§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I beg to move,That this House approves the First Report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Session 1991–92 (House of Commons Paper No. 326) relating to the registration and declaration of Members' financial interests, provided that the recommendation in paragraph 84 of the Report relating to the declaration of any relevant registered interest at the time of tabling an early day motion shall apply only to the Member in charge of such a motion.As the House knows, this is the first of two debates this evening arising from reports by the Select Committee on Members' Interests. It is appropriate that I should begin by paying tribute to the Chairman of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and his colleagues on the Committee for their careful consideration of the sensitive issues with which they deal on our behalf.
I probably do not need to remind the House that the impetus for the report arose from an unhappy incident in the previous Parliament, following which there was a widespread view that the rules governing the declaration of interests needed some clarification. That view was echoed by my predecessor in his evidence to the Select Committee in 1991 when he said:there is still uncertainty among a lot of Members about what should and should not be declared under certain headings …I think it would be a worthwhile thing …to go through the list and actually give Members rather more detailed advice as to what should be declared and what should not.The Select Committee's subsequent report on registration and declaration was debated by the House last year. The response on that occasion has led the Government to table a motion to give effect to its recommendations, with one modification, so that they can be effective in the establishment of the register for the next Session. The main purposes of the motion, therefore, are to authorise the use of the new registration form that the Committee proposed in its report and to give Members clearer and more explicit guidance as to the matter in which they should register their financial interests.
I will briefly set out the main changes in practice that the report recommends. In many cases—this has perhaps not always been as clear as members of the Committee would have liked—the matters are of clarification rather than completely new provisions. Taking business interests first, a Member who has an association with a company is already required to name it, but he would now be expected to state briefly the nature of the company's business. Most people would think that that is reasonable.
As for shareholdings, the existing rule is that a holding of 1 per cent. issued share value of any company must be declared. That rule would be modified to require the registration of shareholdings with a nominal value of more than £25,000, as well as those that constitute more than 1 per cent. of the issued shared capital of the company.
The new form would also require clearer details about clients of consultancies linked to the work of right hon. and hon. Members in the House. Right hon. and hon. Members must already register any consultancy firms to which they provide advice. The Committee's recommendation is that, in future, right hon. and hon. Members should not only register any consultancy firm to which they provide advice but list any of the firm's clients to 758 which the right hon. or hon. Member personally provides any services. That, too, is more a matter of explicit clarification than of innovation, because I understand that at present the registrar advises right hon. and hon. Members who ask that they should register the names of clients on whose account they have worked.
The report recommends that membership of Lloyd's should be more clearly described. Ever since the register was established, right hon. and hon. Members have always been advised to register their membership of Lloyd's. The Committee now proposes that they should detail the individual syndicates to which they belong. I understand that the Committee's view was that, just as right hon. and hon. Members should register the nature of the business of firms with which they are connected, so too should they register the number of their Lloyd's syndicate—a measure that clarifies the nature of the insurance business with which right hon. and hon. Members are involved.
The report recommends also that the provisions relating to land and property should be clarified. Right hon. and hon. Members would not be required to list their individual holdings, but they would be expected to specify the nature and general location of any property other than—I emphasise this point—any home or second home that has a substantial value or produces a substantial income.
A new provision recommended by the Committee is that gifts in excess of £125, including cash gifts, would need to be registered, as would hospitality, services or benefits in kind greater than 0.5 per cent. of the parliamentary salary, which is currently about £155. Those limits are broadly in line with those for Ministers and would avoid the obvious absurdity of requiring an entry every time that, for example, someone attended a lunch or dinner.
As to the right hon. or hon. Member's relationship with his constituency party—there will be particular interest in this point in many quarters—the report proposes a clearer definition of sponsorship. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden may have something more to say on that. It may help the House if I explain the Government's understanding of that section of the report.
The Committee's proposal on the registration of donations to associations applies only to donations from a company or organisation. It does not apply where the donor is an individual, and I am sure that it is right to maintain the privacy of such donations. Where a donation is made by a company or an organisation, the Committee proposes that it would need to be declared if it exceeded £500 and was made on a regular basis and was not just a one-off or occasional donation, and—perhaps this is particularly important—the donation was linked to an individual right hon. or hon. Member's candidacy or membership of the House, or if the right hon. or hon. Member himself acted as intermediary between the donor organisation and the constituency party.
It is important to note that where a donation is made as an expression of general support for the party, as opposed to support or sponsorship of a particular candidate, it would not need to be declared. As the report states on page 17:Donations made directly to a constituency party as an expression of general political support, not linked to the Member's candidacy or membership of the House, should not be registered: and similarly it will not be necessary to register a trade union donation to a constituency party which is not linked to the promotion of a particular parliamentary candidate.
§ Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
I speak as a Member of Parliament who was sponsored by the Confederation of Health Service Employees—as it will be for only a couple of days more, because it will be named Unison thereafter—only after selection and election. What is the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the new rules in my particular case, as I was not sponsored through the selection process?
§ Mr. Newton
Should the motion be agreed tonight, the hon. Lady may wish to obtain the registrar's advice. However, I understand that the hon. Lady would need to declare an interest only if the amount involved exceeded £500 a year and was linked directly to her candidacy or membership of the House. In other words, she would have to do that only if it were an annual sum that amounted to more than £500, which had been given on the basis that it related to her rather than to her constituency Labour party or association.
I am sure that the House will think it right that where an individual Member is receiving what amounts to—this is the case that the hon. Lady put to me—substantial sponsorship from a company or an organisation on a regular basis, sponsorship that is related to his or her candidacy or membership of the House, that should be declared. Equally, where donations are in support of the party itself, whatever their source or size, they would not need to be declared.
None of this affects the existing rules relating to contributions to a Member's election expenses, which are unchanged. Members should continue to register any sponsorship that exceeds 25 per cent. of their election expenses.
There are also some provisions relating to Members' staff.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I own small amounts of property and I have always declared the fact that I own small amounts of property. Why is it relevant whether the property is in Lewisham or not?
