HC Deb 14 May 1969 vol 783 cc1556-600

11.6 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

I beg to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the rules and practices of the House in relation to the declaration of Members' interests and to report thereon. As the House knows, many hon. Members have questioned recently whether our present rules and procedures on the disclosure by Members of their outside interests are adequate, given the considerable changes in business and Parliamentary practice since these rules were established. In recognition of these doubts, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced on 26th March a proposal to establish a Select Committee to look into this question. This will provide an opportunity to review our current practices, and to examine the developments and changes in business and Parliamentary practices affecting this issue in recent years and the differing and sometimes complex forms which Members' interests can now take.

The Select Committee will be able to consider what changes, if any, are needed to our rules on the declaration of interest, in the best interests of the House and of public life generally. I am sure the House would wish these issues to be clarified.

The present position set out in Erskine May is that Members are clearly obliged to state their interests when voting on an issue in which they have a direct pecuniary interest. And, of course, the House has long prohibited the acceptance of fees by Members for professional services concerned with Parliament, or the promotion by a Member of any matter in which he has been concerned for reward.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Could I—

Mr. Peart

I know that—

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Will the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. There must be no conversation between two hon. Members on their feet at the same time. If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to give way, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) must remain in his seat.

Mr. Peart

I know the hon. Member wants to help me, but I think he would help me with a little silence.

The House has long prohibited the acceptance of fees by hon. Members for professional services concerned with Parliament or, as I said earlier, the promotion by a Member of any matter in which he is concerned, and I think this is right.

Strictly speaking, a declaration of interest need not, however, necessarily be made by a Member merely speaking to an issue; nor does it extend to the increasing variety of practices in which a Member's financial interest in a particular matter is less direct.

Considering the importance of this matter, the outstanding feature of Erskine May in this field is its narrowness, its imprecision and its extreme brevity.

Essentially, of course, the underlying assumption has been and always must be that hon. Members can be relied upon to assess these delicate matters in an honourable and proper way and that detailed rules are undesirable and unnecessary. From my long experience in this House I believe that this is right.

The proposal to establish this Select Committee does not imply in any way that there has been any lowering of the high standards which the House has traditionally observed in these matters, or, indeed, in the extent to which the essential safeguards of the House must continue to be the good sense and judgment of individual Members. But in recent years there has been an increasing growth in both the extent and the complexity of what might be termed the borderland of Members' interests. I am thinking, for example, of the sort of problems posed when an hon. Member, whilst not a director or substantial shareholder in a particular firm, holds a public relations commission on its behalf; or how far a Member should declare his interest when engaged in the various activities of the House outside this Chamber—for instance, when he is arranging meetings or study groups here.

Therefore, I consider that hon. Members will welcome the opportunity which this Select Committee will provide for giving clear guidance in the light of contemporary practice in these areas where some may be in doubt whether they should or should not make their interest known.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, said: … it is important that the position of such Members should be made clear in all matters which affect their responsibilities to the House and to their Parliamentary colleagues."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1969; Vol. 780, c. 1631.] With this background in mind, the proposed Committee is to be composed of senior and experienced Members of the House on similar lines to the membership of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. Naturally, as with all Select Committees, not every senior and experienced Member can serve, bearing in mind the need for the Committee to be of manageable size and proper party balance. But I am confident that the names I propose will be acceptable to the House—

An Hon. Member


Mr. Peart

I hope that my hon. Friend will not dispute that, because all hon. Members proposed in the Motion I believe to be honourable.

I also want to make clear that the proposal to set up this Committee does not imply in any way that a Member should not have outside interests. The House has always benefited from the experience of Members who have interests outside. The Members proposed for the Committee include some who have important outside interests. I am sure that we can rely on them to work impartially, and the Committee will benefit from their first-hand experience of the problems which may arise.

The House may also like to know that discussions are still continuing, through the usual channels, on the related question of the operation of public relations and other organisations acting on behalf of overseas political interests.

The Government consider that the House should now focus its attention on this problem; but in proposing, with all party support, the establishment of a Select Committee, the Government do so as servants of the House in this matter, and with the aim of discovering how the sound traditions of the House can best be preserved in the changing conditions of today's society. It is in this spirit that I commend the Motion to the House.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps I can help the House. I have selected the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis). Procedurewise, I think that I might put the first paragraph of the Motion to the House. Then, when we come to the second paragraph, I will call the hon. Member for West Ham, North to move his first Amendment and, if necessary, to speak about both.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Does the selection which you have just announced mean that the House is precluded from discussing the second paragraph of the Motion without reference to the names mentioned in the Amendment?

Mr. Speaker

No. We are to discuss paragraph 1 if the House wishes to. When that is disposed of we shall discuss paragraph 2, and I shall call the hon. Member for West Ham, North to move his Amendment. That does not prevent hon. Members speaking to the paragraph and the Amendment. I hope that there is no confusion.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does that mean that the Chair does not wish any discussion on the Motion, but that any remarks made should be directed to the Amendment, or can we discuss—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am trying to help the House, not hinder it. The Question before the House at the moment is the Question I put, that is, the first paragraph: That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the rules and practices of the House in relation to the declaration of Members' interests and to report thereon.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I thank the Leader of the House for moving this Motion tonight. Indeed, I am extremely pleased that the Prime Minister in his statement saw fit to include mention of a Select Committee of this character.

The Leader of the House has related quite succinctly the earlier history of this matter in this House. It is quite ancient. It goes back to the seventeenth century. But I must part company from my right hon. Friend when he says that the important thing is that hon. Members can be relied on to understand the interests of other hon. Members when they speak, and so on. This was the eighteenth century principle. This was quite correct in the days when this House was a small portion of the oligarchy which ruled the United Kingdom. But I am sorry to say that in putting forward this Motion my right hon. Friend gave me the impression that he came to bury Caesar, not to praise him. He gave me the impression that he felt that the eighteenth century practice was, after all, good enough.

The important point surely is not whether hon. Members know the interests of other hon. Members. Of course we do in most cases: not in every case, but in general we do, I think. The important thing surely is whether members of the public know the interests of hon. Members. If an hon. Member stands up, and we all know that he represents as it were a particular interest, we in this House will to a certain extent perhaps discount his words on an issue. How is a member of the public necessarily to do that?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I have not the slightest desire to exclude from this House people with interests. I think that this House is much better with a combination of what we might call part-time and full-time Members, with a combination of Members with interests and without interests, that it is much better as a representative body in the proper sense of the word. In other words, there are 630 Members, and we are all different, and long may that principle remain.

What I am concerned about is that people outside should know what those interests are, and not merely hon. Members. My right hon. Friend is, of course, correct. Most hon. Members could, if they so wished, compile a reasonably accurate list of the interests—in some cases concealed interests; in some cases quite open—of other hon. Members. This is not the point. The point is that since the introduction of the rules mentioned by my right hon. Friend the system of government in this country has changed. It is now a democracy. It is not a little House of Commons that sits in secret and does not allow its matters to be published. It is a public representative body which represents the whole of the people of the United Kingdom, and it seems to me that in the current circumstances it is appropriate that when an hon. Member stands up in this House the whole of the United Kingdom should know perfectly well whether he has a particular financial or other interest in the matter under discussion.

My right hon. Friend said that according to the rules of the House such interests should be declared before a Member votes. The point seems to be somewhat obscure. My right hon. Friend seemed to be quite confident that a Member did not have to declare an interest before he spoke, but did have to declare an interest before he voted. Most hon. Members will agree that it is not uncommon for Members to declare interests before they speak, but it is highly uncommon for Members to hear a list of hon. Members declaring interests before they vote, although they have never spoken. I have never heard it in my five years in the House, and I have never seen it in HANSARD over a much longer period. If the rule is as my right hon. Friend states I can only say that it is one of those rules which are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. My right hon. Friend has surprised me that the rule could be as he said.

