§ Madam Speaker
It will, I think, be for the convenience of the House if we debate together motions Nos. 3 to 8. I have to tell the House that I have selected the three amendments to motion No. 7—(a), (b) and (c) in the name of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor)—and sub-amendment (x) to amendment (a), which is in the name of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan).
At the end of the debate, I will first put the Question on motion No. 3. Then I will ask the Leader of the House to move successively motions Nos. 4, 5 and 6. When each of those has been disposed of, I will ask the Leader of the House formally to move motion No. 7. Then I will call Mrs. Taylor formally to move her amendment (a), followed at once by Mr. Maclennan formally to move sub-amendment (x). The House will then take its decisions in reverse order, as we always do—first, that sub-amendment (x) be made to amendment (a); then that amendment (a), with or without amendment, be made to the main Question.
It is important to recognise that, if amendment (a) is agreed to, amendment (b) will fall. If amendment (a) is not agreed to, I will immediately call Mrs. Taylor formally to move amendment (b). When amendment (b) is disposed of, I will immediately call Mrs. Taylor formally to move amendment (c).
When amendment (c) is disposed of, I will put to the House the main Question, as amended or not, as the case may be. Finally, I will call the Leader of the House formally to move motion No. 8.
Having given that introduction to our procedures today to ensure that all hon. Members are quite clear about what they are debating and what they will be dividing on at the end, I have to tell the House that I must limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes.
§ 4.7 pm
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I beg to move,That the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards be set in hand under arrangements to be made by Madam Speaker on the advice of the House of Commons Commission and in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life.
§ Madam Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Motion 4—That, with effect from the beginning of the next Session, a new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges should be established to take over the existing functions of the Committee of Privileges and the Select Committee on Members' Interests and to consider complaints concerning Members' conduct referred to it by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.Motion 5—That this House endorses the principle of a Code of Conduct, and instructs the appropriate Select Committee to prepare such a draft Code for approval as soon as possible, taking into account the suggestions of the Nolan Committee and any relevant overseas analogues; and whilst restating its commitment to the objectives of the Resolution of the House of 15th July 1947 relating to Privileges, accepts the need to review its wording in the context of the work to be undertaken on the draft Code.1676 Motion 6—That, with effect from the beginning of the next Session, the Resolution of the House of 12th June 1975 relating to Members' Interests (Declaration) (No. 2) be amended by leaving out the words "the giving of any written notice or".Motion 7—That this House endorses the need for an examination of the recommendations of the Nolan Committee relating to consultancies (including multi-client consultancies) and disclosures in the Register of Members' Interests; and instructs the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life to conduct such an examination and to seek to bring forward proposals on these matters by the end of the current Session.Amendments (a), (x), (b), (c), (y) and (d) to motion 7.
Motion 8—That this House agrees with the recommendations contained in the First Report from the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life (House of Commons Paper No. 637) relating to—
- (1) the principal duties of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (paragraph 14);
- (2) the method of removal from office of the Commissioner (paragraph 23);
- (3) the preparation of amendments to Standing Orders relating to a Select Committee on Standards and Privileges (paragraph 40);
- (4) the preparation of a draft Code of Conduct (paragraph 47);
- (5) the preparation of guidance on registration and declaration of interests (paragraph 50);
- (6) a review of the law relating to bribery of Members (paragraph 52); and
- (7) updating, and improving the availability of, the Register of Members' Interests (paragraph 66).
§ Mr. Newton
I am sure, Madam Speaker, that the admiration for you felt by the whole House will be increased further by your exposition.
I shall not speak at length, not because the subject is unimportant, but for three obvious reasons: this is a relatively short debate, designed to enable the House to take some initial decisions paving the way for further work; many hon. Members wish to speak; and as the motions are precisely in the terms recommended by the Select Committee which I chaired, the case I would wish to make will already be familiar to the House from the report that is before it.
The Select Committee's terms of reference, set by the House on 6 June, were to consider the first report of the Nolan committeeso far as it relates to the rules and procedures of the House; to advise on how its recommendations might be clarified and implemented; and to recommend specific resolutions for decision by the House".It was asked toreport as soon as possibleand, in any case,to make an interim report not later than Friday 7 July".It was, frankly, a bit of a close-run thing. We agreed our report at about 7 pm on 6 July, after sitting 14 times in 14 sitting days, which I am told is an average of about two hours a day and something of a record. However, as a result, the report is a good deal more substantial than anyone might reasonably have expected, on that time scale, when the Committee was established.
For that, I hope that I may be allowed to pay tribute to the members of the Committee, not only for the amount of work they did, which is no doubt obvious from what I have just said, but for the way in which they did it, which 1677 made my task as Chairman infinitely easier, even in the relatively few areas where disagreements could not be fully resolved.
The result is that, of the six resolutions to which I am speaking, five were agreed unanimously. It is to those five that I shall speak, briefly, before coming at a little greater length to the area that proved more contentious. For the convenience of the House, I shall use the numbering not from the Committee's report but from the Order Paper.
Motion 3 invites the House to agree that work should go forward on the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, on the basis set out in the Select Committee report. The proposal does, I hope, meet some—I hope all—of the sensitivities reflected in our debate on 18 May, in particular in indicating that the Commissioner would be appointed by the House and that he would operate under the general powers of a Select Committee of the House.
Motion 4 invites the House to agree the replacement, with appropriate transitional arrangements for specific inquiries already in progress, of the Committee of Privileges and the Select Committee on Members' Interests by a single Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. For reasons set out in paragraphs 27 to 41 of the report, we believed that to be better than the existing arrangements, and better than what we felt were the rather over-complex arrangements proposed in the Nolan report.
At this stage, I should like to pay tribute, briefly but wholeheartedly, to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, and the members of that Committee for the work that they have done over the years.
§ Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)
Will the Leader of the House make it clear that, in our recommendations on the formation of the new Select Committee, we stated that we believed that it should be substantially smaller than the present Privileges Committee?
§ Mr. Newton
Yes, I am happy to confirm what the hon. Gentleman says. He will know that, having chaired the Privileges Committee, I feel strongly that 17 is too large a number for a body to do the work that the Committee is asked to undertake. I believe that that view is shared by virtually all members of the Privileges Committee, and that, whatever else happens, there will probably be a general welcome for the suggestion that a Committee doing that kind of work should comprise fewer than 17 members. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
Motion 5 invites the House to commission work towards a code of conduct, drawing on what is said in the Nolan report and, as appropriate, from other sources, including "Erskine May". I think that that suggestion came initially from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) in her evidence for the report. The motion envisages, I think sensibly, that such a code would be in fairly broad terms and would be supported, as it would have to be, by more detailed rules such as those which, for example, currently govern the Register of Members' Interests.
Motion 6 picks up what is in effect a Nolan recommendation—although not clearly presented as such in the report—for further strengthening of our existing rules on declaration in relation to the Order Paper. It extends the present requirement for specific indication, 1678 which is only for the lead signatures on an early-day motion, to all early-day motion signatures, written or oral questions and amendments to Bills. I hope that the House will regard that as a sensible extension.
Passing by motion 7 for the moment, motion 8 seeks the House's endorsement of seven of the Committee's recommendations which do not in themselves require the passage of a specific resolution. They are set out in the motion by reference to the relevant paragraphs of the report.
I return to motion 7, which concerns the Nolan committee recommendations relating to consultancies, including in particular consultancies with what are described as multi-client lobbying firms, and the disclosure of contracts, including an indication of the remuneration involved.
In essence, the view of the Select Committee, by a clear majority, was that, in the time available—even with the effort that it put in—it was not possible to fulfil the House's remit to clarify the Nolan recommendations to enable the Committee to put to the House well-defined and workable propositions on which it could sensibly make decisions, and that the right course of action was therefore that proposed in motion 7.
The many definitional and line-drawing problems, which led the Committee to that conclusion, are set out in paragraphs 77 to 83 of the report. I shall not rehearse them at length, but simply draw attention to some of them. For example, at various points in his report, Lord Nolan uses expressions such as "the provision of services in their capacity as Members", "activities in Parliament", and "Parliamentary services".
It is not clear whether those expressions mean the same thing or different things, and none of them is further defined. For example, is any of them meant to include such activities as casual journalism or broadcasting? Those matters, in my view and in that of the Committee, need to be carefully thought through.
§ Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether that phraseology means that the Committee intends to go back and look at the detail, so that it can implement the Nolan recommendations; or that it will examine the Nolan recommendations with a view to changing them, especially in respect of the declaration of amounts and the banning of multi-client consultancies, as recommended by Lord Nolan?
§ Mr. Newton
I shall return to the matter in moment, but the point that I am seeking to make is that, when there are three phrases—to apply it to the example that I am touching on—which do not self-evidently mean the same thing, and they are used in different ways in different parts of the report, and are nowhere further defined, there is some significant difficulty in determining what the House would be deciding, unless some further work is done on that.
That is a key point, and on that would depend the House's ability to take a decision about any of the matters to which the hon. Lady has adverted, in the clear knowledge of what precisely it was doing. That is the problem that I am seeking to address.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)
On that point, is it not a fact that the recommendations which have been made, especially in our amendments, clarify the situation? 1679 The principle goes before the House; the House accepts it. There may have to be some small alteration, but surely that is the way to proceed.
§ Mr. Newton
I will briefly comment on the amendment in a moment, to which I note that the right hon. Gentleman's name is added, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Dewsbury will speak to the amendments that she has tabled. I imagine that she intends to do so. If I may, I would prefer to listen to what she says before commenting further. I will make a brief comment later in my speech, which will also pick up something that the right hon. Gentleman has just said.
To give another example, it is not clear whether the proposed ban on consultancies with multi-client organisations, which the Nolan report recommends, is meant to apply only to what can be described as lobbying and public relations firms, as the argument in paragraph 55 of the report implies, or to organisations of any type—a much wider category—as the recommendation a couple of pages later seems to suggest. If lobbying organisations only are to be covered by any new ban, we obviously need to establish a clear and workable definition of such organisations and what distinguishes them from others which might otherwise be caught.
Then again, the Nolan report acknowledges that difficult issues arise in relation to Members who practise in legal and other professional firms, offering what are described, but not further defined, as "Parliamentary services of any type". The suggestion is that a Member should not maintain his connection with such a firm unless arrangements can be made to separate the Member's interest in the firm from that part of its work. But as the Select Committee report notes in paragraph 81,it is far from clear what might in practice be regarded as fulfilling such a requirement",and the Committee is certainly not yet in a position to suggest how such a Chinese wall might be achieved.
Thus, as I have said, what the Select Committee proposes is clearly set out in motion No. 7. It says:That this House endorses the need for an examination of the recommendations of the Nolan Committee relating to consultancies (including multi-client consultancies) and disclosures in the Register of Members' Interests; and instructs the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life to conduct such an examination and to seek to bring forward proposals on these matters by the end of the current Session.The alternative view is set out in the amendment unsuccessfully moved by members of the Select Committee, in that Committee, which can be found on pages 29 to 32 of the Committee's report. It is, of course, mirrored in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Dewsbury, to which, as I have said, she will no doubt speak in a moment.
To the right hon. Member for Salford, East, I simply say this. As I have said, I will not seek to pre-empt the hon. Lady's arguments, beyond saying that, in my view at least, the tenor of the amendments seems amply to confirm the need for further clarification before the House could sensibly adopt them as decisions.
Not only as the Chairman of the Select Committee presenting its recommendations, but as Leader of the House, I say simply that it will, of course, be for the House to decide whether it wishes to go down the path 1680 sketched out by the Nolan report in these as in other respects. But if we are to ban certain activities, we need to be absolutely clear what it is that is banned. If we are to require public disclosure of what is at present private, the requirement should be as clear as we can make it.
The Nolan report criticises our existing rules for their lack of clarity and uncertainty. We shall do no service either to the reputation of this House or to the standards of public life if we simply replace one set of ambiguities and uncertainties with another. I therefore strongly urge the House to endorse motion No. 7 as it stands, along with the other motions on the Order Paper.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
I shall try to be brief, as the Leader of the House was, and I shall move our amendments at the appropriate time. At the start of the debate, all hon. Members should reiterate the interests they have. I tell the House, therefore, that mine are, as recorded in the register, that I am sponsored by the GMB, that I receive research report from Unison, and that I am an adviser to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. I also have an entry in the register following the gift of football tickets earlier this year.
No one should doubt the importance of this debate; it is important for two reasons. First, it is important to hon. Members, for the reason that some Conservative members suspect, because we shall have to make changes in the way that we operate as a Parliament and as individuals.
The second reason is more important. Today, we have an opportunity to start the long process of restoring public confidence in this House, and, indeed, in our democratic process. If we make the right decisions today, we shall not only start to clean up Parliament, but begin to stem the tide of cynicism which is eroding our parliamentary democracy. If we get it wrong, public confidence will be reduced even further, we shall all be tarred with the same brush, and we shall all be blamed for the abuses of the few who flout the rules.
When we previously debated the issue on the Floor of the House, the atmosphere was somewhat frenzied, and the House did its reputation no good. The Leader of the House made a suggestion at the end of that debate that the whole issue should be referred to a Select Committee. I freely admit that I was extremely suspicious, and thought that the suggestion was a delaying tactic in response to Conservative Back-Benchers who wanted to block the Nolan recommendations altogether. There followed, therefore, discussions and correspondence between us, and the Opposition had to feel satisfied that some progress would be made before agreeing to allow the Select Committee to go ahead.
