HC Deb 07 November 1979 vol 973 cc541-69
Mr. Speaker

Before I call on the Minister to move the motion relating to Members' interests, I should tell the House that I have not selected either of the amendments to it. However, I shall be prepared to allow reference to be made to the second amendment in a general debate and I propose that the part of the motion relating to names be debated as a whole. The Question on those names will be put at its conclusion. Is that agreeable to the House?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

As long as the House understands what it is doing. There will be one vote on all the names.

10.29 pm
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I beg to move, That Mr. Robert Adley, Mr. Joe Ashton, Mr. Andrew Bennett, Mr. R. B. Cant, Mr. Tony Durant, Sir Nigel Fisher, Mr. Percy Grieve, Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. David Madel, Mr. Charles R. Morris, Mr. Arthur Palmer, Mr. Michael Shaw, and Mr. Frederick Willey, be members of the Select Committe on Members' Interests. The motion proposes the membership, for this Parliament, of the Select Committee that supervises the compilation by the Registrar of the register of Members' outside financial interests, to which the House agreed in 1975. It advises the House, as necessary, on problems and queries that arise.

As the House is aware, it had been my hope that this Committee would have been fully established before the Summer Recess. On 18 July, the House agreed that a Committee on Members' interests should be established but there were objections to the proposed membership of the Committee. In view of the objections that were then raised, I should like, in introducing the motion, to make one or two brief points with reference to the arguments against the proposed membership that have been made by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer).

I emphasise that the decision taken by the House in 1975 to set up a register of Members' outside financial interests did not imply in any way that the House was opposed in principle to Members having such outside financial interests. It provided only that such interests should be made known to the House and to the general public. I recognise that there are those in the House who are strongly of the view that Members should not have any occupation other than their membership. I respect that view, although I do not share it. But that is not the issue before the House tonight.

On the question whether it should be for the Committee of Selection to make nominations to this Committee, I remind the House that we agreed only recently that members of the new departmental Committees should first be proposed to the House by the Committee of Selection. It has still to be seen how this decision works out in practice. I suggest that we defer any further changes in the traditional method of nomination to Select Committees until we have seen how the new procedure is working.

I recognise that the whole system of this register, its scope and methods of enforcement, is very much a compromise. Some hon. Members would undoubtedly like to see financial interests defined in much more detail. Others, no doubt, consider that the present arrangements are an undesirable intrusion into privacy. That is, in fact, the essence of the compromise. I accordingly ask all hon. Members to co-operate in accepting the decision of the House and in making the register as effective as possible. This Select Committee is an essential part of these arrangements. I invite the House tonight to agree to the membership proposed in this motion. I shall listen carefully to any points that hon. Members raise.

10.33 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

I shall not detain the House for long, but a number of important points have to be made. It is deeply disappointing that an amendment to the Government's motion, signed by nearly 50 Back Benchers, has not been called. That would have enabled us to discuss, possibly in wider terms, the job of the Committee of Selection, which should be competent to deal with the task entrusted to it of selecting a Committee in the terms laid down on the Order Paper. I feel that Back Benchers should have some right to participate in the framework of the agenda of this House and that their representations should be heard and debated through amendments that are tabled.

I should like to relate the background of the establishment of the Select Committee on Members' interests to my present concern. The Committee was first established as long ago as 1969. Little was done towards drawing up a register until 22 May 1974, when Parliament agreed to start a register and the Select Committee on Members' interests was asked to draw up provisions.

That five-year gap is an extraordinary length of time for a Committee of this House to exist and fail to produce anything. As is so often the case, lamentably, it was spurred into action not by anything that occurred in the House but by what went on outside, for at the beginning of 1974 there was a great volume of press material about the amount of corruption that was going on in both local and central Government, including the House of Commons. It was for that reason that the previous Select Committee was established and entrusted with the task of drawing up the register.

It should not be left to people outside to put pressure on Parliament to do something; Parliament ought to exert standards to produce a sufficient amount of scrutiny without any eruption from outside forcing action to be taken. But that happens all too often.

During the same period, the Royal Commission on standards of conduct in public life was set up in December 1974 because of further revelations of local and national affairs. Its report was presented to the House in July 1976, and it is a minor scandal in itself that it has never been debated by the House. It is continuing evidence of too careless an attitude to an issue which concerns the public very deeply. The report cost £300,000 to produce, and surely the least we could have done was to examine the recommendations that the Royal Commission made. For example, in paragraph 311 it made a specific recommendation with regard to Members of the House of Commons. It said: Nevertheless in view of our report as a whole, and especially in the light of the points set out in the foregoing paragraph, we recommend that Parliament should consider bringing corruption, bribery and attempted bribery of a Member of Parliament acting in his parliamentary capacity within the ambit of the criminal law. Our recommendation is limited to this single point, and we do not raise any questions about other aspects of Parliamentary privilege and related matters. The Royal Commission there made a specific recommendation, and I cannot recall that the previous Select Committee ever raised the issue before the House as a matter that should be debated. One of my reservations about the Select Committee is that it does not seem to have acted with the zeal and urgency that I and others think should be involved.

Of course, from 1976 onwards, the Select Committee's membership was a six-six stalemate, reflecting the position in the House between the Labour Government and the Opposition parties at the time. But it did have wide powers, and the resolution establishing it was couched in terms identical to the resolution which the House passed on 18 July last.

