HL Deb 06 April 1981 vol 419 cc363-4

2.45 p.m.

Lord Brockway

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House whether he will take steps to establish a register, as has been done in another place, requiring Members of this House to record their financial interests.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lord, this is essentially a matter for your Lordships' House. Up to now the House has been content to rely upon the requirement that, if a noble Lord decides that it is proper for him to take part in a debate on a subject in which he has a direct pecuniary interest, he should declare it. This derives from the long-standing custom of the House that noble Lords always speak on their personal honour.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, in view of the fact that we are a legislative assembly, sharing that task with the other place, is it not desirable that we should be accountable to the public, of whom we are the servants? Is it not desirable and in favour of open government not only that we should declare our interests when we speak but that the public should be able to judge them when we vote in the Lobbies?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as I say, this is essentially a matter for the House. In 1974 the Procedure Committee considered this possibility and set up a sub-committee. The sub-committee suggested—and the Procedure Committee agreed—that any such suggestion should be approved only as a result of the Procedure Committee agreeing and your Lordships' House agreeing, and neither of those actions came about.

Lord Derwent

My Lords, does my noble friend think that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, would like me to declare my overdraft?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it would be a fascinating revelation, but I doubt whether that was the purpose of the noble Lord's Question.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that some of us on this side would be embarrassed if the pathetic modesty of our means was declared to the public and to our potential creditors?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that peculiarity may not reflect only upon noble Lords opposite.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that, if open government is the purpose of this Question, there may be some case for investigating interests, other than financial, which prompt Questions in this House?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that also is perfectly true and no doubt would be covered by any such investigation.