delivering a sensible and robust recall mechanism that meets the commitment made by the coalition Government at the beginning of this Parliament. As I have described, it has been shaped through pre-legislative scrutiny and by consideration in the other place. The Bill is about the conduct of Members of the other place, and those Members have examined this in detail. We should therefore approach its consideration in this House with sympathy to the debates that have already been had and the conclusions that have been reached.

The Government intend to table largely technical amendments to the Bill in Committee which will give effect to the amendments made in the other place, as tabled by the Opposition. These amendments are necessary to ensure that the changes endorsed in the other place can work effectively. These amendments will be tabled early, which I hope will be of benefit to your Lordships’ consideration of the Bill in Committee. I look forward to the debate, to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Cooper of Windrush and to the further stages of the Bill in this House.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): I am sorry to interrupt, but does the noble Lord mean that the Government will be tabling amendments relating to the 10 days under the second trigger? Will the amendments deal with the 10-day question?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, my noble friend may be helpful in his concluding remarks, but I think that these are technical amendments which give effect to the amendments agreed in the other place, rather than amendments addressing the noble Lord’s point. Perhaps, by the time of winding up, the precise point that he raises will have been considered.

We should be mindful of the conclusions of the other place in relation to the discipline of its Members. For these reasons, I commend the Bill to the House and I beg to move.

11.49 am

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill so clearly. Like him, I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Windrush, in which he will bring his experience not just from No. 10 but from the SDP—so he will have some insights for us, I think.

This is a significant Bill and its heart, I believe, is in the right place. We support constituents having the power to recall their MP for serious wrongdoing. Perhaps I can surprise your Lordships’ House by quoting with approval Andrew Lansley, who said:

“When the public see instances of gross misconduct that result in … a court sentence or a … period of suspension … they say that in any other … profession people would lose their jobs … This Bill puts Members in that position when it might not have happened otherwise”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/14; col. 130.]

We concur with that aim.

The Bill introduces an entirely new process which, in the words of our Constitution Committee,

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“affects a fundamental principle of the … constitution: representative democracy. In particular, it arguably runs counter to the long-established Burkean principle that Members of Parliament are not delegates”.

First, as the Minister said, it will see a recall petition triggered, either by a court or by a vote in the Commons on a recommendation from the Standards Committee; secondly, a gathering of signatures from those who want the MP to stand down; and, thirdly, if 10% sign, a by-election that the MP would be free to contest. We support the Bill’s intention; we want the highest standards in public life and agree that an MP sentenced to prison or who has misused their expenses should be held to account by the electorate.

However, I have to ask why the Government have taken so long to produce this Bill. The 2010 coalition agreement said:

“We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall”.

The draft Bill was published 18 months later and now here we are three years later finally with the Bill. As the Minister in the Commons admitted,

“we have not rushed into this reform”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 21/10/14; col. 770.]

Indeed, the delay is so long that it can have no effect in this Parliament, as we are already in the six months before a general election, during which the Bill, under Clause 5(2), has no effect.

More seriously, after all this time and that delay, why have both the principles and logistics not been better thought through? There are two big questions that the Government need to answer. First, is this a secret or an open process? Secondly, are they confident that there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that recall really will be in the hands of constituents and not at the whim of wealthy groups running expensive campaigns?

On the first of these, we must decide as a Parliament whether this is going to be a public petition for a recall or a secret ballot. The Constitution Committee has noted that,

“signing a recall petition is a public act”.

Indeed, anyone going into the signing room is automatically voting for a recall, as there is no “against” on the petition signature list. Furthermore, as a marked register showing who has voted will be published after the ballot, the list of those calling for a recall would be made public. That is the end of the traditional secret ballot. The Government appear to accept this, judging by their response to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, although in the Commons the Minister seemed to say that while,

“there will be a marked register”,

he then said that the Government were considering whether it would be,

“in the public domain”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 3/11/14; col. 595.]

This is too big an issue for the Government still to be considering at this stage of the Bill. We must know the answer. Is the list of those who have signed to be made public, or not? If it is, every potential voter must know beforehand that their name and address will be made public, as the marked register comes into the public domain. It also means that care will be needed

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over intimidation—not just being watched or filmed going into the signing places but even if they vote by post, because that can only be a vote for a recall—if the marked register is then publicly available.

There is an alternative, which the Government have not chosen, which is for the petition to be secret and depart from the normal practice of making the marked register public, while taking steps to ensure that the scrutineers, the press and others abide by the rules of confidentiality. These are big questions and I look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, to update us on the Government’s current view on making the list of those who have signed available. Furthermore, how will the Government ensure that anyone who does sign, if the list is to be open, is aware of that before they take that decision?

My second major concern is whether there are sufficient safeguards to ensure that recall will be in the hands of constituents and not run by wealthy groups and their expensive campaigns. Will the defeated party run the pro-recall campaign? Perhaps, where MPs have been sentenced for so-called political crimes—refusal to pay the poll tax, trying to prevent fracking, defending an abortion clinic, or any “acts of protest without any element of violence or dishonesty” in the words of Democratic Audit—will the supporters or opponents of that cause pile into the constituency to resist or encourage the recall, potentially with large sums of money? The trigger may have been a sentence of imprisonment, but the possibility is that the campaign becomes on the issue of policy for which the MP is well known.

We have in this country MPs with a proud record of fighting for gay rights, the end of capital punishment, for abortion and assisted suicide. These causes are rightly fought on political or ideological grounds. We do not want them fought by the moneyed against the non-moneyed. We know that the public support us on this. A YouGov survey showed that half of those questioned thought that recall was appropriate where an MP broke a promise made in their election leaflets—sorry, Lib Dems, I did not say tuition fees. Rather surprisingly, only half of those questioned thought that crossing the Floor merited recall, despite in our country MPs being largely elected by their party label. However, most notably, the very last reason that people thought a recall should be triggered was that the MP supported a policy with which the voter disagreed. I believe that that chimes with our concerns on policy-driven campaigns.

The problem is that the Bill allows for any number of pro-recall accredited campaign groups each to spend up to £10,000, but with the MP capped at £10,000 for his or her own “Please don’t sign for recall” campaign. There could be £10,000 for the campaign of the MP who is up for recall against £50,000 or £100,000 with any number of groups, each of which could spend up to £10,000. Who knows how many well-funded vested interests could come in, particularly in a marginal seat or where the Government have a tiny majority?

We need rules on the financing of a recall campaign which ensure that it is not hijacked by politically motivated groups out to deselect sitting MPs, not

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because of their misdeeds but because of their voting record. Whether this is by limiting each side to be able to spend £10,000 or by monitoring campaign literature, those are options which I hope we will explore more in Committee. Furthermore, while accredited campaigners’ spending would be covered by PPERA, non-accredited campaigners spending under £500 would be subject to no other regulation—presumably not even an imprint on their leaflets or checks on whether their donors were legitimate. So an overseas resident could, perhaps, give £400 to each of 20 local campaigns.

When we were taking the lobbying Bill through this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who is not in her place, warned us at the time about the PACs from America. Surely this is exactly what this Bill could allow. We can all think of newspapers, lobbyists, companies or anyone else who could easily pour money into a single seat. I therefore ask the Minister whether he is content with this absence of regulation for potentially many local campaigns. Are the Government willing to reconsider whether anyone involved should be covered by PPERA, despite their current view that that should not be the case?

I turn to some practical issues that we will explore in Committee. We welcome the increase in signing locations from just one in the original draft Bill to four, but why only four? In large rural areas this could mean very long journeys to sign in person. In Brecon and Radnorshire, which I think normally has about 90 polling stations, some electors will have a 30-minute drive each way to sign—an hour’s round trip by car. That is nigh impossible for those without a car. Why have the Government not thought to leave it to the local petition officer to assess what is best for an area in terms of accessibility as well as costs, as suggested by the Electoral Commission?

That brings me to the issue of costs. A recall will cost £55,000, according to the impact assessment. When I phoned a number of petition officers—returning officers, as they are called at the moment—I heard an enormous burst of laughter when I mentioned a sum of £55,000. I could not tape the laughter to bring it to the House today. Postage alone will cost £17,000 and printing £21,000, and that is before prepayment postage for the returning of postal votes, which will obviously go up from the normal number and could add another £3,000. There will also be substantial staffing costs. Even with just four places, there will have to be two people sitting in those four places for eight weeks, possibly from nine to five. At one point, it was suggested in the Commons that the hours would be from 7 am until 10 pm. However, I think they have rowed back since then and think that the hours will be nine to five, but, even so, the eight-week period and four locations, with two staff at each, constitutes a very high cost for any local authority. Moreover, local authorities do not at present have the computer software to be able to check electronically who has signed. Normally, this happens on one day at a general election, but over eight weeks one could sign in person in the first two weeks and then apply for a postal vote and sign again. We will have a good time discussing these issues in Committee.

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The Select Committee in the other place asked the Government to reconsider whether returning officers were qualified to oversee petition expenditure and donations, or whether the Electoral Commission was better placed to undertake this. Indeed, at present, no one will scrutinise the returns, as the returning officer’s job is only to preserve them. The Government have declined to give the Electoral Commission any role, yet there are challenging decisions to be made, such as which individuals are entitled to be permitted participants under PPERA and may therefore become accredited campaigners. Who will advise those sending in the notice to the returning officer whether they are permitted participants? Who will check up on it? Likewise with permissible donors, who will advise or check up on such matters? These will be absolutely new matters for returning officers but, given the amount of detail that will have to be covered in regulation, will the Government commit to publish early drafts, because a lot of the implementation of this Bill will be through secondary legislation? The Select Committee also emphasised that recall should not be a substitute for elections. I do not believe that the Bill is about that. It is about constituents being able to decide whether their Member of Parliament, having been imprisoned or found guilty of fiddling their expenses, should continue to serve as an MP as a right or face the judgment of their electorate.

We have no argument with the purpose of the Bill but regret the failure to use the delay to clear up some of these big policy decisions and a lot of practical decisions. For the future of our parliamentary democracy, it is right that someone who has transgressed should seek a vote of confidence from the electors, but we must make sure that this Bill is fit for purpose—a role that I know your Lordships’ House is willing and able to play.

12.04 pm

Lord Tyler (LD): My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, I share a large number of her concerns, not least on some of the detail to which she has given attention. We will, of course, come back to that in Committee. However, I do not share her view in one respect: the fact that the Bill has been a long time a-coming is indicative of the considerable interest that there has been at the other end of the building—for obvious reasons. I note that I am the first of some 10 former Members of Parliament contributing to this debate, and I suspect that we will hear some interesting observations in that respect.