But the really important thing—and the reason why I shall ultimately support my right hon. Friend on this part of the Motion—is that we must do something about the interests of a Member at the receiving end of such interests. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made his statement I was most pleased. As hon. Members know, I had raised this point with the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege. That Committee, for reasons known to itself, did not wish to deal with the point. It certainly had enough to deal with without that. But it did print my memorandum as an appendix. In that memorandum I made a comparison between the practices of this House and the practices of the Congress of the United States, which are substantially derived from the former practices of this House but which, in the course of time, have become substantially different.

The important point is that the Congress of the United States has endeavoured to do what my right hon. Friend mentioned when he talked about the question of public relations firms, and so on. Congress has endeavoured to register lobbyists—the men who pay the money—and has found it impossible for a quite simple reason. We can, as the United States does, say that we will register a lobbyist—a person whose principal business is to lobby Members of the legislature in an endeavour to encourage those Members to support a certain policy; that is easy.

The point is that anybody in a democratic society may wish to do that, and it is quite proper and right that he should wish to do that. We might register public relations firms, but are we going to register the oil companies, the property companies, the trade unions, or anybody else whose principal business is not lobbying but something totally different, but who may be affected by a certain taxation proposal or something of the kind that is before the House and who may therefore quite legitimately wish to lobby on a particular issue? In a democratic society any organisation or person may wish to encourage or discourage Members of Parliament from doing or not doing a certain act in this House.

That is something which cannot be prevented in a democratic society; nor is it desirable that it should be. Unless we register every single person, corporate or individual, in the United Kingdom, we will not do the job. The Select Committee proposed by my right hon. Friend is the only way to do the job. It does not matter whether one registers public relations firms but it matter very much that one registers the interests of Members of this House of Commons. That is why we hope that this Select Committee will consider that point and do the job properly. That is why there are reservations about whether this Select Committee will do that job properly.

I do not propose to go into that question because it will be discussed shortly. I therefore support my right hon. Friend on the principle now before the House. It is the only way in which the public of the United Kingdom can be informed of the interests of Members when they are discussing issues.

11.25 p.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I tried to intervene at the beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, because I thought that he said that Erskine May had said that one needed to register one's interest only when one votes. I understood that one registered one's interest when one spoke. I suspect that that was a slip of the tongue, and that he said "vote" when he meant "speak"—

Mr. Peart


Sir Harmar Nicholls

This Select Committee is not a good idea. An argument can be produced for it in theory, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) did, but it will not be good for Parliament. Such a Select Committee would be bound to bring in new rules and regulations, because the evidence suggested that they would not be a bad thing. As a result, a procedure which has worked well and easily will be made more rigid. Hon. Members could commit a technical breach and could be criticised.

What has gone on since the eighteenth century is effective and sufficient. Even the newest hon. Member knows that, if he stands to gain even a halfpenny or a farthing from any topic discussed in the House, he must disclose the fact. Generally, that has been done, and anyone who has omitted doing so has generally acted only in eagerness to get to his main argument, and not from any desire to mislead. Tying membership of the House to rigid rules will affect it in the same way as it has been affected by Members' obligation to be "nannies" to matters in their constituencies which have nothing to do with their Parliamentary duties.

Many men who could contribute to the workings of the House do not let their names go forward for the rigour of the hustings because they think that certain things which are not written now are keeping them away—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not widen the debate. It is wide enough already.

Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)

On a point of order. It is important to get this clear. The Lord President made some background notes which included some—at least to me—controversial remarks about the rights and obligations of Members. I think that we should have a Ruling from you, Mr. Speaker, about how wide you intend the debate to go on the first paragraph, because some of us want to raise certain fundamental aspects of membership of the House which arise on that paragraph.

Mr. Speaker

I thought that I had made it crystal clear. We are discussing the setting up of a Committee … to consider the rules and practices of the House in relation to the declaration of Members' interests and report thereon … That is clear enough.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

My point, when you drew my attention to the words, Mr. Speaker, was relevant. I was saying that, if practices which are generally understood but which are not even written down prevent men coming to Parliament who should be here, a rigid rule which emerged from the Select Committee's investigations would have the same effect. Parliament must be made up of people who are known automatically and spontaneously as leaders of the community. Drake and Raleigh were Members of Parliament. They were not much good as Members of Parliament, but they were recognised leaders of the community and Parliament was enhanced by their presence.

In the early years of my attendance, there were men of eminence here who were not very good as Parliamentarians, but the mere fact that they were here added some lustre to Parliament, and helped the acceptance of some legislation which would not have been accepted but for their presence here. I believe that the trade union leaders should be here, for they would enhance our proceedings and then be properly represented.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are discussing whether or not to set up … a Select Committee … to consider the rules and practices of the House in relation to the declaration of Members' interests and to report thereon … The hon. Gentleman must address his remarks to that.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

It is clear that my intention is not in accordance with your wishes, Mr. Speaker, and I will not, therefore, pursue the matter further, except to emphasise that we should do nothing which might make it difficult for the right people to come here; and I fear that the first paragraph of the Motion will do just that.

If the Leader of the House has any influence with the Select Committee, I urge him to make it clear that we are not seeking a rigid set of rules which must be adhered to. If hon. Members ever became frightened to speak because they might be infringing a little rule, we would be in the position of a man being brought before the magistrates for failing to sign his driving licence. If other hon. Members adopt this view and make the position clear, we may, by having our views on the record, influence the Select Committee into accepting that, generally speaking, we need part-time hon. Members and people who can bring first-hand experience of matters.

Whenever I hear an hon. Member declare an interest, I listen to him with rather more interest than I would an hon. Member who is speaking to somebody else's brief. Our debates are enhanced when hon. Members speak from actual experience of works, factories, offices and so on. We should do nothing to make it less likely that such people will come to Parliament.

Without wishing to exaggerate the position, I fear that if we have a rigid set of rules we will drive away the part-time hon. Member and fill this place with full-time Parliamentarians; and they are not the best sort of people to fill our legislature. I know of no instance of an hon. Member deliberately evading declaring an interest because of a desire to have a pecuniary advantage.

Mr. English

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that he has rarely heard an hon. Member declare an interest before voting, even if he had not contributed to the debate? That is the point to which my right hon. Friend referred.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Any interests should be declared at the time of speaking. In any event, from the point of view of people knowing an hon. Member's interests, few people get to this place without a struggle. I fought six elections, usually with several recounts. One cannot arrive here without one's constituents knowing all the details. The watchdogs in the constituencies, the committees of all political parties, know what it is all about. One is under the microscope at election time and it is a remote possibility that one could have a hidden interest which one hopes to turn to one's advantage.

11.35 p.m.

Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)

I support the setting up of a Select Committee. A register of Members with outside interests is long overdue. However, I note, in passing, some of the qualifications made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) about the effectiveness of legislation in North America.

My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council said something with which I dissent. He appeared to me to say that it was in the interests of the House that it should have Members with outside interests. When we are considering a Motion such as this, we should ask ourselves whether that is any longer the case. It is true that, in the past, membership of the House has been enriched by people with a wide range of private, part-time private interests, but I submit that the requirements of the modern industrial State are now such as to demand that membership of the national legislative assembly should be regarded as full-time work.

I do not believe that this Motion is now before us purely as a mere accident of time. It has come up primarily because more and more hon. Members, due to the inadequacy of their salaries and the absence of services made available to them, are having increasingly to seek outside occupations of one kind or another to subvent their incomes.

Bearing in mind the fact that the income of a Member has declined by 20 per cent. in real terms since October, 1964; that a Member's salary is lower than that of their counterparts in almost any other Parliament in other advanced countries, and that the services made available to us are in every major respect well below those made available in, for example, Italy, France, Germany, Japan or Canada, one sees the importance of considering once again the type of Member which the country will require in the 'seventies.

We should consider whether a Member should be regarded as someone who serves here for a fixed period and who whilst subject to continual five-year re-election or re-election at the end of Parliament, would be here for a fixed period of continuous membership not exceeding, say, 15 years at any one time, and then be required to leave for a lifetime of a Parliament before seeking reelection.

