§ IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE
SUB-COMMITTEE ON DECLARATION AND REGISTRATION
§ 1. The Sub-Committee's Report recommends, in paragraph 38, revised guidance in relation to Lords' outside interests. This could simply be adopted by the House and thus included in the next edition of the Companion.
2. Paragraph 46 recommends the institution of a register covering "any arrangements, such as consultancies, whereby members of the House accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing Parliamentary advice or services, or any similar arrangement; and any financial interest in a business involved in Parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients". Subsequent paragraphs elaborate on this recommendation, and allow for the voluntary registration of other interests. An order of the House would initially be appropriate for establishing such a register. Subsequently, once experience of the arrangements had shown whether any amendments were desirable, the arrangements could be incorporated in a Standing Order. The initial order might be along the following lines:
That there shall be established a register of:
§ 1) any arrangements, such as consultancies, whereby members of the House accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing Parliamentary advice or services, or any similar arrangement; and any financial interest in a business involved in Parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients; and
§ 2) any other particulars which members of the House wish to register relating to matters which they consider may affect the public perception of the way in which they discharge their Parliamentary duties.1432
§ The register shall be maintained under the authority of the Clerk of the Parliaments by a Registrar appointed by him.
§ Arrangements falling within category (1) shall be registered within one month of being made.
§ The register shall be available for public inspection in accordance with arrangements to be made by the Registrar.
§ The register shall also be published annually. The annual edition shall include all arrangements registered since the previous edition and all continuing arrangements unless their termination has been notified to the Registrar.
§ The operation of the register shall be overseen by the Committee for Privileges."
§ 3. The final sentence of the above should suffice to deal with matters of detail such as the form of publication of entries in the Register, which could be considered and approved by the Committee for Privileges.
4. Paragraphs 54 to 59 of the Sub Committee's Report deal with the enforcement of the obligation to register. It is proposed that alleged failure to register should be considered by a sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges. Arrangements relating to sub-committees are normally the responsibility of the parent committee rather than of the House, so it would be appropriate for the House simply to give the Committee power to delegate this matter to a sub-committee. An order along the following lines would be appropriate (and might be added to the order set out above):
The Committee for Privileges shall investigate, and report to the House on, any allegation of failure to register interests within category (1); provided that the Committee shall first satisfy itself that an allegation has sufficient substance to warrant investigation.
§ The Committee may remit any or all of the matters covered by this order to a sub-committee.
§ In considering any of the matters covered by this order, the Committee and any sub-committee shall not sit unless three Lords of Appeal be present."
§ 3.28 p.m.
My Lords, perhaps I may commence my short introduction of the sub-committee's report by expressing the thanks of the sub-committee to all those noble Lords—some 50 of them—who gave us the benefit of their advice in writing. I must also thank those who responded to our request to come and assist the committee with oral evidence. We are most grateful to all of them for all the help that we received in what we found to be not an easy task.
The committee commenced its deliberations, with the assistance of an excellent paper produced by the Clerk of the Parliaments, by reviewing the past practice of the House which eventually led to the present guidance on declaration of interests which was last revised in 1990. It then proceeded to receive oral evidence. At the end of the reception of the oral evidence, the first report of the Nolan Committee was published on 11th May. We naturally paid the closest attention to its contents and particularly its recommendations for the other place. But we were conscious that the composition, the traditions and the practices of this House are different to those of the other place. We therefore approached our task not by seeking to transpose the Nolan recommendations (with slight amendments) to this House, but to consider what was best for this House.
The last major review of practice in relation to Members' interests was carried out by a sub-committee of the Procedure Committee over 20 years ago, in 1974. That was in response to the decision of the other place 1433 to introduce a register of Members' interests. The sub-committee made no firm recommendation as to whether or not there should be a register. It may be fair to sum it up by saying that it wobbled slightly against it. The sub-committee concluded that,Declaration should be the basic practice of the House for making known the personal interests of Peers when these are relevant to debate. A register, if adopted, should be treated as supplementary".
With some minor modifications that remains the recommendation of the sub-committee. However, the report contained the following trenchant passage, where it stated that the 1974 sub-committee,find it inconsistent with the traditions or proper function of the House that any Peer should act in the House as a paid agent of someone else or that he should continue to act in the House in any cause for which he has recently been a paid agent, whether or not his interest is declared".
The report therefore endorsed what was then the entry in the Companion, which stated,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"."Considered undesirable" is our language for, "It is out of order" or "You should not".
In the present guidance the word "specific" is introduced; and the guidance now reads,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".That has apparently been interpreted as meaning, "Whereas you may not accept a specific fee—say £1,000—to speak on a specific occasion in favour of a specific measure, it is permissible to receive a general retainer". That means merely this: that it is perfectly all right to speak seven times for £14,000, but not once for £2,000. I cannot believe that that was the intention sought by the introduction of the word "specific". Indeed, I had the matter looked up and the earlier advice had been thought by some to inhibit those who were professionally qualified from speaking on behalf of members of their profession. That is why it was amended by introducing the word "specific". How it was thought that that had been achieved is not for me to say; but that is the history behind the matter.
We then considered the present position and in the past 20 years there have been three developments that were never faced by those who considered the revision in 1974. First, there has been a greatly increased public interest and awareness of the behaviour of those in public life; secondly, there has been a great growth in the parliamentary lobbying industry; and, thirdly, there has been the emergence of the profession of parliamentary consultant.
The Nolan Committee, by an analysis of the register of the other place, found that around 30 per cent. of the Members of that House were paid parliamentary consultants. As we have no register, we had no means of knowing with any certainty how many Members of this House hold such consultancies. I doubt that it is anything like as much as 30 per cent. of Members; I 1434 expect it to be a fraction of that, around 1 or 2 per cent. No doubt there are some, and that was certainly a development that we had to consider.
Building on past traditions of the House, of which I have already spoken, the majority of us concluded that the guidance on declaration of interest should now be founded on two fundamental principles:(1) Lords should act always on their personal honour; and,(2) Lords should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising Parliamentary influence".I should have thought that was self-evident. Starkly, I would say, "You must not sell parliamentary influence".
There is nothing wrong in a Member of this House accepting an appointment as a parliamentary adviser to a company or an institution. The Member may be able to give wise and valuable advice on the workings of this House and how best to approach matters if Parliament is considering something of particular interest to that organisation. But if the Member accepts such a position, he should not play any parliamentary part in furthering the interests of the organisation. If he does, he will be perceived by the public outside as selling his voice and, worse still, selling his vote. Of course he may not be doing that; he may be speaking from conviction. But the price is too high to permit it to be paid.
The sub-committee therefore recommends extending the guidance to make it clear that those who accept parliamentary advisory posts— "parliamentary consultancy" is the term of art that has now emerged —should not speak, vote, lobby or in any other way use their parliamentary position to further the interests of their client. That we have spelt out in the guidance.
At this point I wish to make it as clear as I possibly can that this inhibition applies to a very narrow group of persons. As has already been said, it is of the essence of the value of this House that we draw on the experience of the Members. Some noble Lords have said to me, "But I have a consultancy. I am an engineer. I advise a large engineering conglomeration. Does this mean that when a matter comes up in Parliament that affects its interests I cannot speak because I have a consultancy?" Of course not. That is not the type of consultancy one is speaking about. That is not a consultancy one enjoys because of one's membership of this House. It is a consultancy one enjoys because of one's expertise and skill as an engineer. Of course one must place one's knowledge and expertise at the disposal of the House. But naturally one will declare one's interest before doing so. That has been the practice of this House from time immemorial and we have no intention of changing that at all. We are just aiming at this narrow group.
We also feel that this should extend to those who have interests in parliamentary lobbying companies. They too, if they hold such a position, should not take part in parliamentary affairs on behalf of a client. That is the effect of the extension we recommend in the wording of the guidance.
Perhaps I may now turn to the question of the register. In so far as those who hold parliamentary consultancies or analogous arrangements or are members of lobbying companies, our recommendation is that there should be 1435 a mandatory obligation to register them. They register them and then everyone knows that when something comes up that affects their client they are offside; they must not speak. We had a very long debate—and views were divided—on the advisability of requiring noble Lords to register their interests on a very much wider scale, similar to that in the other place. The majority of us considered that we could not recommend such a mandatory register. For the most part it would have little relevance to the activities in this House of very many noble Lords. It would undoubtedly be a great intrusion into privacy affecting not only them but their families; and, regrettably today, be open to abuse. On the other hand, we recognised that there are many noble Lords who are very active in the House and who might well wish to lay before the public all their various outside interests. We therefore thought that the right course was to recommend that there should be a voluntary register in which one could put down one's interests but that there should be no compulsion to do so.
Finally, there is the question of discipline. As noble Lords will know, the Nolan Report recommended that an ombudsman be appointed to oversee affairs in the other place. We did not think that there was any necessity for this House to adopt an ombudsman. We believe that the matter can be perfectly satisfactorily investigated and dealt with by the Committee for Privileges and—perhaps I am not the best person to say this—we thought that there was a real advantage to this House in having Law Lords available to sit upon any such committee. They are, after all, judicially trained and they are not the most active of parliamentarians, as noble Lords will have judged from this performance. We did not think that there was any necessity for having an ombudsman and we felt that the matter could be perfectly satisfactorily dealt with by a sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges. If there was a complaint that a Lord had failed to declare an interest or failed to register when he should have done, it would go to the sub-committee which would investigate it; first of all in private to see if a prima facie case could be made out, as a lot of damage could be done by purely mischievous allegations. If, however, the committee was satisfied that there was a prima facie case, the matter would be investigated in public and the noble Lord would have the opportunity of defending himself or of being professionally defended if he so chose. We thought that that would be the most satisfactory way of handling procedures. Of course one cannot expel a Lord if he is found to be in breach but we were satisfied that the shame of any such public finding would be a more than adequate sanction. We are hopeful that such a procedure will never be necessary.
I conclude by expressing my own personal and deep thanks to the Clerk of the sub-committee, Mr. David Beamish, who gave so much help throughout our procedures and in drafting the report. Lastly, as always, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who came to my rescue and corrected my grammar. In one of the first recommendations about the register that I, not David Beamish, had drafted: 1436The House should institute a register covering 'any arrangements, such as consultancies, whereby members of the House accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing Parliamentary advice or services, or any similar arrangement'".
I had a short note from the noble Lord, Lord Allen, castigating me quite rightly about the grammar and suggesting that it would be much improved if it read,any Parliamentary consultancies, or any similar arrangements, whereby members of the House accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing Parliamentary advice or services".
I gratefully accept that, and commend it to your Lordships.
§ 3.47 p.m.
The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, implied that he was not a very frequent parliamentary performer. If he will forgive the undoubted impertinence, I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that, on the basis of his exposition to us this afternoon, that is a very great pity. If that is the only way we can bring him into regular contact with the Chamber, I hope that we will be able to find him some more investigations to pursue on our behalf.
This afternoon's debate is on a subject of very great interest and importance to the House. The recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, if implemented, as the Lord Chairman said, would represent a very substantial departure from our custom and as such would be bound to affect the ethos and atmosphere of this place. For that reason alone it is right that we should examine these proposals with care and due deliberation. However, we cannot help but be aware of the climate in which the noble and learned Lord's report has been published. In that climate it is clear that Members of both Houses of Parliament will increasingly be expected to demonstrate to the public at large that they are not abusing their positions. It is therefore equally important that our judgment this afternoon should reflect the second consideration at least as much as the first.
So I do believe that we are all the more fortunate that the noble and learned Lord undertook the difficult and delicate job of chairing the sub-committee. I can think of no one whose experience and clarity of mind better suited him to the task and I hope, as a result, that our own deliberations this afternoon will reflect his clarity and judgment. I am sure that your Lordships will agree with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees that the House is greatly in the noble and learned Lord's debt and also, of course, in the debt of the other members of the sub-committee. I should also like to express my appreciation of the way in which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees has conducted the Procedure Committee's deliberations and the helpful way he has introduced the debate this afternoon.
Any noble Lords who have taken the trouble to read my evidence to the sub-committee will perhaps have observed that all my instincts in the matter of declaration of interests are conservative with a small "c". It has always seemed to me that in matters of this kind the simplest rules are the most practical and that to expect noble Lords to declare an interest before 1437 speaking, so long as the declaration was pretty specific, had the merit both of simplicity and clarity. After all, in a House with few rules, which relies on courtesy and give and take, our present procedure is entirely consistent with our traditions and transgressors feel the displeasure of the House very keenly and tend not to re-offend. So, when I couple these considerations with the very great difficulties of drawing up rules of a more elaborate nature —and they are, as the sub-committee found, mostly difficulties of definition—I would instinctively be inclined to argue for a continuance of the status quo. After all, the noble and learned Lord found little evidence of wide abuse of the system, as he has told us this afternoon.
However, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, in the present climate, this is no longer a sustainable option. We need to be able to find a system that inspires confidence in the public but which at the same time preserves, as far as possible, the ethos and effectiveness of this place. I would suggest to your Lordships that it would be difficult to find a better solution than the one the sub-committee recommend, particularly in the central matter of a register of interests.
The recommendations which the sub-committee has made, and which the Procedure Committee has endorsed, I believe take as full account as is possible of the nature and circumstances of your Lordships' House. The sub-committee recognised the significance of the fact that noble Lords do not receive a salary and will therefore have other sources of income. It also acknowledged how desirable it was that the House should not be deprived of the benefit of the wealth of experience of many walks of life which noble Lords bring to our proceedings. In the words of the sub-committee,it would be absurd if the only members able to speak on a particular subject were those without any involvement in it".
With these points in mind, the sub-committee, I believe, wisely reserved its most stringent recommendation for what, if your Lordships will forgive me, I characterise as "taxis plying for hire". The sub-committee said, quite unequivocally, that,Lords should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising Parliamentary influence".
I do believe that that must be right. After all, if it was right in 1974, it is no less right today. It would surely be against all the interests of this House for any noble Lord to sell both his voice and vote. The sub-committee therefore recommends that Peers should register—this appears in paragraph 60 of the report—any arrangements, such as consultancies, whereby [they] accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing Parliamentary advice or services, or any similar arrangement".
Such registration would enable the House to judge whether any noble Lord was seeking to exercise parliamentary influence in relation to such an arrangement.
Of course, a register of this type of interest will be effective only if noble Lords comply with the requirement. The sub-committee observe that it is doubtful whether the House has the power to suspend or expel its Members; so there can be no question of 1438 absolute compulsion. But the prospect of having one's actions investigated by a sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges—particularly one which contains three Law Lords, also Members of your Lordships' House—and the consequences of having any failure to comply reported on publicly to the House will, I venture to suggest, be a most compelling incentive.
Those recommendations of the sub-committee, which the noble and learned Lord has outlined to us so far, as I understand it, are intended to allay public suspicion that any Member of this House should deliberately exploit his position in Parliament for private gain by offering his services for hire. I am persuaded that they can be made to be effective in that objective and I do hope that in due course your Lordships will agree to adopt them.
In respect of other interests, such as outside employment or directorships not arising from membership of the House, the sub-committee, as the noble and learned Lord told us, acknowledged that hard and fast restrictions would be inappropriate. I believe that what he set out today is a clarification of present practice, which your Lordships should greatly welcome, as I welcome the proposal that noble Lords should be—I believe that this is from paragraph 60—especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others".