The Select Committee should have brought forward recommendations for improvement. For example, the register was published on only two occasions. Surely the Committee should have maintained publication whatever arguments it might have had with individual Members. That issue was a red herring. The main thing was to publish the register to ensure that Parliament could be seen to be laying everything out openly if members of the public chose to examine the financial involvements of Members. Quite apart from being published only on those two occasions, the register was less than adequate, and the Select Committee failed to bring forward recommendations to improve its adequacy.

Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)

In view of the continuing interest of the hon. Gentleman and of many of his hon. Friends in the register of Members' interests, would he be prepared to accept further matters worthy of public scrutiny being added to it—for example, where Members educate their children, or whether they purchase a council house, or even perhaps the extent of the financial support that they get from trade unions? That is something that I would like to know.

Mr. Cryer

I shall deal with those additional matters that the Committee is empowered to look at. The hon. Member may jibe about trade union sponsorship, but if he examines the register he will find that hon. Members have been scrupulous in entering their interests. I would have no objection to Members discussing whether the register should include details of schools and the property in which hon. Members live. That has not happened. The scope of the register has never been discussed on the Floor of the House in the way that it should be.

For example, Lord Lever, a former Member of this House, has a fair amount of personal wealth. His entry in the register was "Nil". That is less than satisfactory. Mr. Arthur Jones, a former hon. Member, had 36 company directorships. The register contained no indication of the revenue that he received from those directorships. This is a relevant and important point. We should not talk in the cosy and jokey terms used by Tory Members when we discuss outside financial interests. People outside this place have a right to know whether hon. Members have a deep financial involvement when they make decisions in this House.

Let me remind hon. Members on the Government Benches, who make little jokes about this matter, that three or four years ago nobody in this place was smiling about the financial involvement issue, because the press then rendered one of its few services to the nation by exposing the financial corruption among Members of Parliament and those in local government. There was an improvement as a result of that, and the register was introduced.

It is complacent to think that it could never happen again. If it does, the smiles will quickly be wiped off many faces. Why does the register not include the Lobby correspondents' interests? It is not widely known that until recently there was no rule in the Lobby that prohibited a correspondent from being employed by a public relations organisation. It was possible for an hon. Member to be asked to ring a Lobby correspondent, who appeared to be a member of the press but was acting for a public relations company. I understand that the Lobby has recently introduced a rule forbidding that. So much the better. These are important interests close to the most important assembly in the country.

The Committee should consider whether its Members should also register their financial interests. Should hon. Members declare an interest at Question Time, or when they table private Members' motions? The House has rejected the idea in the past, but I think that it is something that should be under continuous scrutiny. There is no doubt that there are moments during Question Time when certain matters are raised and one can see financial interests reflected—coincidentally or deliberately—by the hon. Members involved.

We had an example recently in the case of the Royal Commission's report on legal services. There was hardly room in the House for lawyers asking questions. They were popping up one after the other—solicitors, Queen's counsel and banisters, all of whom were deeply involved and interested in the report. Should not those interests be declared even when an hon. Member is less well known than, say, a barrister who is appearing in court regularly, or is an obscure property developer asking a question in a similar context?

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I gave up my practice after the election, so I do not have to declare an interest. How far does my hon. Friend intend to go? Are we to declare any interest that will prejudice our judgment of an issue before the House? If so, does my hon. Friend suggest that homosexuals should declare their interest in relation to the lowering of the age of consent?

Mr. Cryer

I am talking about the area of activity into which the Committee should inquire. My hon. Friends may joke about the issue.—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is no joke."]—A sexual interest is not a financial interest. The Committee has not considered sexual interests. A scrupulous register which provides relevant and important information and is published regularly will achieve much. After that we might consider the finer, philosophical matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon).

I want an up-to-date register published regularly containing a reasonable amount of relevant comprehendable information. Why has not the Committee extended its scope? Why has it not considered including such people as Lobby correspondents in the register? I hope that tonight's debate will be a salutary guide to the Committee. Should it consider the rules governing senior civil servants, for example? Concern has been expressed about permanent secretaries such as Sir Anthony Part leaping neatly from the Department of Industry to the chairmanship of Lucas.

Other senior civil servants have received approval for breaches of the rules under Governments of either party. I deprecate such approval whether it is given by a Labour Government or a Conservative Government. They have moved into jobs where they could use important and valuable information gained when they were civil servants.

My hon. Friend the Member for York raised one question rather more neatly than that which he asked a moment ago. He said that business men seem antagonistic to civil servants and yet they are only too eager to buy senior civil servants when they retire and to put them into their board rooms. Why is that, unless the civil servants have useful information gained in national service?

Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

I have some sympathy with the argument about the movement of civil servants out of Whitehall into private industry. How in God's name will a register foretell the jobs which civil servants will take when they retire?

Mr. Cryer

That is not the point. The Committee has powers to consider. If the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) had read the motion approved by the House on 18 July, he would have seen that the Committee is empowered to make recommendations on any relevant matters. That gives it scope. All I am doing is describing the concern which will remain unless there is further scrutiny.

In many areas of this sort of activity, local authorities—Conservative-controlled in some instances—set a far better example. For instance, my own local authority of Bradford requires all coun- cil members to register their shareholdings, directorships and savings, and their wives' shareholdings and any directorships. The Labour group there imposes an even stricter voluntary code on top of that. During council or panel meetings, any pecuniary interests must be declared. and anyone who declares them does not take part in the debate.

