HL Deb 07 November 1995 vol 566 cc1630-40

3.5 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is the first of two Motions for the purpose of implementing the recommendations of the sub-committee on the Declaration and Registration of Interests, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. As I said when winding up the debate in your Lordships' House last Wednesday, it appeared that the consensus in the House was that we should proceed with those recommendations, and so I hope that I am carrying out the wishes of your Lordships in bringing forward these two Motions today.

The second Motion, which I shall move separately, is concerned with the introduction of a register. If the first resolution is agreed by your Lordships, it will in due course be incorporated into The Companion to the Standing Orders in place of the existing guidelines. I believe that a resolution of the House will carry even greater weight with your Lordships than the guidance which has been deemed sufficient until now.

Moved, to resolve, That the practice of the House in relation to Lords' interests should be governed by the following principles:

  1. (1) Lords should act always on their personal honour;


  1. (2) Lords should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence.
Thus Lords who accept payment or other incentive or reward for providing parliamentary advice or services, or who have any financial interest in a business involved in parliamentary lobbying on behalf of clients, should not speak, vote, lobby or otherwise take advantage of their position as Members of the House on behalf of their clients. This restriction does not extend to matters relating to Lords' outside employment or directorships, where the interest does not arise from membership of the House. Lords should, however, be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary and shared by few others.

In relation to private Bills, Lords should not speak or vote on Bills in which they have a direct pecuniary interest.

The above guidance cannot cover all eventualities, and therefore the decision ultimately rests with Lords themselves whether it is proper to take part in a debate or a vote in which they have a personal interest.

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. Such interests may be indirect or non-pecuniary, for example the interest of a relation or friend, hospitality or gifts received, trusteeship, or unpaid membership of an interested organisation, and they may include past and future interests. This rule also applies where Lords are using their influence as a Member of the House in communication with a Minister, Government Department, local authority or other public body outside the House.

On certain occasions such as Starred Questions and the various stages of a bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Lords should not take up time by repeating declarations of interest but Lords should make a declaration whenever they are in doubt. The nature of the interest should be made clear notwithstanding that it may be well known to most other Lords present in the Chamber.

Similar principles apply to proceedings in committees off the floor of the House.

The Clerk of the Parliaments is available to advise on the interpretation of this guidance in a case of uncertainty.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, before the debate on this matter proceeds, I wonder whether the House will allow me to ask my noble friend the Chairman of Committees whether these two Motions were drafted before the decision taken in another place. While there is no necessity for the two Chambers to work in the same direction on these matters, it is at least desirable that we should take into consideration what has happened elsewhere. We have had no opportunity to consider how these Motions go alongside the proceedings elsewhere. In those circumstances, are we not taking action rather quickly? Does my noble friend still wish to proceed with the Motions?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, if it is in order for me to do so, and with the leave of the House, I would simply point out that noble Lords in all parts of the House would regard themselves as in charge of their own proceedings quite independently of what might or might not happen in another place. On the question of knowledge about these two Motions, it is the case, as I might have said when we embarked on the debate this afternoon, if there is to be one, that the terms of the Motions have been familiar to your Lordships since the Procedure Committee's reports. So that goes back to July of this year.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank rose to move as an amendment to the above Motion, in line 30 leave out ("repeating") and insert ("repeated") and in line 31 after ("doubt") insert ("although not less than each day and at each stage of a Bill").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to seek clarification. The substance of it is directed to the purport, the meaning or the significance of the word "repeating" in line 30 of the resolution before the House. I raise this question because of my understanding of the intention of the Griffiths Committee, of which I was a member. It has become clear to me, as I think the Chairman of Committees will himself confirm, that there is a possibility of some different alternative interpretation of what the word "repeating" means within the context of that sentence. My wish is no more than to enable the Chairman of Committees, if he so chooses, to make clear that the meaning of that word in the sentence is precisely what the Griffiths Committee had in mind as expressed in paragraph 34 of its report, published, as the noble Lord said, in the proceedings of the Procedure Committee.

The sentence in the resolution to which I refer states that at, the various stages of a Bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Lords should not take up time by repeating declarations of interest".

That has been taken to mean, at least in one case and maybe in others, that once a declaration has been made at Second Reading there is no need to repeat it later. I believe that such an interpretation is not what the Griffiths sub-committee had in mind and that is why I referred earlier to paragraph 34. I can well understand that "repeating" within that context could lead some noble Lords to believe that once they had made a declaration at Second Reading, it was not necessary to repeat it later.