§ Sir Archibald Hamilton (Epsom and Ewell)
Were not the negotiations on the setting up of the Committee delayed by Opposition Members? Did not the Committee's work become even more frantic as a result, as we tried to fit in all the work in the short time available before we produced an interim report?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The comments of the Leader of the House about the way in which the Committee worked were correct. I do not think that it was frantic. It was difficult to fit in everything in the time we had, but we did it.
1681 One reason why the Opposition insisted upon a tight time scale, and asked the Leader of the House to agree that 7 July should be the deadline for an interim report, was that we wanted to make sure that progress could be made. That is the reason why we are having this debate today. As the Leader of the House said, we had 14 sittings in 14 days and, for the most part, there was—despite what the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton) said—a good working atmosphere in the Select Committee. That is reflected in many of the practical proposals that have been made in the report, and which were mentioned by the Leader of the House.
I intend to deal with the amendments in some detail later, but first I want to say a few words about the matters on which there was agreement. We made considerable progress about the role and principal duties of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. We reached agreement on the recommendation that the House of Commons should eventually approve that person, but that the mechanisms for appointment should be set in motion by the Speaker and the House of Commons Commission.
We dealt with the relationship with the Nolan committee, which I know was causing concern to some Conservative Members. On the structure of Committees, the Nolan committee recommended that there should be a sub-committee of the Privileges Committee. The Select Committee explored many options, because that same objective could have been achieved in different ways.
We have recommended the merger of the Members' Interests Committee with the Privileges Committee, to establish a new Standards and Privileges Committee. We have not prescribed in the report that there should be a sub-committee, but we recommend that sub-committees should be allowed. We recommended unanimously, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) said, that the Committee should be smaller than the existing Privileges Committee.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)
The hon. Lady has identified a tide of cynicism, but does she accept that perception is as important as—if not more important than—fact in setting the reputation of the House? Does she also accept that people associate the Privileges Committee with perks and special favours? Has not the time come to update the language of the House, so that, when the Committee is reconstituted—as I think it will be—it can also be renamed, so that its work can be better understood by those who do not understand the practices of the House?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman mistakes the original meaning behind the words "Privileges Committee". The Committee was not meant to give privileges, but to protect the House. We did consider the naming of the Committee, but we felt that it would be clearer if we continued to use that name following the merger of the Committees.
The difficulties in the existing Privileges Committees meant that some of the inquiries were delayed, although we did agree on one important recommendation—that the new Committee should be able to sit in the recess to facilitate quick decisions where speed was necessary. There was general agreement that these proposals were practical, would improve the existing situation, and would be in line with what the Nolan committee recommended.
1682 On the code of conduct, we agreed that there was a need to update the 1947 resolution, and that is referred to in the motion on the code of conduct.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
Before the hon. Lady moves away from the subject of the Committee and the commissioner—subjects on which we spent some time on the Committee—does she agree that we pushed further forward than Nolan had recommended on those matters, and, in so doing, clarified and put something forward that could improve the existing structure?
§ Mrs. Taylor
Yes, I think the suggestions in the report about the way in which detailed work, such as the work on a code of conduct, could be carried out are very significant. The House will be asked today not to determine the details, but to decide on what should happen in principle. The formula that we have adopted is one that I would recommend to the House.
There was consensus in all those areas, and progress was made. There was agreement on the Nolan committee's recommendation that there should be broader consideration of the merits of parliamentary consultancies generally; I believe that you, Madam Speaker, had already referred that issue to the Privileges Committee. Let me now deal with the areas of disagreement: multiple consultancies, and the disclosure of contracts and amounts earned.
Our amendments have been tabled to give hon. Members a choice when they vote. Amendment (a) provides for straightforward implementation of the Nolan committee's recommendations on disclosure. If it is rejected—which I hope will not happen—amendment (b) provides a fallback position, providing for acceptance of the committee's recommendations in principle. Those who consider the committee's time scale too tight, but who accept its proposals in principle, will be able to vote accordingly.
In Committee, we tabled amendments that have presented the House with the options that are before us now, and recommended that they be part of the main body of the report. We were disappointed that the Committee rejected our proposals, and that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) did not support our amendments.
Perhaps the Liberal Democrats had the opportunity for second thoughts; it appears from the Order Paper that some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues may have had words with him and shown him the error of his ways. This evening, they will have an opportunity to vote for or against the specific proposals in the Nolan report: for or against the Nolan recommendations in principle. All will become clear when the votes take place.
Let me say a word to any hon. Member who is considering voting against the amendments. I do not think that the constituents of any such Member will understand why there should be secrecy. Tomorrow, when newspapers publish the names of those who voted for secrecy, constituents will be checking to see which hon. Members went through which Lobby.
§ Mr. Duncan
Would the hon. Lady care to tell the House whether she regrets having been a director of a consultancy and lobbying company until this issue became a matter of public interest? Would she also care to tell us how much she earned?
§ Mrs. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman is trying too hard. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I have answered the question 1683 on another occasion. I even raised the matter when I gave evidence to the Nolan committee. Hon. Members should read the record. No, I do not regret anything that I have done. I am perfectly willing to comply with any of the new rules, and disclose any fees I earn outside the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) will be equally willing to declare everything that he earns in relation to parliamentary activities. [Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. This is a serious debate, and I do not think that it should be spoilt by foolish and childish gesticulations and comments. I hope that we can maintain a high standard of debate.
§ Mrs. Taylor
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. That is exactly what we are trying to do. Some of my colleagues feel that Lord Nolan did not go far enough—
§ Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)
May I ask the hon. Lady about the wording of amendment (a)? It refers tocontracts relating to the provision of services in their capacity as Members".Does the hon. Lady agree that Members of Parliament should not be allowed to do anything that an ordinary lobbyist or anyone else can do, and have the same access, and that therefore anything that we in particular are able to do should not be allowed in any case? All of us, as Members of Parliament, may be recruited to do other work on the basis that we have a position as a Member of Parliament; therefore, surely the logic of what the hon. Lady says is that every penny that any Member of the House earns should be declared if we go down that route.
§ Mrs. Taylor
I was saying that some of my hon. Friends believed that Lord Nolan's committee's recommendations did not go far enough. Some people do believe that there should be no possibility of any outside income. Some people believe that any outside income—whether from family businesses, legal work or journalism—should be declared in the Register of Members' Interests. I have even heard it mooted that all MPs should have their tax returns made public, as happens in some other countries.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
If Members of Parliament did make their tax returns public, would they be accurate?
§ Mrs. Taylor
My hon. Friend makes a good argument. I believe that there is a requirement of accuracy on all of us in all of these matters.
Let me, for the benefit of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) and others, describe the rules as I see them—the rules by which many people felt that the House was operating already, and had operated for many years, as I outlined in the evidence that I gave to the Nolan committee.
There should be no possibility of any Member of the House being paid cash for questions, cash for amendments, cash for speeches, cash for early-day motions or anything of that kind—either to make them or not to make them. That should be our starting point.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
I am obliged to the hon. Lady, but I wish that she would reflect 1684 on what she has said. I am a supporter of Nolan, as it happens, and I have no difficulty with any of its conclusions. However, the unleashing of press hysteria on the basis that a Committee of the House of Commons has not reached a final conclusion on certain narrow issues appears an extraordinary threat to hold over the House, and not appropriate for a serious Opposition spokesman, when the proposition before the House is that that Committee, supported by the Liberal Democrats, supported by Conservative Members, should conclude on narrowly defining, appropriately, something that will bear on the existence of every Member of the House.
§ Mrs. Taylor
If the hon. Gentleman believes that, he may not wish to vote for our first amendment, but he can certainly vote for our second amendment, which accepts Lord Nolan's recommendations in principle, but does not specify the time scale or the definitional problems that he may be suggesting. He will, on that basis, be able to vote for our second amendment.
I was discussing the proposition that there should be no payment for MPs for any activities of that kind.
It is, of course, permitted—
§ Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)
Would the hon. Lady explain, on this section of her speech, the way in which she envisages that proposition applying to retainers by trade unions to Members of Parliament, including payment to Members of Parliament's constituencies for their election expenses and their agents and other costs in their constituencies?
§ Mrs. Taylor
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that matter, not least because, as recently as yesterday, I asked the Leader of the House to remove the Government's veto on Lord Nolan's committee considering party political funding before the next general election. We would all welcome an early investigation of that full matter.
§ Mr. Newton
I had not intended to intervene, but it would help me to have one thing clarified that arises from another aspect of the different phrasing used in different parts of the Nolan committee report. In its summary of recommendations, in paragraph 14 on page 4, the hon. Lady will find that it said:Full disclosure of consultancy agreements and payments, and of trade union sponsorship agreements and payments, should be introduced immediately.I want to be absolutely clear that the hon. Lady's amendment is intended to embrace both types of payments.
§ Mrs. Taylor
Absolutely. If the right hon. Member looks at the register, he will see that it makes most of that clear. If there are any doubts, we are happy to confirm that those sorts of payments will be covered by our amendment.
I shall pick up where I left off on the previous query. I have mentioned the things that hon. Members cannot do. It is permitted for hon. Members to advise people outside the House. We all do that, whether it is updating constituents or informing groups about parliamentary and party issues. Hon. Members are sometimes paid for their services, but more often—especially on this side of the House—we are unpaid.
1685 If any hon. Member is paid for advice of that kind, I believe that that should be made known under the present rules. I believe that the amounts that hon. Members receive should also be made public so that constituents and others can judge how important that role is, how much time is involved and what is an hon. Member's level of commitment. If an hon. Member gives advice for money, the desire to continue a contract might be thought to influence that hon. Member. Therefore, I believe that we need transparency. Conservative Members cannot duck that issue.
§ Mr. Bruce
It is an important issue. Hon. Members who are company directors, in an executive or non-executive capacity, may, in the course of their duties—perhaps only once every 10 years—inform their colleagues about an issue associated with their parliamentary work. According to her definition, the hon. Lady is effectively saying that all such earnings must be declared.
§ Mrs. Taylor
If advice of that sort is given, it falls into that category and it must be declared. I think that hon. Members would do well to err on the side of transparency. We should recall the words of the Prime Minister on that issue. He said:We have now seen the report. I have said repeatedly that I favour greater transparency".—[Official Report, 23 May 1995; Vol. 260, c. 704]When the Prime Minister established the Nolan committee, he required it to report within six months because of the depth of public concern about the issue. The Prime Minister has also said that he accepts the broad principles of the Nolan committee report. We shall therefore watch very carefully how the Prime Minister votes today—if he votes at all.
We suspect that the issue is central to the concerns that Conservative Members expressed during the last debate. Some Conservative Members might dress up their opposition, but the principle of transparency—which the Prime Minister claims is so important to him—must be paramount. I believe that our decisions should reflect the urgency with which the Prime Minister charged the Nolan committee. Therefore, we should try to meet the Nolan committee's timescale in dealing with those important issues. If hon. Members fail to accept our amendment this evening, we will lose an important opportunity to start restoring public confidence in this place.
§ Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
As I had the opportunity to speak when the House debated the issue in the first instance, I shall add only a few words at this stage. The story is not over by any means.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) described the previous debate as frenzied. I do not think that she should accuse the House of being frenzied. She screamed throughout her speech, and throughout every interruption, for immediate action without proper consideration.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I shall ignore his charge that I was screaming, which is not characteristic of my behaviour.
In the previous debate, I suggested exactly what I have suggested today—that we should meet the Nolan time scale. The Select Committee on Standards in Public Life proved that it is possible to achieve the time scale with regard to the other resolutions and we believe that it is possible to achieve it with declaration of income as well.
§ Sir Edward Heath
The hon. Lady demanded at the end of that debate that we should reach full decisions and put everything into operation. I cannot imagine anything more frenzied than that in relation to matters that will affect every Member of Parliament now and in future. Again today, the hon. Lady has demanded immediate action.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I should appreciate it if hon. Members would refrain from making seated interventions.
§ Sir Edward Heath
I take no satisfaction from the fact that the committee sat for 14 consecutive working days to try to comply with the time scale. What opportunity could members of that committee have of discussing the issues with Members of Parliament? If the hon. Lady wants the views of right hon. and hon. Members to be ignored, that explains a great deal about the attitude displayed by Opposition Members. We know which particularly Labour Members have been working for years for this. They are consumed by an insatiable desire to pry into other people's affairs. This time, they believe it will give them an enormous advantage when the general election comes.
The hon. Lady, adopting a threatening attitude, said that the constituents of right hon. and hon. Members on this of the House in particular will never understand if we stand by our principles and vote against her. My constituents will understand it perfectly well, because they know what Opposition Members are about and they are not prepared to put up with it. My constituents accept that the House is capable of running its own affairs.
I am unhappy about the report's proposal to merge the Privileges Committee with the Committee on Members' Interests. It may be that the Privileges Committee, having 17 members, cannot function as easily as it would like. When I served on that Committee, its membership was not that large and it had no difficulty functioning. Also, when the Privileges Committee is considering a case, the individual under consideration is not allowed to hear the rest of the evidence or to be represented. Those are much more serious questions for individual Members of Parliament.