As I say, these recommendations seem to me to strike a balance between, on the one hand, ensuring that the House, and indeed the public, will be aware of any interest relevant to their assessment of a noble Lord's words or actions and, on the other hand, not needlessly deterring noble Lords from giving the House the benefit of their experience.
I have already referred to the difficulties of definition. The noble and learned Lord's sub-committee acknowledged them and it judged that it would be virtually impossible to define the circumstances in which noble Lords should feel inhibited by wider interests from speaking or voting, and that this in the first instance should be left to the conscience of the individual. I believe that in principle this must be right. The details of interpretation and implementation of all these new proposals will be delicate. However, I do not believe that your Lordships will feel that this is entirely a weakness. So much of the practice of your Lordships' House is determined by self-regulation, by precedent and by accumulated wisdom. The learned Clerks are available to advise, and I believe that, over time, our practice will evolve and develop. Moreover, I have no doubt that in due course we may find it appropriate to take stock of what the effect of these proposals may have been if your Lordships feel able to implement them.
As I have previously said, I feel a personal sympathy with those of your Lordships—and I know that they are not to be found only on the Benches behind me—who consider that the changes we are debating today are unnecessary and will sadly alter the character of your Lordships' House. But to those noble Lords who are of that mind I would say this: the noble and learned Lord's sub-committee was charged with seeking a solution to a problem which, albeit in my view one, above all, of 1439 misperception rather than practical substance, we simply cannot afford to ignore. The membership of the sub-committee was drawn from all quarters of the House and from all shades of opinion on the subject. It took extensive evidence, as the noble and learned Lord told us, from both inside and outside the House and deliberated with care on what it heard. It was able to make recommendations which the Procedure Committee was, with unanimity, able to endorse and which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, who I am delighted to see in his place this afternoon, has kindly indicated to me are regarded by his committee as a positive response to public concern.
Of course, in due time it may be that the Committee on Standards in Public Life will wish to consider the arrangements which prevail in your Lordships' House, and it will he, as I made clear when I repeated a Statement in your Lordships' House at the time of the announcement of the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, quite within its remit for it to do so. But I for one am, as I hope your Lordships know, a believer in the sovereignty and independence of Parliament and of this House in particular. If we can ourselves formulate and adopt safeguards which will satisfy the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and his colleagues, then I for one would feel so much the better. Indeed, if I may say so without too much risk of impertinence, the difficulties which have been experienced in another place in attempting to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life go a long way towards persuading me that we should persist in seeking our own way forward if we can.
I hope that the sense of today's debate will deliver a clear message on this difficult question. There will be many members of the public watching for our reaction today. If the message is one of approval of the sub-committee's report, it will enable us to proceed to introduce appropriate resolutions very soon. The timing would depend on further consultation in all parts of the House, through the usual channels and with the Convenor of the Cross-Benches. Therefore, I hope that your Lordships will agree to proceed along the lines which the noble and learned Lord proposes in the light of the expressions of opinion to which we shall listen with great interest this afternoon.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, let me say at the outset that I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have already spoken, particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, the Chairman of Committees. I am grateful also to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, who set out the substance of his report's recommendations with a clarity which did not seem to brook a great deal of argument once he had sat down. I am also grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for outlining the Government's response to those proposals.
I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House would like to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his colleagues most warmly for their work 1440 in producing these comprehensive and useful reports. It must have been a difficult and onerous task and the whole House owes them a debt.
This is an important issue. Certain new procedures may be introduced and it is therefore right that the House should be treating the matter as seriously as it clearly is today. We on this side of the House welcome the report and the recommendations. It has tackled some delicate and serious issues in a considered manner and will, I hope, lead to a useful and informed debate in the House today. We accept the report and recommendations as a package. That is not to say that everybody on this side of the House agrees with all of the recommendations; nor is it to say that there are not matters which we would wish to have included in the report but which do not appear there. However, it would not be a productive use of your Lordships' time if I were to argue about that which is not in the report but which should be. It is much more important that I should make our attitude absolutely clear in respect of the recommendations which do appear in the report and, as far as they are concerned, we accept them.
There are three issues that we have to consider in this afternoon's debate. The first is the question: was there a need for such a report on the House of Lords? On this side of the House we are agreed that there was a need to look at the issue of Members' interests and we are pleased that noble Lords now have the opportunity to consider and debate the reports. However, I do not think that we should exaggerate the scope of the problem in this House; nor do I think that we should minimise it. The public perception of politicians, particularly it must be said in another place, now seems to be at an all-time low. Without introducing any party dissent into the debate, I do not think that that perception will be enhanced if the House of Commons accepts the recommendations of the Conservative majority on the Select Committee and rejects one of the main proposals of the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan.
I do not believe that there are many offenders against the existing rules in your Lordships' House. By and large, noble Lords can be trusted to behave as they should, but that is not really the point. The fact that most behave underlines the need to try to deal with the minority who do not. The way to preserve the good apples in the barrel is to deal with the rotten ones; not to pretend that they are all perfectly ripe and ready for eating. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, told us, the last time that this question was looked at in detail was in 1974 when the sub-committee of the Select Committee on Procedure of the House stated:Lords speak always on their personal honour",
and further stated that it is,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".
At that time, that was generally accepted as sufficient guidance. Since then, however, there have been substantial changes in public opinion. There has been intense and critical media observation and an enormous growth in lobbying companies. All of those factors have led to the need to look at the guidelines afresh. There have been a number of undesirable incidents, with the 1441 result that suspicion of politicians has increased. Some of the activities have prompted deep public concern and have led to demands for greater openness as well as the tightening up of standards of behaviour for those in public life. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, was given the arduous duty of looking at standards within the House of Commons, and the Committee on Standards of Conduct in Public Life published its first report in May.
This House is a vital and active legislative body. Accepting the differences between the two Houses—and there are differences—I think that the public have a right to expect similar standards of objectivity and transparency here to those in another place. It is because of that that I was reassured when this House decided to appoint the sub-committee in December 1994,to consider the practice of the House",along similar lines to the Nolan Committee.
However, it is important to emphasise that the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, is not made in response to the setting up of the Nolan Committee, but was our own attempt in this House to renew public confidence in the legislators here and to consider how we manage our affairs with respect to parliamentary standards as a whole. On that point, I was pleased to read the Nolan Committee's statement:It is relevant that Peers do not receive a salary—only an attendance allowance—and it is therefore implicit that a Peer has other sources of income. The question of Peers' outside interests must therefore be approached from a quite different starting point".
With respect, I think that that is precisely what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his colleagues tried to do, and they succeeded. The report was confined to an investigation of what may be appropriate for this House and no other. We are not the same as the other place and it is right that the differences are recognised at the outset. Therefore, on the first point I conclude that an investigation was, indeed, necessary.
Secondly, against the background that a report was necessary, we must ask whether the proposals which have emerged are sensible for this House. The annex to the report is a useful outline of how the recommendations will be implemented. Perhaps I may spend a moment detailing what the report says. It calls for the institution of a register whereby:First, any arrangements, such as consultancies, whereby members of the House accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing Parliamentary advice or services, or any similar arrangement; and any financial interest in business involved in Parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients
would require registration.
In respect of that part of the report, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, used the word "mandatory" this afternoon. If it is not exactly compulsory—very little is compulsory in your Lordships' House—it would nevertheless place noble Lords under a duty to register and non-registration would be a serious matter and one for the Committee of Privileges. Given the self-regulatory nature of this House, I read that recommendation as virtually imposing an obligation to register on those who fall within the description set out in the report.
1442 Secondly, the report recommends that there should be a voluntary registration of,any other particulars which members of the House wish to register relating to matters which they consider may affect the public perception of the way they discharge their Parliamentary duties".
Some of the provisions are thus to be virtually compulsory while there is to be a voluntary approach to the rather broader issues.
I note that when reviewing the issue of "personal honour", the sub-committee tightened up that part of the old advice. It now states:Lords should act always on their personal honour",
as opposed to,Lords speak always on their personal honour".
That is a significant change of verb and I am sure that it was intentional.
Secondly, the report now states:Lords should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising Parliamentary influence".
The report goes on to state,we do not expect Lords to have any difficulty in identifying a 'financial inducement'.I hope that the report is not over-confident in its expectations, but I am sure that noble Lords will respect the wishes of the House as a whole and continue to act on their personal honour.
The report goes on to outline the practice of the House and advises—and these are very important words indeed—that noble Lordsshould not speak, vote, lobby or otherwise take advantage of their position as members of the House on behalf of their clients".
As the noble Lord has said, this would primarily affect noble Lords working for lobbying organisations or being paid directly for parliamentary services.
I am not sure that the report looks closely enough at those who are employed as directors of companies who may be able to participate in matters that affect the interest of those companies. The report says again that,the decision rests ultimately with Lords themselves".
We on this side of the House would have preferred it if this aspect of the report had been tightened up but, in the interests of good government—if I may put it that way—we accept the report as a package and would support it.
We would like to see a greater obligation to register or disclose non-pecuniary but relevant interests, to try to avoid confusion. I would underline the advice of the report that noble Lords should make a declaration whenever they are in doubt. I am sure that that is sensible and right.
I emphasise that, although we have some reservations on this side of the House about the strength of the recommendations of the report—particularly so far as the register is concerned—we welcome it, as a package, and are grateful for the guidance it has given. The report has gone a long way—although not all the way—towards meeting public concern about greater transparency by its legislators. I am grateful for all the work that has gone into producing these important proposals, and I am sure that we will all, in due course, 1443 appreciate the candid disclosures that we will get from our colleagues. Only with greater openness can we expect to recover the confidence of the people we serve. These are not revolutionary proposals. They are useful and helpful changes to our procedures which should go a long way towards meeting public concern.
The central principles upon which the report and its recommendations are based are really those on pages 16 and 17. They are perhaps worth looking at and quoting.
the practice of the House is based on the principle that Lords should act always on their personal honour.
I think every noble Lord would accept that.Accordingly, Lords should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising Parliamentary influence.
The second principle is:Lords who have a direct financial interest in a subject on which they speak should declare it, making clear that it is a financial interest. They should also declare any non-financial interest of which their audience should be aware in order to form a balanced judgment of their arguments.
Those two points seem to me to be almost unarguable; they go to the heart of the report itself. If the House accepts those as principles that we are in favour of, and principles that we should be trying to uphold, then what follows from that are the specific recommendations set out in the report.
My Lords, so far as this side of the House is concerned, I commend the report to the House.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
My Lords, we all are, and certainly should be, grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his committee for having moved so expeditiously in this matter and produced a report which is in all respects sensible and in most respects clear. I would like to place on record that I found the committee a most courteous and perceptive body before which to appear.
The first question is whether we can match the expedition of the committee by proceeding to adopt its recommendations—on the run, as it were, following directly from this debate—and have them in place, more or less, for the beginning of the new Session. The advantages of this course are, first, that it would put us ahead of the game, leaving the other House, as it appears, somewhat floundering behind us. Secondly, it would mean that we had firmly occupied a defensive bit of centre ground so that when the Nolan Committee comes to pronounce on matters relating to your Lordships' House in May or June it may well be, but obviously not certainly, disposed to endorse what we have done. Thirdly, I know that there are noble Lords who regard this as rather nasty medicine to swallow and, on the whole, nasty medicine is best swallowed fast. I am therefore inclined to this course provided that it carries broad agreement across the House. If there is widespread dissent, we shall have to take it a little more slowly. In any event, we must be prepared to deal with the second Nolan Report in six or seven months' time.
As to the merits of the issue, I have somewhat mixed and cautious feelings. Although some change in our procedure is inevitable—and probably desirous—I am 1444 concerned about the growth of the lobbying industry. It is curious how the less industrial a process—whether it is football, film-making or tourism—the more inclined it is to incorporate "industry" in its nomenclature. The growth of the lobbying industry, as it is coming to be called, has been massive during my period—now, unbelievably 47 years—in one or other House.
It was disclosed that 30 per cent. of Back Bench Members of the House of Commons held parliamentary consultancies of one sort or another; in other words they were paid to exercise parliamentary influence on behalf of some outside interest. I found that a revelation, and not a very reassuring one. I do not know what the percentage is in your Lordships' House. I hope and believe that it is substantially lower, hut it certainly exists. So there is a problem here, one which affects, in varying degrees, both Houses of Parliament.
The existence of the problem can only he denied by those who are prepared to say that there is nothing discreditable in Peers or Members standing up in Parliament and making a speech, asking a Question or moving an amendment, not because it is in accordance with their interest or conviction, not because it affects their constituents, if they have constituents, but because they are paid to do it. That denigrates Parliament at a time when the last thing that Parliament can afford is further denigration.
Therefore, there is indisputably a problem, which cannot be met by a complacent refusal to change. Nor can it be met by just talking defiantly about honour. For my taste, there was rather too much talk of honour in some of the evidence to the Griffiths Committee. Honour is important, but it should be like conscience—a still, small voice. If it is talked about too much it becomes at once pretentious and suspect. I think Emerson got it unforgettably right with his spoons. I do not think that noble Lords need the quotation.
So we need something more than a severation of honour. It is easier to diagnose the problem than to solve it in a way that does not run us up against other undesirable consequences. The major danger I see is that of the further professionalisation of politics. We have moved a long way towards making politics a tight little occupation with a career structure almost as rigid as that in a building society or a high street bank. You begin as a research assistant and work your way from a bad seat to a good seat; a parliamentary private secretaryship; a period in the Whips' office; a parliamentary secretaryship; a minister of stateship; and a little further, if you are lucky. But all the time you are terrified of falling off the ladder. In the course of that progress you will have acquired few skills other than that of manipulating the political process, and very little width of knowledge. That is a large part of the reason for the startling figure of 30 per cent. of Back-Benchers holding lobbying consultancies.
The products of the new system feel an entitlement to a standard of living higher than a parliamentary salary provides or, to be frank, is ever likely to provide, but they have precious little to sell except their knowledge of the processes of Parliament. Those developments have not been conducive to the production of statesmen 1445 of wide knowledge and generous ideas. I should be strongly opposed to carrying it further. I should be opposed to anything which made politics in your Lordships' House, or in the other place, less attractive to those with interests beyond self-advancement and the political rat race.
The Griffiths Committee has done its best to steer a difficult course between the Scylla of restoring public confidence after a few nasty shocks and the Charybdis of making this House a place from which people with wide interests will be tempted to seek leave of absence. That is why I support the broad thrust of the committee's recommendations and think it best to implement them quickly.
I turn to the important question of whether there are relevant differences and, if so, to what extent between this House and the other place. One obvious similarity is that we are both components of Parliament with certain responsibilities for legislation and for public policy. However, set against that, there are at least two significant differences. The first is that we are not merely in practice but in theory and in concept an amateur Chamber.
I believe strongly, as my previous remarks must have indicated, that MPs should be allowed to engage in reputable outside activities. Indeed, in some ways the more outside the better, for it is the inside ones—using the parliamentary position—which have caused the trouble. Although I believe that, I can conceive that some people, mistakenly but not irrationally, might take a different view about the other place. They might be attracted by a full-time Chamber. Mind you, it would need to be much smaller and there would still be disadvantages. But they could be hoping that some future government and Parliament—again, I think, mistakenly—might be tempted to go for that.
