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I make one further practical point on that question. I think it says explicitly in the commentary on the report that we asked the Clerk of the Parliaments-and he has agreed-to look at how this could be implemented in a way that is consistent with the formality of taking the oath. I do not speak for all members of the committee because we did not explicitly discuss this, but I do not necessarily see this as part of the ceremony of taking the oath at the beginning of a Parliament. It could, for example, be done at the same time, but outside the Chamber. It does not necessarily have to be involved in the ritual that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, quite rightly described in relation to the Writ. That issue was remitted to the Clerk of the Parliaments. I make those two practical points in order to put some context around the concerns that noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Dear, have raised about signing a declaration of this kind.
Baroness Manningham-Buller: My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, though not because I do not think that this is an extremely important subject for your Lordships' House. However, as the newly appointed chair of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests-and remembering what I heard earlier from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf-I believe that it is up to the House to decide what the committee's role and remit is in reporting to the Committee for Privileges, and what its relationship is to any commissioner so appointed.
I make just two observations. The House's reputation, fairly or unfairly, has been severely damaged by events here and in the other place over the summer. We delude ourselves if we try to persuade ourselves otherwise. Last week I said in a debate that I had been accosted by more than one taxi driver who said, "You're not one of those, are you?" when I said that I wished to go to the House of Lords. I was tempted to confirm his opinions by lying and saying that I was only coming here for tea. Against that background, the status quo cannot prevail.
Secondly, I very much welcome what the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, said. Commissioner for Standards is a rather grand title for the role that this individual will have, but there is also a strong need for a person with that role. The committee, of which I was a member, found that there is a lot of work to do and that it would be a great help to have the assistance of somebody whose job is to find facts before the work reaches us.
Thirdly, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues and say that if the House charges us with doing this work, we will try to do it-particularly on the guide-as speedily as possible, but with the knowledge that it is important to do it fairly and carefully, and taking into account the opinions of this House. We will not be able to rush it.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, am a member of the Leader's Group. I do not wish to make a full speech but should like to answer a couple of points in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and one other point. I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, in her thanks to both our chair and our clerk, who made the drafting much more tolerable than it might have been otherwise.
I depart from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, only in one small point. We discussed the practical arrangements, only to park them and leave them for further thought; but we acknowledged that the signature of an undertaking was not, in our minds, part of the oath of allegiance. We were not, for instance, suggesting that the oath should be changed in any way at all, only that it was an occasion on which the undertaking could be given and the code acknowledged. It has been said that if there is no sanction for not signing an undertaking, there is no point to it, but I think that there is a point. It is an acknowledgement of the code and the concept of personal honour, which remains in the code and all of our minds. It may be novel for a legislative chamber, but it is not novel for any part of government in this country. In another sphere of government, I-and no doubt many other noble Lords-have signed an undertaking to abide by a code of conduct. I never found that demeaning or insulting in any way. It is a purely practical and sensible acknowledgement of the situation.
As regards, the commissioner, I agree that it is rather a grand title for what we had in mind. Its position is only to investigate facts, not to recommend sanctions. The sanctions would remain the responsibility of this House through its committees and, eventually, the House itself. We were made very much aware of the enormously heavy work load that even one complaint
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During our discussions I asked whether the phrase "shared by few others" had ever been contentious, as I was aware that it had been in use for some time. I was assured that it had not been contentious. However, paragraph 17 of the guidance refers to a contentious issue. Perhaps the guidance could be made clearer. I am sure that the sub-committee looking at this matter will apply common sense, which I do not think has been referred to this afternoon. We must not lose sight of common sense, or the moral sense which underlies the code.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate except to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, that I was playing my full part in the work of the House. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jay and Lady Hamwee, have jogged my memory. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, it is not novel to sign an undertaking to abide by a code of conduct, not only in relation to other organisations but, if I am not mistaken, in relation to this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, joined the House a good deal longer ago than I did, so she may not remember this. However, if I am not mistaken, when I joined the House three years ago I was sent the code of conduct, and I signed an undertaking to abide by it. It seems to me that it is not that novel. If my recollection is a little hazy, I hope that that does not mean that I treated the signing of the undertaking-
Lord Low of Dalston: In that case, it is understandable that the noble Baroness has no recollection of it. There certainly was a code of conduct when I became a Member of the House. I think that I am right in saying that I signed an undertaking to abide by it. Therefore, it would be perverse of me to object to signing a further undertaking to abide by the new code of conduct.
It is imperative, in my view, that Members of this House should be given an unambiguous steer on what they can and cannot do. Former European Commissioners, such as myself, receive a pension from the European Commission. Senior police officers also receive a pension. There are numerous examples of that kind. It is imperative that such people should be
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Essentially, the aim must be to advance the fundamental purposes of this House and the organisations with which Members may be connected. That is precisely what the Eames committee has sought to do. It has tackled the immensely difficult problem of trying to reconcile different themes. Overall, I support the Eames committee, but I have certain reservations about it, as the noble and right reverend Lord well knows.
