HL Deb 05 May 1977 vol 382 cc1108-12

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what further steps have been taken since the debate on 8th December last to implement the recommendations of the Prime Minister's Committee on Local Government Rules of Conduct and the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life [Cmnd. 6524].


My Lords, consultations are continuing with the local authority associations and other bodies who are closely affected by the proposals, and the Government will announce their conclusions in due course.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. But it is three years since the Committee reported, and it is getting on for a year—about 10 months—since the Royal Commission reported. Would it not be possible to press on a little more quickly with those recommendations which do not require legislation? I have in mind, for example, the arrangements of the police for handling allegations of corruption, a matter which has not gone away in the meantime.


My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the setting up of the Salmon Commission was announced before the Redcliffe-Maud Committee reported, and the Government gave an assurance that no decision would be taken on those recommendations of the Redcliffe-Maud Committee which involved a change in law. Since the Salmon Commission was set up, and in fact since the Redcliffe-Maud Committee reported, discussions have been taking place with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Metropolitan Police, and the police generally, and it is the outcome of those conversations and discussions which we are awaiting at the present moment.

I think I ought to emphasise that very soon after the Redcliffe-Maud Report was published the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, together with the other appropriate Secretaries of State, issued a Consultative Document which invited comments on the Redcliffe-Maud proposals which would require legislation. Also a circular was issued drawing the attention of local authorities to those recommendations which could be implemented by authorities without the need for legislation. Later on, a further draft national code of conduct, which was suggested by the Committee, was agreed upon and sent out to every local authority in England, Wales and Scotland.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that the promise of a statement in due course is just a little disappointing after such a long period of time? Will he not convey to his colleagues the very great weight which must be attached to anything which comes from the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches, who has special interests and special experience in this matter, and will he urge a little more speed?


My Lords, I am grateful for the noble and learned Lord's intervention. I know that his concern is shared by, I think I can say, everybody in your Lordships' House. One often feels that a time lag is very long, but I give an undertaking to draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the remarks the noble and learned Lord has made.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that this leisurely process of considering the reports of Royal Commissions is so typical of what happens to the reports of Commissions and Committees which are set up in conditions of public anxiety and ministerial panic, when urgency is put behind the inquiry that is set on foot and when leisurely consultations take place with various associations, bodies and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all before anything is done? Is this not so typical of what happens in all these cases?


My Lords, the noble Lord should know. He has been a Minister, and has, I feel absolutely certain, been in this position himself. He has held ministerial office and he knows how difficult it is. If the noble Lord is saying that the Government Departments involved have nothing else to do except to consider this matter, then, if that were so, it ought to proceed more speedily, but we must bear in mind that every Government Department has a thousand and one other things to do. These discussions are not leisurely; they are taking place alongside a large number of others.


My Lords, while endorsing the constructive Question of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbey-dale, and agreeing with what the noble Lord opposite said, may I ask whether a debate could be arranged to discuss this subject?—because some useful information may arise from it. May I also ask whether my noble friend is aware that some of us can go back to the old 19th century articles of Clough Williams-Ellis on corruption in local government, which sometimes denigrated the work of men and women, in all Parties, who had sincerely dedicated their lives to the service of the community, and which thereby denigrated the honesty of most of the British public servants?


My Lords, I am trusting to memory, but I believe that on the 8th December last—I may be wrong about the date—there was in fact a debate on this very matter.


Yes, my Lords; but is the noble Lord aware—I was the mover of the Motion on which that debate was held—that the reply he has given is deeply disturbing to those who took part in it?


My Lords, while I am very grateful for what the Government have done with such speed on the report of the Prime Minister's Committee in particular, may I ask the Minister whether he accepts this? Everybody seems to be agreed that one of the changes that is needed, although it would require legislation, is that there should he a declaration of interest on each occasion on which a matter comes up and a withdrawal from the room, which was the recommendation of the Committee, rather than a reliance on a general declaration at the beginning of the year which is forgotten thereafter.


My Lords, I am grateful for those crumbs of comfort from the noble Lord. I did point out that the appropriate Secretaries of State had issued a national code of conduct. I have read it, and my recollection is that it contains the matter to which the noble Lord has referred, but I will certainly look at this again and pass on to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the comments the noble Lord has made.