I draw the House’s attention to Standing Order 68A, which states that Motions on the report resulting from an investigation under the Code of Conduct must be decided without debate because reports are highly sensitive and often involve vulnerable people. The House has established a system of decision-making and appeals on which, I hope noble Lords agree, it can rely. Therefore, the House’s procedures do not permit me to take questions today. However, a Member has given notice of his intention to divide the House on this report. I have received an email from that Member suggesting that, notwithstanding Standing Order 68A, Members should have a chance between publication and decision by the House to make representations to the committee, which would then meet and decide whether to confirm its initial report. However, that would represent a procedure quite different from what the House has instituted. The House has entrusted disciplinary matters in the first instance to the independent Commissioner for Standards and, on an appeal from her or in a case such as this, where she feels a sanction that is outside her powers is required, to the Conduct Committee.
I remind your Lordships that the Conduct Committee now consists of five Peers and four independent lay members. The latter bring to the committee a valuable range of experience, including in standards and disciplinary fields such as victim support, justice, professional legal and police discipline. All nine members of the committee sat on the present matter and I assure the House that it received very anxious and careful consideration. The upshot is that the present report upholds the Commissioner’s findings that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, breached the Code of Conduct by bullying a parliamentary security officer and harassing three Members of Parliament on the basis of sexual orientation, with homophobic comments on a number of different occasions spread over some two months. The first, in early January this year, involved offensive and bullying behaviour toward the security guard and then toward a Member of Parliament who happened to by passing by and intervened. This was compounded by further insults toward the security guard and homophobic comments, which were made later to the Huffington Post.
The other two incidents took place a month apart, in early February and early March. The first consisted of further homophobic comments about the chair of an APPG in an email sent by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, after a dinner at which the noble Lord had evidently wanted to ask a question but was not called. These remarks were joined gratuitously with further comments of a homophobic nature about the MP involved in the first instance. The incident in March involved further homophobic comments made at the same APPG—this time, at a breakfast event and to a previously uninvolved MP—regarding the chair of the APPG and the MP involved in the earlier instance. The entire tone of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was described as
“unapologetically homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful”— a description that he said sounded fairly accurate when asked about it by the Commissioner.
The Conduct Committee underlines in its report that
“the issue of concern was not his beliefs but his behaviour. Lord Maginnis is entitled to hold the beliefs he does and to express them freely in Parliament”— or outside it—
“but in doing so he must treat others with courtesy and respect” and must not engage in what, here, were repeated incidents of bullying and/or harassing misconduct.
The report recommends
“that Lord Maginnis of Drumglass be suspended from the service of the House for a period of at least 18 months and until he has successfully completed a designated course of bespoke behaviour change training and coaching. At the end of this period the Conduct Committee will consider whether it is appropriate to end the suspension” and will take into account whether he shows that he has engaged with the training and has gained insight into why his behaviour was inappropriate.
The House may ask why the Conduct Committee increased the minimum recommended period of suspension from the nine months recommended by the commissioner to 18 months. As I said, we gave very careful consideration to the sanction. As we explained in our report at paragraph 21(a), we identified on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, both an absence of any remorse and a complete lack of insight into the impact of his behaviour on, in particular, the victims of such behaviour. As the report states, he
“portrayed himself as a victim of a conspiracy by people who disapproved of his views, and insisted that all his conduct had been provoked. He also continued to refer to the complainants in a disobliging and sometimes offensive manner” and said that he was not in fact minded to accept either any training course or suspension.
As I hope your Lordships will all agree, it is of paramount importance that all members of the parliamentary community—of all backgrounds, sexual orientation and beliefs, and of any status—should feel safe and respected when they come here to work. Bullying and harassment such as that demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, must be subject to significant sanction to safeguard all members of the parliamentary community. Evidence is then required that the perpetrator understands why their behaviour was wrong and how it must change before they can be allowed back into Parliament. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, said, under Standing Order 68A, agreed earlier this year, no debate is permitted on this Motion. I must therefore now put the Question that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say “Content”; to the contrary, “Not-Content”. Members have also given notice by email that they wish to see a Division on this Motion. I will therefore instruct the clerk to start a remote Division.
Ayes 408, Noes 24.