§ 6.58 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
I beg to move,That, pursuant to the Resolutions of the House of 22nd May 1974, this House agrees with the recommendations made in the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration) relative to the arrangements for the registration of Members' Interests, and with the recommendations contained in paragraphs 43 and 47 of that Report in relation to the declaring of such interests; and that a register of such interests be established as soon as possible in accordance with the proposals made in that Report.
§ Mr. Speaker
In case any right hon. or hon. Members were not here earlier in the day, I repeat that I have selected the amendment to the motion, after the second "Interests" 'Interest', insert:'with the addition of Item 10 to the Form for Register of Interests in Annex 3, whose text shall read "10. Any other interest which the Member declares in accordance with the purpose of the Register as agreed by the House and set out in the accompanying letter to this form."'I have also selected the amendment, after 'notice', insert:'other than that of a question in relation to which the Member giving notice thereof has an interest which is recorded in the register'.to the second motion which reads:That, for the purposes of the Resolution of the House of 22nd May 1974 in relation to disclosure of interests in any proceeding of the House or its Committees—The motions and amendments can be discussed together. Before ten o'clock it will be necessary for the first motion and amendment to be moved. After ten o'clock the second motion can be moved formally, together with the amendment. There will be an opportunity to vote on both amendments and both motions, but there can be no discussion after ten o'clock.
- (i) any interest disclosed in a copy of the register of Members' Interests shall be regarded as sufficient disclosure for the purpose of taking part in any Division in the House or in any of its Committees;
- (ii) the term 'proceeding' shall be deemed not to include the giving of any written notice, or the asking of a supplementary question.
§ Mr. Short
The House will recall that the Select Committee whose report we 736 are considering today was set up following an earlier debate on this subject on 22nd May last year. On that occasion the House agreed to three resolutions.
The first approved the formalisation, with some widening of scope, of existing parliamentary practice with regard to the oral declaration by Members of relevant pecuniary interests and benefits. The second resolution, the major resolution, agreed in principle, for the first time, the establishment of a compulsory written register of Members' interests. It was in order to follow up the implications of these decisions that the House then proceeded, by a third resolution, to establish a Select Committee.
The Committee's remit was to consider what types of pecuniary interests or benefits should be included in the register; the administrative arrangements for the proposed register; the procedures by which the resolutions of 22nd May should be applied and enforced; and whether any other classes of persons besides Members should be required to register their interests.
Today's debate, therefore, on the Committee's report, is not I emphasise "not"—on the general principle of whether there should be a register of Members' financial interests; or whether this should be voluntary or compulsory; or whether or not the contents of a register should be made public. These general issues have already been decided by the House. What today's debate is concerned with, therefore, is the Committee's recommendations as to how these general principles should be put into effect.
As regards the register itself, the Committee's report falls under two main headings—the proposed scope of registrable interests and the administrative arrangements for the compilation and maintenance of the register.
As to the scope of the register, the House will be aware that it has been strongly urged throughout the protracted consideration of this issue that it was impossible for any register of Members' financial interests to be comprehensive, because the term "financial interests" is an indefinable term, and that any limitation of a register to certain specific definable types of financial interest would be bound to be unfair as between Members with different kinds of interests. The 737 previous Select Committee on this matter, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), took this view, and came down accordingly against the idea of a register.
To meet this problem the present Select Committee has proposed nine fairly broadly defined classes of pecuniary interest or other benefit which Members should be required to register. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) would add a tenth residual category, and I certainly would not oppose its acceptance by the House.
The Committee states its aim to cover all the classes of pecuniary interest or benefit which might reasonably be thought to influence the conduct of Members of Parliament.
But it has fully recognised, as did the previous Select Committee, that such a list cannot be entirely comprehensive. As the Committee point out, the House can lay down onlybroad guidelines within which Members should proceed with good sense and responsibility.In the end, final responsibility rests on the individual Member himself, and must do so, to disclose any interest, whether or not it is within these nine specific classes of registrable interests, that might affect his parliamentary actions. I emphasise that the register is supplementary to, and not in place of, the obligation on a Member to declare his interests whenever the occasion arises.
For the same reasons, and bearing in mind also the need for Members to retain a reasonable degree of personal privacy—it is very important that hon. Members should retain a reasonable degree of privacy—the Select Committee has not attempted to lay down precise financial limits within which particular forms of financial interest would need to be registered. For example, a Member would be required to register only the general nature of a property interest rather than a detailed list of holdings.
The Select Committee recognises the risk that in some instances this may be construed as woolliness or unsatisfactory vagueness. But the House will want to consider whether some degree of imprecision is inevitable if Members are to 738 retain the final responsibility for judging whether or not a particular interest, of whatever nature or amount, should be disclosed to the House, and if Members are to be allowed a reasonable degree of privacy in the handling of their own personal financial affairs. For example, it would seem inevitable and right, as proposed by the Committee, that Members should be left to judge for themselves whether benefits received from an overseas Government are material or not.
As regards the administrative arrangements for the register, the recommendations made in the report are, I think, fairly straightforward. It is recommended that the day-to-day administration of the arrangements for the register, its compilation, access by the public, and so on, should be the responsibility of a registrar, who should be a Clerk of the House. I am sure that the Select Committee is right in its judgment that the essential qualification for this post must be that the registrar should have a long experience of personal dealings with Members and should command their confidence.
The report also recommends that a permanent Select Committee should be established to which points of doubt or difficulty could, if necessary, be referred on a quite confidential basis. If these motions are approved by the House, the Government will bring forward as soon as possible the necessary motion for the establishment of this Select Committee.
Perhaps I may briefly draw to the attention of the House three subsidiary aspects of the report which are reflected in the wording of the second motion now before us. These relate to that part of the Committee's remit which was concerned with the procedures by which the resolutions passed last year should be applied.
The first of these concerns voting procedure. The resolutions passed by the House on 22nd May last year provided that a disclosure of any interest was required in any "proceeding of the House", and whether or not the interest had already been registered. This would, of course, include voting. The Select Committee recommends, however, in paragraph 48, that this would be impracticable in the case of voting. It therefore proposes that, as provided for in the first part of the second motion, the 739 registration of an interest should be sufficient disclosure for the purpose of taking part in any Division.
The second matter of detail concerns a similar point arising on the giving of written notices. Strictly interpreted, the resolutions passed last year would mean that if a Member had a relevant interest, this fact should be indicated in any notice which he tables—I repeat, any notice—whether a Question, a motion, an Early Day Motion or an amendment to a Bill, or any other kind of notice. The obligation would exist whether or not the interest had already been registered.
As the House will readily recognise, the printing complications of such a procedure would be considerable, particularly in cases when, for example, a considerable number of Members had appended their names to a motion or an amendment. When an interest had not been already registered there would be the problem of agreeing with the Member, possibly at very short notice, the text of the declaration of interest to appear on the Order Paper.
The House will be aware that the Select Committee itself, in considering, at paragraph 45 of its report, the problem of disclosure in relation to Questions, referred to the inconvenience and loss of time which could arise over what it describes as "this cumbersome procedure".
In the light of these difficulties, the second part of the second motion on the Order Paper, that defining "proceeding" for the purposes of the resolution passed last May, would have the effect that an interest would not have to be disclosed in tabling a written notice, whether of a Question, motion or amendment. Such an interest could, of course, have already been registered, and, if he considered it necessary, a Member could still disclose orally a relevant unregistered interest, when, for example, a Question which he had tabled was answered. We can see from experience how this works out in practice.
The amendment put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) covers, I think, the only case which would cause little or no administrative difficulty—namely, the marking of notices of Questions, where the interest has already been recorded in 740 the register. Although this could perfectly well be done if the House were so to decide, it would seem to me somewhat illogical to make this provision, limited as it would be to one class of written notice for which no special consideration of principle applies which is not equally applicable to all other classes.
The third point of detail concerns supplementary questions. The Select Committee, at the end of paragraph 45, points out that if interest had always to be declared when asking a supplementary question the effect would be cumbersome. It would obviously slow up Question Time.
The second motion accordingly proposes this further exclusion, that of supplementary questions, from the scope of what constitutes "proceedings" for the purposes of last May's resolution. Again, it would still be open to the hon. Member to disclose an interest when asking a supplementary question if he felt it necessary to do so.
These are the points of detail to which I wanted to draw the attention of the House.
In conclusion, I should like to pay a tribute, on behalf of the House, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and his Committee for this report, which I think is an excellent one. I would emphasise that the Government, like our predecessors, fully recognise that this subject is very much one for the House rather than the Government. No procedural provisions or register of interests can, of course, be a guarantee against deliberate evasion. But in the Government's view the recommendations made in this valuable report offer the House a workable, sensible way of providing hon. Members with the opportunity in future to forestall unjustified criticism and to help allay public concern, while at the same time enabling them to retain—and I say again that I think this is important—a reasonable degree of privacy in their financial affairs. In the words of the report, a Member isat all times answerable to the vigilance of his fellow Members and the public.But the arrangements for the register proposed in this Report and embodied in the Motion now before the House shouldserve him and them in the discharge of his responsibility.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) to speak I should say that I have 18 hon. and right hon. Members who wish to speak in this debate and it is only a short debate.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
When the House in the previous Parliament passed the resolution upon which was founded the work of the Select Committee and the motion now before the House I was in the course of a retirement which turned out to be only a brief sabbatical, but I have studied with great care the proceedings and the debate at that time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is, of course, quite right formally in saying that the principle was decided by the House on 22nd May last year and that we are only concerned this evening with the machinery. But, if we disagree with the machinery, then that is a way in which we can revise our view, if we desire to do so, as to the principle. And indeed it seems to me that there is a great contrast between the background and atmosphere in which we are sitting tonight and that which surrounded the earlier discussion on this subject. It is often the experience that quite suddenly a subject becomes of almost overpowering interest, if not to the House itself, to the Press and the media—more to the Press, usually than to the public at large—and the House feels impelled to some extent to give way, against its better judgment, to that clamour, but always reserving, for we have a sort of instinct of self-preservation, the means of reconsideration at a later date.
That seems to me exactly what has happened here. There was, indeed, a state of near hysteria about the subject of Members' financial interests a year or so ago. It arose out of certain incidents which today are almost forgotten. It is difficult to reconstruct that atmosphere. And it lapsed again as suddenly as it arose. So I submit to the House that we are not only entitled but have a certain duty maturely to consider once again what we are doing.
The resolution of last May was passed by the approximate ratio of two to one. There seems to be something familiar 742 about that ratio. I have read carefully the list of hon. Members in the "No" Lobby in that Division and I notice, in the words of St. Paul, that although "some are fallen asleep", many "remain unto this present". I hope, therefore, that they will not have changed their view on this matter of principle and that the House will have the opportunity of dividing upon the first motion later. Not that I believe that even that will in fact, if the general mind of the House is changing in this respect, necessarily settle the matter finally.
In that event I shall vote in the "No" Lobby, for two separate and distinct reasons: first, because I believe the proposal is ineffective and degrading, and secondly, and quite separately, because I believe it is unlawful and unconstitutional. And now I will endeavour briefly to make good these two propositions.
It is, of course, and always has been from time immemorial, a matter of honour in this House that in our own discretion and on our own responsibility we declare, where it is fit that it should be declared, any interest which might be thought to bear upon the advice which we are giving or the part which we are taking in proceedings. That cannot, and the Committee's report recognises this fact, be other than a matter of honour, and no arrangement which we make can alter that. We cannot change what is a requirement of honour into a mere formality of registration. So imperfect—and again the Committee has recognised this—are the proposals for registration—the Committee has certainly done its best; I do not think anyone could have done better with the problem which it was set—that at the end it remains a matter of the discretion of the individual Member what he would register and how.
So we have to ask whether by what we are doing we are giving hon. Members any security, any protection, against false imputations, and whether in fact we would not be safer against the imputations which will be made in any case from time to time, if we relied upon the time-honoured assumption that we behave honourably in this House. It is an assumption which is accompanied by a safeguard. We do not live or debate as strangers to one another. A sufficient number of hon. Members know very well quite enough about the background 743 of their colleagues in this House to judge what motives and what credibility may attach to the contributions which we make to debate. This is a place where, whatever we may individually think, we walk about as naked and as visible as if we were under some kind of imaginary X-rays.