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir. G. Johnson Smith) may wish to comment on that question. That is the proposal in the Committee's report. I did not feel that it was a sufficiently important point to justify a special departure from an all-party agreed report that has put these recommendations before the House.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Will the Minister answer a, simple question that we argued long about in our Committee proceedings? Why should a Labour Member of Parliament sponsored by a trade union, who is under no particular pressure from that union—[Interruption.] That is the case. We are talking about £600 per annum. Let us move into the real world. The fact is that £600 a year is a very small amount of money. [ Interruption.] I agree that over five years, it amounts to £3,000.
Why should a Labour Member of Parliament be required to register and declare that sum of money, while a Scottish Member of Parliament who received £10,000 from a property developer in Scotland—hon. Members know about it because it is in the report, and the House may wish to comment on it tonight—is not required to declare that sum? That hon. Gentleman did nothing wrong. He is a perfectly honourable Member of this House, but his constituency party received £10,000 in a 760 12-month period. I want to know why he does not have to declare it, while a trade union-sponsored Member who gets £600 has to declare it.
§ Mr. Newton
It seems to me that the issue is whether that constitutes the regular annual sponsorship of a particular individual. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee that produced this agreed report. It is open to him to advance the reasons for a different set of recommendations during the speech that he will no doubt seek to make, if he is successful in catching your eye, Madam Speaker. However, I am setting before the House as clearly as I can the recommendations that are contained in the report.
§ Mr. Newton
Perhaps I may make one point before I give way again to the hon. Gentleman. As I have just said, the hon. Gentleman, whose interest in the matter is well known, was a member of the Committee, and he has pressed me to put its recommendations before the House. It would be more appropriate, I believe, for him to develop the arguments in favour of his alternative report to the one that he signed in a speech, rather than by putting points to me in this way. However, I do not want to prevent him from doing so, if he wishes. Therefore I shall give way to him again.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
What is the difference between a trade union-sponsored Member of Parliament who receives £600 a year for his constituency party and a Conservative Member of Parliament who receives £600 a year from the local industrial council? Is there more pressure on a Labour Member than on a Conservative Member? We know that it goes on.
§ Mr. Newton
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden may wish to elaborate on the point, but I understand that the Committee was quite reasonably seeking a definition of regular annual sponsorship related specifically to a candidate or Member rather than to the constituency Labour party, a Conservative association or, for that matter, a Liberal association. That was a reasonable distinction to seek to draw; but if the hon. Gentleman thinks differently, he will no doubt elaborate on his reasons in the debate.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I have been sponsored by the National Union of Mineworkers for 23 years and have been a member of it for 44 years. It is proper for Members of Parliament to declare in the register that they are sponsored by a specific union. It is important to do that. Those of us who are sponsored in this fashion are happy to let it be known, and anyway I do not take all that much notice of the union's decisions. For instance, the year before last, it was in favour of proportional representation. I said, "I am not supporting that and, what is more, I will change the union's view." I campaigned in the union to get it back on the straight and narrow—first past the post—which the executive agreed by 13 votes to three. It was a great campaign. I am quite happy to do that, but if Tories are getting money from businesses, the amount of money should appear in the register, because then it is quid pro quo.
§ Mr. Newton
I am rather more glad than usual that the hon. Gentleman's advocacy of a proposition was 761 successful. It is entirely open to him to advance that point of view. I do not agree with it and it was not what the Committee recommended.
§ Mr. Newton
No, I am talking now about the hon. Gentleman's subsequent remarks.
That was not what the Committee recommended. It is not what I am proposing and I do not think that the argument holds. If the union chooses to give money to Bolsover Labour party, I do not see why it should have to declare it any more than the report would require. If it is specifically related to the candidacy of the hon. Gentleman or his membership of the House, that is a different matter. That, as I understand it, is the distinction that the Select Committee was seeking to draw.
The report proposes that visits and benefits provided for Members' staff should now have to be registered. I had some reservations about this proposal and whether it was really worth the effort involved, so my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden arranged to consult the relevant staff associations, neither of which, although he may wish to elaborate on this, has raised any objection. Holders of permanent passes as Members' secretaries or research assistants will have to register visits, gifts or benefits on the same basis as Members.
The report proposes some administrative changes. The Select Committee would be authorised to make minor—I must emphasise "minor"—modifications to the rules, such as to improve ambiguities or to bring financial limits up to date, without the need for further recourse to the House. The scope of such changes would be strictly limited, which I am sure the House will think right. The last sentence of paragraph 66 of the report states:other changes—and particularly any which involve a major alteration of the categories or definitions of registerable interests—will of course still require approval by the House.After a general election, Members would be given more time in which to complete the registration form. At present, they are allowed four weeks; in future, they will have three months.
I draw to the attention of the House one issue on which the Government propose a slight change to what the Committee recommended in its report. Following an earlier recommendation by the 1974–75 Committee, which was chaired by Mr. Fred Willey, the Committee recommended that the sponsor and the first five supporters of an early-day motion, or an amendment to an early-day motion, should be required to declare any relevant registered interest verbally or in writing to the Table Office at the time of tabling. When the motion appeared on the notice paper, a symbol would be printed by the hon. Member's name to signal that an interest had been declared.
I do not need to tell the House that the number of early-day motions has been growing significantly. I think that I am right in saying that, when I first entered the House just under 20 years ago, there were probably 500 a year. I know from business questions on Thursdays that there have been well over 2,000 in the present Session, and the flow shows little sign of stopping. Every day, the Table Office has to deal with several hundred added names—sometimes more than 1,000—most of which arrive in the post. The recommendation, if it covered all the names 762 suggested in the report, would therefore place a large additional burden of work on the Table Office and would divert the Clerks from the task of dealing with questions and offering advice to hon. Members, which I think the House would regard as more important.
A further specific problem to illustrate the type of difficulty that could arise is that it might not be possible to tell hon. Members reliably whether their signature would be among the first six, as new signatures might already have been handed in which had not yet appeared on the computer. My advice to the House is that the main thrust of the Committee's recommendation can he achieved with an acceptable amount of extra work if the requirement is limited to the sponsor of the motion. That is the purpose of the Government's motion.
I acknowledge that it could be argued that someone could circumvent the provision by getting someone else to table the motion in his or her name, but it would not be much more difficult to get six other people to table the motion and then to add one's name as the seventh. The practical gain would therefore be limited in following the Committee's recommendation as distinct from that suggested in the Government motion.