I am told by a councillor colleague of mine that today, for example, a solicitor member of the council who was advising a club applying for a grant was debarred from a meeting because he had given the club advice. The authority was one of the authorities involved in the Poulson tentacles, when members faced prosecution. It has instituted a vigorous and rigorous examination, which seems to work.

A Committee with a majority of members having financial interests is likely not to show zeal for considering wider applications for scrutiny. I do not say that those on the Committee, with or without financial interests, will not act with the utmost integrity, but we have another aspect to consider. Matters of financial action must be seen to be clear and open. If hon. Members, acting in the best interests of Parliament and the nation, as they see them, suggest that something should be diminished or that some information should be removed, it will not be seen by people outside like that if those hon. Members have private financial interests. People will say "They are trying to cover the matter up", even though those hon. Members having outside financial interests may put them completely to one side and genuinely say "We have taken this route because we really think that it is the best".

Secondly, an active Select Committee would want to consider encouraging full-time membership of the House. I would prefer to see a Select Committee of this nature dominated by those who are prepared to consider a job on £10,000 a year, and increasing, as a full-time job.

Against that, there is the argument that we must have some experience in the House through directorships and parliamentary adviserships outside, but no hon. Member thinks that the miners' case goes by default because nobody comes in to the House fresh from the morning shift down Glapwell colliery, or wherever. Apparently, however, it seems to be necessary for people to come fresh from the board rooms. Nobody argues that hon. Members should come fresh from an engineering workshop, or from doing plumbing maintenance, or anything of that nature. People say "That is not terribly relevant".

I have not heard one Conservative hon. Member argue that people should undertake skilled or unskilled manual labour, part-time, as a necessary pre-condition of their membership of the House. The only argument that the Conservatives put forward is that their experience should be gained in the board rooms or in some other occupation which, by happy chance, is always extremely well remunerated. The fact is that most of their constituents, and most of ours, receive smaller wages than we do. If they were offered jobs working full-time at around £10,000 most of them would say "I am prepared to dedicate my full time and my full effort to that job".

It is not the Opposition side of the House that has double standards; it is the Conservative side. The Conservatives have double standards in arguing that they can have a full-time job and outside interests as well.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I accept the logic of what my hon. Friend says. Surely we should now campaign for full-time professional Members of Parliament instead of going along with the nonsense that all Members should expose their private lives to the view of a scurrilous press that has no effect upon public life except to demean it.

Mr. Cryer

I know that my hon. Friend takes the view that there should not be a register and that this is pandering to the press. I disagree. I accept the point entirely that we should have full-time membership of the House of Commons, and this is one way in which we can move towards it and not away from it. If full-time Members were in the majority on this Committee they would be more likely to bring forward recommendations that would produce that sort of result.

Mr. John Heddle (Lichfield and Tamworth)

Would the hon. Member define his idea of "full-time"? Most of us have already worked a 15-hour day today, yet we are still here at 10.55 pm. We consider that we are all here full-time.

Mr. Cryer

I think that most people understand the ordinary, common meaning of the term as it is applied to Parliament. That is the sort of thing that could be debated by the Committee in examining this issue carefully.

Many hon. Members will complain about Parliament's being brought into disrepute, and about criticisms being made of Parliament, with the help of a press whose members are not exactly fulltime themselves, by people who do it simply because they want an institution to attack. It is worth pointing out that Parliament itself has a duty to ensure adequate scrutiny of such aspects.

However much one might criticise the press for its deficiencies—and hon. Members on the Labour Benches fight the press much more often than do Conservatives—there are times when it manages to expose some sort of corruption or misplaced or wrong influence. On some occasions it has performed a service, and hon. Members should bear that in mind.

In my view this Committee would be better with a majority of hon. Members who do not have outside financial interests. However, I hope that this debate—it has taken a great deal of effort to get it—will show the importance of the House's being seen to examine this matter. Thus, members of the public will not be able to say that we are indifferent. By examining it, we show that we have some measure of concern. We show that there is an element in Parliament that is not complacent and that will not just sit back and simply accept the Government's recommendations. I hope that the Committee will take note of this debate and make some recommendations along the lines that I have put forward.

10.58 pm
Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Until the last 15 minutes of the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) I found myself agreeing with him. I warmly support the motion, and add just three comments.

First, in my personal judgment the justification for outside interests of any kind at present is that progressively over the years there has been a steady increase of power at the centre of all our political parties. For example, we have seen this done financially by way of successive Government grants and grants given by this House to the leaders of the Opposition parties, which is appropriate but which has increased the power of their patronage.

I truncate a fairly complicated argument into one sentence, but I believe that the justification for having hon. Members on both sides of the House who are not solely dependent upon their parliamentary salaries is precisely to provide something of a balance against that increasing centralisation of power which rests with all party leaderships.

Secondly, as I think the hon. Member for Keighley would agree, as one who has consistently spoken in favour of this register and has consistently pressed for it, the reason why I have done so is not—most emphatically not—that I believe that on either side of the House an appreciable number of hon. Members are engaged in an activity that is deleterious to the standing of this House. There are exceptions, of course, but the vast majority of hon. Members honourably perform their duties to it and do so quite regardless of any financial consideration. That has never been the reason why I have been in favour of this register.