In the main, people are selected to represent an organisation because they have practical experience or knowledge which the members of that organisation do not possess. Of course, that has a two-way advantage. The members of the executive in question speak intimately about the issues that primarily affect the membership. The president is concerned with political and external matters that also have a major effect on the trade union or other organisation concerned.
I illustrate this with my own case. I have been the president of the British Airline Pilots' Association for some 29 years, long before I was a Member of this House. I have never been a pilot, but I have been an aviation Minister. In the European Commission, I served as transport and environment commissioner, both issues of great concern to BALPA. In consequence, while I do not always agree with the line taken by the trade union, in both Houses I have provided an insight into how pilots react to situations. I also provide Ministers and this House with an understanding of what motivates pilots. Ministers may or may not take that view into account, but at least, as a result of hearing it, they know how pilots feel.
BALPA's national executive committee meets monthly. I render a parliamentary report, on which I may be questioned, and occasionally offer my views on other matters. I also meet with the chairman and general secretary every month, when we exchange views which are of moment to the trade union. For all this I receive a relatively small stipend. Should I be disqualified as a consequence of speaking about such matters? I contend that to deny that approach would be self-defeating. To argue that no payment should be made and that no travel expenses should be met would have certain undesirable consequences. To render services for nothing would be undesirable and contrary to the wishes of certain Members. It would, moreover, lead almost automatically to the recruitment of somebody outside politics who would not be affected by similar constraints. To deny any travel expenses would inevitably mean that the representative concerned would have to bear this himself or herself, or simply be unable to attend.
I have tried to allude to some of the practical difficulties that should loom large in our deliberations. There is a world of difference between being a fully paid advocate of a trade union or another organisation and having a keen interest in promoting matters of mutual concern. I am not sure that that has been wholly addressed by the Eames committee.
I do not dissent from the vast majority of the recommendations that the committee has put before us, and the House is considering, but the House should be able to highlight some of the practical problems which arise.
Lord Martin of Springburn: My Lords, I welcome the report. I have heard reference made to the other place. I shall not go into all the details regarding its problems, because that would certainly keep the House up all night. However, I have a worry which I should like to put to the Leader of the House. I have no objection to there being a Commissioner for Standards, or whatever name we may wish to give that person, but the House must make sure that that commissioner gets a proper job description. I shall tell you why.
Three parliamentary commissioners served while I was Speaker in the House of Commons, and they all approached their work differently. Some Members felt that if they had been investigated by a previous commissioner, they might have been treated fairly or differently. It used to be the case that self-referral to a parliamentary commissioner in the House of Commons was not acceptable, but because so many honourable Members were being badgered by the press for an investigation by the commissioners, many Members have sought, and have been able to obtain, self-referral. Self-referral is not necessarily a good thing, because it means that people can be bullied into going to the parliamentary commissioner.
We all talk about the freedom of the press, and no one would wish to take that away. However, the press have an awesome power. I have looked at some of the stories that they have covered in the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I have heard Peers who are legally qualified. The press often do not make even a prima facie case in a newspaper. Members of the press love to get someone to say that they are reporting an honourable Member to the parliamentary commissioner.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, was right to say that the practice of one Member making a complaint against another has dwindled away. However, what certainly happened in the other place was that when the media were looking for a complainer, they tried to get one of our own. That is what they will do in the House of Lords-they will try to get a Peer to complain about another Peer. That is not a reason for not having a parliamentary commissioner, but it is a reason for giving them a proper job description.
I should not like a case to go to Strasbourg. However, in the other place, it is frowned on when an honourable Member brings a lawyer as a representative before the parliamentary commissioner. In the outside world, whether in an unfair dismissal tribunal or any other hearing, if someone brings a lawyer, everyone would say that they have a right to do so. Sometimes people are not necessarily articulate in front of an investigative body, no matter how articulate they are in other ways. If a parliamentary commissioner can find against a Member in a case, although it would be taken to a committee of your Lordships, that could lead to the destruction of a reputation or a career. We must ask ourselves whether such a case could one day be taken to Strasbourg when a person has not been treated
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I recall one commissioner complained bitterly and was put up as a victim by the media. Although that commissioner's four-year contract had expired, he said "I should not be dismissed". I do not know, but I have worked in factories, and if I had been told that my one-year or four-year contract was up, I would have no solid complaint and I would have fulfilled my contract. However, a commissioner put such a case, to the extent that every subsequent commissioner in the other place has been given a non-renewable contract of employment. That is why I say that a commissioner's terms of employment must be explicit.
Members of the other place have a secretarial allowance, additional costs, a communications allowance, an office costs allowance and travel expenses. Consider the amount of funds at the disposal of Members of the other place and Members here. I may be wrong, but I think that the commissioner in the other place works a three-day week. Our allowances are far smaller than those in the House of Commons. I think that I am right in saying that one of the first paragraphs of a publication of this House states that your Lordships boast that they are cheaper than the House of Commons. We do not cost as much. If that is the case, the parliamentary commissioner that we employ in this House will certainly not have the volume of work that exists in the other place.