Subject to the approval of the House, I understand that Madam Speaker has authorised the application of this procedure in relation to early-day motions—or acknowledgement of interests in respect of the first name—from the start of the new Session.
As I said in response to an intervention, some people will no doubt have reservations about one or more of the report's recommendations, and in both directions—some will have wanted it to go further and some perhaps not quite as far. However, the report has been produced by an all-party Committee and was generally agreed, although there were arguments on one or two points. The Committee was chaired by a senior and respected Conservative Member. I believe that the House would be right to accept these useful improvements in our system of registration and declaration—
§ Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)
I apologise for interrupting my right hon. Friend. On that very point, if one does have reservations—one can discern possible matters about which one might have some, despite the general acceptance of the report—is it right to approve the report in full, bearing in mind that it is often the small points that give rise to problems of interpretation? When my right hon. Friend answered the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), he admitted to having a reservation himself. Is it right that we should give carte blanche approval, without further examination, to a report of considerable significance? Would it not be better to hear the views of the House and decide whether some of the points—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker(Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that interventions should be short.
§ Mr. Newton
I shall make two points. First, we debated this issue a little less than a year ago in order to asses the House's general reaction. It would be fair to say that reasonable support was expressed. Secondly, I do not think that I expressed a particular reservation in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) but said that, if it were a matter of explaining the Committee's thinking, it seemed more 763 appropriate that it should he done by the Chairman of the Committee rather than by my attempting to interpret what was in the Committee's mind.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the report was compiled not on the initiative of Selective Committee, but in response to a request from the House following a debate about a former hon. Member who had complained about difficulties? The general view expressed by the House, through a vote on a motion, was that the Committee should clarify the rules. This report is a response to that request.
§ Mr. Newton
Yes, I adverted to that at the outset of my speech.
Clearly, several hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) sensed that I was trying to bring my—I hope reasonably brief—remarks to an end. The improvements to our system of registration and declarations are useful; they will remove some of the dilemmas that hon. Members have faced as a result of the lack of clarity in certain respects. I hope that the House will support their implementation tonight. I therefore commend the motion to the House.
§ Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)
I am pleased to be relieved of the necessity of continually asking the Leader of House, on behalf of my hon. Friends, for this debate. We are pleased to have tonight's debate and to deal with the matter before us.
We are particularly pleased because the initial move to set up a register, as the Leader of the House recognised, was made under a Labour Government in 1974. There were then two parts to the resolution. According to the first part of that resolution, the declaration of Members' interests should be made a rule rather than a convention. The second part of the resolution set up the register itself so that hon. Members could assess any pecuniary interest or other material benefit which might be thought to affect the conduct of Members or the influence that they might exert.
I wish first to refer to the emphasis in the initial report, and the emphasis in this excellent report, on the responsibility on individual Members to ensure that they satisfy the conventions and rules of the register and, if they are in any doubt, to err on the side of including matters in the register rather than leaving them out. As the then Speaker said in evidence to the Select Committee:Members who hold consultancy and similar positions must ensure that they do not use their positions as members improperly.I am aware that many hon. Members, quite rightly, want to speak in the debate, so I shall be brief. With regard to the declaration of interest, when the register was first set up, many of the reservations expressed by those who were unhappy about the procedure were along the lines that it would be very important for hon. Members not to think that the register should replace the need for a declaration of interest.
To a certain extent, for all of us, such declarations are subjective impressions. However, it is my impression that declarations of interest are hardly ever made these days. I understand how that has occurred, as there must be an instinctive feeling among many hon. Members that if the 764 matter is in the Register of Members' Interests, people are free to look it up. Indeed, one often sees hon. Members speedily consulting the register, particularly when debates on contentious matters are taking place.
However, I wonder whether the Select Committee or the House should consider whether there is any way of reminding hon. Members afresh of their duty to make a declaration and that that duty is not extinguished by the existence of the register. For example, I want to declare an interest in that I am proud to be a sponsored Member of the Transport and General Workers Union. That interest is declared in the register. However, I rarely recall hon. Members making such declarations in the House or in Committee these days. We should consider whether we can improve that situation.
Also, we are seeing a number of changes in public policy and in the assumptions and the conventions of behaviour which reinforce our concern about the register and also the need for hon. Members to consider whether they themselves would wish to make a declaration. If I may take an example from outside this place, increasing concern has been expressed about the way in which civil servants are seen to move—I recognise, of course, with the permission of the Government, with the waiving of the rules—much more directly than has been the case in the past, straight from Departments into private industries with which they frequently were dealing a short time before. That is becoming an issue of growing concern.
Without wishing unduly to upset Conservative Members, I draw attention to the fact that, after a long period in government, people retire as former Ministers. Paragraph 15 of the Select Committee's report refers to the fact that the ministerial rules are so phrased that Ministers are discouraged from using information that they receive as Ministers for private gain, and quite properly.
We all recall well-publicised cases in which hon. Members have gone very speedily—more speedily than would have been expected some years ago—from the Cabinet into private companies and, in some cases, on to the boards of companies over whose privatisation they had presided. There is nervousness and unease in the House about those matters, which. makes it all the more important that we should be vigilant and try to get the balance right.
It is right—this theme runs through the report, and some hon. Members may have doubts about it—that such issues should remain largely in the control of hon. Members. That is my own point of view because, when we are dealing with such issues, we are conscious of the degree to which our common experience might make hon. Members share a view which might not be so widely held outside. That is natural among any group of individuals who have some common experience and who have, therefore, to some extent shared perceptions and understanding of the nature of the work and its pressures.
I am reminded, for example, of a letter that I received the other day from someone who is not a constituent of mine, mentioning an issue for me to raise because it was a matter of great concern to that individual. I wrote back as courteously as I could explaining that, as the matter involved neither a constituent nor an issue which came within my own domain, I did not feel able to take up the campaign. I explained that all hon. Members receive requests and pressures to take up certain issues and 765 campaigns which they are simply unable to meet, physically or in any other way, and that everybody has to make choices.
I was slightly dismayed to receive a prompt reply saying, "I had no idea that Members of Parliament could choose whaf aspects of their work they wished to pursue. I am delighted to hear that. I will now renew my pressure on everybody to whom I have written and say that they must take up this campaign." Every hon. Member is conscious that such correspondence is received almost daily and that it is literally impossible for any hon. Member to take up all the issues and raise all the campaigns that some people outside this place wish us to take up.
