Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


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,


and 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 The noble Lord has not withdrawn that allegation which I think is a very serious one.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

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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 be putting down all my interests. Of course, that does not mean that I shall not declare them in a debate when

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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.

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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 be 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

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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.

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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 be 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

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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".

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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.

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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.

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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

1 Nov 1995 : Column 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.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page