That is just not remotely possible for your Lordships' House as at present constituted—and, let me add, quite independently of what is or is not done about hereditary peerages. You cannot have an unpaid House, which is a full-time House, unless you elevate inherited wealth into an absolute qualification for membership, which would seem rather contrary to a move to make an inherited peerage an absolute disqualification. In addition to that, and beyond that point, you have also many life Peers—often but not always Cross-Bench Peers—who have been sent here specifically because of the nationally valuable outside jobs they do, and the occasional—often very occasional—shafts of wisdom and experience they bring to your Lordships' debates. You cannot sensibly describe the raison d'être of their peerages. We should therefore be careful of making these very occasional attendants fill in forms in such detail that it will take them more time to fill in the forms than they habitually spend in the House in the course of a year.
I have no objection to a man who has spent his lifetime in an industry speaking from the point of view of that industry, even if he has a financial interest in it. What I object to is someone without such a background, without such a commitment, being a hired advocate either here or in the other place. The profession of well-paid advocate is of course an honourable one, and 1446 its practitioners have played a notable role in the life of both Houses of Parliament. But the place for practising paid advocacy is the courts and not the legislature. Here, Members should speak according to their views, and not according to their fees. Some of these principles are easy to recognise but more difficult to define; some of the dangers are real, but the Griffiths Committee has done a good and sensitive job. We should support it, at any rate on an experimental basis, and see how things work out between now and the next stage of the Nolan Report.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, I intervene briefly. Sadly, I have not known a time when the reputation of Parliament has been at a lower ebb. That has serious implications for democracy. It is far easier to lose freedoms than it is to regain them, and the greatest threat to freedom is, and always has been, apathy, and, more seriously, apathy fuelled by cynicism.
When I speak to audiences outside your Lordships' House—specifically in schools—I always remind them of the words of Plato, which I hope I may be permitted to repeat this afternoon, and I had better make it politically correct for your Lordships House:The penalty that good men and women pay for failing to participate in public affairs is to be governed by others worse than themselves".
In that connection, and as a former Speaker, I hope that I may be permitted to say that much of the present cynicism of politicians in the other place is misplaced. There is no country in the world where constituents are more personally represented than they are by Members of Parliament, or by a more dedicated group of men and women.
The days are long past when Members of Parliament paid an annual visit to their constituency. I took the trouble this morning to go to the postmaster and check with him the volume of post into this place. When I first entered the House in 1964, I had a third share in a secretary. She sacked me after two years when she became too busy. In those days we had 7,000 letters a day in and out. The postmaster this morning told me that today there are 40,000 letters in to both Houses and 20,000 letters go out of this place. It is very expensive to write to Members of Parliament and even to Members of your Lordships' House, and it is also expensive for us to reply.
I do not detect the same cynicism about this House by the public. In fact my suspicion—I may be biased—is that we are held in high esteem. That may be because we are not paid, we come to Parliament for motives of service; and, secondly, because your Lordships are in close touch with the world outside. That is specifically true of Cross-Bench Peers who are here only because of their outside interests. So we are able, and we do, speak from personal experience, and are therefore perceived by members of the public to be more in touch with the real world than the professional politicians in the other place. They have become increasingly professional and I have indicated the volume of their work.
If he will forgive me for saying so, I well remember that the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, often used to ask me when I was a Whip, "What are you doing this 1447 afternoon?" I would reply, "I am very busy". He would then say, "Get up the West End and find out what they are saying about this. Go on! Find out what they are saying and come and tell us". In those days we were in very close touch with what "they" outside used to think. However, I believe that that is no longer possible.
I regret the need for a register of interests but, given the publicity of the very few cases of unacceptable behaviour and given the fact of Nolan, I believe that it is now not only essential but that it is also a protection for us. What would be unacceptable—though this was not recommended by the committee of the noble and learned Lord—would be figures. I hope that that will never be suggested by the noble and learned Lord's committee, but, if it were, it would deter many distinguished and valuable future Members of this House who might find that to be an unacceptable barrier to coming to join us. Therefore, this House and the whole country would be deprived of their expertise and of their knowledge.
I cannot speak for the Cross-Benches because, as your Lordships well know, we are all individuals. But I wholly subscribe to what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said and what the Leaders of the other parties said. I would go as far as to urge the House to accept the report without substantial amendment or, at any rate, amendments of substance. I believe that it strikes a fair balance and that it will be perceived by members of the public outside to be right and fair. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and other speakers have said, I believe that that might cause the Nolan Committee when it comes to consider this House to say, "This is fair enough". Above all, I hope that it will not become a subject of controversy as Nolan has become in another place and that we shall have the report in place and in our Standing Orders early in the new Session of Parliament.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I, too, would like to start by thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, for introducing his report to us this afternoon. Perhaps I may tell him—and we know from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that judges like to be praised from time to time—that I thought it was an extraordinarily clear and well-argued report which set out the case very well indeed. I should like to begin by saying that I very much hope that your Lordships will accept the recommendations as they have been presented. I should also say that I see from all the arguments that have already been adduced by my noble friend the Leader of the House and by the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lords Jenkins, that they should be implemented as soon as it is reasonably possible to do so. We should have the opportunity of seeing them in place before there can be any question of a further inquiry from the committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan.
I would not in any way wish to go over the detailed comments which have already been made, except perhaps to add this gloss. One of the reasons that I agree so much with the report—although I recognise that it 1448 enters new territory and that there will be new rules in your Lordships' House—is that I believe that it builds on the past. The recommendations made in 1974 have been taken into account and the two main principles which are set out and which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, quoted (which appear in the "Summary of Conclusions") are a very valuable starting point.
Perhaps I may just say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that I do not agree with his unhappiness regarding the use of the word "honour". In my experience today, it is a word which has almost gone out of use. If many people were asked to define it, I strongly suspect that they would find it quite difficult to do so. I believe that it is a most useful word to have at the beginning. It stands for a very high principle. It is one I am sure that Members from all parts of your Lordships' House will recognise.
The second principle which I also believe to be most helpful is the one of self-regulation. That is one of the great strengths of your Lordships' House. I believe that the recommendation that a Member of this House accused of malpractice should be investigated by a sub-committee of the Committee for Privileges—and I agree with its composition—is a means of self-regulation which the House will recognise as being the right way to go forward. It follows on all our procedures. Once we were to get away from the principle of self-regulation, I think that we would weaken what goes on in the House.
I am also very pleased that the committee in its report did not find any evidence of malpractice in your Lordships' House. One of the most distasteful aspects of what lies behind the setting up of this committee and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, especially with regard to your Lordships' House, has been the fact that a number of unsubstantiated allegations have been made. In my book, I am afraid that unsubstantiated allegations fall into the same category as anonymous letters. I believe that it is most dangerous. If someone has reason to believe that another person has acted improperly, then he or she should say so; otherwise, the remarks should be withdrawn.
All of that is very damaging to your Lordships' House. I am glad—and I believe that I heard him correctly—that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, said that he did not believe that there was widespread evidence of it at all and, further, that he believed, as certainly I do, that there are very few Members of your Lordships' House who are involved in lobbying as described in his report. It is most important to keep a sense of proportion and balance over all such matters.
As it is topical at the moment, perhaps I may say that I have great concern about the Channel 4 television programme which I believe is to be broadcast this evening. I am bound to say that I was astonished this morning when I inquired whether it was possible to see it. I was told that my noble friend the Chief Whip had tried to do so but that he was told:Channel 4 doesn't send out transcripts of current affairs programmes, except to journalists".
That is an extraordinary case of double standards. There is certainly one rule for the rich and one for the poor; or, indeed, for the haves and have-nots. At any rate, 1449 I do not feel that that in any way contributes to the betterment of public life. I see that my noble friend wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Lord Boardman
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. The position that she referred to has been severely aggravated by some of the press quoting from the programme. Is my noble friend aware that the Guardian this morning made an allegation that I made remarks about one of my noble friends which is absolutely untrue? Had I been asked anything about my noble friend, I would have said that he was a man of the highest integrity. That type of allegation made by the press and distorting the programme is extremely damaging both to this House and the debate.
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, I am deeply disturbed as I have read the report about my noble friend Lord Boardman and I consider it to be quite disgraceful. It is that kind of allegation which brings not only your Lordships' House into disrepute but also the whole working of Parliament. If this programme is to appear, it seems to me that everyone who is involved in it ought to have the opportunity at least to view it so that they may draw their own conclusions and comment on them. It is even more aggravating to be asked to comment on something one has not seen at all. I hope, if I may say so to my noble friend Lord Boardman, that following upon the statement which appears in today's issue of the Guardian—the content of which he has just declared is not true—he will take legal advice on his position or at least make a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about it.
No serious evidence has yet been produced as regards malpractice in this House. Whatever may be said, it is important for us in your Lordships' House, and indeed for those in another place, to recognise that standards in public life in this country are considerably better than those in a great many other countries in the world today. It is indeed almost impossible to open a newspaper without reading of resignations and of serious allegations against high ranking members of other governments. It does no service to this country, let alone to Parliament, to suggest that similar activities are going on here. I do not believe that they are. It is quite wrong to imply that and to try to find evidence of something which is not happening.
I fully support what has been said by other speakers and by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as regards the work of your Lordships' House. Anyone who has been here for any length of time is aware of the long hours that noble Lords both in government and opposition put in, working on Bills and serving on committees, and the tremendous amount of work which is done voluntarily by Members from all parts of your Lordships' House in sponsoring parties on behalf of good causes. I venture to suggest that there is not one of us present today who has not done this on innumerable occasions and has looked on it as part of our obligations to this House and as something we are glad to do. It is important to keep a balance here.
1450 I started by saying that I supported the recommendations and I hope that the whole House will do so too. It is a matter of great regret that the House should find itself in this position but I suspect that it comes about, at least in part, from what might be described nowadays as the much higher profile of your Lordships' House. That is thanks, largely, to the House's effective work in its committees and in amending legislation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, said in introducing this debate, and as others have said, your Lordships' House is unique in the experience which it offers. I do not believe that there is another legislative Chamber in the world which could match its total experience from all parts of life. It would be tragic if those who willingly gave their time to take part in the business of the House felt unable to do so because the recommendations of the committee deterred them. As it is, I believe that a balance has been kept. It seems to me that if we accept the recommendations, the House will be seen to be taking the whole issue of malpractice seriously.
We live in a world in which disclosure is regarded as important. It will continue to be regarded as important. However, I believe that we are keeping a balance between what needs to be done in today's world and what must not be done to discourage Members of your Lordships' House who take part in the business of the House from continuing to do so. Were that to be the case, I believe it would seriously damage your Lordships' House. As it is, I believe that outside the Chamber this report will be seen to be constructive, fair and workable. I hope that your Lordships will accept it and I hope that it will be implemented as soon as is practicable.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, I, too, offer my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, under whom I had the privilege to serve, with other noble Lords, on the sub-committee during the earlier months of this year. However, at the outset I make an immediate declaration of brevity on behalf of my throat.
The report is, of course, a compromise and that compromise in itself represents the broad spread of all those who served on the committee and all views within your Lordships' House. I believe that it is an even better report because of that compromise. All and sundry who were involved in the report had at some point or another to give; on no occasion that I can remember did anyone take.
I believe that there is one feature of this debate which is in a way unfair both to this Chamber and to another place; namely, that there have been huge changes in the application of advocacy, lobbying, advice and legislation in the past 40 years. This has resulted in people focusing on parliamentarians in both Chambers. That was not called for or asked for but it has come about. Blame to date, in the eyes of the public, has been entirely attached to the Chambers and not to other forces.
1451 All governments of all persuasions are not entirely guilty of all the legislation which they bring before Parliament. I can think of one or two good examples where the fourth estate had as much responsibility as any voter in a voting booth. I think of the numerous occasions on which the subject of dangerous dogs has appeared in one form or another on the Order Paper of both Houses and in the form of a Bill. For that I hold no government of any period since the Second World War in any way responsible.
There is a huge body of legislation which has grown inexorably over the years. There has been a demand for it outside Parliament which has grown with every passing year. This involves not only primary legislation but also a huge welter of regulation; much of it, recently, has been European regulation. This is to many groups—businesses, individuals, charities, interest groups, environmentalists and others—often inexplicable and unexplainable. One takes this legislation to London and one seeks advice on it. One is directed by a friendly adviser to someone who may well demand a considerable sum to provide one with advice obtained closer to the Palace of Westminster. One is then taken, groomed, to the Palace. All of these influences have nothing to do with Members of this House but they land on the doorstep of Members of this House and as a result the forces grow inexorably.
I wish to mention briefly the television programme broadcast tonight. If it was a cookery programme being broadcast by Channel 4, it would not be considered a success if, because there was not sufficient time to broadcast what happened in the kitchen, the recipe was presented as a fait accompli and was declared to be delicious. If this debate could have been included in the programme, as it is in a sense the most important part of the process, the programme would have been a rather more admirable one to observe and criticise one way or the other.
Your Lordships' House fulfils many useful purposes, above all else that of improving legislation, and providing an opportunity for all governments to accept improvements, and even the chance occasionally to think again. The next step beyond the proposals that are recommended in this report of your Lordships' sub-committee fills me with some concern. The proposals which are before us today are essentially voluntary and have been strengthened and toughened, but we have reached a river or a bridge, or perhaps even a bridge to go over a river, and the next stage will, I fear, involve regulation, prohibition and possibly exclusion. That is a possibility which concerns me very deeply, because eventually that road leads to the exclusion of knowledge and, to put it somewhat tritely, a position where people are encouraged to pursue a Minister across the car park of your Lordships' House to ask a question rather than the question being answered within the Chamber of your Lordships' House, for which many hundreds of years ago a system was devised in order to keep the business and the state of the nation within the public domain and in one place.
I abhor anything which drives debate out of your Lordships' House. However, I believe that these proposals champion not regulation but the better 1452 alternative, based on the fusion of those two sturdy planks, common sense wedded to honour. Together the two are worth three.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Hilton of Eggardon
My Lords, like the previous speaker, I was a member of the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. I should like to pay tribute to our chairman's wisdom and patience in dealing with what was a very difficult task, on which originally the members of the committee held a number of different and disparate viewpoints. He guided us with considerable patience to a point at which we could agree what was in a sense, as the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, said, a compromise position.
Like most other members of the committee, I regret the necessity for change. The idea of acting on our honour is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young said, an attractive principle, and one which I wish could prevail still in this House. However, there are many pressures on us in the world today, not the least of which is the openness that society now expects from those who are involved in its governance. Also, this Chamber is now composed of people from more disparate backgrounds than those from which its Members were originally drawn. This used perhaps to be a very much more homogeneous Chamber, where people could rely on each other and on common standards of honour and behaviour.
There is also the question of commercial pressures exerted upon people nowadays, which perhaps did not exist to such an extent, particularly in this House, when people could rely on private incomes. Action that may be perfectly appropriate in the commercial world may not be appropriate when one plays a part in the governance of the country.