So the idea that the register will disclose astonishing facts about Members of this House of which the rest of us have been ignorant and which, either dishonourably or in a fit of amnesia, those hon. Members had not happened to mention, is really an absurdity. There is no serious danger that the decisions and the deliberations of this House will be perverted by the failure of an individual here or there, whose failure will be known by many at the time, to disclose, as in accordance with our traditions he ought to disclose, his interests. By introducing a registration procedure which purports to secure the disclosure of interests although it cannot effectively do so we degrade ourselves by implying that our honour and our traditions are not adequate to maintain proper standards in this House.
Inefficacious the procedure is, and riddled with lacunae. The Member is required to disclose the interests of himself, his wife, and his children, but the interests of his wife only in so far as he is aware of them. Fancy that! That practice will not serve when one is making a report to the Inland Revenue. It is no good saying to the Inland Revenue "My wife did not happen to tell me and, of course, I did not ask her".
Even so it is an absurdity; for if an hon. Member is going to be swayed and perverted by pecuniary interests, there must be taken into account the pecuniary interests not only of his wife and his children but of his in-laws, his parents and all manner of relationships even within the bounds of consanguinity. Once the suspicion enters that the potential or contingent financial interests of a Member are perverting his judgment in this place, despite his failure to declare them, nothing that is proposed under the recommendations of the Committee or under the resolution can in any way remedy that.
So we give much and we gain nothing. We give up the conviction in our own 744 integrity and the assertion of our own integrity and we gain in exchange no safeguard but only a concatenation of absurdities. It will be understood that no criticism either of the Chairman or of any member of the Select Committee is implicit in anything I say.
So the proposition is degrading and ineffective; but there is a more serious aspect. The House has an absolute right to regulate by resolution its own procedures. Therefore, although I do not like it, I take no exception in principle to the first of the resolutions which was passed on 22nd May last year and which turns into an order of the House what was previously a convention of the House. There can be no authority which regulates our procedures and the manner in which we conduct our business other than this House itself, and to that authority we all owe obedience. But that is not what we are purporting to do here.
What we are purporting to do by this resolution is to create a binding condition for being a Member of Parliament. We are introducing a new qualification to be fulfilled before a citizen who is elected a Member of Parliament can operate as a Member of Parliament. That was remarkably clearly recognised by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden)—I indicated that I would quote his speech—who, in speaking last year in favour of the proposals said:It is necessary for constituents to know their representative's financial interests, because inevitably from time to time conflict could arise between interests, and an hon. Member's Interest could determine his action."—[Official Report, 22nd May 1974; Vol. 874 c. 501.]So the resolution that we are considering is not for the purpose of regulating our procedures and ensuring that hon. Members comply with the traditions of the House; it is for the protection of the public. If we agree to it, it is because we consider it in the public interest that the interests of hon. Members should be known.
If that is so, it is not possible to stop there; and what I am asserting is borne out by the last paragraph but one of the report of the Select Committee, which agrees with the discovery that this rule could not stop with Members of Parliament. If it were to be applied to Members of Parliament, the report suggests 745 that it must be applied to candidates also. In other words, it is the representation of the people for which we are seeking to legislate by a resolution of the House. We are saying that no one should seek to be a Member of Parliament, and no one is fit to sit and speak and vote as a Member of Parliament, who does not comply with the condition of completing an entry in a register. That is something that the House has no power to do. We have no power to alter the law of the land by a resolution of the House. We have no power to attach any further conditions than already exist in law and custom to the right to be elected a Member of the House.
We are purporting to change the law of the land and restrict elegibility to the House by a mere resolution of the House. That is unconstitutional; for it confuses the effect of a resolution of the House, which is internal to the House, with legislation, which changes the law of the land and in which the House only participates.
Sir, I do not think that the most venomous of my enemies could or would accuse me of having ever been failing in my respect for the House. Indeed, if I have been at fault, it is in having been an extremist in my idolatry of the House. I might say in the words of the Psalmist:The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up".Yet I have to tell the House candidly that I shall not consider it right to comply with this order of the House if such an order is made. I say that, because I consider it to be an unlawful order and an unconstitutional act on the part of the House, which cannot and should not be binding upon its Members.
However, I do not believe that what I have felt obliged to say will come about in practice; for it is my conviction that with the assistance of the Select Committee and the effiuxion of time we have somehow argued our way through to the realisation that our first thoughts in this matter were mistaken, that we have entered upon a field where we can achieve no good by the making of resolutions and that by some method or other—the House is very wise in discovering methods of extricating itself from embarrassment—this is an episode which we shall do best to leave behind us.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I must regret one remark made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He well knows that the House greatly respects him as a House of Commons man. I hope that he will not be wilfully defiant in the way he suggested. I cannot continue in debate with the right hon. Gentleman because I am circumscribed by my membership of the Select Committee. We had to implement the resolutions of the House.
I pay tribute to the members of the Select Committee who reflected a sharp difference of opinion about the resolutions which the House carried. For that reason I believe the report has proved generally acceptable. It was because the Select Committee recognised the various views yet sought a reconciliation that we managed to present a report that generally has been acceptable both within and without the House.
I must make two more preliminary points. First, I owe an apology to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I said in evidence that we intended to publish a report prepared by a group of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and by an oversight that was not done. I rather regret that omission as it would have shown that the Select Committee took a much more comprehensive view than the group of which my hon. Friend was a member.
The second point is that we were instructed to report within the shortest possible time. If there are any imperfections, we can claim that we worked expeditiously. We certainly worked more expeditiously than the House. Our proceedings were interrupted by the General Election, but we have waited a long time for the House, as I hope it will tonight, to endorse our views.
I say briefly, in the context of implementing the resolutions of the House, how we saw the problems before us. First, I deal with the register. The Committee came to four conclusions about the register, some of which have already been mentioned by my right hon. Friend and all of which are important. The first is that the register is supplementary. It does not displace the obligation to disclose. If we recognise that, we can take a more relaxed view of the register than 747 would otherwise be taken by some Members.
The second conclusion, which really follows upon the first, is that the register's purpose is to record generally and to give public notice of such pecuniary advantages or benefits as Members may enjoy that might be seen to have a bearing on their parliamentary work. At the same time, we recognised Members' right to privacy. That is very important in view of what the right hon. Member for Down, South has said. We felt that there is a great deal of concern both inside and outside the House about privacy. It is something which we are entitled to enjoy as much as anyone outside the House.
I must say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) that we respected the views of his Select Committee. We were anxious not to institute proceedings which were unduly inquisitorial. My right hon. Friend's Committee had a fear that if we embarked upon a register, it would be an inquisitorial procedure. The Committee were conscious of that fear and were anxious that that should not be the nature of the register. When we approached the register we provided for the general obligation of Members which we define in our report. That is a binding general provision involving all Members who complete the form which will in turn constitute a register.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton—or, I should say, Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has raised a point which my right hon. Friend says he will recommend the House to accept. I do not think that it is a point of great substance. My hon. Friend was a valuable member of the Committee. My recollection is that the matter was covered adequately by the general provision to which I have referred. However, if my hon. Friend has had second thoughts about this matter I am sure that they will be acceptable to the members of the Committee. It seems that my hon. Friend's point has the practical advantage that it may provide another place for Members to make their returns. I must emphasise that we made it clear that the general obligation was imposed by the House and that Members would be subject to it. It is in the context of that 748 general obligation that we specified nine classes of pecuniary interests or benefits. I need not deal with them in detail as they are set out in the report.
I think that the Select Committee would agree that we gave considerable time to discussion and deliberation of the nine classes. In spite of that, we would not pretend that they are not imprecise and indefinite. However, they are as comprehensive as we could devise them. In so far as they are not sufficiently precise or definite, the important thing is that we have provided a parliamentary solution to the problem which faced the House. The essence of our proposals is that there should be a permanent Select Committee to be responsible for the register, to deal with complaints and, equally important, to keep the provisions under constant review. If such a review is maintained and if we find in the course of experience that a definition is too imprecise or that it should be less precise, the matter can be dealt with in the proper manner by a Select Committee.
As I have emphasised, the declaration of interests is a provision on which there remains an obligation regardless of the register. All we have done is to recommend straightforward proposals to implement the resolution of the House. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said, there are two particular difficulties. There is the difficulty of voting, and the Government have recommended what we felt should be done to regularise the position.
As regards supplementary questions, we had to make our recommendations because we were bound by the resolutions of the House. It seems that what we were obliged to recommend was cumbersome procedure. I can see no difficulty in its not being required if the House so wishes. Further, there need be no difficulty as regards written notices. If the House so wishes, let us not have procedure more cumbersome than may be necessary. I emphasise that this is a matter which can be constantly reviewed if it is felt, in the light of experience, that we should return more meticulous provisions.
The final matter which is not before the House but which was before the Committee is whether we should extend the provision beyond Members of the 749 House of Commons. We decided against doing so. We found lobbyists too difficult to define. We found no evidence of any demand for the registration of interests of parliamentary journalists, but if any should be listening we saw no practical difficulty in doing so if it were felt necessary. That is a matter that can be considered at any time by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that there was no demand for the registration of lobbyists and outsiders. In my submission, there is no demand for all this cumbersome machinery to register Members' interests.
§ Mr. Willey
I have explained that we were bound by resolution of the House. I have not checked whether the hon. Gentleman took part in the Division. As regards the close relatives of Members, we expressed ourselves very much in the light of what we felt about the general issue of privacy. On shareholdings we made it clear that whilst the holdings of relatives would be brought into account they would not be declared as such. We said that we would regard the disclosure of interests of spouses and children as an unnecessary invasion of privacy for which there is no justification.
I know what some people say about the issue of the register containing the interests held by relatives and the suggestion that the Select Committee should reconsider the matter, but the evidence before us did not sustain the allegations that were made. The right hon. Member for Down, South has referred to parliamentary candidates. We said that it was unfair that at the next General Election, for instance, those Members who offered themselves as candidates will have all their interests exposed. The same conditions should apply to candidates generally. This is a matter for legislation and for Mr. Speaker's Conference. The Committee recommended that there should be legislation before the next General Election. Possibly that is a matter demanding great expedition. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman. I accept that there is unfair discrimination between candidates and I would much rather the disclosure be across the board.
That is our report, and it is unique experience for a Select Committee to have 750 Government support for the entirety of its report.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I would be glad if my right hon. Friend would mention publicly two matters which we discussed privately and which he mentioned at his Press conference. It is rather important that we get them on the record.
§ Mr. Willey
I was responding to Mr. Speaker's plea for us to be brief. However, to put it on the record with regard to the classes of interests 7 and 8, I emphasise that these are very comprehensive and include organisations and persons apart from foreign Governments, and include even land and property.
I think the great merit of our recommendations is that they provide a parliamentary solution and that with the good will and co-operation of the House—I hope that the right hon. Member for Down, South will think again about his action—they will work effectively and become a part of our established procedures.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
On this of all occasions it is obviously necessary for anyone taking part in the debate to declare an interest, and I therefore declare a full pecuniary interest in at least three of the headings which will be registrable if, as I hope, the House agrees to the motions which are now before us.
My answer to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is that it is splendid to have this reverence to the House, which I hope is not peculiar to him; but the House, like other great institutions, is a living institution which changes and moves with the times. It must therefore adapt its procedures according to the changes of the times.
One of those changes is that, under successive Governments, Government and Parliament have increasingly interested themselves—some would say interfered—in the mechanisms and details of every kind of commercial and industrial enterprise. These include banking, insurance, commerce, the professions and such things as the railways. Increasingly, therefore, those who run such concerns are correctly and properly being required to be advised about the proceedings of 751 this House and its Committees. Increasingly, therefore, they are obtaining advice from hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is a new feature.
Many of those who draw outside incomes are unable to do so privately. I am—and here comes my first declaration of interest—a practising solicitor. I am not permitted to practise secretly as a solicitor. Any hon. Member can go to the appropriate register and see in which firm I am a partner and where the offices in which I practise are situated. In a modest way I am also a director of some small companies, and I cannot be a secret director. Quite rightly, I can be looked up and the details of my interests can be seen in an appropriate register. However, I am also unashamedly an adviser to a firm which undertakes for clients who are publicly on a register exactly the sort of advice with which I opened my speech. There is no public register of any kind at present, other than that which is voluntarily subscribed to by firms of repute like the one I advise, upon which my name can be ascertained in that connection by anybody.
