§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM rose to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life (Cmnd.6524); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Report of the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life (Cmnd.6524), the subject of our debate this afternoon, was published in July, shortly before the Summer Recess. The Royal Commission had been appointed in December, 1974, almost exactly two years ago. It is common knowledge that the Commission was set up primarily as a result of public disquiet arising out of the Poulson affair. Since the publication of the report, further allegations have been made concerning the conduct and activities of certain Members of another place in connection with the affairs of Mr. Poulson, and a Select Committee has been established to inquire into that particular matter. So the topic of standards of conduct in public life or, to put it more bluntly, corruption, which is what can result in the more serious cases from a rejection of those standards, is a timely one on which to focus our attention.
§ Lord PANNELL
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene for just definition purposes? He draws a line 586 between standards in public life and corruption. They are not the same thing. But I hope this debate will be wide enough to consider other standards in other places than merely the Legislature.
§ Lord WINDLESHAM
My Lords, this debate is intended to provide a forum to discuss the issues raised in the Report of the Royal Commission, and we are particularly fortunate in this respect that the Commission's chairman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon, is down to speak. Another member of the Royal Commission, Lord Allen of Abbeydale (to whom I owe a great deal since as Permanent Secretary he was my mentor when I first joined the Home Office), will be making his maiden speech in the course of the debate and we shall all look forward to what he has to say. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has also chosen this debate for the occasion of his maiden speech.
I must confess to one further reason for welcoming Lord Allen's intervention. I am hoping that his august presence will prompt his former Department—in which both I and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, have served—to be even more forthcoming and positive in its response than might otherwise be the case. The Government have not so far given any indication of their thinking on this matter, nor of their acceptance or rejection of the recommendations contained in the Report. So this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has the ball at his feet and a very interested audience to see what he is going to do with it. As the noble Lord is no doubt only too well aware, it is not merely an interested audience he will be addressing; it is an exceptionally well informed one since no less than six members, by my count, of the Royal Commission have put down their names to speak. I think this probably constitutes some sort of a record. It represents 50 per cent. of the total membership of the Royal Commission, and so even though it may seem at moments that this debate is something of a reunion for Lord Salmon's Commission, I am sure the rest of us will benefit from their wisdom and experience.
I might add in passing that those who become obsessed by the powers and composition of the House of Lords—a timely subject at the moment—would do 587 well on occasions like this to pause and reflect on the nature of influence as opposed to power in the political system. That, however, is a subject for another day. The subject which is before us today, corrupt practices, the lapse from proper standards of conduct in public life, is a great deal less straightforward than seems to be the case at first sight. First of all, what does it amount to? What is, and is not, considered to be corrupt practice in public life? Where is the line drawn?
Then there is the question of extent. How far does corruption extend: in central Government; in local government and in other public bodies? Should Members of Parliament be immune in circumstances where local government councillors would be liable? This is one of the questions currently before the Select Committee in another place, and I do not propose to pursue it any further in opening the debate this afternoon. What can be done to check corruption; to prevent its further spread, and to bring to light corrupt practices where they already exist? These, I suggest, are some of the themes which run behind today's debate. I shall not elaborate on all of them, and indeed I shall not pursue any of them at length because many of those who will follow have had more experience in this field than I have.
It is as well to admit at the outset of the debate that the roots of the present problem lie deep in human nature. When man wants something badly enough; when its achievement will make a material difference to his circumstances, pecuniary or otherwise, he will go to great lengths to achieve it. In the 18th and 19th centuries many of the most common corrupt practices revolved around the election of Members of Parliament. Bribery, treating, personation, procuring, undue influence and so on, were familiar features on the scene, although by no means tolerated without question. No less than seven Statutes were enacted by Parliament to attempt to restrain these activities; all but one of them before the passing of the second Reform Bill in 1867. Thereafter the problem gradually diminished.
Today, the pressure, the motivation comes from a different quarter. The 588 huge increase in public sector activities, particularly in housing and in urban development in recent years, has led to unprecedented responsibility being placed on those who are involved in taking planning decisions and putting out contracts to tender for supplies or for services. Commercial relationships on a widespread scale have consequently been entered into between central and local government and the civil engineering and construction industries in particular, but with many other industries as well. Catering, for instance, seems for various reasons to lend itself to abuse. But in the field of planning applications much has been at stake and the temptations facing those who are in control of the planning procedures, elected councillors and appointed officials alike, are self-evident.