I do not care for the proposed amalgamation of the two Committees because the Privileges Committee has always held by far the highest position, being respected by everybody. It has reached fairly serious decisions, albeit infrequently, when hon. Members or outsiders have been summoned to the Bar of the House to hear the Committee deliver its judgment. That Committee's work is vitally 1687 important. The status of the Select Committee on Members' Interest is quite different. The Privileges Committee should maintain its present position.
§ Sir Edward Heath
The hon. Gentleman is being as tiresome as usual. I refer him to the decision of the Members' Interests Committee in respect of Lloyd's. It took no—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I did not expect to have to reprimand the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) or other hon. Members again, but that appears to be necessary.
§ Sir Edward Heath
The Members' Interests Committee took no evidence from anybody concerned with Lloyd's and then made the ridiculous proposal that any hon. Member's particular interest in Lloyd's should be fully displayed, for which there was no justification.
§ Sir Edward Heath
I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. When those points were brought to the notice of the Chairman—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm for the record that the former Prime Minister broke a rule of the House of Commons? He now defends the fact that he breached that rule.
§ Sir Edward Heath
When the matter was brought to the notice of the Chairman of the Committee, he invited members of Lloyd's in this place to go to him and other members of the Committee who wished to be present to explain the situation, which we did. The Committee's decision was then withdrawn because it knew that it was wrong. These are the consequences of carrying on with doctrines without consulting Members who may be involved. If that process continues, the Committee that deals with Members' interests, or a joint Committee if that proposal goes through, will be absorbed for ages in a process of compiling House of Commons law on Members' interests.
We have already heard that the Nolan report does not clarify anything. Lord Nolan does not bother. He does not even try. He uses three phrases without saying what each of them means. As different issues arise the Committee will have to set about creating House of Commons common law on Members' interests. That will absorb all its energies. If the Committee on Members' Interests is combined with the Privileges Committee, the time of what is now the pre-eminent Committee in this place will be absorbed unnecessarily. For these reasons I do not approve of the combining of the Committees.
I repeat what I have said about that which is being demanded of Members' interests. If a Member states that he has an interest, that covers everything. It always has. 1688 The House knows that whatever a Member says is governed by the fact that he has an interest. Knowledge of the bracket of income is not required to decide whether a Member has an interest. The decision does not require a contract. The Member will have registered, and he will have said so in the House. None of the things is needed that the insatiable desire to pry into other people's affairs has demanded. That is particularly so when it comes to the Nolan committee.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The right hon. Gentleman has been a member of the Privileges Committee and I was a member of the first Committee to deal with Members' interests. Does he agree that privilege is the privilege of the electorate, which we carry as a trust? Does he agree also that many of our electors would not think about prying into private affairs but think that Members should be transparent when it comes to matters that may affect their representation in this place? It is felt that we should engage all our attention on that and not be diverted into other channels such as selling information that is available to us. That is surely the concern of the electorate, and rightly so.
§ Sir Edward Heath
We are not being forced into anything. Every Member has his own will, takes his own decisions and is responsible for them. When one thinks that all this was brought about by two—
§ Sir Edward Heath
Yes, they would agree that they were idiots. It was a put-up job by a Murdoch newspaper. That is what has brought all this about. The hon. Gentleman knows my views for I have never concealed them.
There is no justification for requiring all the details that are now being demanded. But the pressure will continue for more and more details. Next, the hon. Member for Dewsbury will be demanding that all Members' bank accounts be shown to her. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) is hiding his eyes in shame. He has every right to do so.
§ Sir Edward Heath
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is some misunderstanding. The hon. Member for Heeley leaned towards me and started to rise, and I gave way so that he might intervene.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I am sorry to have to inform the right hon. Gentleman that the 10-minute rule is in operation, so it is not possible for him to continue.
§ Mr. Evans
At the outset, I proudly declare my sponsorship by the Amalgamated Engineering Union. It is the only interest that I have in the Register of Members' Interests and it has been declared ever since the register was established. I have no other interests to declare to the House.
I pay tribute to the Select Committee's Chairman who, in a quite splendid style, sought to obtain unanimity throughout our deliberations. I am sure that all would agree that he did a splendid job.
I have been somewhat disturbed during the past few weeks at some of the personal criticisms that have been levelled at Lord Nolan by a number of Members. Words such as "ambiguities", "muddled" and "fudged" have been used. The committee was a distinguished committee which included some long-serving parliamentarians, including the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) and the right hon. Lord Thomson.
I have been a Member of the House for 21 years, but those three distinguished parliamentarians have been in the House for much longer than I have been. They have all been Cabinet Ministers and to suggest that people of that calibre are muddled and have produced a fudge is a slur on them, their reputations and the work that they have done in the House.
§ Mr. Evans
I have only 10 minutes.
Those three members of the committee, as well as its other distinguished members, know their way about politics and about Parliament. In case anyone has missed it, it should also be noted that Sir Clifford Boulton, a former Clerk of the House, was a member of the committee. If anyone knows his way around the Standing Orders and procedures of the House, it is Sir Clifford Boulton.
For some hon. Members to imply that the interim Nolan report was somewhat eccentric and muddled, produced by a rather other-worldly figure who simply does not understand the real world occupied by Members of Parliament was, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, deliberately misleading. The Nolan report was a unanimous report by 10 distinguished individuals from various walks of life who know what life is all about, and it is grossly insulting to them to suggest otherwise.
It is equally important to record that there were substantial areas of unanimity among the Select Committee members. Unanimity on the acceptance of most of Nolan's recommendations was easily achieved—in some instances with little discussion. Accepting the need for a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and how that individual should be appointed was an important duty that the Committee performed.
A code of conduct for Members of Parliament would be of enormous benefit to new Members coming into the House after a general election. I well remember that, when I came into the House in March 1974, no one told me anything about anything. I was simply left to my own devices to find out things as best I could.
§ Mr. Evans
As my hon. Friend says, nothing has changed in the interim.
The Nolan committee recommended a new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Leader of the House knows my views and I make the plea that such a Committee should be established soon, start work and take over the functions of the present Select Committee. The present Select Committee, which has done an excellent job, has a limited life and it is important that the new Committee should get into its stride and start work.
The motion concerning the declaration of Members' interests also establishes an important procedure. If a Member tables an amendment to a Bill or asks a written question, and Members have to declare their financial interests, we will all be able to see—including Ministers—whether he has an interest in that area.
The same applies to the updating of the 1947 resolution on Members' outside interests. We are reiterating the resolution, as Nolan asked us to do, but we are saying that we think that it could be updated to suit the change in standards between 1947 and 1995–96.
We parted company on three issues. The first involved hon. Members being employed by lobbying companies that provide paid parliamentary services to multiple clients. The second involved the requirement that hon. Members should, from the beginning of the next Session, deposit with the registrar any contracts they have with any company relating to the provision of services. The third, and much more significant, issue involved hon. Members having to declare their earnings from outside interests from the beginning of the next Session.
There were a number of occasions in the Select Committee when we touched on those subjects. We did not settle the subject at the very last sitting, at the 11th hour, but discussed it on a number of occasions. On every occasion, the attitude of Labour members of the Committee was that two options should be presented to the House. One option was the Nolan recommendations as printed in Lord Nolan's report; the second was that we accept the principle of Nolan, but provide further time to study some of the details.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of the Committee made it clear that they would not accept, and would not put their name to, Lord Nolan's words on the Order Paper of the House of Commons as appearing to come from the Select Committee. That is why we divided at the final stage.
Lord Nolan, in his unanimous report, made it clear that those were the two matters of great significance that the committee felt were at the heart of the decline in the public's perception of parliamentary standards and should be acted on immediately. Lord Nolan included those issues in his report and asked us to take action to solve those problems as quickly as possible, and certainly by the start of the next Session.
While the Labour members of the Select Committee accepted, and made it clear that we accepted, Lord Nolan's report, we were not dogmatic about it. In our view, it was not for 10 members of a Select Committee to remove Lord Nolan's words. We felt that it was for the House of Commons to take that decision once the options had been placed before it. The Tory and Liberal Democrat members sought to deny that opportunity, which is why 1691 we have placed the words on the Order Paper again today. We want to give every hon. Member the opportunity to vote for the Nolan report or to vote for the amendment that accepts the principle.
The Leader of the House carefully crafted the amendment that is contained in paragraph 86, and now appears on the Order Paper. The resolution that the majority passed in the Committee states:That this House endorses the need for an examination of the recommendations of the Nolan Committee".I am highly suspicious of those words. If the recommendation had stated:That this House endorses the principle of the recommendations of the Nolan Committeeand had instructed the Select Committee to conduct such an examination and make proposals, that could well have been acceptable to the majority of the Committee.
However, a number of Tory Members have made it clear throughout the debate that the thought of disclosing their earnings is anathema. A former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) made that abundantly clear in his short speech on the subject. Such right hon. and hon. Members simply do not realise that the subject causes so much concern to the general public. The very thought that Members of Parliament have outside interests for which they receive substantial sums of money, directly and only because they are Members of Parliament, is a cause of public concern.
If Conservative Back Benchers tonight turn down the option of disclosing income, they will go a long way to persuading the public that they, as a party, are determined to bury the Nolan committee's recommendations.
I have already paid tribute to the Leader of the House's chairmanship of the Select Committee, and I understand the difficulties that he has faced. He recognises that there is a strong wish in his party to kick the Nolan report as far as possible into the long grass in the hope that, in the next three or four months, the Tories can come up with some alternative—any alternative—that will result in Lord Nolan's recommendations being shelved. If the Tories do that, they will be making an appalling mistake for which they will subsequently pay.
§ 5.4 pm
§ Sir Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I shall begin by immediately declaring various interests that are recorded in the Register of Members' Interests.
In considering the amendments and motions before us, we should bear in mind the introductory paragraph of Lord Nolan's report. It states that, when inquiring into the growing public concern about standards in public life, it becameequally clear from a considerable body of this evidence that much of the public anxiety about standards of conduct in public life is based upon perceptions and beliefs which are not supported by the facts.When the matter has been presented in the press, that paragraph has not been quoted. On the contrary, the extent of the problem has been grossly exaggerated, but for the reputation of the House it is important and right that we should deal with the problem.
1692 The deadlines set on the Nolan committee report and the Select Committee have not been the least bit helpful in achieving a sensible outcome of the deliberations—nor has the shortness of today's debate. I do not agree with what the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) said about the Nolan committee's report. It is true that it is a distinguished committee, but it would be charitable to think that it was the lack of time that led to the report's quality.
Having studied it in much greater depth than I did at the time of the debate on the Adjournment—I suppose that I have studied it as closely as anyone in the House—I am forced to the conclusion that it is as inadequate in its analysis as it is bad in its drafting. Therefore, the Select Committee has had to do what the Nolan committee should have done in the first place.
Lord Nolan deals with three issues: Members of Parliament, Ministers and civil servants, and quangos. The report goes through those issues at the beginning, and then again, for a second time. As we found in the Select Committee, one spends one's entire time bobbing back and forth, as the report is extremely badly drafted.
In addition, Lord Nolan is very concerned about the issue of timing and when particular proposals should be carried through. But if the Nolan committee had given the matter much thought, it would have realised that some of the actions that it said should be taken immediately could not sensibly be taken until subsequent inquiries, which it said should be done during the following year, had taken place. The report is badly drafted, and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, it is sadly inadequate when it comes to defining its terms and explaining what it has in mind. It is right that the Select Committee should have done what it can to clarify the situation.
In the time available, the Select Committee has done a remarkable job. We sat day after day, with total disregard for the effect that would have on other programmes. I add to the tribute paid by the hon. Member for St. Helens, North to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for his chairmanship of the Committee. I do not know how he has survived the past two months.
Not only has he carried out his functions as Leader of the House, with constant appearances at the Dispatch Box, but he has performed his role as Chairman of the Privileges Committee as well as Chairman of the Select Committee. He has also stood in for the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time when necessary, and has had a number of other governmental and private matters to deal with—what Mr. Macmillan used to describe as "little local difficulties". My Tight hon. Friend has done a remarkable job. Other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have also done so.
I do not think for one moment that the Committee delayed matters unnecessarily. We dealt with an immense range of subjects and have done much to clarify the position and, in some respects, toughen up the Nolan proposals in respect of what is now proposed in relation to the Parliamentary Commissioner and the new Committee—on which I do not agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said.
We have done well in clarifying the relationship between the Commissioner and the new Select Committee structure. We have toughened up the proposals. We dealt with a number of issues, such as declaring interests on the Order Paper, which Lord Nolan had omitted to do.
1693 The Select Committee looked carefully at the subject of declaration. We were forced to the conclusion that we could not do it in the time available.
I was puzzled by the threats of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) about what our constituents would think. No one says that we should not go ahead, and no one is procrastinating: it is absurd to suggest that. We have worked flat out all the time, and I understand that it is proposed that we should meet again tomorrow when the House has risen. But an article in The Observer on Sunday stated, "My goodness, they are trying to hook it into the long grass." That is not the case, but we must have sensible proposals to present.
