Motion to Agree
Privileges and Conduct Committee: Eighth Report
Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)
My Lords, in speaking to this Motion, with the leave of the House I shall also speak to the three following Motions on the Order Paper. Noble Lords will be only too well aware of the background to this report and the accompanying ninth report on the conduct of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield. Both noble Lords were tried earlier this year for crimes under the Theft Act 1968; both were convicted and subsequently sentenced to prison terms. The offences of which they were found guilty involved false claims for expenses under the Members' reimbursement scheme. The noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Hanningfield, were guilty of serious offences which have damaged the reputation of the House. They have been heavily punished and have now acknowledged their guilt and apologised to the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, has repaid in full the sum he owed the House. Although the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, has not yet been able to repay the money he owes the House, he has undertaken to do so as soon as he can, possibly before the end of the year and at all events before he returns to the House following his suspension. The Select Committee and its sub-committee were clear that neither noble Lord should be eligible to return to the House until the sentences imposed by the court-12 months in the case of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and nine months in that of the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield-had run their course. Therefore, we have recommended in each case that the period of suspension should begin on the date of sentence and run for its full length.
I do not believe that I need to say more. The House has now replaced the Members' reimbursement scheme with a simpler and more transparent scheme of allowances, which is far less open to abuse. We devoutly hope that the cases before the House today will be the last of their type arising from the expenses scandal of 2009.
Baroness Prosser (Labour)
My Lords, I rise briefly to put the record straight regarding some remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, in his evidence to the Commissioner for Standards. On page 16 of the report on the noble Lord, he is quoted as saying:
"Lord Prosser paid back £20,000 or something".
I want to make it absolutely clear that this remark does not refer to me and that at no stage have I been found to have wrongly claimed sums under the Members' reimbursement scheme.
Lord Dobbs (Conservative)
My Lords, I take to my feet with huge regret, a very heavy heart and considerable trepidation as one of the newer Members of your Lordships' House. However, I feel I must intervene to express my dismay that this House does not have the power to take more robust action in this matter.
I campaigned for the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, in his attempts to be elected as a Member of Parliament. I bear him absolutely no personal ill will; indeed, personally, I wish him well. However, I suspect that I am not alone in being horrified by his lengthy interview in this morning's newspapers, in which he declares his resolve to resume his place in this House on the basis that his experience in prison will make his input even more valuable. This House does not exist to provide a means of rehabilitation. We are here as individuals to serve a greater purpose. We are here not to serve ourselves but to serve others. The reputation of this House is of far greater importance than the interests of any one Member.
If the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Warwick and Lord Hanningfield, were to return to this House, and perhaps claim further expenses, the damage done to the reputation of the House would be immense. The public would not understand; neither would they forgive. The media would mock. The reputation of this House and of every single one of us would be tarnished. We would be made out to be all the things that we are not-self-serving, mercenary and hopelessly out of touch. At a time when we are asking our young men and women in the Armed Forces to risk-and all too often to give-their lives, it would seem shameless.
We are currently in the process of debating the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, which would give this House powers to expel Members permanently. However, it is not the law-not yet, at least. In the mean time, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has challenged us with his very public, very lengthy and, in my view, desperately unwise interview. This forces me, sadly and with a desperately heavy heart, to make publicly these points which might have been better made more privately. That would have been my preference but this is now all too public an issue.
The noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Hanningfield, have broken the law of this land, for which they are being punished. They have also broken the rules of this House, for which we are about to punish them. However, our powers are limited. We can do no more than formally suspend them for a while. This is all that we can do and I do not believe that it is enough.
I therefore ask the Chairman of Committees if, in addition to moving the Motions on the Order Paper, he will take measures to take the mood of this House, and that he, or a more appropriate official of this House, remind the noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Hanningfield, by letter, that the interests and reputation of the House are supreme and override the interests of any one Member; and further ask them, in the wider interests of this House, not to resume their places here.
Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, for his remarks. As he has said, and as noble Lords well know, the powers of this House to suspend Members are limited. The noble Lord suggests that I or someone else write a letter to the noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Hanningfield. I will take back that suggestion to the Privileges and Conduct Committee, but I cannot respond now as to what that committee might decide.