For such reasons it is right that these matters should remain within the control of the House. However, while they remain within the control of the House and of hon. Members, it is all the more essential that it is seen that that control is not being misused and that we are vigilant about the standards that we apply. Otherwise it will be difficult to justify keeping the matter within the hands of hon. Members primarily.
It is sensible—to some extent it might be an answer to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate)—that paragraph 66 of the Select Committee report suggests that it should be within the remit of the Select Committee to make minor modifications. That paragraph refers to the need to make minor modifications to the guidance in order to remove ambiguities as well as to deal with altering the financial limits without it being necessary to come back to the Floor of the House for full authorisation. That seems a sensible proposal, as is the idea of the pamphlet which might provide one route for highlighting the issue of an hon. Member's declaration, although I think that perhaps it might be better to look for a stronger route.
Having identified some of the issues in the report which I unquestioning and wholeheartedly welcome, there are a couple of issues on which I wish to enter a caveat. The first is the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) in the previous debate on 23 June 1992, to which the Leader of the House referred. Indeed, the point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) a moment ago.
I am sure that the Leader of the House was accurate in his reply to my hon. Friend: that the way in which these matters are defined in the report and the considerations of the Select Committee has led to the difference that he identified between someone who got perhaps as little as £100 or £200 a year on a regular basis from a specific organisation where it is regarded as a sponsorship link to that candidate, and someone who might receive substantially larger sums, perhaps not on quite the same basis—either it is not a regular donation, in which case one might imagine that it might come up under the next section headed "gifts" in the register or, alternatively, it is not seen to be linked to the candidacy of an individual but is given as a donation to the political party rather than as a gift to the member. There seems to be a real loophole.
Without wishing to stray into other matters which are outside some of our deliberations tonight, I am reminded that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) suggested that much of the identified moneys 766 which go to the Conservative party go what he called "locally". How he defined "locally" is not entirely clear. I suspect that "within these shores" might be one of his definitions. However, if that is the case, as he implied—he suggested that perhaps even millions of pounds went to associations locally—that highlights the importance of that area to which my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin referred in June 1992 and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington referred tonight. That seems to be one issue which bears further investigation.
§ Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield)
I think that I can help on that last point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) told the Select Committee that, out of a total income of £26 million last year, £18 million was raised by local Conservative associations and only £8 million by Conservative central office centrally. That was the point—"local" meant local Conservative associations.
§ Mrs. Beckett
That is a helpful intervention from the hon. Gentleman, both in clarifying the point made by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and in making precisely the point to which I have just referred. If it is the case that sums of such magnitude are being given in a way which apparently does not come within the purview of the register as it has been described, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington is made in spades.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The figures that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) quoted are fascinating because when I wrote a paper on this issue for the Committee at no stage could I establish the figure. We are talking about large sums of money paid at a local level to constituency associations on a regular basis—payments of £500, £600, £700, £800, £900 or £1,000 a year are often made. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Why do we not see the accounts to establish that?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
No, they are not. If the accounts are published, I can ask the hon. Gentleman, can I?
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
You can see the accounts of Grantham conservative association at any time, if you want.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I will take the right hon. and learned Gentleman up on that offer. I hope that that will be recorded in Hansard.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I do not wish to dwell on this any further, although I suspect that other hon. Members will do so on other occasions. If it is the case that £18 million was raised among some 650 associations, that seems to be a substantial interest which does not appear in any way to be covered by the register as it stands at present or, indeed, by the proposals before us tonight.
The second issue that I raise is the more general issue, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) in the Select Committee. The issue was whether the amounts that individual Members raised, rather than the fact that they received a pecuniary 767 or other reward, should be quantified either as a sum or as a band. I am aware that there was discussion HI the Committee and a vote, and that the proposal was defeated on two grounds. One ground was the general issue of individual privacy and the second was the ground that what might be a significant sum to one Member, because of his financial circumstances, might be of less significance to another Member in different circumstances.
Although I can follow that argument, I point out that if a donation or gift of £10,000 or £25,000 is of no consequence to an hon. Member because his wealth is so great, the likelihood is that the sum would show up in the register because the hon. Member would list the other interests and concerns that had made such an amount pale into insignificance, in his terms. So the argument does not stand up in general terms
We should consider putting the matter in the public domain, perhaps through a band within a certain range.
768 Such donations should not be excluded. I suspect that the Select Committee will have to return to the matter in the future, just as some of the issues contained in the report that we are discussing tonight are issues with which the Select Committee previously thought that it did not need to deal, but which it has over time come to realise are necessary.
The issue of strengthening the register is important. The Leader of the House referred to the information coming from the register which exists for members of staff, such as researchers. That, too, is the right step. The Opposition take the view strongly that, although we all want to respect the proper privacy of hon. Members, on the other hand we are all working within the public domain and owe to the public their right of scrutiny and their right to information which should properly be available to them.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for moving the motion, with a minor modification, and for his general support. That was appreciated by all members of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I also express my gratitude to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) for giving a broad welcome to the report, although with certain more substantial differences of opinion.
For the benefit of some new Members whom I see here tonight, I should say that we all recognise that having to register and to ensure that we have got it right is a tedious operation for some. We always feel that, if we have not got it right, we may be the subject of a complaint. There is also the feeling that it is something that we have to do because if we do not, some people might think that we are corrupt.
I remind the House that when we agreed to introduce the register in 1974–75, we did not do so because we believed that there was corruption in the House. I believe that compared with any other Parliament or democratic assembly in the world, we are the least corrupt. We agreed to the introduction of the register because we believed in the need for openness and for transparency in a representative democracy. The point that has been made on other occasions—I do not apologise for making it again—is that in the absence of openness, rumour and innuendo can flourish, especially in the media. I leave it at that.
It is not a pleasant task to look into complaints. We do not relish it at all. The House asked us to see how the duties of Members, under the regulations laid down, could be made clearer. That was the sole purpose of the exercise.
Other matters had to be considered, of course. When there is some ambiguity, there is bound to be inconsistency in the way in which Members declare their interests. Making things more explicit was therefore another objective.
