1.The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards has submitted the attached report on the conduct of Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
2.In November 2017, the Commissioner received a complaint alleging that Lord Lester of Herne Hill had sexually harassed the complainant, had offered her a corrupt inducement to become his mistress, and had warned her of unspecified consequences if she did not accept his offer.
3.The Commissioner’s assessment of the alleged behaviour, including the alleged element of sexual harassment, was that it engaged the requirement in the House of Lords Code of Conduct that Members should act on their personal honour in the discharge of their parliamentary duties.
4.The Commissioner sought our agreement to investigate the complaint as the allegations that the Code of Conduct was breached were made more than four years after the alleged behaviour complained of. We agreed, at our meeting on 6 February 2018, that the Commissioner should investigate the complaint. We had at the time no idea of the identities of either the complainant or the respondent.
5.After completing her investigation, the Commissioner has concluded that:
“The allegations of sexual harassment, corrupt inducement and threat of retaliation were more likely than not to be true, and I uphold her complaint that Lord Lester breached the Code of Conduct.” (Paragraph 19)
6.In the concluding section of her report at paragraph 242 the Commissioner stated:
“My decision must apply the standard of the balance of probabilities. Where the allegations are particularly serious, it is important that the evidence is suitably strong and cogent. Applying the test of the balance of probabilities I find the complaint upheld, on the basis of the strong and cogent evidence of the complainant and her witnesses. I have carefully considered the challenges to this evidence, but do not find that those challenges undermine the strength of the evidence to any significant degree.”
7.Additionally, during the investigation, Lord Lester admitted to having breached the Code of Conduct by telling another Member of the House that the complainant had been responsible for him being suspended by his political party since February 2018 (paragraph 20 of the Commissioner’s report).
8.In accordance with paragraphs 139 and 140 of the Guide to the Code of Conduct, our role has been to decide the appropriate sanction to recommend, not to question the Commissioner’s findings and conclusions (any appeal against those, as against our recommended sanction, being to the Privileges and Conduct Committee under paragraphs 141–44 of the Guide to the Code).
9.The Commissioner invited us, when we were considering an appropriate sanction, to take into account that:
(i)“Lord Lester persisted in unwanted touching, even when the complainant clearly objected;
(ii)He persisted in making sexual comments and offers to her, even after she clearly objected;
(iii)He took advantage of her being alone in his house to harass her;
(iv)In offering her a corrupt inducement, he undermined the reputation and integrity of the House of Lords;
(v)In warning her of unspecified consequences if she did not accept his offer, he abused his power;
(vi)In no longer inviting her to relevant meetings; he abused his power;
(vii)He breached the confidentiality requirement of the Guide to the Code, and has offered no explanation for doing so; and
(viii)He carried out this breach in a way that made it highly likely that others would hear of it, but denied any responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of his breach.” (paragraph 22 of the Commissioner’s report)
10.The sub-committee add the following paragraphs by way of comment under paragraph 139 of the Guide to the Code on the Commissioner’s report and on the case, and in detailed explanation of our recommended sanction.
11.The tragic irony of this case is that for decades past the respondent has been one of the most widely known, effective and admired of those campaigning for racial and sexual equality in this country, a renowned supporter of human rights and freedoms across the board. The Commissioner’s findings suggest that, for a comparatively short period of time some [REDACTED—over a decade] ago, seemingly quite out of character, he became obsessively attracted to the complainant (whose particular rights campaign he was championing by [REDACTED—parliamentary business]) to the extent that he completely lost all sense of judgment and propriety, and now by these findings must forfeit his reputation.
12.In replying on 23 March 2018 to a letter (Appendix K) [reference is to a document that has not been published] from the respondent to the Chairman of the sub-committee (copied to each other Member), contending that none of the Code’s rules of conduct “relates to the allegations in the complaint, which are of sexual harassment,” the Chairman, with the agreement of the other four Members, responded that:
“in granting leave under para 119 of the Guide, we did not regard this as, simply, “a sexual harassment complaint.” A fair reading of the complainant’s statement - not least paras 12 and 13 [reference is to a document that has not been published] - surely makes it plain that the allegation (whether true or false is yet to be determined) is of still more serious misconduct. It alleges what can only be regarded as a grave abuse of power in the performance of a member’s parliamentary duties.”
Paragraphs 12 and 13 there referred to (see Appendix A [reference is to a document that has not been published], quoted verbatim save for anonymisation in the Commissioner’s report), recount, with surrounding detail, the complainant’s allegation that the respondent said to her: “if you sleep with me I will make you a Baroness within a year” and later, “if I did not [sleep with him] he would see to it I never had a seat in the House of Lords and warned me there would be other repercussions for me.” These essentially are the allegations (now found established) of “corrupt inducement” and “threat of retaliation” and “warning” referred to in the Commissioner’s report, as summarised at paragraphs 2, 5 and 9 (iv) and (v) above.
13.Those two particular allegations, and additionally the allegation that the respondent then ceased to invite the complainant to attend relevant meetings, all now found established, constitute the gravamen of this complaint and have driven the sub-committee to conclude that the respondent’s misconduct does indeed amount to a grave abuse of power in the performance of his parliamentary duties. The other findings, whilst breaches respectively of the respondent’s confidentiality obligation and of his duty to act on his personal honour, some serious, none trivial (whatever allowance may be made for the differing standards [REDACTED—over a decade] ago), would not of themselves have led the sub-committee to the sanction it recommends in this case.
14.Section 1 of the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015 provides that the House may by resolution expel a Member (or, clearly a lesser penalty, suspend a Member for a specified period) notwithstanding that (as in the present case) the misconduct in question occurred before the Act came into force (26 June 2015), provided that “in the opinion of the House of Lords” it “was not public knowledge before that time.” The sub-committee, whilst fully alive to the misconduct here in question having occurred [REDACTED—some years before] the Act, is of the opinion that, whilst obviously known to the complainant and a small number of her friends and advisers, it is not properly to be regarded as having been public knowledge within the meaning and for the purposes of this legislation. These sanctions are thus available to the House, notwithstanding that one effect of the complainant having for so long delayed making a complaint will have been to expose the respondent to a greater sanction than had the complaint been brought earlier (the House’s power prior to the 2015 Act extended no further than to suspend the Member for the duration of the existing Parliament). Clearly, however, there could be no suggestion here that such was the complainant’s intention; rather the reasons for her long delay in making her complaint are explored and explained in the Commissioner’s report (see particularly paragraphs 41, 70, 88 and 105).
15.Having regard to the arguably mitigating circumstances summarised in paragraph 11 above and to the long delay in bringing this case, had we felt any uncertainty as to the appropriate sanction to impose we would have recommended suspension for a specified period. As it is, however, the sub-committee is of the clear and unanimous view that, given that the House has the requisite power and the very serious nature of the respondent’s abuse of power, the only proper outcome of this most unfortunate case is that the respondent be expelled from the House.
16.Several members of the sub-committee who have known the respondent for very many years would have wished to recuse themselves from this case had such a course been justifiable. We have all concluded, however, that it has instead been our regretful duty to deal with this case as with any other.