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My Lords, I welcome the report. I see it as an important step forward. It is right that a new committee is established and I support that committee including lay members. Whether or not there should be more lay or independent members in due course is a topic for further consideration. I am not sure I support those noble Lords who have argued for complete independence for the disciplinary regime of this House, because it is an important responsibility for us as Members to uphold the House’s reputation by being prepared to take appropriate action when one of us does something wrong. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, it would be a mistake for us to completely delegate responsibility for that to an independent body.
Paragraph 24 of the report mentions a disrepute clause. My position on this does not lend itself to the debate on investigation versus inquisition but, since the report refers to disrepute, I want to take the opportunity to highlight why I think it is important for us as a House to understand that we carry a reputational risk at the moment. If a Member’s misconduct outside this House is so serious that their continuing membership would bring the House as a whole into disrepute, currently we are powerless to act. This is compounded because, being an unelected House, we are powerless to act if a Member in such a situation does not resign. I am talking about disrepute in a way which refers to something happening outside a Member’s parliamentary responsibilities and activities—in another part of their life—but which is extremely serious and becomes public. If that person continued to be a Member of this House, it would bring the whole House into disrepute.
When I was Leader of your Lordships’ House, I spent about a year working on a disrepute clause and was assisted by several noble and learned Lords. This work was presented to the Privileges and Conduct Committee and was accepted by the committee at that time, but it never made it to the Floor of the House. It has remained in abeyance ever since. When making her argument about the need to specify what might constitute disrepute, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, indicated, as does the report, that it is too difficult to define what would be captured by such a clause—I believe this is one of the reasons why this measure has never become part of our disciplinary actions. However, that somewhat misses the point. We should never have to define what would be caught by such a power. We need to understand that if and when something so serious occurs, we would have the power to act in the way the public expect, precisely because the public do not have the power to act themselves.
I just wanted to note the fact that there is reference to disrepute in the report and that I hope very much that when the new committee is established it will consider this as part of its overall work plan, to strengthen our disciplinary regime.