The conduct of Lord Blencathra - Committee for Privileges and Conduct Contents


ANNEX 1: REPORT FROM THE SUB-COMMITTEE ON LORDS' CONDUCT


1. The Commissioner for Standards has submitted the attached report into the conduct of Lord Blencathra.

2. In 2012 the Commissioner considered a complaint that Lord Blencathra had, in his capacity as the Director of the Cayman Islands Government Office in the United Kingdom, provided parliamentary advice or services in return for payment. The Commissioner found that the evidence did not support the complaint and so dismissed it.

3. In March 2014 a new complaint was made, on the basis of an article in The Independent. That article was based on a copy of the contract Lord Blencathra agreed with the Cayman Islands Government, which ran from November 2011 to November 2012. Amongst the services that Lord Blencathra in the contract agreed to provide were "liaising with and making representations to … Members of Parliament in the House of Commons, and Members of the House of Lords".

4. The Commissioner finds that by agreeing to a contract which would involve the provision of parliamentary services Lord Blencathra breached paragraph 8(d) of the Code of Conduct (which prohibits members from accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services). Although the Commissioner finds that there is no evidence that Lord Blencathra in fact provided such services, the mere existence of that contractual term put him in breach of the Code.

5. In accordance with paragraphs 129 and 130 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct, our role has been to decide the appropriate sanction to recommend.

6. At first sight the fact that a member entered into a contract which included amongst 14 specified consultancy services a commitment to promote his client government's interests by liaising with and making representations to, inter alios, members of both Houses of Parliament appears to call for the severest of sanctions. Lord Blencathra's evidence, however, was that when he took on this consultancy role he made it clear to the Cayman Islands Government that he would not lobby Parliament and, he states, this express qualification of his ostensible commitments was firmly understood between him and his client. In other words, despite the inclusion of the offending term in the written agreement, he never in fact intended to undertake impermissible lobbying and his clients understood and accepted this. The Commissioner stated that there was no evidence to dispute this, nor to show that Lord Blencathra ever actually provided such services (which could be thought indicative of his never in fact having undertaken to do so). The essential basis of the Commissioner's report—namely his finding "that the mere existence of the contractual obligation" (emphasis added) breached the Code—is itself, of course, consistent with Lord Blencathra's evidence which therefore we think we should properly recognise, for the purposes of determining the appropriate sanction, may very well be true.

7. Naturally the sub-committee has had regard to the four recent cases (two in session 2008-09, two in session 2013-14) in which members have been suspended from the service of the House for varying periods of time for expressing a clear willingness to breach the Code in the course of negotiations for an agreement to provide parliamentary services for payment, thus demonstrating a failure to act on their personal honour. (This breach of the Code is now explicitly dealt with in paragraph 7A of the recently revised third edition of the Guide.) However, such cases necessarily involved a finding that the members were clearly willing and proposing to breach the Code.

8. In two other recent cases the Commissioner, albeit troubled by members' apparent readiness to become involved in the provision of parliamentary advice or services for reward, was not satisfied that there was sufficiently strong evidence to establish a clear willingness to breach the Code given in one case the provisional nature of the discussion and in the other the fact that, despite the member's apparent readiness to lobby for reward, he asserted his commitment always to abide by the rules.

9. The critical distinction, as we see it, between Lord Blencathra's case and cases where members were suspended for failing to act on their personal honour is that, whereas in those cases the Commissioner found a clear willingness to breach the Code by lobbying for reward, here the breach consisted of the inclusion in a written contract of a clause which both sides may very well have understood and agreed was not in fact to be implemented.

10. In summary, given the Commissioner's findings that (a) "no evidence has been produced that Lord Blencathra did actually provide parliamentary services and I have no reason to question his assurances in that regard";[1] and (b) "there is no evidence that Lord Blencathra deliberately sought to undermine the integrity of my investigation in 2012"[2] by not disclosing the 2011-12 contract; given (c) Lord Blencathra's evidence that he had "made clear [to the Cayman Islands Government] that I would not be lobbying in Parliament or MPs … That was firmly understood between us";[3] and given (d) Lord Blencathra's recognition that it "was probably a mistake" to agree to the term in the contract and that he was "very sorry about that",[4] we recommend that the appropriate sanction in this case would be for Lord Blencathra to make a personal statement of apology to the House.

11. We include in this revised report the terms of the apology proposed and submitted by Lord Blencathra following our initial report which, on the basis that the Privileges and Conduct Committee accept that an apology is an appropriate sanction, the chairman of the sub-committee is disposed to approve. The proposed apology is as follows:

"Although I never actually provided nor intended to provide parliamentary services to the Cayman Islands Government in return for payment, I acknowledge and deeply regret that I entered into a written contract under which I was apparently committed to provide such services (as one of 14 specified "consultancy services").

I now recognise and accept that such a contract was in clear breach of the requirement in paragraph 8(b) of the Code of Conduct that members "must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment or other incentive or reward in return for providing parliamentary advice or services."

I misled myself into thinking that, since it was understood that I would not be making representations in reality, then the wording did not matter. But words do matter; I was wrong and I apologise to the House for that misjudgement.

When the contract was renewed in November 2012 the reference to providing such services was deleted and in March 2014 the contract ended.

I deeply regret having breached the Code in this way and the embarrassment to the House that I recognise is caused by such conduct. I offer the House my sincere apology."


1   Paragraph 18 of the report from the Commissioner for Standards. Back

2   Ibid., paragraph 19. Back

3   Ibid., paragraph 13. Back

4   Ibid., paragraph 14. Back


 
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