One cannot deal with the issue of multi-client consultancies until the overall picture of consultancies is clear, and we must clarify that as quickly as possible. In the context of the declaration of contracts, it seems that, effectively, three categories of consultancy have to be taken into account. Some contracts do not arise in any way from membership of the House. It is clearly inappropriate to declare such contracts, and I think that Nolan recognised that. It is arguable that some of the matters that are now registered ought to be deregistered, because they are not relevant in this context.
At the other extreme, some consultancies are quite clearly designed to enable an outside interest to have advocates in the House to put down questions, perhaps to move amendments, to entertain in the Dining Rooms, and to effect introductions to Ministers and so on. An examination of the rather convoluted passages in the existing resolutions of the House and the Select Committee suggestions on the matter show that those activities ought to be banned. That is a personal view. However, if they are banned, the issue of declaration of amounts does not arise.
§ Sir Terence Higgins
I cannot give way, because of the time that is available.
The Select Committee generally, and certainly the Conservative Members on it, advocated a tougher stance than Nolan has established. He did not distinguish, as one must do, between activities by the client that reach into the House and advice from the House to those outside. That is an important distinction. If a consultancy simply involves advice on parliamentary matters, the question of amounts does not seem relevant, because it does not in any way affect performance in the House. That is the crucial issue.
I hope that the work of the Select Committee can continue. It has been one of the best Committees, in terms of all-party consensus, that I have come across. Despite the general partisan exchanges in this debate, the. Committee ought to be able to reach a sensible conclusion and present positive proposals for the House to consider at an early date.
It would not be right for us to pass the issues to the new Committee. The existing Committee, on which I had the privilege, if it be that, of sitting, should be concerned with structure, and the new Committee should concern itself with the issues of operation and individual cases. If that is done, it will restore the reputation of the House. It 1694 is important for that to be done, but the process has not been helped by the time scale in which we have attempted to resolve an extremely complex and important problem.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I shall begin by declaring that my interests are set out in the Register in the usual way. The previous debate on the recommendations of Lord Nolan's committee on standards in public life was on a take-note motion. Widely differing views were expressed at that time, but today hon. Members must take decisions. The overriding need is to approve the resolutions, which were designed to give effect to the recommendations of the Nolan committee. At the same time, we must resolve to complete the task of implementation in the time scale that was recommended by Nolan.
In reaching decisions, none of us is likely to forget the circumstances that gave rise to the report. The good name of the House, and its keystone place in our democracy, must be in the mind of every one of us. The House validates Government. If that process were to be corrupted by the self-interested action of Members, it would diminish our claim to speak for the country.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Because of the time constraints, I will not give way.
If the House could not speak for the country, who would? This old institution reached its central representative role in the life of the country only through a process of evolution. Of course the House has not always risen to that challenge. Individual Members bring to its debates personal partialities and human idiosyncrasies, but in the process of debate there is sometimes distilled the true sense of where the people's interests lie. It is that which is put at risk if Members allow their outside interests, especially their outside financial interests, not merely to dominate their own judgment but to exert influence upon the judgment of the House.
Some would argue, although Nolan did not, that such outside interests are wholly incompatible with fully functioning membership of the House. Certainly the demands on each Member are such that there can be little time for extensive outside activity. Nolan sought to protect the honesty of debate by calling for openness about those interests. The report specifically advocated the severance of any direct financial link between Members and those whose business is to seek to sell influence over Parliament and Government.
Nolan worked fast, and that may have presented the problems to which the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) referred. The Select Committee also worked fast, but I hope that the House will agree to accept its resolutions, which were unanimously adopted by the Committee. Those significant resolutions are: to proceed with the appointment of an independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards; to bring together within one Committee the work of the ancient Committee of Privileges and the modern Select Committee on Members' Interests; and to put in hand the preparation of a code of conduct for Members of Parliament.
1695 Those evolutionary developments should assist the House to investigate fairly and thoroughly allegations of wrongdoing that are made against hon. Members. They should also help in the process of monitoring the adequacy of the rules to deal with any slippage in standards.
On the two specific outstanding matters of disclosure and lobbying—to define them broadly—on which the Select Committee did not have time to reach conclusions, Nolan was quite clear on one matter. It was that controls should be in place at the beginning of the next parliamentary Session. The purpose of the amendments in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends is to ensure that the House can do just that.
My amendment (d) to the final resolution which was tabled by the Leader of the House is intended simply to strengthen the instruction to the Select Committee to present precise proposals in those two areas by the end of this Session, to which in any event the resolution aspires.
My amendments to the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and her hon. Friends would provide that, in the event of the Select Committee failing to present such precise proposals in that time scale—it must be remembered that the Committee was charged only to present an interim report, which is what it has done—the two broad, less precise, proposals of the Labour party, which are contained in amendments (a) and (c), would take effect from the beginning of the next Session.
As the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) said, amendments (a) and (c) use the language of the Nolan committee, and for that reason are superficially attractive. However, they leave grey areas, which might be used by self-serving Members to avoid their obligations. It would not serve the interests of the House to have unscrupulous Members able to exploit loopholes.
To take one example, if the House believes that any association with a firm that engages in lobbying, be it a firm of solicitors or accountants or a public relations company, should be banned, in my judgment it should explicitly say so, and not rely on the general language of the Nolan committee. If the House considers that it is not illegitimate to belong to such a firm, providing that Members' contracts preclude lobbying activity, that alternative should be explicitly provided for.
I do not believe that the Nolan committee, in making its recommendations, considered that it was removing from the House the responsibility to draw up its own precise rules. Rather, I believe it sought to make recommendations outlining the purpose of the rules that should be implemented in order to renew the standing of Parliament. It clearly left it to the House to define precisely what those rules must be to make its. recommendations effective.
I emphasise that, working as the committee did, the Nolan timetable can be met, although I do not doubt that we will have to work hard during the summer recess. We will all remember that it is all the people who sent us here whose interests we must represent in the House. By our decisions today, we can renew their confidence that we will not be diverted by private or partial interests from that overriding duty.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I and my colleagues on the Nolan committee have had to experience the reaction of the House and others outside to our report. We did not have a particularly happy first debate, and I hope that today's debate will be an improvement on it. The contribution of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), however, who appeared deliberately to threaten hon. Members, was the singularly most ill-judged contribution that we have had to the discussion.
I have listened with great interest to the comments and criticisms by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I have also taken note of the comments of Opposition Members. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) shared responsibilities on the Nolan committee, and I would like to think that we strove deliberately to conduct that committee on a non-party political, non-partisan basis. It was the better for it.
I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Dewsbury conveyed to the Leader of the Opposition the fact that I particularly regretted the way in which he has considered the matter. I also regret that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's response to the Nolan committee recommendations was met with a manifestly party political reaction at Prime Minister's Questions. It does not serve the interests of the House to approach the matter in that way.
I have had to endure the criticisms levelled against the Nolan committee. I also noted the Opposition's ridicule when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House proposed at the end of the previous debate that a Select Committee should be set up to consider the Nolan recommendations. I do not think that there is anyone in the House who now doubts the need for that Committee, which Nolan specifically recommended in our report.
I congratulate the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life on the work that it has done. I might say with tongue slightly in cheek that, having had to endure the slings and arrows of some of my hon. Friends at what were suggested by some to be ludicrous recommendations in the Nolan report, I am encouraged to find how many of those recommendations have been warmly endorsed, either by the Government in their excellent response to the recommendations we made about Ministers and appointments to quangos, or by the Select Committee.
Despite the criticisms of bad drafting and lack of clarity of thought, I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) and the Committee for carrying through, clarifying and improving, as I hoped and knew that it would, a number of the recommendations we made. I was told that the idea of a Commissioner could not possibly work—I congratulate the Committee on seeing the advantages of it. I also congratulate it on appreciating the merits of our suggestions on the Committee's structure. I accept that my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) disagreed with them.
It is important to consider the particular point that is the source of division: what is meant by advocacy. My right hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup and for Worthing criticised the Nolan committee for lack of clarity, and questioned whether it had spelt out sufficiently clearly what exactly was meant by the activities that Members might conduct in the House on behalf of outside parties.
1697 The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) got it precisely right. For all the kind words of the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) about the three experienced parliamentarians who served on the Nolan committee, we did not presume to impose our judgment. The Nolan committee deliberately did not dot every "i" and cross every "t", in the knowledge that it would be for the House finally to decide on that most difficult of matters.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury spoke about voting tonight for the straightforward implementation of Nolan. As one of the members of that committee and one of the authors of its report, I do not believe it is possible to do that. As yet, nothing has been determined. Are we to say that we will, in principle, impose certain conditions on such activities of which we do not know at the moment? We must determine what those activities are. I stand by the Nolan report. People who seek to advocate in the House and sell their position as a Member of Parliament to provide services in this House to others are in a different category from other hon. Members.
In an intervention, the hon. Member for Dewsbury swept together advice outwards and advocacy inwards. Not a single member of the Nolan committee took that view. We regarded advice outwards as positively helpful in many cases to a parliamentary democracy, and positively part of a Member of Parliament's responsibilities. Advocacy inwards is not in the same category.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
The right hon. Gentleman obviously did not listen to what I said. I clearly said that advocacy on behalf of people for payment is not allowed, while giving advice out is allowed. I made that clear in my evidence to the Nolan committee, as I did in my speech tonight. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he will not support Opposition amendment (a), so I hope that he will feel able to support the Nolan recommendations in principle, which are embodied in amendment (b).
§ Mr. King
It is not a question of what is permitted. Advocacy—the selling of one's services in order to provide services in the House—is in a different category from that advisory function that hon. Members have often quoted in debates on Nolan. One cannot, understandably, refuse to give advice. If people ask us what is going on in Parliament, we cannot say, "I am forbidden to give you that advice." I have never heard anything so fatuous in my life. We say often enough that we are cut off from people outside, so of course we must be prepared to give advice.
It is important to consider what activities the category of advocacy covers. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney would agree with me that the Nolan committee found it difficult to reach a decision on that and to determine where to draw the line. As the right hon. Gentleman and I said in the previous debate, to an extent we passed the buck to Parliament. That is why the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland is right to say that the Nolan committee recommendations are a challenge for the House. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing that that deliberation is not a delaying tactic.
There is no point in going from the current unclear situation to yet another unclear situation. We have to have the courage to face up to the problem posed by advocacy, put it right and then determine the conditions that should apply to those who practice it.
§ Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey)
I declare that I am a sponsored member of the union Unison, which entails a £600 payment to my local constituency per annum in accordance with the Hastings agreement—a published document. I receive no personal financial gain.
I should also like to pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life, and the progress it has managed to make in the short time available to it. I welcome the fact that agreement has been reached on certain issues. Anyone who has served on the Select Committee on Members' Interests knows of the genuine difficulties encountered when considering the detail behind some of the matters at issue tonight.
I therefore welcome the proposals on the Order Paper, which seek the agreement of the House and on which we will vote. I particularly welcome the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which would be established if the appropriate order goes through quickly. That is essential. The report says that the Commissioner might be part-time. I hope that he will be full-time, because a great deal of work needs to be done. The House should take the post seriously, make it full-time, and get it up and running as quickly as possible.
I also welcome the abolition of the Members' Interests Committee and its merger with the Privileges Committee. Even though I am a member of the Members' Interests Committee, we have had a great deal of difficulty not only with partisan problems and a breakdown of the consensus upon which the success of the Committee was built—which has made it impossible for us to do our work—but in trying to get hold of the facts.
The concept that the Commissioner will be able to gather the facts, and have the wherewithal to do it efficiently, will make the operation of this part of the proposed changes much more efficient and rapid. Therefore, it will be much fairer to any hon. Member who might be referred to the new Committee.
Like some of my hon. Friends, I am extremely worried about the wording of motion No. 7, which refers tothe need for an examination of the recommendations of the Nolan Committeethat deal with the nub of the issue, which is the declaring of amounts received and the banning of multi-client consultancies. Many of our constituents regard that as the most crucial of the Nolan recommendations, and we must deliver it.
I do not agree with everything in the Nolan report, but I am willing to go along with it, because rescuing the reputation of this House and ensuring that the people believe that we are in this House for public service, not private gain, are too important to be left to quibbling around the edges of the little bits of Nolan with which we do not agree. We must move quickly to ensure that both the declaring of the amounts and the banning of multi-client consultancies are put into effect as quickly as possible.
The phrasethe need for an examination of the recommendations of the Nolan Committeesuggests that, upon examination, the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life might decide that the recommendations on the two issues which I believe the 1699 public regard as crucial to our credibility in making these reforms should not be implemented. That would be a serious error, and it would bring the House into disrepute.
That is why I would have preferred to see the phrase "an acceptance in principle" about the issues. We could then have looked at what I agree are sometimes difficult practical interpretations and definitions. However, I do not think that definition is impossible, or that it is impossible to do so in a tight manner.
There is doubt in the minds of those who are perhaps cynical' that the Government really will deliver on those two important areas. Whatever welcome progress there is on the implementation of the rest of the Nolan reforms, if we procrastinate and do not deliver on the issues of declaring the actual amounts and banning multi-client consultancies, we will fail to reassure our constituents that we can put our own house in order.