We should consider, too, whether we should raise the salary, not to an extravagant level but to the level of, broadly speaking, that of the Assistant Secretary grade in the Civil Service, provide adequate services, and then debar Members during their membership from outside paid employment. In short, I believe that the day has gone when the House of Commons should rely to any considerable extent on Members who are, as it were, part-time barristers, or business men or journalists, though all these professions have a notable part to play in our national life. The job of Member of Parliament should be full time, well paid and adequately serviced. Moreover, Members, on completion of their period of service in the House, should be given reinstatement rights in their former occupation or an ex gratia payment in lieu thereof.

I fully realise that my views are novel and will not command a wide measure of support in the House. This is a not unfamiliar position for me. However, that does not deter me from advancing the argument, because I think that the argument should be advocated and listened to. If my suggestions were adopted, then in the 1970s we could, contrary to the views of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), attract into the House a much wider range of talents, a much wider range of people prepared to give up a professional or executive job, perhaps in early life, in the expectation that they will serve in the House for only a fixed period—well paid, well serviced, and with guaranteed reinstatement rights at the end of their service. This is the way in which the House will have to look in future for the type of Member the country will require in the 1970s.

The calibre of membership will almost certainly decline in the 1970s if action is not taken quickly either about the salary or about the conditions of service. Young scientists and technologists cannot be expected to stand for Parliament unless drastic improvements are made. I greatly hope that the points I have made will be borne in mind in this debate and in the course of the Select Committee's deliberations.

11.42 p.m.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens). In some respects he is my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West, because he and I and one of the occupants of the Liberal bench have been busying ourselves together with some of the problems he mentioned.

I support the Motion and, I support one of the Amendments, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should be a House consisting entirely of full-time Members. I do not think that Members of Parliament should be entirely blinkered. We have seen the ill effects of that in other institutions where the occupants are insulated from the outside world—for example, in some of the churches. An institution such as this has a natural bias towards being introspective. It would be a great mistake if we were all full-time Members.

I support the Motion because it would greatly increase the value which the House can derive from what Hon. Members say if it could find out easily what the interest of Members were. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) that the necessity to declare an interest would necessarily keep people out of the House.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

I did not say that. I think that it is vital that Members should declare their interests, but the existence of a rigid set of rules about the declaration of interests may deter people from coming here.

Mr. Smith

I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. I do not think that the necessity to declare interests would keep people out, although it is embarrassing to declare an interest. I am sure that many people find themselves in the same position as I do, and have no wish to appear to put themselves forward as knowledgeable about a subject, which is what to declare an interest often does. For example, I would hesitate very much to say in a debate on the aircraft industry that I was a director of Rolls-Royce. I should very much hesitate in a debate concerning newspapers to say that I was a part-proprietor of many provincial newspapers. It does not in the least affect how I speak or vote, but it would add a good deal to what one says if other Members could find this out quietly and in their own time from a register.

Further, I am in favour of appointing the Committee because I hope that such a register will extend to all considerable shareholdings and all directorships. I have worked for 20 years in a bank, and I know that when the customers of a bank stand revealed in a state of financial nudity, as they do, things are not always what they seem. Some people who are popularly supposed to have a considerable interest in such and such a matter are shown to have no interest in it. A register of Members' interests, far from being the agreeable field for gossip and speculation which I have no doubt many hon. Members consider it would be, might prove to be a very disappointing document, and many hon. Members popularly supposed to have the most disgraceful interests would be shown to be in a state of considerable purity.

I would in a way regret such a register, as being in part an invasion of privacy, and therefore I hope that the Committee will recommend it in not too rigid or savage a form, and that the penalties—if there be penalties for failing to complete it perfectly—would not be to severe.

I turn to the composition of the Committee. It seems to me that it has been chosen—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We can discuss the composition when we come to the next paragraph.

Mr. Smith

I understand that, Mr. Speaker. But it would avoid the necessity for me to rise again—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Even at the cost of the hon. Gentleman's having to rise twice, he must keep in order.

Mr. Smith

I know what a stickler you are, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman means that in the Pickwickian sense.

11.49 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

For some weeks a number of my hon. Friends and I have been objecting to the Motion. Such Motions setting up Select Committees are normally agreed between the usual channels, are taken formally at the end of the day, and go through on the nod. My hon. Friends and I who have objected are very appreciative of the action of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in suspending the Rule and giving us an opportunity to debate the Motion. We had objected because we felt that it was a subject that should be debated. Hence, our appreciation to him for giving us that opportunity.

As I say, we objected not to the Motion but to the denial of opportunity to debate it. Now that we have the opportunity, I say at once that I—I think that this is true of most of my hon. Friends—am in favour of the setting up of the Select Committee, and I support the first paragraph which spells that out. Though I do not make great play of this, I do not consider that the paragraph goes far enough. There is here a matter which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House must watch carefully. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) in saying that the first paragraph as drafted does not give the Select Committee opportunity to consider certain important points which are raised by the question why Members have outside interests at all.

For various reasons—I shall not go into them all—there are hon. Members on both sides, possibly more on this side than on that, who have to have outside interests because they just cannot manage. [Interruption.] I hear someone jeer at that, but it is true; they cannot manage on the very poor—I do not call it salary—allowance which they receive. In part it is a salary, but in part it is an allowance to cover only part of their expenses.

For example, a Scottish Member may have to telephone to his constituency on an important matter. It can cost him a lot of money. This is not generally realised. Because I have the convenience, the very satisfactory convenience, of representing a London constituency, so that I can live close to both the House and my constituency, I can telephone to my town clerk on exactly the same matter as the Scottish Member has to raise and do it for nothing, whereas it costs him 10s. This is wrong.

Mr. Peart

I agree that there are many matters in that context which are important to hon. Members. The Services Committee, of which I am Chairman, is looking into them.

Mr. Lewis

I am pleased that it is, but they have been looked into for 25 years. [Laughter.] I am serious about it. We have been looking into these questions for 25 years, but in 1969 we are still in the position we were in in 1945. There are very bad anomalies. That is a fact.

There are hon. Members who, because they work under the disability of representing a constituency—I was going to say in the wilds of Scotland, but I must not say that—at a great distance from the House, cannot afford the extras involved, and they cannot afford to employ a secretary full time.

They are at another disadvantage, because if they employ a full-time secretary the odds are, a thousand to one, that they will have to pay her more than they receive by the time that they have paid out postage, living expenses and the expenses of their wives. If I go to my constituency I can take my wife, and there is no extra expense. The other hon. Member has to take his wife and meet the fare. They may have to stay overnight and there are hotel expenses to meet out of his so-called salary. This is unfair. If I go to my constituency with my wife and we open a bazaar or do whatever we do—[Laughter.] I do not know that there is much to laugh at. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) might be opening one of the public schools—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interruptions do not help. They prolong speeches.

Mr. Lewis

I am serious about this. As this part of the Motion stands, it does not go far enough. Why should some hon. Members be far better off than others because the House of Commons and the Government have not treated, and are not treating, Members fairly? There is discrimination. This House has been discussing taxation in which we have always claimed that there should be no discrimination against the ordinary elector, yet we have continually discriminated against hon. Members. This is wrong. The Chief Whip, who I see is present, or myself, can reach our constituencies in five minutes. It does not cost very much, yet other hon. Members who are already out of pocket have to pay a lot of money. There are other hon. Members, particularly on our side, who, when they arrive here, ask themselves: what they can do. They have not got enough money.

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

Write for Tribune?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

They may write for the Evening News. I am not criticising anyone for writing for the Evening News or Tribune. I have outside interests, but there are other hon. Members who say that they must have outside interests because they cannot manage.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in a recent Answer to a Parliamentary Question, the Chief Secretary informed the House that the average Member spent one half of his so-called Parliamentary salary on expenses wholly, necessarily and exclusively incurred in the performance of his Parliamentary duties?