In our report we have therefore tried to strike a balance. On the one hand, this is an unsalaried House, and one to which many Members never come at all. Therefore, it is unfair to impose too rigorous a register. It is nevertheless important, on the grounds of openness, that there is a register at least of those interests which relate directly to the business of the House. On the other hand, we have tried to eliminate the "hired gun" (or "hired taxi" as the previous speaker put it), people who are willing to promote any cause for which they are paid. Such activities are, we believe, contrary to the traditions of the House, which is enriched by personal experience and knowledge and the interests of its Members but which should not allow those Members to advocate any cause for which they are paid. We have tried to distinguish sharply between those who are paid merely to give advice and those who are paid to advocate a particular cause for some financial inducement.
There are two major qualities of this House. First, as I said, there is the wide range of knowledge and experience which noble Lords bring to debate. Secondly, there is the fact that we act upon our honour and with courtesy and consideration for other Members of the House. One of the other consequences of financial 1453 pressures is that people may be driven to act with discourtesy and without regard to other Members of the House.
One of the possible consequences of financial pressure is that, as well as distorting a particular line of argument, Members might be led to attempt to show that they are giving value for money by, for example, putting down large numbers of Questions for Ministers, at considerable expense to taxpayers, by arguing at inordinate length for one or many detailed amendments to a Bill, or indeed by making speeches at greater length than is appropriate in this Chamber. Those are practices which we have attempted to discourage by our proposed revisions to the existing guidance.
I support the conclusions of our committee and hope that they will find favour with the House in as short a time as is practicable.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the billing of the TV programme to which my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Hesketh referred, "Dispatches", reads:How peers have used their position … to pursue their own and others' commercial interests".
That billing belies the assurance given to me that it was to be a serious and well-balanced programme when, having no interest to declare, I agreed to be interviewed. Much to my relief, the appointment for the interview was cancelled.
I mention that only to say that I knew—I am not all that naïve—that I would be asked about abuse of position for profit by certain noble Lords, all of whom were known personally to me. I went to those noble Lords and made direct inquiries. I told them why and went into great detail. I want to tell your Lordships that as a result I was wholly satisfied that none of the allegations was well-founded. I would have said so on the programme tonight if the interview had not been cancelled.
I would also have said that, having attended this House off and on since 1981 I know roughly the interests and consultancies of most noble Lords who speak in this House, put down Questions and so forth. I have never become aware of any abuse. I agree that under any regime, even the one proposed in the report, it is possible that on rare occasions there can be an abuse. In this House there is always the question of enforcement and the sanctions available which does not arise in another place. Had I had the interview I would also have said that on television tonight.
Up to now there has been a phalanx of what I might call, with the greatest respect, Establishment evidence. It all points one way: let us accept the report lock, stock and barrel, and get on with it. I have another view. It is not so very different but it is slightly different. It is quite different from the phalanx of the evidence, because I have nothing to do with the Establishment and never shall have.
Like other noble Lords, I wish to pay a sincere tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and to all members of his sub-committee for their services. That 1454 is no trite acknowledgement; it is sincerely meant. I congratulate them on having managed to produce a report which serves as an essential basis for our discussions. However, I want to draw a distinction, which has not as yet been made between the recommendations as to declarations of interest, as supported in an elegant and eloquent speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, which would not in any way alter the nature of this House, and the recommendations as to registration, which assuredly would.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is not in his place, but perhaps someone can help me; I believe that I have this right. He suggested that we should proceed with caution and a little more slowly. If I have that right, I agree with him.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I believe that I am right. If no one agrees with me at all, that does not mean that I am wrong. Another view must be put. One cannot just pass this issue on the nod on Establishment support. Some other argument has to be put before the House.
No case has been made out for voluntary registration, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Wakeham in his evidence, or in the form proposed in paragraph 46 of the report, with ancillary implementing provisions for keeping the register and enforcement. I refer to paragraphs 48 to 59. That would assuredly change the nature of this place and the way it operates, in particular by using the Committee of Privileges as a disciplinary tribunal with complex and elaborate rules, but without any available sanction save (as stated in paragraph 57 of the report) the stigma of publicity. My Lords, watch it! Just imagine a false charge of misconduct. Imagine the impact of the publicity regarding this misconceived complaint on the noble Lord and on the dignity of your Lordships' House. The mind boggles.
I suggest that the proposal of the Procedure Committee in its Paper 98 that the recommendations of the sub-committee regarding registration be implemented without delay should not be accepted by your Lordships and that the matter should be remitted to the Procedure Committee for further consideration and report in the light of this debate. That would permit further debate in the next Session of Parliament and a free vote on implementing orders to which amendments could be tabled.
The recommendation of the Procedure Committee is wholly unusual because adoption of the recommendations on registration involve a fundamental change of principle as to the nature of the House and the way in which it operates. Furthermore, no reasons whatever are given as to why there is urgency to adopt the recommendation save that Paper 98 states that its adoption in whole or in part would cause no difficulty to the Nolan Committee.
The Nolan Committee is a wholly independent inquiry. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is much to be congratulated on his choice of chairman: 1455 he is a fair man of total integrity, an ultimate professional, who listens to evidence and argument without hint of preconception. It may not be supposed that adoption or rejection of the sub-committee report in whole or in part by your Lordships could give rise to any difficulties either way. The Nolan Committee has the wider remit. It is due to investigate in 1996. Surely there is no way in which adoption or rejection of the report on limited terms of reference could pre-empt or forestall Nolan. In any event, I ask your Lordships this question. It has not been considered. Could it be appropriate to lay implementation orders, as proposed in Paper 98, before the Nolan Committee has reported and your Lordships have considered implementation?
Although the Procedure Committee welcomes the report of the sub-committee as a compromise, as indeed it is, which could be made to work, as indeed it could, the Nolan Committee may well conclude that the onus of justification as regards registration has not been discharged. The position of the distinction between the two Houses will be fully understood, and the Nolan Committee will take note of the absence of any evidence of interest misconduct in your Lordships' House, to which my noble friend Lady Young referred, and to the fact that, in the absence of available sanctions, in practice no further effective enforceable procedural safeguards may be afforded other than now obtain—by speaking and acting on honour, and accepting the substance of recommendations as to declarations of interest.
It appears from the deliberations that the report was not unanimous. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, moved to reject proposals which are now recommended. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, who wished to establish a comprehensive compulsory register along the lines of another place, moved to reject the proposals for the voluntary register. Those motions to reject were manifestations of the only available means by which any minority or dissenting opinion could be expressed.
The Cross-Bench Peers were consulted on three occasions. In evidence, they expressed no support for the register or for any departure from the practice of relying on honour. I mention that expressly in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, stressed that he expressed his personal view. It is a view which any of us can express; I do the same. However, the Cross-Bench Peers, when consulted on three occasions, did not support these changes or see any need for them.
My noble friend the Leader of the House was of the same opinion. In his evidence he said that having made exhaustive inquiries he was satisfied that the practice of speaking on honour was generally observed and was wholly sufficient to meet the case. He did not believe that noble Lords were breaking the rules. As regards the register, he did not regard it as the necessary panacea.
1456 I shall be delighted to conclude, but I have with considerable reluctance to deal with paragraphs 6 and 7 of the submission of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
If my noble friend will forgive me, I feel that I should do so. It was stated that four Peers had received direct or indirect financial benefit for asking questions or for rendering other unspecified parliamentary services, assumed later, by answers 72 and 73, to be the lobbying of Ministers. There was also the assertion of belief, founded only on hearsay and suspicion of a client who is not prepared to identify the four Peers and whom the noble Lord was not prepared to name, that this type of behaviour was "widespread". That comes from answers 80 and 81. Reading the evidence of the noble Lord as a whole, in particular answers 70 to 76, neither suggestion of misconduct was substantiated. Your Lordships may well think that this unwise, unfortunate, unwarranted aspersion upon the integrity of this place should not only be disowned but relegated to oblivion.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, did he give notice to my noble friend—who is at the moment in Sub-Committee E of the European Communities Committee—that he was going to refer to him? I just ask that for information.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I state no. Why should I? It is a public report, I quoted from the paragraphs; I have stated them accurately. Why should I give notice? No. If I am found to he at fault, I will apologise, but I see that I have done no wrong at all.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Campbell both challenged the issue as to whether there was any evidence of abuses by Members of your Lordships' House. I support that challenge. I know of none. If there is no such evidence, then the justification for imposing a system of registration disappears. That is the issue which your Lordships' House is called upon to consider tonight.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, in what I hope he will allow me to say was an admirable and delightful speech, advocated that there should be an early introduction of registration in a modified and moderate form. I wish to say a word about that form in a moment. However, unless there is real evidence that there have been abuses, it seems a pity and somewhat damaging to the reputation of your Lordships' House that we should introduce a system of registration for which there is no apparent need. I hope, therefore, that in considering the matter your Lordships' House will take the view which I personally take that if there is no real evidence of abuse, then it is wrong and foolish to introduce a complex and complicated system of registration.
Before I continue on the aspect of registration, I wish to say how delighted I was with one passage in the report which stated that they (Peers) should not read out extended briefing material from outside. In this House 1457 we have all suffered from colleagues who have done that and I hope that that gem, taken from the report, will have considerable effect.
I return to the issue which to me personally is the most important: whether registration should be imposed, even in the modified way which the noble and learned Lord indicated. If there is to be registration, there will be real difficulty as to what is to be registered. It is all very well to suggest, "Oh, well, it will be on a voluntary basis. Any noble Lord who feels he ought to register or would like to register can do so, but there will be no absolute compulsion". However, that is building up an embarrassing situation for many noble Lords who will have to decide for themselves whether they should register any particular transactions with which they have been concerned. Why should we impose that difficulty upon them? I agree that it is better to have it on a voluntary basis than on a compulsory one—though how compulsion would be imposed is an interesting question on which I shall not waste time in speculating. The system whereby all noble Lords will have to ask themselves: "Should I register this action of mine?", is difficult, particularly as no clear guidance has been given or could be given as to what is the issue on which it is necessary to register.
I therefore firmly join my noble friends who have just spoken in saying that I hope that, for the time being at any rate and until there is evidence of abuse which requires it, registration of interests is not to be imposed nor, indeed, to be made possible. That is an important point and in due course your Lordships' House will have to judge it as the outcome of the debate.
It has been a most interesting and important debate. I must confess that it leaves me believing still that the rule that Members of your Lordships' House speak from their personal honour and not after registering their interests of one kind or another is real. The proposed registration, though modified, undermines the system which has existed for many years in this House that we accept that each of us speaks honourably from our own point of view and each of us honourably tries to tell the truth and put issues fairly. I merely add that registration does not seem to me to stand up. No evidence has so far been adduced to make it stand up and I hope that we shall reject it.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I believe that the House will agree that, as one might have expected, that was a notable and remarkable intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. He has given much pleasure and enlightenment to the House in the past. For my part, I shall follow my noble friend Lord Weatherill, both in the substance of what he said and, I hope, in brevity.
I was initially not convinced of the need for any change in the procedures of this House at all. I thought that the current arrangements were perfectly satisfactory, that noble Lords spoke and acted on their personal honour and that they always declared an interest, if they had one. That view is based on familiar arguments, many of which have been rehearsed today: 1458 the difference between the two Houses in matters of both remuneration and the provenance of their presence in Parliament.
There is one small point upon which perhaps I may be enlightened at some stage in the evening. I detected in at least one speech and possibly two some doubt about whether the House had the power to suspend or remove its Members. I know of no possibility that that could happen and I hope that the matter will be made clear before the debate is over. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, among others, touched on the point and I felt that the problem with any form of registration is that it would make it less likely that noble Lords would be required to and moved to speak upon their personal honour. That would be a great shame. In making this point, I place great reliance on the evidence given to the sub-committee by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House.
It was suggested by several noble Lords; namely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and more recently the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that the problem in this House is greatly exaggerated—if indeed the problem to which we refer ever really existed at all. I tend to endorse that view. However, it is very important to state that this view is not universally held. It is not the universal perception. I refer to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the programme to be shown on Channel Four tonight. Incidentally, if the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, told the researchers of this programme what he intended to say, I suggest that he need look no further for the reason why his interview was cancelled! The trails for the programme that we have seen give rise to considerable cause for concern. Many of us who watch the programme tonight will be interested to see whether it maintains the standards of accuracy and impartiality that we have come to expect from television journalists.
I read the sub-committee's report with great interest. I find it extremely persuasive. I find the arguments put forward regarding the perception that standards of conduct in public life have declined very persuasive indeed. Paragraph 43 of that report refers to sanctions that might need to be imposed on people who do not sign the register. I find slightly ironic the passage that states,the good sense of Lords and their personal code of honour is the best guarantee of registration".
It seems somewhat odd that a noble Lord's personal code of honour is not enough to ensure his proper behaviour in this House, but is strong enough to persuade him to submit fully to the discipline of such a register should it be introduced. However, that is not a point of primordial importance. I suggest that if a sub-committee as distinguished and thoughtful as that presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, recommends a register, your Lordships might find it possible to accept the proposal, if not with enthusiasm then at least with equanimity.
However, I make one important observation. Paragraph 44 of the report states:
1459it is by no means clear that full disclosure of financial matters unrelated to Parliamentary business is relevant to the public interest".I strongly endorse that view. Indeed, I go further. I hope that when we come to establish such a register, if indeed we do, it will not require financial details or the quantum of remuneration to be disclosed at all.
The Nolan Committee recommended that Members of the other place should be required to declare in the register their annual remuneration in respect of consultancy agreements. As we know, that has given rise to a great deal of controversy in and outside the other place. Paragraph 52 of the sub-committee report states that,The basis of this recommendation is that a member receiving £1,000 a year is less likely to be influenced in his conduct than one receiving £20,000 a year".I find that a somewhat dubious proposition, but I shall go no further on the subject.
That aspect apart, it is clear that the recommendation of our own sub-committee is that noble Lords with consultancies should not seek to exercise parliamentary influence. Therefore, by extension, there is no need for disclosure similar to that required by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, for the other place. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said in his extremely interesting contribution to this debate, it would discourage many people of experience and qualifications from giving this House the benefit of that experience.
That leads me finally to the fifth report of the Select Committee, which makes recommendations regarding the way in which we should now go forward. The report recommends that much can be done by standing order. It even includes what is presumably a provisional draft of what such a standing order might look like. We must examine that wording with very great care when the time comes to do so. I do not believe that the wording in the report at the moment quite meets the case.
However, as other noble Lords said, the House must be grateful to my noble and learned friend for his chairmanship of the committee, and grateful to the sub-committee as a whole for its careful and detailed examination of this problem and for its thoughtful and constructive conclusions. After all this, I still find it sad that we should need such a register in this House. Nevertheless, if that is what is required to satisfy public concerns about the integrity of Parliament—concerns that are as important as that integrity itself—we should be prepared with some reluctance to accept it, provided that in due course we examine the small print very carefully indeed.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Harptree
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, emphasised in his impressive speech that it is a longstanding custom of this House that noble Lords speak always on their personal honour. It is also a longstanding custom of this place that interests are declared where appropriate. It may then be asked: why do we need a register? What is the matter with the status quo? I am bound to admit that I have some sympathy with that argument.
