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There were one or two differences of opinion about wording. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, himself indicated that, after consultation with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, he wished to make some textual changes in one case. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, disagreed with some of the wording but did not propose to press the point. However, in general, only two noble Lords out of all those who have spoken
Action is needed. There can be no doubt about that. Action is possible because we have a three-part package to be put before the House. I believe that it is in both the immediate and long-term interests of this House that we deal with the matter as swiftly as possible. I say that not at all in the sense that we should be seeking to appease the media. I shall not join in attacks on the media because I believe they perform a necessary function and usually perform it to a very high standard. Those we have to be concerned about are not the media but the public, and the public expect us to behave as a responsible House of Parliament. This report gives us an opportunity to do so.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this debate. I have found it extremely interesting. In particular, I have been struck by the way in which all noble Lords who have spoken, whatever their viewpoint, have sought to make a constructive response to the proposals before us.
I suggest that that says much for the excellent job done by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, and his sub-committee in producing their report. I should like to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, who this afternoon gave tremendous clarity and life to the rather dry words of the original report. I shall recommend to my Back-Benchers, many of whom have not yet seen the report in detail, that they read his speech in Hansard.
Of course there are plenty of good reasons for opposing the proposals that we are debating today. First, no change is necessary because there is no evidence of any abuse. There are unsubstantiated allegations, and there are the contrived and mischievous interpretations indulged in by the media. That is not an attack on the media, more a concern or perhaps even more an observation. There is nothing more than that.
I can assure your Lordships that the Government Chief Whip in this House gets to know a great deal about what goes on hereperhaps not everythingand I know of no improper behaviour of Peers in respect of their activities in the House and any financial interests they may have.
Secondly, this is an amateur House, in the true sense of the term, if I may borrow the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, disagreed with that description. It is perhaps a professional House made up of amateurs. Such rules as may be appropriate for the salaried representatives of the people in another place are not necessary for your Lordships. I disagreed strongly with that part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in what was otherwise an excellent speech, in which he said that the two Houses should have similar arrangements. That point was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.
Noble Lords receive no salary, participating in parliamentary life from a sense of public duty and service. The wisdom and experience acquired in other walks of life enrich our proceedings. It would be a great loss were endless scrutiny of Peers' private affairs to deter those who, not being professional politicians, make such a unique and valued contribution.
To return to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, he suggested that there was little to distinguish in principle between registration of an interest and declaration of an interest before participating in a debate. Without wishing to spoil what has been a good-hearted debate this afternoon, I disagree fundamentally with both the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on that point. To me the difference is very clear. It is for that reason that I am very glad that the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, did not recommend compulsory registration of interests other than those which have been described as paid advocacy.
To those of us who are not professional politicians the prospect of being obliged to disclose all our financial interests, including those which may have no relevance whatever to our activities in Parliament, is one which may altogether deter participation in your Lordships' House. By contrast, the requirement to declare an interest in a debate permits a noble Lord to choose on each occasion whether or not he wishes to participate.
The third point that I wish to make is that these proposals will be difficult to interpret. As a Chief Whip I am particularly conscious that I am likely to receive endless visits from Back-Benchers seeking advice as to whether their particular interests should preclude them from taking part in a particular item of business. I suspect that my noble friends the Chief Whips on the Opposition and Liberal Democrat Benches, if I can call them noble friends in this instance, would join me in saying that it is a headache that they will not relish. However, I am delighted to hear that my noble friend Lord Lyell will go direct to the Clerks with his concerns about registration rather than come to me.
The House will now realise that I believe that much of what is proposed is, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, nasty medicine. However, I believe that we must put our doubts on one side. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier today, Parliament does not exist in a vacuum. The world has changed and we must recognise the way we are seen by others. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, made the point about how we are universally perceived. It was a point that was made rather more forcefully by my noble friend Lord Marlesford who said that public confidence has been undermined.
I join with my noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree in saying that much doubt surrounds some of our most cherished institutions. The denigration of our national institutions. including Parliament, is one of the unfortunate features of our age. I deeply regret that. However, this report gives us, in the House of Lords, an opportunity to declare ourselves in favour of the highest standards of probity in parliamentary life. For that reason we must support the proposals and do our utmost to make them work effectively.
It is in the traditions of your Lordships' House that we seek our own solutions and that we operate by agreement and, if necessary, by compromise. Compromise was a word which was central to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hesketh. I pay tribute to both him and my noble friend Lord Pym, who sat on the sub-committee in a non-partisan way, as did other members of the sub-committee, purely with the very best interests of the House at heart.
I hope that the fact that most speakers today have, by and large, found the proposals bearable will encourage others of your Lordships to give them your support in the interests of good order and consensus. I say "by and large" because I am conscious that two of my noble friendsmy noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Boyd-Carpenterexpressed grave reservations about certain aspects of the report and how it will be implemented. I take those reservations seriously.
I wish to deal with one point raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway who suggested that we should not proceed to implement those recommendations in advance of scrutiny of our practice by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I sympathise with some of his views. However, on that point I cannot agree. As my noble friend the Leader of the House indicated, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, has said that implementation of the recommendations before the House today would not inhibit his committee in any way but that on the face of it they were a positive response to public concern about the integrity and probity of those in Parliament. That being so, I believe that it would be far preferable to pursue our long and constructive tradition of self-regulation rather than wait to be instructed.
It is not for me to answer the debate today. That distinction rests with the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I have no doubt that subsequently there will be need to give further consideration to the views expressed by your Lordships before any decision is taken about what further action may be required.
Perhaps I may say a few words about the powerful speech of my noble friend Lady Young. She referred to the television programme to be screened on Channel 4 this evening. I very much agree with the concerns expressed: that it is most regrettable that allegations should be made in this way and propagated by the press with no opportunity given for the other side of the question to be examined. Until I have an opportunity to view the programme, I believe that I can say little more than that it appears to have all the hallmarks of mischief making. I am rather confirmed in that opinion by the fact that the makers of the programme showed such poor judgment as to cancel their interview with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway.
I have no doubt that what is said today will not be the end of the story. It is a difficult subject as the protracted discussions in another place have demonstrated. I know that what the sub-committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, proposed is a compromise between those who want no change and those who wish to see
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