Mr. Lewis

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the Leader of the House will not dodge this. Both sides are equally guilty. Tories tried to dodge this because they thought that it would not be popular.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is logical in what he is saying, but I must ask him not to pursue in detail the history of discrimination as between the parties. He can argue that the inadequate provision for Members makes it necessary for some to seek outside interests.

Mr. Lewis

I was not attempting to go into detail on this. The Leader of the House says that he is dealing with it. We have been dealing with it for 25 years, and we are still no nearer a solution. Both parties, when coming to face this issue, have used the legitimate excuse that we are either in a crisis or coming out of one.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member cannot discuss in detail the merits or the inadequacy of Members' pay and conditions and the relative history of neglect of the two sides. He must keep to the Motion.

Mr. Lewis

With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am discussing the fact that the first paragraph, which I accept in principle, is not, in my opinion, sufficiently widely drawn to achieve the stated purpose in relation to the declaration of Members' interests".

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member may accept my assurance that I understand what he has said so far.

Mr. Lewis

Hence I will repeat that for many years there has been neglect because Governments of the day have dodged the issue because they did not think that it would be popular with the public.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot, on this Motion, discuss the failure of Governments to solve the issue.

Mr. Wewis

I agree, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to explain that if the Committee is again to be set up and deals with only one very small aspect—the smaller of the issues and not the really big issue—of the declaration of Members' interests, unless full cognisance is taken of the reasons for Members having to vet outside interests, the Committee will not be doing the job which is implied by the Motion. I hope that the Committee will not dodge it this time but will look at all aspects of the question of outside interests, which include the points which have been mentioned.

I want later, on the Amendments, to give further reasons why I have reservations about the Committee.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House moved his Motion, he referred not only to the principle outlined in the first paragraph but also to the composition of the Committee. You indicated, I think, to the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) that by speaking once, he precluded himself from speaking again. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If that is the case, I presume that we can all speak first on the general principle of establishing the Committee and, secondly, on its composition.

Mr. Speaker

With respect, may I say as the hon. Member did not understand, as the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) did understand, my Ruling to him. The simple fact is that we are discussing the general principle on the first paragraph. That does not preclude an hon. Member from speaking on the first paragraph and on the second paragraph. It precludes him from making both speeches on the first paragraph.

12.03 a.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I will certainly attempt to be brief at this early hour of the morning. I support the Motion in principle although I have one or two queries to raise and I see difficulties ahead.

I certainly think that Members' interests should be declared publicly and openly. Indeed, I do not think that any right hon. or hon. Member, on either side, would mind if I said at this stage that we in the Liberal Party have had a register of this sort for a considerable time. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), whose suggestion and idea it was. Any hon. Member can find out what my interests are in the House by approaching the Liberal Whip and asking to see it. Indeed, the Press have attempted to do this. I derive an income from four different sources apart from my Parliamentary salary, and that is open for all to see.

It is also important that these interests should be publicly available as a protection for individual Members, not only as a protection for the public interest. There is an early day Motion which concerns a strange story which appeared in the newspapers earlier in the week about two hon. Members alleged to have connections with the neo-Nazi Party in Germany. I do not know whether those connections are direct, but it struck me that it was highly likely that the connection was through a public relations firm. It is important that Members with connections with public relations firms should have those connections fairly and squarely laid out in public. Otherwise, it is always open for anybody in the Press or the public when anyone makes a speech about a special interest to say, "That is easy because he is on the roll of a P.R. firm". It is important that such a connection should be openly declared.

But there is a difficulty and I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to it. It will not be enough for an hon. Member to say that he derive an income from a certain public relations firm. Public relations firms are notoriously secretive about their lists of clients, and it is often extremely difficult to know which clients are handled by whom. This is extremely important, because a Member of Parliament could well represent interests or an individual interest of a client for a P.R. firm and none of us would know.

The difference between private interests and political interests is often not easy to see. As the treasurer of the Liberal Party, I am only too well aware of that. Some hon. Members, as I myself, may well derive a small income from a trade union. I act in the House—and it is openly declared on our register—as a political adviser—to a trade union. The income which I derive may be small, hut, nevertheless, if that trade union paid that money to my Liberal association instead of to me, it would certainly benefit me, because it would pay certain costs which otherwise I would have to pay, but presumably I would not have to declare that. We should consider this carefully, because we might well find a good deal of switching between private and political interests and we would have to take that into account.

There is also the question whether this Committee should look into the declaration of interests of candidates at the time of elections, not only when a candidate becomes an hon. Member. If conversation is given to us to conceal our thoughts, the ballot paper and election addresses are often given to us to conceal our interests. My opponent changed his interests in the course of two elections and the description ranged from being a farmer to a Minister of the Crown to a retired Army officer. I have heard of retired officers becoming farmers, but it is only under Conservative agricultural policy that it can be the other way.

Many hon. and right hon. Members have spoken of the need for outside interests. I want to be brief about this subject because it has been somewhat laboured. To judge by the look on the faces of the gentlemen on the Front Benches, there seems to be some doubt whether you have been right, Mr. Speaker, to rule this subject in order. They seem to object to back benchers having any say about remuneration, but that seems a proper subject to debate on this Motion. Hon. Members need outside interests because of the crazy way in which we pay ourselves.

In the course of the debate yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made what I can describe only as a Freudian slip. He was groping for a description of a salary level of £5,000 a year. He said, "It is perhaps the lower, no, shall we say the middle executive level". He was saying that £5,000 a year was the middle executive level and here we are paid, we laughingly call it being paid, £3,250 a year and most of us know that it is not a salary in any sense of the word. We ought to reform the method by which hon. Members are paid and there have been various suggestions about that.

I do not accept that I am a bad Member of Parliament because I have outside interests. I have to have these interests because I cannot live without them and my bank manager would not allow it. [Interruption.] I tried it for a year and it was not possible.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Send him a letter of intent.

Mr. Pardoe

I am grateful for the suggestion. There is, after all, for most of us, plenty to do in the sense of a full-time job. I suggest that if we are to have part-time Members we might have a few part-time salaries. I would take issue with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) who suggested that outside interests never interfered with selection. I would draw his attention to an article in the Sunday Times some while ago written by a former hon. Member of his party in this House, Mr. Julian Critchley, about the selection of a candidate for one of the Brighton constituencies.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

He lost.

Mr. Pardoe

One of the first questions asked at the selection conference was whether he could manage independently of his Parliamentary salary. I regard that as an infamous question and one that ought not to be asked. No party which can condone it being asked at a selection conference is worthy of the name.

The method of remuneration and the need for outside interests has a real effect on the quality of Members of Parliament. We tend to be a shrine to the cult of the amateur and it does not do the country any good, nor the balance between the Executive and the legislature any good. It may well be in the interests of the Front Bench, not only to curtail debate tonight, to deny us the right to say these things, but also because they do not want back benchers to be paid an adequate sum of money to do their job well because that puts a brake on them.

Mr. Roebuck

I am not out of sympathy with what the hon. Member is saying that these terms "full-time" and "part-time" require more definition. Some hon. Members can be full-time and have interests outside. It depends on their capacity and energy and things of that nature.

Mr. Pardoe

I entirely accept that. I know it from my own experience because my own outside interests enable me to pay a research assistant, and that enables me to do my job better.

The important thing is not only that we should have back benchers of high quality, but that from them are drawn future Ministers and members of the Executive. It may be that we are sacrificing their quality in future because we are having to draw them from a reservoir of people who are infamously paid and it is wrong that hon. Members should have to continue, to a large extent, on the charity, and sometimes the generosity, which outside firms and trade unions are prepared to give us.