Thirdly, in recent years there has grown a new dimension in the whole of this business. Until recently, all persons performing in any kind of professional life were on registers, and still are. Any person performing in the life of a company could be looked up in a register—quite correctly—and they still are. But because Parliament, under all Governments, has increasingly concerned itself with the day-to-day life of business and commerce, there has grown up the business of the parliamentary adviser.

I know of no better exposition of the work of the parliamentary adviser than a recent admirable speech by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—which I was privileged to read in full—given to a commercial organisation that was celebrating its first anniversary. If I do not give the name of that organisation, it is because the right hon. Gentleman would not wish me in any way to put forward its commercial interests on the Floor of the House.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down South)


Mr. van Straubenzee

It is an admirable exposition of the way in which persons such as that should perform. But the fact is that unless we can look at a register there is no way in which any of us today, approached by a colleague or organisation, has any way of knowing whether one of our hon. Friends or an hon. Member is associated with that organisation. That is a perfectly honourable thing to do, but the information ought to be available for all of us to see. That is the overwhelming reason for proceeding with the selection of this Committee, and that is why we should encourage it in its work.

I have one last thing to say. I say it in the regrettable absence of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot), which we all deplore, but I have said it to his face. Because of lack of energy on his part when Leader of the House, one right hon. Gentleman, and one only, was able to stop the publication of the register, and the whole House was made to look absolutely ridiculous in consequence. I therefore seek only one assurance from my right hon. Friend, who has shown commendable energy in bringing this matter before the House so quickly. I am grateful to him for so doing. Will he at least undertake that the register will be published, if necessary with one gap?

I make it quite clear that there is one motive that I do not attribute to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not for one moment suggest that he has anything to hide. I entirely accept that for him it is a matter of principle. However, I believe that the rest of us would wish to have out in the clear our direct financial interests, of which none of us is ashamed. If one right hon. Member does not wish to obey the request of the House, at that time that will be a matter for the House to decide. Let us, I beg, no longer have this indignity of being held up by one of our colleagues—and one only.

With those three short comments, I very much commend the motion to the House.

11.5 pm

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

As reference has just been made to my personal action in this matter, I think it would be discourteous to the House if I did not briefly state here—although I previously sought to do so in the debate in June 1975—the reasons and considerations behind the decision in which I then announced to the House and which I have since followed.

May I first clear the ground by saying that this House has an undoubted and unlimited power over its members? If it did not have that power, it could not be a sovereign assembly. If its rules as they apply to hon. Members were referable to any outside authority, if it could not at its own discretion proceed against its own Members who disobeyed its resolutions and orders, this would not be a sovereign House of Commons. It would be a subordinate assembly, and we should be unable to perform those purposes for which we and our privileges exist.

I have knowingly and deliberately placed myself in disobedience of a resolution of this House; and I accept that the House has the right—indeed, it has the right without cause shown—to proceed against any hon. Member of this House to the point of expelling him. These are powers and attributes of this House which are essential to it, and I should be the first to defend them. I understand that a similar question has arisen in another assembly—the Congress of the United States. A number of members of the House who took exception to a somewhat similar resolution referred the matter—and it still stands referred—to the Supreme Court. That only illustrates the difference between a sovereign House such as ours and even the Congress of the United States, which is subject to having its decisions struck down by the Supreme Court under the constitution.

Because, however, we do not have a written constitution, it does not follow that we have no constitution. Because there is no written constitution, it does not follow that this House cannot behave unconstitutionally.

There are principles and propositions which, though they are not written in some fundamental Act, are nevertheless as binding as if they were, and binding even upon this sovereign House. I shall mention one of them. It is that the law of the land is made only by or under the authority of Parliament—that is to say, the Crown and both Houses acting in a particular way. That is what we call the rule of law—namely, that the laws under which we live are made only by or under that authority of the Crown in Parliament. A resolution of the House does not make law. We cannot amend, and we cannot make, the law of the land, even in this House, by a resolution; and where a resolution of the House has binding effect as such, it has that effect only by virtue of a statute which specifically enables it so to do. In short, the House cannot by resolution make law.

It is my belief that clearly the resolution of 1975 for the declaration of the financial interests of Members is not a regulation of the behaviour of hon. Members in the House but is a change, or purports to be a change, in the law, inasmuch as it adds an additional qualification for being an hon. Member. That was something that the Committee that made the recommendation discovered; for at the conclusion of its lucubrations it suddenly remembered candidates, and realised that the recommendation would also somehow have to apply to candidates. That is fairly clear evidence that the resolution is concerned not with the duties and behaviour of hon. Members in the House, not with how they conduct themselves in debate, not with how they discharge their duties in the House, but upon the qualification to be an hon. Member.

I offer the House another consideration. Let us suppose that the House passed a resolution—which it could do and which it could enforce upon hon. Members on pain of expulsion—that every hon. Member should, each twelvemonth, place upon record the number of times that he had taken Holy Communion in his parish church. Does anyone doubt that such a resolution would be the imposition of a religious test for membership of the House? Of course, it would not specifically say "You can be a Member only if you are an Anglican"; but everybody would understand that the condition of being a Member, the qualification for being a Member, had been sought to be altered by such a resolution.

