Procedure and Privileges Committee - Motion to Agree

– in the House of Lords am 3:49 pm ar 28 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The Senior Deputy Speaker:

Moved by The Senior Deputy Speaker

That the Report from the Select Committee Temporary exclusion; Statements on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom; and Financial Services Regulation Committee (2nd Report, HL Paper 64) be agreed to.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Senior Deputy Speaker, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Lords), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Lords), Chair, Committee of Selection (Lords), Chair, Committee of Selection (Lords), Chair, Liaison Committee (Lords), Chair, Liaison Committee (Lords), Chair, Hybrid Instruments Committee (Lords), Chair, Hybrid Instruments Committee (Lords), Chair, Procedure and Privileges Committee, Chair, Procedure and Privileges Committee

My Lords, I shall focus on the Procedure and Privileges Committee proposal on the new Standing Order on temporary exclusion, but should there be any questions on the other points covered in the report, I will of course address them in winding up.

The proposed new Standing Order on temporary exclusion is the outcome of almost two years’ work, lead in the first instance by the House of Lords Commission as the senior committee with responsibility for safety and security on the Estate. The task of the Procedure and Privileges Committee has been one of implementation, drawing up a Standing Order to give effect to the framework of a temporary exclusion scheme outlined by the commission.

The Parliamentary Estate is principally a place of work. It is also an important cultural and educational centre, with many visitors, including a considerable number of school parties. After careful consideration, the commission concluded that a Member charged with serious sexual or violent offences should not have free access to the Estate while awaiting trial. Indeed, if they were staff of the House, they would be suspended pending the outcome of any criminal process.

After a consultation to which all noble Lords were invited to contribute, the commission has brought forward proposals for the temporary exclusion of Members charged with specific serious offences. The scheme is designed to be as straightforward and streamlined as possible. It will take effect at the point of charge; it will not be triggered by an unsubstantiated allegation, nor if a Member of the House is investigated or arrested. It will be triggered only when the prosecuting authorities bring charges, having satisfied themselves that there is enough evidence to establish a reasonable prospect of conviction.

Exclusion would apply in respect of all serious violent or sexual offences that are liable to a sentence of more than two years’ imprisonment. The process of exclusion would in such circumstances be automatic. Indeed, this is a key feature of the scheme. Once someone has been charged, it is for the courts to determine their innocence or guilt, and no one else. The proposed scheme supports that principle. Exclusion would imply no judgment on the Member concerned; it would be a temporary measure akin to those used in workplaces across the land pending the final decision of the criminal justice system.

I turn to the terms of exclusion. The House possesses the power to modify or limit the rights of attendance in specific circumstances. This was reaffirmed by the House in 2009, when it resolved to suspend two Members found to have breached the then Code of Conduct. The power to suspend was subsequently put on a statutory basis, but the House’s inherent power to place conditions or limitations on Members’ exercise of their undoubted rights remains. This is why the proposed Standing Order sets out what excluded Members would not be allowed to do, rather than giving an exhaustive list of what would still be allowed. Excluded Members would not be allowed to participate in proceedings of the House or any of its committees, whether in person or remotely, to enter the Parliamentary Estate, to vote in hereditary Peer by-elections or elections for Lord Speaker, or to undertake parliamentary-funded travel.

Activities not falling under those headings would by necessary implication continue to be permitted. Excluded Members could undertake parliamentary business not requiring personal presence, including but not limited to tabling Questions for Written Answer. They would retain their parliamentary IT account and would continue have access to the network and other digital services. They could also commission research remotely from the Library. Existing staff sponsored by the Member would retain their access rights. Excluded Members will remain subject to the Code of Conduct.

The commission took full account of the parallel work in the House of Commons looking at the same issue, which I understand will come before the other place on 4 March. Obviously, the two Houses need to work together on issues of safety on the Estate, although that does not mean that we have to have identical approaches.

To touch briefly on the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Attlee, it raises the issue of charges brought in overseas jurisdictions. The draft Standing Order provides an extra safeguard in the event that a Member of the House is charged with a serious violent or sexual offence overseas. In doing so, it reflects similarly nuanced approaches adopted in statute in Section 3 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014 and in our own Code of Conduct. The reason is simple. There may be cases where behaviour that is deemed a criminal offence overseas is not an offence domestically. If a Member is charged overseas and the House is sitting, the exclusion will last for a maximum of 10 working days and will continue in force only if the Leave of Absence Sub-Committee—made up of myself, the Chief Whips and the Convenor of the Cross Benches—resolves to that effect. I emphasise that 10 days is a maximum. The sub-committee is a small body and in reality would almost certainly reach a decision sooner than that. If a Member was facing genuine charges overseas for serious offences, they should certainly be subject to exclusion in the same way as someone charged with a similar offence in the United Kingdom.

I am sure noble Lords agree that safety of those on the Parliamentary Estate is paramount. I hope that this Standing Order will never have to be activated but it is in the interests of those who work and visit here. I therefore commend it to the House. I beg to move.