There is a trenchant addendum to the Salmon Report by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in which he points out that while in the nature of things virtually all of the wrong-doers in the public service are to be found among those who have received bribes, rather than those who have been guilty of offering inducements to others, such public servants, errant though they may be, are as much sinned against as sinning. The noble Lord argued in favour of extending preventive measures across the boundary separating the public sector, which commissions, from the mainly private sector, which supplies services and works. I am not sure that Lord Houghton carried all of his colleagues on the Royal Commission with him on that point—although he was more fortunate in the case of other contentious recommendations—but his argument certainly illustrates that corruption is a problem which has to be seen in more than a single perspective.
In the eyes of the law, it is an offence corruptly to offer or to give an inducement or reward to anyone in the public service, just as it is for any Crown servant, member or employee of a public body corruptly to accept such inducement or reward. The law therefore already punishes both the briber and the bribed alike, as the unfortunate Mr. Poulson has good reason to know, serving, as he currently still is, a prison sentence; a fate shared by several of those in local government or other public bodies with whom he had established what were later found in the courts to be corrupt relationships.
589 The Royal Commission recommended that the relevant legislation should be strengthened and that the existing Acts, the Prevention of Corruption Acts of 1906 and 1916 and the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, as they apply to the public sector, should be amended and consolidated into a new Act. I doubt if anyone who has studied the report of Lord Salmon's Royal Commission will be disposed to reject that proposal. For those who want to follow them, the changes proposed are summarised on pages 24 and 25 of the report. I suppose the Government will inevitably see a recommendation of that sort in terms of the legislative programme. But if it is the case that this aspect of the Royal Commission's recommendations is non-controversial, as I believe to a large extent it is, is this a task that could be passed to the Law Commission or alternatively to the Criminal Law Revision Committee? I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, would comment on that when he replies to the debate.
Important though the law is in this field, I believe that nevertheless it is unwise to rest too heavily on the law for its hoped for effectiveness. Enforcement will always be a problem, although there are some indications that prosecutions policy has been more vigorously pursued since the establishment of the Royal Commission and the public interest, it would be fair to say, aroused in the subject of corruption as a whole. Moreover, the information needed to bring cases before the courts is invariably difficult to come by. Of course it is the case that if corruption is to be checked—indeed, if its recent growth (mainly due to the reasons I referred to earlier) is to be reversed—the law must have a part, and a major part, to play. It is right and wholly appropriate for Parliament to draw up measures condemning the grave and harmful nature of corruption which, as all experience shows, once established in the body politic is exceptionally hard to eradicate. Such laws will also have a deterrent and cautionary effect, especially when, as recently in several conspicuous cases, offenders in public positions have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
Yet here, as always in any arrangements devised to influence conduct, particularly I would argue in the British tradition, 590 law joins hands with custom. In any moral order it is custom or convention which largely determines what a majority of people will do. That which people feel instinctively to be wrong, most will stand away from. That which they feel to be fair game and done by others, they will have fewer scruples about. By this test, I must say that I found the report of the Royal Commission, so impressive in its discussion of legal restraints, to be somewhat disappointing. Having said that, I should add that the Royal Commission went on to consider what could be done to help counter corruption by way of codes of conduct, staff rules and improved procedures in public organisations, but I should have preferred to see a greater emphasis on these non-legal aspects.
Administrative measures of this sort are important and a national code of local government conduct was issued by the Government as a circular last year. This code followed on a recommendation made by an earlier Inquiry, the Prime Minister's Committee on Local Government Rules of Conduct chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, which reported in 1974. But there is still room for further action, particularly as regards contract procedures. The Secretary of State for the Environment has recently issued the first installent of a code of procedures of local authority house-building which consolidates and brings up to date previous advice—that is the word used—by Central Government to local authorities on contract procedures. However, this is essentially a consolidation and a reminder, rather than a change of substance, although it is in line with the recommendations which were made by the Royal Commission.
