HC Deb 24 July 1964 vol 699 cc949-51

Lords Amendment: In page 1, line 14, leave out "him" and insert "a member".

3.33 p.m.

Sir Hubert Ashton (Chelmsford)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Perhaps I should explain very briefly the sense of the Amendments to my Bill which were made in another place. The object of the of the Bill, as hon. Members will know, is to make it clear on the face of the Statute that pecuniary interests which are remote or insignificant are not covered by Sections 76 and 123 of the Local Government Act, 1933, and the related provisions of the London Government Act, 1939.

An interest which for this purpose is remote or insignificant is one which nobody would think likely to influence the judgment of someone having the interest when dealing with the matter from which the interest arises. As it was originally drawn, the definition of a remote or insignificant interest in Clause 1 and Clause 2 of my Bill was one which … is so remote or insignificant that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence him.. or, indeed, her in this context; that is, to influence the member or officer concerned.

But it was pointed out during the Committee proceedings in this House that this amounted to a subjective test: in other words, that a court could decide whether or not a particular interest was remote or insignificant only by reference to the means of the councillor or official in question. It would follow that a particular quantifiable interest might be held to be insignificant to one man and not to another. It was generally agreed that this was not in accordance with the normal operation of the criminal law; and two simple Amendments were put down and accepted in another place. Their effect is to provide an objective test for the remoteness or insignificance of the interest by relating it not to the member or officer concerned in particular but to any member or officer. The court would, therefore, have to consider the nature of the interest itself and whether this was such as to be likely to influence any member or officer, whatever his personal circumstances.

I think that these Amendments improve my Bill and I think that they may even be generally accepted. I hope that the Bill, in which my own interest, although not pecuniary, has nevertheless been neither remote nor insignificant, may now be allowed to complete its progress.

Even at this late hour, perhaps I may just add this. The present Parliament is drawing to its close and I am one of many who will not be offering themselves for re-election. Somewhat late in life and somewhat unexpectedly, I have served 15 years on the Essex County Council and upwards of 15 years in this honourable House. This is both short and humble service compared with that of many others, but it is still sufficiently long for me to appreciate and realise how many people there are, many of them behind the scenes, who do so much for us.

May I conclude by saying what a great experience and privilege it has been to serve in local and central Government and how genuinely grateful I am to all those whom I have especially in mind at this moment?

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

On the substance of the matter, I would only say that an objective test is obviously preferable. I think that it was in the 14th century that the Chief Justice said that the mind of a man is not triable but that the devil alone knew "what he wotteth."

I feel that I speak for many more right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House than are here today when I say that the absence of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir H. Ashton) will be much regretted in this place, as I am sure that it will be in Essex County Council as well. If it is news to the hon. Gentleman, I should like to tell him that few people are more respected among his political opponents than he is.

Question put and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendment agreed to.