The House cannot do that. The qualification for being a Member is not in the hands of the House. The qualification is a matter of law: it can be altered, amended and added to only by a change in the law. If we wish to change the law in this way, if we believe that being a Member should be conditional upon this or that declaration, whether of interests or anything else, there is only one way in which we can constitutionally proceed and that is by setting about changing the law, by bringing in a Bill and passing it through both Houses until it receives Royal Assent.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

It may be that I am a bit thick about this, but why is it conditional? I do not see why it is conditional that candidates should have to satisfy certain conditions? After all, what is important is what happens when a candidate becomes a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Powell

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will perhaps refresh his memory on how the Committee got there. The Committee considered the case of an election at which the ex-Member who was standing had been obliged, or purported to have been obliged, by the resolution of this House, to declare his interests, but who would be the only candidate who was thus exposed to public scrutiny. The Committee recognised thereby that this resolution was placing a new condition upon the election of a person to serve in this House, that is, doing something which can be done only by a change in the law.

I do not dispute that there is a conflict here. It is a conflict of two rights. One right is the right of the House to pass and enforce upon its Members any resolution that it pleases. The other is the right of all citizens of this country to live under the rule of law—in this case, for the conditions and qualifications for membership of this House to be determined and fixed by the law.

Where there is a conflict of right, there is a conflict of loyalty—the conflict between the loyalty that a Member owes to this House and the loyalty which is owed to the constitution. That conflict has been drarnatised—I felt that I could do no other—by my own action. But we do not proceed in this country by way of conflict: it is a false theory of our constitution which teaches that it is the result, as it were, of conflicting forces held in suspension. We in this country proceed, if I understand it rightly, to the resolution of conflict by appeal to the superior tribunal, to the superior principle. I say, then, as one who yields to none in this reverence for the sovereignty and independence of this House, that the principle of the constitution is the superior, and that we ought to resolve this conflict by observing it.

11.17 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will forgive me if I say that I do not quite see this issue as of such major constitutional importance as he would seek to suggest. I certainly would not like to recommend that the right hon. Gentleman be martyred, expelled from the House or subjected to any of the other suggestions coming from the Front Opposition Bench below the Gangway. Surely the simplest way of dealing with the right hon. Gentleman, if that is the expression to use, is merely to list him in the book as being unwilling to provide an entry. People would then have to draw their own conclusions from that.

We have to accept that the status of Members of Parliment has changed. If providing a register shows people that we are being more open and straightforward, so that they are better able to understand the interests that we do and do not have, and helps to decrease any misunderstandings between people and Parliament, that register will be justified. The right hon. Member for Down, South may find that argument unattractive, but it is a low-key argument and in its way puts the register in its correct position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) touched on the key point in this issue by saying that financial independence is much more likely to be equated with political freedom than the reverse. Labour Members must try to understand that.

I wish to deal briefly with a couple of points that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made. He suggested that the reason why the register is being set up is pressure from outside. He thought that to be a poor reason. Surely, the history of the House shows that hon. Members have rightly had to respond to pressure from outside. Where would the Tolpuddle Martyrs have been if they had not eventually been able to bring their action to the point of forcing Parliament to do what they wanted? Where would Gingerbread have been? We are all susceptible to outside pressure. That is the essence of the changing status of hon. Members today, although we may or may not like it.

Mr. Cryer

My contention is that Parliament did nothing between 1969 and 1974. Outside pressures produced action. The danger is that we are becoming complacent again because there is no outside pressure. We should be seen to be acting in anticipation of criticism.

Mr. Adley

Is that not the point of the Government's motion? They are bringing forward a motion so that we can set ourselves up as a Select Committee to examine many of the matters of which the hon. Gentleman complains. Surely, he does not suggest that the TUC should be forbidden from trying to bring pressure on Parliament. That may be a nice thought, but I do not believe that he would support such a proposition.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

The House is being invited to set up the Select Committee but we would set it up in the full knowledge that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) would refuse to have anything to do with it. We understand his reasons. Other hon. Members may refuse to have anything to do with that Committee, and some may declare only part of their interests. What value can be attached to a register that works under such conditions?

Mr. Adley

I was about to come to that matter. It is a public relations exercise. Some may see it as a means to attract free advertising for those companies and organisations that appear in the register.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

It would take you to say that.

Mr. Adley

If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene I will gladly resume my seat.

We should not get too excited about the matter. I have insisted that the register publishes the organisations that supply me with free ties. I hope that people will look down the register, see British Aerospace and British Airways against my name, believe that I am a director of those august organisations, and think me frightfully important.

Mr. Johnson Smith

There is no chance of that.

Mr. Adley

My hon. Friend is right—it is little more than a farce. I am often asked why I wanted to come to this place. I reply that I receive free ties and free car parking in central London. I used to believe that one was likely to be seduced by Russian blondes. I have received many ties, and I use the car park from time to time. I hope that I will not be required to register my interests to the extent to which the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) suggested, in terms of some of the moral issues that he wants included.

The hon. Member for Keighley referred to our former colleague, Mr. Harold Lever. The illustration that he made shows the uselessness of the register. It would be technically possible to own 4 per cent. of the entire shareholding of British Petroleum, ICI and Unilever and still have a nil entry in the register. Howeven, if people outside believe that we are being open, above board and less corrupt than the hon. Member for Keighley believes us to be, the register is of some use.

If the Select Committee is set up as established and I have the honour to serve on it, I shall want to investigate some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Keighley. He assumes that the only corrupting influence is money. I assume that there is a far more corrupting influence—power. Power over hon. Members by outside bodies is a far more insidious means of corruption than any amount of money that an hon. Member is likely to receive from outside interests.