As I believe that the House is disposed to accept the recommendations of the Griffiths sub-committee and no doubt the reasoning behind them, I have no wish to detain it with a lengthy explanation of why it is so important that the House understands and accepts the intentions behind the Griffiths recommendations. However, perhaps I may say this. Yesterday afternoon we completed a short and relatively uncontroversial Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill. We completed it on 6th November. The Bill had its Second Reading on 17th July. Plainly, a declaration of interest made in July could not be expected to carry over and run until November. That is the point I want to make and it is one which was very much in the mind of the Griffiths sub-committee. If that is the case with a relatively uncontroversial and short Bill, how much more would it be the case with a complex, controversial and perhaps mainly commercial Bill like the legislation as regards Sunday trading or deregulation and contracting out which we considered two or three years ago, or indeed the environment or the gas Bills which we have discussed this Session.

Some Members do not attend every stage of a Bill; some do not attend every debate on an amendment. A Committee stage may go over one or more days. We should not overlook the fact that in each parliamentary Session as many as 50 new Peers may be introduced. Therefore, a Member may not have been eligible to attend Second Reading before the Committee stage, Report stage or Third Reading is reached.

I have no wish to labour the point; I make it only in case the full implications of the Griffiths Report have not been understood. It is—I say this to those Members who may feel that I am repeating myself—a simple point. As I understand it, it is the intention of the Griffiths sub-committee and, I hope, the intention of the House that declarations should occur on every day of a Bill and at every stage of it because only in that way can we be sure that Members will be aware of the need for it.

I have chosen the words, not less than each day and at each stage of a Bill",

but I find better expressed, at least on the occasion of the first intervention on any day",

which is the form of words adopted by the Griffiths sub-committee.

As I made clear in our debate on Wednesday last week, I have at all stages been in favour of belt and braces. I mean by that that the declaration which a noble Lord may make shall be accompanied by a comprehensive register of interests. I shall not pursue that point further now, but what I have said about clarification of this sentence is relevant to the fact that if we do not have a comprehensive declaration of interest it is even more important that there should be no doubt at all where noble Lords stand on matters of concern to them. If the Chairman of Committees says that I am right—in other words, that his understanding is that paragraph 34 of the Procedure Committee report is incorporated within the Motion before us—I shall take matters no further. But it is important to be quite clear about the matter before the House today. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he assuming that we can hear but cannot read? There is a publication called Hansard. Although I do not disagree with the fact that we have to have this matter in the open, the precision which the noble Lord is putting forward really assumes that no one ever reads Hansard, including newcomers to the House.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord. I do not believe that anyone participating in yesterday's debate could be expected during the course of that debate either to have the speeches at Second Reading with him or indeed to be aware of what was said on that occasion. If we have a more complex Bill there may be many days of Committee stage, plus the Report stage and Third Reading. Of course, noble Lords may read Hansard. The noble Lord appears to be disagreeing with the Procedure Committee report. I would have thought that what it recommends is plain common sense, and that is all I am asking the House to recognise.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, perhaps I may briefly and respectfully oppose this amendment, which seeks to perfect the imperfectible. The noble Lord must appreciate—

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, I understood the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, to be simply asking a question. If we are proceeding to debate the amendment, I shall put the Motion to the House.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am obliged to my noble and learned friend. I apologise for having usurped the order. The noble Lord must realise far better than I that any codification of conduct of acting and speaking on honour will give rise inevitably to practical problems of interpretation. Here we have but one. Are we going to start picking at it today and say, "Here is one", or are we to say, "Here is another. What is the difference between advocacy and advice?"; or are we to find another? Is this the time really for us to entertain a nit-picking exercise of this order? I suggest that it clearly is not.

I understand that these matters will be resolved by advice from the Table and no doubt—although I have not been told so—in consultation with the Procedure Committee. Let us get on with it now. That is the will of the House. Let us see how it works out and do not let us try to tinker with it at this stage.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, I hesitate to incur the wrath of the noble Lord opposite in the use of the word "tinker". Perhaps the Chairman of Committees can help me. Paragraph (2) of the First Motion states: Lords should never accept any financial inducement".

Later on, and in a different context, the description goes slightly wider and refers to hospitality, gifts, etc. The real question is whether it might have been better to have removed the word "financial" and just had the word "inducement". I ask that question because I can foresee that certain Members perhaps not present today may think that "financial inducement" is that which is received by cheque whereas it may be perfectly all right for one's wife to accept a holiday in Australia. I say to the noble Lord that I am not nit-picking, but I wonder whether it would have been better for the word ''inducement" to have stood on its own.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I intervene not to comment on the merits of the two Motions—the broad thrust of which I wholeheartedly endorse—nor to comment on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, except to say that I am not very enthusiastic about it. I seek clarification of one important aspect of the first Motion. In last Wednesday's debate many noble Lords declared themselves puzzled as to exactly where the line should be drawn in deciding whether to declare non-financial interests and in particular those involving mere membership of a group or organisation. At the end of the day, we were little the wiser, and a grey area remains.