In this House, I first proposed a recall power for MPs back in June 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the expenses scandal, to enable constituents rather than party leaders to instigate an appropriate review of the behaviour of their representatives. The proposal was defeated then but by the general election, just a few months later, all three parties committed to a recall power of the kind that I had proposed—one that covers “misconduct” and “serious wrongdoing”. At the last general election, that was how the proposals were expressed in a number of manifestos and it was, as the noble Baroness said, repeated in the coalition agreement. Now the Bill gives us the opportunity to make good on those promises. However, as the noble

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Baroness said, in its present form it is by no means perfect, and that is acknowledged by the work that has been done in the other place and the reference to our work on it there. There is important job of work for us to do.

There are technical issues to address in respect of ensuring that donors to recall campaigns are permissible and eligible, and to ensure that campaigns for and against recall are placed on an equal footing. On these Benches, we also note the reports of the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee in respect of the order-making powers of the Bill. It will be for the Minister to demonstrate why these are the right powers.

However, there is one big issue of principle at stake that we must all in this House address. When and in what circumstances recalls should occur is, I think, agreed between the parties—that is, in cases of serious misconduct or wrongdoing. But where the collective forces of the two government parties and the Opposition have not yet secured a good solution is the key question of who should be involved in that process of determining whether misconduct has indeed taken place.

The Bill sets out only two bodies that may decide. One is straightforward: if the courts sentence an MP to a prison sentence, that immediately triggers a recall petition. The second is less straightforward. If the Commons Standards Committee suspends a Member for 14 calendar days or 10 sitting days, a recall petition is automatically triggered. The problem is that the voting membership of the Standards Committee is composed entirely of MPs. Even taking into account the lay members, that is plainly an internal parliamentary body. To the public outside, this—quite reasonably—smacks of being a group of people who seek to retain what we might call “exclusive cognisance” over their own affairs. I am sure that noble Lords have already seen that the public have been responding to that problem as if it were equivalent to MPs marking their own homework. That is a fundamental problem.

Lord Campbell-Savours: Has the noble Lord asked some of his colleagues on that committee in the Commons what actually happens? The independents have never dissented from the position taken by the majority of electives.

Lord Tyler: I totally understand the point made by the noble Lord but that does not mean, of course, that there could not be circumstances when the non-voting, lay members of that committee—one suggestion is that their number should increase, but that is a matter for the other place—should be the ones who take the decision and recommend it to the voting members. That is complicated and still raises important questions, to which I will return.

The Bill is intended to increase the public’s confidence in their ability to hold parliamentarians to account when they fall below the standard expected of us. Without some means being built in for some independent adjudication on those standards completely outside Parliament, the Bill will fail in that objective and will be criticised as such. My colleagues in the Commons, Julian Huppert and David Heath, attempted to deal

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with this problem during the Commons stages. It was acknowledged that their proposals were not technically perfect—what early attempt at amendment ever is, in either House?—but that the principle behind their ideas had considerable merit, namely, that an election court with appropriate safeguards, or something like it, ought to be able to consider petitions directly from the public alleging misconduct or wrongdoing, and to hear evidence to the contrary from the MP concerned. Where real misconduct had taken place, the process would trigger a full recall petition. A by-election would follow if 10% of the MPs’ constituents signed up within the eight weeks, under the terms elsewhere of the Bill.

The principle behind this process will ensure both that no MP could be ejected simply for doing his or her job, or for exercising his or her judgment in the terms that the noble Baroness just said, but also that the Commons, through its internal committees, cannot be thought to be closing ranks to protect one of its own where serious wrongdoing really has taken place. I believe that there will be a serious case for carefully phrased amendments in that vein in Committee. We will seek support from all sides of the House in improving drafting to present a workable proposal to this House.

If anyone is in any doubt that we have a duty in your Lordships’ House to attempt this, they need only consider the words of those who took leading parts in the debates on the Bill in the other place. On the day of the Commons Report and Third Reading, the Minister in charge of the Bill, Greg Clark, said that,

“the Government were clear on Second Reading that we are open to ways to improve the Bill and we stand by that commitment”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/11/14; col. 681.]

That was on Report. Similarly, Stephen Twigg, Labour’s senior spokesman on these issues, said in Committee in the Commons:

“In principle, giving the power to the people to bring a case against their MP before the election court is a good idea. It treads the fine line between undermining an MP’s constitutional role and giving power to the people to hold their Member of Parliament to account for his or her conduct”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/14; col. 134.]

On Report, his colleague Thomas Docherty, from the Labour Front Bench, reaffirmed that the Opposition,

“support the principles behind the idea. We agree … on the idea of an independent mechanism when it can be demonstrated that wrongdoing has occurred”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/11/14; col. 672.]

I know that Mr Docherty would have preferred MPs not to vote on the proposals, leaving it entirely to your Lordships’ House. Nevertheless, he did presage the possibility that Labour Peers could,

“work with … Lib Dem colleagues to draft workable, robust and watertight proposals. We are clear that we are not giving up on the principle behind the new clause and amendment”—

on the third trigger—

“and we urge him to take the same approach”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/11/14; col. 675.]

We are very open to that offer. We have all been asked in this House to do this work. We should therefore, at the very least, give it our very best efforts. If we can

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secure good, robust amendments in this place, it will then be for the Commons to take them or leave them. As the Minister put it at the end, the more fundamental point,

“is a matter for this House”—

that is, the Commons—

“and the other place, and any amendments”,

from us,

“would return to this House to be determined”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/11/14; col. 680.]

This is, of course, the Second Reading debate, so I do not intend to expand further on the details of the amendments that we will bring forward. The principle behind recall in the case of serious wrongdoing is relatively simple and clear, yet the practice of implementing that principle is neither simple nor clear. As ever in your Lordships’ House, we have work to do to bring the two together. I look forward to working with colleagues on all sides of the House to do just that.

12.13 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I would like to welcome the Bill, but I cannot. While I support much of what is in trigger 1 and trigger 3, subject to the caveats expressed by my noble friend on the Front Bench in his very interesting speech, I want to concentrate on the very narrow issue of trigger 2, in particular the impact of the Bill, now that it has been amended in the Commons, on the operation of the House of Commons Standards Committee. I do so having served as a member of the Select Committee on Members’ Interests in the Commons, which dealt with these matters between 1983 and 1991, and as a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee from 1995 to 2001. I have had on aggregate 14 years’ experience on this particular committee and its predecessor in the Commons. I gave evidence to the Nolan commission inquiry and saw some of my recommendations accepted, and I have sat through innumerable inquiries in the House of Commons dealing with these matters. It is in that light that I express my reservations today, which I would ask, in particular, former Members of the House of Commons to consider very seriously, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, whom I wish to consult.

I support recall. I have supported it right through from the late 1980s, after the John Browne, Member for Winchester, inquiry, to which David Leigh, the Observer journalist, gave evidence. It was following that inquiry that I began to realise that there was a case for constituents to have the right to remove Members in certain conditions. But this Bill is fatally flawed.

In the original Bill, the trigger 2 recall condition was based on the House ordering suspension for 21 sitting days. On 24 November, my honourable friends on the Labour Benches in the House of Commons moved an amendment, Amendment 14, which I believe was a grave error of judgment. I think that there has to be a reconsideration of that amendment. What the amendment did was to reduce recall from 21 days to 10 days. The words in the amendment were,

“where the period is expressed as a number of sitting days, the period specified is a period of at least 10 sitting days”.

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In doing that, in my view, they destroyed much of the Bill. What they did was to turn a quasi-judicial committee—which is what it always was when I sat on it—into a political committee.

I shall explain why; it is very simple. Let us say that I am a member of the committee and am sitting there when we are dealing with penalty and discussing a particular case. If I find nine days’ penalty, there is no problem. If I find 10 days’ penalty, I could effectively trigger a national by-election, with huge expenditure—hundreds of thousands of pounds; tens of thousands of pounds by the local authority—simply because I have decided on that additional day. The critical point is the difference between nine and 10 days.

What will happen in that committee is that instead of acting in a quasi-judicial way, it will become a political process; it will make political judgments. I have to confess that if I had been a member of the committee in those circumstances I would have had colleagues in the Tea Room saying to me, “Dale, hang on a minute. Before you decide on 10 days, just remember what is going to happen. It might be that we’re going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds”—or whatever it is—“on a by-election”. You cannot proceed on that basis. You cannot turn a quasi-judicial committee of the House of Commons into a politicised committee where it makes political judgments. That is what Labour’s amendment in the House of Commons did, and that is why it has got to be stopped. I will be moving an amendment on Report to turn that amendment over and reverse this very grave error of judgment.

Why did it happen? It happened, in my view, because the people behind the amendment lacked experience. What I call the boys in short trousers simply did not know what they were doing. There was not a proper consultation. Indeed, there was not a consultation of the Privileges Committee. If there had been, it might have produced some very interesting results.

When it came to the Division on 24 November—which I have here in Hansard—when 204 Members voted for the amendment and 125 voted against, which way did the members of the Standards and Privileges Committees in the House of Commons vote? There are 10 members, and I am going to go through the way that they voted. These are the people on the committee that will be responsible for implementing this particular arrangement. The chairman, a Labour Member, abstained. Dominic Grieve, a former Attorney-General, voted no. Sir Nick Harvey—a prominent Liberal Democrat, important in the Liberal Democrats—voted no; Sir Paul Beresford, no; Mr Geoffrey Cox, no; Christopher Chope, abstained; Dr Alan Whitehead, abstained; and Sir John Randall, abstained. Only two members of the committee voted for that amendment. In other words, the committee realised the danger of what was happening but, because there was insufficient debate, the amendment was carried by the House. I believe that their actions in voting and abstaining in the way that they did was a desperate attempt to preserve the integrity of the Standards Committee, and I hope that the House of Lords has the guts to reverse that stupid decision taken by the House of Commons.

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12.20 pm

Lord Cooper of Windrush (Con) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, the history of this place and the solemn, central role that it fulfils bring a profound feeling of responsibility to a new Peer joining your Lordships’ House. The wisdom, experience and expertise concentrated here are extraordinary and also humbling, as is the warmth of the welcome to new Members from all sides of the House. Being here is an honour far beyond anything that I ever expected.