As the Nolan report said, it is not credible to argue that, if someone has a financial consultancy that is worth £5,000, somehow that can be equated with one that is worth £50,000. Our constituents have a right to know if we are making money as a direct consequence of our membership of this House—that is the key issue—and how much money we are making, so that they can make their own judgment about how we are spending our time, how credible we are as independent advocates of their interests in this place, and whether we might have our heads turned by private financial interests. That is a wholly reasonable issue, on which we must agree.
I know that some Conservative Members think that it is none of the public's business to know how much money they earn, even in such a direct area. Unfortunately, we cannot maintain credibility without making that concession to the public. We are not saying—and Nolan did not say—that we should declare all our private earnings. I am a full-time member of the House, and have no other earnings to declare. Some people think that being a Member of Parliament is a full-time job, and that there should not be the time to do all sorts of other jobs.
Certainly, many of our constituents and people who work in certain jobs in industry who are restricted by their contracts from working in other jobs would agree with that. We must make the concession, and be seen to be making it. If we prevaricate and hope that we can kick these two issues into the long grass, we will fail to reassure people about the vibrancy and honesty of our democracy, and we will be doing a great disservice to the House.
Tonight is the time to support the amendments moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), to reassure our constituents that we are absolutely determined to deal with the issue as quickly as possible, in an open and honest way. We must reassure them that we are not trying to preserve privileges that are no longer relevant and to allow people who have brought the House into disrepute to continue to get away with squeezing between the cracks and the ambiguities in the rules.
We must be open and honest in our declarations, and give up a small amount of our privacy to demonstrate the honesty and straightforward vibrancy of our democracy. We must not allow the House to descend even further in public esteem. The issue is that important.
1700 I hope that the House will take this early opportunity to support the amendments, so that we can make progress, as quickly as possible, in the two vital areas to which I have referred.
§ Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)
Like others, I wish to declare non-executive directorships, which are shown in the Register of Members' Interests. I do not have, nor ever have had, any consultancies.
In the time available, I shall make just two points. Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in the previous debate on the Nolan report because I was leading the British-American parliamentary group delegation on its annual visit to and meetings with the Senate in Washington. One of the points I would have wished to have stressed then, and wish to stress now, and which formed the bulk of my early evidence to the Nolan committee, is that I strongly believe that it would greatly weaken this House, the Government and parliamentary democracy if outside interests were barred or in any way greatly inhibited as a result of any recommendations in the Nolan report.
I gave many reasons for taking that view in my evidence to Nolan. I am therefore delighted that the committee strongly took up my theme. It said in paragraph 19 of its report,we consider it desirable for the House of Commons to contain Members with a wide variety of continuing outside interests. If that were not so, Parliament would be less well-informed and effective than it is now, and might well be more dependent on lobbyists.That is absolutely right. It continued:A Parliament composed entirely of full-time professional politicians would not serve the best interests of democracy.Again, that is absolutely right.
I have no objection to those who spend an entire working career in politics and in Parliament, but Parliament should not be mainly composed of those sorts of people. In some of the debate surrounding the Nolan committee, there was a real threat that some people believed that it should be and would try to further that particular cause.
In paragraph 20, the Nolan report said:We should be worried about the possibility of a narrowing in the range of able men and women who would be attracted to stand for Parliament if Members were barred from having any outside paid interests. We believe that many able people would not wish to enter Parliament if they not only had to take a substantial drop in income to do so but also ran the risk of seeing their livelihood disappear altogether if they were to lose their seats.That, too, is absolutely right. That is why I was delighted that the Nolan committee strongly reaffirmed those points and that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in his statement to the House yesterday, robustly defended that point of view.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) referred to concerns outside the House. One such concern that is widely held is that able people will not in future wish to enter the House if we put too many barriers in the way of their doing so. That is why I am concerned about one paragraph of the draft code of conduct contained in the report. We are discussing setting up a procedure and having a draft code of conduct now. This illustrates a point, made several times in the debate, that some areas of the Nolan report are not at all clear.
1701 The particular part of the draft code of conduct to which I want to draw attention is that which states:Where, in the pursuit of a Member's Parliamentary duties, the existence of a personal financial interest"—not a contract or consultancy for lobbying—is likely to give rise to a conflict with the public interest, the Member has a personal responsibility to resolve that conflict either by disposing of the interest or by standing aside from the public business in question.That seems at best fuzzy, ambiguous and unclear and, at worst, directly in conflict with the principles to which the Nolan drew attention. It illustrates exactly the kind of problems that we now face, although I am not criticising the Nolan committee because it had to do its work in such a short time.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I cannot give way because of the shortage of time.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and those who will be examining the draft code of conduct that the particular point to which I drew attention must be redrafted substantially. If it is not, it will mean either that Members with valuable experience will not be able to participate in debates or Select or Standing Committees—we all recognise their value—or that they cannot participate in particular votes, which would undermine the whole process of the House. Although I have dealt with it only briefly, I feel very strongly about that aspect of the drafting of the code of conduct as it has a bearing on the principles behind the debate.
My second point relates to motion 7 and consultancies. I had quite a long discussion about this issue with members of the Nolan committee when I gave my evidence. I said early on that it was very difficult to know where to draw the line and that we were looking to the committee to give us guidance about where to do so. I am not at all surprised that the Nolan committee threw the issue back to Parliament, which is what it effectively did by drawing attention to multi-client consultancies, but saying that, in every other sphere, it is for Parliament in the next year to consider how to proceed. The reason why the Committee threw the matter back to Parliament is that it is difficult to define precisely, and we have to get it right.
I am therefore not surprised that the Select Committee, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who did a superb job, said that in 14 working days it could not reach a conclusion on issues with which the Nolan committee said that it could not properly deal in six months. In addition, my right hon. Friend's Committee had to deal with other precisely defined matters, so it seems wholly reasonable for the House to support motion 7.
Not only was the threat issued to Members of Parliament by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) ludicrous but it debased the debate. I have no doubt that she has previously criticised—many members of her party certainly have—legislation that has been drafted too hastily. She is now asking for an over-hasty decision when there are still so many fuzzy matters to be settled. To suggest that our constituents could then be told that we had not fulfilled our parliamentary duties because we had agreed to do something that was not workable in practice is a ridiculous threat.
1702 The position adopted by my right hon. Friend and the majority of the Committee was entirely right. Given that the Nolan committee took some time to reach a position that is still unclear, and given that it also threw some matters back to Parliament, it is entirely reasonable to ask the Committee to spend another three months trying to reach a workable solution.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)
I am a member of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life. I shall speak briefly but must first declare an interest. I am a sponsored member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers from which I receive no personal payment whatsoever.
§ Mr. Orme
A sum of £600 goes directly to the office and is openly declared. All that we are asking is that such moneys be declared. As has been said, if Nolan wants to continue to examine the issue, we are more than willing to participate in that examination. We have nothing to hide.
I wish to take up a point made by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), a distinguished member of the Select Committee. He said that many strands were not tied together—and the Select Committee had some difficulty in that respect—but the motions that we debating are an attempt to implement what Nolan recommended. He wanted his recommendations in place by the next Session, and we are asking that they be approved in principle. We have come a long way down that road. No one is saying that every "i" has been dotted and every "t" has been crossed—that is not the case—but there is agreement in principle. We are therefore not asking for a debate in the next three months on whether we should implement the recommendations; what we are asking the House to do is to accept the principles and decide that they shall be implemented.
The previous Prime Minister spoke about being locked in Committees and not talking to anyone else so we would not know what others were thinking. Our Committee had many hours of discussion and, had he been there, he would have heard the many representations that we received from fellow Members of Parliament from all parties. We had a very open discussion, and I pay tribute to the Leader of the House for the way in which he chaired the Committee. For my sins, I am a member of the Privileges Committee and the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life. The right hon. Gentleman did a sterling job. We disagreed fundamentally on some matters—we are debating some of them tonight—but the Committee worked exceedingly hard to find a solution.
When all is said and done, Nolan's recommendations are moderate in many ways. We are not asking for the moon. The Nolan committee was established because of problems created, regrettably, in the House. However, our record as a democratic Parliament is probably better than most. We admit that there is a problem with which we have to deal, and we want to put in place a series of recommendations, nine tenths of which I believe are acceptable and will be voted so by the House.
I urge the House to go one step further and implement the principles set out in the motions. In the coming three months, let us examine the fine print and see whether we 1703 can make any improvements. If we do that, we shall be ready to implement the Nolan recommendations from day one of the next Session. That, I believe, is what the public want.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I declare only those interests which are included in the Register of Members' Interests as I have no others.
I doubt whether the concept that Lord Nolan's recommendations are to be regarded as "set in stone", which appears to be the Opposition's view, is correct. After all, they are simply recommendations made by a committee comprised of human beings. It is up to the House to decide whether it wishes to take all of them, some of them or whatever is necessary. I do not accept all the recommendations, and I believe that I should say so at the beginning of my speech.
I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). She has come in for some criticism, but, on the whole, I think that her speech was very moderate until she began to say that we should "clean up" Parliament, thus giving the impression that Parliament was in the mire and that we all needed a code of conduct to show us how to behave. In fact, 99.9 per cent. of Members of Parliament are operating in a honourable and proper way and therefore the phrase "start to clean up Parliament" does this House a considerable disservice.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons on the work of the Select Committee and his success? I do not admire, however, the fact that there were 14 sittings in 14 days. I do not think that is the way that Committees should have to work. A little time for consideration in depth, especially on matters of such great importance, would have been better. I realise that he had a time scale to meet, but that is not the way in which I would recommend that other Committees should have to function.
§ Mr. Newton
I rather thought that the chairmen of other Select Committees might be a bit nervous about that precedent, but I would not urge it on the Procedure Committee.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I am very glad to hear that because I have no intention of carrying such a precedent forward.
I turn to motion 3 concerning a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I understand and accept the recommendation, but I suggest that the person who is appointed must have real knowledge of the working of Parliament and of this House. I do not think that we should just appoint a distinguished judge or lawyer who may be very good at his own profession but has no real knowledge of what goes on in this place. That point is of considerable importance to the appointment.
I turn to the code of conduct. It seems to me that all that is really recommended is that we revert to the standards that used to exist in the House. I immediately accept the need for transparency, but I have always believed that it has existed. Way before there was a Register, I published all the things that I did in business in "Who's Who". Indeed, when I was working on the 1704 Select Committee on Trade and Industry and it considered the accounts of the Post Office, it was possible that a company of which I was chairman would have a future contract with the Post Office. I immediately declared an interest, yet the Clerk said that there was no need to do so because it was only something that might happen and did not exist. Yet because of that possibility, not only did I declare the interest, I would not sit on the Committee while the Post Office accounts were being considered. That was the sort of transparency which I believe that nearly every Member of Parliament always considers. I was not special in the way in which I reacted.
I do not accept the concept that somebody must look only after the parliamentary aspect of what they are elected for. May I say why I do not accept it? When I was adopted to fight my by-election in 1967, my constituency wanted to know that it was taking as a candidate a person who had been in business, a person who had been successful in business, who would be able to keep up certain of his business interests if elected and would not be, as it would say, bogged down in politics and nothing else. We must not give way to the idea that a person must only be a full-time Member of Parliament.
I say quite clearly, however, that no attempt to influence matters in the favour of an employer through consultancy, directorship or advisory position, whether by question, early-day motion, letters to Ministers or delegations to Ministers should ever be allowed. That should be absolutely banned. Indeed, any specific lobbying for something for which a person is paid as a director should be banned.
When I was a director of Phillips Petroleum UK Ltd.—which I am not at the moment—I always declared my interest when I spoke in the House. In fact it allowed me to speak with perhaps a little more knowledge and understanding on energy matters than other hon. Members. I made it absolutely clear and bent over backwards never to allow anything that I did or said to be seen to work for the company which employed me. That is the way in which hon. Members can and should react positively and properly in the House.
Any hon. Member who takes part in and is paid to influence the House in favour of something outside his parliamentary duty should be treated most severely—even excluded from the House. If that were the case, I would see no need whatever for any revelation, publication or declaration of earnings. I warn the House that the moment we start demanding that hon. Members—even a small group of them—declare what they are earning, that is the moment we open that door. It will not be very long before other people will be pushing for the publication of every outside earning of every Member of Parliament. Then income tax will have to be made public as well. Members of Parliament have some right to a little privacy. As long as Members behave properly and honourably, as our constituents expect of us, I would urge the House to go forward in that way.
I find therefore that I cannot accept the Opposition's amendments. The approach was somewhat provocative. There is no need to demand the publication of earnings. That would be an unnecessary interference in the affairs of an Member. It in no way tells our constituents whether we are doing our job properly or not. They can judge that from what we say in the House, what we do in our 1705 constituencies, what we say in our letters and how we pursue their interests. That has nothing to do with what we are paid.
I therefore urge the House to reject the Opposition amendments. The motions moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House should be passed and passed with unanimity.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I wish to declare my relationship with the union Unison, which helped fund a surgery for my constituents in Workington.
The right hon.Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) would have the public believe that we are trying in some way to prevent him from having interests outside the House of Commons. May I make it absolutely clear that we are not seeking to do that at all? All we are seeking to do is ensure that, when Members use Parliament to make additional money, it should be revealed to the wider public. That is all we are trying to do, and I think that that is a perfectly fair arrangement.
