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The Minister for Local Government (Mr. John Gummer) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) protests too much. Of the amendments before the House, 162 are minor, technical or consequential drafting amendments, many of which arise from the discussions in Committee in which the hon.

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Gentleman took part, and 23 amendments are the result of commitments made in Committee. No amendments represent a significant new policy.

The hon. Gentleman should not pretend that there is anything before the House that cannot reasonably be dealt with in the circumstances and which cannot reasonably arise in what is an important Bill which the Government naturally wish to get right and concerning which we have listened carefully to the Committee.

I am sad that after a Committee which proceeded with good humour and where the Government on a range of occasions sought to meet the requests of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends--many of whom were not always present, but who, when they were present, put forward their requests--the Opposition should consider our efforts to meet those requests to be to our detriment rather than a matter for congratulation. Instead, the Opposition should say that it is remarkable that the Bill has no amendments of substance except those which, in large measure, the Government have agreed with the Opposition to bring forward, or merely minor, technical amendments. That should be a matter for congratulation.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. We had better not continue with points of order. I can assure the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) that, although I can in no way commit Mr. Speaker, I shall draw to his attention the matters that the hon. Gentleman raised about tomorrow's selection list so that he can reconsider the matter if he thinks that desirable.

Mr. Soley : I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We regard many of the amendments from the Opposition and from other Back Benchers to be amendments of substance. One person's technical amendment, which is usually based on the Government's definition of technical, is not everybody else's idea of a technical amendment.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to say through you that we are not a load of schoolchildren. The Opposition know what is going on. We continually have Bills that take us into the early hours of the morning because we feel that the new clauses and amendments should be debated properly. Yet the Government try to rush them through. The Government are not giving us the proper opportunity to discuss them. When a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box, especially the Minister for Local Government, and talks to us as though he is a teacher and we are the pupils in school, I say, "Come off it". The Minister has a big grin on his face now. He thinks that this is funny, but it is serious and that is why we are raising these points of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : We had better get started.

Mr. Gummer : I beg to move,

That the Local Government and Housing Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses relating to Part I, Amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 14, Schedule 1 , Clauses 15 to 18, new Clauses relating to Part II, Amendments relating to Clauses 19 to 25, new Clauses relating to Part III, Amendments relating to Clauses, 26 to 29, Schedule 2, Clause 30, new Clauses relating to Part IV, Amendments relating to Clauses 31 to 54, Schedule 3, Clauses 55 to 57, new Clauses relating to Part V, Amendments relating to Clauses 58 to 64, new Clauses relating to Part VI, Amendments relating to Clauses 65 and 66, Schedule 4, Clauses 67 to 79, new Clauses relating to Part VII, Amendments relating to Clauses 80 to 91, new Clauses

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relating to Part VIII, Amendments relating to Clauses 92 to 124, remaining new Clauses, Amendments relating to Clause 125, Schedule 5, Clause 126, Schedule 6, Clauses 127 to 135, Schedule 7, Clauses 136 to 138, Schedle 8, Clauses 139 to 147, Schedule 9, Clauses 148 to 152 ; new Schedules ; Amendments relating to Clause 153, Schedules 10 and 11, Clause 154.

This motion has been tabled at the request of Opposition Members. Question put and agreed to.

New Clause 30

Members' interests

.--(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations require each member of a local authority--

(a) to give a general notice to the proper officer of the authority setting out such information about the member's direct and indirect pecuniary interests as may be prescribed by the regulations, or stating that he has no such interests ; and

(b) from time to time to give to that officer such further notices as may be so prescribed for the purpose of enabling that officer to keep the information provided under the regulations up to date. (2) Any member of a local authority who--

((a) without reasonable excuse fails to comply with the requirements of any regulations under this section ; or

(b) in giving a notice in compliance with any such requirement, provides information which he knows to be false or misleading in a material particular or recklessly provides information which is false or misleading in a material particular,

shall be guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

(3) Proceedings for an offence under subsection (2) above shall not be instituted in England and Wales except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

(4) Neither section 96 of the Local Government Act 1972 (general notice of pecuniary interests) nor section 40 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (corresponding provision for Scotland) shall apply in relation to any notice given in pursuance of any regulations under this section ; but such regulations may provide--

(a) that the giving of a notice in pursuance of any such regulations shall be deemed to be sufficient disclosure for the purpose of section 94 of the said Act of 1972 (disability of members of authorities for voting on account of interest in contracts etc.) or for the purposes of section 38 of the said Act of 1973 ; and (

(b) that the proper officer of a local authority is to maintain such records of the information contained in notices given to him as may be prescribed by the regulations and is to keep those records open to inspection by members of the public

(5) A local authority shall not be entitled (whether by means of making it a condition of any appointment or by any other means whatever) to impose any obligations on their members to disclose any interests other than those that they are required to disclose by virtue of section 94 of the Local Government Act 1972, section 38 for the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 or any regulations under this section.

(6) Regulations under this section may contain such incidental provisions and such supplemental, consequential and transitional provision in connection with their other provisions as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.

