HL Deb 01 November 1995 vol 566 cc1428-30

3.20 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

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

The Motion refers to two reports from the Procedure Committee, both concerned with only one subject, the declaration and registration of interests. The first of the two reports is the committee's third report, which includes an annex containing the report made to the committee by a sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths.

I do not propose to attempt to speak about the content of the report of the sub-committee, especially as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, is to speak next. Instead I will confine myself mainly to a few remarks which it is perhaps more appropriate for me to make as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. Indeed, your Lordships will no doubt think that it is in fact my duty to put forward the feelings and proposals of the committee.

First, I must say that the Procedure Committee was immensely grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the members of his sub-committee. The subject matter of their inquiry was a difficult one and they must be congratulated on having produced such an admirable and thorough report. Indeed, when the Procedure Committee considered what recommendation to make to the House in relation to the report, the whole committee agreed to welcome the report and to suggest that the House should adopt its recommendations.

The Procedure Committee's conclusions in relation to the sub-committee's report appear in the committee's fifth report, which is the second of the two reports referred to in my Motion. That report includes in an annex the text of a note by the Clerk of the Parliaments indicating how the sub-committee's recommendations might be implemented, in particular those recommendations concerned with the institution of a register.

Your Lordships will be aware that the Committee on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, is proposing to consider matters relating to this House in the near future. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, has indicated that it would not cause his committee any difficulty if the House were to accept the recommendations of the sub-committee in whole or in part in advance of that consideration.

The Procedure Committee accordingly concluded that, if there were general support in the House, it would be right for the recommendations to be implemented without delay. One particular advantage of that approach would be that the House would have experience of the operation of the new arrangements when considering any proposals which might be made by the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. It would also show, as one would expect, how very seriously the sub-committee and indeed the House itself have taken the whole matter, in some respects choosing to go further than the first report of the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan.

If it becomes clear as a result of this afternoon's debate that it is the general wish of the House to proceed with the implementation of the sub-committee's recommendations, then the House will be invited either in the remaining days of this Session or very early in the new Session to agree to the necessary order or orders. That would enable us all to reflect upon what has been said in this debate and to take into account points that noble Lords will have made.

There are just one or two other observations of a more general nature that I should like to make. They are points which are perhaps rather more for the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, the leaders of the other parties and the Convener of the Cross-Bench Peers than for me as the Chairman of Committees. I make them simply as a Member of your Lordships' House rather than in any other capacity. I offer them simply as personal views. I take full responsibility for them and they have no greater authority than that.

I am conscious, as no doubt we all are, that not all Members of your Lordships' House approach these proposals with enthusiasm, even though some at least of those Members are prepared to go along with them— albeit with a measure of reluctance. If adopted, they will amount to a departure of some significance from our previous procedures. There is also the perfectly valid point that your Lordships have been forthcoming in declaring interests where appropriate in accordance with our existing practice.

However, we are all of us, I am sure, conscious of at least two points that have been mentioned in the course of our consideration of these matters. One is that among people generally there is a greater expectation these days that there will be more disclosure rather than less; and that it would be wrong not to take account of public opinion. The other is that the public perception of Parliament is such that some people find it hard to distinguish between the two Houses or to understand why there should be different rules. But I submit that it has to be borne firmly in mind that there are, of course, clear differences between your Lordships' House and another place, most notably perhaps in its composition and the fact that this is, in substance, a voluntary Chamber. There are other obvious differences as well.

I hope very much that, if your Lordships decide in due course to adopt these proposals, Members of your Lordships' House who are not enthusiastic about them but are prepared to go along with them will not feel inhibited from taking part in our proceedings in the future. I have long felt that one of the great strengths of this place is that Members have outside interests and we are able to draw upon the extensive expertise of so many Members, with wide experience of so many matters outside the House. It is of great benefit to the House and therefore to the nation that such knowledge is made available. It would be a great loss if we (the House and the nation) were to be deprived of the service performed by those Members. So, as just one Member of your Lordships' House, I hope very much indeed that those Members will not feel inhibited from continuing to take part and will keep giving us the benefit of their wisdom, guidance and knowledge gained from their outside interests.

My Lords, I commend the reports to the House.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Third and Fifth Reports from the Select Committee on the Procedure of the House and of the recommendations of the Sub-Committee on Declaration and Registration of Interests (HL Papers 90 and 98).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following are the reports referred to: