Amendments to the Rules of Conduct (Conduct Committee Report) - Motion to Agree

– in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 18th July 2019.

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Lord Mance:

Moved by Lord Mance

That the Report from the Conduct Committee Amendments to the rules of conduct (1st Report, HL Paper 401) be agreed to.

Photo of Lord Mance Lord Mance Chair, Conduct Committee, Chair, Conduct Committee

As Chairman of the Conduct Committee, I draw attention to my declaration of interest in appendix 2, as an arbitrator, expert witness or consultant in my old chambers in the Temple. That relates to items in the report dealing with the registration and declaration of clients, to which I shall come.

On 30 April this year, the House resolved that the Conduct Committee should take over the conduct functions of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct and the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct, and should include four lay members. We are currently recruiting lay members to join the five Back-Bench Members of this House. The House will be asked to approve those appointments in September.

A key role of the Conduct Committee is to keep under review the Code of Conduct, the guide and the Code of Conduct for Members’ staff. Since 30 April, there have been three weighty reports bearing on possible substantive amendments to the code: Alison Stanley’s, Naomi Ellenbogen QC’s and Gemma White QC’s. The implications of these reports will require close attention after the appointment of lay members to the Conduct Committee.

The report before the House today is a more confined legacy of the former Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, who I am pleased to see is in his place and to whom, and to whose committee, I acknowledge our indebtedness. The sub-committee, advised by the registrar, had proposed changes along the lines of those in this report last autumn but, owing to pressure of work, the Committee for Privileges and Conduct could not consider them before it relinquished its responsibilities on 30 April. The Conduct Committee, having now considered the proposals further, takes the view that they should be implemented immediately, and that is what I invite the House to do today.

The report has two sections, the first dealing with the key issues, and Appendix 1 shows the results. I do not intend to detain your Lordships for long but I will just set out a few key proposals from Part 1. First, the description “paid advocacy” will be replaced by “exclusive benefit”—something that noble Lords will no doubt take time to adjust to. The reasoning is that the present code and guide refer to a number of different situations. Advocacy specifically in return for payment is one. A second and wider category is advocacy in favour of some personal concern from which a Member receives payment or reward. Both those should be covered clearly. A third case is advocacy in favour of a personal concern in which the Member has a financial interest—for example, a shareholding. That too should be clearly covered, hence the proposed new wording in paragraph 13 of the report.

Secondly, the present wording of at least one paragraph suggests that a Member must eliminate conflicts of interest, but that is simply not always feasible. The duty is to resolve any conflict in favour of the public interest, which the revised wording states.

Thirdly, on the registration and declaration of clients—an item to which my declaration refers—again, three situations are identified in the guide and they are dealt with inconsistently. Whether and when a Member is obliged to register professional clients or clients of a concern employing his or her services is uncertain. A qualification relating to confidentiality in the case of professional clients is uncertain in its application in an era when the clients of even professionals are regularly identified—indeed, advertised—publicly.

We concluded that the important thing is transparency about the identity of any client at the point at which a Member participates in parliamentary or political business relevant to that client. We therefore propose replacing the requirement to register clients by a more explicit requirement to declare them at any appropriate moment. Of course, the code defines when declarations must be made, not just in this Chamber but when lobbying or canvassing a point with a Minister. I draw the House’s attention, in support of the more explicit requirement, to the wording of the revised proposal, which requires a Member to,

“declare any client of an organisation in which he or she has a financial interest”

—not just personal clients—

“where … they might reasonably be expected to know that it is a client and … the activities or interests of that client are relevant to the matter under discussion”.

That proposal appears at paragraph 30.

Fourthly—again, this is relevant to my own declaration—there is a heading relating to public affairs advice and services to clients. We consider that this is no longer necessary because it was drafted in an era when the definition of “paid advocacy” was not as wide as it will now be. The code will now ban Members from lobbying or providing any other parliamentary advice or services for payment or for a concern in which the Member has a financial incentive. Any activity that might be described as “public affairs” which is not caught by that prohibition—the guide gives, in paragraph 19, some examples that include public relations or communications advice—need not be treated differently from any other job because, by definition, it does not affect parliamentary activity. Accordingly, we propose that this third category, the wording of which has created quite a lot of confusion, should be abolished.

Fifthly, as to Members’ staff, the report proposes that Members’ spouses or partners who carry out parliamentary work must adhere to the code of conduct for Members’ staff in the same way as other staff. Presently, spouses only need to adhere to the code if they have their own email account, which seems a rather strange qualification. There will be some advantage even in requiring registration, not only in placing responsibility on Members to ensure that their staff are aware of the need to comply with the code; it will also give spouses and partners the opportunity to register interests—a protective measure.

Finally, and sixthly, as to inadvertent breaches of the code, the report proposes that it should be explicit that Members who realise that they have inadvertently failed to register or declare an interest should consult the registrar at the earliest opportunity, so that the necessary remedial action can be taken.

Those are the main recommendations. Minor issues are dealt with in Part 2 in a way that I hope will be found helpful. I draw particular attention to the proposal that the threshold for registering gifts, benefits and hospitality is to be increased from £140 to £300, to match the House of Commons. That is in paragraphs 53 and 54 of the report.

I hope that the House will welcome these changes. If they are agreed, a new edition of the code will be published in September. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.