I thank my mentor, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton, and those who supported me at my Introduction a few weeks ago: my noble friends Lord Mawhinney and Lord Finkelstein. They have all given me wise and patient advice as I acclimatise to your Lordships’ House.

My noble friend Lord Mawhinney is a man of great wisdom; nevertheless, 20 years ago he took a reckless decision, which was to hire me to run the Conservative Party’s private opinion research, inadvertently setting me on a path that my career has followed ever since. My immediate boss in that job was my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, who has been a close friend since we met at the LSE 30 years ago and he introduced me to the joys of wonton soup, Karl Popper and Diet Coke.

I have spent most of the last two decades studying public opinion and what shapes it. I earn my living by helping political organisations and businesses understand what the people who matter to them really think—and why. I know that there is a common view that polling and focus groups have had a pernicious effect on politics. However, I have never understood the idea that it is better not to know what voters are thinking. As my friend Lord Gould of Brookwood put it in his maiden speech here 10 years ago, there is nothing to fear in:

“Discovering the voice of the people”.—[Official Report, 29/11/04; col. 308.]

I think that every serious politician ought to want to understand what the voters think, just as every successful business makes sure that it knows what its customers think.

I meet many whose objection to the use of polling is a dislike of leaders who just follow whatever focus groups tell them. However, in my experience, such politicians are a myth, whereas there is a very long list of politicians who were ejected from office because they did not understand or respond to the concerns of the electorate.

I spent half of this Parliament working in 10 Downing Street. It provided a fascinating insight into how government works but it also brought the disagreeable consequence of occasionally being the subject of press interest. The Mail on Sunday accorded me the cartoonishly tabloid description of the “gay marriage guru”—a title that I am honoured to have but do not deserve—while the Daily Mail told its readers that I do not blow my nose without first consulting a focus group. I can assure the House that in all the focus groups I have ever conducted, my nose is one subject that has never come up.

One of my favourite focus group moments came when, in about the middle of the last Parliament, I asked a group of floating voters which Conservative politician, apart from the then leader of the Opposition,

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David Cameron, they had noticed making an impact. There was a very long pause and then a woman said confidently, “Ed Miliband”—to which someone else instantly added, “Yes, and his brother, Ed Balls”. In that anecdote lies an important truth, which is that most voters have little interest in politics, and still less in the minutiae that many people in Westminster obsess over.

In an era of cynicism, most people discount what politicians say, judging them on how they behave and what they do. It was, of course, the behaviour of politicians in the last Parliament that led to the Bill that we are debating today. Voters were shocked by the expenses scandal, but most were not surprised by it. However unfair, the feeling that our politicians were only in it for themselves was already widespread. Confidence in parliamentary politics collapsed in the aftermath. The idea of recall of MPs was a direct reaction to that. The principle is backed by a large majority of the public. As other noble Lords have pointed out, it was also included in all the main party manifestos—so not to introduce a system of recall would deepen even further the widespread view that politicians can never be believed.

The detail is crucial, of course, and there is undoubtedly a fine balance between empowering voters and protecting the principles of a representative democracy. As the Bill progresses, every aspect of the detail must be scrutinised, and this House is expert at that. In my maiden speech I will suggest only that the in-principle case for recall of MPs is clear. If it is true, as voters want and would like to believe, that “They work for you”, it follows that voters should have the power to fire MPs found guilty of serious wrongdoing, just as members of the public who are guilty of wrongdoing in their workplaces would expect to be fired and not remain in their jobs until the end of their employment contract.

The Bill before us will not, on its own, renew the faith of voters in the integrity of our politics. The problem is deeper and it demands more fundamental change. This House has a vital role to play in debating that because it is less tribal, confrontational and partisan, and because political differences can be transcended here and the bigger view taken. I hope that I will be able to contribute to that debate in your Lordships’ House in the years ahead.

12.26 pm

Lord Hughes of Woodside (Lab): My Lords, I welcome the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Windrush, who has a considerable political background. It is different from mine, but it is certainly considerable. I think we may want to hear much more from him about that. He has been a political adviser to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who was leader of the SDP. As he said, he spent 10 years in No. 10 advising the Prime Minister. How far that influence is of real value is a matter of debate. He himself said that political pollsters are sometimes described as pernicious. I would never use such a word in your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord made an interesting speech, and I hope that his years spent in the corridors of power might be explained

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even further. Perhaps on a future occasion he will shed some light on how the system works. I am sometimes asked, “How does Parliament work? How does the system work?”. I have been around both ends of the corridor for 40 years, and I say to them, “If you ever find out, let me know”. I hope that we will hear from the noble Lord in the future. We look forward to his contributions. He obviously finds the aspect of a maiden speech not too demanding and not too stressful.

I generally support the principle of the Bill that those who commit an offence or transgress, as defined, should be subject to recall. Despite the protestations from the Government Front Bench that this Bill sets aside the possibility of recall on political issues, it does no such thing. In fact it is the thin end of the wedge. The demand to have the right to recall MPs on policy grounds will grow; there is no stopping that.

I was elected to be the MP for Aberdeen, North in 1970, and served for 27 years. Short of imprisonment, bankruptcy or death, the only way to lose the seat was if I lost the parliamentary Whip and did not have it restored by the time of the election or if there was a vote of no confidence passed in my constituency party. In those 27 years my largest majority was 19,114, and the lowest was 9,112. I put the vagaries of that down to several boundary changes, and I hope not to my own performance.

Much has changed in the past 40 years. When I was first elected, the heavies, as we might call them, the Telegraph, the Times and the Guardian, all produced full-page reports on a daily basis of the goings on in Parliament. Even my own local newspapers, the Aberdeen Press and Journal and the Aberdeen Evening Express, each had a Lobby correspondent and a parliamentary correspondent. Now, one person does that in its entirety, if there is even a dedicated member of staff. All we are left with now in the heavies is the comedy sketches—the funnies. Every event, however serious or important is reduced to a political pantomime. It cannot be good for democracy when people see that sort of thing.

I have always agreed about and argued for accountability. There is a distinct and continuing trend these days to downgrade party politics and political parties. I concede immediately that the activities of a few MPs and some Peers brought both Houses into disrepute, but there are plenty of organisations out there on the internet who are determined to impose their particular version of democracy There is a campaign headed “Party People: How should the Political Parties select their Parliamentary Candidates?”. The intention is to have parliamentary candidates chosen by open primaries. There may well be a case for that. It happens in other parts of the world. But the proponents of that give the game away; they use as a sub-heading a quote from the political satire programme, “Yes Minister”:

“MPs are not chosen by ‘the people’—they are chosen by their local constituency parties: thirty-five men in grubby raincoats or thirty-five women in silly hats”.

That is actually quite a funny quote. But you then realise that it is intended to denigrate the hundreds of thousands of people who daily serve political parties by canvassing, raising funds and supporting their MPs and candidates. These people have raised a great deal of money, often in the cold, canvassing and doing all

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sorts of things, and it is the worst kind of activity to make fun of them because they do a job without personal reward.

Similar articles have surfaced on the internet—campaigns for the recall of MPs on whatever political grounds of opinion. This unwittingly reveals the agenda. The intention to destroy political parties, coupled with these sinister campaigns for recall, show a desire to have MPs who will hang and twist in the wind and follow slavishly what may be seen as the popular will of the people.

I was extremely fortunate during my 27 years in the Commons to chair the Anti-Apartheid Movement for 20 years. It is worth recalling that that cause did not have the same universal approval that it now enjoys. Indeed, I remember on one occasion a very hostile interview with BBC Scotland in which research was produced that purported to show that the majority of Scottish people believed that apartheid was the right policy for South Africa. I was later taken aside by a very senior member of the Labour Party in Scotland and gently advised that I should stick to Scottish affairs. The members of my constituency party stood by me and defended me when the local press and others demanded that I concentrate on only Aberdeen and Scottish affairs, and that it was unseemly for a Member of Parliament for Scotland to do otherwise.

As some of your Lordships may know, I held robust anti-Scottish devolution views, so much so that one branch of my party tabled a motion of no confidence. I went in fear and trembling to see the pairing Whip, the formidable and redoubtable George Lawson, MP for Motherwell, who many of my colleagues will remember was a strict disciplinarian. I thought that he would be difficult. I thought that he would say, “You made your bed, you can lie in it”. In fact it was quite the opposite. In those days, it should be recalled, one had to get permission to leave the House even on a two-line whip, never mind a three-line whip. He was very reassuring, saying, “Of course you must go to defend yourself. Leave it with me and I will cover you”.

The meeting took place and we meandered through the agenda of mundane business and finally the motion was called for debate. No one was present from the branch to move it. Therefore it fell. I was relieved and delighted. However, my chairman went on to say, “We can’t leave it there”. I had a moment or two of panic and I thought, “What the devil is he up to now?”. He got up and moved that “The constituency has full confidence in its MP” and demanded a show of hands. It was carried unanimously. The effect was to put the whole issue to bed and I was free to pursue my activities.

If there had been a recall on policy issues, I do not believe that I would have lasted 27 years in Parliament, and certainly many of my contemporaries—I had good company in those days—such as Norman Buchan, Robin Cook, Tam Dalyell and others would not have lasted either. I do not claim now, nor did I claim then, that what we did was anything special and that there was any special virtue in arguing and debating fiercely the matters of the day. We simply did what we did. It is what we were expected to do. It was natural to engage with the electorate and seek to engage them. It was natural to engage in fierce debate with members of

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our own party. There was none of this instant policy-making when you wake up in the morning and discover what has been said.

Of course, an MP must take account of and consider what his constituents’ views are. We all know that there are views which one holds strongly and lines that we should not cross—on capital punishment or abortion, for example. There are many other issues that engender strong feelings and emotions. What is undeniably the case is that we have not come to terms with the computer revolution. I do not know how we can deal with Facebook, Twitter and blogging. There may be other social media of which I know nothing. What is happening is a kind of pyramid selling. You get an e-mail petition that says, “Click here to show your support, and click here to send to your contacts”. An illusion is presented that somehow there is massive political support.

I fear that what is now intended, despite the best intentions of the Government and of my own Front Bench, and what we are facing is the destruction of party politics and the destruction of the trade union movement as a political force, and in their place to have MPs who will hang and twist in the wind. They will face any direction in order to get elected. It is a grim prospect and we seem unable to recognise that. Far from enhancing democracy, recall will lead to the destruction of democracy and certainly representative democracy as we know it.

