All 1 Debates between Baroness Flather and Lord Brabazon of Tara

Privileges and Conduct Committee: Fourth Report

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Brabazon of Tara
Thursday 21st October 2010

(13 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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My Lords, I, too, want to say a few words, but they are rather different from those of the noble Lord, Lord Alli. This is a very sad day for me personally, because the three Peers are all Asians. When you are a member of a minority and you read in the press that three members of the same minority have been found to have cheated on their expenses, it is hard to bear. I do not say this to suggest that the committee and sub-committee behaved in any way incorrectly; I do not mean that. I have looked at the reports and I have no complaint to make.

What I want to say is how distressing it is for me personally to find the 80th richest man, the noble Lord, Lord Paul, saying that he did not understand what “main” and “residence” meant. When I made my submission to the SSRB, I said that perhaps he did not understand the English language and the meaning of “main” and “residence”. Those words are fairly straightforward; we all know what they mean. If we do not, I suggest that we should not be sitting in this Chamber, as all the proceedings are conducted in the English language.

The noble Lord, Lord Alli, says that the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, has been treated badly and that things have not been looked at properly. As far as I remember, the Chairman of Committees said that she had herself admitted that the two places that she called her main residence were bolt-holes. The basis on which the decision was taken was possibly what she herself admitted about that.

We ought to let this matter rest. I think that it is very sad. Frankly, I do not have any sympathy for the two very rich gentlemen, the noble Lords, Lord Bhatia and Lord Paul. I do have sympathy for the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, but this is how things have come out. I have looked at the reports fairly carefully. They are clear and readable and they answer nearly all the questions for me.

We call ourselves “noble Lords”. When I came here in 1990, the behaviour of Members of the House of Lords was expected to be above this kind of thing; we were not expected to do this sort of thing. I remember clearly that, if I did not understand anything, I went to the finance department or to the clerks to the Parliament and asked them what I should do. They were always available to us to give advice. If we are in doubt, clearly we should take advice. We should not just carry on and say that we did not understand. I do not accept that someone cannot understand that, if they never stay somewhere, that place is not their main residence.

I am disappointed and distressed and I am sad that this involves three Asian Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Paul, said something about Indian culture. I do not know which Indian culture he was speaking of; I do not know of that culture. The only Indian culture that I know of in this regard is buying honours, which certainly is Indian culture. I hope that it does not apply to him.

Lord Brabazon of Tara Portrait The Chairman of Committees
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alli, asked me a number of questions, to which I hope I can reply and give him and the House some assistance. He asked whether the findings of the review would be published. Indeed they will be. Any changes to the procedure that were agreed by the Committee for Privileges and Conduct would of course require a report to the House and the agreement of the House. I think that that answers that point. He also referred to the letter in the Uddin report from the noble Baroness, Lady McDonagh. I refer him to the letter that followed from the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, which is on pages 216 and 217 of the report. I and the other members of the Privileges and Conduct Committee were satisfied by that letter.

The main question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alli, was why these three Peers were referred to the sub-committee for investigation whereas most other Peers facing allegations of wrongdoing were cleared by the Clerk of the Parliaments. Under the procedure agreed by the House in 2008, the Clerk of the Parliaments investigated complaints about alleged abuses of the system of financial support, resolving them himself where possible. He was able to do so in the vast majority of cases. However, the House also agreed that he could request the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct to assist him in investigating a complex or serious complaint. The Clerk of the Parliaments took the view that cases that had been subject to formal police investigation were, by definition, of a serious nature. This is why he referred the cases of the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, to the sub-committee. In addition, the House Committee in January discussed the extent to which the Clerk of the Parliaments in conducting these investigations should rely on written assurances from Members. The committee agreed that he would be,

“justified in relying on explicit written assurances”.

In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, no such written assurances were provided, and the Clerk was therefore unable to reach a conclusion on the case. He therefore had no option but to refer the case to the sub-committee. I can give the noble Lord an absolute assurance that it was not in the least bit because the three Peers were Asians. I do not think there is anyone on the committee or the sub-committee who would not endorse that completely. I hope that helps the noble Lord, Lord Alli, on the points that he made.