As I have dealt with this matter at greater length on a previous occasion, I do not want to labour the point. I do not want to weary the House by going over ground that was covered a little more than a year ago. Nor do I want to duplicate the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. However, I must emphasise that when we embarked on this exercise none of us thought that we would burst upon the House of Commons with a report setting out a whole lot of new and draconian rules. The objective is to make the existing rules clearer and more specific and to try to establish as the standard the current best practice in registering financial interests.
We realise that some hon. Members would like to go further. The right hon. Member for Derby, South referred to one very important division in the Committee and, I expect, in the House as a whole. That division concerns whether we ought to recommend recording the actual amounts of remuneration deriving from outside interests. This is a delicate issue. It may not go away, but we have tried to proceed on the basis of consent. I very much appreciate the fact that, during my years as its Chairman, the Committee has been able to proceed with reasonable unanimity, helpfulness and co-operation across the often rather large gulf between us.
I want to emphasise that the report was debated last year. It has been on the Table. I am grateful that it has now 770 come before the House for debate, but I should be even more grateful had it come sooner. Hon. Members have had time to consider what changes, if any, should be made in it. I wish that the Committee's recommendation about early-day motions could be accepted, but I appreciate the practical considerations that the Leader of the House has mentioned, and I should not want this comparatively minor point to be an obstacle to progress on the report's central proposals. The last thing we want to do is introduce some cumbersome bureaucracy.
I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) was totally satisfied with the reasons for registering a property in Lewisham. We found that there were often generic entries, such as ownership of a farm. Some hon. Members have registered properties that are apparently their private residencies, although that is not required. In the report, my hon. Friend will find these words:We accept that it would be unduly burdensome to require Members to list all their individual land and property holdings in minute detail. This would, moreover, breach the principle of reasonable privacy, to which we attach importance. But we do consider that more uniformity of practice is desirable and that entries should be reasonably specific as to the nature of the property and its general location. For example, 'Woodland in Perthshire' or 'Six lock-up rental garages in Lewisham, SE London'''.We thought that that would be a perfectly acceptable form of entry.
§ Mr. Marlow
Why does my hon. Friend think that it is useful to know that the garages are in Lewisham rather than Lambeth?
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I do not think that I would go so far as to say that. Anyone with a hang-up about the geographical location could discuss it with the registrar. I do not see that, for these purposes, there is any difference between garages in Lambeth and garages in Lewisham.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
The little extra information enables us to judge the extent to which, for example, a farm is a smallholding in a rough area, such as the one I represent, with poor land and clay, as opposed to some of the lush pastures of the exquisite farmland in Perthshire. That is what we are trying to elicit from hon. Members who register under this heading.
I should like to outline the next steps, assuming that the motion is accepted. The next printed edition of the register is to be published early next year. It is customary for the registrar to circulate all hon. Members some weeks before the register is reprinted to remind them of the need to update their entries. Without that annual reminder, it is amazing how forgetful we can be. That circulation, probably in November, will be the obvious occasion on which to send out the new registration form for the first time. Because the new form differs from the old one in some material respects, it will be necessary for hon. Members to return the completed form, just as they did after the general election, and not merely to amend their existing entries.
In accordance with paragraphs 68 and 70 of the report, the registrar will also be drawing up an explanatory leaflet to assist hon. Members in completing the new forms. That is important. The leaflet will need to be examined by the Select Committee, but it should be ready for circulation at 771 the same time as the new form. After the first register the new rules will be published in January, following which the process of amendment and updating by letter to the registrar will continue in the same way as now.
I recognise—there must be some humility about this—that although we believe that the rules are an improvement on the existing ones, and are more detailed and specific they still require judgment and interpretation when applied to particular circumstances. It is the role of the registrar, a senior official of the House, to advise on matters of interpretation in the first instance. Everything said to him is treated in confidence. He can call on the assistance of the Select Committee if he encounters a problem that he is unable to settle on his own authority.
Paragraph 66 of the report gives the Committee the authority to make minor modifications. That is no thin end of the wedge but an attempt to deal with any wording of the rules that still results in some ambiguity. Such matters can come to light only when the rules are tested in practice. If it becomes apparent that the revised provisions have consequences that were not intended when the Committee agreed the report, there is machinery for putting matters right.
There never seems to be a time to consider these matters in a calm and objective fashion. Much of the exchanges about the funding of parties had nothing to do with members of the Committee who were not concerned with that wider question that has attracted so much attention over the past week or so. In dealing with the serious business of how far we can he open with the public to avoid innuendo and criticism, I have been greatly impressed by the painstaking way in which hon. Members have risen to their obligations. As I have said, I greatly appreciate the help that I have been given over the years by hon. Members from all parties who formed the Committee. I hope that the House will approach the debate in the same spirit and approve the Committee's recommendations.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
We are debating the development of registration, which is a requirement on all hon. Members. The background is not simply that a Labour Government put that into effect, because in the early 1970s, and certainly when I was first elected, the general view was that this place did not need a register and that everybody knew the wrong 'uns. When I suggested a register, I was told by a Labour Member, "We don't need a register. We know all the wrong 'uns in here, old boy, and we can pick them out."
The set of circumstances that produced the register were precipitated by a man called Poulson, a corrupt architect, who corrupted Members of Parliament, a senior civil servant and a varying number of councillors of all political persuasions. Because of the tide of criticism of people in public office, and because the wash swept over a large proportion of hon. Members who had behaved perfectly properly and with complete integrity but who were stained by the Poulson corruption, the House, following the report of Justice Salmond on "Standards of Conduct in Public Life", established the register. The truth was that, even if the House knew "wrong uns", there was little that it could do or wished to do at that time.
The register has been a source of information and rightly so. Since its establishment, the House has set 772 standards of conduct for local authority councillors. It is now a criminal offence for councillors to fail to declare a financial interest. The standards of conduct for councillors are much tighter than those for hon. Members. If any Member thinks that the new rules represent an additional burden, he should bear in mind the fact that the House requires much higher and tighter standards from councillors. Should they breach the rules, they are also subject to criminal penalties.
Councillors with a financial interest are also required not to take part in various committee and council decisions. A councillor who is a council tenant requires special approval from the Department of the Environment to take part in any discussion of proposed rent changes.