As a Member of this House I must therefore subscribe to the views expressed in the Committee's report:A Member of Parliament must expect to be subjected to thorough public scrutiny in the performance of his public duties.As life has changed and as Parliament has increasingly required industry, commerce, banking and business communities of all kinds to be advised, so it is proper for all those authorities in turn to require technical advice from probably the best source, and that is from hon. Members. I cannot see anything wrong in that, but it is undesirable that it should in any way be done secretly.
I do not know whether I am the only Member to whom this has happened, but not long ago I was approached by a firm in my constituency and was asked to be on its payroll with a retainer of £500 a year. I do not know what angered me more, the fact that it was thought that I could be bought for £500 a year or the expectaton that I would accept payment from a firm in my constituency. The practice of accepting money from within one's own constituency is something to which I should not want to subscribe. 752 Of course there are hon. Members—and they are very honourable Members whose personal integrity I do not question—on both sides of the House who do not regard this practice as improper. Whatever view is taken of it, it should be clearly stated on a record to be seen by all.
The critique made by the right hon. Member for Down, South that there is something rather woolly in these proposals is fair. The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) conceded that. Let me give an example. Solicitors, who are under a rather special duty not to disclose the names of their clients, must do so only where the retainer arises out of or is related in any manner to their membership of the House. It so happens that the closest I have so far been to a tricky situation arose out of a professional connection, which clearly I can in no way identify, in which a substantial sum of money was involved. It could turn one way or the other upon a decision of the House. I can do only what any other hon. Member would do. I have studiously avoided asking any questions or writing to any Ministers about the subject. If the matter comes to a vote I shall write to my Whips advising them that I shall be absent for some reason or other, but the point is that I am not retained professionally, directly out of or arising from my membership of the House.
Let the House be clear that this is not necessarily a safeguard. I am sad that the Committee therefore so specifically in paragraph 15 singles out public relations firms for the disclosure of names. I am sad that the Committee should almost have made that a dirty word. It is preferable that the names should be properly disclosed. I am sure that good practice requires that they should be on a register of the appropriate professional body to which most of them subscribe.
Let no hon. Member be under any doubt that under paragraph 25, in the reference to shareholdings, the size of a shareholding is not important. I am trustee to only two shares which are totally pivotal shares in an operation which was of such a magnitude that when I took them on for an old friend in special circumstances I felt it necessary to obtain clearance because at that time 753 I was a Minister. I have no beneficial interest of any kind in those two shares. I might yet find myself in a tricky public situation if I were a beneficiary, which I am not. I do not think that I would come within paragraph 25. The size of shareholding is not all that necessary.
I hope that we shall pursue paragraph 52 a little further. I blame myself that I did not offer evidence to the Committee, although I do not think I should have been very keen to do so. Let us be clear that a considerable number of those who call themselves "the Lobby" in the Press Gallery accept retainers from all sides and all kinds of outside bodies, some of them somewhat odd. I expect that their employers do not always know that those other interests exist. It is partly because I have lived in this world that I have unravelled some of these strange connections. I do not mind, because I stand for a system in which people should be able to do this, provided that it is on the record and is done publicly.
However, we must remember that many of these people—many of them women and some my personal friends—have special facilities which they enjoy in this House. They come to parts of the House which are specially restricted only to them. They occasionally drink with us—and in my case more than occasionally—in agreeable company and they are bound to hear Ministers and members of the Opposition in moments of relaxation and in that way pick up useful tips. Surely they should be subject to some of the restrictions which I trust we are about to impose upon ourselves.
Because this debate was altered at short notice, I must inform the House that I shall be in difficulty if the debate goes long enough in recording my vote, for which I apologise in advance.
I hope that the Committee's next job, or the job of its successor, will be to draw up a code of conduct. One of its first and most straightforward recommendations should be to the effect that no Member of this House should on behalf of anybody, or certainly anybody with whom he was a pecuniary interest, approach any colleague, senior or junior. It should always be the person for whom he acts who should approach the Minister, 754 Leaders of the Opposition or Members of this House. That seems to me to be the principal way of going about the matter.
I end by saying that I personally attach the greatest importance to hon. Members having outside interests. I think that it is an important part of the independence of Members of this House. It is most valuable for us to have an independence of the Whips. Whips should always be reminded that they are the servants and not the masters of hon. Members. They should comport themselves accordingly. They do not always remember it.
One of the ways in which that independence can be maintained is for hon. Members not to be dependent on their parliamentary salaries. The problem of this House is that Members are becoming increasingly dependent on their salaries. This means that the power of the parliamentary machine is given added strength. That is not good for parliamentary democracy. I am sorry that there is only one Whip on duty at the moment, but I am sure he will relay my message.
On the general principle, I have no doubt that what is suggested by the Government as a result of the Committee's work is good and should be followed through. It will be good for the general presentation and appearance of this House, and it will improve matters greatly in the public eye.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, after the second 'Interests', insert'with the addition of Item 10 to the Form for Register of Interests in Annex 3, whose text shall read "10. Any other interest which the Member declares in accordance with the purpose of the Register as agreed by the House and set out in the accompanying letter to this form."'.My amendment deals with an administrative point which I shall explain to the House. Before I do so, I should like to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for the way in which he guided us through this difficult subject in Committee. It was a difficult subject, and the fact that Members of different views came to a unanimous decision in the report is greatly to my right hon. Friend's credit. He mentioned me as 755 the Member for Acton. I was the Member for Acton in the last Parliament but I, like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), had a short sabbatical and I am now the Member for Newham, South. It was during that short sabbatical that the House brought forward resolutions on this matter and I was not able to vote in the last debate.
The object of the amendment must be read in relation to paragraph 11 which is the pivot on which the report rests. Paragraph 11 contains the following definition:The purpose of this Register is to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a Member of Parliament may receive which might be thought to affect his conduct as a Member of Parliament or influence his actions, speeches or vote in Parliament.The Committee had some difficulty in reaching the nine categories which are then referred to in paragraph 13. Indeed, matters of definition on this subject are difficult indeed. What we have always tried to do is to go back to a minimum definition which was fairly well defined on the understanding that in the last resort the obligation was on the Member. That is why in respect of Annex 3 I thought it right, as an afterthought to add my amendment.
After those nine specific categories, there may be a wish by an hon. Member to declare other interests not covered specifically by these categories. Since the accompanying letter from the Registrar will be sent with the form, it will be unfair of the House not to provide another space to enable any hon. Member to think twice and to add any other interest which he thinks should be registered. If he did not do so, and indeed if the House did not give him that opportunity, it might be that through some activity or other it could be discovered that the hon. Gentleman had some interest which, had he had cause to think, he might have declared. The last section, which has been described as an omnium gatherum, should be there to protect not only the House and the public but the Member himself. We would not be reasonable if we did not provide accordingly.
I shall deal briefly with the remainder of the report, which I feel we must accept. 756 I do not accept the arguments of the right hon. Member for Down, South, although his speech was an extremely good one. I do not agree with what was said about part-time and full-time Members. One of the difficulties of the argument is that there are only certain reasonably remunerative jobs which part-time Members can take. Those jobs may give them a different impression of the work of the people of this country and indeed the problems of the country, than is gained by those of us who do not have such obligations and who can spend time looking at events completely free of obligation. We can listen to people, we can attend conferences and we can do many other things without any obligation being imposed upon us. In regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), I do not think I would have anything to declare under the nine categories.
We must seek to safeguard hon. Members against the situation that faces a person once he or she is elected to this House. It may be that such a person has a business, perhaps family business, which he can maintain along with his membership of Parliament, but we know that on occasions people are asked to undertake financially rewarding obligations by virtue of the fact that they are Members of Parliament. That situation arises time and again, and it affects ourselves and sometimes our friends. That is a new fact in the post-war and new commercial situation in which we find ourselves. Therefore I think, whatever might be the views of hon. Members, that if the onus is placed on a Member to declare what he has accepted as a financial obligation, he will defend that as he pleases.
As regards the question of flexibility, there will be a changing public attitude to this matter The register can take care of that, as can hon. Members as time goes by. That also applies to the question of public confidence. I hope that the matter will recede into the background in general just as it has receded in the House in the past 18 months, as the right hon. Member for Down, South said.
The representations of interests lies at the heart of this matter. We must ask 757 ourselves why an interest is being represented. We must ask whether that interest is represented by virtue of an hon. Member's position as a constitueny Member of the House of Commons. Any interest or concern which is not related to that primary responsibility but is related to a pecuniary or beneficial interest must be declared. That is the logical way of doing it.
The report should be supported. It is not perfect. It compresses a remarkable consensus of views among those who took different attitudes not only to the resolution in the House but also to how Members conduct themselves in Parliament. I hope that we shall carry the confidence of the public with us.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Sir Michael Havers (Wimbledon)
I intend to intervene only on the question of the amendment. My hon. Friend will deal with the more general points later in the debate.
I am sorry that the magnificent degree of unanimity which existed so long in the Committee should in a sense be slightly in peril.
I oppose this amendment for practical reasons which I think I should express to the House. As the Leader of the House said, there is a residual category which the amendment seeks to cover. But the final responsibility must always lie with the Member of Parliament. As happens with legislation and decision in courts, some degree of certainty is essential. The words of the amendmentin accordance with the purpose ofmean "in the spirit of". They reflect the intention of the Select Committee. The intention of the Select Committee must be reflected.
I see a difficulty arising at this point. Different views may be taken and uncertainty will therefore follow. It is true that the register can be consulted. But I can see the matter being sent back time after time to the Select Committee for its advice. I do not think that that is necessary, since paragraph 11 provides all that is required. Many hon. Members have said that the Members of Parliament should not be exposed to criticism as a result of the existence of differing views as to what should be registered. Some may seek an inquisitorial approach, which 758 was not intended by the Select Committee.
This is a new venture. If an obvious gap exists or becomes apparent, the House can easily remedy it with a degree of certainty which this amendment cannot provide. I should like to see more certainty. I think that the amendment is too uncertain and will lead to the difficulties I have foreseen. In those circumstances I hope that the hon. Member for Newham South (Mr. Spearing) will withdraw his amendment.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and the Committee on their achievement. I know of the difficulties of the subject as I was Chairman of a similar Committee which worked for a very long time, since it was under no pressure, and which explored every avenue of the problem. We came to certain conclusions by which I stand. Those conclusions were right.
The Committee found that the one matter which was essential for Members of Parliament and for the protection of the public was the disclosure on all occasions by hon. Members of any interest they may have—not only when hon. Members are speaking in this House or in Committee but when they are talking to each other or meeting on unofficial occasions or when advocating a course or talking about any subject in which they have a financail interest. Under those circumstances they should be under an absolute obligation to declare an interest.
My Committee was set up because there had been instances where Members of Parliament had advocated or supported certain courses to other hon. Members without declaring that they were receiving financial benefit for doing so. We thought that it was essential that the practice of disclosure should be firmly maintained and extended and should become a rule instead of a convention, and that the penalties for disobedience should be severe. We considered that that was all that was necessary in the interests of the House and the public.
At the same time, we considered that while that rule was clear, simple and effective, the alternative, or the addition of, a register, had immense disadvantages, 759 greatly outweighing any advantages which could be gained. We set out our reasons at great length in our report. Those reasons were sound.
One aspect of this report which I favour is the removal of the worst blemishes of the proposals for a register which were, previously advocated and put before my Committee. At the time all those who wanted a register suggested that it was essential for there to be a comprehensive declaration of all hon. Members' interests—their financial interests, and those of their famiiles, their incomes, their capital, their possessions and a range of other matters. That would have resulted in a grave intrusion into the privacy of hon. Members.
That Select Committee said that neither Parliament nor the public was really concerned with any of those matters. On the other hand the principle of disclosure is simple and straightforward. No Member of Parliament can go wrong, as hon. Members can when they are asked to enter in the register all kinds of interests, which may or may not be necessary.
My Committee, with one exception, took the view that the establishment of any effective register would inevitably be inequitable, cumbrous, inquisitorial, and an unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of Members of Parliament. Moreover, the Committee felt that a register was pointless if there were a strict application of the code of disclosure and that code became a rule of the House.