More remains to be done at local government level to establish rules which cannot be circumvented, whatever the pressures to the contrary, however compelling the circumstances might be, to prevent the authorisation of contracts by single individuals who may be exposed to exceptional pressures. Such procedures also need to be subject to regular and thorough review. The review may be internal or, as some have argued, external, and periodic reviews of this sort should be carried out not only from the standpoint of the efficiency and competence with which a system may be operating, but also judged from the standpoint of probity. 591 Probity, like honesty and integrity, is almost entirely subjective: it is very easy to talk about, but very elusive to pin down. What seems honest enough to one person in one situation may be regarded as dishonest by another.
One of the common threads running through so many cases of corruption, from the most notorious, such as Watergate, to the most trivial, is that so often the principal actor or actors have convinced themselves to their own satisfaction that they have done nothing wrong. This is hardly surprising, for it is one of the hardest things in the world to put a conception of the public good, in itself inevitably blurred and imprecise, before the only too sharp, too precise, and possibly tangible interests which bear down on individuals with power to take decisions in the public arena. Such interests may be pecuniary, or they may be material. They may be the entrenched interests of an organisation, or of a political Party, or of a social, or religious, or some other form of group. But if the public is to have confidence in the public administration, which after all in democratic theory it exists to serve, there must be clear and repeated evidence, demonstrated on great occasions and on small, of disinterestedness on the part of the individuals concerned.
This state of virtue, easy to talk about in debates like this, but difficult to practice in reality; a separation between personal interest and the requirements of the public, or of a public, cannot be produced by rules of law, although laws can be the instrument of punishing offenders and warning others. Nor can disinterestedness, which essentially is what I think we mean by honesty in this context, be produced by rules of conduct. But rules of conduct, particularly when consciously defined and accepted and applied over a period of time, can harden into conventions, and such conventions can be pervasive. They can help influence the general atmosphere in which officials and elected representatives carry out their work. They can influence, too, those who are outside the public service with whom public servants do business.
These, my Lords, as I have thought about the subject, are what seem to me to be some of the main considerations which 592 bear on the topic of today's debate. The ist is not exclusive; for example, I have not referred to the differences of opinion within the Royal Commission on the vexed question of the possible use in criminal proceedings of information obtained in confidence by the Inland Revenue. I know that there are strongly held and conflicting opinions on this issue, but I believe the House would prefer to hear the argument on each side deployed by the protagonists directly involved.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon, and the members of his Royal Commission have given much time and thought in drawing up this important report. It is now for the Government to respond; if not today, then after no more than a short pause to digest what has been said in the debate, taking note of what has been said outside following the publication of the Royal Commission's report, and then to act. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Lord AVEBURY
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for having moved his Motion today and for giving the House an opportunity of debating the report of the Royal Commission, which, as he pointed out, has been published since July, while the Royal Commission have been deliberating since they were appointed in December 1974, as a result, as the noble Lord also pointed out, of public disquiet which arose at that time over the Poulson affair. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has given us an extremely thoughtful and challenging introduction to the debate which we are to have this afternoon and I am sure that the whole House will be extremely grateful to him for his comments on the report, particularly the emphasis he has laid on the need to consider means other than legal ones for combating the evil of corruption. I do not think that the Commission would have dissented from him in what he has said on that matter. They did in fact go at some length into the question of codes of conduct and staff rules, and laid great stress on the responsibilities of management, particularly in the local authorities, to take steps to see that staff are fully aware of all that can be done to prevent corruption arising.
593 The attainment of absolute purity in public life is, I suggest, an impossibility, and councillors, local government officers, employees of the nationalised industries and of the Health Service and all other public bodies live in the real world and are influenced by the ethical climate which surrounds them. In a period such as we are living through, with falling ethical standards, I am afraid that it must be true to say that the elected representatives and public servants are not likely to remain immune from temptations, as we see from those recent court cases, and notably from the cases which dealt with the activities of the Poulson empire.
Some extremely difficult questions have to be faced up to in considering this matter, and the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has mentioned some of them. If we accept that perfection is not attainable, then what degree of corruption is to be tolerated, and how much are we prepared to spend, for example, in getting down to that level of corruption? How are we to measure the extent of wrongdoing, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, asked; and if the yardstick is to be the number of successful prosecutions, how can we be certain that there is not a vast conundrum of undetected crime? It is this last question, I think, that can be dealt with only in the most speculative terms. No one can say with any degree of certainty how much corruption there is, but if the associates of Mr. Poulson were caught only because, at first, he was examined in bankruptcy and, secondly, he retained every scrap of paper which passed across his desk, then it would appear likely on the face of it that other villains who did not go bankrupt and who did not save every scrap of paper may still be at liberty.