There is a great deal of talk about negative income tax, but the trouble with this House is that it works on negative income: the more one does, the less one gets. That contravenes the first principle of the Government's incomes policy, that pay should be related to productivity. We should not have to worry about outside interests. I support the Motion.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Peart

With the permission of the House, may I say that I am glad that hon. Members, broadly speaking, have welcomed the Motion. May I say to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe)—and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) will agree with me—that I did not seek to duck a debate on this matter. In fact, I gave a promise to my hon. Friend that I would not slip this Motion through on the nod and that I would allow an opportunity for a debate.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I interrupt my right hon. Friend? I would add to what he has said that on one or two occasions when I was going to wait, he advised me that he would not be moving the Motion. I can assure hon. Members that that is quite true.

Mr. Peart

Many extremely interesting speeches have been made by the hon. Members for Cornwall, North, for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens). I agree so much with what they have said about the role of the Member and his place in this House, the inconvenience to which he is subjected and the inadequacy of his salary. I accept that. All I say is that this is not the occasion on which we should debate those matters.

I have moved to set up this special Select Committee because the House expressed a desire that this should be done. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister responded to that request. I hope that one day we can argue about the role of the individual Member. Each hon. Member who has spoken has, in his own way, expressed properly the importance of the individual Member and the part that he should play in a new situation if we have the courage to deal with it. I merely say tonight that I am moving this Motion, which is limited. I hope that even at this late hour we can have the Motion, and I expect that the Select Committee which will be set up will take note of what has been said and of the advice and evidence which will be submitted.

Mr. Dickens


Mr. Speaker

Order. Interventions prolong speeches.

Mr. Dickens

Will my right hon. Friend answer one question? Will he give the House an assurance that when the Select Committee considers this matter it will look into the basic question of whether Members of Parliament should have any outside interests at all?

Mr. Peart

To say that a Member of the House should have no outside interests—

Mr. Dickens

Or paid employment.

Mr. Peart

I would have thought that from my point of view, as Leader of the House, it would be wrong to be dogmatic. A Member must have certain interests outside the House—each one in his own way. If it is the wish of my hon. Friend that the Select Committee should consider this point, he will have an opportunity to present his evidence and I am sure that the Select Committee will consider it. We have had an interesting debate and I hope that we can now come to a conclusion.

12.18 a.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

The Leader of the House is very persuasive. It is a pity that we did not have this debate earlier in the day instead of after midnight. [An HON. MEMBER: "We are full-time Members."] We are not 24-hour Members. It is better for the House and for the country to have a debate on such an important issue as this at a civilised hour.

The debate has clearly ranged over a very wide spectrum of problems concerning hon. Members. I do not want to delay the House unduly and I shall say what I wish to say as briefly as possible. I accept at once the principle of establishing the Committee. I disagree with the suggestion that the House should consist of full-time Members. It is legitimate—indeed, desirable—that certain Members should have outside interests, and paid outside interests.

But, having said that, I think it is equally important that they should all be on a public register, available to everybody to see, and that there should be penal clauses, if I may use that term, for those Members who do not honestly state what their interests are and their pecuniary value. Contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), the Liberal Party has not disclosed the full truth about its Members' interests. I will see him later, if he likes, and tell him where—

Mr. Pardoe

That will not do. That is a slur on what I said. The hon. Gentleman must justify that remark now in this House.

Mr. Hamilton

I will justify it outside, because the hon. Gentleman to whom I would refer is not here. I will refer to him in private, if the hon. Member for Cornwall, North is interested. But that is a side issue.

I think that the general principle is right. I should like to see a voluntary register provided by all parties. I am sure that the Labour Party would be prepared to do it. We all know who are trade union-sponsored Members on this side, and we know what they get either in cash or in services. It is quite open and honourable. Everybody knows it. Anyone who has an honourable outside interest should not be afraid to declare it and allow it to be inspected by the public.

I object very much that a Member can have an outside interest which he need not declare. For instance, at Question Time an hon. Member who has a pecuniary interest in a drug firm can raise all kinds of questions on drugs and the National Health Service, without declaring his interest. A Member can put down Questions sponsored by the company that pays him. This is one of the more corrupt practices that we ought not to tolerate in the House.

Another interest that need not be declared is where a Member chooses not to speak in a debate, but quite cheerfully votes for his company getting large sums of public money. This often happens. We often see the farmers opposite—some of them on the Front Bench—trooping into the Lobby voting millions of pounds of public money into their pockets. I think that their interests should be declared.

We are very much more strict with local councillors. I recall that a few weeks ago one right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to this matter in a supplementary question to the Prime Minister. A local councillor living in a council house could not vote on a proposed increase of 2s. 6d. a week in rents, but in the House Members with vested interests can cheerfully vote millions of pounds of public money into private pockets.

It is legitimate for Members to have outside interests. We could not really stop them. I do not see how we can stop them, unless we make serious incursions into the liberty of the subject. If a Member chooses to write an article, or articles, for a newspaper, or appear on television or on radio, that seems to be a quite legitimate interest.

Mr. Dickens

There would be no bar to Members contributing articles to newspapers or appearing on television or radio. They would be given the full opportunity of using the mass media, but the point is that they would not be paid for doing so.

Mr. Hamilton

This is an absurd proposition. I thought that one of the principles of the Labour Party was that one got the rate for the job. If Members of Parliament are to blackleg, the B.B.C. or I.T.A. may say, "We will get these M.P.s, because we can get them for 'nowt'." This is a nonsense. The prestige of the House is increased by the knowledge that a Member who rises to make a contribution in our debates is a farmer, an industrialist or perhaps a banker. We always listen to such Members with great respect, and our debates are enhanced in value because of their contributions.

What we are saying, in addition, is that the House could not function unless a large proportion of its Members were prepared to serve fulltime. One has only to look at the position of Standing Committees to realise that it is impossible for the House to function unless a large number of hon. Members are prepared to accept full-time responsibilities, and they ought to have the emoluments and the services to go with them.

I am a full-time Member. I am the Chairman of a Select Committee.

Sir D. Glover

And a very good one.

Mr. Hamilton

We often have to entertain people who come and give evidence before us. The Chairman of another Select Committee proposed that the Treasury should give us an allowance so that we could entertain people who come here from Scotland and other parts of the country, but the Treasury turned down that proposal.

The chairmen of committees and subcommittees entertain people who come here at great cost to themselves and their organisations. They give up a great deal of their time to enable the House to benefit from their experience, yet they have to go without any entertainment or sustenance unless an hon. Member pays for them out of his own pocket, and if he does that sum is not allowable for income tax purposes. It is intolerable that we do not receive an entertainment allowance.

It is all very well for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to make favourable noises and say that we have had a good debate and that many valuable points have been made. They have been made for years, with no obvious effect, because I do not think that the Government—any Government—are interested in providing facilities for back benchers the more adequately to challenge the Executive.

Mr. Peart

That is not true.

Mr. Hamilton

I could quote figures and facts for another two hours if my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Peart

What my hon. Friend has said is not true.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not interrupt the hon. Member. Interruptions prolong speeches.

Mr. Peart

I assure my hon. Friend that as Leader of the House I am aware of the problems of individual Members. It is wrong of my hon. Friend to say that I have no concern for the interests of hon. Members. I believe that my most important job is to think in terms of the individual hon. Member, his rôle in the House, and also the services which are important to him to enable him to carry out his duties.

Mr. Hamilton

I have great respect for my right hon. Friend. I am not castigating him, but Executives in general and the Treasury in particular.

There is this constant conflict between the two Front Benches and the back benches. We have seen it in this debate. We saw it on the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. We see it in a variety of ways.

Mr. Speaker

Order: I shudder when I hear the Parliament (No. 2) Bill mentioned in another debate. It is finished with now.

Mr. Hamilton

I know the difficulties and the pitfalls of trying to lay down rules. I agree to a large degree with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) when he says that once we start drawing up rules we get an element of rigidity that we would not otherwise get. Nevertheless, it is important that the public should be convinced beyond peradventure that this place is incorrupt and incorruptible, and one way to do that is to provide a public register. I presume that the mechanics of it will be worked out by this Committee.