Most of us happen to be members of a large number of clubs, societies and organisations. Some of us are members of groups within political parties, such as the No Turning Back Group within the Conservative Party or the Tribune Group, if it still exists, within the Labour Party. A few of us may decide temporarily to join ad hoc groups set up, for example, to oppose the building of motorways across places such as Twyford Down or the Naseby battlefield. If whenever we rose to speak we had to declare our membership or even our unpaid patronage of every organisation that might be remotely relevant, not only would our proceedings be up to 25 per cent. lengthier than they are already, but the impact of the declarations would be blunted by constant repetition, to the extent that the declaration of a really substantial and significant financial interest could be submerged beneath a welter of declarations of unimportant, non-financial interests.

Therefore, I wonder whether the Chairman of Committees could kindly say whether the following common-sense compromise is acceptable in his view. Where a particular argument is advanced by a noble Lord as a result of suggestions or requests by officers or members of any organisation, or where the line taken in a debate is inspired or modified as a result of membership of that organisation, the non-financial interest should clearly be declared; on the other hand, where membership of an organisation has no bearing whatever on one's parliamentary conduct and where the arguments advanced and the amendments tabled would be identical whether or not one happened to be a member of a particular organisation, there should be no need to declare the interest. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could confirm whether that is a correct interpretation of the recommendations.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I am a little confused about when one should speak in this debate. It appears now that we are speaking not simply to the amendment, but to the two Motions plus the amendment, so that this is a general discussion. I hope that I am right and that I am not out of order. I have now had some indication that that is so, so I shall proceed.

Last Thursday I raised the question of undue haste in the tabling of these resolutions and in implementing the proposals of the Griffiths Committee. Indeed, I implored the usual channels not to act with undue haste and to defer consideration until after Prorogation, in the new Session. Unfortunately, they did not listen to my appeal. Therefore, we are discussing the matter today. I think that that is most unfortunate because I do not think that we should be driven to over-hasty action in such an important matter as this. The House has managed without such a policy for the past 600 or 700 years, so a few days extra to consider the implications would have done no harm.

We are faced today with an important amendment with far-reaching consequences, but it appeared on the Order Paper only today. Therefore, noble Lords could not possibly have had an opportunity to consider all the implications. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, has just spoken about certain worries that he has. He is entitled to have those worries. He is entitled to have them properly considered and he is entitled to time to consider them himself.

On Thursday, when I raised the question, my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney got to his feet, as he is entitled to do, and said that I spoke only for myself. I took that as implied criticism and as showing that my noble friend agreed that we should move quickly towards a decision on the matter. Today my noble friend has clearly had second thoughts. When he got to his feet today he asked whether we should not take into account what happened in the Commons yesterday. Already, apparently, we have conversions. Already people are beginning to wonder whether we should discuss the matter with such undue haste and whether we are being driven to do something which we may regret in the future. It is too late for me to hope that that is not the case. However, I shall give my opinion as to the wrongfulness of our being driven in such a way.

We should remember that the Prime Minister was driven perhaps too quickly along the course which has led to us facing this decision today. Was it right that the Nolan Committee should have been under instructions to report within six months? Was it not a matter that should have received longer consideration? By acting in haste, we may very well arrive at the wrong decisions and at the wrong time—and those decisions may have an adverse effect on Parliament and parliamentarians.

I can only address these remarks to the Nolan Committee, the press, the media and everybody else who has done their best over the past few weeks and months to denigrate and criticise Members of the House of Commons in particular. In my experience, Members of another place are at least as good, if not better in many instances, than those they represent. I have been in this place for 25 years and have mixed with Members of both Houses and all political parties. In general, they are decent people who believe in their fellow men. They come into politics because they want to do something useful for their fellow men. They are not greedy in the general sense of that word. They are concerned about the country and the people they represent. I wanted to say that because I think that it is important that it should be said and that it should be said in this place and in defence of the House of Commons and of Parliament itself. I very much regret that we are dealing with this matter in such a hasty fashion. I sincerely hope that we shall not come to regret any decisions which we may take today.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, perhaps I may clarify just one point. There is no connection whatever between what I said on Thursday and what has been said today. Today we are discussing procedure; on Thursday we were discussing substance. I still disagree with my noble friend on substance although I may agree with him on procedure.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, following the line of thought presented by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, perhaps I may ask my noble friend who is to reply to this short debate whether, if we decided not to pass his Motion, that would mean that we would revert to the position which existed previously, which has served us well and done its work effectively and to the highest standard for so long. If that would be the result of not passing the Motion, is not that course of action worth a second thought and might it not be the line to follow?

Lord Richard

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stoddart said that certain people had been "converted", as he put it, from their views of last week. Perhaps I may advise him that I have not been converted. My views remain the same today as they were last Thursday. If he had wanted to, my noble friend Lord Stoddart could have made his speech in the debate on the Griffiths report. If he had wanted to, the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, could have said exactly what he has said today—but no doubt at much greater length—in the debate on the Griffiths report. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, could have made his points in the debate on the Griffiths report also.

