Putting our House in Order
"The recent negative media coverage of the House of Lords has emphasised what the House itself has recognised over recent months: that its conduct and expenses regimes were in urgent need of reform. As I accepted in my December 2009 Hansard Society lecture, while “the majority have not been individually at fault ... there has been ... a collective failure in our neglect to address the systemic flaws and weaknesses which have been so clearly exposed this year.”
"I fully recognise the extent of public anger directed towards Parliament and the need to rebuild public trust and confidence: we are now engaged in that exercise and in putting our House in order; while still wrestling with the extremely difficult and uncomfortable issues arising from the previous system.
"Last year the House Committee, which I chair, initiated an independent review by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) of the financial support available for Members of the House of Lords. The SSRB reported late last year and we are in the process of implementing their recommendations for a completely new system.
"A main weakness of the current expenses scheme is that there has never been a clear definition of principal residence. The House Committee last week published a report proposing the public declaration by each Member of the House of their principal residence. The report sets out a new definition of what constitutes a principal residence for the purpose of claiming an allowance to stay in London overnight, following the recommendations of the SSRB. The report will be debated in the House on 22 March and, if agreed, implemented immediately after the general election.
"In other areas, the House has also acted to improve its governance arrangements. We have revised and strengthened the Code of Conduct for Members, and we are recruiting an independent Lords Commissioner for Standards to deal with any complaints against Members in future. In the meantime, the complaints against three Members previously under police investigation have all been referred to the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, which is chaired by Baroness Manningham-Buller, for urgent investigation.
"The evidence of the failings of the previous system in terms of clarity, transparency and enforcement is clear for all to see, but there is substantial work in progress to make the changes that are so urgently and badly needed."