12.37 pm

Lord Grocott (Lab): My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend of many years. He reminded us of the mission creep that might be involved in a Bill such as this, which I will come to in a moment. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cooper. It is always a daunting experience to kick off here, but I am sure that he will have no difficulty with the interests that his speech evoked.

Those are the nice things that I am able to say, but I now turn with considerable weariness—I think that is the best way describing it—to yet another attempt by this coalition Government at constitutional reform. Following the old Nye Bevan maxim of not looking in a crystal ball when you can read a history book, I will have two minutes’ history lesson on this Government’s record so far on constitutional reform. Let us not forget that this is a significant constitutional reform measure. No less a body than the House’s own Constitutional Committee made that clear in its report just published.

I have two or three examples so far. The first is the proposal for a referendum on changing the voting system. Some of us said, “Please don’t do this”. It was supported by the leadership of all three parties, which is always a danger sign. Incidentally, that is a characteristic of the Bill that I shall talk about in a moment. Happily, it was rejected by the electorate, but at great cost—some £75 million. Then we had the proposal for a directly elected second Chamber, but without any attempt to define its powers or the relationship between the two Chambers. Happily, that again was rejected, in that case by the House of Commons, and not without an expenditure of well over £500,000.

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Lord Tyler: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am sure that he would not wish to mislead the House. The Second Reading of the Bill brought forward by the coalition was passed by 338 votes at Second Reading in the House of Commons, with large majorities particularly in his own party as well as in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

Lord Grocott: I think that, not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is rewriting the procedures of the House of Commons. He knows perfectly well that that Bill would not have got through the House of Commons without a timetable Motion—a kind of Motion that his party vehemently opposed when in opposition. I am happy to go through the history lesson of Liberal Democrat policies but, entertaining though that would be, I shall resist the temptation.

Briefly, we also had debates about the great constitutional merits of having directly elected police and crime commissioners. Again, I think that they were supported by pretty much everyone at one stage, but again it cost £75 million to hold the elections. Not so many people now think that it was a great idea because the turnout at the vote was 15%. Then, of course, we had the constitutional innovation supported by all three parties of referenda for directly elected mayors in 10 cities where the good citizens of nine of them said what some of us hoped they would say, which was, “No, thank you very much. We don’t want this at all”. I should say that were I ever to write a book—the House will be relieved to know that I will not—on this Government’s record on constitutional reform, the title I would give it would be I Told You So.

We now come to the Recall of MPs Bill. It is a measure of constitutional significance that will, as the Constitution Committee has said, affect the United Kingdom’s representative democracy. If you are doing that, the very least you would expect from the Government is a clear case for why this important constitutional change is required and what its effects would be. It seems to me that the case simply has not been made. We all know that, in practice, if Members of Parliament have been the subject of severely inappropriate behaviour, the mechanisms of the parties come into operation. Very often, such MPs resign and by-elections follow in any case. The House of Commons research paper on the Bill asks: how many people would have been caught by this Bill had it been an Act of Parliament 25 years ago? The answer is two. It is a Bill of 60 pages with numerous clauses and addendums. Do we really need a Bill of this length and complexity to deal with just two cases? Admittedly, the numbers of who would be affected might go up because of the amendment referred to by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. He demolished the Bill quite eloquently, so there is certainly no need for me to add anything to that.

Let us be under no illusions. The Bill would inevitably affect the behaviour of the Commons, knowing the difference between a nine-day suspension and a 10-day suspension. It is not the difference between a yellow card and a red card; it is the difference between a yellow card and a ban for life. I do not believe that anyone seriously thinks that if the Commons effectively said that there should be a recall, or a recall petition, and if having a recall was advertised all around the

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constituency, it is pretty much inconceivable that the MP concerned would be re-elected at that or any subsequent election. That may be a good thing, but do we really need this whole recall mechanism and this Bill to deliver that objective?

We all agree that certain behaviour is unacceptable, so let us have no bricks thrown around the debate on that. The House can expel people if it wants to, it can suspend them for as long as it likes, and in practice the parties exercise their own discipline. However, as my noble friend Lord Hughes has just said, it is a short step from unacceptable behaviour to unacceptable policies. My noble friend made that case very strongly indeed. Perhaps I may add a personal additional point. Representing, as I did the first time I came here, a constituency with an electorate of 90,000, in which I had a majority of around 360, and in which the opponent I defeated polled 32,000 votes, I think it would have taken him and his supporters about 10 minutes to get a petition together to chuck me out, had he wanted to do so and had the mechanism been in place. That is particularly the case today with electronic petitions. We simply do not need this Bill and there is a real danger of mission creep.

I have to say that the Bill has a lot of the characteristics of a fag-end Bill of a fag-end Parliament. We all know that the reason for the delay is that when the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee considered the Bill in draft, it said:

“We recommend that the Government abandon its plans to introduce a power of recall and use the Parliamentary time this would free up to better effect”.

That is terrific advice and is well worth considering now.

I would like to suggest a way of doing this, because of course we do have a system for recalling MPs—it is called a general election. I am something of an expert on the recall of MPs, having lost an awful lot of general elections. That is something which concentrates the mind. Oddly enough, this coalition Government, which want to introduce recall, have legislated to ensure that we have fewer general elections. It was an astonishing thing to do and it went through on the nod. Five-year fixed terms mean that, whereas since the war elections have taken place on average every three years and 10 months, they will now take place by law every five years. That inevitably raises the need for recall. If that pernicious Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 had been in operation since the war, there would have been 13 general elections instead of 18. This coalition Government therefore think that we have had too many general elections since the war, so no wonder they think we need recall. Why not extend the period between elections so that it is even longer?

I have a simple suggestion to make in line with the recommendations made in the report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which basically says: drop this Bill and bring forward another one. Why do the House and the party leaders not get together and support a Bill to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011? Modesty prevents me mentioning the Bill’s sponsor, but at a stroke it would move us substantially towards more accountability for MPs and would be far better than this Recall of MPs Bill.

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12.47 pm

Baroness Corston (Lab): My Lords, like everyone else who has spoken in the debate, I support the principle of recall of Members of Parliament. Any Member of Parliament whose behaviour falls short of the standards anyone would expect, as judged by either a court of law or a committee of the Member’s peers, should face the electorate. But like everyone else, with the exception of the noble Lords, Lord Tyler and Lord Cooper of Windrush, I do not think that this Bill does the job.

One of the reasons for that was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Grocott: when the Front Benches agree, they are usually wrong. When I was first elected to the House of Commons in 1992, we had the Bill to set up the Child Support Agency. I remember going to Michael Meacher, who was then our Front-Bencher, to say, “This Bill is appalling. We should not support it”. I was told, “Oh Jean, you cannot possibly oppose a Bill where the principle is that parents should be financially responsible for their children”. I responded by saying, “No one would disagree with the principle. The problem is that this Bill does not examine the detail”. What followed were five years of heartache. I think that that has happened here. No matter what is said about scrutiny in the House of Commons, the Members of that House are in a very difficult position with regard to this Bill, given the low esteem in which many of them are now held—in my view quite wrongly.

I am appalled by the apparent attitude towards the Standards Committee. I will not rehearse much of this because it has been dealt with in forensic detail by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, but I was horrified to hear, in meetings I have held preliminary to today—and from the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, on the Government Front Bench today—that we cannot have MPs marking their own homework. I cannot think of a more pejorative description of the work of Members of Parliament. The committee does not mark the homework of the House of Commons. In the 13 years—only 13 years, compared with Members who have already spoken—that I was in the House of Commons, that committee always behaved in a quasi-judicial and absolutely impartial manner and I cannot remember anyone ever criticising its decisions, no matter how hard it was on some colleagues.

I think that the reduction in the suspension period that would trigger the possibility of a by-election from 21 days to 10 days is also wrong-headed, despite it having been introduced in the House of Commons by my party.

I am also very concerned about the effect on local authorities. This was dealt with magnificently by my noble friend Lady Hayter on the Front Bench. She rightly pointed out that the Government have now accepted that there should not be just one place where electors can go to signify that they wish for there to be a by-election in a constituency, and she cited Brecon and Radnorshire, a constituency that was familiar to me when I helped run the by-election in 1985. But even in my inner-city constituency of Bristol East, four polling places would involve most of my constituents

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having to take at least two bus rides, and I do not think they would do it. Of course, the effect on postal voting has only to be imagined.

Underlying a lot of this is an attitude towards Members of Parliament that I think we should deal with. They are not all scoundrels. They are not in it for the money. Most of them earn less as a Member of Parliament than they would outside—I certainly did, having worked as a barrister. I have been told that Members are having to respond to the coverage they get in certain sections of the popular press and from 38 Degrees. You cannot please these people. They are a bit like the Militant Tendency: whatever you give them, they want more. There has to be a line in the sand. We are now in a situation where Members of Parliament are having to testify that they will not accept a pay rise to which they are manifestly entitled, given that they now earn far less than the average secondary school head teacher.

We have to say that we accept that being a Member of Parliament is evidence of a desire to be in public service, not to be in it for themselves, because it means long hours and is a great responsibility. All I would say to both Front Benches is: of course the recall of MPs is desirable and necessary, but this Bill will not achieve it.

12.53 pm

Lord Norton of Louth (Con): My Lords, a provision for a recall of elected representatives is used by a number of nations but it is an exceptional procedure. It is exceptional in that the nations employing it are in a minority and within those nations the use of the procedure is rare.

The Bill seeks to put the United Kingdom in that exceptional category. It does not replicate recall as understood in some systems; that is, by removing a person from office through a local referendum, asking should the person be recalled or not, and followed, in the event of a yes vote, by a new election. We have no experience of recall, although we do have experience of a mechanism for triggering by-elections: when MPs were appointed Ministers, they were subject to re-election in a by-election. That remained the case until 1926.

There is clearly a debate to be had as to whether such an exceptional procedure as recall should be introduced in the United Kingdom. That debate, though, has already been had in the other place. I do not believe we should be challenging the ends of the measure, as decided already by the Commons. Our task is to focus on the means. Given that it is clearly a measure of constitutional significance, it merits enhanced scrutiny.