On fairness, complaints about someone can be very vexatious. Perhaps a candidate has an eye on a marginal seat. That will not be the case here, but there can be vexatious complaints. The Leader of the House should examine the cases that have been brought before the parliamentary commissioner in the House of Commons. She will see that some of them have been very minor indeed-items which should have been resolved by the Speaker saying to the Chief Whip, "It has come to my notice that this Member has breached the rules on the use of parliamentary mail or the communications allowance", for example. As a result of the way complaints go around, very small items have been brought before the commissioner and the Committee on Standards and Privileges and have been acted on. In other cases, a Member might have been in the wrong but other people did not made a complaint against him: or he might have been involved in a matter of misconduct that was far larger, but because there was no complaint, nothing happened.
I end by saying-noble Lords who are lawyers will perhaps tell me whether this is just-that, until recently, when I complained, it was the case that when a report was made about a Member, even if the Member was found not guilty, and in fact when the Member was found not guilty, there was an item on the back of the page of every report referring to, "The case against the honourable Member for such and such"-in other words, even the "not guilty" verdicts were published in every report that went out courtesy of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. If, God forbid, I was brought up on a charge in Glasgow sheriff court and found not
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I said that that was my last point, but one more thing has come to mind; the Americans call it the statute of limitations. There is a ruling that parliamentary commissioners do not go back more than so many years. There is some logic to that, because you cannot have a sword of Damocles hanging over someone for 15 or 16 years. However, a case has been looked at by the Commons parliamentary commissioner that went beyond seven years. That is unfair. The matter should have been dealt with at least within five years.
I ask the Leader of the House to look at these matters. It is one thing to say that we have an all-singing, all-dancing parliamentary commissioner; it is another when the problems start with the media looking for one of our own to report another Peer, so that they can say, if the matter goes on for weeks, "By the way, this person is under investigation by the parliamentary commissioner". That would put a taint on them. I know that we are all equal, but they will look for the great and the good.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, the House is anxious to hear from the Minister, and therefore I will speak very briefly to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Martin, for his remarks. This House is moving in what is to some extent uncharted territory, and he has had direct experience, not of precisely the same issues but of cognate issues. It has been of value to hear him this afternoon.
I, too, entirely accept the general thrust of the Eames report and am grateful to those who have acted, as they had to do, in a relatively short time. The amount of evidence that they took in that time was formidable. None the less, by virtue of the fact that this is broad and concise document, there are some areas of opacity, and we should be as clear as we can possibly be at the outset about how we wish to see this process function. Most important-this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Martin-is what we expect of the independent Commissioner for Standards. Is it a court of first instance? Is the court acting as judge and jury as well as inquisitor? As things are defined in the report, there is room for doubt.
The Commissioner for Standards is to be a finder of fact, but he or she will also say whether there has been a possible breach of the code. Does that mean that it is not the role of the commissioner to pronounce that there has been a breach of the code? Is that judgment to be left to the sub-committee? The role of the sub-committee must also be thought about with some care. It appears that it is not necessarily to reconsider the facts, but may simply be to decide what is an appropriate penalty or sanction. It does not seem sufficiently clear in the report which role is to be discharged, or whether both are.
What is helpfully clear in the report is that, at all stages of the triple-tier process, the rules of natural justice and fairness must be followed. If the optimism
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I hope that, in considering the recommendations on implementation, the Government and others will give consideration to these practical questions of procedure in order to ensure that natural justice and fairness are discharged. For many people, the deprivation of that could not be remedied after the event. I heard with great interest what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, said about the possibility of taking this beyond the House. As we are in uncharted territory, it has to be a possibility. However, even ex post facto remedies would not necessarily save a ruined reputation. We have to consider that very carefully in our approach to setting up the procedures to implement this report, which I wholly endorse for its substance and necessity at this time.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, in three and a half hours we have heard 29 speakers and it would not be useful to comment on them all. What has been absolutely clear is the general tenor of support for the work of the committee led by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I see no reason to take a different view. We asked these people to take on this piece of work and they have delivered it. This is now the right thing for us to take on.
That is not to say that all sorts of concerns and hesitations have not been mentioned by many people during the debate. Perhaps I may refer to just two or three speakers. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said that signing an undertaking to abide by the code would be useful for new Peers. However, I think that it would also be a great reminder for old Peers that in each Parliament, as they enter this place, they undertake to abide by the code that their peers have set down for them.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, also said that he was not interested in labels, whether one is talking about non-executive directors, consultants or employees. He then referred to the possibility of a non-executive director speaking to a group of directors about how Parliament works and their saying to him, "Can you help us further?", with the line perhaps being crossed. I think that the time has come to be blunt. Where will the line be crossed? It seems to me that the response from that non-executive director should be, "You'll need to talk to someone else about it, not me". I suspect that that is the answer, but these practicalities need to be looked at.
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