The recommendation of the Committee which reported in 1969 was widely accepted as being reasonable and right. I know that a few people disagreed, some of whom had given evidence to the Committee about proposals for a register in which the private affairs of every Member of Parliament would be set down, including all income over £100. But, broadly speaking, I think that the decisions taken by the Committee in 1969 were accepted.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that there has been a change of opinion. True, there has developed a feeling in the country, largely as a result of the Poulson disclosures, that there should be a register kept for members of local authorities and possibly for Members of Parliament for 760 the protection of the public. There was a strong and natural feeling.
I think that there is a stronger case for a register of private interests for members of local authorities, as they can and often do have an influence on matters concerning contracts, purchases, land acquisition, town planning and so on. But we here do not have any influence whatsoever in any of those matters.
There is a case for disclosure in the United States Congress. Both Houses there have some disclosure practice because members of Congress have some influence in the making of Government contracts. That does not apply here. Therefore, such case as there is for the registering of Members' personal interests which may apply to local authorities or Congress does not apply here.
What are Members to be obliged to register? The registration advocated by Members at the time that my Committee sat, concerning shareholdings, and so on, has wisely been given up. The present proposal on registration is more acceptable than anything advocated a few years ago. If Members had to register all the matters then suggested, the register would have been a gold mine for all the gossip writers in the Press. They would have had enormous fun writing and scandalising Members' personal financial affairs particularly when they changed. That would bring not only Members but the House into contempt. That will not arise under the proposal we are considering today.
Members are being asked to fill up a register under certain headings. It looks simple, but what does it mean? No. 3 relates to "Remunerated trades, professions or vocations." Does that mean newspaper articles by journalists? That is a profession. The sources of the income are to be stated, but not the income. Must Members enter which newspapers they have been writing for during the past year? Must those who write books state which books they have written, and presumably the name of the publisher? Presumably they have to state not how much money they get from a business, but what business they get money from.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) told the House that he was geting remuneration from some business. My immediate reaction now, as at 761 the time we were making our report, is that it is of no interest to the House what remuneration he or any other Member of Parliament may get from some firm unless the question of that firm comes up in the House, or in Committee, or when he is talking to another hon. Member about the welfare of the firm or something of that kind. In such circumstances it is essential that he should say that he is being remunerated by the firm. Otherwise it does not matter to anybody what remuneration he is getting from this or that firm.
It is easy for any hon. Member to conceal the fact that he is getting support from any firm. This register will disclose nothing. An hon. Member may write down that he is getting some remuneration—he does not have to say how much—from firm XYZ, from International Traders, or from Smith, Jones and Robinson, without any indication of what those firms do and what the Member is being paid for. It is utterly useless information and discloses nothing either to the House or to the public.
Any scandals which have arisen in the past have been the result of Members trying to conceal these matters, and they may want to conceal them in future. Indeed, they will continue to be concealed, because people will not know what an hon. Member is being paid for. The Member will merely put down the name of some organisation or firm without any indication of what he is being paid for.
A number of other problems arise. I do not know what is intended. Suppose a Member, who is not remunerated on a regular basis, is asked to organise a trip for Members of Parliament to go to the Argentine to see something or other on one occasion only. Is that a remunerated job in the sense that is meant here? Surely that means he is getting a regular income, If a Member is given a bonus or a sum of money for doing one job of that kind, is that intended to be entered here?
There is the question of land and property. It is accepted that that is vague. It is suggested that Members must enter on the register any land or property of a substantial value or the income from it if it is substantial. What does "substantial" mean? A relative of mine bought a cottage in the country before the war for £3,000. Many people have done the 762 same. That property is now worth at least £30,000, which is a substantial sum of money. Would that have to be registered? I do not know. We are not told.
All these matters will arouse difficulties and controversy. What is substantial income from property? We do not know what "substantial" means in that respect. What about a Member's own house? That may be of substantial value. Has that to be put in the register?
All these queries remain unanswered. I suggest that the register will create more problems than it will solve. I assume that an overriding condition will be that stated in the letter which it is suggested should be sent by the Registrar of Members' Interests. This quotation from the Report has already been quoted, but I will read it again:The purpose of this Register is to provide information of any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which a Member of Parliament may receive which might be thought to affect his conduct as a Member of Parliament".By whom? By the Member himself? Members who receive some remuneration may say: "No one can possibly imagine that it would affect my actions in Parliament. Therefore, there is no need for me to put that down. It is ridiculous."
If that is to be the overriding consideration—I think it is—it would be a valid excuse for any Member of Parliament not to register any financial interest that he may have.
My view is that the case against a register of any kind is still strong. I do not believe that it will bring any benefit to the House or the public. It may raise difficulties rather than anything else.
I realise that the House has reached a decision on the principle of the matter. I did not vote, when the House did so on 22nd May, because I wanted to wait and see what happened. I was the Chairman of the Committee which said that no register was desirable. Now I take the view that if we are to have a register—the House has decided that it will have a register—this is as good as any. Almost any other would be more harmful. Therefore, I shall not oppose it. However, I still do not think that a register is desirable or necessary. I regret the decision that was taken in May, but now we have it. In the reality of our political situation I do not see how I could oppose it. Much 763 as I dislike the principle, this practical application of it is reasonable and I shall therefore reluctantly support it.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I find some difficulty in following those right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed so knowledgeably to the debate, for the reason that I and most of my hon. Friends in the Scottish National Party have minimal outside interests. That is not because we are angels but is largely a consequence of our being Scots resident in London. The Scots solicitor or advocate cannot practise in the English courts and the Scots graduate may have difficulty in adjusting to English practice.
The television presenter, like myself, has already given up the opportunity of appearing on the screen, out of fairness to future political rivals, by the fact of coming here. I am not suggesting thereby that we are whiter than white. I am simply recording a fact of life.
As hon. Members will be aware, the arrival of the Scottish Assembly may afford some of us, if we so choose, the opportunity of working simultaneously in politics and in our old careers at some point in the future. Therefore, my hon. Friends and I gladly accept the report. It seems to us to strike a fair balance between openness and unjustifiable intrusion on hon. Members' private lives. It affords individual Members the opportunity to protect themselves from the accusation that they have acted from concealed financial motivation, and it will provide a shield against malicious gossip. Of course, any hon. Member who was absolutely determined to avoid disclosure could still find ways and means of doing so.
In recent years the revelation of corrupt practices in local government has to some extent spilled over to this House. The compulsory registration of directorships, remunerative employment shareholdings, paid overseas visits and so on will do something to restore public confidence. I am only sorry that the report is not tighter in two respects. First, remuneration these days need not necessarily be in the form of cash benefit, payment of retainer or steady income. It can take different forms—the provision of a secre- 764 tary, the availability of offices, gifts in kind, the perpetual loan of equipment and so on.
Secondly, if there is to be a compulsory register, why should it not extend to the Lobby and Gallery? There is no reason at all why the Press, with whose members we deal on an intimate basis and who themselves should be eager to uphold the traditions of the Third Estate, should not reveal the various sources for which they work.
I have already indicated that I would view with something like horror the prospect of a House composed entirely of full-time politicians. I can think of nothing more incestuous. Cloistered together, hon. Members would be even more at the mercy of the Whips and the party caucus. I doubt, however, whether this House could function properly or whether its Committees could be adequately manned unless there were some 200 full-timers.
The pay which those hon. Members get and the sacrifices to which their families are often put leaves them susceptible to offers of external work which they do not necessarily want. The gossips will again insinuate that this in itself is a temptation to the very kind of corruption which the report is trying to eradicate. In future, for those hon. Members who do not want an external interest and who are prepared to sign a waiver to that effect, there may well be a case for differential rates of pay.
I promised to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and therefore I conclude by asking why so many hon. Members have made heavy weather of this matter. In the United Kingdom we seem to have an obsessive concern for privacy. In Sweden the entire public, not only Members of Parliament, have to make their tax returns openly available. Every Government document, with the exception of documents on defence and foreign affairs, can be examined by anyone who cares to walk in off the street.
Compared with that, the report is a very modest and very British document. It does not ask hon. Members to declare income, only interest. Some of its more cumbersome suggestions undoubtedly will be reviewed, in time and through practice, by the proposed Select Committee. I hope that it will form the basis of a code 765 of practice for all parties putting forward candidates for election, for local government and for the forthcoming Scottish Assembly. Adopted by this House, it will go a long way towards achieving a climate of openness which is itself a precondition of open and effective parliamentary democracy.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who seems by his absence to be putting his principles into practice, spoiled an otherwise excellent speech by connecting it with an attack on the Whips. As one who has spent many years in the Whips Office, may I say that their problem generally is of Members showing too little interest rather than the non-disclosure of a financial interest.
As regards the motion before the House, the resolution of 22nd May 1974 declaredThat in any debate or proceeding of the House or its Committees or in transactions or communications which a Member may have with other Members or with Ministers or servants of the Crown, he shall declare any relevant pecuniary interest or benefit of whatever nature, whether direct or indirect, that he may have had, may have or may be expecting to have".I support that very strongly, and shall not debate the merits of the particular principle.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. So that we may be guided, may I ask whether we are in order in discussing the amendment to the second motion? As I understand it, the second motion has not been moved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
(Sir Myer Galpern): As I understood it, Mr. Speaker indicated that we could discuss both motions and both amendments together. We shall vote before 10 o'clock on the No. 1 motion and amendment, and after 10 o'clock, by virtue of the business motion which was passed by the House, the second motion will be moved formally, together with the amendment to it, so that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) will not have an opportunity after 10 o'clock to speak to his amendment.
§ Mr. Golding
I should like to put on record, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that 766 is the first time you have ruled me in order. I do not want to debate the principle of that motion. I want to draw to the attention of the House the fact that the motion moved tonight by the Lord President has so defined proceedings as to reduce the efficacy of the motion, because the motion tells us that the "proceeding"Shall be deemed not to include the giving of any written notice or the asking of a supplementary question".The Committee, having before the Resolution of 22nd May 1974, decided that if it were to be implemented in full Parliamentary Questions and the giving of notice or tabling of an amendment would have to be included. It discussed the circumstances whereby on an order paper the letters "IR" where there was recorded interest, or the letters "ID" where there was an indirect interest, could be shown against a signature or a Parliamentary Question or an amendment to signify that the Member had either a recorded interest or an indirect interest. But the Committee added that it would be "a cumbersome procedure".
The lukewarm attitude of the Committee towards the declaration of interest in connection with motions, amendments and Questions was echoed by the Lord President tonight. I accept that it would be very difficult to apply the principle of declaration of interest to the asking of a supplementary question, and my amendment does not cover that. Likewise, it would be very difficult to apply the test of indirect interest to a motion or Parliamentary Question, so my amendment does not cover the declaration of indirect interest.
Likewise, outside the Chamber I have been persuaded that there are inherent difficulties in covering motions and amendments, so my amendment does not cover these. I have been persuaded, however, and this has certainly been accepted by the Lord President in his opening contribution tonight, that it would be practicable to have a declaration of interest indicated against a Parliamentary Question where that interest was sufficiently strong for the Member to have recorded it in the register.
I strongly recommend to the House that we should adopt the motion and also the amendments, so that in future the Order Paper, upon which arc stated 767 the notices of Parliamentary Questions, will have against each Parliamentary Question, where relevant, a declaration of interest.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President, in recognising that it was practical to do this, suggested that it was illogical. I accept that there is a degree of illogicality, but, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) illustrated in his speech, our approach has to some extent to be illogical. There has to be a blurring, but even so I think it is worth making the attempt. I accept that it is slightly illogical, but a case can be made for saying that a Parliamentary Question, rather than an amendment or a motion, should have indicated against it an interest.
Parliamentary Questions are one of the simplest ways of focusing attention upon a particular subject. A Question is noticed most easily and readily by one's parliamentary colleagues. If I wished to draw the attention of the House to a subject in which I had a financial interest, I would think first of tabling a Question. I would know that hon. Members would not necessarily read the Order Paper to see each of the Early-Day Motions that were tabled. They certainly would not be aware of each amendment put down to each Bill in Committee. Many hon. Members read the list of Questions very carefully. It is easy to draw hon. Members' attention by way of a Question. What is more important is that it is a good way of focusing the attention of Departments on a particular subject. We know the expense incurred and the effort involved in the Civil Service in connection with the answering of Parliamentary Questions.
What is most important is that we know that the media pay great attention to Question Time. We know that when they are looking for new stories for the following week they will read the White Book and the Blue Book to see what Questions they consider to be newsworthy. They do not adopt that practice with amendments and they certainly do not pay the same attention to motions. Therefore, a case can be made for singling out the Parliamentary Question, because it is practical.