My starting point, therefore, is the question: what is the Bill designed to achieve? Once we know that, we can see whether the provisions are adequate to the task. As we have heard, the Bill is essentially the product of the expenses scandal of 2009. In the wake of that, the three main parties brought forward proposals for recall. The intention is to restore trust in politics through allowing electors to remove an MP other than at a general election when the Member falls below expected standards. According to the Deputy Prime Minister in the other place:

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“It strikes a fair balance between holding to account those who do not maintain certain standards of conduct, while giving MPs the freedom to do their job and make difficult decisions where necessary”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/9/14; col. 41WS.]

My concern is more with the first part of that balance than the second. If one wanted to ring-fence the independence of MPs, one would not have the measure at all. Given that the other place has agreed the Bill, the focus must be on having some safeguards. There is a need to ensure that the provisions do not work against Members who express independent views, though I am not sure that electors do have a desire to move against MPs who are independent in approach—rather the reverse. MPs who challenge their own party and are working hard in the constituency generally have no reason to worry. When Enoch Powell regularly voted against his own party in the 1970-74 Parliament—which he did 115 times—consideration was given to withdrawing the whip. It was decided not to pursue that because the Whips recognised that he was too well entrenched in his constituency.

In any event, provision for a form of advance recall already exists through local parties. They can deselect sitting Members. They are not removed immediately, but in effect are sacked, the sacking taking effect at the next election. That is likely to continue to be a more potent constraint on the actions of MPs than the provisions of the Bill.

My principal concern, therefore, is whether the Bill will do much to restore trust in politics. As it stands, I am not sure that it will. It is designed to hold to account those who, in the words of the Deputy Prime Minister,

“do not maintain certain standards of conduct”.

The problem, as we have already heard, is that these standards are determined by Parliament and not by electors. By-elections can be triggered only if an MP breaks the law and is sentenced to a custodial sentence, is convicted under Section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 or is suspended for at least 10 sitting days by the House of Commons. In other words, it is a matter either for the courts or for the House of Commons as to whether a recall petition can be started, and judges and MPs will be aware of the potential consequences in passing sentence or voting for suspension. Electors can engage in a recall petition only when given the green light by a body external to the constituency.

The provisions leave out electors and they omit conditions that electors may well believe fall below their expected standards. One is where an MP switches party without triggering a by-election. Douglas Carswell made the point in the Commons that:

“I feel so strongly about recall that I recalled myself”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/10/14; col. 804.]

The conduct of Messrs Carswell and Reckless in triggering by-elections may have set a precedent, but what if future defectors ignore it? I am aware of the argument that they should not have to submit themselves for re-election. It is a powerful argument, but it has to be seen now in the context of the Bill and what it seeks to achieve. Will not electors in a constituency who have elected a Member on one political programme have cause to feel aggrieved if that Member then switches

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to another without them having a say in the matter? That Member will have fallen below the standards they expect. That grievance will be all the greater now given the combination of the precedent set and the provisions of the Bill.

The other condition would be where a Member neglected a constituency, failing to perform constituency duties but not in a way that fell foul of the Code of Conduct and triggered action by the House resulting in suspension. The neglect may be such as to result in deselection, but what if electors wish to take action to ensure that the neglect does not persist for the rest of the Parliament? My argument is that the Bill as drafted is in danger of raising expectations that cannot be met. Electors are led to believe that they can recall errant MPs, but they have no direct say in whether a recall petition can be triggered, and the triggering provisions in the Bill exclude conditions that to electors may constitute especially egregious failures to meet the standards they expect of their Member of Parliament.

What can be done to address these problems? The obvious answer is to provide for electors to have the capacity to trigger a recall petition. This need not be in place of the existing three triggers in the Bill, but rather in addition to them. In the Commons, Zac Goldsmith moved an amendment to provide that if 5% of voters in a constituency signed a “notice of intent to recall”, and 20% then signed a recall petition, a recall ballot would take place. That was rejected, and there may be little merit in pursuing it in that precise form. However, it may point us in a direction that is worth pursuing.

There is a case for pursuing a true recall provision, as utilised elsewhere. This would also have the advantage of building in a powerful protective element against misuse by political opponents or a minority of aggrieved constituents. One could have a recall petition which, if signed by 15% or 20% of registered electors, would trigger a true recall election—that is, a clear binary election in which voters say yes or no to the Member remaining in office. If a majority in the ballot vote against them, the Member is out. There is then a by-election to elect a successor.

I appreciate that such a mechanism would incur costs—elections are not cheap—but the likelihood of its frequent use is remote. The cost would be offset by the achievement of direct involvement by electors, and by the need to achieve a significant number of signatures for a recall petition and a majority in the recall election. I see no problem with setting a fairly high bar for the percentage of signatures necessary for a recall petition. For a recall election to be held, there needs to be both breadth and depth of feeling among electors that an MP has transgressed standards.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 provides for five-year fixed—or, rather, semi-fixed—terms. As we have heard, that is relevant in the context of this Bill. As a result of that Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has said, electors are likely to have the opportunity to elect their MPs at less frequent intervals than was previously the case. That has the potential to undermine, rather than enhance, trust in politics—and this Bill will do little or nothing to counter that effect. My view is that if we are to restore trust in politics, we

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need something more imaginative than this Bill. However, given that we have the Bill, we must do our best to ensure that it at least goes some way to achieving its intended purpose.

1.03 pm

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, before I come to the substance of what I want to say, I will comment briefly on what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, just said. I found myself agreeing with quite a lot of it, until he came to his idea of recall petitions. I cannot think of anything that would undermine democracy more than to have an open door for any group of people in a constituency, particularly those who are well financed, to have a go at an MP. How can an MP vote according to their conscience, how can an MP do their job, if they are always watching their back to see whether there is a group of people trying to undermine them? It would destabilise the position of MPs, and I do not think it would be a good idea.

Lord Norton of Louth: My whole point is that such a provision would raise the bar that would have to be overcome before there could be a recall petition. It would actually protect the Member far more than if there were a lower threshold. The chances of its being used are extremely slim, to put it mildly—but the fact that it was there would be a protection for constituents, a majority of whom in a ballot would have to vote for a recall.

Lord Dubs: I am afraid that if it is simply a matter of collecting signatures, I am not sure whether that provides the protection that the noble Lord claims. All I know is that I would have been miserably unhappy in my time as an MP if I had had always to watch my back—not on issues of principle, not where there were clear arguments at stake, but because some group of people who did not agree with my views on abortion, or whatever, might seek to undermine me. And they would have done—of course they would have done. I just do not think that representative democracy can work on that basis. I have to differ from the noble Lord; I think that if he talked to most people who have been elected to the House of Commons, they would agree with me and not with him.

I watch “Question Time” quite often, and I watched it last Thursday night. One of the things that happened also happens at other times on that programme. Whenever an adverse comment about the integrity of MPs is made, either by somebody on the platform or by somebody in the audience, there are enormous cheers from the audience. I find it rather depressing and sad that so many of our fellow countrymen and countrywomen—or at least, those who get selected as a “Question Time” audience—think that jeering and shouting abuse at the people who are elected is somehow helpful to democracy. I think that we have gone far too far in denigrating those whom we elect; I shall say more about that in a minute.

I support the principle of recall, as does everybody else who has spoken—but we must be careful that, in putting this Bill forward, we do not seem to overpromise to the voters about what will happen. I suspect that

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some of them will believe what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has just said—that that is what they are in for. We must be careful, because the Bill is, in some ways, rather limited.

Comments have been made about whether, when an MP switches parties, there should be a by-election. To the best of my knowledge of this—I have not done a survey—MPs who switch parties have a by-election only if they think they are going to win. If they do not think that they are going to win, they jolly well hang on in there until the next general election. Looking back at this over the years, it seems to be the case. I am not arguing that this is not a matter of integrity, and that if an MP switches party they should not call a by-election. It may be a good thing—but I am talking about what happens in practice.

All parties, in their last election manifestos, made some reference to the desirability of recall. I am conscious that when the House of Commons passes a measure that affects that House rather than what we do here, we must be very careful before we take issue with what its Members have decided to do—because it is very much their responsibility. Nevertheless, I think we are right to be critical: there is no point in having a second Chamber unless we can be critical of anything that the other House does.

I particularly want to comment favourably on the speech made by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. He put his finger on something absolutely crucial. He speaks with a great deal of experience, and he has driven a coach and horses through that provision in the Bill—because it is obvious that behaviour on the Standards Committee will be precisely as he said it would be. We must look hard at that provision.

Of course it is right—this is where I differ from the suggestion of open recall—that elected politicians should not be subject, between elections, to recall for their views, even if some of their views might not be too popular among their constituents. The time to deal with that is at the following general election. Otherwise we would belittle the principle that matters of conscience are important, and belittle the ability of Members of Parliament to exercise their conscience without being under pressure from one moment to the next.

I looked up what the excellent Library Note says about other recall measures in different countries. In the United States they seem to have a variety of models of recall. Some of them are open, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, suggested; some are more limited. I am not sure that there is anything very useful we can learn from them. In Switzerland, although there is no right of recall for federal elections, six of the 26 cantons do have the right of recall—but that right applies to the whole of the canton, not just to individual elected politicians. I am not suggesting that we should do that, although I suspect that if we had that sort of right of recall, the coalition would have been thrown out several years ago—I just mention that in passing.

One matter that bothers me is not included in the Bill. That is the question of the election court. I think it was in 2010 that Phil Woolas, a Labour MP, appeared before the election court, lost his seat and was not allowed to stand again in the following by-election. Whatever he did, some other potential wrongdoings

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by Members of Parliament may appear more significant. I am not saying that he did nothing wrong, but if we are to have a system of recall as envisaged in the Bill, we should include what the election court does, because I see no reason why Phil Woolas should not have been allowed to stand in the following by-election, his voters having heard what the election court said. The penalty on him was out of all proportion to what he did.

Perhaps I may say a little about respect for elected politicians, which I mentioned at the beginning. We now have a culture in which it is standard to abuse elected politicians. They would do it to us if we were elected. That does not mean that I do not support elections here, but that is a different argument. The way in which MPs are denigrated, abused and vilified, as my noble friend Lady Corston described, devalues democracy. One cannot run a democracy effectively unless there is some respect for the people who are elected through that system. We are weakening our democracy by allowing that to continue, and it is important that we speak up.