Now that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) has returned to his place, may I say that his failure to realise that his 10 minutes was up at the end of his speech summed up for many of us the whole debate. Some hon. Members really believe that they are beyond the rules; that the rules do not apply to them. That is why the right hon. Gentleman failed to register an important interest of his two years ago in the House of Commons Register.
When I breach rules by using a word in this Chamber which is not even vulgar, I am asked to leave, and I am excluded from the House of Commons for 24 hours. When the right hon. Gentleman breaches a major rule of the House of Commons and acts as a fig leaf for another 11 hon. Gentlemen, his actions are ignored.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I do not intend to give way. He did not give way to me.
As far as I can see, in this debate Conservative Members intend to use every ruse in the book to ensure that multi-client consultancies are maintained, and that they retain those interests. They are out to block the reform of consultancy advocacy—they want to retain it. The reason is that they simply cannot afford to live on £33,000 a year. That is what is behind this debate. Conservative Members with two kids away at public school are spending, before tax, more than £30,000 a year; that is the truth of it. They know that, if they are to be able to fund their annual bills, they must find ways in which to use Parliament to earn extra cash. That is why many of them will never go into the Lobbies to block commercial consultancy advocacy.
Those Conservative Members will equally go to the wire on the disclosure of payments, irrespective of what happens in the Committee, irrespective of the debate outside in the country and irrespective of the national opinion polls. Many Tory Members will never, in any circumstances or in any conditions, be prepared to disclose under a banding system the amount they earn, because they simply do not want that information to be made public.
1706 I have worked out a way in which to deal with this block. It may well be that the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life, whose report we are discussing today, has now come up against the wire. I do not think that the Committee will be able to do a lot more work, because it is up against a block. The block was shown by the defeat of the relevant motion in Committee, which many Conservative Members intend to defeat again tonight if they can.
The answer to the block is to be found in the rules of the House which provide, in exceptional circumstances, for Committees to deliberate in public. If the Select Committee deliberates in public, the block will be removed, because the moment the television cameras go into the Committee, Conservative Members will not be able to use proceedings to block the necessary reforms which we believe stand behind the Nolan proposals.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
No. I do not intend to give way.
We may appear to be setting a precedent. The reality is—we have now had a ruling to this effect—that it is possible for the Committee to deliberate in public.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I do not intend to give way.
I want to go further. Many hon. Members have referred to updating the 1947 resolution. I shall read my update, which bans advocacy; such a ban is part of the real Nolan agenda. In his report, Lord Nolan did not take the decision to ban, because, as he says, 157 Members of Parliament would be affected by such changes. Indeed, those hon. Members were elected to the House on the basis that they could retain their consultancy arrangements. Lord Nolan was not prepared to go down that road, although it is clear to anyone who has read the text that that was where his sympathies lay.
I give the House the text of a resolution that would deal with the matter—a 1995 resolution. My resolution reads as follows:It is contrary to the usage and dignity of the House that a Member should:
- (a) bring forward by any speech or question,
- (b) advocate in this House or among his fellow Members,
- (c) promote either directly or indirectly with Ministers of the Crown or Crown Servants,
- (d) promote amongst representatives of the local authorities or any other public bodies
- (e) use the services and facilities of the House to develop, advance or promote—any Bill, Motion, matter, or cause in return for a fee, payment, retainer, reward or benefit in kind, direct or indirect, which the Member has received, is receiving or expects to receive, or any member of his or her family has received, is receiving or expects to receive.If at some stage we accept that proposal, which I have not tabled as a motion today for reasons that have been argued and which I perfectly understand, we shall effectively have banned consultancy advocacy, and I believe that that ban must be introduced.
We are not banning advisory consultancies. All we are saying about them is that some are dependent on membership of the House of Commons and the very exclusive knowledge that we acquire from being Members 1707 of the House. If we are advising organisations outside the House, the income, quite properly, should be declared, because the income is exclusively determined by the fact of membership of the House of Commons. Without membership, hon. Members would be of no use in providing advice.
We would go even further on general directorships. Hon. Members may be directors of companies that make widgets or, as I was once, of a company that manufactures clocks, or whatever. There is no question of contracts having. to be laid, or stipulating bandings of payments. The House and the public are not interested in what Members of Parliament earn or in what directors of companies earn. We are interested only when that income derives directly from membership of the House of Commons, and when Members of Parliament advise clients under a regime in which advocacy consultancy has been abolished. Those are essentially the reforms that many of us are pursuing.
I have another way in which to proceed; I would not necessarily proceed on the basis of the motions that we intend to carry this evening, although they will be helpful. The motion that deals in principle—only in principle—with payment bandings should go through. However, I believe that we should codify all the rules in a code of conduct.
I have spent my spare time in the past few weeks drawing up a code of conduct, which sets out in detail many of the motions before the House tonight, but which also goes further, in so far as it deals with the director of the widget manufacturing company, the advisory consultancy and the advocacy consultancy. All the rules would be there in the code.
My view is simple. If we develop a code on that basis—I hope in time to be able to publish my own code—we shall meet public concerns on these matters, and we shall stop once and for all the use of this place by people who want simply to make money out of membership of it.
§ 6.5 pm
§ Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)
I declare my interest as a company chairman and practising business man.
Not unnaturally, I measure my support for the motions today against the checklist I made when I spoke in the House in May and when I wrote to Lord Nolan at the start of his work. Before I go further, I join others who have congratulated my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the assiduity with which he and his Select Committee have worked in recent weeks. I have not known of another Committee of the House that has got through so much work in so short a time. The whole House should be grateful to my right hon. Friend.
I am at ease with much of the Committee's report, in particular with self-regulation and the code of practice. I wanted there to be an ethical adviser, especially for new Members. The Committee has gone further, but I find nothing objectionable in that.
I wanted parliamentary questions that arose from a paid external retainer or consultancy to be starred or marked in some other agreed form. I believe that this is the effect of the convoluted wording of motion 6, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can confirm 1708 that I am right in that assumption. I repeat: I hope that, when my right hon. Friend winds up, he can confirm that I am right in my assumption that motion 6 will ensure that, when a Member has an interest in a question that he has tabled, it is starred or marked in some way to indicate that fact.
§ Mr. Newton
I can confirm that. I am afraid that my attention wandered for a moment. However, I thought that I had made that point clear in my opening speech.
§ Sir David Mitchell
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for confirming that point.
There is one point of omission, unless I have misunderstood. The Committee wants the Register of Members' Interests to be updated more quickly. I believe that the recommendation should go further. I believe that no Member should act in any matter in which he has an interest if he has not already put that interest on the Register. Until he has declared that interest on the Register, he should not take any action that is a result of that external retainer. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will put that suggestion on to the agenda for his Committee in future sittings.
I hope that, broadly, the requirements that will be laid on Members of the House of Commons as a result of the motions today will have their parallel in the Upper House. If they did not, that would be an odd omission in the proper workings of Parliament.
I now turn to the speech made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I wrote down what she said. She said that duties should engage all our attention. Those were the words she used, as she will find when she looks at Hansard tomorrow. Some Members of Parliament may have an hour or an hour and a half a day in which they may want to do what they feel like doing. If such a Member spends that time pursuing a business interest, he is making himself more able to be a more useful Member of Parliament than if he simply spent it chatting to his friends or enjoying a long lunch.
We need Members with real experience of matters outside the House. I see a difference between a Member of Parliament who is advising an outside body—such as a trade association, a trade union or a company—about the effect of matters in Parliament on that body, and a Member who is accepting advice from that body. It is right that the House should recognise that there is a difference there, and there may be a broader consensus on that matter than may have been thought.
Motion 7 is a matter of controversy, and I believe that the Committee was right in its recommendation. We need to consider carefully the effects of the amendments, which could, on a hot July afternoon, stampede the House into ill-considered requirements which could have unsatisfactory and unforeseen effects. We have suffered considerably in recent years from uncertainty about the rules of the House and what is right or not right. It would be very unfortunate for the House if, through these amendments, it exchanged one lot of ambiguities for another.
There may well be areas where consensus can be reached. I do not find objectionable the registration of the non-financial terms of a contract entered into by a Member to provide services to an external organisation. There may be a consensus in the House that that might be 1709 a way forward. But there seems to be a good deal of division in the House about publication of the amounts of payment. That, I put it to the House, is irrelevant.
The hon. Member for Dewsbury says that such amounts should be disclosed, because they show how much work a Member is doing. They do nothing of the sort. Some Members are worth £10 an hour, while others are worth £250 an hour. If a Member is paid £1,000, is it for four hours' work or 100 hours? I would not even pay £10 for some Members, but that is by the way. The amount paid is no indication of the work done, and the hon. Lady—with great respect—is quite wrong in assuming that there is a direct relationship.
The hon. Lady went on to say that the amount should be disclosed, so that it can be seen how important the work is to the Member. If a Member has nothing other than his parliamentary salary to rely on, a payment of £5,000 may be very important. But if he happens to have a private income of £20,000 or £30,000 a year, a payment of £5,000 will make practically no difference to him.
The hon. Lady is wrong in assuming that there is a direct relationship between the disclosure of the amount of money and the effect that that money has on the work that a Member is doing. It would be misleading if the House were to have such a degree of disclosure. Opposition Members wish to satisfy idle curiosity and create envy. They wish to act as levellers down in every respect. For those reasons, the House should reject the amendments and accept the motions.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Those listening to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) and, just more recently, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) would have no idea whatsoever why the Nolan committee was set up. Listening to the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, one could imagine that—apart from the two individuals concerned—there was no particular reason why the Nolan committee was set up, although the right hon. Gentleman did not say that the Prime Minister was wrong to do so.
I believe—like all my Labour colleagues—that the Prime Minister was right to do what he did. But it is unfortunate that the Prime Minister has not given the sort of lead to Ministers that I would like to have seen. The Prime Minister has been asked repeatedly at Question Time if he is in favour of financial disclosure, as recommended by Nolan, but he has refused to give an answer.
Apart from Tory Members, there are very few people in the country who do not recognise—as we do on the Labour Benches—that reform in the way in which we should deal with outside financial interests is absolutely essential. Is there a single newspaper in the country—I do not know of one, no matter how Tory the newspaper—that does not believe that what Nolan recommended and what we consider to be the very minimum should be put into effect?
Have any constituents written letters to say "Don't implement Nolan—it is totally wrong; it is an intrusion into privacy; you are undermining your position as Members of Parliament; it is totally alien to the parliamentary way of life"? Have the right hon. Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup and for Honiton received such letters? I very much doubt it. There is a consensus that 1710 reform is necessary. Hence the reason we believe that Nolan has made a number of recommendations on financial disclosure which are essential.
§ Mr. Winnick
In that case—according to the right hon. Gentleman—there is no need to proceed along the lines that the Opposition and Nolan believe to be necessary.
I must say straight away—I do not know whether I will be believed by Conservative Members or not—that I do not favour a ban on outside interests. I know that one or two of my hon. Friends are in favour of such a ban, or so they say. I can see no particular mileage for Labour Members in having full-time Tory Members. We get much more mileage the other way. One or two of my colleagues may disagree, but I do not believe that it would be useful to a Labour Government to have full-time Tory Members—whatever the numbers who manage to get into the next Parliament—doing their best, as the Opposition will do, to undermine that Labour Government.
Such a ban would be impractical. How could we have a ban on outside activities? Could we stop a Member writing a book and getting money from it? Could we try to stop a Member receiving payment for writing articles? It is simply impractical, and I have never argued in favour of that. I do not believe that many Labour Members would argue for such a ban. To some extent, such a ban could be a denial of a Member's basic civil liberties, and I would put it as strongly as that.
I have for some years written to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests to urge that there should be at least some financial disclosure. I am not boasting at all, as the Committee Chairman and other members of the Committee will know of my interest. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup says that we are just trying to get information on other Members, and that it is unnecessary. I do not see the matter in that light at all.
Despite what the hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) said, there is a great deal of difference between someone receiving a relatively small sum—it may not be a relatively small to some of us, but that is by the way—of several hundred pounds or £2,000, and someone receiving a very substantial sum of money. Most people would understand that there is a difference.
I believe that Nolan's recommendations on this matter were right. I am not trying to say that I proposed all these ideas before Nolan, but in writing to the Committee at the time, I said that the exact sums were not necessary, and that the amounts should be listed in bands.
§ Mr. Winnick
The right hon. Member for Wealden confirms that that was what I said.
Of course, outside interests can have an unfortunate effect. When apartheid was operated in South Africa, I had a strong suspicion—I was not alone in this view—about some, if not all, of the Tory Members who got up at every opportunity to say that they were against apartheid, but went on to act as apologists for the South African Government. I believe that they might have had a commercial interest of sorts.
1711 The same applies to other countries. Those who apologise for the dictatorship in China may be expressing the sincere view that there should be no protests about what is happening in that country; on the other hand, a commercial interest may be involved—who knows? It may not be, but we have understandable suspicions. It is possible that hon. Members are involved in financial dealings with companies that have relationships with countries governed by dictatorships.
When outside interests are mentioned, Conservative Members tend to say—indeed, they have said it today—that outside interests provide experience. They say, "We do not want to be full-time parliamentarians; outside interests help us in our work." It is remarkable, is it not, that the outside interest that Tory Members defend at every opportunity is very restrictive? This is not the kind of work in which the vast majority of our constituents are engaged; very few of my constituents are involved in consultancies and directorships.