If the Labour Party goes through with the proposals for re-selection, with hon. Members being subjected to scrutiny by a handful of people who have a clear political motive in seeing how they behave in the House, that will be the sort of power and influence over hon. Members that is far more likely to corrupt hon. Members than is any amount of money that may be showered on us.

I assure the hon. Member for Keighley that I have listened carefully to what he said and, if the motion is approved, I shall take up some of his points. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman accepts a fee when he takes part in television interviews. Perhaps he would like to tell us? I am sorry that he does not wish to answer. He is, presumably, prepared to accept payments from outside. He may even occasionally write newspaper articles, for which he receives a fee. All such activities are equally corrupting forms of influence.

I assure my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that, if the Committee is established, its members will take careful note of the hon. Member for Keighley's view that there are other matters that should be looked into.

11.27 pm
Mr. John Sever (Birmingham, Ladywood)

It is surely right that in setting up the Select Committee we should put to the public a public relations exercise—to use the words of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley)—that looks as though it is fair, honest and reasonable.

I do not accept that we are setting up a public relations exercise. We are trying to convey to the public our desire that whatever we do in the House is above board, open to public discussion and honourable, in the widest sense of the word. That is a good reason for having a Select Committee comprising only hon. Members with no outside financial interests.

There is a degree of public disquiet about the way in which the affairs of the House are conducted when it can be shown that an hon. Member may—only may—be arguing from the standpoint of having an outside interest that has galvanised him into making a speech or taking a particular interest in a drift of policy. That is one of the most powerful arguments in favour of the membership of the Select Committee being changed in the way proposed in the amendments that were not selected.

It is desirable that the House should put its case in a way that cannot be challenged. One of the most serious potential challenges arises when the public are given cause to wonder whether an hon. Member has made a speech as a direct result of his philosophical views or for other reasons that the public are not too sure about.

Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)

What about sponsored hon. Members?

Mr. Sever

I do not intend to comment on the witless seated interventions of Conservative Members.

Mr. Johnson Smith

The comment was not witless. I imply nothing improper to those who are sponsored Members, but I assume that if the hon. Gentleman wants a Select Committee composed of those who have no outside interests he would exclude sponsored Members.

Mr. Sever

They are in the register anyway. If I am incorrect in that, I withdraw what I said, but I understand that their interests are clearly indicated in the register by those hon. Members who have them.

The point at issue is whether there is any doubt about an hon. Member's motive in taking any line of action in this place. It is that which causes public disquiet, and it should, I think, encourage hon. Members to agree to the proposition that members of the Select Committee should not have any outside financial interest.

11.30 pm
Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)

I thought that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) made a most useful speech, and to my great surprise I found myself in agreement with a great deal of it. Indeed, if only he had not spoilt it in the last 15 minutes by allowing his prejudices to show it would have been much more telling a contribution.

Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point when he says that financial interests must be revealed on the register. I speak as somebody who has fairly significant interests to declare—which are, I hope, properly declared—and also as one who has outside occupations. [Interruption.] It woud be wrong for me to make a commercial tonight.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (Hove)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important interest of any that he might have is that of being a director of that excellent, though perhaps temporarily unfortunate, football club, Brighton and Hove Albion?

Mr. Wickenden

It finds itself in much the same position as the Labour Party.

The hon. Member for Keighley concentrated, almost to the exclusion of all else, on financial interests. There are many other interests that may just as much affect a Member's judgment, and that, surely, is the reason for the register in the first place. For example, within the last 48 hours a Labour Member has made a powerful and telling speech in this House about the effect of the Government's expenditure cuts on public service employees. He did not reveal that he was a leading member of NUPE. He should have done.

An hon. Member who is a schoolteacher or a polytechnic lecturer should reveal that fact when he takes part in education debates. A lawyer should certainly express his interest in almost every matter that we debate. Those of us who take part in pressure groups—I suppose that almost all charities are pressure groups in one form or another and that most hon. Members subscribe to them—should reveal that fact when we speak in the House. It is not good enough to believe that only financial interests alter a Member's judgment.

The hon. Member for Keighley said that a previous hon. Member had 47 directorships but they were not shown in the register. I surmise that there was a simple reason for that. He was probably a director of a group of companies and took his remuneration from the parent group, and the others were subsidiary companies.

Mr. Cryer

I said that the 36 companies were on the register. The point that I was making was that they gave no indication of the amount of remuneration that the hon. Member received, whether it was a nominal £1 a year or £1,000 a year. As the hon. Gentleman will accept, there is a qualitative difference.

Mr. Wickenden

I accept that. The whole purpose of the register, and of revealing our interests, wherever they may lie, is, I suspect, more that justice shall be seen to be done than that justice shall actually be done. Some hon. Members divest themselves of their interests so that they are not entered on the register. That is perfectly lawful. Trusts can be, and often are, created, and there is no longer any need to declare the interest. It is myopic to believe that hon. Members will be affected only by the financial inducements that they may receive in outside occupations. It is also wrong to believe that hon. Members with outside interests do not play a full part in this Chamber.

