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Seriously, I have listened very hard and I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg. What we are doing is right and proper. It is what the public expect and have a right to demand of us. If we protest too much, we will make it look as if we have something to hide from the public. It is our duty and obligation not to do that.
If this were a cosy club, we could say that we all know and trust each other and we do not have to declare. However, we are not a cosy club. Many people in the world outside do not know us as well as we know each other. They surely have the right to know whether we have any interests that affect what we say and how we vote. That is the minimum.
Those of us who have served on a local authority are used to a rigid declaration of interests. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said that this was all a bit onerous. Local government has a much more onerous declaration of interests.
Lord Strathclyde: Perhaps I may take up the noble Lord on that point. Is it true that local authority members let sometimes substantial contracts to local people about whom the councillors may genuinely have a personal view? That, of course, would be impossible in this House. As the noble Lord, Lord
Lord Dubs: I understand the distinction. However, if one takes the noble Lord's argument too far, we shall be wasting our time in that we shall have no influence on anything. I do not believe that the situation is quite as bad as that. My point is simply that, if people serve as councillors on local authorities, they are used to making detailed declarations of interest. That is all I am saying.
In addition, those of us who have served on public bodies are also used to making declarations of interest. I served on a hospital trust. As a precondition of being allowed to do so, I had to make a declaration that I had no interest in any organisation or business which might have a relationship with a hospital trust. The same applied in relation to the Broadcasting Standards Commission, of which I am currently a member. I seek only to point out that the concept of quite tough declaration is fairly widespread. It is not so novel that we should treat it as an enormous departure from what happens in other aspects of life in this country.
My second point concerns a key phrase--"depending on their significance"--which runs throughout the proposal. I do not believe that some of the concerns expressed are relevant because, due to that phrase, they would not have to be declared; they are not sufficiently significant to come within the scope of the issue.
I turn to my third and final point. I listened very carefully to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. Are we imposing so much detail on the registrar that his or her task will be too difficult? I hope not. However, I want to ask my noble and learned friend to answer one question when he replies to the debate. If, with experience, we find that ambiguities or uncertainties arise which the registrar must constantly resolve, and short of another debate such as this, would it be possible for the registrar to issue a code of guidance to Members which would simplify matters for the avoidance of doubt? I ask that because we do not want to have to return to a debate such as this other than after a long period of time. Perhaps the process could be fine-tuned. That would simplify the matter and make the registrar's task easier.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I shall be brief. I believe that the great reason for the Government's Motion, which we on these Benches broadly support, is that the reputation of the House of Lords is its major source of influence. The House of Lords does not have great power in comparison with another place. However, the power that it has with the public arises from the respect that the public has for this place and which it is important that the public maintains. I agree with those who have said that, sadly, times have moved on. There is not the same respect that there once was--perhaps there should not be--for those who "live and work above us", so to speak.
Another factor is that, whether we like it or not, we live in a world of increasingly sophisticated criminal activity which has already, in the case of other legislatures, given rise to extremely difficult situations. It is essential that we build for posterity and that we recognise the pressures upon even this place.
My second brief point is that, without any doubt, the great majority of Members in this place uphold, in every possible sense, the honour of the House. However, frankly, one needs only one or two bad apples for the media to go to town on the subject of Peers and then to collectivise that to suggest that the whole House is affected, as I believe it not to be.
Thirdly, I want to ask a question of the Leader of the House. Is it possible that the registrar, in building up case law, could be asked to provide an annual report which would provide additional guidance as cases came up and were resolved as a result of his advice?
Finally, I want to register two concerns which I believe are reflected in the amendments put down by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. They do not go so far that I would at this stage regard them as a basis for supporting the amendments, but I worry a little about the definition of the word "friend". I believe that concerns exist in relation to confidentiality, and I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about the term "in private".
It would obviously be extremely unfortunate if someone's case were to be reported by an individual to the chairman of the Committee for Privileges and if it were done publicly in such a way that the person was judged by the media before his case was heard. I also want to ask the Leader of the House whether he can give an assurance that nothing will be made public unless and until a hearing takes place, unless it is the wish of the Peer who has been criticised to make it public on his own behalf.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I believe that that is a perfectly reasonable point, and it has been made by a number of noble Lords. It is only right that I say that at that stage I shall do what is required to bring about that conclusion, assuming, of course--I hope that that is not presumptuous--that the Motion in my name is carried.
Lord Williamson of Horton: I shall be brief. There is one other difference between the text presented by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal and that presented in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. It has not been referred to at all in the debate thus far. Under the heading of "other relevant financial interests", the amendment presented by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, refers specifically to remunerated directorships and partnerships.
Personally, I consider it to be very wise to include the reference to partnerships, which are a source of substantial revenue for persons in some professions. It is not included in the text presented by the Lord Privy
Lord Marlesford: My own position is simple. When I came here 10 years ago, following 16 years as a parliamentary journalist, I was surprised that there was no register of interests. I suggested that there should be one and I was glad when it was introduced. I believe that it was a good idea that it should, for a while, be a voluntary register. However, I consider that the time has come for it to be mandatory, and I gave oral evidence in those terms to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Neill.
I believe that one of the most important points has been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan: that the code will be totally unworkable if it is not clear what is required. I believe that, in a sense, the Leader of the House himself made the "unworkable" point when he referred to our declaring friends who have substantial landholdings. I do not know why he chose to give that example, but he did.
There is published annually a list of the rich. I declare an interest at once, not because I am in it--of course, I am not--but because I am an independent national director of Times Newspapers Limited, which publishes it. I suppose that that is relevant. The list is widely published--over a million copies are circulated--and it includes details of the landholdings of a large number of people. Therefore, if the proposal of the Leader of the House were to be introduced, it would be necessary for those of us who have friends in that list to go through it carefully and register their interests. Frankly, I believe that that is absurd.
Secondly, I make one point about another place, where I believe that this whole issue has become a ludicrous obsession. I shall give one example relating to the Prime Minister, for whom I have much respect. Under the heading of "gifts, benefits and hospitality" in the current list of the House of Commons register, Mr Blair has put:
I believe that of the two proposals, the one put forward by my noble friend Lord Kingsland is infinitely more workable. It covers the entire spirit of what we need in order to reassure public opinion. I shall vote for it enthusiastically rather than for the proposal of the Leader of the House.
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