It may be that the Bill is intended to be a small step along that path—if so, fine, although we have reservations about the detail. It is time that we as a country stood up and said, “We elect these people. They face the electorate every few years. They can be thrown out, but in the mean time, we should not denigrate and abuse them and imply that they have the basest of motives”. From my knowledge of MPs—I have known quite a few over the years—whatever party they are from, they are all there to perform an act of public service. They are not doing it for the money—or if they are, they are jolly mistaken if they think that that is the way to get money—but for principles. I may not agree with some of their principles—that is why we have a party political system—but they are there because they want to serve their fellow citizens, and it is time that we all stood up and said that.

1.12 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, the Bill is what might be called a delayed knee-jerk reaction. Shocked to their respective cores by the expenses scandal, the leaderships of the three main parties all pledged in their manifestos in 2010 to legislate to provide for the recall of Members of Parliament found guilty of serious wrongdoing. Here, at last, in 2014, is the legislation. At least it is an extensively premeditated knee-jerk. The coalition published a White Paper and a draft Bill in 2011, and the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of the House of Commons then subjected it to pre-legislative scrutiny. As my noble friend Lord Grocott noted, but as the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, omitted to mention in his advocacy of the Bill from the Front Bench, the Select Committee recommended that the coalition drop the Bill. That was a good recommendation, but of course it was not accepted.

Nothing I am going to say should be construed as condoning the abuses that led to the expenses scandal, but the party leaders made some hasty and ill judged responses to those events. At the behest of the party leaders, the House of Commons effectively abandoned

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self-regulation. It established IPSA, which it now regrets. It is legislating for recall, which it may well regret. Moreover, gross injustices were perpetrated on a number of individual MPs. Members of Parliament who transgressed were treated quite inconsistently by their party leaders, depending on the view that their party leaders took of them. Those panicky, partial and erratic judgments did the House of Commons further harm.

Moreover, it is remarkable that the three party leaders were all so keen to legislate to provide for fixed-term Parliaments, because, as my noble friend Lord Grocott expansively and eloquently told us, fixed-term Parliaments diminish rather than enhance the accountability both of Government to MPs and of MPs to their constituents. Now, in this zombie fifth year of the Parliament, Members of Parliament are regretting that too.

Be all that as it may, we are now presented with a fait accompli. Here is the Bill about the conduct of Members of the elected House approved by the elected House without even a Division at Second Reading. We are invited merely to consider certain details which the House of Commons did not have time to finish sorting out—important details, as my noble friend Lady Hayter said. But some of us may take this opportunity to lament that the Bill is a measure of parliamentary self-immolation.

I would say, however, that the debates in the other place in four sittings on the Floor of the House were of high quality. They were passionate, thoughtful and, in the main, courteous and good-natured, although Mr Zac Goldsmith expostulated at Report that the Bill was,

“a sham, a shambles, a farce, an insult and a disgrace”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/11/14; col. 668.]

The divisions were not between the parties but between those who want to protect representative democracy and those who take the view that Parliament now finds itself in a new era in which it must accommodate itself to direct democracy. Not surprisingly, there was something of a generational division. A notable speech rejecting the principle of recall was made by my right honourable friend Mr Frank Dobson, but of course he will be retiring at the end of this Parliament.

Whichever side of the various arguments MPs were on, they all expressed deep concern about the poor standing of the House of Commons in the eyes of the public. There was indeed, as some Members noted, much self-flagellation. I am pleased that some Members of Parliament also expressed pride in the greatness of the House of Commons as an institution.

What do the proponents of recall seek to achieve? The impact assessment tells us that:

“The Government believes this mechanism will contribute to restoring public confidence in MPs and Parliament as a whole”.

Mr Greg Clark, the Minister introducing the Bill, explained that it would fill some gaps in the disciplinary process, as the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, also said. Its supporters think, or at least hope, that it will go some way towards rehabilitating the House of Commons

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by demonstrating humility and extending accountability. My honourable friend Mr Thomas Docherty spoke of the Bill signalling to the public that,

“Parliament is listening and changing”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 24/11/14; col. 669.]

It may be so, but events may not work out quite so comfortingly. It may be that both the courts and the Standards Committee will modify their behaviour in response to the legislation. The courts, warned off by the Bill of Rights, have traditionally been concerned to keep out of politics, and, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours explained to us, they will be acutely aware that a custodial sentence will condemn a Member of Parliament to the trial by ordeal of recall, intense, highly political, vulture-like media coverage and, most likely, a by-election. The Standards Committee, members of which have always taken it as their duty to refrain from party politics in that capacity, will be acutely aware that a 10-day suspension will condemn a Member of Parliament to the process of recall and, probably, a by-election, with all the political consequences for the parties that go with that. The amendment introduced by Labour to reduce the period of suspension which would trigger a by-election from 21 to 10 sitting days has greatly reduced the scope of the Standards Committee to temper its judgments to the particularities of the cases before it.

Like my noble friend Lady Corston, I was saddened, reading the debates, to learn of the decline of the esteem in which the Standards Committee is held. Were I still a Member of the House of Commons, I would not have favoured the addition of lay members to the committee, and I utterly deprecate suggestions that the lay members should have a formal veto over the committee’s recommendations or even that a lay member should chair it. Surely the correct response to the public’s anger at the failure of the Commons to regulate itself properly was not to hand over the responsibility of regulation to outsiders but to improve self-regulation, thereby showing that the House of Commons could be trusted to deal with malpractice. Why is it the case, as I think it is, that the Standards Committee is still not elected by the whole House of Commons? The Commons has long had the power to expel a Member but it has not used that power since 1954.

Public dissatisfaction with Parliament is not new. As the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Windrush, said in his excellent maiden speech, there are multiple causes of it that this legislation will not touch. Among them are the decline of Britain’s power and prestige in the world; the perception of Parliament’s impotence in the face of the new jurisdiction of the European Union and of global corporate power; a more interventionist judiciary; a trivial, cynical, power-hungry and frantic media; the decline of deference; and a culture that encourages everyone to believe that their individual judgment is as good as anyone else’s.

In addition to all these factors that may cause members of the public to doubt the efficacy and worth of the House of Commons are the new means of communication that enable citizens instantly to bring pressure to bear on Members of Parliament. Active, concerned citizens advising MPs of their views are a good thing, but an online mob is not. It is of course

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very properly the right of citizens in our democracy to demonstrate and to lobby, but Edmund Burke, in his famous formulation, said that the Member of Parliament owes those citizens his judgment and he betrays instead of serving them if he sacrifices it to their opinion. MPs should listen very attentively to their constituents who may demonstrate, say, in support of the Countryside Alliance or against the poll tax, the Iraq war or tuition fees, and they should note with care what 38 Degrees and the Taxpayers’ Alliance say to them, but they should not allow themselves to be browbeaten. It was shocking to hear stories of MPs waiting to be sure that the Goldsmith amendment would be defeated before going to vote in the Lobby in support of it in order to keep on the right side of 38 Degrees.

Mr Goldsmith is zealous for what he calls “voter-led” recall, as an instalment of direct democracy. No doubt if he is returned to the House of Commons in the next Parliament, he will once again table his Private Member’s Bill. However, parliamentary government is representative government, not direct democracy. Government is difficult and the responsibilities of Members of Parliament are complex. To make Members of Parliament constantly and instantly answerable to those who press most insistently in their constituencies is the wrong direction for reform. Voter-led recall would be open to abuse by organised, well funded and powerful interest groups, and would seriously destabilise our politics. The general election should be the day of judgment.

As it is, we are not being asked to approve a Bill on the model that Mr Goldsmith would wish; we are being asked to examine and approve a limited measure that provides for recall in specific circumstances where serious wrongdoing has been established, and not on the initiative of citizens. I understand the good motives of the supporters of the Bill. It is an act of penance. It expresses a recognition that the House of Commons should not be judge and jury in the cause of its own Members. It extends accountability and can be seen as a response to changes in our political culture. However, I fear that it represents a weakening of representative democracy. I fear that it is a vote of no confidence by the House of Commons in itself.

1.24 pm

Lord Snape (Lab): My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend, who has accurately put his finger on the weakness inherent in the Bill. I join him in the plea for the House of Commons to stand up for itself, for a change, rather than go on accepting what I can only call the backwash of the expenses scandal by, first, setting up IPSA, as he mentioned, and now this Bill. Perhaps I am a lone voice in this debate but I am against the Bill; I think it is a bad Bill and I do not see its purpose. The amendments from our Front Bench, no matter how gracefully moved by my noble friend, worsen an already bad Bill, and personally I am not prepared to have any of it.

First, though, I observe the courtesies of the House by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Windrush, on his eminently fluent maiden speech. I am not one of those people who is against opinion polls; indeed, back in 1983 an opinion poll that said that I was about to lose in my own constituency

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galvanised enough Labour supporters to save my neck by 296 votes, so if that was anything to do with the noble Lord’s company I am more than grateful after all these years.

When we refer to the Bill, as noble Lords on both sides of the House have, as helping to restore public confidence in their Members of Parliament, I am afraid that I do not believe a word of it. I was interested to hear the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, who is a constitutional expert. He took us through what he saw as a stronger Bill that might—he was careful to emphasise the word “might”—help to restore public confidence in MPs. I appreciate that he said what he said as a constitutional expert; I might put to him at another time, perhaps during the passage of the Bill, whether he would be happy to stand for the House of Commons knowing that such a Bill had become law. I do not think that those of us who spent a few years down there would be entirely happy with the principle of recall. Again, I think that the House of Commons should police itself and have the courage to suspend or reject those MPs considered or proved to have misbehaved.

I am also very much against the principle of rule by the mob, whether an electronic mob or any other sort. Deplorably, in my view, a couple of weeks ago an American, whose name I have forgotten, was barred from this country because of the crazy and laughable views that he held about the relationship between men and women. Instead of his being treated with the contempt and derision he deserved, the full panoply of the state was brought upon him to bar him from the United Kingdom—I was surprised that the Home Secretary fell for it—as a result, I put to your Lordships, of an electronic petition against him being allowed into the country. A fairly mature democracy such as ours ought to be able to allow a barmy American with even sillier ideas into our country without democracy being endangered, but therein lies the problem as far as electronic democracy is concerned.

Since the e-petitions service was set up, more than 60,000 of them have been tabled, with an average of 6.4 million signatures per year. In the first year there were 36,000 petitions and 17 million visits to the site. I listened with interest to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, about local democracy and the views of the local electorate. He was a popular fellow in his constituency; I am sure that if he had walked down the high street there and asked a dozen of his constituents if they would sign a petition, four of them would say yes because they liked him, two might say no because unaccountably they did not, and the other half dozen would have something better to do with their time. In my view, that is what is wrong with the whole idea that somehow if you collect 100,000 signatures, that is the real force of public opinion and whatever policy they advocate should be adopted.