I can think of no reason for my selection—I cannot think of any reason, any- way, why I was selected—other than the fact that I had outside interests. My selection was certainly not due to any great political skill or knowledge. I suspect that the fact that 65 per cent. of the electorate in my constituency voted for me indicates that a fairly high proportion do not accept the view that hon. Members should solely be Members of the House. If that happened, one could envisage an arid wasteland of a Chamber in which polytechnic lecturers, sociologists, lawyers and public relations men hurled abuse at each other in mutual ignorance of the matters that they were discussing.

11.36 pm
Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I am anxiously awaiting the end of the debate to see whether I have been re-elected to this Committee. I should perhaps declare my interest in the matter. There has been a great deal of eloquence and wit in the debate. I have tried to recollect the years in which I and hon. Members here tonight were on this Committee in order to get down to some of the problems with which we were faced.

The refusal of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) brought the Committee to a halt. The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, a remarkable Member. One of the matters of principle that arose, whatever the right hon. Gentleman said, was that the Committee felt that it possessed no sanctions. If one is trying to do a job in a club—even one as distinguished as this House—in which a member says that he will not play according to the rules of the game, the inevitable consequence in so serious a matter is that one decides that one is not going to waste one's time. That was why the publication of the register ceased.

The right hon. Member for Down, South may derive no satisfaction from that situation, but, so far as I can recollect, that is precisely what happened. We had a long discussion and decided not to continue. I believe, in the light of speeches made tonight, that we made a mistake. We should have said that, important as the right hon. Member for Down, South is, we intended to ignore him, put on a nil return, and get on with the job.

There is another much more difficult point. Financial interest is obviously the crux of the matter. We might have taken into account many other matters in deciding the questions to be placed on the form circulated to hon. Members.

Eventually, of course, the issue really crystallised around the matter of financial interest. But when one had said that, one raised almost as many questions about what financial interest is as it is possible to raise. In the end, we had to say "Really, it is only that financial interest which is likely to influence the judgment of Members of Parliament in the conduct of their affairs as Members of Parliament". That raises difficulties, some of which have been mentioned in the debate. I have always worked for only one salary, but I am a member of a pressure group in the House.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a very important defect in the whole process of compiling the register. As I understand it, the register is meant to show—preferably, in my opinion, in the fullest detail, but my right hon. Friend has suggested that a compromise is desirable—the financial interests of Members of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman said that the Select Committee took the view that these financial interests need be shown only where, in the opinion of the Committee, they might prejudice the Member's judgment.

In other words, the Committee took it upon itself to interpose a further layer or filter between public scrutiny and the interests held by Members of Parliament. The Committee thereby arrogated to itself the right to interpose screens between the public's right to have access to all such relevant information and the Member's desire, where it occurred, to withhold it.

Mr. Cant

I think that that is substantially correct, and of course it produces paradoxical situations in which I, as a member of the all-party road study group, must declare that I once went on a trip abroad financed by the British Road Federation. It is quite right that that should be declared, because if I rise during questions to the Minister of Transport, as I did today, I am likely to ask why only 36 miles of motorway have been built in the West Midlands during the last 10 years. The motivation for asking that question may be quite clear.

On the other hand, at the other extreme, there is the nil return. One of the cases quoted in the debate was that of a man who everybody knew had money. The Financial Times carried an article that said that because of foreign exchange speculation the family fortunes had declined from £13½ to £4¾ million. There was in that case a very extensive financial interest, which might not have affected the Member's judgment in the slightest.

This was a difficulty on which we spent a great deal of time. We may have been wrong in arriving at the narrow definition that we did. If we are trying to redefine the terms of reference of the Select Committee I think that we should return to what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said about financial interest. For 26 years I have been a member of a local authority. I see that the right hon. Member for Down, South is about to rise in his place and say that of course local government is a different animal.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

That is imposed by statute.

Mr. Cant

Exactly. I plucked up courage to ask the right hon. Gentleman to remain in his seat because, in effect, a member of a local authority must do two things. He must fill in the form required by statute and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, he is also under very great pressure to fill in this voluntary declaration. It is worse than my hon. Friend states, because if a councillor has the slightest financial interest in any issue to be discussed by a council committee not only is he forbidden to take part in the discussion, or to vote; he must leave the room in which the discussion takes place.

Mr. Adley

Does the hon. Member agree that we have in this Chamber influence rather than power? We should realise then when we talk of decisions that make or lose money the chairman of a local authority planning committee and his colleagues leave us absolutely standing. This is something which we should make clearer to other people.

Mr. Cant

The chairman of the planning committee of which I am a member always tell me that he has got the power even though I may have a vote in this place. He is right, and for that reason the possibility of corruption in local government is much greater than here. When we are thinking of the register that we have established it is important always to have in the back of our minds the much more stringent qualifications and requirements that are laid down for our lesser brethren in the local authorities.

Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)

Did the Committee ever consider the possibility of requiring all Members of Parliament to publish their income tax returns, together with those of their wives? Does my hon. Friend think that if the Committee had suggested that method of exposing hon. Members' finances more than one hon. Member would have refused to comply?

Mr. Cant

I cannot say whether the Committee ever considered that. It seems many years ago, but I am sure that my hon. Friend is right in saying that if such a condition had been imposed many more hon. Members would have refused.

This has been a useful debate and I am certain that the Committee should be set up again.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

I served on the Committee in the last Parliament, and there was never any question of including a wife's income. It cannot be assumed, these days, that a wife's earnings form part of the husband's income. That is a Victorian notion.