I recommend that, to the extent I have indicated. Questions should have 768 against them an indication of interest, which would be simply the writing of the letters "IR" against them.
I should not like to see this system extended. If a Question is planted, I am not advocating that the letter "P" should be printed against it. If a Question has been asked to give television and radio coverage, I am not advocating that the letters "R" and "TV" should be placed against it. However, there is a substantial case for placing the letters "IR" against a Question when the hon. Member who has tabled the Question has a substantial interest which has been registered.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. A. G. F. Hall-Davis (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I start by declaring an interest, as I did to the Select Committee on which I served, in as much as I was a director of the company for which I worked full time when I entered the House—and I am still a director. I have always declared my interest. I know that it is much to the knowledge of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), if of no other hon. Member.
I welcome the fact that within the terms of the resolution passed by the House the Select Committee has been able to present a unanimous report. I wish to touch on one aspect of the recommendations.
I particularly welcome the emphasis placed on the right to privacy of hon. Members and their families. I have always believed that the freedom of hon. Members to undertake remunerated work outside the House should be regarded as desirable, although I know that some hon. Members strongly disagree. It should be regarded as desirable because only on that basis will membership of the House reflect the composition of the wider community outside.
§ Mr. George Rodgers (Chorley)
Does the hon. Gentleman claim that a bricklayer or plumber could work part-time in the House and part-time outside, or does that facility have only restricted scope?
§ Mr. Hall-Davis
I would not seek to place limitations on anyone. I do not believe that in this modern age it would be by any means impossible or even unlikely that such part-time work could be done.
769 I particularly welcome the maintenance of a degree of privacy, because I believe that the work of the House and the discharge of constituency duties combined make exceptional demands on the time of hon. Members compared with those in other occupations, and particularly on the forbearance and understanding of the Member's wife and children. I know that Scottish Members are very aware of the problem at this time of year. I was going to refer to the husbands and children of hon. Ladies, but hon. Ladies do not seem to be represented here at present.
Whatever level of remuneration for Members of Parliament is fixed, which in itself is a controversial subject, many people in all parties—some of them perhaps in the occupations to which the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) has just referred—who wish to enter the House will be receiving higher remuneration, in some cases substantially higher, than would be generally acceptable as remuneration for Members of Parliament. To add to the domestic sacrifices, that the family of a Member has to make, the destruction of privacy that would result if the quantum of remuneration had to be disclosed would lead to some people deciding that they would not enter the House—people who had a potentially valuable contribution to make to it.
That is my first reason for welcoming the regard for privacy in the report. The second is in direct contradiction, I believe, to the view expressed by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I have heard him express it before, and I listened to it today with interest, as one does to views that are to some degree opposed to one's own. I believe that contributions to the debates and work of the House based on direct personal involvement and experience of a job or industry are more valuable than contributions based on hearsay or the views or reporting of others. I recognise that there may be people of an intellectual capacity and cast of mind who can by observation draw complete and correct conclusions, but certainly I cannot. Where I have had a close and continuing association with a problem I have always felt most confident to express an opinion on it.
§ Mr. Hall-Davis
I am delighted by that intervention, because I like to respond to the debating atmosphere in the House, and it brings me to another point.
While I always listen with particular respect, interest and attention to a man talking about the job or industry with which he has been associated, whether mining, banking, teaching or farming, I would listen with more attention, and would be much more confident in the value I attached to his opinions, if I felt that he was up to date in his association in this rapidly changing world.
My association with industry was interrupted when I was for a time in that junior capacity of Whip which has been referred to tonight. When I went back, after certain changes which were outside my control, to the membership of the board of that company, my very genuine words, as I met my former colleagues for the first time for 18 months, were that it was nice to be back in "the real world". There is no doubt that this building is a very intense, inward-looking place, and when we go to our constituencies we tend to talk to our supporters who share, dare I say it, our prejudices or perhaps our preconceptions.
Again, had it been recommended that the quantum of remuneration should be disclosed, we would have not only excluded people from coming into this House whose services would be valuable, but also we would have inevitably led to those who are already here being obliged, for one reason or another, to separate themselves from the associations to which I at least give value.
In view of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I will make one further comment. I do not share his analytical and judicial capacity. Nevertheless, when I listen to an hon. Member talking, I feel that I am better able to assess the value of his contribution if he says that he has a particular interest or association with the subject. I do not believe that we lose anything by declaring that interest, nor do I believe that we lose anything by registering it. What I hope is that the register, in the form in which the Committee have recommended it, will lead to a greater freedom of hon. Members to speak on subjects with which they have had a direct involvement.
771 I have always been very careful—for this reason I have escaped the attention of the hon. Member for Fife, Central—not to intervene on subjects related to an industry with which I had a close connection unless I felt it was in a general field where I could draw on experience gained from that industry, rather than the merits of the argument applied to that industry itself.
I hope that the existence of a register will enable Members to contribute more fully to the debates, and that is one reason why I welcome it. The other is that it will enable hon. Members to assess not that a Member is speaking venally on the subject with which he is associated but because they will wish to take into account that inevitably, after a long association with some sphere of activity, one's views are coloured, and perhaps one sees the good points without seeing some of the weaknesses and disadvantages.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
There are approximately 10 hon. Members still anxious to take part in the debate. I reinforce Mr. Speaker's plea for brevity. If we could have six-minute speeches—a great deal can be said in six minutes—it would be possible to hear them all.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
I welcome the report because it is the end of three years of campaigning which began with the first Poulson allegations in the newspapers—a matter which has concerned many of us ever since. It concerns us because there is a great desire to maintain public confidence in the work of the House, and that confidence is breached when month after month newspaper headlines speak of things such as the Poulson funds. Even now, with the constant references and innuendoes concerning the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse), can anybody say that those innuendoes would not affect any potential by-election? Of course they would. That is why this House must be seen, like Caesar's wife, to be above suspicion. It is very well for us to know that it is an honest, sincere place.
It is difficult for an hon. Member to make any sort of allegation if he thinks something is going wrong. I fell into 772 this trap, as hon. Members know, in writing an article in a responsible journal, Labour Weekly, and had to suffer for it by going before the Committee of Privileges. I am not trying to bring that report up now. I accept it entirely. It is difficult to stand up in the House and name names because of the great publicity which ensues in the media. Not to name names means having to face up to innuendoes which affect all of us.
Perhaps we are accused of being informers or letting the side down because we dare to speak up when something like the Poulson case arises or some other highly-charged event which has political significance, even if it is only temporary.
I welcome this report. I am relieved to see it. It gets the emphasis right. The emphasis ought to be on the source from which funds come for activities in this House rather than the amount. I have an interest to declare in that I am a sponsored trade union Member. I always put this in my election address at a General Election and in "Who's Who", as does every other sponsored trade union Member. What concerns us, the newcomers who have not been here for so long—and this is missing from the report—is the growth in public relations activities. It is this which has led many of us to think that the time has come to start a campaign. Here I pay my respects to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who, with me, was determined that the campaign to set up some sort of register should be started. We had in mind articles such as that which appeared in The Observer of 9th July 1972 which said:PR men say 20 to 30 MPs are ' bendable'".The article said:A bought MP can put down questions in the House.…Some are paid to book House of Commons reception rooms and give parties for pressure groups ranging from animal lovers to visiting Commonwealth dignitaries. Part of their job is to round up MPs for free drinks…the pharmaceutical, chemical, gaming and bookmaking, and commercial radio interests, are especially assiduous in lobbying MPs. Some of them are known in the public relations business to have paid sums of money to individual MPs for 'advice' at a time when votes on committees could affect the shape of new legislation.Articles such as this tend to damage all of us, not just those who might be 773 indulging in public relations activities. This leads our constituents to think that all of us have a finger in some outside pie. This will happen until there is a register.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
May I add to the list the hon. Member has read out the category of trade union-sponsored Members?
§ Mr. Ashton
I said that we declared our interests in "Who's Who". It is in the Library. We mention it in our election addresses. I agree that it should be on the register. But trade union Members tend to be proud of the fact and to advertise it rather than conceal it. I am not certain that Members with other interests have that sort of pride. That kind of article at the time of the Poulson affair does great damage to individual Members.
The public relations activities in this House are growing. I have a dossier three inches thick which I have collected over six years. I will not bore the House by reading it. I refused to divulge it to the Select Committee because it is water under the bridge. I will give one instance from this dossier, one I have not given before. On 9th February 1972 a demonstration film was held in this House by Golden Chemical Products. It was advertised in the Whip. Pyramid selling ran into great difficulties thereafter. That sort of activity tends to denigrate this House if we do not know who is paying for such a reception and who is holding it.
If those promotional activities are taking place and if Members are receiving fees we ought to know. We ought to know the source of the fees. We who are full-time Members of the House are not against any hon. Member doing anything in this place provided his constituents know about it. That is the key question, not whether Members have outside interests or whether they are involved in various activities which bring in extra cash. It is whether their constituents know about it. That is why some of us welcome the Committee's decision.
There is still one loophole at which the Leader of the House should look. When I was involved with the Select Committee I wanted to obtain information on the booking of catering facilities and banqueting rooms in the House to prove 774 the concrete facts that I had obtained. I was refused that permission. The Catering Sub-Committee refused to allow me to enter its office and turn up the dates on which I was certain that promotional activities had taken place and that certain people had received fees for them. I could not obtain that evidence.
I could have pursued the matter and insisted that it be dealt with on the Floor of the House, but I did not. This is a loophole which is not brought to light in the report and about which hon. Members should be made aware. Any hon. Member should be able to check the facilities of the Catering Sub-Committee to see who booked rooms for what functions and on what dates, and whether they were paid for it from the register.
At present an active campaign is being fought by Bristol Channel Ship Repairers. That company has invited hon. Members to lunches and asked them to make approaches to the former Secretary of State for Industry with a view to his meeting it and putting the case against the nationalisation of the firm. I am not foolish enough to think that any hon. Member will be persuaded by a lunch. However, this form of persuasion is insidious. Hon. Members are entitled to know, when they receive such an approach, whether the man is being paid for it. If they want to refuse the invitation to that lunch, they should be able to go downstairs and check whether a lunch is being held and who has paid for it.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
Would the hon. Gentleman be a little more specific? I have had five meetings today with various interests who want the Opposition to make points for them on the Finance Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he is concerned with this only if hon. Members receive remuneration or a lunch for it? In our everyday lives all of us accept hospitality of one sort or another.
§ Mr. Ashton
I have nothing against any hon. Member having lunch downstairs. Trade unions organise lunches downstairs when they want to talk to hon. Members. I am not saying that that is wrong. However, it is wrong that an hon. Member is not allowed to look at the book to see who has booked the room on a particular day and to check.
775 in the register whether the invitation comes from an hon. Member who has an interest.
§ Mr. Ashton
Yes. None of us knows whether the invitations we receive are issued by someone who has a genuine political interest in the cause or by someone who has a financial interest in it. This is a loophole that needs to be examined. The activity being carried out by Bristol Channel Ship Repairers is a form of PR activity that is becoming more insidious.
I have a letter from this firm written, in ballpoint pen, from an address at 24 Royal Crescent, Bath. We receive dozens of letters like this every day. This letter is signed by R. C. Jones-Bateman. When I checked around I found that everyone had received letters like this. [Interruption.] I am trying to be brief. This is the sort of pressure which—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) is not speaking fast enough.
§ Mr. Ashton
This has been a long campaign. I have not spoken on it before and as I was personally reprimanded by the Select Committee, I think I am entitled to more than six minutes.
§ Mr. Ashton
The Select Committee refused permission for me to obtain the evidence I sought in order to defend myself. I am not making any complaint. I have never appeared before the Committee, although I could have insisted upon it and gone there and put on record much that would have done the House a lot of damage. I did not. I did not press for information, because I had no wish to do so.
There is a loophole that catering facilities of the House are being abused. An instance of this is shown in an article published in The Guardian on 19th December 1974. It says:Yesterday, at the House of Commons, he"—776 that is, Jack Solomons—picked up the soggy British and Commonwealth heavyweight championship fight between Danny McAlinden…and launched it with a loud fanfare…Only a man with friends and influence could contrive the situation in which the two fighters signed their contracts…using the shoulders of…Lord"—I shall call him "Lord X"—and with the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, the deputy Speaker of the Lords, Lord Maybray-King"—and so on, with a Mr. X, a trade union leader, and another Lord at the luncheon.Even boxing's hard men blinked at the line-up, but after the Chablis Premier Cru and the Mercury Maurice Protheau"—I do not know whether they are foods or wines. However, this "ill-fated championship" took off.
