HL Deb 10 May 1990 vol 518 cc1470-2

3.22 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Perhaps I may draw your Lordships' special attention to the first item on declaration of interest. This was a matter which concerned the committee in its last two meetings. Members had no wish significantly to alter the present practice of the House but it was thought that the existing wording in the Companion was not sufficiently clear. Therefore the committee recommends to the House the new guidance which is contained in paragraph 5 of the report.

Perhaps I may make three short points. First, as has always been the case, a decision whether or not to speak or vote on a matter in which one of your Lordships has a personal interest rests with himself or herself. Secondly—and this was the most important point in the committee's view—any interest, financial or not, which might influence the views being expressed should be declared in order that the House could make a balanced judgment of the arguments. Thirdly, a noble Lord should not speak or vote if he is acting or has acted personally in the matter under consideration for a specific fee or reward.

The main emphasis that the committee wishes to make is that the revised guidance depends on the importance of declaring any significant interest. I beg to move.

Moved, That the second report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report:



1. The Committee have concluded their annual review of procedural difficulties in the preceding session to which the attention of the House should be called, by considering at two meetings the issue of Declaration of Pecuniary Interest.

2. Rule (xiv) of the Rules of Debate in the Companion (p.44) is as follows:

It is a long-standing custom of the House that Lords speak always on their personal honour. It follows from this that if a 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.

Subject to this, and to the guidance to members or employees of public Boards (the Addison Rules) set out below, there is no reason why a Lord with an interest to declare should not take part in debate. It is however considered undesirable for a Lord to advocate, promote or oppose in the House any Bill or subordinate legislation, in or for which he is or has been acting or concerned for any pecuniary fee or reward.

3. A series of incidents last session suggested that the last sentence of this guidance is widely misunderstood (H.L. Deb. 3rd April 1989 cols. 964 and 972, H.L. Deb. 2nd May 1989 cols. 58 and 61, H.L. Deb. 11th October 1989 cols. 403-406). The point at issue in each case was the meaning of "acting or concerned for any pecuniary fee or reward" and whether it applies to a general salary or retainer or only to a specific pecuniary fee or reward in a particular case, and whether "concerned" is to be construed broadly or narrowly. From an examination of the history of the matter, it appears that the rule was orginally aimed at two potential abuses, namely a Lord gaining pecuniary advantage from his membership of Parliament or using it to further his professional career, and a person outside Parliament gaining unfair advantage through a fortuitous connection with a member of the House. It was not intended to prohibit professionally qualified Lords from speaking on matters connected with their profession, which would deprive the House of the views of members with a direct knowledge of the subjects under discussion.

4. In the light of these recent experiences, the Committee consider that the rule as currently phrased fails to express the original intentions of the House, and accordingly they have agreed a new form of guidance which they hope will express the conventions of the House more clearly,

5. The Committee recommend the following new guidance on the Declaration of Interest, for eventual inclusion in the Companion:

"It is a long-standing custom of the House that Lords speak always on their personal honour. The decision whether it is proper to take part in a debate or a vote in which a Lord has a personal interest therefore rests with the Lord himself; but it is considered undesirable for a Lord to advocate, promote or oppose in the House any Bill or subordinate legislation if he is acting or has acted personally in direct connection with it for a specific fee or reward, or to vote on a Private Bill in which he has a direct pecuniary interest. Subject to these exceptions and to the guidance to Members or Employees of Public Boards (the "Addison Rules") a Lord is free to take part in a debate or a vote in which he has a personal interest.

If a Lord has a direct pecuniary interest in a subject on which he speaks, he should declare it, and he should also declare any kind of interest of which his audience should be aware in order to form a balanced judgement of his argument. Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for example the interest of a relation or friend, hospitality or gifts received, trusteeship, or unpaid membership of an interested organisation, and they may include past and future interests. This rule also applies where a Lord is using his influence as a member of the House in communication with a Minister, Government Department, local authority or other public body outside the House. If a Lord wishes to vote on a subject in which he has an interest that is direct, pecuniary and shared by few others, it is better that he should have spoken in the debate so that his interest may be openly declared.

On certain occasions such as Starred Questions and the various stages of a bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Lords should not take up time by repeating declarations of interest but a Lord should make a declaration whenever he is in doubt. The Clerks at the Table are available to advise on the interpretation of this guidance in a case of uncertainty."


6. The guidance given in the Companion on the scope of questions which may be asked on the nationalised industries is as follows:

"The tabling of Questions on nationalised industries is considered undesirable save for those asking for statistical information on a national basis or raising matters of urgent public importance." (p. 79)

The guidance was incorporated in the Companion on the Committee's recommendation of December 1978 (1st Report, 1977-78, H.L. 126). The principle behind the guidance is that governments should be expected to answer only on matters for which they exercise some direct responsibility.

7. Theoretically, Ministers have an arm's length relationship with the nationalised industries and their powers to intervene directly in their operations are limited. However, through their powers to give directions and to appoint and dismiss Chairmen of boards, and through their practice of giving general directives to boards and exercising the power of the purse, it has always been recognised that Ministers do in fact have a considerable measure of control over the operations of these industries.

8. For some years past the framing of questions and subsequent exchanges in the House have taken account of this position and have in practice ignored the Companion's guidance. Questions on nationalised industries often excite considerable interest in the House and criticisms of their content are rare. Government spokesmen show a willingness to answer them.

9. The Committee recommend that the Companion guidance should be modified to follow that recently agreed to on the subject of privatised industries (Procedure Committee 2nd Report 1987-88, H.L. 51), that in future questions should be restricted to matters where there is, in practice, Government responsibility, and that the tabling of questions on nationalised industries and privatised industries should be governed by the following single paragraph:

"The tabling of Questions on nationalised industries and privatised industries is restricted to those matters for which the Government are in practice responsible. In the case of the nationalised industries this includes broad issues of general policy and matters of overall financial control, questions on matters which raise issues of urgent public importance or requests for statistical information on a national basis. In the case of privatised industries, Ministers may retain power, for instance, to give directions either directly or indirectly through a regulatory body or to exercise rights conferred by a special share-holding. Questions on matters of the day-to-day administration of nationalised and privatised concerns which do not fall within the Government responsibility are undesirable."

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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