I am not talking about combining the profession of barrister or solicitor with being a Member of Parliament. I find it difficult to believe that Conservative Members engage in such activities because they want to bring their experience to the Floor of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is right. Why not be honest about this? I agree that there are some exceptions, but most hon. Members who take outside work of the kind that I have described do so for financial reasons: as my hon. Friend said, they do so because they want extra income. They do not want to rely on the basic parliamentary salary; they want a certain standard of living.
Although it is not a standard of living that I enjoy, or wish to enjoy, I appreciate that most Conservative Members want a different life style from that which they are likely to have on their current salary of £33,000 before deductions. As my hon. Friend also said, those with children at private schools will not get far on that amount. But why not be frank, and admit it? That would be far better than hiding behind the facade that outside work is all for the sake of parliamentary experience, and makes better Members of Parliament. No one really believes that.
What about the intrusion into our privacy? The other day, in a supplementary question, I expressed the view that there was no justification for the tabloids' intrusion into people's private lives, including the lives of a number of Members of Parliament—mainly Tory Members so far, although it could well be us on some future occasion.
When it comes to financial matters, however, what about the Register of Members' Interests? Is that not an intrusion into privacy? Which Tory Member today will stand up and say that it should not be allowed, as some did when it was to be established? The next step—an important step—is for us to clean up our act, so that we can be proud of the House of Commons rather than feeling that unsavoury actions have undermined our collective integrity and reputation. We should put that behind us. The very minimum is what Nolan has recommended, but it is clear that the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is against the principle of financial disclosure, and clearly many other Conservative Members strongly agree with him.
1712 I believe that we are right to press our amendments and accept the principle of Nolan. As I have said, the sooner we clean up our act as a Parliament the better it will be, not only for us and our constituents but for British democracy.
§ Sir Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
I, too, declare an interest. I have always been scrupulous about that; in fact, on one occasion, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Members' Interests said that I had declared too much rather than too little.
It seems to me that Nolan was born from knee-jerk reaction out of panic—panic induced by media hysteria and political expediency.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you ensure that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) declares precisely what he does? He is directly affected by the debate, but he has not declared an interest.
§ Madam Speaker
If hon. Members have an interest to declare, it is appropriate for them to do so in this debate.
§ Sir Peter Fry
Thank you, Madam Speaker. May I declare immediately that for some years I have worked a multi-company consultancy? The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) knows that perfectly well, but he may be surprised to learn that that is not the basis of my objections to some of the Nolan report.
I can live with that, however; I take the point. What I find hypocritical is the way in which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) defended her previous directorship of a multi-company agency. She said that she had no objection to declaring what she had been paid. That is not the point, however: under Nolan, she would be prohibited from being a director of such an agency. Was she ashamed of the work that she did for the agency? If she was not, why is it such a terrible sin today?
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
I said that I accepted the Nolan recommendations, not because I am ashamed of anything that I have done in the past, but because other hon. Members have breached rules that many of us thought already existed. I think that the Nolan recommendations would help to clean up everyone's act.
§ Sir Peter Fry
That is interesting. It seems that the hon. Lady thought that the rules already existed, and therefore does not think that any new rules are needed.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) said that we should give something up, but declared that no one had paid her anything. It is very easy to give up something that one has never enjoyed, so hers is hardly an effective argument. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said that we should do what the press wants. I have no doubt that the press is very interested in the hon. Gentleman's sex life; would he allow the publication of articles about how he behaves in the privacy of his own home? As the hon. Gentleman knows, his is a stupid argument.
The important point that has emerged from the debate is that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is absolutely right: it is very difficult to define what should be declared and what should not.
1713 Let me say to two members of my party—one a former Cabinet Minister—that if they seriously believe that all hon. Members who are company directors are made company directors because people like their faces, they are abusing their own position. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are given company directorships basically because they are Members of Parliament. I do not wish to name them, but I know that that is the case.
In those circumstances, it becomes exceedingly difficult for any company director to give even the faintest advice to his fellow directors or his company that could possibly impinge on his position as a Member of Parliament—if we accept the Opposition's definition. He would be put in the ludicrous position of being unable to speak in the House on many issues.
Let me say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) that it is all very well to say that hon. Members should not take part in a debate when they have an interest. What about general issues such as company taxation or pension law? According to my right hon. Friend, it would be wrong for any hon. Member who was a director of a company affected by such issues to make a speech about them. I consider that an unfair and unworkable restriction on comment.
As has emerged in the debate, what is important is whether advocacy—being paid to pursue an interest in the House—should be banned, and whether it should be subject to a declaration of income. We have already heard quite enough arguments to show that that requires much more detailed consideration.
I see no difference between a Member of Parliament who advises a trade association and a Member of Parliament who advises a trade union. I am aware of no reason why a Member of Parliament who assists a trade association is in any way different from a Member of Parliament who is a lawyer, whose law firm advises clients, or an accountant, whose accountancy firm advises clients, or a company director, who advises his fellow directors. That is the type of problem that we must solve in the present discussion, and I hope that the Select Committee will do it.
I am sick and tired of the hypocrisy that comes from Opposition Members. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] One would suppose that Labour Members of Parliament never did anything wrong, and were never influenced. I have sat on a Select Committee and watched Labour Members read the questions prepared by their trade unions, and if that is not trying to influence the course of the Select Committee, I do not know what is. So let us get away from the idea that the only hypocrisy is among Conservative Members. There is just as much among Opposition Members.
I do agree with the Opposition about one thing. It is important that we now get it right. Whether we like Nolan being created or not, we have to live with it, and presumably we must make it work in a way that is acceptable to the majority of Members. There is a great danger in going too far. The further we go, the more likely it is that we shall end up with total declaration of income, which will undoubtedly mean that the quality of people who want to stand in elections for this place will go down.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the motion that he has placed before the House. It is clear, from the composition of the Committee and the contributions that those Members have made, that they 1714 are learning of the difficulties, which I and others have outlined this afternoon, in trying to define the various types of consultancies that should take place. I have faith in the Committee. I certainly have no faith in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Dewsbury.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) said that, if transparency comes in—if the truth about what is happening to Members' income is known—the reputation of the House will suffer. Many of us would regard that as an admission of guilt.
The problem, as my hon. Friends have said, is a matter of income—not only income from outside sources, but total income—and the sums that Conservative Members are paid from outside the House affect that.
I have before me a list of 156 hon. Members who voted against our increases in wages and allowances, but who declare very substantial interests. I could read that list out, but it would take all the time available to me. Those 156 hon. Members have said that £31,000 is a proper income for Members of Parliament. If they believe that, there is no reason why they should take sums of money from outside.
What sums of money? I declare an interest—in receiving occasional fees from journalism and broadcasting, but never more than £5,000 a year. I am not sponsored, and I never will be. Conservative Members use that argument against us. The usual sums of money that come in from trade union sponsorship are very small and in almost all cases go directly to the constituency.
I believe that the Opposition should break the direct link between Members of Parliament and individual unions, because Members of Parliament should not be for hire. I know of no union that pays more than £1,000, but one Conservative Member has confessed that he receives £200,000 in income, not from what he was doing previously, and not from any job, but because he is a Member of Parliament.
It is crucial that those sums are declared. One Labour Member declares 12 jars of honey per year. It is reasonable to assume that the people who give 12 jars of honey do not get as much work out of their Member of Parliament as do the companies who pay £200,000 a year hiring a Conservative Member.
It was a sad day for the House when it approved a Select Committee recommendation that there should be transparency on Lloyd's, but its decision was not respected by very senior Members, including an ex-Prime Minister, who said that they would ignore it and that they would not give the details about their income. That was a disgraceful act against the reputation of the House of Commons, and it is what we are discussing today.
Our reputation as the mother of Parliaments has been besmirched by Conservative Members who have become used to huge incomes from outside this building. We are elected as Members for our own constituency and to represent our parties. We were not elected as Members for the transport and general workers party or the general, municipal, boilermakers and allied trades party or megagreed plc; we are here to represent our constituents.
I shall give a practical example of a road safety issue that led to hon. Members being assailed on one side by trade unions arguing a particular case. The example 1715 concerns bull bars, with which I have been very much involved. A union in my constituency represents people who manufacture bull bars. Jobs were at stake. If I had been sponsored by that union, it would have put pressure on me to act in a certain way. On the other side, the firms that manufacture the bull bars would, through their trade associations, have brought pressure to bear on a Conservative Member of Parliament.
Who speaks for the victims of the accidents caused by bull bars? They cannot pay to hire any Member of the House. We do not know who they are; there is no interest there. If hon. Members say that I must speak because of my trade union—I criticise my own party in that regard—or that I must speak because of the firm, because otherwise no one will speak for them, I ask, "Who speaks for all those interests such as the charities and the people who cannot afford to hire Members of Parliament?"
The message of today's debate, and the message of Nolan, is that the country is sick of the idea that Members are paid—and paid handsomely—to represent interests. Labour Members must sever the link between unions and individual Members, which is a venal sin. The sins on the other side are mortal because the sums involved are very great.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
I want to remind my hon. Friend, who is my colleague in Newport, that, throughout the long time that I have served in the House, I have been sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union. I have never personally received a penny from that trade union. Any money that has been received has gone directly to my constituency party. My union card is just about my most treasured possession, and I fully support the principle of sponsorship of Members.
§ Mr. Flynn
I have for some time been president of the constituency party to which my hon. Friend refers. Of course there was nothing wrong with the tradition because it was established when Members had no pay. I am saying that the Government are now using that arrangement as a stick to beat us with and to undermine the principle. Such a link is not worth retaining, although we must maintain a strong link between the trade union movement and our party.
I am grateful for being called, rather unexpectedly, in the debate. The matter is of enormous importance, and it is a great shame that the Conservative Members who have spoken are obviously speaking for their interests—for their wallets—rather than for the proud principles of the mother of Parliaments.
§ Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford)
I congratulate. my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who chaired the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life, on the way in which he handled it. Throughout our proceedings, there was constructive debate by hon. Members from all the political parties represented, which I found interesting and informative.
In some senses, I arrived at the Committee with apprehensions and anxieties, but during the debate I saw us shape and reshape aspects of the Nolan report so that 1716 we delivered to the House today, especially in the first six resolutions, something of which I think we all may feel justifiably proud.
I am especially proud of the report that we have delivered in respect of the Commissioner and the new Committee. As my right hon. Friend knows, I was especially keen on, and pursued, the idea of natural justice throughout that part of our discussions.
The thing that I am most interested in—I am keen that the House should recognise it—is that we shall have replaced what I believe is the flawed system that we have now, which is in some senses a form of kangaroo court for accused Members, with a system whereby the individual concerned, as and when they are brought before either the Commissioner or the Committee, will have the right to have someone with them as an adviser and the opportunity to cross-examine those who make allegations.
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
If he reads the report, the hon. Gentleman will find that it does say that. We must address immediately the key question of the Committee and the Parliamentary Commissioner. The matter of the Commissioner may be linked to the code of conduct. Perhaps we should think about it a little more. One or two hon. Members have drawn my attention to the fact that, in paragraph 14, we accept that the principal duties of the Parliamentary Commissioner should include:Receiving and investigating complaints about the conduct of Members (whether related directly to alleged breaches of the Code or not) and reporting his findings to the Committee through the Sub-Committee appointed for that purpose.I have talked to the hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) about that issue and he referred to it earlier. We should not create a charter whereby disgruntled citizens with an axe to grind pursue hon. Members and make obscure and absurd accusations against them simply because they disagree with the way in which hon. Members go about their duties. Constituents have the right to decide at the end of the life of a Parliament whether they like or dislike the way in which their representatives have performed. I hope that we shall clear up that matter during further deliberation.
The critical motion—7—has caused the greatest amount of discussion and argument today. I think that, in many ways, we have managed to miss the point and the real problem. I listened to what the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said. At the end of a good speech, she suddenly delivered a warning—if not a threat—about tonight's vote. I accept that the hon. Lady is trying to galvanise the attitudes, the instincts and perhaps even the fears of hon. Members in an attempt to get them to think carefully about how they will vote. I have thought about what I intend to do, and I have absolutely no problem with voting down the amendments to motion 7.
One of the amendments asks us to examine the principle. I believe that it is quite impossible for us to implement the Nolan report in principle because it is impossible to ascertain what that principle is. The problem with Nolan—it will require further discussion—
§ Mr. Duncan Smith
If the hon. Gentleman would engage his brain before his mouth, he might learn 1717 something. The problem is that, in its rush to complete the report, the Nolan committee did not address the real problem. Our constituents are most concerned about certain reprehensible activities, which have been reported in the press. The 1947 resolution clearly states that advocacy should not be allowed, but the Register of Members' Interests has confused the issue. The principle must be that paid advocacy should not be allowed, but that principle is not enshrined in the amendments.
During the Committee hearings, I proposed an alternative which appears in paragraph 74 of the report. I have not amended it tonight, although it may have some flaws, because I intend to raise it myself and to force the House to decide whether to accept my proposals at a later stage. We must look at the 1947 resolution, define "advocacy" and then rule it out. It could take the form of being forced by an outside interest to put down written questions, to table or sign early-day motions or to table amendments to legislation. There may be further discussion about the issue; I accept that.