I hope that the Committee will be positive in its approach, and not mushy. I hope that it will not come back and say, "We have looked at this, but we see so many pitfalls that we cannot produce any positive proposals". If that happens we shall be back to square one. That is why I shall have something to say later about the composition of the Committee.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

We are discussing the declaration of interests of hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman told us that an hon. Member is expected to declare an interest before he votes, whether he speaks or not. Is it possible for us to be told the procedure for doing this?

Secondly, in supporting the appointment of this Select Committee, I hope that it will make a careful ruling about profesional partnerships. I am thinking especially of solicitors and accountants. With public relations firms or advertising firms it may be posible for a list of clients to be published, or discovered in various ways, but as far as I know there is no means of discovering this in the case of professional partnerships. It may be considered that a professional partnership would not come under this requirement of disclosure; nevertheless, I hope that the Select Committee will pay particular attention to the point.

Lastly—and I hope that this is not trespassing on the second part of the debate—may we be told whether any hon. Members and right hon. Members are sponsored members of trade unions—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That point is relevant to the second debate.

12.32 a.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) who always speaks with great authority, finished his speech with an expression which is fundamental to this debate, namely, that the House must appear to be incorruptible. The worrying thing about the debate is that the very fact that we are having it shows that many hon. Members do not think that the House is incorruptible.

Nobody would say that I am a lukewarm controversialist, but in no speech that I have ever made in the House have I questioned the integrity of an hon. Member opposite. I do not mind whether he be a trade union Member, and is paid a subvention from a trade union; I have always considered that a person who goes through all the machinery and gets to this place is basically an honourable man. It is a great mistake for the House to start making snide remarks about people who may have outside interests. We shall lower the status of the House of Commons if we investigate these matters too far.

Some years ago, as a Member, I had a lot of commercial interests. Now I have got rid of them, but I have the money that came from them. Suppose I had invested that money in a unit trust: would it be necessary, on every occasion before I could ask a question, for me to cite every share I held in that unit trust? I presumably have an interest in each one, and am presumably interested in the question whether the policy of the Government will help imports or exports. Where do we stop when we start on this campaign?

We could legitimately say that a person drawing a salary to further the case of the pharmaceutical industry, the chemical industry, or some other commercial interest, ought to declare his interest before he takes part in a debate. But we do not live in a vacuum; I doubt whether the fact that a certain hon. Member receives a subvention from a certain organisation is not known to other hon. Members who are interested in the subject under discussion. It does not need to be written down. We do not need to produce hard and fast rules.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls): if we formalise these things we produce a situation in which an atmosphere of suspicion permeates the House as to whether an hon. Member has been 100 per cent. honest in his declaration. What service will the House produce to find out whether the hon. Member for Ormskirk, myself, has declared all his interests? Will some sort of Gestapo go through my income tax returns? The House wants to be careful in the instructions which it gives to the Select Committee. I have no objection to the Committee inquiring into this situation: because of the atmosphere created in the House, it may be valuable, but I hope that the House will not expect it to come up with lethal sanctions, demanding that every hon. Member must declare this, that or the other. Apart from anything else, what a waste of time.

Should I declare only a financial interest, or, in every foreign affairs debate, must I tell the House yet again that I am Chairman of the Anti-Slavery Society? In every housing debate, must I say that, although I have no financial remuneration, I am chairman of the Pier-head Housing Association? It has been said that we should declare these things at Question Time. To carry this to its logical conclusion, since I hold many shares, would I have to give a list of 40 shareholdings before putting a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. English

I have been listening to the hon. Member with great interest. Why does he feel that hon. Members should not declare what they would have to declare if they were members of a local authority?

Sir D. Glover

I did not want to go into this argument. There is a difference, in that we vote large sums of money, but that money does not provide us with a house directly. Perhaps we could have another debate on that.

Despite all our bitter political controversies, let us not start talking as though our colleagues are all rogues and crooks, because nothing will do more harm to our democratic system. I hope that the Committee will approach this matter with sympathy and understanding. The feeling may be justified that in recent years some hon. Members have had an axe to grind, and have received remuneration for it, but, when a mine owner spoke, people knew his interests. In mining debates, nearly every speech by hon. Members opposite represents the mining industry. Everyone in the House knows this; there is no need for a declaration of intent. We take with some suspicion and a soupçon of cynicism speeches from that side or this on particular subjects. It does not all need to be written down in black and white. We need not waste the time of the House unnecessarily by having many and varied interests declared.

I fear that the House is getting introspective over this matter and is being less worthy than it has been throughout its long history. I hope that the Leader of the House is taking these comments to heart, for while I agree that a Select Committee of this type should be established, I hope that, after deliberating, it will say, "Although we understand that there are difficulties, it would be far better not to point the finger of scorn at individual hon. Members, calling some first-class and others second-class".

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the rules and practices of the House in relation to the declaration of Members' interests and to report thereon.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Mr. George Darling, Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker, Sir Eric Fletcher, Mr. Eric Lubbock, Mr. James Ramsden, Mr. G. R. Strauss, Sir John Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Derek Walker-Smith, and Mr. George Willis be Members of the Committee.—[Mr. Peart.]

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I beg to move, in line 1, after "Mr. George Darling" insert "Mr. John Ellis".

In view of your earlier Ruling, Mr. Speaker, it might be convenient if, with this Amendment, we discuss the other Amendment standing in my name, after "Sir Eric Fletcher" insert "Mr. William Hamilton".

I admit at once—and, in doing so, I apologise to the hon. Members concerned—that the names mentioned in my Amendment were picked out of a hat. I did not consult them before tabling the Amendment. I chose this course deliberately because I wanted to give my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House an opportunity to explain why, with the exception of one hon. Member, the rest of those proposed to be members of the Select Committee are Privy Councillors.

The one exception is the Liberal Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) who until a few moments ago was in his place. It is noteworthy that, with the exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), none of the proposed Committee members has bothered to attend this debate.

I have no objection to Privy Councillors being members of this Committee. Indeed, I welcome them. I assume, however, that their names appear on the Order Paper as a result of discussions having taken place through what are called "the usual channels". That being so, I take it that if I fall out, so to speak, with the Leader of the House, I also fall out with the Conservative and Liberal Parties, the membership of the Committee having been agreed among the three parties.

Apart from all the proposed members of the Committee, with the exception of one, being Privy Councillors, it is an interesting fact—believe it or believe it not—that, with the exception of the last mentioned name, they all have or have had outside interests. I understand that an edition of Private Eye—an excellent journal; I have not read the issue to which I am referring—documented their various outside interests. As I have outside interests, I am certainly not objecting to the members of this Committee being Privy Councillors or having such interests.

Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)

For the sake of accuracy, my hon. Friend may be interested to know that I have no outside interests.

Mr. Lewis

I apologise to my right hon. Friend. I should, therefore, have said that with the exception of two of the names listed, all have or have had outside interests.

This is a democratic assembly. Is the Leader of the House aware that, in addition to the Members listed, many other hon. Members have given long and faithful service to the House? They have had long experience of the House, and have worked hard for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) was one of the instigators of this motion. He campaigned for months, if not years, to have a Select Committee set up. He is the sort of man who should be on the Committee. As I have said, my purpose in selecting the names in my Amendment was to establish the principle that there should be at least of couple of back bench Members—it is suggested that there should be more than a couple—who can quite honestly say that they have no outside interests.

The right hon. Member for Vauxhall will agree that for a long time he did have outside interests, but he can now say, as can the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) that, like myself and others, he does not need to worry about having such interests. I say that with the greatest respect, and with no desire at all to be in any way offensive. There are others—old, loyal Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West—who probably have no capital resources and cannot speak of that aspect. That type of voice should be heard in the Select Committee.

It may be said that my hon. Friends can give evidence to the Committee, and so they can, but that is not the same as being a member of the Committee, of taking part in the discussions, of putting points of view, and perhaps of interrogating witnesses.

