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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I do not think that that is a serious and adult way of approaching this matter. Common sense should prevail. We have had a four-hour debate during which we have all had an opportunity to express our views. All noble Lords who wished to take part could have done so. Why should we cover the ground again if a decision can be reached today? I think that we should come to a decision. It would be simply playing games to postpone the matter on procedural grounds.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. How much better things could have been handled on this study than they have been. We should not be debating this important issue on a Back Bench/Cross Bench Motion late in the evening or even, dare I say, in the comment and letters pages of The Times. Nevertheless, I think that we should express our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, for giving us this opportunity. I am grateful to him for having aired the issue.
He is right about the constitutional substance of the issue that he has raised. However, how much better it would have been to have debated this in prime time on a Motion introduced by the Leader of the House. How much better it would have been to have had an oral Statement when it was first announced. Furthermore, looking at the rather full Benches opposite, I dare say that many Members agree with me. Noble Lords will appreciate the irony of having listened to the debate earlier today about family friendly hours. Yet here they all are, unbidden by the Chief Whip. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, should become the Chief Whip because they have all come to their places voluntarily.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, heaven knows, the people who scripted the issues and questions paper have a great deal to learn about Parliament and the House of Lords. We shall be doing them and, more importantly, the House, a disservice if we do not give evidence. I did write to the noble Lord, Lord Neill, to say that arguably this House lay outside the terms of
However, in my view this question is not a matter for the parties but for the House. Taken together, the issues we discussed in our debate earlier today--the 1999 Act and tighter controls on political parties--may well radically change the nature of our House. That is not something that should happen by accident or as a side effect; it should be addressed directly and openly. So I hope that as many Peers as wish to do so will make their views known.
My second point is one that I touched on earlier. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, is right to say that no one appointed by the Prime Minister and acting on the Royal Prerogative has the authority to bind or constrain this House of Parliament. It would have been far preferable if, after consultation, we had followed the same course as we did in 1994-95 and set up a committee of this House to look into the workings of the register. Then there would have been no question about the constitutional position. I must bear some responsibility for not suggesting it when I first received the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Neill.
However--this is my third point--I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, that we are where we are: in a fine old, wholly avoidable mess. We shall have to make the best of it. We must emerge with the answer that best suits the House, certainly not the Government or even the Opposition.
It may be, of course, that the Griffiths system--the current system--is not working. If so, let us change it. It may be that there is a raging crisis of public confidence in standards of conduct in this House. But where is the evidence that Griffiths is not working? Does the Committee on Standards in Public Life have evidence that it is not? If so, what is it? The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that there is none. Yet anyone reading the paper could only conclude that there is something rotten in this House.
We do Parliament no good if we judge it guilty and require it to prove its innocence. That is not a test that would be applied in any court in the land. Should not your Lordships know the charges and who made them so that we have a fair chance to defend ourselves? Even the humblest accused has the right to know that.
Another point of fundamental importance arises. I am glad that the noble Lords, Lord Neill and Lord Goodhart, recognised it. I am glad also that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agreed with me last Thursday that, as she put it,
I do not agree with that. There can be absolutely no assumption that rules can simply be extrapolated from another place to your Lordships' House. There are clear differences between the other place and this House in their roles, functions and composition; in the non-representative role of the Lords; in the fact that Peers are unpaid, part-time and sit for life; in that we have very little power over finance; in that no Peer may hold the highest office in the land, nor that of Chancellor of the Exchequer and, in practice, many others in the Cabinet; in that this House cannot bring down a government; and in our self-regulating procedures which are much admired. Indeed, the Griffiths committee was part of the self-regulation of the House. Those differences are of substance and are much valued. They cannot be ignored and I hope that they will be recognised by those conducting the study.
I should like to make one final point. Regrettably, we should be aware that there are those who are seeking, quite wrongly, to exploit this inquiry for political ends. Like my noble friends, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Ferrers, I was surprised, in common no doubt with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, to find that my Front Bench spokesmen, without any prior warning, were being singled out for investigation on the question of whether they should be forced to divest their financial interests. Who imagines that there would be a stream of people prepared to take on the onerous, unpaid duty of being a Liberal Democrat or Conservative spokesman, or indeed a Labour spokesman in opposition, if they were also forced to divest their interests?
He was a full-time Labour Party organiser in Leicester from 1981 to 1984; he was the Assistant Labour Regional Organiser for the East Midlands, 1984 to 1986; he was a Labour Party regional secretary for the West Midlands from 1986 to 1994--and this is where it really gets better--he was Labour's National General Election Co-ordinator in 1994 to 1996 before becoming Secretary for Labour's National General Election Planning Group in 1994 to 1996. Is that a dispassionate authority on opposition spokesmen? In whose party interests is it to have Liberal Democrats and Conservatives targeted in that way in the run-up to a general election? And why did the committee allow itself to be hijacked in such a way?
The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, a few minutes ago defended the political neutrality of the committee. How can he possibly have allowed this matter to go through? If it is to do with Archie Norman, why is it buried in an investigation of the House of Lords? Whatever else happens, I hope that this House will manage to keep separate in the months ahead the issues of how it runs itself and the private, political agenda of the Labour or any other party.
I repeat, this should not be a party political matter. It is a House matter. For that reason, I hope that there will not be a vote at the end of this debate. I hope that both the noble Lord and the noble and learned Lord will withdraw their Motions. If a Division is sought, I shall not vote. I entirely agreed with the very persuasive speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Why? I did so because we have seen the grubby words of Mr Kemp about your Lordships having their "snouts in the trough".
We can see that there is a political agenda afoot and we should not play that game. It would be sad for a vote on a high and important constitutional principle, which most Members of this House have affirmed to be right tonight, to be twisted by Mr Kemp and his friends among Labour's professional election co-ordinators for tawdry political ends; namely, that,
Perhaps I may conclude my remarks by putting a few questions to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, who is to reply to the debate shortly. We need a clear view of where we go from here. We need to hear from the noble Baroness now how this study will be handled. What will happen when the noble Lord, Lord Neill, reports? Will his report be presented to this House, or, as the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, suggested in his opening speech, will it be presented to the Prime Minister? If it is to be presented to the Prime Minister, will there be a Cabinet discussion on it before it comes to this House? Will Mr Alistair Campbell be made aware of its contents before your Lordships? Will it be presented to the House with a statement of government policy, or will it be put to the Procedure Committee? I give way.
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