Mr. Cant

Once again we are descending into the realms of philosophy, though the point made by my hon. Friend is a good one. I am certain that when it is set up again the Committee will profit by experience. The question whether its members should have outside interests is a minor issue. We must continue to publish the register even though more than one hon. Member refuses to fill in the form and we must continue to build on our experience.

11.48 pm
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I have always agreed with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about this issue, though it is the only one in 13 years on which we have agreed. I have taken the view, since I ceased to be a Minister, that I would not register any interest or return any form. I will continue to do that and my reasons are set out in a speech that I made against the motion in 1975. I hold to that.

In essence my argument is that if we go down this road there is no limit to it. The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) demonstrated that beyond any peradventure.

We can reveal all our private confidential life, and someone will always want to know more. In the end, people must trust us as Members of Parliament. I shall take the same stand as the right hon. Member for Down, South in order to show that the House is wrong to continue the process. I hope that we come to a sensible conclusion.

11.50 pm
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

I am not usually present to listen to debates such as this. I have found it fascinating. Right hon. and hon. Members have taken a more personal interest in this than in many other subjects.

The Opposition want to see the Select Committee set up. It has a job to do in enforcing the 1975 resolution. My personal view on statutory enforcement is that the quicker we bring it to the Floor of the House the better. This matter must be cleared up, for the impeccably logical reasons argued by my hon. Friends. We must decide whether we want a statute or whether we should continue as before.

Mr. Rooker

My right hon. Friend talks of impeccable logic. Can someone tell the House whether the requirement of hon. Members to affirm or swear at the Table is a requirement of statute or the result of a resolution?

Mr. Rees

I have made similar inquiries. In the past four months I have learnt that it is better to leave such matters to those who have access to advice.

I have never served in local government. In the 16 or 17 years during which I have been a Member of the House I have found remarkably little corruption. I was once the Minister responsible for the Air Force. It would have been extremely difficult for me to be corrupt. I placed no orders. I had no power in that respect, but I once owned Harland and Wolff. Someone in local government is nearer the levers of power than a Minister by virtue of the spread of responsibility.

As Home Secretary I moved a motion on the Royal Commission on corruption in public life. The Commission's report was not edifying. It talked of corruption and bribery being brought within the ambit of the criminal law. I did not feel that it understood what it was talking about. We should debate this important subject.

We argue about the re-selection of Members. I have no complaint about that. I was chosen by my local Labour Party. It has every right not to select me. We are arguing not about that but about the method of selection. There is nothing corrupt about it. Party politics is what the House is all about. We do not talk about it enough. It is not corrupt. We are responsible to our electorates. The argument that we are having is not a bad argument to have, because it illustrates some of the fundamental matters that we face in public life. I hope that the Select Committee will be set up quickly.

11.54 pm
Mr. St. John-Stevas

This has been a wide-ranging debate, although the motion was narrowly drawn.

I am not here to discuss whether Members should or should not have outside interests. Personally, I believe that the House benefits from having Members with outside interests. I think that a House made up of retired lawyers and amateur journalists would not be a very valuable House of which to be a Member. Nor, I think, is one concerned with arguments on the question whether there should or should not be a register of Members' interests. I think that there should not be. I do not think that it is necessary, and I voted against it.

Like the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), I have had no offers of any kind since I became a Member—for 15 years, the same as he. I have never been able to understand whether that was because I was thought incorruptible or not worth corrupting. Apart from a seat in the Cabinet, nothing has come my way.

I turn to the narrow question whether the Committee should be set up. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) put his case with his usual thoroughness and conviction. He was particularly concerned with the actions of the last Committee. He felt that it had not acted with zeal and urgency, and that there had not been sufficient public access. It is true that following the Dissolution of the last Parliament the register of interests of Members of that Parliament was not accessible, but before that it was available for inspection, although it had not been published in the full sense of the word. But that really is a matter to be decided by the Committee when it is set up.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) is in favour of a register. I disagree with him on that, but I certainly agree with him that if the House has decided that a register should be set up that register should be published. It is for the new Select Committee to advise the House what to do if there are circumstances of difficulty. It must be left to the Committee in the first place.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) argued, with his usual lucidity, that an obligation should be imposed by legislation only, and could not be imposed by a resolution of the House. The alternative would be to put forward legislation. It would be an extremely complex and difficult matter. But it is for the new Select Committee to consider what should be done and to advise the House on the matter. Certainly, as Leader of the House, I shall take its advice very seriously.

Mr. Palmer


Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry; I cannot give way, or I shall talk the motion out, and then we shall all be here for another hour and a half later on.

The conclusion that I draw is simply that all these problems should be considered by the new Select Committee and that the duty of the House tonight, whatever our views are, is to let the Committee be set up and see where it goes from there. Let it have the opportunity tonight to get on with the job.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That Mr. Robert Adley, Mr. Joe Ashton, Mr. Andrew Bennett, Mr. R. B. Cant, Mr. Tony Durant, Sir Nigel Fisher, Mr. Percy Grieve, Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. David Madel, Mr. Charles R. Morris, Mr. Arthur Palmer, Mr. Michael Shaw, and Mr. Frederick Wiley, be members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests.

Ordered, That the members of the Committee nominated this day shall continue to be members of the Committee for the remainder of this Parliament.

Ordered, That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.—[Mr. St. John-Stevas.]