That publicity in a national newspaper is worth hundred of pounds It is an abuse of the House of Commons. It trivialises the House. It trivialises the House when the potential Miss Worlds are paraded around the place. If one unfortunate Member says "They are all too thin", he is plastered across the Sun or the Daily Mirror. It is publicity for Mecca.
We are all asked to take part in this sort of charade. Some of us who have not been Members for long enough fall for it. I do not like it if someone says to me "May I take a film of the man who winds up Big Ben wearing a Brand X wristwatch?" Perhaps that happened because I was a member of the All-Party Film Committee.
This sort of thing is going on more and more—the gimmicks, trivialities and pressures used by cheap salesmen and public relations activists trying to use the House for purposes for which it was never intended. Those of us who feel strongly about such matters ought to have access to the catering records.
I welcome the report. It is absolutely necessary. I am glad that after three years it has finally come to fruition—and I am sorry to have spoken for 11 minutes instead of six.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
I must immediately declare an interest as a director of a large group of advertising and public relations companies—and I 777 am proud of the fact. Although I am not personally involved in the public relations function of those companies, I have often been at the receiving end of brickbats, such as those flung across the Chamber by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), on the question of the interlocking of influences and interests. Therefore, it is perhaps because of this that I join the hon. Gentleman—possibly to his surprise—in welcoming the register of interests.
It is a sad fact of the matter that too often too many people think that there is too little trustworthiness among the Members of this House and the doings in it. I do not believe that that is the truth of the matter. It is insufficient nowadays, however, to be honest and to be incorruptible. We must be seen to be so. A register of interests, as recommended by the Select Committee, is an important step in this communication. That is why I intend to support the motion.
Furthermore, I support a compulsory register. If, indeed, a law is needed rather than a regulation, so be it. I leave it to right hon. and learned Members to advise me on that matter. I believe that a compulsory register is essential, first because it will make matters more convenient for those referring to it; secondly because such a register, for most if not all of us, is in no way different from a voluntary register; and thirdly because only a compulsory register can have attached to it the trust which is so crucial to the operation of an instrument such as this.
Furthermore, I support a public register such as the Select Committee recommends because only through such a register can the world outside this House see what we are doing, what influences may bear upon it and whether no influence bears upon it. This last point is most important.
I have three queries. The first concerns the definition of what is a benefit and what is value. The words "material" and "substantial" are both used. Though "material" and "substantial" may mean something to one Member, they may mean something quite different to another. I should have preferred to 778 see a more specific indication, even though such a specific indication was inevitably arbitrary and even though it would need to be revised from time to time. That would, I think, meet at least some of the points of criticism which hon. Members have made in the debate this evening.
Secondly, I question whether interests should be confined only to hon. Members. Should they not include wives or husbands and children? The Committee must have sought guidelines in its discussions on this point. I believe that it has drawn the line too close. I would have preferred to see the same guideline established as is used by the Inland Revenue of the close family as the line of demarcation, as the line most likely to invest the register with the trust that we desire for it. I hope that the Select Committee will investigate this as it looks at the future.
My third area of question is whether the registration of the interests of the Lobby and Gallery correspondents should be included. I hope that the Select Committee will reconsider this. I hope that the question of the registration of the interests of candidates, the aspiring national figures of the future, will be referred to the next Speaker's Conference, and I hope that it will be done quickly because I hope for a General Election quickly.
The fourth area is that of local authorities and others in public life. I hope that the Royal Commission will be turning its mind to this and that it will be reflected in legislation before too long.
The House gave much thought to this matter in 1959, before I was a Member, and more recently last year. It will have to give it much more thought as time goes by. The atmosphere has changed and will continue to change. But whatever the logic of the situation regarding the behaviour of this House, we are now discussing what people believe about the House, think about it and feel about it, and it is the feelings and the beliefs of the people outside this House, those who elect us to be here, that we have to consider. I believe that the register will enable people to place more trust in this House and in the people in it than is at present the case. It is for that reason that I support the proposal this evening.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I think it important to recall that this is in the nature of the culmination of a campaign waged by back-bench Members of this side of the House, and I like to think that I played some little part in initiating this exercise. As the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) reminded us, it was initiated in a period, if not of hysteria, of considerably greater interest in this problem than there is now. The fact that the alleged hysteria has dampened down somewhat, however, is no reason why we should now retreat from the problem, because it is none the less urgent for that.
The case was argued predominantly by those who are full-time Members of the House, of which I am one. I do not believe that this House could work unless there were a considerable nucleus of full-time Members, but I am not one of those to take the view that every hon. Member should be a full-time Member. I have made the point which the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) made, that there might be reexamination of the salary structure in this House, because if we get 200 Members who sign on as full-time Members they ought to be recompensed to enable them to do that job.
There are undoubtedly people here who have part-time jobs outside, such as barristers and journalists, who contribute quite a lot to this House. Indeed, some of them are better Members than are some of the full-time Members. Nevertheless, generally speaking they do not man Committees in the morning and they are certainly very reluctant to serve on investigatory Select Committees, where extremely hard work is done which goes largely unpublicised. I believe that this problem might be worth examination by a suitable Committee of the House.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) referred to the full-time Member and said that where he was dependent on his salary, which is in the nature of things a low salary, he was a party hack and, therefore, frightened of the Whips. I fall into all those categories except the last. I am a full-timer and I have a relatively low salary, but I do not give a damn about the Whips, and they know that. The days of hard discipline 780 as a consequence of dependence on a relatively low parliamentary salary have gone. That applies to both sides of the House, I am glad to say.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Down, South and I was disturbingly in agreement with a large part of what he said. At the outset I was very much in favour of the full-blooded compulsory register right down to detail. I gave evidence to the Select Committee spelling out the figures I had in mind as to shareholdings and so on. A register will convey nothing unless it gives specific figures of what a job is worth to a Member. To that extent the Select Committee's report is a diluted version of what some of us wanted.
I agree that when one gets down to working out the details, the very people one wants to catch will escape. When I was confronted with this argument before the Select Committee, I said that it was an argument against income tax. The very people one wants to catch are, generally speaking, the ones who escape. A continual battle goes on between the Inland Revenue and the sharp-eyed accountants, but that is no reason why income tax should be abolished. One keeps on closing loopholes. The register will not be perfect—far from it—but as loopholes are exposed so they can be closed, and that is the system I prefer.
I have the highest regard for the House. It is like being hooked on a drug. The longer one stays in the House, the more attached one gets to it. In the nature of this job some of us have travelled around the world, and I have not seen any less corrupt national legislature than this one anywhere in the world. I hope that that does not sound too complacent or smug.
We tend to be led by the nose by the Lobby correspondents who sit there on expense accounts and try to expose what little corruption there is on the Floor of the House. We could all name names among the Press Lobby correspondents, and hon. Members who have referred to the Lobby have a point. If we are to make declarations of interests, so should everyone who is associated with this House and the House of Lords, which has not been mentioned. Great pressures can be exerted there. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) referred to luncheons downstairs paid for 781 by outside squandering bodies. If such a body can get the name of a Lord on its notepaper, it is worth a lot. It is also worth a lot to the Lord. It is important to have a much more comprehensive register than that which has been suggested.
As I listened to the right hon. Member for Down, South, I was inclined to favour a return to the status quo. I did not agree with the report made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), and I am not too enthusiastic about the report now before us. I was inclined to come down on the side of the right hon. Member for Down, South until he said that he would defy whatever the House decided. I think that is the wrong approach, and especially so coming from one who has declared that he has respect for such matters as the rule of law. If the House makes rules for itself, or for anyone who wishes to come here, I think that everyone should be expected to obey them. If we pass legislation on these matters, everyone should be expected to obey it.
§ Mr. Powell
If legislation is passed which alters the law of the land so as to make this a condition upon being a Member of Parliament, like everyone else I would obey it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has clarified the point. If the House decides that this matter must be dealt with legislatively, so be it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would agree to accept such legislation if it ever came about. I am glad that he has clarified his position.
I welcome this step as it is a step in the direction in which I want to go. This is very much a diluted version of what the majority of my hon. Friends wanted in the first place, but I understand that for practical reasons it has not been possible to go the whole way. However, I welcome this first step.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I remain opposed to the register of Members' interests for reasons which I outlined in May of last year. Nothing I have heard today has made me wish to change my mind. I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that this proposal will be ineffective and is basically unlawful and a 782 violation of our constitution. I also agree with the detailed criticisms of the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) as regards the actual register.
Today, as a society, we have become obsessed with the desire to classify and codify everything. It may be paradise for the social scientist but we should resist the trend. Nothing should be done here to weaken the independence of Members of Parliament. I repeat that there is no public demand for this measure. Members of Parliament should be trusted to make a proper disclosure of their private interests where appropriate. That is the nub of the whole matter, and not the register.
I believe that the register is not only unnecessary but will never catch the real scoundrels. The effect of lobbying has been greatly exaggerated. Nor do I believe that public relations men are sinister.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the violation of our constitution. Will he explain what constitution we are violating?
§ Mr. Stokes
In this House we cannot make a resolution which has the force of law outside. That point was made at length by the right hon. Member for Down, South before, I think, the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) came into the Chamber.
I declare an interest in that I am a director of a firm of personnel selection consultants.
§ Mr. Stokes
That fact is mentioned in "Who's Who" and my constituents know about it. I never come into conflict with my professional work or my work here. In fact, my interest has been a great advantage in that it has enabled me to see more people in the world than there are on the Labour benches.
There is no abuse that I know of in the House at the moment. The opportunities for corruption are few, and certainly fewer than in local government. In my five years here I have never even 783 been offered a box of chocolates for any favours I might be prepared to give.
I believe that the clamouring for disclosure is due to the passion that is felt today to pry into the individual's private affairs. That is a curse of our society. I also regret that the reason is partly due to envy and the desire to pinpoint and magnify those who have more possessions than some others.
It is felt by some that Members should have no outside interests and that they should be full-time politicians. In fact, Members' outside interests greatly enrich the House. There would be a great change in its character if the present system were to be abandoned.
This House is the best judge of the conduct of its Members. We all know each other and in time we get to know each other very well. That is one of the joys of being in this place and it makes one proud to be here. I think that we are quick to perceive if anything is wrong. We all know that the largest single group of Members is that sponsored by the trade unions. We know, too, that those Members are a valuable element. I suggest that they are neither corrupt nor corruptible.
There is no case for the new proposals, and here as a Tory I disagree with the Whiggery of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I believe that this House must on occasion have the moral courage to resist change when it is change for its own sake. Sometimes to preserve what is best it is necessary not to make a change. This is one of those occasions.
I have one or two comments to make on some of the items in the register. The first concerns directorships. What on earth do these have to do with Parliament? Does it matter whether I am a director of ICI or of a fish shop? Then there is the question of one's job. If I am a sanitation inspector or a hairdresser, what is that supposed to signify? The third category concerns trade, profession or vocation. Does that mean a priest or a doctor? What is wrong with that?
This is trivial. Perhaps the most absurd of all for this great and ancient House is No. (8):land and property of substantial value or from which a substantial income is derived".784 Surely any hon. Members with any knowledge of history know that those who first came to this place held land or property and it was admirable that they should have done so—[Interruption.] The fact that Labour Members laugh demonstrates that they have no knowledge of English history.
There is then the question of a beneficial interest for our grandmothers, cousins, sisters or aunts. What absolute rubbish that is. The more one looks at the details of this register the more one sees its absurdity. I hope that the House will have the good sense to reject it.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I do not wish to take up the points of so-called logic which were put forward by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). Instead I give a limited welcome to the report. It goes considerably further than previous reports, particularly that produced by the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). This report grasps the nettle, and the motion, if accepted, will enable the House at last to do something about the establishment of a register of interests.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has said, Parliament will demand more and more in the future that we should be full-time Members of Parliament. The fact that a Member is a full-time Member does not mean that he lacks experience. I express a vested interest as a sponsored member of the National Union of Seamen. But I do not believe that I have to be paid to go to sea in order to be able to communicate my experience in that activity to the House. A similar situation applies to all Members with specialised knowledge.
