The Conduct of Lord Clarke of Hampstead - Privileges Committee Contents


The Conduct of Lord Clarke of Hampstead


INTRODUCTION

1.  The Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests has investigated the conduct of Lord Clarke of Hampstead. The Sub-Committee's report is printed as Appendix 1 to this Report.

2.  The investigation relates to allegations that appeared in May 2009 in the Sunday Times, regarding Lord Clarke's use of the Members' Reimbursement Scheme ("the Scheme"). Following the appearance of these allegations, Lord Clarke referred himself to the Clerk of the Parliaments for investigation; a complaint was subsequently made against Lord Clarke by a member of the public in November 2009.

3.  The Sunday Times allegations were the subject of a police investigation, during which time no internal consideration of the complaint was possible. This police investigation continued until February 2010, when the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that no charges would be brought against Lord Clarke. Following that announcement, the Clerk of the Parliaments, who, as Accounting Officer, is responsible under the procedure set out in our 4th Report of 2007-08 for matters relating to the Scheme, sought the assistance of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests. This was in accordance with paragraph 11 of the procedure, as described in the 4th report, which states that "In exceptional circumstances [the Clerk of the Parliaments] may request the Sub-Committee to assist him in investigating a complex or serious complaint."[1]

4.  The Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Baroness Manningham-Buller, sent the Sub-Committee's report on the case to the Clerk of the Parliaments on 22 March. He then circulated the report to members of the House Committee, which oversees the Scheme. That Committee agreed that, as the possibility of disciplinary sanctions arose in this case, the Committee for Privileges should report the matter to the House, with recommendations as appropriate.

THE POWERS OF THE HOUSE IN RESPECT OF THE MEMBERS' REIMBURSEMENT SCHEME

5.  We emphasise that the current Code of Conduct does not extend to Members' use of the Scheme. This is clear from the 4th report of 2007-08, already cited, which established that such matters do not, save in exceptional circumstances, fall within the remit of the Sub-Committee on Lords' Interests, and that they are the responsibility of the Clerk of the Parliaments, as Accounting Officer. This will change when the House's new Code of Conduct comes into force at the start of the new Parliament. Paragraph 10 of the new Code states that Members should "act in accordance with any rules agreed by the House in respect of financial support for Members".

6.  Even though alleged misuse of the Scheme does not fall within the present Code of Conduct, there can be no doubt that the rules governing the Scheme, having been agreed by resolution of the House, are binding upon Members. In the present case, the Sub-Committee has found that Lord Clarke breached the rule set out in the resolution of the House which entitles Members only to claim in respect of "expenses incurred in staying overnight away from their only or main residence".

7.  The House resolved on 20 May 2009 that it "possesses ... an inherent power to discipline its Members; the means by which it chooses to exercise this power falls within the regulation by the House of its own procedures." The House further resolved that "The duty imposed upon Members, by virtue of the writs of summons, to attend Parliament, is subject to various implied conditions, which are reflected in the many rules governing the conduct of Members which have been adopted over time by the House."[2]

8.  Thus the House's resolution of 20 May 2009 was not limited to breaches of the Code of Conduct. The House affirmed its inherent power to discipline any Member guilty of clear and flagrant breaches of the rules adopted over time by the House. The rules governing the Scheme have been adopted by resolution of the House, and are binding upon all Members of the House who make use of the Scheme. We therefore conclude that the House possesses the same disciplinary powers in respect of breaches of the Members' Reimbursement Scheme as in respect of breaches of the Code of Conduct or of other rules of conduct adopted by the House.

THE SUB-COMMITTEE'S FINDINGS

9.  Lord Clarke, in his letter dated 21 February 2010, acknowledged that "on some occasions I claimed night subsistence on days when I returned to my main residence ... between sittings" (see Appendix 2). There is no disagreement on this point. It is also clear from the terms of the Scheme that, in the Sub-Committee's words, "a member may only claim under the scheme i) if they have stayed overnight away from their main residence; and ii) they have attended the House. There is no ambiguity about these conditions". The Sub-Committee has therefore upheld the allegation that Lord Clarke "was at fault to have claimed night subsistence for nights that he did not spend in London".

10.  In respect of a second allegation, that he claimed the maximum available amount of night subsistence when he had not incurred that much expense, the Sub-Committee has found that there are significant mitigating factors, and that therefore he was not "personally culpable" in this regard.

11.  In respect of the first allegation, which has been upheld, the Sub-Committee draws attention to the fact that Lord Clarke has voluntarily repaid a total of £9,190 in respect of his inappropriate claims for night subsistence for nights that he did not spend in London. However, the Sub-Committee notes that while Lord Clarke did initially admit his misconduct and apologise to the House, in his correspondence he stepped back from this position, asserting that he "made the claims, believing [he] was entitled to do so". The Sub-Committee therefore considers that he should "make a further personal statement to the House to apologise without reservation for his misuse of the members' reimbursement scheme".

12.  Lord Clarke was given a copy of the Sub-Committee's report on Friday 26 March. He indicated that he did not wish to appeal against the Sub-Committee's findings and recommendations.

CONCLUSION

13.  We uphold the Sub-Committee's conclusions, and find that Lord Clarke of Hampstead breached the rules governing the Members' Reimbursement Scheme, in claiming night subsistence for nights that he did not spend in London. Accordingly, having taken into account his repayment of £9,190 to the House, and his full co-operation with the investigation, we recommend that Lord Clarke make a personal statement of apology to the House, before the end of the present session of Parliament, to apologise without reservation for his misuse of the scheme.


1   Committee for Privileges, 4th Report, 2007-08 (HL Paper 205). Back

2   Committee for Privileges, First Report, 2008-09 (HL Paper 87). Back


 
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