The point is that I will not vote for the amendments tonight because I believe that we need to go further than Nolan has gone. We must consider the problem with regard to hon. Members' outside interests. There has been much talk about the amount of money that hon. Members earn. For most hon. Members, who are remunerated with small amounts of money from a variety of different sources, such as trade unions, consultancies or multiple client agencies, the result is much the same. The fact is that that should not happen.
The best way to tackle the problem is to cut out the cancer at source: we must put a halt to advocacy. We should not try to define what companies are good or bad. Hon. Members will find ways around that. They will write new contracts and they will register their interests in a different manner. It concerns me that the Nolan report provides a means of avoiding the controls that are in place at the moment. The Register of Members' Interests is far more stringent than Nolan would have us accept. There are routes through it—the definitions are ill thought out.
We must have more time to consider the matter. We undertake to give the House the opportunity to reach a decision by the end of the Session. There is no question that that undertaking will be avoided. I shall put forward the argument that we must deal with advocacy and I hope that hon. Members will support me when the time comes. Tonight is not the time to put down a point of principle because that point of principle does not exist.
When we have completed our deliberations, we must ensure that our proposals are workable, that they will stand the test of time and that they will put a stop to the constant backbiting. Hon. Members from all political parties represent their constituents very honourably, even though they may have outside interests. The reality is that, most of the time, this place behaves with great dignity and honour. I think that it is high time that we enshrined that principle. We must offer the House a workable proposal that will stand the test of time.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
This has been a much better tempered debate than the previous one on 18 May. I think that I have missed only one speech by Conservative Members, who have certainly been less hostile to the concept of Nolan than they were on that 1718 day. In the main—I accept that there will be some resistance—hon. Members seem to accept the thrust of the Select Committee's report and the majority of the agreed amendments.
I refer in particular to natural justice and representation before the Privileges Committee, to which the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) referred. That matter has been raised before. The Committee did appear to be a kangaroo court, but the Select Committee has now made recommendations about how the new investigatory process will work in order to achieve representation and natural justice. Although it does not involve full cross-examination, it is a much fairer and more acceptable system. There will be speedier justice because the new Privileges Committee will be able to meet when the House is not sitting.
That said, it is almost a case of the lull before the storm. Judging from the comments that have been made both inside and outside the Chamber, the end game for most hon. Members is how to kill off the two central issues that divide the House and upon which we shall vote tonight: the banning of multi-client lobbies and financial disclosure. That is the bottom line and that is where the battle lines will be drawn. The problem will not go away after today. Time may be won or it may not, but, at some point, the issue will return to haunt the Government.
I do not have time to refer to all the speeches, but I completely reject the former Prime Minister's allegation that the Opposition are trying to pry into the affairs of others. We want disclosure of activities relating to the public position of Members of Parliament—nothing more, nothing less.
§ Mr. Rooker
I also reject completely the suggestion that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) was threatening Conservative Members. Tomorrow, this debate will be fully reported in the press and hon. Members who seek to frustrate or oppose disclosure, which will only be from November anyway, on the banded basis of the money or multi-client lobby, will be listed and questions are bound to be asked.
§ Mr. Rooker
The Prime Minister set up the Nolan committee to work quickly, and it has. After the Select Committee reported on 11 July, a leader in The Independent stated:The fuss that Tory MPs are making is remarkable, considering how mild is the dose of probity that Nolan has prescribed.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. My understanding is that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) does not wish to give way.
§ Mr. Rooker
I do not wish to give way, Madam Speaker.
It was stated in The Times on 11 July thatit was clear long before the Nolan report was published in May that its recommendations on MPs' duty to disclose their outside interests was likely to face hostility in the Commons.The Times commented that lack of leadership by the Prime Minister, in not saying specifically whether he agreed with Nolan, has allowed dissent on the 1719 Conservative Benches. That bodes ill for the future. We want a decision and the public rightly expect the House to make a positive decision.
I say without party rancour that it is true, save for one or two cases, that the Opposition must and have sought to avoid taking a holier than thou approach, because every Member of Parliament is tainted in the eyes of the public as a consequence of the actions of a few hon. Members. It has been made clear by some Members of Parliament in comments made outside the House that accepting Nolan would mean bringing in outsiders, wrecking hundreds of years of parliamentary sovereignty and putting the whole edifice of democracy at stake. I reject that as absolute nonsense.
I was surprised that, last week, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—whom I have given notice of this reference to him—made remarks that created headlines on Saturday such asRedwood rallies the Right with attack on NolanandRedwood to attack Nolan in bid for right-wing crown".He said that Nolan breached parliamentary sovereignty and that thisundermines the very foundations of our settled and unwritten constitution.I do not share that view, which is based on a bygone age of ignorance, trust and deference on the part of the British people. In those days, we were privileged to enjoy something that we do not have today—a law-abiding society, and a Government and Parliament that were honourable and capable. There was consensus on public service and probity among people who might be termed the elite, which created a legitimacy of popular consent outside the House. Long before I entered the House, custom and tradition were enough to restrain the abuse of office and power.
Those days are gone and Parliament must change. No change means no chance for Parliament in the court of public opinion, which is the court in which we find ourselves. The public want written rules and codes, and want them enforced. The public will not accept Members of Parliament being a law unto themselves because they are the law makers. Members of Parliament for hire give the impression of a Parliament for hire, and we must stamp that out. We are hired by our constituents and that is where it should stop. Why should Members of Parliament who hire themselves out want to prevent disclosure of the contracts and financial amounts involved? Is it because they pretend to have influence with Ministers and officials in exchange for reward? If so, we should be told and the public should know. If a local councillor did the same, he would be committing an offence.
No honourable Member of Parliament can claim in the House tonight that implementing all of Nolan in spirit and in practice would interfere with any of our prime functions, which are to represent our constituents, hold the Government to account and serve as the forum of the nation in which ideas can be debated—whether they be good, bad or tasteless. The conduct of policy and politics must change and be seen to change. The decline in deference is to be welcomed, but the decline in consensus and trust between Government and the governed, between Parliament and the people, is to be deplored.
1720 Members of Parliament are responsible for leadership and for setting a new agenda. We are responsible for leaving the political process in a better, healthier state than the one in which we found it. That can only be done if we vote tonight to start implementing in full all the Nolan recommendations.
§ Mr. Newton
I agree with the opening remark of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Mr. Rooker), that this debate was of significantly better quality than the one on 18 May, a week after the Nolan report was published. I say with a tinge of regret that the tone just adopted by the hon. Gentleman did not contribute to that better quality. I could have wished that the hon. Gentleman had adopted a calmer and more measured tone, in the way that informed the majority of today's speeches.
§ Mr. Stephen
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a high proportion of Labour Members receive benefits under contracts for trade unions not just for asking a couple of questions but questions by the sackload, generated by union research departments? Worse, Labour Members speak on behalf of trade unions, as we saw in last week's debate on the railways. Worst of all, Labour Members vote in the interests of trade unions. Should not that sort of thing be banned?
§ Mr. Newton
That point is touched on in the Nolan report and it relates to a question that I put to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) during her speech. It is plain from paragraph 14 on page 4 of the report, where its recommendations are summarised, that it is envisaged that the same rules as would apply in respect of consultancies in certain circumstances would apply also to trade union sponsorship—including the value of any support services, which can be significant. I agree with my hon. Friend that that aspect should be taken into account, and it will be taken into account in the continuing work of the Select Committee that I have been chairing, if the House agrees to motion 7.
§ Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)
I arrived for this debate minded to vote for the Opposition amendments, but having listened to most of the debate, I am persuaded that there are matters of real detail. I still support the case for transparency, so can my right hon. Friend assure me that if I vote with him tonight, I will not be voting for deliberate delay and for undermining the Nolan report?
§ Mr. Newton
I hope and believe that I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I was going to say, emboldened by the remarks of a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House—not least members of the Committee, who were good enough to say kind words about my chairmanship of it—that no member of the Committee could credibly claim that I have been leading and chairing the Committee in a way designed to cause delay and to avoid the best possible progress.
I acknowledge, of course, that everything must ultimately rest on my word. I hope, however, that my conduct as Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life and what has been said about that in the debate lends credibility to the assurance that I give my hon. Friend that deliberate delay is not the purpose. I hope that I read the hon. Member for Dewsbury aright and that I am not putting words into her mouth 1721 when I say that in her opening remarks she came close to saying that when I first sketched the proposal for a Select Committee, first privately to her and then more publicly in the debate on 18 May, she thought that I was trying to push the whole issue into the long grass and have delay, but had changed her mind during the Committee's proceedings.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
The Leader of the House will recall that at the end of the debate on 18 May I asked him to specify the Committee's remit, and it was that on which we negotiated. The issue was whether we could clarify and implement the recommendations. That was critical. There has not been delay except for the crunch issue.
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Our exchanges led to the terms of reference, to the date of 7 July being set, to the intensive programme of activity that the Committee has undertaken and to a substantial number of motions being put to the House in an almost incredibly short period. That lends credibility to the assurance that I have given my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). I want to assure the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who if I may put it in this way were among the sceptics, that our purpose is not delay.
I shall try to lend credibility to something that by definition is not capable of absolute proof. I do not believe that the terms of motion 7 are consistent with delay, pushing into the long grass, trying to bury or whatever. The fact that the Committee has power to meet during the recess, unlike the Privileges Committee, for example, until last night or the night before, is not consistent with delay. The fact that I have arranged a meeting for tomorrow afternoon, on the first day of the recess, is not consistent with delay. It is not consistent with delay that I have asked members of the Committee to bring their diaries with them tomorrow afternoon with a view to ascertaining whether we can arrange some meetings in September, it being not unreasonable for them to be away a bit during August.
§ Ms Eagle
The Leader of the House rightly identifies me as something of a sceptic. Will he try to reassure me further by taking the opportunity to say that the Committee will be trying to implement the Nolan recommendations in two crucial areas rather than merely examining them? As a sceptic, I am worried that examination will lead to excuses not to implement the crucial recommendations to declare levels and to ban multi-client consultancies.
§ Mr. Newton
I shall not reiterate what I have said. I shall seek to ensure that the Committee will proceed, as it has proceeded, faithfully to fulfil its terms of reference, to advise the House on how the Nolan recommendations might be clarified and implemented, and to put forward specific motions on which the House might decide. We have demonstrated that we have been able to do that in areas that appeared to be extremely difficult six to eight weeks ago. I believe that we shall be able to do so in other areas but that remains to be demonstrated.
There is another reason why I believe that approach to be the right one, and it has been demonstrated clearly by the debate. There has been almost no comment or criticism on and of any of the motions that I have proposed with the exception of the one that is undoubtedly contentious. On 18 May, however, there was near 1722 revolution in some quarters over the very idea that we might have a Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards. By painstakingly working through the proposals and devising the arrangements that are reflected in motion 3, we have been able to bring proposals before the House that I judge, on the basis of the debate, to be broadly and generally acceptable to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Significant reservation has been expressed about only one of our proposals, and that was by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I suggested within the Committee that there should be the establishment of a new Committee of standards and privileges. I shall not rehearse all the arguments. In my view, that suggestion, if implemented, would not lower the status of the Privileges Committee but would raise the status of the work that has hitherto been done by the Select Committee on Members' Interests. I do not believe that the new Committee wold be any less prestigious than the Privileges Committee has been over the years. I do not intend that it should be.
The proposal, if implemented, would avoid the difficult overlap that has occurred in recent times between investigations of the Select Committee on Members' Interests and the Privileges Committee. I think that that overlap was in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. I remind him that it was the hon. Member for Dewsbury, I think, who said that it was specifically envisaged that the new Committee would have the power to create sub-committees partly to deal with or to meet the problem of overlap should it arise.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will quickly answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith): that if an Opposition Member, or even a Conservative Member, is bad at answering his constituency correspondence and is not seen in the constituency enough, that will be a matter for the electorate and not for the commissioner.
§ Mr. Newton
Yes, of course I can. The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) will confirm that we discussed that very issue in the Committee. We recognised that there could be a channel for vexatious complaints of any sort. If my hon. Friend reads the report carefully he will find that a number of the provisions that we have suggested are explicitly designed to avoid such a channel opening, which I think he and every other Member would think unreasonable. That approach is partly responsible for the passage in paragraph 26 of the report of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life, which reads:Where, however, the Commissioner decided that no prima facie case had been established, he would merely report the facts to the Committee. The Committee would inform both the complainant and the Member concerned, but no details of the complaint would be published.That is an important safeguard that is directed exactly to the concern that my hon. Friend has expressed.
Those who are members of the Select Committee will have had a sense of déjà vu during the course of some of the arguments that have been advanced this evening. Without insulting anyone, I hope, I should say that little has been said during the debate that appeared to me to add significantly to the arguments that were deployed before 1723 the Select Committee and lead me to feel that I should respond in a significantly different way, or additionally, from or to my comments in opening the debate.
I have not heard seriously questioned from the Opposition Front Bench or from the Back Benches on either side of the House the real need to undertake more detailed work before anyone can be sure of what we are talking about when we say implement Nolan. My recommendation remains that the House should pass motion 7 as it stands.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards be set in hand under arrangements to be made by Madam Speaker on the advice of the House of Commons Commission and in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life.