The report goes part of the way towards dealing with the problem but it does not go far enough. Our debate has echoed the serious public concern which exists and which existed at the time of the previous vote on this matter. The public now feel that Parliament is attempting to do something about this matter. The Select Committee is recommending a system under which we can attempt the first few faltering steps towards bringing in some form of control 785 by which we can record our interests and so allay public concern about any conflict of interests.
I listened with interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who said that the House already had sufficient checks. But we know what happens in these cases and we all know of incidents which have caused concern. Therefore, why has nothing been done earlier about this matter? Surely there should be some means of bringing to the attention of the House matters which cause concern.
The Select Committee has presented us with an administrative piece of machinery embracing areas of disclosure, but I regard the steps as the minimum steps to adopt. I see certain major weaknesses in the recommendations and I should like briefly to deal with them.
A fundamental concept behind the report is that it still upholds the view that Members of Parliament can maintain two types of occupation. They can be employed as a Member of Parliament and conduct their parliamentary duties, but at the same time they can pursue other paid, remunerative occupations outside the House. I believe that the nature of those outside occupations brings with it a conflict of interest—not just in a pecuniary sense but as affecting the rôle of the Member, confidence in him and his image to his constituents.
It was said earlier that there was concern whether enough sanctions would be involved if we were to pass the motion. If Members do not record interests, it will be regarded as a contempt of the House. This goes further than the previous practice. Previously it might have been regarded as at variance with an unwritten code, but it will now be a much more serious matter involving contempt of the House.
I am concerned with those matters which cause concern and affect the confidence of the public in Members of Parliament and which touch the issue of credibility. Let me give one or two examples. I know of hon. Members who are solicitors. One of them told me of an occasion when he could not give advice to a constituent on a matter concerning the landlord and tenant provisions because the Member concerned was acting for the landlord. The Member in 786 question had to refer the matter to another hon. Member. That is a conflict of interest, although it may not be a pecuniary one. An hon. Member should not be put in a position in which he has to say "I cannot deal with your problem because I am in a commercial relationship with the person against whom you are complaining" even though the person concerned might be breaking the law.
We could all give examples of such conflicts of interests. We hear a great deal of talk in this House about the working people having to tighten their belts and make sacrifices. At the same time there are Members of Parliament who enter into engagements and obtain remuneration through countries where our taxation rules do not apply. Many of us know a number of instances of this kind. It is hypocritical to say that people should carry burdens and make sacrifices when Members of Parliament are involved in other occupations which bring them substantial remuneration outside the House.
There are many more examples which I could give to the House. One of my colleagues—I shall not give his name, although I can do so if necessary—appeared in my constituency to speak on behalf of the Economic League. When I complained to him as a member of my party, he said "You should not make the mistake of confusing my job as a lecturer with my being a Member of Parliament". That is a conflict of interest which does politicians no good at all. Another case involved an Opposition Member of Parliament who was acting for a public relations company one of whose clients bitterly opposed the nationalised industries. The public relations company was acting for the National Freight Corporation and was arranging lunches and contacts. Again, that does no good to Parliament or to the rôle of Members.
I believe that there is a considerable move towards the concept of one man, one job. This proposal is a limited step towards that. Lord Boyle made it clear that the full-time Member of Parliament was here to stay.
I have one major criticism of the report, which makes it clear that Members of Parliament must judge whether they 787 inform the House of certain overseas visits and whether a material benefit or payment received should be declared. The judgment of the House might be that certain benefits may not be considered as material for declaration. The coffee pot incident was very limited in value. However, people outside the House had different views as to whether a Member of Parliament should have been involved in that, although I cast no reflection on the right hon. Member concerned. There are many other examples of cases of that kind.
The registration form refers to land and property of a substantial value or from which a substantial income is derived. A Member has to make his own judgment of what is "substantial". I note that for sponsored Members of Parliament 25 per cent. of election expenses—£400—is defined. Is that considered a substantial amount, as in the case of land? In one sense we have a definition. In other respects—for example, land, property and income from land or property—there is no definition.
I welcome the report, although some loopholes are involved. The report is limited, but clearly it is a step towards establishing full-time membership of the House of Commons.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
For a short time I was a member of the Select Committee. Therefore I hope that I shall be acquitted of being self-congratulatory when I add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members on the work of those hon. Members who served for many months on that Committee, and more especially the Chairman, the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey).
I appreciate the force of the arguments put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), which I think are very strong. I was persuaded that the time had come for us to have a compulsory register. Some hon. Members believe that by voting for this procedure they will be hastening the end of the political life of those Members of Parliament who think that it is right to take on additional outside employment. They hold that a register is unnecessary because all hon. Members should be full- 788 time Members of Parliament. I disagree. My judgment has not been affected by my view that hon. Members should be allowed to undertake paid work outside the House. I have always done so. I declare that interest. When I lived in Putney it seemed to me that the then hon. Member for Putney, Sir Hugh Linstead, added not only to his authority by being secretary of the Pharmaceutical Society but to the wisdom of the House. I hold the view that up-to-date experience gained outside can be useful to the House.
I believe that the salaries paid to Members of Parliament, even including allowances, make it very difficult for some hon. Members to meet their commitments. They must be the judge of that. They must be allowed the freedom to decide to what extent they should take outside employment to meet those commitments.
I would have thought that a career in the House of Commons could be seriously interrupted for a period of years or abrupty terminated at a time which could be financially disastrous to the Member of Parliament or his family through events beyond his control. I believe that he should be allowed to take prudent precautions like any other citizen. It makes no sense to disbar an hon. Member from taking on other employment. I regret that the step recommended by the Select Committee should be regarded as preventing persons from becoming full-time members. It makes even less sense, bearing in mind the heavier work load of the modern Parliamentarian, to pay him inadequately so that he lacks the resources to do his job properly. That is the way to encourage hon. Members to seek dubious and excessive financial rewards from outside bodies.
I think that the Committee has struck the right balance between satisfying the needs of the House and the public to judge the nature of an hon. Members outside influences and his entitlement to a proper degree of privacy. Therefore, I believe that to depart substantially from either side of the lines recommended by the Select Committee would be to invite this House to go up a wrong alley.
The probity of hon. Members obviously depends not only on a system of declaring interests—I think that we can all agree on that, because no system can be foolproof—but fundamentally and naturally 789 on the integrity that we each bring when we come to this House. If that is to be sustained, it will need to exist within a framework which runs within the grain of human ambition, not against it.
We have all made great efforts to come here, and most of us have made considerable sacrifices—sacrifices which our wives and families have to bear as well. I have always been impressed in the time that I have been here by the conscientiousness of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Any code of honour, however reinforced by rules such as the Committee has suggested, also requires a fair system of financial remuneration. In short, it requires a system which strengthens our desire to behave honourably towards one another and to the world outside. I think that it should also be a system of remuneration which recognises that our duties both here and in the constituencies have first call on our time and abilities.
Therefore, when we vote tonight, if there is to be a vote, I hope that the House will support the Committee's recommendations. They were presented with the full understanding that they cannot be foolproof. However, I believe that they will be all the more effective if we in this House recognise that the disclosure of interests is but a part of the fabric which guides our conduct here.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)
I must apologise to the House for not having been present throughout the debate, but I have been in Committee upstairs.
From the time that I entered this House and throughout my Parliamentary career I have always registered in all the reference books the details of my directorships and the boring, tedious details of my earlier career. I just happen to have done that. Also, I have always let my local Press know whenever I have had an interest which I thought might be of relevance to my constituents.
I believe that the British people have an exaggerated attitude towards personal confidentiality. If it were the general rule in the country that tax returns should be published, I would happily go along with it.
But I find the form that hon. Members will be required to sign both repugnant and ridiculous. I believe that if more 790 hon. Members had seen it, attitudes might have been rather different from what we have heard in many speeches tonight. The form places the onus on hon. Members to show that they are honest. I think that the onus should be on others outside to show that hon. Members are not honest. Then, if outsiders make imputations against Members of Parliament, they must face the consequences, a libel action or other sanctions of the law.
Am I expected to list in item No. 8 the fact that I have a home in my constituency and another in London? I do not think that is an interest which is relevant to my parliamentary duties. As I understand it, if I owned a yacht or a Rembrandt, that would also be relevant and would have to be shown on the register.
Turning to item No. 9, I am a shareholder in a company which happens to own about a mile of coarse fishing in Cornwall. There is the occasional salmon in the river as well. Am I expected to register my interest in a company which has nothing but some fishing rights in Cornwall? Clearly I am meant to do so.
If hon. Members do not fill in the form, what are to be the consequences? I want to follow this point through. Presumably an hon. Member would first be censured by the House or by you, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member still refused to sign and send in the form, what would happen? I suppose that he would be debarred by other hon. Members from representing his constituents.
My constituents would find it very odd if the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) were to be part of a group of hon. Members who debarred me from the House. He used the phrase "cheap public relations activists". The hon. Gentleman is not a "cheap" activist but he is a public relations activist on behalf of the trade union movement, and many of my constituents would find it very odd that I could be debarred from this House by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw because I had not signed a form. Ultimately, presumably, an hon. Member who did not do so would be expelled from the House, and then what would happen? Presumably he would put his name forward in the subsequent by-election and be re-elected to this House, which would then open up a 791 major constitutional debate. What would the House do?
In practice, it requires only 10 or 20 Members of this House to refuse to send in forms and then the whole thing becomes ridiculous; because if one follows through the argument it would simply not be possible to debar 20 Members from the House. Surely hon. Gentlemen would agree with that.
Finally, I come to the comments of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). This House is not a club. The hon. Gentleman implied that because we all get together and agree rules by majority vote, somehow Members have to agree to them. This House is not a club. We are sent by our constituents to represent their interests. I come back to what I understand the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to have said. If this were the law of the land, that would be one thing, but I do not believe that the House is really entitled to pass a resolution which bars me, if I refuse to send in a form, from representing my constituents in this House of Commons.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I believe the whole House will be aware that I was myself a member of the Select Committee whose report we are discussing, and naturally I hope that the House will accept it. Before getting on to the details of the debate, I would like to say how grateful I believe all the members of the Select Committee are to the Leader of the House for the way in which he commended the report and for the fact that the Government have accepted it completely. We should certainly wish to echo his tribute to the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for the way in which he took the chair during the deliberations of the Committee.
I should like to get out of the way first the question of the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), because I am afraid that I have, in the friendliest way, to take issue with the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North. He said with some justified self-satisfaction that the report of the Select Committee was unanimous. 792 It was. But had the amendment of the hon. Member for Newham, South, who was himself a member of the Committee, been incorporated in the report or proposed to have been incorporated in it, the Select Committee would not have been unanimous, because certainly my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) and I could not have accepted it.
I should like briefly to say why we could not accept the amendment and why we hope that the hon. Member will withdraw it. Despite what a number of hon. Members have said about the vagueness of some of the provisions, we regard the amendment as being completely vague. It goes well beyond the limits which the Select Committee sought to set down in the register and it opens a range of disputable territory which, we believe, would cause a considerable degree of difficulty to the registrar, to the Select Committee and indeed to hon. Members. We believe that the line the Committee drew in its report is defensible and that it will work. We do not believe that if we go outside that line it will work. I am sorry that the unanimity of the Committee has been breached by a postcript which appears to have the support of the Chairman of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Willey
On the postscript, I take the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. If this is not unanimously accepted by the Committee, I would merely say that I have made a personal remark about the proposal made by way of the amendment, but of course I would stand by the unanimity of the Committee. I only expressed a personal view on the effect of accepting the amendment, but I certainly could not support the amendment in view of what the hon. Gentleman has said, because I respect the unanimity of the Committee.
§ Mr. Maude
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I am glad he takes that view, which I am sure is right.
A number of points emerged in the debate which were predictable. Every member of the Committee was aware that some hon. Members would be against the report, because they were against the original resolutions of the House and, therefore, thought that the Report went too far, and that some hon. Members 793 would take the view that the recommendations of the Select Committee did not go far enough. Both of those opinions have been expressed.
Those hon. Members who, like the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), were against the resolutions of the House in the first place have, perhaps, found it convenient to try to pour ridicule on the recommendations of the Select Committee by even suggesting that they do not go far enough. That is a fairly well-known debating technique. However, I do not believe that their arguments were wholly fair.