Not all electronic petitions have been frivolous; the ones on Hillsborough, Millie’s Trust and Sergeant Blackman—the Royal Marine who, unaccountably, was sentenced to prison—were sensible and, in my view, understandable petitions, but they were no basis on which to change the law. They were a fragment of

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public opinion at a particular time, signed, in my view, largely—this is easily done online these days—by people saying, “Oh, that looks all right, I’ll sign that”. That is how many of those signatures are collected. There is no issue of principle behind the signing of those petitions.

As has been mentioned by other noble Lords, not least my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, Mr Zac Goldsmith was determined to denounce this legislation and in effect to allow recall by petition by his or anybody else’s constituents. Make no mistake about it that that is the road on which we are now travelling with this legislation. But it will not stop with Members of Parliament being charged with various offences. There will be greater pressure from those great organs of democracy, the British media and press, for this to be widened so that, if people who are unpopular for any reason transgress in any way—let us say somebody on the left of my party in the House of Commons, some of whom regularly attract the scorn of our daily papers—they will be the ones towards which the electronic mob’s ire will be directed by the press. That is no way for a sensible democracy to be run.

On the question of Mr Goldsmith and his views, he is—as the Independent tells us—the richest man in the House of Commons. I have nothing against him for that. I have seen his picture: he is handsome, in his 30s, terribly rich. I would sign a recall petition for somebody like that straight away—those are three good reasons for anyone to sign it. However, I would not necessarily want to throw him out because of those three virtues. Shortly after his own election in Richmond Park, “Channel 4 News” and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism looked at his expenses. They said that he had erected 400 posters in his constituency at an estimated cost of £8,000—his overall expenses were just over £10,000 anyway; he issued over 200 blue coats with “I back Zac” on the back to many of his helpers; and, incredibly, he published 262,000 leaflets, which presumably gave the same message. The bill for those leaflets alone was estimated at £14,000, which was considerably more than his own expenses. He said that he threw most of them away; if he is the richest man in the House of Commons, I do not suppose that that makes much difference to him. I do not think that I issued 262,000 leaflets in my constituency of West Bromwich East in seven general elections, let alone in one. He described that as “sleazy journalism” when the matter was raised by “Channel 4 News”. I raise it here just to say that, if by any chance Mr Goldsmith’s views were brought into law and there was a recall of the Member of Parliament, imagine the resources he would bring to bear in those circumstances. The whole of the constituency would be walking around in new blue coats that said “I back Zac”, would they not? That is not the right way forward as far as democracy is concerned.

I will finish as I started. If the House of Commons feels that its Members have transgressed in an improper way, they should take proper action. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, who moved the Bill with his customary courtesy, that given the number of years he spent advising Ministers, I am always surprised that his admiration for them and for politicians remains

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undimmed. He will have to toughen the Bill and change it considerably during its remaining stages, but I am afraid I shall remain convinced that the duty of removing errant Members of Parliament should lie with their colleagues in the other place.

1.33 pm

Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con): My Lords, I have the greatest possible reservations about the Bill. In his opening remarks my noble friend Lord Gardiner mentioned that the first trigger point was the question of whether a Member of Parliament was serving a prison sentence of less than 12 months, and said that that should therefore trigger this referendum option. People would be absolutely amazed to hear that it is possible for a Member of Parliament to languish in prison for six months and still remain a Member of Parliament. I cannot quite understand why the Bill has not grasped that particular nettle, saving everybody an awful lot of time, and said that any prison sentence should result in a Member of Parliament being expelled from the House of Commons. That is my first reservation.

When we come to the second trigger, which is the whole business of this suspension that will then trigger the option for a petition, I have very great sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. He served on the Standards and Privileges Committee for much longer than I did; mercifully, I was on that committee for a very short time. I am afraid that I have to put the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, right on this. The whole idea that this was totally objective justice is not quite as I saw it, sitting on the committee. Party politics played a very big role on that committee. Obviously there was the necessity to produce a judgment that would reasonably wash with the public outside, but one should never underestimate the degree to which party politics played a role.

The problem with the period of suspension is that if nine days does not trigger a petition and 10 days does, that critical difference between nine and 10 days will be a very party-political issue indeed. Even if you extend that period up to 20 or 30 days, or any other period you like to mention, there is still the question of whether you are under the threshold or over it. We should have very great reservations about all this, because party politics plays an enormous role.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on the Opposition Front Bench, mentioned the question of how you organise these petitions. It is a question of organisation rather than the indignation of constituents. As my noble friend Lord Cooper of Windrush—who has done an awful lot of polling—mentioned in his excellent maiden speech, the bottom line is that most people’s constituents do not even know who their Member of Parliament is, so do not let us fancy that we were all wildly well known throughout our constituencies when we were Members of Parliament; most people do not get involved in politics at all. However, a very much larger number of people will sign a petition. Therefore the question of a petition is not about the indignation of the constituents—“By God, we must get rid of this Member of Parliament”—but a question of organisation and of getting people on the ground. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, “Well, money could be involved in

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this”, and it could. I rather like her view that if you are pro-abortion, a massive amount of finance will be used against you by people who are anti-abortion. It could be the other way round. The abortion clinics could decide to finance somebody who is pro-abortion from the profits they make, so it could cut either way. However, money is only half the question.

If somebody is over the threshold, whatever that is, and is given this suspension, and it is possible with a petition to have a by-election, the political parties at that stage will say, “If there’s a by-election now, is there something in it for us?”. We do not have to cast our minds back very far to remember a time when virtually every by-election was won by the Liberal Democrats. We should pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who used to organise Liberal Democrats from all over the country to flock into the constituency where the by-election was being held. Of course, in future, perhaps not the Liberal Democrats but UKIP will win all the by-elections. UKIP is learning a lot of lessons on campaigning from the Liberal Democrats, so it may gather up masses of UKIP supporters from all over the country, herd them into the constituency and say, “Right—your job is to get signatures on this petition. We want to have this by-election because we think we’re going to win it”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, mentioned the problem of travel and whether people could come to a big rural constituency to put down their signatures. One of the things I would insist on if I were organising that is that all my volunteers should have cars. They would say to people—a lot of them old people, I suspect, who have not got an awful lot else to do—“Why don’t I give you a lift down and you can sign your name on this petition? Then we can have a by-election, which will be very interesting”, and so forth. They would not really have to establish what politics people have and which way they are going to vote; they would just say, “This is an opportunity for a vote; you can vote any way you like when the by-election comes along”. Getting the petition is going to be a matter of organisation. It may be a matter of money; it may be a matter of political parties seeing some advantage to them. Obviously, the more marginal the seat, the more likely they are to go for it and to organise themselves to do this.

I take the view of the noble Lord opposite that this is a slippery slope. There is no doubt that Zac Goldsmith’s ambitions went way beyond just having recall on some trigger imposed by the House of Commons. What he wants is for constituents, whenever they feel strongly about something, to be able to petition against their Member of Parliament. It will not be a question of that; it will be a question of outside influences, using a moment of vulnerability and organisation to get a petition going. If we end up with that, we will have a House of Commons that has completely lost its independence. It will be made up of a lot of people constantly looking over their shoulders and our democracy will suffer desperately for that.

1.41 pm

Lord Lennie (Lab): My Lords, I begin by offering my congratulations, too, as one relatively new Member of the House to another, to the noble Lord, Lord Cooper,

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on his insightful and persuasive speech. He revealed some personal insights, one of which was that the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, who was sitting next to him, had introduced him to the delights of Diet Coke during his time at the LSE. If he wants to further his interest in Diet Coke, he may have heard in my maiden speech that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, an expert in this area, is producing a book, now retitled

The Ring


Pull Diet

. Signed copies are available at a very reasonable cost and Christmas is coming, so see me afterwards and I will do what I can for you.

I support the Bill. There has been some extraordinarily persuasive and experienced commentary on the Bill in this debate, and I am not going to amplify or repeat what has been said. Rather, I shall concentrate my remarks on an area that I have some experience of in past life, which is organisation, campaigning and so on, in political arenas. The three areas that need attention are to do with money, as noble Lords have mentioned, with scrutiny of what goes on and with the preparation that is under way—or perhaps not under way—in the Bill that is likely to be upon us soon.

In preparation for this debate I had some discussions and correspondence with the Electoral Commission, among others, to seek its view, as the country’s guardian of electoral behaviour, on what it thinks its role should be and what the role should be of returning officers, or petition officers as they will become when the Bill is upon us. It takes the overall view that the Bill will lead to little, local matters. That is slightly worrying, because of course these will be local affairs. They will be locally organised petitions, subject to whether local constituents decide to sign them, but they will not be little, local difficulties; they are going to be hugely intense, under the scrutiny of all, and the media of the country will play a major part in determining the direction of travel for a decision on whether to recall.

To think that this is just a local matter and therefore that much of the responsibility for the organisation and delivery of these recall petitions can simply be left in the hands of an unsuspecting, unprepared local petition officer, is wrong. It would be unfair for the Bill to place public servants of that sort in that position without giving them the right level of support, guidance and training. Indeed, we should perhaps take the responsibility from them—I do not mean this to offend any current returning officers or future petition officers—because they really will not know what has hit them when one of these petitions is upon them.

I also take the view that these petitions will be very infrequent. I did a little research and the best that I can establish is that in 100 years or so of recall facility in the United States, only two national recall enactments have taken place. There have been lots of others at local and under-federal level, but not many at national level. So we are not going to have a whole body of experience to draw upon in refining this law as time goes on as we do at other elections—local, European, national and so on. Petitions will be rare and intense and it will therefore be even more important that we get the terms of the Bill and the rules of the game right, in detail and known before we hit the petition trail.

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Money matters in campaigns—perhaps not as much, but almost as much, as people on the ground matter, in terms of organisation. It is hugely influential and important. If we did not understand that before, the Government have just passed, through statutory instrument, a significant increase in candidates’ expenditures. They slipped it through in preparation for the forthcoming general election—without, so far as I can see, any discussion at all.