It is also worth noting that the House sets the standard of conduct for people outside. We determine through delegated powers given to Ministers, and approved in orders passed by the House, the information provided by and standard of conduct expected from the poorest people in the land—those who are on income support. We do not allow them not to declare any bit of capital that they may have or any other income. That must he declared. It would be hypocritical if the House did not accept the need for better, clearer rules—which it has requested—on Members' interests, if, at the same time, it imposed draconian rules on people who are seeking relatively tiny amounts of money. They are certainly tiny in contrast to Members' salaries.
We are in receipt of taxpayers' money, and our salaries are better than those of most of our constituents. If people outside, who put us here, want to know about the influences that shape our voting and, in particular, any financial influences that may shape our voting, we should accept their request. That is part of the process of democratic accountability.
Although the report does not go far enough, it is a step in the right direction, and I support its general terms. On page xxxv, I proposed that the amount of money that hon. Members receive should be disclosed. The report does not require that, however, which is unsatisfactory. There is a marked difference between an hon. Member receiving 150 quid from the Women's Institute towards the cost of secretarial work, because that Member is interested in representing its case in Parliament, and someone who receives between £10,000 and £20,000 in personal income from an outside organisation. That should be known.
The disclosure of such information is not an intrusion on Members' privacy. If we receive money as Members of Parliament, in pursuance of our duties, people outside should know about it. That might stop Members from voting on a issue in which they have a direct, pecuniary interest, as defined in "Erskine May". If they were to vote with a direct pecuniary interest, the vote might be invalidated.
The declaration of the amount of income that Members receive would be a safeguard against their foolishness. That happened recently when the Select Committee on Member's Interests examined a complaint about the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who felt that he did not have to declare his part-payment of legal expenses to get rid of Miss Whiplash, because it was anonymous. The Committee was unanimous in the view that anonymous donations can be more dangerous than known donations.
What if, for example, Asil Nadir were one of the principal anonymous contributors who then turned up, two years later, on the steps of No. 11, knocking on the 773 door and saying, "And by the way, Norm. Do you know that I made a major contribution and would like some little tax concessions in return."? That is a dangerous position for anyone to get themselves into, but it can happen without Members thinking too much about it, as clearly happened on that occasion.
The declaration of the amount of money would therefore have been a safeguard and a benefit to Members, not a handicap. After all, some Members would positively like to boast of the money they receive from outside, so why should they not register it? However, the Committee has decided against that. There was a vote, and my proposition was defeated. That does not mean that I am against the report. I am disappointed, but I merely point out to those Members who think that this will be an additional onerous burden that, although the report does not satisfy me, I am prepared to compromise.
There are improvements. For example, clients must be listed if Members of Parliament are employed by an outside organisation dealing with specific clients. That used to be the case. Clients were nearly always listed in the register, but it simply fell into desuetude, to use a good Church of England phrase, and people simply did not bother. That can lead people into all sorts of traps and difficulties, as we have recently witnessed. People should have to declare the clients for whom they are providing a service. That is incorporated in the report, and represents an improvement.
Membership of Lloyd's syndicates was discussed by the Committee. A member of Lloyd's on the Committee did not like the view but did not take part in the voting, quite properly, and retained a neutral position. The Committee approved that the membership of a syndicate should be included. If Lloyd's were not a scandal-rocked institution these days, with Conservatives standing up in the House and making accusations about certain syndicates, it would probably never have been required to be incorporated. But it is a safeguard for Members against future accusations that they were voting to benefit their private financial interests. The fact that it is recorded will make their position much clearer. Thus, the Committee opted for openness.
For the first time, the report defines the sort of gifts that must be declared. The figure is given as "over £125" and, as benefit in kind, 0.5 per cent. of the current salary of a Member of Parliament. That has never been adequately defined. It has been adequately defined for Ministers in the past. They have either had to return the gift, pay the balance—it used to be £30—or distribute the gift, if possible, around the members of their private office.
Those rules arose on the basis of the experience of a silver coffee pot. Tony Crosland opened a school and was given a silver coffee pot. Several months later it was discovered that the coffee pot was donated by Mr. Poulson and there were a lot of red faces. It was then decided that Ministers should not receive gifts because it might be argued that those gifts were being used to corrupt them. Ministerial rules were therefore laid down for Ministers' protection and the better information that Ministers were conducting their public affairs with the best possible probity.
That is really what the report is about. The rules represent an improvement and contain nothing to which 774 hon. Members should object. They mean greater accountability. They will apply to Members of Parliament who apply much tighter rules to those outside this place. It would be hypocritical and double standards if any hon. Member voted against the rules while applying tighter rules to those outside.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
It is never a happy experience to probe and discuss whether or not we behave properly. In my view, this is an open and honest House and the exceptions are very rare and well publicised.
I shall restrict myself to only three points. First, what sort of control should there be? Should it be control by the House or statutory control? The Committee was guided by my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) and by the previous Leader of the House, now my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who took the firm view that we should not have statutory control, with the inevitable judicial procedures that that would involve, but that as a House we should police ourselves and Members of Parliament should be judged by their peers.
The Committee approached the issue on the basis that hon. Members are just that—honourable—and that the rules are there to guide them and give them protection. I join those who have urged hon. Members to rely on the registrar and, if in doubt, to register. The register should cause no fear. I voted against a register when it was first proposed, but I now recognise that the world has moved on and that the register exists to protect hon. Members as well as to police them.
Secondly, we are discussing two reports, the second of which is arguably the more important in the longer term. I refer to the report dealing with lobbying, which in recent years has become a large financial practice. The lobbyists—those who specialise in public relations—have, as their best interests, maximising of the number of clients and claiming that they have considerable influence over hon. Members and therefore, through the vote, the House. I am not sure that lobbying companies have as much influence—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. There will be a separate debate on that issue, so the hon. Gentleman must confine himself to what is immediately under consideration. Many hon. Members want to speak in the debate.
§ Mr. Viggers
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was under the impression that the two debates elided. Obviously, I was wrong.
My third point is that in Committee reference was made to members of Lloyd's and there was a vigourous discussion about how they should declare their interests. That provided the opportunity for quite a lot of fruitful political digging because more Conservative Members than Labour Members are members of Lloyd's—I think by a majority of 47 to zero.