There were some members of the Select Committee, from the Opposition side of the House, who voted against the original resolutions. I did so myself, not because of any high constitutional views of their impropriety but because of the largely cynical view that nowadays the influence of any back-bencher over affairs and legislation is so minimal that he would never be worth trying to corrupt. Therefore, I thought it hardly worth while to go to all the trouble.
However, members of the Select Committee were asked to interpret and to carry out resolutions which the House had passed. We had no authority to go beyond that. We tried to produce a system—and I think we did it successfully—which, without going beyond the spirit of the resolutions that the House had passed, tried to carry out that spirit adequately, and the letter of it as well.
It has been said that the recommendations for the register are vague. They will necessarily be vague unless the House tries to deal in detail with every conceivable eventuality and with any dishonest hon. Member who is determined to conceal his interests and to thwart the intentions. We could not cover every conceivable eventuality or attempt by a dishonest hon. Member to evade the intention of the rules.
I beg the House to consider, from a common-sense point of view, the doubts or difficulties which, for example, the right hon. Member for Vauxhall has raised about receiving a substantial amount of income from property or land. The £30,000 house about which the right hon. Gentleman spoke could not conceivably be significant except for declarations in a case where, for example, the 794 line of a motorway was to run within 100 yards of the site of the house. Nobody imagines that that would be something which an hon. Member would need to register. The intention of that category is quite clearly to deal with somebody whose property holdings are so large or of such a nature that he would be influenced by them in dealing with such matters as the nationalisation of land, the municipalisation of private housing and property, the economics of farming, tied cottages and so on. It is a matter of common sense.
This applies to many of the other matters of which the right hon. Gentleman and other Members spoke. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether writing a newspaper article would be classed as a paid vocation or employment. My reply is "One newspaper article, no, because the remuneration from it will not influence an hon. Member." I am a professional part-time, free-lance journalist and, of course, I should declare and register that as a paid profession. If hon. Members want to try to keep within the spirit of the recommendations, and if they use their common sense and consult the Registrar, who will use his common sense, I do not think that any real difficulty can arise. I hope that this kind of argument will not be used.
One or two hon. Members wanted the recommendations to go further. I shall not spend too much time on the individual cases, because the Minister will no doubt wish to refer to some of them when he replies. I must, however, refer to the question of parliamentary and Lobby journalists. I dare say that hon. Members who have it in for parliamentary journalists may think it fun to try to catch them on the same hook, but let us use our common sense. Parliamentary journalists do not vote in the House of Commons. Let us remember that what we are trying to do is to delineate the area of interests which can influence Members of Parliament in the conduct of parliamentary business. Therefore, we should be going far outside that if we tried to pursue the parliamentary journalists.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said he thought that public relations consultants had been unfairly singled out by comparison with other people. That is 795 an arguable point, but it must be remembered that an hon. Member who is working for a public relations firm or as a consultant is a propagandist, and in some sense a lobbyist himself. We are really concerned only to identify the interests and the influence which may be brought to bear on those Members in so far as that job arises out of their being Members of the House of Commons, where it is clear that they would not be in the job unless they were Members of Parliament. It is clearly right that the public should know what that influence is and what might be involved in it.
A number of hon. Members mentioned the question of wives. It is easy to say that if we exclude shareholdings or property holdings by wives we make a nonsense of the whole matter. But if anyone intends to evade the spirit of this he will evade it anyway. I ask the House to consider, as the Select Committee did, the difficulties that we should get into if we tried to enforce the registration of property holdings and shareholdings of spouses. First, what happens if a wife tells an hon. Member "I won't tell you what my shareholdings are"? She may say that, or her trustee may if she is a beneficiary under a trust. She may say it either because the couple are temporarily estranged or because she has high views about the sanctity of women's property rights, which the House has recently legislated to improve.
Will Labour Members, who have often taken a very high line about the rights of married women, legislate to force the wives of Members of Parliament to do something which no other wife is compelled to do, or will they expel an hon. Member because he has had a row with his wife and she will not tell him how many shares in ICI she owns? It is necessary for the House to consider from a common-sense point of view what this involves.
All the elements in the argument are susceptible to common-sense solutions by people who genuinely want to make the proposal work. I hope that both those who think that it goes too far and those who think that it does not go far enough will recognise that it is not a final solution that we are proposing. It is an experiment capable of being changed by 796 the House, on the advice of the Select Committee.
I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will withdraw his amendment. My hon. and learned Friend and I will certainly vote for the substantive motions and hope that the House will do so too.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
This has been an interesting debate. It is clear that it was appropriate to leave it to the House to decide. There are genuine differences of opinion, and we should have been in some difficulty had it been other than a free vote.
It has long been apparent that there were two extreme views. One would have had little or no disclosure of information. The other would have involved every Member giving every single detail. I believe that the majority of Members take a view somewhere in the middle. They believe that the public should be aware of certain interests, and that those should be readily available.
It may be that the House will come to the view that the Select Comittee has found an acceptable compromise, producing a formula which gives the appropriate amount of information whilst protecting some of the privacy of Members.
I find the argument that we are public figures, and should therefore expect to be more accountable than most, to be agreeable. What I do not accept is the argument that I should be entitled to no privacy at all. This is a delicate matter and one in which the confidence of the public is of concern to us. What we have to do is to find a means of retaining public support for Parliament and its Members and for regaining any of that support which has been lost in the past.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to giving way to clamour and the near hysteria with which this matter has been debated. Even if he is right, I do not regard that as necessarily a good reason for not proceeding.
We have not reacted without considerable thought. The matter has dragged on for a very long time. Some of my colleagues would argue that it has dragged on for far too long. We are, it is true, acting now in a much calmer atmosphere. 797 Surely that is the time at which to deal with it, before any clamour could possibly arise in the future. The right hon. Gentleman said that we know enough about each other to be able to judge motives. That, too, is true. What we are seeking to do is to enable the public, too, to judge motives.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), pointed out that the register is supplementary. It is no great innovation to ask Members to declare their interests. We already do so, or should do so. We are perhaps clarifying the situation, tightening it a little and making the information more readily available.
The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) argued that there was no demand for a register in the House. He said that in a intervention, and later referred to the public. Dealing with the first point, I remind him that the voting was two to one, and that 363 members of this House voted 15 months ago for a register. It is difficult, in those circumstances, to understand his argument.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) made the most persuasive speech that I have heard on this subject. He did more to convince me personally than my own speech is likely to do.
We should all, I think, despite what the right hon. Gentleman said, look carefully at his remarks about journalists. Those who sit in the Gallery and write about our secretarial allowances, our postage, our car mileage, as perks, ought to be as responsible as we are, and I hope that the Select Committee will return to this matter in due course.
I would take exception to his argument on one issue—that increasing dependence on parliamentary salaries is taking independence from back benchers and putting more influence into the Whips' Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) dealt with that very well. I should have thought that at least from this side of the House, and at least at this particular time, there does not appear to be any lack of independence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has moved his amendment. We have no objection to it 798 although I believe that there is substance in the argument that this is a matter that can be dealt with by the Select Committee in the light of experience.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) drove a large horse and cart through the Chamber with many of his points. We are feeling our way, as he said. We are moving slowly and with some trepidation. All of these matters can be and will be considered by the Select Committee if the need arises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said that we can close the loopholes as we go. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) dealt with his amendment with his customary fair-mindedness and unexpected brevity. We regard his amendment as being quite practical but somewhat illogical and could not recommend the House to oppose it. We are grateful to him for giving hon. Members the opportunity to vote on the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law (Mr. Ashton) has been consistent and determined in his approach. He has done as much as any hon. Member to bring this to the House. We should recognise that—even if the water did get hot at one stage.
§ Mr. Ashton
I asked a question about making the books of the Catering Sub-Committee available to any hon. Member. Will my hon. Friend pursue that?
§ Mr. Price
That is a matter that ought to be decided by the Select Committee rather than by me tonight. I will pass on my hon. Friend's request that it should receive urgent consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) referred to "substantial". I have my own reservations here. The term is relative. What may be insubstantial to one hon. Member, may be a fortune to another. I do not mind declaring my interest. I belong to the latter category. I was asked recently to visit a land owner who felt that he was having a financial struggle. This man lives in Warwickshire and owns 15,000 acres of the best agricultural land in the country. I do not know what he regards as substantial. I do know that his attitude would be rather different from mine. This, too, is something that the Select Committee can ponder.
799 Whatever we decide, it is clear that much will depend upon the continued good sense and responsibility of hon. Members. This is not an easy matter. It is difficult to define "financial interest" and it is far from easy to be certain what could or could not influence any hon. Member here or outside. In the past we have relied on Members to use their judgment, and we shall continue to do so. What we are here deciding is whether we take the process one step forward.
The important consideration is, will a public register give those who send us here more faith in us and in Parliament as an institution? As a journalist I spent most of my life, before entering Parliament, reporting affairs in national and local government. I came across very little dishonesty, fiddling and corruption.
§ I do not believe that people always appreciate that corruption in British government at all levels is practically nonexistent. Where it is to be found, a vigilant Press and the courts will deal with it.
§ Our constituents will think well of us tonight if we vote for these motions. If we reject them, they will inevitably believe that there are matters on which we prefer they should not have information. Tonight we have the chance to improve our image.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 21.801
|Division No. 231.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Ashton, Joe||Fookes, Miss Janet||Mikardo, Ian|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Forrester, John||Millan, Bruce|
|Atkinson, Norman||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Molloy, William|
|Banks, Robert||Freud, Clement||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||George, Bruce||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Bates, Alf||Ginsburg, David||Moyle, Roland|
|Bean, R. E.||Golding, John||Mudd, David|
|Beith, A. J.||Gould, Bryan||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Newton, Tony|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N.)||Grocott, Bruce||Noble, Mike|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Oakes, Gordon|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hardy, Peter||Ovenden, John|
|Booth, Albert||Harper, Joseph||Park, George|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Hatton, Frank||Pendry, Tom|
|Budgen, Nick||Havers, Sir Michael||Penhaligon, David|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Henderson, Douglas||Perry, Ernest|
|Campbell, Ian||Horam, John||Prescott, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Howell, Denis (B'ham, Sm H)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cant, R. B.||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Radice, Giles|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Reid, George|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hunter, Adam||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Clegg, Walter||James, David||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Cockcroft, John||John, Brynmor||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Roper, John|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Corbett, Robin||Kaufman, Gerald||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerr, Russell||Rowlands, Ted|
|Crouch, David||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Cryer, Bob||Knox, David||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lamborn. Harry||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lomas, Kenneth||Silverman, Julius|
|Dormand, J. D.||Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dunnett, Jack||Luard, Evan||Small, William|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||MacCormick, Iain||Snape, Peter|
|Durant, Tony||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Spearing, Nigel|
|Eadie, Alex||Mackenzie, Gregor||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Edge, Geoff||McNamara, Kevin||Stallard, A. W.|
|English, Michael||Madden, Max||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Marks, Kenneth||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maude, Angus||Stoddart, David|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Maynard, Miss Joan||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Flannery, Martin||Mendelson, John||Thompson, George|
|Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Watkins, David||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Tierney, Sydney||Watkinson, John||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Tomlinson, John||Watt, Hamish||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Trotter, Neville||Weatherill, Bernard||Woodall, Alec|
|Urwin, T. W.||Weetch, Ken||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.||Welsh, Andrew|
|Vaughan, Dr Gerard||White, Frank R. (Bury)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Whitehead, Phillip||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Whitlock, William||Mr. John Ellis.|
|Ward, Michael||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Benyon, W.||Lamond, James||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch|
|Brotherton, Michael||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Shersby, Michael|
|Channon, Paul||Mather, Carol||Tebbit, Norman|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Moate, Roger||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Monro, Hector|
|Goodhew, Victor||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Nott, John||Mr. James Molyneaux and|
|Hurd, Douglas||Pattie, Geoffrey||Mr. John Stokes.|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That, pursuant to the Resolutions of the House of 22nd May 1974, this House agrees with the recommendations made in the Report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration) relative to the arrangements for the registration of Members' Interests, and with the recommendations contained in paragraphs 43 and 47 of that Report in relation to the declaring of such interests; and that a register of such interests be established as soon as possible in accordance with the proposals made in that Report.