1460 As already mentioned, there is also the character of this House to consider. We are part-time and unpaid. Some noble Lords attend regularly; others attend occasionally when they have special knowledge of the subject being debated. As we all know, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this House on virtually every subject under the sun. As the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, stated, in that respect this House is more representative these days than another place. I say that with no disrespect to the other place, in which I had the privilege of serving for 28 years. The fact remains that that is essential to our character and it is one of our great strengths. That could be said to be another argument for maintaining the status quo.
On the other hand, there are powerful arguments the other way. They all come under the general heading of, "Politics is the art of the possible". We live in the age of Nolan, if the noble and learned Lord will allow me to express it in that way. There is some concern about a decline in standards in public life. It is nothing like as great as is often suggested in the media and other sources, which take a perverse delight in knocking British institutions, always focusing on the bad and neglecting the good things in Britain. Nonetheless, there is a problem and we should be unwise to ignore it. It is far better to nip it in the bud.
Then there is the very impressive and weighty report of the noble and learned Lord's recommendations. It is to be noted that on the noble and learned Lord's committee there is a wealth of knowledge and experience from members who have served for many years in both Houses of Parliament. I do not believe that we can brush on one side a report of that kind. Then there is the Select Committee on Procedure which recommends that the report should he adopted. Here again, we have a large and very representative committee.
But what perhaps has impressed me most in this debate is the strong consensus that is emerging. My noble friend the Leader of the House commended the report to your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, as Leader of the Opposition, agreed. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, as leader of his party, agreed. The noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, admittedly speaking for himself but as the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, agreed. It seems to me of great importance that when we are dealing with matters concerning the constitution or procedure, we should, if possible, proceed by consensus. That consensus appears to be present, though, of course, one or two noble Lords, such as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, have their reservations. I believe that those are powerful reasons in favour of adopting the Griffiths Report.
I have one detailed criticism which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter a moment ago. I am doubtful about a voluntary register of wider interests. I should prefer the register to be restricted to parliamentary interests. If there is a combination of compulsory and voluntary elements there is a danger of misunderstanding and confusion as well as of unfair criticism. Let us take the example of Lord A, who declares all his interests, both parliamentary and otherwise; and Lord B, who declares just his 1461 parliamentary interests. It would be easy for someone ill disposed towards your Lordships' House to draw an invidious comparison and ask, "Why has not Lord B declared all his interests? What does he have to hide?" In fact, it would be an unfair criticism because Lord B has complied with what the House requires. But the criticism could be embarrassing to him and his family.
Therefore I should prefer to see the register restricted to parliamentary interests. It would then be the same for all. But I certainly do not want to spoil the consensus that is emerging. Unless there is strong agreement within the House on that point, I would not propose to pursue it.
In conclusion, I hope that your Lordships will feel it appropriate to accept the recommendation for a register and to adopt the new procedure early in the new Session.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, when I first took my seat in your Lordships' House nearly 20 years ago, it was a different place and operated in a different climate of public opinion from that which we find today. I shall speak more about that in a moment. Then, as now, the House was made up of men and women who among them were able to produce knowledgeable contributions based on the experience of what my noble friend Lord Dean has just called "every subject under the sun". That was widely valued both by the government of the day, the country at large and abroad. For example, the reports of the Select Committee on the EEC were eagerly awaited not only here but in Brussels and the capitals of member states as an invaluable contribution to the debate on any particular subject.
Even then of course we were the subject of some mockery. But there was nothing new in that. After all, it was many years before that W. S. Gilbert wrote that:the House of Peers did nothing in particular but did it very well".That, incidentally, always struck me as sitting rather oddly with the Parliament Acts, but I shall let that go.
Over the years two things have changed. One is the introduction of a larger proportion of life peers, who have been a widely acknowledged asset to the House, and on many occasions have filled in the gaps in our expertise. "Working peers" is a term that had virtually no currency then. I believe that it has meant too that we have become a much more political House and that has tempered the cold logic on which we mainly used to base our counsels. The other change is the prurience—I can think of no other word—of the media. How often does one pick up a newspaper today to read an article and discover that Mr. or Mrs. X is doing something or other? Invariably somewhere in the article X's age is stated, whether or not his or her age is germane to the subject of that article. I detect the same thing happening more and more with regard to X's earnings. Both those matters are defended by the media as the public's right to know, that being determined of course by the media, which more and more seek to set public opinion.
1462 It is against that background that I shall consider the report of the sub-committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. How far do we believe that the public's right to know extends? I believe that the committee headed by the noble and learned Lord has the answer as right as it could do. We have always believed in that much quoted phrase "a peer speaks always on his personal honour". The fact that peers now act always on their personal honour is I believe an added benefit.
It follows that any pecuniary interests should be declared when they are pertinent. When they may be pertinent is left to the individual peer. It is possible, either through oversight or inattention to detail, to transgress that simple rule.
I am not the only sinner in the Chamber. Only last week I kicked myself for not declaring an interest on the occasion of the Third Reading of the Gas Bill, having earlier used what some may call a belt and braces approach by having declared my interest at every earlier stage of the passage of the Bill—even though I had been told in Committee that, so far as the main Opposition spokesman was concerned, he felt that once per Bill was sufficient. On previous occasions when I have transgressed in the Chamber I have been taken aside by a noble Lord and told very firmly what I had done wrong and not to do it again. In other words, what my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal calls the accumulated wisdom of the House came into play. I am sure that many noble Lords will have had that experience. It did not happen last week, my Lords. One rather wonders why.
That incident illustrates very well the problem of the interpretation of standing orders. I believe that one way to improve the situation would indeed be to have a register of interests, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, has promoted. Like the report, I should like the interests declared to be those which are both paid and unpaid. I very much take the point that unpaid interests are extremely difficult to define.
In my research for this debate I looked up the unpublished report of the 1974 Procedure Committee on the subject of registration of interests. In it I came to a memorandum by the then Clerk Assistant which well illustrates the problem. It says:If an interest may be 'indirect' there is no limit to a Lord's possible interest: it may extend to the interest of his kin, his friends and his business or professional associates. If an interest may be 'non-pecuniary' it is, again, virtually limitless. Indeed, his most important interest may be social rather than pecuniary.A simple illustration is that of a disabled peer. He may promote legislation (and vote on it), ask questions and move motions relating to Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons. He does so, no doubt, for the benefit of his fellow men who are disabled and he does not regard any benefit which may incidentally accrue to himself. Is he to declare his interest each time he speaks? Is the father of a mongol child to declare his interest whenever he promoted the welfare of mongol children? If so, a Bishop must declare his interest in the Church; a farmer his interest in the land; a teacher his interest in education; a trade unionist his interest in his union and so on. The term 'interest' then reverts to its respectable 18th century sense. It becomes something at least not to be ashamed of and may even be something to be proud of. But it is hardly worth declaring".I am sure that a register of interests will become a useful working document for noble Lords as well as a source of information for interested people outside the 1463 House. I therefore like to think of it in two sections. The first would be a list of Peers followed by their interests; the second, which I regard as much more valuable, would be a list of activities, at least in broad terms, under which would be the names of appropriate Peers. For instance, under the title "Horticulture"—a paid interest of mine—I would find my name with other Peers who had similar interests to declare; under "Opera"—I have the honour to be president of Somerset Opera—I would find my name with possibly a totally different set of noble Lords who might, for all I know at the moment, be both paid and unpaid. That too should be shown in the register.
However, I had some difficulty when I came to paragraph 38 of the report, around which much of the debate has centred this afternoon. There have been enough quotes from it already and I shall not trouble the patience of the House by reading it again. Unlike another place, noble Lords are not paid as Members of this House; we must earn our living elsewhere.
I can see that if a noble Lord is the director or employee of a multi-client lobbying company, it would be inappropriate for him to speak on behalf of one of his clients because it would be impractical, if not impossible, for him to declare his interest in the register. Clients of the lobbying company no doubt come and go and it would be impossible to keep the register properly up to date.
Where a single company or charity is involved, there is no reason why the Peer in question, having first declared his interest, should not speak from the knowledge gained in his employment. These days that employment may be occasioned in part by previous experiences in your Lordships' House. Having said that, I still believe that it should not apply to lobbying. I am sure that general comments should be permitted though I am certainly not in favour of tabling amendments or instigating debates, with the possible exception of probing amendments which are a valuable instrument of your Lordships' procedures. How that can be excised from the general run of my suggestions, I do not know.
I began by referring to the valued expertise of this House. That expertise is provided by individual Peers who have gained it through their employment, their hobbies or their other interests. I do not believe that we should do anything to prevent that expertise, however it is accumulated, being made available to the House. That really would be throwing out the baby with the bath water.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said that he had been a Member of this House for 20 years. I am conscious that in contrast I have just over one year's service in this place and it is therefore with some sense of trepidation that I approach this subject at all, conscious as I am of the greater experience of all those around me on both sides of the Chamber.
I start by doing something that has not been done this afternoon; that is, declaring an interest in that some years ago I wrote and had published a book on lobbying. 1464 In saying that, it may be thought that I am furthering that interest in attempting to publicise that book and obtain more sales. However, I can assure your Lordships that that is not my intention because the book is out of print.
Having declared an interest, I should also make a confession. I was asked to take part in an interview for a television programme to be shown this evening. It was arranged many weeks ago and I had to think hard about its substance. I took part in the interview. I am nervous now, in view of what has been said about it, as to whether or not my recollection is accurate. As far as I can remember I made three points. The first was the one contained in the Griffiths Report; that is, that Members of this House should not accept any financial inducement for exercising their parliamentary influence. My second point was that I supported the introduction of a register; and my third point was that, as far as I am aware, there is no evidence of any abuses such as have been alleged.
Some time ago, not long after I took up my place in this House, I was walking along the street outside my home when I was approached by somebody who said, "You have done alright for yourself". I asked what was meant and the individual, who I think was unknown to me, said, "You are on the make just like everybody else". We had a brief discussion about the nature of the unpaid service in this House and the size of the daily allowance for attending here. However, he was not convinced and went off muttering that I was "on the make".
It is partly for that reason, but also for wider reasons, that I support the proposals in the Griffiths Report. In one or two instances I should like them to go a little further, but believe that they would represent an enormous aid to us in improving the public perception of what we do and how we conduct ourselves. It is not that the proposals would help us to understand each other; that is unnecessary. They would enable the wider public to have a better perception of what we are about and what interests we have. I hope that we shall be able to move quickly towards accepting the proposals. I am aware that we may have to look at them again when the Nolan Report comes along and also when the Commons finally decides what its reaction is to be.
Both Houses need similarly high standards. It may not be of benefit for one House to be significantly different from the other in its approach. Provided that we bear in mind the different characters of the two Houses, we should not find ourselves with a Trojan horse in one House or the other which would undermine the standards of either. Having said that, if we can take the lead and set high standards quickly, that may be salutary for the other place.
"Lobbyists" have been described in terms such that it has become a dirty word. I am not here to defend lobbyists. I have criticised them on many occasions. They are not all bad, though some of them do not behave as they should. The Griffiths Report—I have some difficulty in this regard—clearly identifies lobbyists, consultants and so forth. But I am not totally clear whether there is a distinction between a lobbyist 1465 or a lobby firm and a large company which has its own public affairs department. In some ways they would behave similarly, though in the Griffiths Report they are treated differently. As I say, I have some difficulty with that concept.
I turn to the question of the register. The register I should most like to see is a register of lobbyists and a code of conduct for lobbyists. If such an innovation occurred, it would improve the image of those lobbying firms which try to behave in a reputable manner and therefore isolate those which do not behave in that way. If there was a code of conduct to which they had to adhere as a condition of obtaining access to the Palace of Westminster, that would not be a bad thing.
The case for a register should depend primarily on the declaration of financial interests. I appreciate the force of the argument about other interests, but for the same reason as that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I find it difficult to see how one can put the whole range of non-financial interests into a register. I should therefore prefer the register to be confined to financial interests.
There are good arguments as to why there should be a register. As we all know, it is impossible to declare an interest when one is voting; it is difficult to declare an interest when one is asking a parliamentary Question. Those two reasons alone—though there are others—provide a case for introducing a register. The other reasons would include the fact that abuses in the other place have come to light—I believe they are well documented—and the public believe that those abuses cover all of us in this building, even those of us in your Lordships' House. A register would help us to reduce some of the criticism that we receive from outside.
In any case I am not clear in my own mind what is the difference in principle between declaring an interest when making a speech here and registering that interest in a document which can be published annually, as in another place. Those are very similar activities. One of them is clearer and one of them is more susceptible to examination and can make up for a failure to declare an interest when one is making a speech. However, the principle is the same. Therefore, the suggestion in the Griffiths Report that there should be a register does not represent any new principle. It simply accepts present behaviour and says, "Let's put it down on paper so that the wider public can have a look at it". I appreciate that it is not all that easy for the public to get hold of the Register of Members' Interests in the other place. It is even harder for us to expect the public to peruse Hansard in the detail necessary to pin down our interests. That is why I would support a register.
I am not totally happy about the voluntary nature of part of the register. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, referred to an engineer. If someone is an engineer and is making a living out of being an engineer by working for an engineering firm there is nothing wrong with that individual declaring an interest in that he derives a substantial income from being an engineer. I see no problem in that. Therefore, I should like the register to be a little wider. I do not see why being an 1466 engineer should be a voluntary declaration whereas working for a lobbying firm should be a compulsory one. I see the two as being broadly similar.
I am not saying that the register we would have would be identical to that in another place, but some of the difficulties of keeping a register seem to be more theoretical than real. In practice it is not very difficult to keep a register. The register in another place records foreign visits when they are paid for by foreign governments. That is not a bad thing. I believe that there were six headings in the old register in another place.
Having made a few suggestions about how I would like some minor changes, I very much welcome the work that the noble and learned Lord and his committee have put into this report. It takes us a lot further and I hope that the House will quickly support and implement the proposals.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, having heard what my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale had to say about the quote he gave us, it seems to me that whenever I make a speech about the Navy I should declare the fact that I have a naval pension.
I entered the House nearly 30 years ago because my brother died somewhat earlier than expected. It happened to coincide with my leaving the Navy and I had to get a job. As some of your Lordships will know, the younger sons of Peers never have any money, particularly if they go into the Navy for the first part of their lives. I have always had to earn my living. Roughly speaking, for the first eight years in your Lordships' House—that was up to about 1975—I was doing what I call my apprenticeship. That is the great strength of the hereditary peerage, although that is not the subject of this debate. That enabled one to size up whether one would be able to make a decent contribution.
One can make a decent contribution only if one has a job which gives one knowledge which is of use to the House from time to time when certain subjects are debated. And so I changed my job to come down to London. My previous job had been in Manchester and one could not serve this House from Manchester. Having worked for a company and having also seen how trade associations worked, I realised that it was much better to work for a trade association because it would be more general in its coverage, one's knowledge would be greater and the subject matter which related to the business of this House was much more likely to come up in that way. I deliberately chose that course in order to provide this House with some useful contribution by myself. Noble Lords may ask, "Why on earth did you do that?". I did it because my noble father was a distinguished parliamentarian in both Houses. He had two elder sons who, for very good reasons which need not worry us now, did not make their way to this House. I thought that he would like it if I carried on his tradition. I suspect that that applies to several of my noble colleagues.