My Lords, without myself trying to put any measure on the extent of corruption, I believe that it has reached the point where further steps have to be taken against this form of crime, and I also think that in general the recommendations in the Royal Commission's Report form a sensible and effective package. As your Lordships will have noted, there was agreement between the members of the Royal Commission on nearly every question that they discussed, and I would hope that legislation could be introduced on those matters, without delay, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said.
594 It was, I think, the former Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, who said that Royal Commissions were a means of taking minutes and wasting years. But very frequently one finds that it is not the Royal Commission but the Government to whom they report who are responsible for the procrastination, and already in one way we can say that the horse has bolted. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, referred to the circumstances of the 'sixties in relation to large planning decisions and local government housing and development contracts which gave rise to the series of cases triggered off by Mr. Poulson. Those were the greatest points of vulnerability in the 'sixties, but I suggest that in the economic climate of 1977 there will not be a great number of major departures from development plans since investment in construction is now at rock bottom; neither will there be the major redevelopments of city centres which were very much a phenomenon of the 'sixties.
However, I think that the Commission's recommendations are framed in such a way that if new types of corruption were to appear—for example, if the award of contracts for development under the Community Land Act were to lead to this kind of crime —then with the recommendations proposed by the Royal Commission, that crime would be more likely to be detected. In protecting society against corrupt officials or corrupt elected representatives, we must be careful not to go so far that we undermine the civil liberties of the people as a whole. Obviously one could make the task of the police in tackling crime of all kinds much easier if one gave them, for example, unlimited powers of search without warrant; if we were to sweep away the Judges' Rules; if an accused person could be forced to testify, and if all public servants were to be statutorily obliged to report to the police any strongly held suspicions of crime which they formulated on the basis of information given to them in the course of their duties. But no one, I hope, would suggest that civil liberties would be breached in any of these ways as a general rule.
What there is on the table is a suggestion in the Note of Dissent in the Royal Commission's Report arguing that, uniquely in the case of the Inland Revenue, there should be a duty to report any 595 information to the Director of Public Prosecutions which strongly suggests—and this is not my phraseology, my Lords; this is the phraseology of the Note of Dissent—that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence of corruption has been committed".If the only object were to make life as easy as possible for the police in detecting crime, then there might be something to be said for this proposal among the others that I have mentioned, although it is doubtful in this case whether very much additional crime would be brought under investigation. The Commission heard that in the last five years there have been three cases of suspected public sector corruption reported to the Board of Inland Revenue, and that in two of those three cases criminal proceedings were taken on the basis of evidence coming to the attention of the police from other sources, while in the third case the suspected corruption was not remotely on the scale of the Poulson conspiracy.
Of course, there may have been some other cases which were not reported to head office, but clearly they are likely to have been of an even less serious nature. Moreover, my Lords, if it were known, as it would be, that the suspicions of corrupt transactions would be reported to the police in the way that is suggested in the Note of Dissent, then of course those who commit those offences, or who are likely to commit them, would be far more careful to cover their tracks in dealing with inspectors of taxes. It is not suggested that clear prima facie evidence of corruption should be required for the inspectors of taxes to make such a report, and indeed that would be extremely rare. The only cases one could think of where such evidence existed would be where the taxpayer admitted to the inspector that a payment was of a corrupt nature; otherwise, the inspector could have no knowledge of intent, which is an essential ingredient of the offence.
However, inspectors and collectors of taxes are to report to the Board any information which they feel reasonably certain ought to be carefully investigated, and the chairman of the Board or his deputy is then supposed to exercise his own judgment as to whether this information: 596…raised such a strong suspicion of really major corruption that it should in the public interest be passed on to the Director of Public Prosecutions".I would imagine that, to be on the safe side, inspectors of taxes are going to submit all instances of payments to members or officers of public bodies other than normal remuneration and expenses, just in case they might be of a corrupt nature; and the chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue or his deputy will then have to wade through all this mass of information and decide how much of it to report to the Director of Public Prosecutions—and in discharging this extremely difficult task, I hope he might be given rather better guidance than the phrase which I have just quoted from the Note of Dissent.
