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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.
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.
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:
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 Motionsthe broad thrust of which I wholeheartedly endorsenor 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
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 timeand 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.
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