I had to have a job and I chose one which I thought would complement in the best possible way whatever I contributed to the House. I came upon, as one would, 1467 the various rules of the House about declaring interests. I endeavoured to do that whenever it was relevant. It quite often was not relevant in a direct way because the trade association for which I worked covered only a fairly narrow front. It is worth digressing very briefly to say that I thought that a previous job that I had earlier, which had been paid for by the Government, should have the Addison Rules applied to it. When I got that job I consulted the then Leader of the House, Lord Shackleton, and said, "Should I apply the Addison Rules to my job?". For various reasons, it was not a straightforward nationalised industry job, for which the Addison Rules were devised. He said, "I see the difference. Use your common sense and your straightforward knowledge of what you think would be right". That was the answer.
I mention that and I mentioned the other point because when we tackle the problem of declaring interests and saying what we do we all do it for two reasons; first, because the rules say that if one is paid for something one has to declare it, which makes a lot of sense. I do not think anyone deliberately avoids that, although sometimes, as some noble Lords have mentioned, it comes up during the course of proceedings on a Bill. However, one does not mention it every time there is a new amendment. Secondly, we do so because it is terribly important for the House to know where noble Lords have obtained their knowledge from.
I was on the central executive committee of the NSPCC when the Children Bill was going through the House. I was not paid, but that is not the point. However, I would always mention the NSPCC because people would then know that I knew a little more about various factors in the Children Bill than I would have done if I were talking just because I had brought up a family of four and had 14 grandchildren. It was much more relevant to have been on the central executive committee of the NSPCC. That needs to be thought of in the context of what we are talking about.
When I was working for my trade association, which looked after the manufacturers of biscuits and cakes, I discovered to my surprise that there was not a proper focused voice in the House for the CBI. I thought that the captains of industry would fill that gap but they did not. The captains of industry are usually too busy. When they are not too busy they are not inclined to take part in the nitty gritty of going through amendments during the various stages of a Bill. It is not their way of life. I deliberately offered my services to the CBI in order to help it. As most noble Lords will know, for most of the 1980s I did just that. After I had been doing it for about three years representatives of the CBI said, "We think we should pay you. You are being terribly helpful". That was kind of them. After a little thought I said, "Well, why not?", particularly as I was about to retire from my full-time job. It helped to have the extra cash. So I made an extra point of saying that I was declaring an interest. Before the payments were made, I had always said that I was advised by the CBI because that gave credibility to what I was contributing to the particular activity. I believe that is a sensible way to do things.
1468 Having observed and listened to your Lordships and to your Lordships' predecessors over the past 30 years or so, I would say that everyone else does much the same thing. I could not find an easy example where people did not declare an interest when it was the proper thing to do. What one does may be well known; for instance, there is no point in saying that one is chairman of Vickers because everyone will know that. That kind of thing is taken care of in any event.
I shall not continue my own history. I ask noble Lords to forgive me for doing so but it gives point to what we are talking about. I applaud the proposals of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, because he has tried to steer the right course. I suspect that it will be wise for us in, say, three or four years to take out the Griffiths Report and dust it down to see whether it can he improved because, in the nature of things, matters do not turn out as expected. Look at all the legislation that never worked out as expected by the people who planned it. Basically, I am in favour of the report. I very rarely agree with noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench but I do agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He said that he thought that the report was not revolutionary. I do not believe that it is. It is a natural development of what most of us have been doing in any event. We may not have written down that we are closely connected with the NSPCC, or whatever, but we have told the House about that in order for it to know what we are talking about.
The only matter which I believe will be disadvantageous is this. I have had, happily, a long life in your Lordships' House and I have been able to grow up with the system. I am very happy to adjust myself to whatever happens and that will not he a problem. However, I fear that a young Peer coming to this House in his late forties, as I did, might attend for the apprenticeship phase and say, "Yes, that would be a nice thing to do. I shall adjust my life in order to be able to do it", which, in effect, is what I did. I do not believe that such a young Peer would be so enthusiastic if he had all kinds of pressures on him created by the Griffiths requirements and the way in which they had developed. Perhaps he would not be so enthusiastic because of the appalling effects on the freedom of assemblies such as your Lordships' House, which are continually being impressed on your Lordships by the media people who have been mentioned. They are doing so much harm to this country. We must find a way of dealing with the media people. In the meantime, let us have the Griffiths Report.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, some years ago a Motion was moved in your Lordships' House that speeches should be shorter. But shorter than what? The noble Lord did not say. He said that they should be shorter, and the House agreed. I can be much shorter than I would otherwise have been because, quite clearly, the debate so far has revealed a remarkable consensus to which I subscribe and which I hope will continue until the end of the debate. I offer my unstinted praise, as others have done, to all concerned for having 1469 reached recommendations which are the subject of very great delicacy, and which can be accepted without demur in all quarters of the House.
Apart from saying that, I wish to say only one thing of substance. I slightly differ from those who have spoken before where the emphasis has been on the freedom of each House to be different from the other. That is so, and of course we can be different from each other; but we tend to forget how similar we are, and we do so at our peril.
For example, we sit roughly the same hours, the same days, the same months of the year and so on. We have, by the rule of comity, conventions by which we do not, for instance, quote directly from a speech in the other place unless it has been made by a Minister. There are also the important rules on sub judice and the mentioning of proceedings before a court, which is not allowed in both Houses. We wish to speak as similarly as possible on that subject, and endeavours to that end have recently been made in this House. There are other similarities which are too banal to mention. Let us by all means have differences which reflect our composition and so on, but do not let us wish to be wilfully different.
It is in that context that I so much welcome the recommendations which, so far, seem to have been entirely successful in their reception in this House today. They are not too different from those which are, or are in the process of being made, in another place. It would have been unacceptable to the general public, and very difficult for people to understand, if the other place had a register and we had not. The registers are going to be different, and quite rightly so. They will reflect the differences between the two Houses. In my view, there would have been an unacceptable divergence of practice if one House were to have a register and the other House were not to do so.
Finally, I wish to make a small correction to the evidence which was given to the sub-committee. I refer to that given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, on behalf of the Cross-Benchers. I say this with her permission. She correctly reported my view that the introduction of a register of interests is,an essential part of a defensive position against mischievous media representations".I stand by that. But then she went on to attribute to me the view that,since so many peers had come up from the House of Commons…standards had changed".I never said any such thing. I would have been horrified if I had heard myself do so. I am delighted to have this chance of putting the matter right.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I too should like to welcome the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and also that of the Select Committee. It could hardly be a worse time to deal with this issue because standards in public life are under remorseless attack; some of it altruistic and some much less altruistic, in fact, I would say, distinctly anarchic. I am glad to see 1470 that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, is in his place. So far as I can see, he has made, by his wholly unsubstantiated allegations of widespread dishonourable conduct among Members of this House, his own characteristic contribution to the debate.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord did not give me notice of what he has just said. I understand that another noble Lord set that example. Perhaps I may advise the House that what has just been said is wholly untrue, as is made perfectly plain in the evidence which is set out on page 14 of the noble and learned Lord's report where I made my position perfectly clear. I was certainly guilty of an error of judgment in thinking that a document that I was giving to the sub-committee would remain confidential, as I had wished. I made it perfectly plain in my oral evidence to the sub-committee that the paragraph in question,was not included to make allegations of breaches of the rules of the Houseand I explained why. I also apologised to the House as soon as I could for any inadvertent blemish to its reputation. With great respect, I think it wholly inappropriate of the noble Lord, especially without notice, to take the opportunity of this debate to make a statement of that kind. It is not worthy of the noble Lord.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, I am sorry but I simply cannot accept what the noble Lord has just said, and I shall explain why. First, we were debating the report in which the noble Lord's evidence was printed, so it is obvious that we were totally free to discuss what was in the report. The noble Lord presumably had a copy of the Whip and of the Order Paper telling him what would take place. Secondly, having earlier said that he was sorry that he had not realised that he would be exposed for having made those allegations, and having refused to reveal who made the allegations to him, the noble Lord said perfectly clearly in answer to the Chairman of the Committee on questions 80 and 81 that he believed that dishonourable conduct is widespread in this House. The noble Lord has not withdrawn that allegation which I think is a very serious one. Indeed, it is part of the reason for this debate.
At any rate, it is not only such allegations which have made the attacks on public standards so serious. I think that standards in public life have fallen in various areas. One unfortunate example relates to standards in the City of London. Such things have undermined public confidence in our institutions.
I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Cranborne that we should try to keep the Nolan Committee out of this. I am afraid that I have found the Nolan Report (which of course I have read) to be shortsighted and seriously defective in its recommendations. It seems to lack the intellectual independence and vigour that I would have expected of it. I fear that it may well lead to further falls in standards in public life because it may well reduce even more the expertise in another place, partly because of its recommendation for the declaration of quantum of reward and partly because I suspect that it will make 1471 people even more reluctant to seek to become a Member of another place than is already the case. I must say that after 16 years as a Lobby correspondent observing Members of another place, the more I have seen of them, the more I have admired them and the less I have envied them. I admire them for working jolly hard to get there and jolly hard to stay there. I admire them for doing a great deal for remarkably little in return. That said, it is a sad fact that public confidence has been gravely undermined.
I wish that we had tackled this issue much earlier. A noble Lord opposite said that it would be nice if we could give a lead to Parliament as a whole on this question. To some extent that is what we are doing.
Two thoughts condition my feelings on this issue. First, I believe that all of us who are Members of this noble House are immensely privileged. We are privileged to have the opportunity to debate great issues with the government of the day and in having a responsibility, shared with another place, for legislation. That privilege applies as much to the most distinguished of our hereditary grandees as it does to the most recently created working Peer. My own definition of a "working Peer" is not someone who works more or less hard or effectively than anyone else, but someone who has been sent here not as a reward for distinguished public service in the past, but in anticipation of making a modest contribution to the conduct of affairs of state in the future. Furthermore, not only are we privileged, but we are seen by those outside this place—and by those in another place—to be privileged, and we must all be aware that that is not a privilege that is universally accepted as justified.
That leads me to my second thought on the proper behaviour of legislators generally, and of Members of this House in particular. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to this. It is not really a matter of how we see ourselves; it is every bit as much a matter of how we are seen. Having read the complete evidence of the 50 Members of this House who gave evidence to the sub-committee, I was struck by how often it was said that the fact that we act on our own "honour" is enough. Sadly, I do not think that that is sufficient to allay the concerns of those outside the House.
I have only one other point to make. The report has two separate strands. One relates to guidance for behaviour and the other to a register of interests. I find it confusing that those strands are not woven more closely together. Frankly, if it is necessary—and I wholly accept that it is—that there is proper declaration of our interests (whether financial or external), it must make sense that the items in the register of interests should also cover those items that will be declared by way of a declaration of interest. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made that point effectively. By way of example, I am an unpaid chairman of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and I would always regard it as appropriate to declare that fact if speaking in a debate on rural matters. I believe that the register of interests should be more widely drawn. I am perfectly happy that it should be voluntary in its wider context, and I shall he putting down all my interests. Of course, that does not mean that I shall not declare them in a debate when 1472 appropriate, but I hope that such a register may make it less necessary to bore the House quite as often as one does now because one will know that they are included on the register.
I hope that the House will accept the report and implement its recommendations speedily. By doing so, we shall do much good for ourselves and perhaps for Parliament as a whole.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I strongly support the Select Committee's recommendations. It seems to me almost miraculous that an agreed conclusion was reached and I pay the highest tribute to all those who served on it. With great speed and some delicacy they have managed to extract the one single form of relationship from the many broader issues of financial interests on which it has proved so difficult to make progress in the past. I refer to the matter that is causing the most public concern currently; namely, paid parliamentary consultancies. It is to that matter that the sub-committee largely confined its attention and proposals.
In the quite recent past I have had some experience of this question. A few years ago I was approached and asked to succeed my noble friend Lord Mottistone who, as he has just told your Lordships, for some years had advised the Confederation of British Industry in your Lordships' House. My noble friend did so in a way which the House found wholly acceptable. He referred as often as necessary, but no more than necessary, to the interest that he needed to declare. On the kind of matters on which my noble friend tended to intervene I believe that the House found it useful to hear the views of the CBI as did the Government. The CBI benefited not only from what influence my noble friend was able to exert in Parliament, but also from the advice that he offered it on how to conduct its relationship with Parliament.
I felt honoured to be offered the opportunity to succeed my noble friend. I felt that I would be doing, for what I think I can safely say was a relatively modest remuneration, a useful, worthwhile and respected job for the benefit of the House and an institution whose views I largely shared and whose contribution to our national life I considered undeniable. However culpable that might be thought now, that is how I felt. In the event, however, I found it by no means as easy as my noble friend had appeared to find it to handle references to his—now my—relationship to the CBI when speaking in your Lordships' House. Indeed, so keen was I to avoid laying myself open to the charge of failing to declare an interest that I committed the opposite error of making too many references to the advice that I was giving and taking from the CBI.
That culminated in an occasion, on the Second Reading of a Bill, when I managed to create with some the deplorable impression that the CBI had a special right to have its views heard in your Lordships' House, thereby provoking one of my noble friends to make a savage assault on it for its presumption and some acute heckling during my own speech from the Front Bench opposite.
1473 That was enough for me. I considered that I was missing my step on the narrow line between failing to declare an interest, on the one hand, and creating the impression that a body whose advice one was taking had a special right to influence legislation on the other.
At the time I would have welcomed a register. It might have reduced what I felt was the need for too frequent declarations of interest. With persistence I might have acquired the adroit skills of my noble predecessor, but I strongly doubt it.
By the summer of 1994 the issue was on the move. The Nolan Committee was in the offing. The subject was plainly going to be reviewed. I resigned, suggesting to the CBI that it might like to await the outcome of the Nolan Committee's deliberations before deciding whether to appoint a successor. It did not appoint a successor, and I am informed that it is unlikely to do so. If it does it is likely to be on different terms. I will be the last of an unregenerate line, like someone who held a rotten borough for the single year of 1831.
The contract that I had with the CBI fell into the category of general reward or retainer. It was not specific. I am not sure whether such a distinction is a very natural one. The Procedure Committee of the House wishes to ban the use of all paid consultancies for the purposes of exercising influence, irrespective of the terms on which they are undertaken. I believe it is right. The distinction was not well known, not easy to deduce from a cursory reading of the rules and, what is more, not all that easy to adhere to.
An institution such as the CBI has a sophisticated and well-developed knowledge of how to deal with Parliament. It knows how to draw up an appropriate long-term contract. Not all other bodies who might wish to have their views reflected in Parliament, which is quite proper under the existing rules provided it is done on a sufficiently long-term basis, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, explained to us, necessarily have such knowledge. Indeed, in practice they often wish to see their views advanced on an ad hoc basis in response to the issues of the day as they arise—something which does not lend itself to compliance with the existing rule.
Another recommendation in the report which I welcome is that it would be extremely valuable to have an officially and explicitly acknowledged source of advice for noble Lords in this field, where much discretion will still need to be exercised by noble Lords. I agree with the committee that that advice could best come from the Clerks of Parliament, who have always been with us. The new development would he that, specifically in this context, noble Lords would be encouraged to consult them should they feel the need for advice.
One recommendation, however, gives me pause for thought. The Select Committee, understandably, considers it desirable to establish a mechanism whereby any charges of infringement brought against individual Peers can be investigated. Only in that way, it argues, can this House demonstrate the commitment with which we are seeking to uphold the highest standards of 1474 conduct. Peers under investigation would have rights of cross-examination, and so forth, and to be represented by counsel.
