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Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, would the noble Lord be good enough to give way? I made it very clear that I wanted her advice on how, most courteously, we could inform the House to proceed. I did say that the committee had reached a decision.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He sought her advice as the noble Baroness has just said. I cannot imagine that her advice would have been, "No, Lord Neill, leave it alone. The House of Lords is perfectly capable of regulating its own affairs".
In any case, there is no real authority for this committee to investigate the standards of the House of Lords at all. That argument has been made many times tonight and I shall not repeat it in any great detail. It seems to me that if the inquiry was needed at all, the more proper approach would have been for a sub-committee of our own Procedure Committee to have
Although my noble friend Lord Neill has an impressively regal appearance, I do not seek to compare him with Charles I and certainly not with Oliver Cromwell, if only because Oliver Cromwell is known to have a sharp and untunable voice, which the noble Lord certainly does not. However, I believe that we are getting perilously close to surrendering an important principle of the independence of your Lordships' House. It is all very well to argue, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, did in his extremely powerful and persuasive speech, that my noble friend's committee can only make recommendations and that your Lordships will have the final say on whether to accept them or not. But that will be a little late in the day.
As other noble Lords have said, by then the recommendations will be public knowledge. They will be in the press and subject to comment by the press. As the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has said, there will be heavy pressure from many quarters, from the Government, the press and elsewhere, for those recommendations to be accepted. If my noble friend Lord Neill and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, really believe that that pressure will be easy to resist, then they live in a different world to the one in which I live.
Two other arguments have been put forward in the course of this debate which need a little close examination. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and others have suggested that it would be wrong for your Lordships' House to regulate its own affairs in this way. The word "internalise", which is an extremely ugly new invention, has been used in this context. It has been suggested that, if this House objects to the proposal of my noble friend Lord Neill that his committee should investigate our affairs, that in some strange way would be sending a wrong message, whatever that means. It would be showing that we had something to hide.
The logical conclusion to that, if one puts it on a broader footing, is that, if someone came to me, say, as chairman of a company and said, "I am an independent body and I wish to examine the standards which are prevalent in your organisation", and I told him that I did not intend to allow him to do so, that
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He will recollect that I said that it might well be perceived that we had something to hide. I was talking about perception.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for repeating his comment on perceptions and reality. I am saying that here the perception will matter more than the reality. I want to avoid the perception that we have something to hide. We have nothing to hide in this House and I am pleased to see the noble and learned Lord nodding in agreement.
The other argument that is totally without substance is that which suggests--and it has been suggested several times tonight--that there is something intrinsically admirable about having an inquiry into standards of conduct in your Lordships' House conducted by what is called an "independent body". My noble friend Lord Neill repeated tonight that his commission is totally independent. That is the principal argument against it. For centuries, it has been accepted that matters concerning either House of Parliament should be dealt with in the House to which they relate, not by any outside body however distinguished or independent. Independence is a total irrelevance to this argument.
It may be old fashioned nowadays to quote the Companion to Standing Orders, but I am sure that your Lordships need no reminding that it is a long-standing custom of the House of Lords that Peers speak always on their personal honour. That implies that they act also on their personal honour. In an ideal world, there should therefore be no need for any other prescribed standard of conduct, register of interests or any other bureaucratic meddling nonsense. But that pass has already been sold. In 1995, the Committee for Privileges agreed to the setting up of a register of interests. But that was after a sub-committee of the Procedure Committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, had made certain recommendations which had been debated and accepted in your Lordships' House. No outside body was involved.
As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, that is what should happen now. If my noble friend Lord Neill wants desperately to inquire into our standards of conduct, there is no reason why he should not do so, possibly, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, as chairman of a sub-committee of the Procedure Committee, a role which he would fulfil most admirably. The sub-committee could then make its recommendations to the House.
In conclusion, I ask noble Lords to reflect on an analogy from the military sphere. Students of military history may know that today is the anniversary of the day on which the great Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson, was killed. He fell on the battlefield of
Lord Elton: My Lords, in an earlier debate on this very long afternoon we discussed various issues about how the House should conduct itself in future. In the process of that debate, we gave thought to the relative power and relationships of the Crown or the executive on the one hand and Parliament on the other. We return to that issue with this debate.
When my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister, John Major, set up the Nolan committee, he was acting as the chief executive of the Crown. Therefore, the committee is a creature of the Crown and, as it happens, in the pay of the Crown. I do not say that in a derogatory sense. I do not mean that in receipt of that money they are in some way suborned or that their judgment is perverted, but it is a constitutional fact that they arise from the sole motive of the chief executive of the Crown.
When my right honourable friend's successor confirmed the policy of my right honourable friend, he was acting in the same role. When my noble friend Lord Cranborne acceded to that process, he did so as a member of the executive. When my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition agreed to that process, he was acting of his own motive and had no right. None of those people at any stage said anything which pre-empted noble Lords' privilege to express their view, if necessary by vote, as to how we should conduct our affairs. That is so because the freedom of this country from before the Civil War has depended on the independence of Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, whom I greatly respect, sought to reassure your Lordships in his speech that it was unnecessary to address the sovereign independence of Parliament and, in particular, of this House because precedents already existed to say that that was so. However, I forget who it was who rightly said that the British constitution broadens from precedent to precedent. Of course, this debate and the decision that we take tonight will be a precedent. It is in that light that I look at it. It seems to me that that is immensely more important than the question of whether or not we should now subject our fiduciary conduct to consideration. As it happens, I believe that we should. I disagree with noble Lords who have said that the time is not right.
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