I spent quite a lot of my working life, a couple of years or more, with others, including my noble friend Lord Kennedy, who is on the Front Bench, trying to find to find a way, between the parties, to restrict money as a factor in the way that campaigns are run, and trying to limit campaign spending way down to a level that means money is not seen as the evil that it can become in the process of campaigning. Discussions went on between all the major parties over a number of years. Everyone was in favour of it, but in the end every party found a reason why the particular proposal at that particular point did not suit their circumstances or need, or the time in the electoral cycle, or whatever other position they may have taken, and it all came to naught.

The Bill concerns me. I raised with the Electoral Commission the issue of spending limits and how they may be applied on the for and anti sides of petition campaigns. It is quite right, as my noble friend Lord Grocott said, that the MP who is the subject of such a recall is going to be an unloved, lonely and very vulnerable figure. His or her ability to raise significant sums of money to mount a defence against recall will be very limited indeed. The pro-recall campaign in any area will have far greater opportunity, capacity and resource to draw upon, and unless we find some way of limiting the total amount of money that each side can spend, it will not be an open, robust and fair process but will be extremely tilted against the MP. I suggest that we need to look, in Committee, at some means of setting an absolute cap on what can be spent by both sides. That implies that there will need to be a responsible person on each side—presumably the MP on one side and someone akin to an election agent, that sort of figure, on the other side—through whom, and only through whom, expenditure can be committed to the campaign.

The issue of scrutiny was raised, in part, in earlier contributions. This will be about the conduct—and should be about only the specific conduct—in response to which the petition has been drawn up in a constituency. How we can find a means to control other factors—and many noble Lords have indicated that that is a concern—should the Bill become law, is important. We raised this again with the Electoral Commission, which did not really have any advice to give. It referred to the recent Scottish referendum and so on, and how it was impossible to control the angles from which people came to that decision. But recall is a one-question issue and a specific matter about which nothing else should count except for the specific conduct, whatever it may have been, at that point in time. So if there is to be literature, or if there are to be websites or campaigning groups set up on other issues to do with MPs’ voting records, or other records, or other experiences during

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his or her time, we would need to find a way of ensuring that they cannot affect the outcome of the case.

Finally, it will involve a significant amount of skill and training to prepare people in the various roles established by the proposed legislation. My personal view is that the body that should be responsible for the preparation in detail of these matters—not just as an adviser offering guidance and a code of conduct but as one with an active, participative, hands-on role—must be the Electoral Commission. That is a further matter that we should explore in Committee.

1.51 pm

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, like others, I have severe reservations about the Bill. I say that as an ex-MP but also as someone who takes a great concern in the rights of the electorate in all circumstances to decide who should represent them in the House of Commons. I start by reading a quote from the Cabinet Office’s impact assessment, which says:

“The Government believes this mechanism will contribute to restoring public confidence in MPs and Parliament as a whole”.

My first response is to say that that is a triumph of hope over experience. The House of Commons and MPs have never been massively popular. Popularity goes up and down, and I have no doubt that it has been down in recent years because of the expenses scandal—and the same applies to this House. Those are issues that will eventually pass. To their credit, Members of both Houses have tried to take a grip of the situation and I do not think that that is likely to happen again. But let us not pretend that MPs or Parliament have ever been wildly popular.

I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Cooper of Windrush, in his first speech, on which I congratulate him, because I remember at the time when I pursued my press Bill here I took a close interest in polls on the popularity of MPs. At that time, long before the expenses scandal, MPs were placed on a trust register along with certain other professions and jobs, and got a trust rating of only 15% to 20%. I am going by memory; I think that that was over a period of time. Before journalists reach for their scribes, I then looked at the trust level for journalists, which was somewhere between 18% and 22%. But the interesting thing—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Cooper, with his experience would confirm this—is that if you then ask about individual journalists or MPs or ask people about their constituency MPs, even if the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, is right in saying that most people do not know who their local MP is, the trust level goes up. They say, “I didn’t mean you”, in fact.

One of the most important lessons that I learnt many years ago in politics—I will not say how I learnt it, but it was quite entertaining—was that when you become an MP you become a leader. The other side of being a leader is being a scapegoat. You have to accept a kicking in politics. That is a harsh reality of political activity. You will never be truly popular, although as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, was implying you might be the least unpopular in your particular area. That is the basis on which we win elections. But I have

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been concerned for some time about the way in which we are eroding the rights of the electorate. My noble friend Lord Dubs cited the case of Phil Woolas, which is exactly right. I was deeply disturbed by the idea of a court preventing a person standing for Parliament who was an MP, because that put the court above the electorate, which has never been the position in the United Kingdom constitution. We need to get rid of that fairly rapidly, but we are now drifting down that rather slippery slope.

Other noble Lords have made the point that there is a problem that MPs feel bad about themselves at the moment because of the expenses scandal. But all the MPs in the House of Commons now have been re-elected since that crisis, and they are therefore there with trust. Therefore, they need to stop self-flagellation, which is a bad idea at the best of times—and it is certainly a bad idea if you have not been convicted of anything or not even been accused of something.

I go back to my two basic principles on this—first, to Edmund Burke’s comments in the late 18th century, when he said that people are elected as an MP as a representative, not as a delegate. My second point is that the electorate decides these issues. The case of Charles Bradlaugh in the 19th century, when he refused to accept that he had to sign the oath on the Bible, and forced elections to make that point, is a good case in point. He got the electorate to overrule the absurd ruling at the time that you had to sign the oath on the Bible.

Let us recognise the dangers in this: we tend to talk as though imprisonment should automatically debar an MP. I understand that—and there are incredibly difficult cases in which it is obvious that the MP ought to be thrown out, so it is very hard to argue against it. But we should sound a note of caution, which my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside touched on. If you look at his activities during the time of anti-apartheid, when there was talk of some of the organisations linked to the movement being regarded as criminal, you can see the dangers. Looking in back in history, you can see the number of Irish people who were sentenced to imprisonment—and the crisis that then came if they wanted to stand as MPs. You do not just have to think back to the past, however. If there was a situation in which the Government passed a law against going to Syria to fight for one of the opposition groups, or support them, what would we do if an MP—particularly a Muslim MP—went to Syria?

During the miners’ strike, the miners came down to Hammersmith—it is not a well known area for mining, but nevertheless they came down to pursue their case. I thought that their tactics were a bit disastrous, but they wanted to sell their paper, The Miner, in the streets of Hammersmith. I defended that right, and the police tried to stop them, using a bizarre and ancient law. I argued with the police for a week or two that they could not possibly stop them, but when the police insisted on stopping them and summonsed them, I started selling that newspaper too. The police then told me that they would summons me. My lawyer got all excited and said, “Great, we can go to Strasbourg on this”. I understood his enthusiasm but mine was slightly less. Nevertheless, the principle of allowing the

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miners to sell their magazine was important to me. Had the police pursued that summons—they did not; they dropped it—I would have gone to court. In those circumstances, I would have gone on selling that magazine, because the right to produce and sell a magazine in a situation such as the miners’ strike in my view overrode a bizarre 1916 law about disabled soldiers being able to sell magazines in the street, which was where the original law came from. If I had done that long enough, the court would have had no option but to send me to prison, even if it was for a short time—and, presumably, I would have lost my seat.

We should be very careful not to put courts in a position whereby they override the electorate. We must not create a situation—and this is the Edmund Burke case—whereby we put anybody else, an organisation or an institution, in a position in which they can overrule the electorate in that constituency. Remember, we have constituencies in this country; this is not a list system country. We have to bear in mind that constituents choose their representative and they should be able to do so.

My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours made the case very strongly, backed up, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, as to how this would politicise the poll standards procedure. Let me remind the House—I am quoting from the Cabinet papers because it is important to get this right:

“The House of Commons has in place a complaints procedure under which any member of the public may make a complaint about an MP’s conduct to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The Commissioner will consider the complaint and, following investigation, may report the matter to the Committee for Standards”.

The rest follows, as my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours indicated. I have no doubt, as he also indicated, that pressure will be put on individuals on the committee, if they do not want a by-election, to come down in favour of, in the case of this Bill, a punishment of less than 10 days. The reverse will also be true: people who want a by-election, because they see a great political opportunity, will go for it. Do not kid yourself that it will be only Members of the House of Commons who pursue that option. A lot of people outside—organisations, individuals and everything else—will pursue that with great vigour and, as indicated, with money.

By the way, I was fascinated that Zac Goldsmith, who has a constituency not far from where mine was, has made the commitment, which he may well come to regret, to leave the Conservative Party if we get the third runway at Heathrow. He knows that I am actively pursuing that option and I think that he may have to resign from the Conservative Party in due course. I do not think that he should have to be recalled for it, but if we are not careful, that is where this sort of thing will end up. If I was a member of the public, I would say, “Look, he promised to resign. He made a clear promise, put it out in leaflets and everything else. I want to make a complaint about him”. The Standards Committee would then have to look at that and there would be a debate as to whether he should stand down, if, for example, he chose not to. I suspect that he would stand down or stand aside from the Conservative Party. You can see the dangers in all this. That is why I have severe reservations about it.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: There is another scenario in which the Committee decides on nine days, but a political majority in the House of Commons decides to overturn—that is what the provision requires—the decision and make it 10 days. In other words, the House of Commons itself can take a political decision and completely undermine the quasi-judicial nature of the decision.

Lord Soley: My noble friend has more experience of this than I have, but he is absolutely right, of course. In any event, the public pressure in a case such as this might be very high, so you have to bear in mind that this will politicise it like mad.

This brings me to my final point: the House of Commons may come to regret this. At best it will be irrelevant; at worst, we will have one or two disastrous cases of the type that I have just described. So, I think we are right. I am always a bit cautious about telling my ex-colleagues in the House of Commons that they have got it severely wrong, but we have a duty to advise and warn. At the end of the day, it is up to the House of Commons to overturn this House. It is a mistake if people say that this House legislates. We only legislate inasmuch as the House of Commons allows us to legislate. If they do not like it, they can always chuck it out.

I end on this note: because I think there will be regrets about this Bill—it will not be the first time that either House has regretted certain Bills or legislation—it may be no bad idea if we put in a sunset clause to send back to the other House. I am willing to do that, but I would quite like to hear whether the Government would consider a sunset clause. We would allow the legislation to run, maybe for five years, and then the Act would cease if we found it to be either unnecessary or very damaging. I end very strongly with the words of Edmund Burke. He was very wise when he said that we give the electorate the absolute power to decide who represents them. Every time we slice away at that, as the case of Phil Woolas did, we do ourselves and the democratic process great damage.