It is all very well to suggest, my Lords, as the signatories do, that it is almost an insult to the Board to say that these decisions would be an intolerable burden to them. I am not at all sure precisely what it is they are being asked to judge. The strength of a suspicion and the seriousness with which one views an offence of corruption are not capable of precise measurement, and must always be subjective.
In any case, however much we may loathe this particular offence, the offence of corruption, where is the logic in requiring the Inland Revenue to alert the police in the case of only this one very limited class of crime which might come to their notice? Why should we not extend this proposed obligation to all suspicions, however slight, of all kinds of offences, whatever their gravity; and, if we were to follow this through, why not extend the network of potential informers beyond inspectors of taxes and bring in others who might obtain confidential information in the course of their duties, such as the officers of the Department of Health and Social Security or the enumerators who collect census data? Then we might combine all this information on to one large computer file, as we could with the technologies available; and we might even link that file to the police national computer, which already contains an index of criminal names and associates, and compare one with the other. Certainly, by this means we should be able to bring some criminals to justice who might otherwise go unpunished, but I suggest it would be at the expense of most of our civil liberties if we 597 were prepared to tolerate such an extension of the information-gathering powers of the State. That is why I have burdened your Lordships with some of the arguments on this very contentious matter of the duties of inspectors of taxes.
The other question on which I want to touch very briefly is that of Members of Parliament and Peers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, also referred. I think it would have been a surprise to most people to find that no offence is committed if a person bribes or attempts to bribe a Member of either House of Parliament in respect of his Parliamentary activities. This is because Parliament is not a public body within the meaning of the Public Bodies Corrupt Practices Act 1889, and because membership of Parliament does not constitute public office for the purposes of the Common Law. I think, with respect, that although there is a Select Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, looking at particular allegations, they are not considering the general question of whether or not corruption of a Member of Parliament in respect of his Parliamentary duties should be brought within the ambit of the criminal law. f do not know whether the draftsman who framed the 1889 Act had it in mind that no criminal action could be taken against Members of Parliament or Peers in respect of any proceedings in Parliament, and it is at least arguable that an amendment of the Bill of Rights 1688 would be required if the corruption of an MP or a Peer were to be brought within the criminal law.
I suggest, my Lords, that in modern conditions it simply will not do for the Legislature to tighten up the law, the administrative procedures and the rules and regulations of a non-legal character, to which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has referred, in regard to the local authorities, nationalised industries, the Health Service and all other public bodies while at the same time Parliament insists on preserving its own immunities dating back to 1688. From time to time there have been criticisms of Members who have accepted payments allegedly in respect of some transaction in Parliament. It might be argued that the Privileges Committee of either House would be capable of dealing with those allegations. But have they done so in the past? Remember that they have to discharge that responsibility 598 in such a manner as not merely to satisfy either House of Parliament but to show the public outside that stern and vigorous action is being taken against suspected corruption within the Palace of Westminster, as it is in the wider sphere of public bodies beyond.
Now the Commission recommend that Parliament:…consider bringing corruption, bribery and attempted bribery of a Member of Parliament acting in his Parliamentary capacity within the ambit of the criminal law.The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who I am glad to see we shall be hearing from later, said in a letter to the New Statesman of 12th November that he did not agree with that recommendation although he drafted it himself. My Lords, I thought at the time that it was perfectly clear, and followed the arguments in the chapter leading up to that recommendation, that not only did the Commission want Parliament to consider an extension of the law but to act on that consideration. If I may refer in particular to paragraph 310, it says:We are all agreed upon the following points.Later on it says:…we consider that there is a strong case for bringing such malpractices within the criminal law.The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was, of course, also a party to the recommendation in that paragraph. I would hope that the recommendation is not to be taken simply as one which triggers off discussion in either House but one which leads to positive action of the sort which the public outside would expect.
