HC Deb 02 July 1974 vol 876 cc106-8W
Mr. Ioan L. Evans

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the Government's consultations upon the proposed Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life.

The Prime Minister

On 29th April I announced the Government's view that a recommendation should be made to the Queen for the establishment of a Royal Commission to consider standards of conduct in public life, and that this recommendation should be preceded by consultations within this House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has now concluded these consultations and the House will wish to know their outcome.

In considering our approach to this question we have had a number of guiding principles in mind, and a number of open questions on which we have had to form a view. The House may find it helpful if I summarise the main points before stating the terms of reference at which we have arrived.

First, the Royal Commission cannot be an investigative body into the facts of individual allegations. As I made clear in answer to supplementary questions on 29th April, the investigation of individual cases is, and must remain, the responsibility of the police and the normal prosecuting authorities, and nothing must be done that might inhibit them in their work. The Royal Commission will not, therefore, deal with current or future cases of alleged corruption under investigation by the police.

Second, the Government take the view that, as a general principle, the terms of reference for an inquiry of this nature should be cast in general terms, and the Royal Commission should not be unduly circumscribed about the precise matters to which they may wish to give attention.

Third, in my earlier statement I indicated that it was a matter for consideration whether the Royal Commission should be confined to the public sector or should cover all aspects of business and commercial life. We have since considered this further, in the light of my right hon. Friend's consultations, and the Government have decided that in order to keep the Royal Commission's task within bounds it would be desirable for its work to be focussed primarily on the public sector, although including in its scope the private sector in so far as its relations with the public sector are involved.

Fourth, I drew attention on 29th April to the suggestion that the Royal Commission might be constituted as a standing body to produce regular reports. The need for such a body is a matter on which the Government still have an open mind. Rather than take an immediate decision, however, it seems to us to be best to wait for the Royal Commission's report, since this is a matter on which it may well have views.

Fifth and last, the Committee on Conduct in Local Government under Lord Redcliffe-Maud has reported since I made my earlier statement. As the House knows my right hon. Friends are embarking on urgent consultations about the Redcliffe-Maud Committee's proposals and it is not intended to delay decisions on the bulk of these proposals because of the Royal Commission's work. The extent to which the Royal Commission may wish to re-examine any particular points considered by the Redcliffe-Maud Committee should, however, I suggest, be left to the commission's discretion.

With all these points in mind, and in the light of my right hon. Friend's consultations, the Government propose terms of reference for the Royal Commission on the following lines: — To inquire into standards of conduct in central and local government and other public bodies in the United Kingdom in relation to the problems of conflict of interest and the risk of corruption involving favourable treatment from a public body; and to make recommendations as to the further safeguards which may be required to ensure the highest standard of probity in public life.

In my earlier statement I envisaged that, following the consultations within this House, it would be desirable to have consultations with a variety of outside interests before the Royal Commission was set up. Those consultations would have been largely concerned with the Royal Commission's coverage of any area outside the public sector. Now that the Government have decided to restrict the inquiry in the way I have described, the need for further consultation has changed, and I have decided that it is unnecessary to hold any further consultations on the terms of reference. All those bodies that would have been consulted at this stage, however, will have ample opportunity to put their views to the Royal Commission when it is set up.

I will make a further statement as soon as possible about the membership of the Royal Commission and its formal establishment. In the meantime, however, I am glad to be able to announce that Lord Salmon has agreed to act as the Royal Commission's chairman, and I am sure that the House will wish me to express its warm appreciation to him for making his great experience available for this most important work.