HC Deb 01 April 1969 vol 781 cc228-30
Q1 Sir D. Walker-Smith

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he will state the Government's proposals for the registration of public relations firms and similar organisations engaged in, or designed for, the business of influencing Members of Parliament or Government Departments on behalf of foreign and Commonwealth Governments and interests;

(2) if he will propose the setting up of a Select Committee to review the code of conduct governing the declaration of, and inhibitions consequent upon, pecuniary interests of Members of the House of Commons, with a view to bringing it into accord with contemporary needs and conditions.

Q4. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a further statement on the Government's proposals to introduce legislation to ensure the publication of all outside financial emoluments of Members of Parliament.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

I have been asked to reply.

I would refer to the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made in the House on 26th March.—[Vol. 780, c. 1630–9.]

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Can the House assume that the sense of urgency which impelled the Prime Minister to answer these Questions a week before they were due for answer will be reflected in the Government's future conduct? Will the Government in particular take an early opportunity or acquainting the House with the progress made in regard to the registration of organisations operating on behalf of overseas Governments and interests?

Mr. Stewart

I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took occasion to speak on the matter in the House as early as possible because there was considerable interest in it. But hon. Members will realise that we now have two distinct but related questions to consider. One is the code of conduct for hon. Members with regard to declaration of interest. That is a matter for a Select Committee, which in turn is a matter for the House rather than for the Government. The other is the possible registration of public relations firms acting in the interests of particular groups. On that, it is proposed to have discussions between the Government and the other parties in the House. I do not know that we should necessarily get the best results if we hurried this unduly, but we have no intention of delaying it.

Mr. Hamilton

Can my right hon. Friend give any idea as to the timetable which the Government have in mind and particularly when they expect to announce the names of the members of the Select Committee? Would my right hon. Friend venture to make an estimate of whether the Government think that the supposed abuses that now occur will be remedied as to 90 per cent., 80 per cent., or whatever percentage he has in mind? Will my right hon. Friend consider this as my public application for membership of the Committee?

Mr. Stewart

I note the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, but that is a matter for the House and not for the Government. I do not think that I should try to predict a timetable at this stage.

Mr. Maudling

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, the appointment of a Select Committee is a matter for the House, but is it not for the Government to take the initiative? What do they propose to do about that?

Mr. Stewart

It has been made clear that it is the Government's view that there should be a Select Committee, but both its composition and terms of reference are matters for discussion through the usual channels.