My Lords, I have dealt with two recommendations of a contentious nature in the Report of the Royal Commission but of necessity in the time available I have had to ignore the other 36 on which there was unanimity between all the members of the Royal Commission. I hope that a high priority might be given to acting on recommendations which attracted such a broad measure of agreement, cutting across the boundaries of political Parties, perhaps in preference to other and more contentious legislation. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who said that if you once allow corruption to be established it is, indeed, hard to eradicate. By taking 599 firm action, Parliament and the Government can show that they mean to eradicate corruption.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sure the whole House would wish to join me in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for introducing this important debate today. At the same time, I should like to extend my good wishes to the two maiden speakers from whom we look forward to hearing later this afternoon. I should like particularly to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, because when I was first made Government Whip I found myself in the Home Office and I think he was about as surprised to see me as I was to find myself in the Home Office. He was very kind and helpful in the advice he gave me.
As the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has indicated, the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon, is of great importance. We live in an age of cynicism when it is fashionable to "knock" institutions and, in particular, politicians of all political persuasions both in local government and in Parliament. One of the consequences of this is that the climate of opinion now is that when there is a well-publicised case of corruption, the impression can be given that nearly everyone in local government is corrupt or, given the proper opportunity, would in fact act corruptly. On the general principle that good news is no news at all, it is easy for the public at large to believe that corruption exists on a much larger scale than it does. This, in turn, feeds on the cynicism which, in my opinion, is one of the root causes of our present troubles today. As a consequence of the cynicism about our political institutions and the way they work, there has been a great public demand for more open government and a great interest in various constitutional reforms and, at the same time, a demand that the politicians and civil servants to advise them should be, and should be seen to be, completely open and honest in their actions.
This is in no sense a Party political issue. It is in the interests of all of us who care about Parliamentary democracy, as we have known it, to support constructive 600 measures which will not only make it difficult for corruption to take place but make it easier for people who suspect corruption to get a hearing and for prompt action to be taken once corruption has been proved to have taken place. I remember that when I was appointed a Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of the Environment, one of the very first questions I was asked by a senior civil servant was whether or not in the course of my time in local government I had ever come across corruption. I replied that I had not. It may be that I was either too innocent or too naive to notice what was going on; but I think that it was not. It seems to me valuable on occasions like this to consider why it has been necessary to have two reports on conduct in public life in the space of only two years.
Perhaps it is for the theologians or philosophers to tell us why we sin, but there are at least three practical reasons why corruption takes place. The first is the opportunity for it. The fact is that as the power of the State over our lives increases, so does the temptation of those responsible for the implementation and administration of the laws. This is particularly so in local government. The enormous powers conferred by successive Planning Acts, and now the Community Land Act—a point which is referred to in one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission Report—give to the chairmen and members of planning committees and to the officers advising them opportunities for corruption on a scale unknown 50 years ago. This point is made in the evidence of The Times to the Royal Commission, on page 203 of the report, where they say:It is in planning decisions and in the award of contracts that most corruption has been found and it is there that it is most likely to flourish.But as the choice in housing narrows between owner occupation and being a council tenant, the powers of the person allocating council houses increases and the greater the proportion of council houses in one particular area, the greater the opportunity for bribery and corruption that exists once again. To a lesser extent, the same might be said of education and the choice of schools and, of course, in finding a bed in the National Health Service.
I was interested to read the first recommendation of the report of the noble and 601 learned Lord, Lord Salmon, which referred to corruption in the private sector. This point was supported in evidence submitted by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and also, I believe, in the Addendum by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. When I inquired of the AMA what particular matters they were concerned about, I found it was the use of Government money by private industry and, in particular, money they might have received from the National Enterprise Board and, again, the opportunities that this could provide for corruption. This seems to give further point to my general thesis.
My Lords, the second reason why, I think, corruption has occurred is the level of taxation. I believe it to be true that a great many people in all walks of life regard the level of taxation as being too high; they are unable to earn honestly what they believe their worth to society to be and the rewards of honest endeavour are simply not good enough. It seems to me ultimately dangerous for a society when fiddling of any sort can have any kind of moral justification whatever.