The committee expressed the expectation that such proceedings would very rarely be instituted. We must all hope as much. The prosect of such investigations, with the full legal panoply, brings to mind nothing so much as the old right of Peers to be tried by their peers, now abolished and not seen in action since before the war.
The Select Committee proposes changes to rules which for some time many have felt to be unsatisfactory, and which are surely unacceptable in today's new climate. The proposed changes go to the heart of the issue that has caused the most public concern. There is every chance that they could, by themselves, be sufficient to establish and maintain acceptable standards of conduct. I believe that they should be given that chance.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, perhaps I may, as everyone else who has spoken in the debate has done, express my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, to his committee, and to all who contributed to the report we are discussing, for the enormous amount of hard work they have done, for the evidence they gave, and, above all, for the concentration that they must have given to the presentation of the report and the sifting of the evidence.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone referred to his apprenticeship. It is perhaps significant that I have my usual position of tail-end Charlie in the debate. A mere 34 years ago I was in roughly this position when the late Lord Boyd of Merton made a significant maiden speech. And who gave the reply? None other than the grandfather of the present Lord Privy Seal. That started my apprenticeship in 1961. In 1971 I began a more serious apprenticeship. If your Lordships glance at paragraph 7 of the conclusions on page 5 of the report you will see some hints which I take on board and to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, hopes that we will pay attention. The paragraph says, among other things, that Peers should not read out lengthy speeches.
Part of my apprenticeship 18 years ago took place on the Benches opposite when we were dealing with the fascinating Patents Bill. If any of your Lordships wish to go into the fascinations of polytetrafluoroethene and other activities in the pharmaceutical and patent lines without resorting to reading you might get into singular difficulty. On that occasion the Government and all noble Lords who contributed to the proceedings were in similar difficulties. So perhaps from time to time your Lordships reading out lengthy briefs will be tolerated. We wonder whether the complicated speech that is being made with such inordinate concentration will have any effect upon the rest of your Lordships. Will it influence the debate? Will it influence other Peers, let alone the Government? After a long apprenticeship, I have my doubts.
1475 Paragraph 48 of the report contains the two words, "public perception". They struck a chord in my mind. To whom is the public perception attributable? Is it the makers of the programme which some say, if I am quick, I may have the opportunity to glance at tonight? Who are the public? Do we assume that the anecdotal "public" have the right idea, the wrong idea, or perhaps a false idea of the powers and abilities of your Lordships to influence one another?
Three points interest me. At paragraph 10 of his evidence my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal referred to the encyclopaedic knowledge of the Whips about everybody's business. Perhaps he was too tactful to mention the derived knowledge of the whole House. When some Members of your Lordships' House—and I am guilty of being one—rise to their feet, there is what I would describe as the Calgary Stampede from the Chamber for tea, dinner, or other refreshments, because noble Lords know that the noble Lord will still he speaking when they get back. My noble friend is too tactful to say that but people lobbying for outside interests might take that on board.
At paragraph 35 of the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, there is an interesting duel with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. The noble Lord, Lord Richard—I hope I quote him correctly—said that if Peers owned half of Scotland the question of set-aside or forestry would enter into the calculations. The noble Lord knows his geography. If your Lordships have the chance to examine his motorcar in daylight you will see that he does know his geography and does know Scotland. Those of us who come from Scotland may have interests to declare. If one is a farmer, set-aside is somewhat compulsory, but we do not gain any benefits from it, except possibly appalling weather.
Most of Scotland is classified as a disadvantaged area so far as concerns stock. So it must follow that all farmers in Scotland are in receipt of hill livestock compensatory payments. Forestry receives an unbelievable amalgam of tax, finance and grants; there are also the environmental and ecological considerations. If one comes from Scotland and says that one is a farmer or involved in forestry, I hope that that will be enough for any noble Lord to say in the House. We need guidance as to what should go into a register.
Another interesting aspect of the duel between the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh appears at paragraph 36. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, may have gone a little towards the reductio ad absurdum when he suggested that if one took too narrow a view of who might and who might not speak, the noble Lord, Lord Hanson, for example, would never be allowed to speak, which would be a loss to your Lordships' House. Many noble Lords have made that point today.
I was interested to read paragraph 146 of the evidence on page 29. My noble friend Lord Hesketh mentioned one aspect of the declaration of interests. He mentioned that it might be a little one-sided. He may have a point.
I hope that I have not detained your Lordships too long. I wonder whether the public perception of your Lordships' House could be a two-edged weapon. I join 1476 with all noble Lords who say that a register is desirable, but even with my long experience I shall need guidance. The much appreciated assistance and guidance that I will need to fill in my entry for the register will come from the Clerks to whom we all owe an enormous debt. I hope that we will not owe them a bigger debt when the register comes to be filled in. I can assure noble Lords that my imagination is already twinkling as regards all the direct and indirect financial benefits I might be able to include. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, for producing a marvellous report and the entire team—if I may call it that—for the effort put into it.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, as one member of the team of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, perhaps I may say how much I appreciate the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. I join, as I believe that is the right thing to do, in the appreciation expressed on all sides of the House for the work done by the noble and learned Lord. He showed great patience and skill, particularly in the early stages of the committee, because it got off to a rather slow and uncertain start. The noble and learned Lord found us occasionally to be an unruly group, but he kept us in order, he persuaded some of us out of our more unreasonable positions, he took a great interest in the detailed drafting, and he brought us through to a large measure of success. Plainly, the House owes him a great deal.
In his opening remarks, the noble and learned Lord used one phrase which succinctly summed up his view, strongly expressed in the committee, and therefore the view of the committee itself, when he said that the report's message is that we must not sell parliamentary influence. If that is the thought which lies behind our debate today, and determines the way we always behave, I do not believe that Members of the House will go wrong.
I welcome what was said by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House—widely endorsed by other speakers—that any necessary order should be brought forward without delay to implement the views of the House. I confess that I believed initially that we should wait for the further report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and only then decide what course we should take, but I have been persuaded otherwise and I now join those who believe that the sooner we put our own affairs in order, if that is what we will be doing, the better. We should do it now of our own volition rather than later if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, judges that that is what we should do.
Although I believe that we should put our House in order on the basis of views expressed today and the noble and learned Lord's report, we must at all times remember—I wish to return to this point—why the Nolan Committee was appointed. Here I use the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, himself. It was:To ensure that the people of this country have confidence in the way in which public affairs are conducted".1477 That is the real answer to arguments about perception: the people of this country should have confidence in the way that we conduct our affairs. If there is a fault in any direction—leaning one way or another—it should be to be doubly sure that that is indeed the case.
We should not forget that this House is the second Chamber in our parliamentary system. It would diminish us to pretend in some way that Nolan does not apply to us. Perhaps I may refer to an exchange that I had with the Leader of the House when he gave evidence on 1st February, and thank him for the outcome. At question 13 on page 4 of the oral evidence I asked him whether he saw any objection to the annual information sheet which sets out membership and attendance statistics containing also a list of declarations made by Peers in the Official Report.
The noble Viscount's reply was equivocal, cautious, and in fact discouraging, but on 23rd February he wrote to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, saying that on further reflection he saw no objection. I welcome that. The intention behind my question might seem to have been overtaken by the report of the sub-committee and today's debate, but my present view is that such information should be brought together and printed. It would take little effort. It would be information that noble Lords had given to the House, which had already been published and was widely available.
As page 22 of the Procedure Committee's report makes clear, in the sub-committee I moved an amendment to the draft report to establish in the House a comprehensive register along the lines of the one that has operated in the other place for over 20 years. The case for such a register is set out briefly in my amendment and is put more eloquently in paragraph 43 of the report. I heard no arguments in the sub-committee and have heard none today that persuade me I am wrong. As I have said, the House of Commons and the House of Lords are two Houses of the same Parliament. We both legislate. That is the heart of the matter. If the public are entitled to know the interests of Members of one House, they are entitled to know the interests of the Members of the other.
The point was made well by the sub-committee of the Procedure Committee which reviewed these matters in 1974. It is referred to in the first paragraph at the top of page 12 of the present report. The paragraph starts by saying that one of the differences between the Lords and the Commons is that your Lordships are not paid. It then continues:but the Sub-Committee regard this are irrelevant for…responsibility and registration of interests should go with power and not with the payment of salaries".This is the position under our constitution. Why else have we spent long hours this Session considering the Environment Bill, the Gas Bill, the Criminal Injuries Bill and many others? Why else shall be debate the Queen's Speech in a fortnight's time? We are not paid—I believe that the expression an "amateur House" is a rather unfortunate one—but that is irrelevant. We have power and the public has the right to scrutinise those who exercise it, whether in this House or elsewhere.
1478 There are other arguments against the register which I find strange. Twenty years ago the Procedure Committee referred to this Chamber as being,of a unique kind because of its capacity to manage its own affairs".There have been references today—absolutely rightly—to the fact that the report of the sub-committee refers to noble Lords acting on their "personal honour". I agree with all that. But then we come to the argument that the idea of a comprehensive register is somehow impractical because it could not be made compulsive. But if we are right to claim that we manage our own affairs and intend to continue to do so, and if we argue that Peers for the most part act on their own honour, why should we suddenly assume that if the House decides to have a comprehensive register Members acting in self-interest, self-regulation and on their honour would then not sign a register?
Of course, the House of Commons has the right to expel a Member for declining to register his interests. But I do not believe that that is a sanction which makes registration effective in another place. I have always doubted whether such a sanction would work. Certainly when I was a Member of the other place—and a strong supporter of the register—I would not have voted for expulsion. So, whatever the arguments against a comprehensive registration, I do hope that that will not be one of them.
There are other arguments that I have heard which I also find to be unconvincing; for example, that it would be difficult to keep such a register up-to-date. Again, in that respect, I do not see that Members of your Lordships' House are less capable of keeping a register up to date than Members of another place. The most powerful argument—and it is one that was put forward by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, in his opening remarks, and is also a thought which lay behind a number of remarks of those who do not very much like the report—is that some Members would simply stay away if they had to register their interests in that way.
It is a matter of judgment. I have great respect for what my noble friend said; and, indeed for other views expressed in the House. However, I find it difficult to believe that those Members of your Lordships' House who have something important to say would stay away from this place and not speak simply because they were required to put into a register no more and no less than what is put into the register available in another place.
Perhaps I may just remind noble Lords that the register in another place requires a Member to declare his remunerated directorships, but not to say how much he is paid in fees. It requires gifts to be registered but not those under £125 in value. A Member in another place registers land or property of substantial value, but not his own house and no figures are put on anything that he registers. I have to say that all this seems to me to be incredibly painless. I do not understand why Members of this House who did not find it difficult to register interests when they were Members of another place would find it so difficult to do so in your Lordships' House, as it was something which once came naturally to them.
1479 The most powerful case against a register—and I refer briefly to the matter in closing—is that the vast majority of Members of this House behave honourably at all times and do not confuse their public duties with their private interests to personal advantage. That is a view expressed in the House and one which I share. I do not dissent in any way from that thought. But our reputation is not simply in what we are but in what we are seen to be. If we wish to maintain—and, indeed, enhance—the standing of this House, we must be open and transparent. The time has past when confidence in ourselves absolves us from reassuring others.
I believe that one day there will be a comprehensive register of interests in this House. I would prefer it now as a result of this debate rather than later as a result of external pressure. I fully accept that there has been and still remains a wide diversity of interests here. Others have agreed to move from the positions that they hold to make a compromise, to make concessions. Such matters are personal and not party ones in this House. For that reason, as a signatory of the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, I am happy to support its recommendations. I will support any orders or resolutions put before the House and shall not in any way seek to amend them.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, as another member of the Griffiths Committee I should like to add my tribute to those already expressed to the noble and learned Lord for the way in which he conducted his sub-committee and brought it to a successful conclusion. It must have been quite a culture shock for the noble and learned Lord. I say that because I do not believe that he was used to the way in which the more active politicians among us behave. When he observed the affectionate slanging matches between myself and the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, I do not think that the noble and learned Lord appreciated immediately the extent to which they were affectionate as well as being slanging matches. When I congratulated the noble and learned Lord after the report had been completed on the way in which he had achieved such a degree of unanimity, he said, "Well, of course, we all moved, didn't we?" But he then looked at me and said, "You didn't move, you swayed". I am satisfied with that description of what happened during the course of the committee.
Perhaps I may begin by stressing one thing that the committee was not and never set out to be. This debate takes place in the context of a great deal of public discussion about the extent of abuse of parliamentary procedure and of abuse in terms of standards of life both in this House and in another place. It was not a muck-raking committee. It was not a committee of investigation into abuse. We had no resources and no desire to do so. It was not part of our terms of reference and we did not do it, except on the occasion when it was thrust upon us by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Even then, I believe it is fair to say that we gave the minimal response on questioning to the allegations that he made. Therefore, we do not know the extent to which there is a great deal of abuse in this 1480 House. We do not know from any investigations that we carried out. Indeed, we do not know more than any other Member of this House knows.
During the course of this debate a number of speakers said that they believed the extent of abuse is very small. I believe that they are probably right. After all, we do not know as a result of the inquiry of the Griffiths sub-committee and it was never our intention to know. The recommendations that we made in committee were not in any way dependent upon the allegation that there is widespread abuse in this House; they are dependent on a much more important matter, which is the reputation of this House with the public, the people who rely on Parliament for democratic legitimacy in this country.
The second point concerns the so-called differences between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Of course there are differences between the two and it is true that the Members of this House are unpaid and that therefore we have to earn a living outside the House. However, to counter that, those who really have to earn a living outside can perfectly well take leave of absence and be absolved of all responsibility for declaration. However, the important matter for the public is not the composition of this House but the responsibilities of the House—the fact that we are a legislative Chamber and all legislation has to pass through this House, as it does the House of Commons. It would be a grave mistake if we were to rely on differences of composition to justify differences in the way in which we conduct ourselves in public and the standards that we adhere to. I emphasise that we should not seek to hide behind differences in composition in considering the issues before us today.
The third point I wish to make concerns declaration and registration. Noble Lords—in fact, only two—have said that although they accept the need for declaration of interest, they do not see the need for registration of interest. I simply do not understand that. Declaration and registration are part of the same thing. They are part of the same transparency and openness but applied for different purposes. It is not possible for most people observing the activities of Parliament to look through Hansard to discover what is or is not being declared. All they can see is the result of what happens in Parliament, whether in this House or in the House of Commons. The registration of interest on the other hand is a more publicly available record of the way in which Members of both Houses—I hope—approach their business and the influences upon them. Therefore it serves a different but complementary and necessary purpose in Parliament in both Houses.
There appear to be some difficulties about definitions of interest. I do not appreciate those difficulties. Of course there will always be problems at the margin. There has always been a distinction in this House between those interests which have been defined in the Companion as being direct, pecuniary and shared by few others, and those which are not. We legislate for local government to distinguish between a general interest such as that of being a council tenant and voting on council house rents and a specific interest, for example as regards contracts, which means that a councillor has 1481 to leave the room and not take part in any debate or decision on that subject. If we can achieve this in legislation for other people, surely we can do it for ourselves.
