HC Deb 02 April 1973 vol 854 cc27-9
24. Sir D. Walker-Smith

asked the Lord President of the Council whether he has now completed his consultations in regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the report from the Select Committee on Members' interests; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Prior

The consultations on this matter are still continuing, but will be completed as soon as possible.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the last Parliament the Select Committee spent many hours on, and gave much study to, the scrutiny of the evidence and the consideration of the material factors affecting the issue, and thereafter reached a conclusion which was unanimous, except for one hon. Member who failed to survive the General Election? Does my right hon. Friend accept that, without prejudice to the details of draftsmanship, the Select Committee's conclusion should form the general guideline to the further consideration and action which is taken?

Mr. Prior

Not entirely, because the resolutions reached by the Select Committee were so restrictive that it would have been almost impossible for large numbers of hon. Members on both sides of the House to take part in debates. On 10th February 1971 my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told the House that he did not feel that they were very suitable. That apart, there are other considerations which my right hon. and learned Friend knows were discussed during the Select Committee's deliberations, which I think the House now feels should have a further airing.

Mr. Strauss

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the passing of the two resolutions suggested by the Select Committee would make it easier for many hon. Members to speak in the House, as they are now inhibited by a very vague rule?

In view of the renewed advocacy in some quarters for the establishment of a public register for hon. Members' private interests, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Select Committee came to the conclusion that the keeping of such a register would be cumbersome, easy to evade, ineffective and damaging to Parliament, and that the solution suggested by the Committee would be much more comprehensive and effective? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the matter and bring the proposal before the House as quickly as possible?

Mr. Prior

I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that I am reconsidering the matter. I agree that this is a matter which, in due course, the House will wish to discuss. I feel that it will be better for the House if there are further consultations within the parties before the matter is debated on the Floor of the House.

Mr. William Hamilton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that virtually all my right hon. and hon. Friends want a compulsory public register containing all the outside financial interests of hon. Members? Such a register would be feasible if it were desired. Anyone who has nothing to hide need have no fear of any such register. The more that the Government procrastinate the deeper are the suspicions of people outside.

Mr. Prior

I am not going to let the hon. Gentleman get away with the suggestion that the Government are procrastinating. There are many views on this very important matter on both sides of the House. On this occasion, as on some others, the hon. Gentleman would not be right in assuming knowledge of what all his right hon. and hon. Friends wish to do.

Mr. Wilkinson

In making his review of this important and contentious subject, will my right hon. Friend undertake to grasp the nettle of trade union-sponsored Members, who are explicitly committed to speak for an outside interest which is not necessarily their own constituency?

Mr. Prior

I think that my hon. Friend has illustrated only too well the need for very careful thought about the way in which we draft any resolution of this nature. It was generally agreed that the resolutions drafted by the Select Committee would have been too restrictive in this respect.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Select Committee's report is quite inadequate to deal with the situation that many of us want to see ended? Does he appreciate that most of us—certainly on the Opposition side of the House—want to see a situation in which Members have imposed upon them no less a standard than that which is imposed upon civil servants? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if it is right that civil servants should not take jobs in industry within two years of leaving their Department, that should go for Ministers, from Parliamentary Secretary level upwards, in that they should not take employment in any private industry which is concerned with matters that they have been dealing with as Ministers, and may be called upon to deal with again as future Ministers?

Mr. Prior

That is a very different question. What we are all concerned to see is that the good reputation of the House and of its Members is protected from unfair imputations from outside. That, to my mind, would be the main purpose of having any register or any change in the rules as we now have them.