Third, there is the size of the organisations themselves. When individuals belive that it does not matter what their behaviour is because the organisation is so big and no one will know them, they behave towards the organisation in a way in which they would not behave to one another. If I may comment on the morality, it has often seemed to me that as a society we have lost in many respects our sense of sin or perhaps it is that today there is only one sin which is fashionable, and that is colour prejudice—not, I hasten to say, that I regard that as anything other than a great sin, but it is not the only sin. I must say that I read the Addendum by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—and I shall be interested to hear what he has to say—and his statement that those who accept bribes and who give bribes are sometimes more sinned against than sinning, in detracting from the sense of individual moral responsibility which is what I should have thought we wished to encourage in everybody in public life whether in the public or the private sectors.
It would follow from this that I find myself in agreement with most of the proposals of the Royal Commission and 602 I was also most interested in the analysis given in the Addendum by Mrs. Ward Jackson and should like to make comment on two points that she makes. First, she comments on the system of allowances to councillors in local government, a system which I support and have always supported. However, there are now some councillors who attempt to live off the allowance of £10 a day which means a relatively low income and therefore, there is I believe, the opportunity once again for corruption. It is something that needs to be watched in connection with the level of allowances and the amount of public work which is taken on. Secondly, she makes the point about the training of councillors for their work. The fact is that almost no practical training is given to councillors. I imagine this is because in the past it was assumed that everyone entering political life understood what service to a local authority was all about. This is not so today. I believe that there is a need for training of councillors, not only by political Parties but by local government themselves.
My Lords, there are so many important points but time will allow me to touch on only a few. The first is that, following my argument, I agree that if legislation follows this report—and like my noble friend Lord Windlesham and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I hope that it will and will not be too long delayed—it should apply not only to local government but to members and employees of public bodies generally. These are not defined. One of the difficulties is to know what is a public body. There is already the vast network of what have come to be called "Quangos". There are the National Health Service and the water authorities, and it seems right that these should be subject to the same rules as are suggested in the second recommendation and on the codes of conduct in recommendations 20 and 21, as well as their application to the nationalised industries.
Following what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, I agree that it would be to the benefit of Parliament if they took a good look—and a long, serious look—at recommendation No.36 on standards of conduct in Parliament and whether or not bribery should be a criminal offence for Members of Parliament and Peers. The recommendation on the Ombudsman—who, at present, as I understand it, if he 603 finds corruption in the course of seeking out maladministration, may not report it to the police—should be put into practice. There should be legislation upon this point, although I accept that none of the local authority associations with whom I have discussed this point wished to see the powers of the Local Government Commissioner extended. A thorough review of standing orders on contracts is much to be welcomed and should be put into practice.
I am not entirely clear why in the proposals for registers of interests officers of public sector bodies and the National Health Service are excluded. In the interests of open government, should not members in committee meetings declare non-financial interests where these apply? That is, membership of a powerful pressure group or trade union. On the other hand, all the local authority associations believe that when a councillor has declared a pecuniary interest, or any other interest, he ought to be free to speak, though not necessarily vote, without receiving special dispensation from the Secretary of State, as is necessary at present. Perhaps local government are concerned at some of the rulings of the Secretary of State in giving this particular dispensation. For, although it is outside the terms of the report that we are debating today, I was unhappy that the Secretary of State gave a blanket dispensation for council house tenants who are councillors to speak and vote on all matters in housing, including rents; but he advised councillors in North Norfolk, who are farmers, that they may speak but not vote when their council debates the proposals on the Layfield Committee regarding agricultural rating. I am not against dispensation being given to council house tenants, but there must on this matter be consistency in policy.
Lastly, I very much welcome the three recommendations which apply specifically to political Parties. I speak today as a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party with special responsibility for local government. We will undertake to look at the two recommendations which particularly apply to political Parties. I will only say on the third one that when I was in local government the five-year rule for chairmanship was always applied. I believe it to be the right one and I should like to see all local authorities apply it. 604 So far as my own activities are concerned, in briefing material sent to all people standing for councils for the first time we have always included a copy of the code of conduct so that they know the standards which ought to be applied to them should they be elected. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, referred to this because, of all the many important points that could be made on this matter I believe that at the end of the day there should be legislation following the Salmon Committee Report, but in the prevention of corruption what is needed is a positive belief in the right code of conduct in public life. This in its turn depends upon our fundamental belief in individual responsibility; and that the greater the responsibility conferred upon an individual, the greater is his need always for honesty and probity in public life.