Perhaps I may make just two points. In the debate on the Griffiths report, the House was virtually unanimous in saying that this is a matter that the House should get on with. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, was the only dissenter. We are getting on with it.

A Noble Lord

Lord Campbell of Alloway?

Lord Richard

And the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, my Lords, but I remember that at the end, with his customary grace and courtesy, he said that in view of what he had heard he would defer to the views of the rest of the House. So perhaps he is half a dissentient. Perhaps he is a converted dissentient, I do not know, but I do know that if the House this afternoon is going to pick at these resolutions in a textual way, then, frankly, we are defeating the whole object of the exercise, and we shall be defeating the whole thrust of the debate on the report itself that took place last Wednesday.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said. He may, or he may not, have a point. With great respect I do not think that it has helped the Business of the House to put it down as a formal amendment this afternoon, and I hope that he will not press it. My plea this afternoon is the same as it was before: that the House having willed the principle, it is right that this afternoon we should will the means.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, for notifying me before he tabled his amendment that he was thinking of doing so along these lines. I should like to thank him also for the way in which he proposed his amendment. For one thing, it provides an opportunity for clarification on this point, if there is a need for clarification. I am happy to confirm that his interpretation of what is in the first of the Motions is correct, and that was the intention also of the sub-committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, of which of course the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, was a member. It is the case, as he said, that in taking part in various stages of a Bill a Member who has an interest to declare should declare that interest at each stage.

The question of avoiding unnecessary repetition comes in for example—and I instance this as only an example—if a Member of your Lordships' House has several amendments tabled at, say, the Committee stage of a Bill. In that case he would not be expected to declare an interest each time he moved one of his amendments, unless perhaps they occurred on different days. That is where the avoidance of unnecessary duplication comes in. As I said, I am happy to confirm that the interpretation and explanation that the noble Lord gave is correct.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with certain other points which have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, raised a point on financial matters and so on. The intention here has been to follow as closely as possible the wording used by the report of the sub-committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and that is why we have stuck to that. If in the light of experience, changes in future years—if your Lordships pass the Motions this afternoon—become necessary, no doubt they can be attended to. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for nodding his head in, I hope, acceptance of that explanation.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, raised a point about groups and other matters. If he and your Lordships will forgive me, I do not believe that I should venture this afternoon into questions of individual interpretation of particular examples. As the resolutions themselves make clear, if the need arises, and as it arises, it will be for the Clerk of the Parliaments to guide noble Lords in relation to particular problems of interpretation. No doubt if they arise, they can be dealt with very well in that way.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, raised a matter to which he referred in your Lordships' House last Thursday. I understand his point. He is not completely alone in raising that point, but I feel that I should remind your Lordships that in our debate last Wednesday there was an overwhelming preponderance of feeling in support of these proposals and recommendations. Indeed, by the end of the debate 23 out of the 24 noble Lords who took part supported the principle of these resolutions. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in what I thought was his most generous intervention towards the end of the debate, just as his noble friend the Government Chief Whip had completed his remarks, indicated, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said this afternoon, that he was prepared to defer to the views as he—if I may say so—so elegantly put it of your Lordships' House.

There was that remarkable consensus of feeling in favour of these proposals. Let me say something else which I hope will bring some comfort, although I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, is not likely to depart from his point—the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, raised a similar point. The terms of these proposed resolutions have been known to your Lordships since 17th July, which was the date of the Procedure Committee's last meeting before we rose for the Summer Recess, and since the meeting of the Procedure Committee on 16th October—the day we resumed. I take the noble Lord's point about the amendment of course, but the terms of these proposals have been well known to your Lordships for quite a period of time. That has enabled us all to get to grips with our thoughts and reactions to these proposals.

The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, raised a slightly different point. He asked whether, if your Lordships decided not to pass these resolutions, we would return to the previous position. That would be the case, subject of course to the views expressed in your Lordships' debate last Wednesday. We should be left with the guidelines and other rules of order which we now have. I would hesitate to repeat the remarks, but I would briefly remind the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, that in view of the strong, widespread and overwhelming reactions of noble Lords in all parts of your Lordships' House in favour of the proposals, I believe the will of the House is probably, as indicated last Wednesday, to proceed with them with all speed. I hope that I have answered sufficient of your Lordships' points to satisfy your Lordships, so far as your Lordships can be satisfied. I hope that what I have said in answer to the moving of the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will satisfy him.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Chairman of Committees for that helpful reply. I had no wish to cause a fuss in your Lordships' House, and I strongly support the course which has been followed in bringing these resolutions before the House at an early date. It seemed important to me that we should have a clear interpretation of this resolution at a significant point and that the matter should not merely be clear but on the official record as well. I am content, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.