I have no intention of seeking a vote, but my right hon. Friend can make it quite certain that a Division will not take place by announcing—and it will be a very rare occasion—that the Government accept the will of the House. There is no question of high Government policy or of a vote of confidence. The Prime Minister will not resign if my right hon. Friend accepts the Amendment. No members of the Government will resign, nor will any of my hon. Friends. We will not even ask for the withdrawal of the Whip. All he has to say is: "This is the place of democracy. I agree that there should be some ordinary back benchers on the Select Committee; some Members who are not Privy Councillors." Why should the Leader of the House seek to get the agreement of the Opposition and the Liberals when the 300 Parliamentarians on this side were not consulted? Can my right hon. Friend name any hon. Member on this side whom he approached and asked to serve on this Select Committee? Did he approach my hon. Friends the Members for Fife, West and Barking (Mr. Driberg), both of whom have long service? The Opposition are not the House of Commons. Why consult the Liberals and not us?

Troubles arise in the House because back benchers on both sides say that the Government act undemocratically. The Government say, "We are the Government. We must govern. Obviously we cannot consult the back benchers on every matter. So occasionally we have to increase charges for teeth and spectacles and say that we did not know there was an election imminent, because we cannot consult back benchers". For the sake of having a friendly debate I will accept that as being true, but my right hon. Friend cannot advance that argument on this occasion. No harm would have been done if my right hon. Friend had approached a few back benchers and ascertained if they wished to serve on the Select Committee. No Motion condemning the Government would have been tabled. There are leaks about other issues every day of the week. I should have liked it to have been leaked to me that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had consulted back bench Members on this issue.

The purpose of my Amendment is to enable me to point out to my right hon. Friend that this is a House of Commons matter, not one for government decision. There is no question of the Government having to give way and thereby perhaps losing face. The Government can easily agree to two back bench Members serving on the Select Committee. I have suggested two back bench Members. One is an old parliamentarian, in the sense that he is old and experienced in the service of the House. With great respect to the other—my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West—I have suggested him because he is a relatively new Member. The voice of the younger Members should be heard in the Select Committee. As the debate proceeds, because I know that some of my hon. Friends want to speak—

Mr. Peart


Mr. Lewis

Yes. It is late, but my right hon. Friend should have brought the Motion on for discussion at an earlier hour. This is an interesting debate. Had the Leader of the House consulted us, there would have been no need for a debate: the Motion could have gone through on the nod as a measure agreed with those who really matter, namely, the back bench Members

12.55 a.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

I am glad that we have had this interesting debate. There would not have been this opportunity if some of us had not taken care to see that there was a debate.

The selection of the names in the Motion is an affront to the House. I have very little against Privy Councillors. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that they have many years of experience. But they have usually been here for a fair length of time, and that means that they are usually in fairly safe seats, so they do not have the same experience as many of the younger Members.

When we pick Committees to discuss Bills we try to have a cross-section of Members. Certain people are known to be for or against certain things, and a balance is given to the facts and opinions as they are known.

The Motion concerns a very contentious subject that will have to be handled diplomatically, but we have gone out of our way to have it dealt with by older, more staid Members who have been here a long time and will not put their foot in it. If there is one thing that can be said in favour of older people it is that they have the experience, but since when was a man's brain or experience measured solely by the length of his whiskers?

Mr. John Smith

In China.

Mr. Ellis

That may well be so. I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

We are all reasonable and friendly here, it is true, but new Members and younger Members have to know their place. I feel like speaking out of turn tonight, and I intend to do so. Younger Members do not go galloping up to Privy Councillors and talk to them; they know that they are their elders and betters. Things fall into their due order.

Younger Members have special problems because they have come out of jobs into the House, and are not in the same circumstances as Privy Councillors. The pressures on the younger Member, for all the reasons that have been given, are not likely to have been experienced by the Privy Councillor for many years. I do not think that we have a sufficiently wide range of experience represented on the Committee.

I was appalled when I was reliably informed that some of the Members named had got together and talked about when they should hold their first meeting. I understand that at least the first meeting will be held in the afternoon, because they all have jobs or something to do in the morning. This does not augur well for the Committee.

I have noticed that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has said that he has no interests. But it has also been said, I believe in Private Eye, that if some of the members of the Committee have no interests now they certainly have had at times in the past. I consider that we ought to ensure that there are some critics represented. Obviously, in the light of this debate and the opinons expressed tonight, there is great interest in the matter.

The public are right to be suspicious and to keep an eagle eye on us in every way. It may be that one of the reasons why people outside have taken a dim view over the years of the subject of Members' remuneration is that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. The principle of the setting up of the Committee has already been decided. We are now discussing the selection of Members to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Ellis

I referred to public opinion generally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I very much doubt that the selection proposed by the Government will give the Committee the benefit of the experience which some Members in different age groups have recently had of the pressures which come upon them. I am not satisfied that the proposed selection will overcome what still remains of the ideas which originated in the days when to be a Member of the House of Commons a man had to have a private income. The public are very wary in their attitude to Members of Parliament, and it is important to put over to them that, besides the Members who are comfortably off, there are others who would do a better job if they had better services and so on.

This Select Committee is to be set up to do a vital job. I am very sad that we have botched it. Its membership has been carefully selected from a limited group, when we should have made sure that all walks of life and all age groups were represented, some with interests outside and some with none, so that the Committee could draw on the experience of all. It is a tragedy that we have not done that.

1.3 a.m.

Mr. William Hamilton

I should make clear at the outset that any remarks I make on this part of the Motion reflect in no way on the integrity, the ability or the wisdom of the Members who have been selected. I challenge the principle. I have always challenged the principle that Governments select the Members to serve on Select Committees of any kind. There should be machinery whereby back-bench Members select their own Members to serve on Select Committees.

The Government side sat down to consider what the selection of their own side should be, and they decided, in their wisdom, to appoint all Privy Councillors. This is a reflection on the ability or aptitude of back-bench Members which is not supported by any evidence. There is no irrefutable evidence that all wisdom resides in Privy Councillors. If there is any evidence at all, I think that it is to the contrary. But, be that as it may, did not the Government side think for a moment, "What will be the reaction of people like the Member for Fife, West or the Member for Bristol, North-West when they see that all our members are Privy Councillors?"

One could understand it if the Official Secrets Act or something of that sort were involved. But there is nothing of that here. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) said, it might be suspected—I put it no higher—that the Members appointed might come up with conservative, rather reactionary proposals, perhaps not producing anything radical at all.

It will be a safe Committee. This may be quite wrong, and I may be doing it an injustice. My right hon. Friend knows that I have said in the House and in private that I would like to serve on the Committee. There is no disgrace in saying that. There is no ambition in it. It will be an arduous task and my right hon. Friend was right when he chastised me in the House for saying that this was an exercise of improper patronage. He said that it was not patronage, there was nothing in it for the Members. I accept that but it is a job that some of us would have liked to have done, and we have been denied the opportunity, for no valid reason that I can see.

I would not suggest that we pressed this to a Division, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will take it to heart that we deeply resent the principle on which this Committee has been selected, which is that back-benchers are no use unless they have P.C. after their names. We reject that, and I hope that he will come back, either to revise the Committee, or if he does not do that, when he sets up another Committee, he will recognise that there are back-benchers who do not have those letters after their names but who, nevertheless, have an ability and wisdom adequate to performing the task asked of them in the House.

1.7 a.m.

Mr. English

I want to ascertain how far my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is responsible for this proposal. Obviously, he has some responsibility for it, ultimate responsibility perhaps. When the Prime Minister suggested the Select Committee, he said that, because this was a House of Commons matter, it should be dealt with by a Select Committee. That was entirely appropriate; it is the proper procedure.

