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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 Guardianthe content of which he has just declared is not truehe 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.
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.
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.
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 groupsbusinesses, individuals, charities, interest groups, environmentalists and othersoften 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.
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
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.
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 knewI am not all that naivethat 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.
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.
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