I declare my interest as a member of Lloyd's since 1973, which predates my entry to the House, and an elected member of the Council of Lloyd's during the last 18 months. My guidance to the Committee was that it would be onerous to require members of Lloyds to declare their interests fully within the register. My view was based on a realistic premise of the way in which members of Lloyd's declared their interests in the working group on Lloyd's. I 775 said that I thought that the size of the register could be doubled if members of Lloyds declared their interests fully and in a manner that would fully explain their financial interests. My guidance was that that would throw the register out of kilter and put far too much on Lloyd's as against other matters.
Other Members took a different view. They thought that at least Members of Parliament should list their syndicate numbers for the year in question. My advice then and now is that that is a pretty pointless and rather prurient exercise because it does not give any full idea of the results that the member will get from Lloyd's in any one year. The numbers alone do not give an idea of the amount of his participation in any one syndicate. Nor does it show whether he has any so-called "stop loss" on his investments or whether he has any open years from previous years.
The issue has caused some concern and even anger among members of Lloyd's here. They feel that the exercise is prurient and pretty pointless. My considered judgment is that, as the world has moved on, there is keen interest in Lloyd's of London, which is an important and large institution. It is one of the largest single export earners in Britain. Individual participants inevitably receive some publicity if they participate in such an exercise. I say to my hon. Friends who are members of Lloyd's that the compromise on naming individual syndicates is not particularly productive, but perhaps it is a reasonable way of giving some further information on the membership of Lloyd's of Members of Parliament.
I abstained in the Committee. I do not feel particularly strongly about the issue now. I would prefer that the requirement was not included. Nevertheless, other members of the Committee felt strongly on the issue and I therefore commend the point to my hon. Friends, although I do not do so with any great enthusiasm.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I shall be brief, having spoken earlier this evening. I wish to place on record the fact that we all regret the passing of Robert Adley, who was an active member of the Committee for several years. Fie played a major part in the formulation of much of what is in the report.
I wish to qualify the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) about clients, in case some hon. Members are worried about the matter. The need to declare a client arises only where that client is being served by way of a Member carrying out his parliamentary duties. The form says that clearly in the box which deals with that matter. It does not require the registration of all clients of a Member of Parliament, who might well represent clients on matters unrelated to activities on the Floor of the House or the conduct of his work.
I draw attention to the matter of sponsorship. Labour Members do not object to sponsored Members having to declare or register. That is not the issue. The argument in the Committee was about whether there was a level playing field and whether it was right that only Labour Members who were sponsored, or whose constituency parties received money from trade unions, should have to declare sponsorship, when Conservative Members whose 776 constituency associations receive money from organisations on a regular basis or, indeed, one-off payments, historically have not registered those payments over the years. We simply sought to set a level playing field.
I went into the inquiry most worried about what I thought was happening in Parliament. One of the conclusions that I drew was that the problem was not so much the rules as the way in which the rules were applied in the form that Members are required to fill in annually. I concluded that, if we could simply redraw the form and marginally tighten up the rules, and if the rules were complied with, the form presented in the report would deal with many of the Committee's anxieties.
When we took evidence from the former Member for Winchester, John Browne, he repeatedly referred to what he said were ambiguities in our rules. We did not accept that ambiguities existed, but he believed that they did. That was his defence to many of the allegations made about his activities. During the course of the inquiry, therefore, we felt that we should tighten up the rules about which John Browne complained.
In the form that comprises annex I of the report, which makes the critical reform, the rules remain the same but they are presented differently—in the form of direct questions—which avoids any possible ambiguity.
The Committee's purpose over a number of years was always to seek a compromise. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) sought the declaration of payments received by right hon. or hon. Members from outside interests. I was not prepared, in the spirit of compromise, even to go that far. I merely requested—an amendment in the report deals with this point—that where Members of Parliament receive more than £10,000 a year from any organisation, sponsoring body, consultancy or directorship, they should asterisk that in their report.
There was never an attempt by some members of the Committee to pry into the private affairs of individual right hon. and hon. Members. We accepted that a balance had to be struck between privacy and the public interest. I believe that the report, which I hope will be approved by the House tonight, secures that objective.
§ Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)
I want to place on record my deep unease at the manner in which we are asked to approve the report and some of its recommendations. That is not in any way to suggest that the Committee and its Chairman—my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)—and others have not met their remit from the House. I do not doubt that they have done so thoroughly and conscientiously, but I feel uneasy about some of the features of the proceedings tonight—just as I felt uneasy, as I suspect did other right hon. and hon. Members, on those occasions when the House sought to pass judgment on the conduct of some colleagues, based on the Committee's rules and criteria.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) referred to the Poulson affair of some 20 years ago. I still feel that the House acted in a most unfair manner in the way that it treated certain of our colleagues. That is not to make a judgment about the merits of those individuals, but I felt that, when the House passed judgment on someone 777 such as Mr. John Cordle, it did so unfairly and rather heavily, without giving that Member of Parliament a full opportunity to defend himself.
§ Sir Roger Moate
As the hon. Gentleman says, Mr. Cordle resigned—but, without legislation and the precision of law, peer group pressure and that of the media are brought to bear on certain Members of Parliament, without their having an opportunity to defend themselves in the way open to other citizens.
We asked the Committee to make general recommendations with a lack of precision, and we are called upon to pass judgments on specific instances on the basis of very woolly laws and rules. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) might be surprised to learn that I go along with the line that he seems to recommend—that if one is to start on that course, one must be logical and precise, so that Members of Parliament ultimately know the rules on which we are supposed to opperate. That can only be done by the force of law, because we are determining the rules by which a right hon. or hon. Member can represent his constituency.
My argument is borne out in some respects by the procedure. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House indicated that he had some reservations on certain points. None the less, it is right that we should accept this worthy report and pass it as it stands.
In law, one cannot have reservations about certain points and say that nevertheless the general principle is right. Our job is to tidy up those points. The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) welcomed the fact that the Committee had been given some flexibility to deal with minor adjustments. That is fine, so long as it adjusts matters that concern me, or other people, but we have no assurance about that.