The object of Select Committees dealing with House of Commons matters, like the Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and the one on Broadcasting the Proceedings of the House of Commons, and so many that we have had during the last few years, is to establish a small body of Members representative of the House who can then produce a set of recommendations which have some chance of passing through the House, preferably on a free vote. We thought that when the Prime Minister made this statement, this would happen. Then something went wrong.

Mr. Peart

Nothing has gone wrong.

Mr. English

My right hon. Friend says that nothing has gone wrong, yet he tries to get something through on the nod and we end up debating it in the early hours of the morning.

Mr. Peart

I have never tried to get things through on the nod. I gave an assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis), who will confirm this, that I would allow adequate time, and I have done so.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

indicated assent.

Mr. Peart

I would ask the hon. Member to withdraw the accusation.

Mr. English

I am sorry. I unreservedly withdraw the statement that my right hon. Friend tried to get this through on the nod in the sense of moving it. He placed it on the Order Paper at the time of unopposed business and did not move it.

Mr. Peart

Not true.

Mr. English

Is my right hon. Friend—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. We should not pursue this aspect. We are discussing the composition of the Committee, and the principle of its selection. We should not go wider.

Mr. English

The point at issue is that a Select Committee to consider a House of Commons matter should be representative of the House. The composition of this Committee can scarcely be called representative. There is in the House a substantial majority of Members who are not Privy Councillors, yet there is an overwhelming majority on the Committee who are Privy Councillors. This is unrepresentative. There is a substantial number of Members in the House who have no substantial outside interests. Every Member of this Committee either has or had, whilst a Member of the House, a financial interest of a fairly substantial nature. That is an accurate statement of the position.

I do not object to any member of the Committee on that ground. Incidentally, a substantial set of financial interests is not represented on the Committee. As far as I am aware, there is not one trade union sponsored member of the Committee. But I do not object to members with interests. I am suggesting that there should be members without interests so that the Committee may be representative of the House of Commons.

It seems that between the Prime Minister's statement and the Motion appearing on the Order Paper, something happened. I want to know from my right hon. Friend, from whom did the proposal that the Committee should consist of Privy Councillors come? Presumably, it did not come from the Liberal Party, because the Liberal member of the Committee is the only member of it who is not a Privy Councillor.

It is only fair to my right hon. Friend to draw attention to the extremely strange silence of the Opposition Front Bench. We have had Conservative back-benchers speaking, but no one from the Opposition Front Bench, and yet they are partially responsible, under the normal Rules of the House—

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

May I make one thing perfectly clear? We were asked to provide the names. We chose our own names. We were not asked whether they would be Privy Councillors or anything else. We were given the opportunity to choose whatever names we liked, and we did so.

Mr. English

I am glad that the Opposition Chief Whip has made that clear. I can only suggest that it is one of the most extraordinary coincidences of this Parliament that on so many issues, such as the Parliament Bill, the minds of both Front Benches have come to think alike when the back benches have not. In this case, it is an extremely strange coincidence that my right hon. Friend and the Opposition Chief Whip, entirely independently, arrived at the conclusion that all the members of the Committee should be Privy Councillors.

I accept entirely the statement of the Opposition Chief Whip. He says that the Government told him that he could select what names he wished. It is, therefore, apparently the case that he selected a whole row of Privy Councillors, and so did my right hon. Friend. It is an extraordinary coincidence. It has been most unfortunate, because it means that we shall have a Select Committee considering a House of Commons matter that is only partially representative of the House of Commons.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Driberg.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

I was waiting for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to get up, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

1.13 a.m.

Mr. Peart

I am sorry that my hon. Friends have pushed the argument the way they have. I believe that the names which appear in the Motion representing my side of the House are all hon. Members.

Mr. English

We are not disputing that.

Mr. Peart

Therefore, the argument that they do not reflect the House is a very wrong argument.

Mr. Driberg

That is a non sequitur.

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friends should allow me to finish. I have listened patiently to them.

Mr. Driberg

My right hon. Friend kept on interrupting.

Mr. Peart

Indeed I did not. I gave way to my hon. Friend. If he wishes, he can begin his speech. I thought that he wished me to intervene now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will address the Chair.

Mr. Peart

All I am saying is that the names which have been selected represent broadly a cross-section. They are all distinguished Members of the House. This is the normal way in which Committees are set up.

If it is suggested that we should have a ballot behind the scenes, and that hon. Members should push their own particular points of view, there may be an argument for that. As Leader of the House, I cannot talk to every individual Member, but I try, in my way, to assess the House. I am sorry if my assessment has proved wrong in this case because certain hon. Members object. They have pushed the interests of certain hon. Members.

The right hon. Members from both sides of the House who have been suggested for the Committee will look at the matter impartially, act honourably and report to the House. I can say no more than that. That is why I think that it would be wrong to argue for the inclusion of individual hon. Members as the Amendment suggests, and I hope that the Motion will now be agreed to.

1.15 a.m.

Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)

I have been provoked to my feet by some of the things that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has just said. He said that this was the normal way in which Select Committees were selected. But it has not resulted in the usual sort of Select Committee. Very few Select Committees consist only of Privy Councillors. Did my right hon. Friend mean something else?

Mr. Peart

There are certain Committees on which Privy Councillors tend to dominate—the Committee of Privileges. In this case, those selected were the individuals who it was thought, because of their experience, would best do the job.

Mr. Driberg

I echo completely what my right hon. Friend and others have said about the integrity of all these colleagues of ours. We all respect them; we like them; we know them. They have all the virtues except perhaps one—I regard it as a virtue—and that is a readiness to examine on its merits any proposal for radical change.

This is a situation in which it seems to many hon. Members, perhaps not to all, that a radical change is necessary. Of their very nature, intrinsically, these right hon. Gentleman, whether my right hon. Friends or right hon. Members opposite, are wise, elderly and long-experienced and, on the whole, will tend rather to preserve the status quo, would rather things went on as they always have. They are status quo people.

My right hon. Friend said that they were a true cross-section of the House. That was as though he were to appoint a board representing industry and say that a true cross-section of industry consisted only of directors and managers. This would be absolute nonsense, as he would be the first to admit.

I realise that all Governments always have and always will despise back benchers. [HON. MEMBERS: "These are back benchers."] They are back benchers only in one sense of the word: they are mostly, naturally, ex-Ministers, and so on. All Governments despise permanent back benchers, for obvious reasons.

I only regret that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues and the Opposition Chief Whip have not been a little more subtle in showing their prejudices. If they had been characters in Trollope, they would have done it rather better. Of course, they would have packed the Committee with a majority of right hon. Members, but they would have slipped in one or two genuine back benchers as well—of the safer sort. They would have got the desired result in the end, the intended result of the whole exercise—that there will be no change—without making themselves as ludicrous as they have made themselves tonight.

1.19 a.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may have given an impression which, on reflection, he may not wish to have given. He spoke of the hon. Members suggested in the Amendment as though others were pushing them forward specifically to be members of this Committee. These hon. Members have allowed their names to go forward so that a principle may be considered, namely, what should be the composition of the Committee.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

May I explain that I am an individualist. I did not ask anyone. I have a right in this House to nominate if I want to. I took that right and I did not consult either of my hon. Friends. I picked them out myself and it is the principle I am interested in, not the names.

Mr. McNamara

All the more was the impression which the Leader of the House gave, unintentionally, perhaps, unfortunate, and although I do not say that he should withdraw because he did not say anything directly, it was by implication—

Mr. Peart

I never imputed that anyone pushed himself, in any way.

Mr. William Hamilton

I was pushing myself and I did so in public and in private, and I was rejected.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: In line 3, after 'Sir Eric Fletcher', insert: 'Mr. William Hamilton'.—[Mr. Arthur Lewis.]

Amendment negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That Mr. George Darling, Mr. Patrick Gordon Walker, Sir Eric Fletcher, Mr. Eric Lubbock, Mr. James Ramsden, Mr. G. R. Strauss, Sir John Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Derek Walker-Smith, and Mr. George Willis be Members of the Committee.—[Mr. Peart.]