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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, apart from one or two exceptions, the current rules on the register of interests work extremely well? Can the noble Baroness give her opinion of the future of the register, given the changes to the composition of this House which are laid out in a Bill that is before another place? If that Bill is passed, will the noble Baroness support a tougher regime of interests?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in answer to the original Question of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am very happy to consider a further inquiry into the current regime, if it is the feeling of the House that that should be done with any urgency. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the present system has worked to the extent that it was only set up in 1995. As I understand it, the committee designed to look into any potential difficulties has not had to address any difficulties of a formal kind.
As to the nature of the House which may develop as a result of the legislation which, as the noble Lord rightly said, is in front of another place at the moment, when that Bill is passed its provisions will be considered in the light of what I said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, about the re-opening of this issue in that context.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, what has happened to the old idea of honour in this country? Can my noble friend explain the thinking behind a further inquiry? Is she aware that every time your Lordships' House or the other place concedes one more inquiry, we just feed the idea that politicians, from beginning to end,
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. On the basis of some opinion polls that I have recently seen, he probably exaggerates the enthusiasm of the public for professional politicians. No doubt we have been looking at different polls.
The point about re-opening an inquiry--and perhaps I use the word unadvisedly--was to look at the matter again through a Committee of the Whole House, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said in his original Question. It certainly was not intended to imply any inquisitorial activity. I would remind my noble friend that it was your Lordships' Procedure Committee which suggested that it was time to look again at this issue--but, I re-emphasise, not in an inquisitorial way.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am sure that no Member of your Lordships' House would deny the imperative necessity of everyone declaring an interest, as we are all enjoined to do. Does the noble Baroness agree that there is equally a danger the other way--which is perhaps becoming increasingly apparent in another place--that if declaration becomes so onerous, not only would it encourage a witch hunt of the kind to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, alluded, but it might discourage able people, from all walks of life, from becoming interested in a career in politics?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I entirely accept in general terms what the noble Viscount has to say. Again I refer to my earlier answer: one of the factors that should always be taken into account when considering the nature of your Lordships' House is that people are not here in the capacity of professional, full-time, salaried politicians. That is obviously of relevance. In the context of the noble Viscount's question, I re-emphasise that the voluntary register of interests is being revised at the moment. The noble Viscount is right to point out that that is widely accepted and understood by your Lordships. The register is open for further additions until the 15th of this month.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, the particular matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, referred is, as the noble Baroness has said, a matter for the judiciary and, particularly, the Lord Chancellor. I was a member of the Griffiths Committee at the time of the debate in your Lordships' House and I was inclined to take the view that the register should go further than was then intended. Despite that--although 1995 is not long ago--I see no evidence at all to show that the decision made by your Lordships' House at that time was not the right one.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that he is widely recognised as the Government's Pooh-Bah in this Chamber? Is he further aware that on this occasion he has been rather poorly briefed, perhaps through unawareness of the latest developments in this matter. Among those developments are polls which show that there is a substantial majority in favour of the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece; that 69 Members of another place have signed an Early Day Motion to that effect; that the Greek Government have issued from their embassy here an invitation to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to meet with their representatives for a friendly discussion? In all those circumstances, will he recommend to his right honourable friend that he should accept that invitation--a copy of which I shall now hand to him? Will my noble friend pass the invitation on to his right honourable friend and recommend to him that he at least accepts the offer of an open and friendly discussion?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend asked me the same question in the first week after the Government were formed. I can assure him that I have kept in close touch with all the debates that have taken place on this issue. If I and the Government have not changed our minds, it is for very good reasons. We are aware of all the matters to which my noble friend has referred; we remain of the view that to return the Parthenon sculptures to Greece would be a mistake. It would raise the issue of a worldwide return of works of art to their places of origin. If our museums and galleries contained only works of art from the cities or countries in which they are located it would be a disaster for world culture.
Lord Windlesham: My Lords, I intervene as a former trustee and chairman of the British Museum. I make that declaration in the light of the exchanges to which we have just listened. Is the Minister aware that there will be broad general agreement with his Answer that the Government see no grounds for reconsidering their policy on the return of the Elgin Marbles to Athens? Does he accept there is widespread support for the view that to do otherwise would open the door to claims from many other parts of the world for the
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the views of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney are not always those held by his colleagues on this side of the House? Is he further aware that I fully agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said? Will he confirm that the announcement by the Secretary of State for Culture in the first week after the last election that the Elgin Marbles, which were accepted perfectly legally, would not be returned to Athens still holds?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I will of course confirm that that still holds. But just in case any noble Lords should be under the illusion that we have been hasty and lacking in consideration over this matter, I should say that my right honourable friend Chris Smith has been in correspondence with the Greek Minister of Culture over the past year and that, in terms of the recommendation of the UNESCO committee on cultural property, we certainly accept the resolution which requires the Director General of UNESCO to undertake further initiatives to promote bilateral negotiations. We have always been willing to take part in such bilateral negotiations.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, is it not perfectly respectable for a country or a region of a country to say, "We want things brought back to us to which, for historical and cultural reasons, we believe we have a claim"? On the other hand, is there not a perfectly good argument that it is paramount that these treasures should be kept in the best place possible and that the best access to those treasures should be provided? Is it not then a question of reaching a consensus? That is the nub of the question. How does one get consensus between the two views?
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