The noble Lords, Lord Mottistone and Lord Reay, both described their interest as paid advisers to the CBI. Let me say immediately that in my view both of them have always behaved totally honourably in accordance with the rules of the House, as existing at that time and at this time. I have never had any doubt about their integrity in that matter. However, I note that the CBI has ceased to pay an adviser after the resignation of the noble Lord, Lord Reay. I wonder whether the CBI, like the local authority associations for example, and many other bodies, could not get on just as well without paid advisers by having people who take an interest because they are concerned through their convictions about the interests of the CBI, or indeed any other body.
We should not think that if—as I hope—we accept the recommendations of the Griffiths sub-committee, that is the end of the matter. It is not the end of the matter for one simple reason which is beyond our control; namely, that the Nolan Committee will investigate the House of Lords in the course of the next year and will report to us. There are significant differences between what is recommended in the report before us and what Nolan has so far recommended, and we may well have to look at the recommendations again.
The first area where I believe we are entirely right and Nolan is wrong is that Nolan bans any payment from political consultancy. I believe that is wrong for the reason that political consultants and political lobbying firms often serve smaller clients and more short-term interests, whereas the large clients employ their own internal public affairs managers and are not proscribed as Nolan would have the lobbyists proscribed. I agreed with my noble friend Lord Dubs and others who said that lobbying is an essential part of our political process. I do not believe it should be identified purely as being lobbying by lobbying firms; it is and should be much wider than that.
The second area where I believe the recommendations before us are right is where—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, said—we propose to ban selling parliamentary activity. The Nolan Report does not propose that. It bans payment from lobbying firms but it does not go so far as to say that receipt of money from other organisations or companies should be accompanied by a ban on parliamentary activity. I think that is wrong, and this matter will have to be resolved in the end. I believe that in the end we shall have to accept that the references in the Griffiths Report to similar arrangements to political consultancies or the phrase, "interests which are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others" will mean that the ban on certain parliamentary activity will have to be extended in due course. The general public do not and will not distinguish between an interest which is a landowning interest or a large-scale shareholding or industrial interest, and an interest which comes from lobbying. If people are to gain financial benefit from activities of 1482 Parliament, the public will expect them—I believe rightly—not to take part in parliamentary activities. We shall have to face that matter again in due course.
We do not recommend that there should be a declaration of amounts that are paid. That is probably right. I am sure that the House would not find that acceptable at the moment. We shall wait to see what happens in the House of Commons on Monday. As regards the scope of the register, the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to that at great length. He knows that I agree with him on that point. Again, we shall have to wait to see what happens. I suspect that the limited register which is proposed will prove to be skimpy although I would certainly encourage my noble friends to make voluntary declarations of interest. I suspect that there will not be a great deal to that matter and we may have to rethink it.
As regards enforcement, what is proposed is about the furthest we can go when one bears in mind the fact that we cannot exclude Members of this House because they are here by Writ of Summons. We are proposing that that should be undertaken by the Committee for Privileges on the condition that three Law Lords should be present at any adjudication. The important point about that provision is that it constitutes self-regulation and there is no equivalent of the ombudsman who is to be appointed to oversee standards in the House of Commons. I welcome the commitment to self-regulation in this House, and I hope it will continue. I am not sure that that will be the case, but the only chance of it being established and continuing is if the recommendations of the Griffiths Committee are implemented quickly. I hope that by the time we have the results of the Nolan investigations, we have had an opportunity to say, "This is how our own reform has worked out in practice and this is the answer that we can give from real knowledge to whatever the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, and his colleagues may say". Timing here is of the essence.
The report of the Procedure Committee suggests that if there is general support in the debate, we should move forward to incorporate the recommendations. It will be agreed that there has been general support for the proposals in the debate. There have been 24 speeches and only two—those of the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Boyd-Carpenter—opposed significant parts of the recommendations, and those parts are confined to the matter of registration.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, if the noble Lord refers to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, it seemed to me that she concluded in favour of the recommendations. She is indicating her assent now.
There were one or two differences of opinion about wording. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, himself indicated that, after consultation with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, he wished to make some textual changes in one case. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, disagreed with some of the wording but did not propose to press the point. However, in general, only two noble Lords out of all those who have spoken 1483 expressed unyielding opposition to a significant part of the report. As proposed in the annex to the Fifth Report of the Procedures Committee, they have the opportunity to express that opposition by voting against the second and third Motions which would be put before the House.
Action is needed. There can be no doubt about that. Action is possible because we have a three-part package to be put before the House. I believe that it is in both the immediate and long-term interests of this House that we deal with the matter as swiftly as possible. I say that not at all in the sense that we should be seeking to appease the media. I shall not join in attacks on the media because I believe they perform a necessary function and usually perform it to a very high standard. Those we have to be concerned about are not the media but the public, and the public expect us to behave as a responsible House of Parliament. This report gives us an opportunity to do so.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate. I have found it extremely interesting. In particular, I have been struck by the way in which all noble Lords who have spoken, whatever their viewpoint, have sought to make a constructive response to the proposals before us.
I suggest that that says much for the excellent job done by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his sub-committee in producing their report. I should like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, who this afternoon gave tremendous clarity and life to the rather dry words of the original report. I shall recommend to my Back-Benchers, many of whom have not yet seen the report in detail, that they read his speech in Hansard.
Of course there are plenty of good reasons for opposing the proposals that we are debating today. First, no change is necessary because there is no evidence of any abuse. There are unsubstantiated allegations, and there are the contrived and mischievous interpretations indulged in by the media. That is not an attack on the media, more a concern or perhaps even more an observation. There is nothing more than that.
I can assure your Lordships that the Government Chief Whip in this House gets to know a great deal about what goes on here—perhaps not everything—and I know of no improper behaviour of Peers in respect of their activities in the House and any financial interests they may have.
Secondly, this is an amateur House, in the true sense of the term, if I may borrow the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, disagreed with that description. It is perhaps a professional House made up of amateurs. Such rules as may be appropriate for the salaried representatives of the people in another place are not necessary for your Lordships. I disagreed strongly with that part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in what was otherwise an excellent speech, In which he said that the two Houses should have similar arrangements. That point was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.
1484 Noble Lords receive no salary, participating in parliamentary life from a sense of public duty and service. The wisdom and experience acquired in other walks of life enrich our proceedings. It would be a great loss were endless scrutiny of Peers' private affairs to deter those who, not being professional politicians, make such a unique and valued contribution.
To return to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, he suggested that there was little to distinguish in principle between registration of an interest and declaration of an interest before participating in a debate. Without wishing to spoil what has been a good-hearted debate this afternoon, I disagree fundamentally with both the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on that point. To me the difference is very clear. It is for that reason that I am very glad that the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, did not recommend compulsory registration of interests other than those which have been described as paid advocacy.
To those of us who are not professional politicians the prospect of being obliged to disclose all our financial interests, including those which may have no relevance whatever to our activities in Parliament, is one which may altogether deter participation in your Lordships' House. By contrast, the requirement to declare an interest in a debate permits a noble Lord to choose on each occasion whether or not he wishes to participate.
The third point that I wish to make is that these proposals will be difficult to interpret. As a Chief Whip I am particularly conscious that I am likely to receive endless visits from Back-Benchers seeking advice as to whether their particular interests should preclude them from taking part in a particular item of business. I suspect that my noble friends the Chief Whips on the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Benches, if I can call them noble friends in this instance, would join me in saying that it is a headache that they will not relish. However, I am delighted to hear that my noble friend Lord Lyell will go direct to the Clerks with his concerns about registration rather than come to me.
The House will now realise that I believe that much of what is proposed is, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and nasty medicine. However, I believe that we must put our doubts on one side. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier today, Parliament does not exist in a vacuum. The world has changed and we must recognise the way we are seen by others. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, made the point about how we are universally perceived. It was a point that was made rather more forcefully by my noble friend Lord Marlesford who said that public confidence has been undermined.
I join with my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree in saying that much doubt surrounds some of our most cherished institutions. The denigration of our national institutions. including Parliament, is one of the unfortunate features of our age. I deeply regret that. However, this report gives us, in the House of Lords, an opportunity to declare ourselves in favour of the highest standards of probity in parliamentary life. For that reason we must support the proposals and do our utmost to make them work effectively.
1485 It is in the traditions of your Lordships' House that we seek our own solutions and that we operate by agreement and, if necessary, by compromise. Compromise was a word which was central to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hesketh. I pay tribute to both him and my noble friend Lord Pym, who sat on the sub-committee in a non-partisan way, as did other members of the sub-committee, purely with the very best interests of the House at heart.
I hope that the fact that most speakers today have, by and large, found the proposals bearable will encourage others of your Lordships to give them your support in the interests of good order and consensus. I say "by and large" because I am conscious that two of my noble friends—my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Boyd-Carpenter—expressed grave reservations about certain aspects of the report and how it will be implemented. I take those reservations seriously.
I wish to deal with one point raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway who suggested that we should not proceed to implement those recommendations in advance of scrutiny of our practice by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I sympathise with some of his views. However, on that point I cannot agree. As my noble friend the Leader of the House indicated, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, has said that implementation of the recommendations before the House today would not inhibit his committee in any way but that on the face of it they were a positive response to public concern about the integrity and probity of those in Parliament. That being so, I believe that it would be far preferable to pursue our long and constructive tradition of self-regulation rather than wait to be instructed.
It is not for me to answer the debate today. That distinction rests with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I have no doubt that subsequently there will be need to give further consideration to the views expressed by your Lordships before any decision is taken about what further action may be required.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Young. She referred to the television programme to be screened on Channel 4 this evening. I very much agree with the concerns expressed: that it is most regrettable that allegations should be made in this way and propagated by the press with no opportunity given for the other side of the question to be examined. Until I have an opportunity to view the programme, I believe that I can say little more than that it appears to have all the hallmarks of mischief making. I am rather confirmed in that opinion by the fact that the makers of the programme showed such poor judgment as to cancel their interview with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.
I have no doubt that what is said today will not be the end of the story. It is a difficult subject as the protracted discussions in another place have demonstrated. I know that what the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, proposed is a compromise between those who want no change and those who wish to see 1486 all our financial affairs, no matter how unrelated to our parliamentary activities, catalogued and scrutinised. I realise that a compromise never truly pleases anyone. But I do not invite your Lordships to be pleased with what is proposed; rather, I urge the House to support what is achievable. This proposal is achievable. I believe that it has been well supported this afternoon and should continue to be supported.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may ask him to accept that, in view of what has been said, I defer to the sense of the House.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, this has been a remarkable debate in a number of ways to which I shall refer in a moment. It has been a major occasion for the House and a very valuable debate. In a debate in which 24 Members of your Lordships' House have taken part, I believe that I should not be forgiven if I referred by name to every Member's speech. Therefore, I ask the forgiveness of those whose speeches I do not refer to by name. In particular, I ask the forgiveness of the Members of the three Front Benches and of the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for not referring to their speeches in detail.
However, this I do say. One of the remarkable features of the debate has been the way in which the speeches from the three Front Benches and the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers, have provided collective leadership to this House. It is remarkable because I do not believe that that often occurs. It is remarkable, too, because I venture to say that it is in accordance with the finest traditions of this House when it comes to regulating and ordering the procedure and rules of order of the House. It is a collective leadership and a collective form of order which we in this House pursue and benefit from.
There is another remarkable feature of the debate. Although a number of arguments ran through many of the speeches, a particular thread ran through a great many. Time after time, noble Lords stated that there was no evidence of abuse. I venture to agree with that assertion. The remarkable aspect is that noble Lords who expressed strong reservations, and noble Lords who are in favour of implementing the recommendations of the report of the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, have stated that too. There has been a general acknowledgement that there has been no evidence of abuse. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, we have no means of knowing whether or not there is a measure of abuse. But the fact remains that there has been no evidence of abuse. It is not without significance that both noble Lords who expressed strong reservations and noble Lords in favour of going ahead with the proposals have made that statement. Therefore notwithstanding that fact, noble Lords from all sides of the House wish on the whole to proceed with the recommendations. That thread arose—if I do not mix my metaphors too much—first, in the speech of my noble friend Lady Young; and other speeches followed.
1487 In their speeches, the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, have performed a real service to the House with assiduity, as they customarily do. They have expressed opinions of value. Whatever position one takes, they have expressed views which cannot and should not be ignored, and which should be expressed because they exist. As at Question Time and on other occasions in your Lordships' House, once again they have performed what I would say is a real service to your Lordships' House.
A number of individual, specific points have been raised. Perhaps some of them do not apply on this occasion. Therefore, if your Lordships will forgive me, I shall not deal with them all. However, there are some which should be mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, raised the point about whether or not there is a power to suspend a Member of the House. I find it difficult to give an answer to that question off my own bat. However, to an extent only, an answer is to be found in paragraph 54 of the report of the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. It states that the legal position is doubtful—although I paraphrase, I hope that I do not do so inaccurately—and it should be assumed that there is no such power. I add the observation, "so far as it goes", because there is no conclusive, absolute definition in answer to that question. If I may say so to your Lordships, it seems fairly safe for our purposes at least for the time being, unless anything more tangible emerges, to adopt that assumption. I cannot take the matter further than that, but I hope that that is of some help to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.
A number of other specific points have also been raised. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred to some difficulties which could arise, if your Lordships decide to accept the recommendations and proposals, in interpreting what amount to declarations of interest of a particular kind. He instanced the case of a father who had been supporting the interests of mongol children, having a mongol child himself, and whether that person should declare an interest. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, to forgive me but I cannot tonight off the cuff—and nor, I suspect, could many of us—give a definitive answer. If such a case arises and there is difficulty, the interpretation will develop in the course of the conduct of our affairs. It is inevitable that we could not predict all the instances that might arise so we cannot define them. There are bound to be occasions when points come up for interpretation.
Other points also were mentioned. As I have already indicated, and I hope that it is acceptable to your Lordships, I shall not deal with them at this time. They might arise if and when the resolutions are placed before your Lordships or, if the resolutions are passed, they might arise in the course of the development of our proceedings.
I will say this, in attempting to draw conclusions from the debate. As has already been pointed out, among the 24 Members of your Lordships' House who have taken part in the debate, two of the speakers expressed the strong reservations to which I have already referred. The other Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken have formed what I venture to conclude has been 1488 a general consensus around the House on the way in which we should proceed. Having listened to the debate, which I very much enjoyed, I find myself unable to escape from the conclusion that the consensus is in favour of the recommendations of the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the Procedure Committee's recommendations to your Lordships. If I am wrong in drawing that conclusion, I shall be corrected. In those circumstances, I should have thought that if your Lordships pass the Motion this evening it would be right to proceed to introduce into your Lordships' House the practical aspects of those recommendations.
There is one other consensus which I think emerged, again a general consensus, and I suggest that it is fair to draw a conclusion about it. It is that if it is right that there is a general consensus on the principle, there is also a general consensus that we should proceed with all due practical speed. That again has emerged tonight throughout your Lordships' House. If that is right, then, subject to the passing of tonight's Motion, we can feel that the House would wish to proceed in that way.
I had not intended to speak for as long as this; in fact, I advised those who asked me that I should finish within 10 minutes. I am sorry to have exceeded my own time limit. For the third time tonight, I ask your Lordships' forgiveness and I commend the Motion to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.