I want to draw three points to the attention of the House. The first relates to staff. The report says that there should be a declaration of gifts, visits and other benefits conferred upon staff. That is a wide-ranging remit. I just wonder whether we have the power, resources, facilities and ability to monitor staff. I am not aware of having conferred benefits upon any of those who might be described as my staff. Nevertheless, that question could arise. Therefore, I wonder whether we are entering an area that we have no real authority, skill or ability to monitor.
The second point relates to consultancies. Again, I have no interest to declare. I wish, perhaps, that I had. The wording is still, I believe, ambiguous. People can be directors of consultancies, or consultants to consultancies. They can be very large or small firms. They can have a very large or a very small list of clients. The benefits—some would say the dubious benefits—that would result from a Member being a consultant would be conferred, presumably, upon all those clients.
The report that we are being asked to agree to refers to clients who directly or indirectly benefit from the advice of a Member. That is a wide-ranging phrase. All I ask the House to consider is that at some stage in the future there will be a case that attracts a lot of media attention, in which some client is indirectly receiving the benefit of the consultancy of some hon. Member. If that does not lead to doubt and uncertainty, I do not know what will.
§ Sir Roger Moate
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, but in practice it means that if one has doubts, one must declare the list that contains the names of every single client of a particular agency. That is the only way ultimately to resolve the doubts. Every client of a consultancy or company must surely be receiving some indirect benefit from somebody, if that person is a director or consultant of that company. I do not believe that the House would accept such woolly phraseology in law. We shall get ourselves into difficulties by using such woolly phraseology here.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
We are not talking about an indirect benefit in a general sense. We are talking specifically about the relationship that the member of the firm, who is a Member of Parliament, will have to that client, in pursuance of representations to a Minister or when speaking in the House, as a result of which he benefits as a consequence of his membership of that firm. We are talking about the active participation by a Member of Parliament in that relationship. It has nothing to do with the Member of Parliament indirectly benefiting for some other reason. It arises out of the work that he does for that client here in his parliamentary capacity.
§ Sir Roger Moate
Whether it arises directly or indirectly as a result of all those things, it is unsatisfactory.
My third point relates to our discussion about the location of property. There are reasonable interpretations of that, but we cannot leave it as wide as it is. We have left it very wide and very woolly, and it is still unsatisfactory. I hope that it will not happen, but in times to come we may find ourselves in difficulties because of the phraseology that we shall endorse tonight.
§ Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
The hon. Member for Faversham (Sir R. Moate) has just made an interesting speech, which I suspect points towards a move to statutory control and away from self-regulation. Nevertheless, I welcome the report. It sticks firmly to the principle of self-regulation. I suspect that at this stage we ought to stick to it and ensure that it is tight enough to work. I welcome the debate on the report, which has already been delayed too long. Indeed, at least one register, possibly two, has been published under the old rules while the report has been in existence. I welcome the progress that we are making tonight in ensuring that we tighten the rules.
I agree with hon. Members who have said that the report aims to protect Members of Parliament. I note that the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who originally voted against, has now come around to seeing things that way, and I agree with his observation that the world is changing and that we need to respond to it.
Why is it important that we do so? Given what we have seen in the past few weeks, we hardly need to ask that question. What we are discussing goes to the heart of our democracy, especially to its legitimacy. It is crucial to engender among the electorate trust in Members of Parliament and to counter a cynicism and disillusion with politics that has become obvious in some quarters in recent years.
It was Woody Allen, I think, who said that politicians as a profession were one notch below child molesters in the public esteem. Perhaps he knew from experience, but I 779 hope that what we are doing tonight will raise the rather low esteem in which our constituents hold us. We are debating serious matters, and the onus is on us to prove our honesty in an open and transparent way that engenders trust.
The report sensibly recognises the problem of self-assessment and the inconsistencies that result from it. It proposes to reduce those inconsistencies by sensible changes to the register. Only pecuniary interests are to be registered, which is absolutely right. We must maintain a register that is not too cumbersome but contains enough detail for it to be a meaningful document to which the public can refer when necessary.
I wish to deal quickly with a few of the changes that the report proposes. It proposes to divide category 5, financial sponsorships, into two new categories—sponsorship and occasional gifts. A somewhat spurious distinction is drawn between what we call the Hastings agreement money that is paid to Labour Members who are sponsored by a trade union and private donations to local associations of other political parties. I welcome the fact that declarations of donations of more than £500 must now be disclosed, but I do not understand the exemption for donations and quotas that are not linked to a Member's candidacy.
That spurious distinction caricatures the reality of trade union sponsorship and the way in which local branches of trade unions operate in local constituency Labour parties. The suggestion that union votes affect the outcome of parliamentary selections is not so true these days, and the charge that votes can be bought in a local constituency Labour party is wrong. I do not believe that I understand that distinction, and I should have preferred it if it had not been made.
I strongly support the switch to the use of questions on the registration form instead of the descriptive headings which characterised the old form because they make it harder for ambiguities to creep in and for misunderstandings or obvious omissions to emerge.
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but one has emerged in the debate, and it may also be on her mind. I refer to the role of an intermediary between the donor and a constituency party organisation. It must be made clear that, if an hon. Member associates himself with a fund-raising appeal aimed at potential donors but the resulting donations are then remitted direct to the local party organisation, it would not seem to constitute acting as an intermediary. I think that that has wide application for all parties.
§ Ms Eagle
We possibly need to have a watching brief of what happens with various local methods of fund raising, which ties the debate to the issue of the funding of political parties and other matters, but I shall not stray from the motion. As a member of the Select Committee, I should want to keep a close eye on such matters for possible inclusion in future reports.
I also welcome the change to category 9, under which shareholdings are listed. It was an anomaly that the holding of I per cent. of the issued share capital of a company had to be declared, regardless of the size of that company, whereas nothing below that had to be declared. Under the old system, substantial shareholdings in large companies, which were worth a great deal of money, could go undeclared, while smaller—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to order [24 June ].
§ Question agreed to.
That this House approves the First Report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests of Session 1991–92 (House of Commons Paper No. 326) relating to the registration and declaration of Members' financial interests, provided that the recommendation in paragraph 84 of the Report relating to the declaration of any relevant registered interest at the time of tabling an early day motion shall apply only to the Member in charge of such a motion.