(7) References in this section to the indirect pecuniary interests of a member of a local authority shall include references to any such interests as, by virtue of any connection between that member or his spouse and any other person, would fall to be disclosed--

(a) in the case of a local authority in England and Wales, under section 94 of the Local Government Act 1972 ; or

(b) in the case of a local authority in Scotland, under section 38 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973,

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if the authority were proposing to enter into a contract with that other person.' :-- [Mr. Gummer.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to debate amendment (a), in line 1, after member', insert

and officer of principal officer grade or above'.

Amendment (b), in line 4, after pecuniary', insert

and non pecuniary, including membership of organisations such as the freemasons'.

New clause 35-- Declaration of Freemasonry --

.--(1) A member of a relevant council shall make a declaration, in a register maintained for the purpose by the council, of membership of any lodge or other organisation of Freemasons. (2) Any person offering themselves for election to a relevant council who is a member of such an organisation shall make a declaration to the returning officer at the time of nomination, and any such declaration shall be published by the returning officer together with details of the nomination.

(3) For the purposes of this section, "relevant council" has the same meaning as in section 10(2) above.'.

Government amendments Nos. 126 and 127.

5 pm

Mr. Gummer : New clause 30 and amendments Nos. 126 and 127 fulfil another of the commitments contained in our White Paper responding to the Widdicombe report--the provision of a statutory register of members' major pecuniary interests. There are four main elements to the clause. First, it gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations requiring each member of a local authority to give notice of any prescribed pecuniary interests--including indirect interests, and those of the member's spouse-- to the proper officer appointed for that purpose, or to state that they have no such interests. The regulations will prescribe what interests are to be declared and will also specify how the information is to be updated.

Secondly, the clause makes failure to comply with the regulations, or the provision of false or misleading information, a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine at level 4 on the standard scale--currently £1,000. Third, the regulations may prescribe the form in which the proper officer is to keep a record of such declarations, and require it to be open to public inspection.

Finally, the clause prohibits authorities from imposing any obligations on members to declare any interests other than those which they are statutorily required to do by virtue of regulations under this clause, or that they are required to disclose at a meeting under section 94 of the Local Government Act 1972, or section 38 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Soley : Straight away, we are into the importance of the amendments, which demonstrates that they do not concern minor issues. The Minister is right to say that the Government trailed the proposals in their White Paper concerning the conduct of local authority business, when they also undertook to involve themselves in consultations with local authorities and others. In Committee concern was expressed as to why a timetable for meetings between the Department of the Environment and the local authorities' working party was not agreed. The Committee was assured that there were no problems and that those consultations would take place. However, the working party met only once, and its second meeting scheduled for 14 June has been cancelled--which is not surprising in the circumstances.

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It all makes a mockery of the Government's attempt to kid everyone that they are interested in consultations. What on earth is the use of establishing the need for consultations and then holding just one meeting when the next thing that happens is that an amendment of this kind is brought before the House? If the Government were serious about consultations they could have introduced the amendment in another place.

Why is there such haste to introduce this measure without adjudication, and why is there no amendment of the kind that was promised to define the adjudicator's role--which is one aspect about which local authorities are unsure? Whose consent will be required for proceedings to be instituted in Scotland? Will it be that of the Secretary of State for Scotland? I suspect that the Minister does not know the answer, yet we are told that the amendment is of a technical nature and of no great importance. If it is a technical amendment, it is a bit bizarre that the Government cannot answer my questions. If, as I suspect, the Minister agrees that it is a substantive amendment, why have the Government introduced it without proper consultation and without giving answers to questions that were to some extent raised in Committee?

Why are the Government imposing on local authority councillors obligations and penalties that they are not prepared to impose on themselves as Members of Parliament? It is a matter for concern for local authorities, and for my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself, that a double standard is operating. The introduction to the 1989 Register of Members' Interests sets out nine specific classifications under which Members of Parliament are required to register their interests. They are not required to disclose the amount of remuneration or the benefit that they may enjoy, or the interests of spouses or children--except in certain circumstances relating to shareholdings. Right hon. and hon. Members are not subject to a maximum fine of £1,000 for failing to disclose their interests, although such failure is considered bad form. Again, the Government are creating one set of rules for local authorities and another for themselves.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : Apart from those exemptions, 13 years after publication of the Royal Commission report on standards of conduct in public life by Lord Salmon, it is still the case that right hon. and hon. Members cannot be charged with corruption pursuant to their parliamentary duties. It is a scandal that that exemption remains, especially when the Government introduce such legislation in respect of local councillors.

Mr. Soley : My hon. Friend reminds me of an important additional argument. In local authorities, councillors very often declare any interest and then take no further part in the proceedings.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : They are not allowed to do so.

Mr. Soley : However, in this House, after declaring an interest the right hon. or hon. Member is allowed both to participate and to vote. Why should councillors be treated as second-class citizens? Do we regard local democracy as being in some way less important than national democracy? I acknowledge the relative power of the two, but local democracy is still important.

I put it to the Minister, as I have many time previously, that Conservative councillors are worried about the way in

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which the Government constantly denigrate, undermine and demoralise both local authority officers and councillors. What do the Government mean when they say that they want local citizens to participate in the democratic life of the country, and then surround councillors with restrictions and refuse to accept the same restrictions themselves? It is well known that some right hon. and hon. Members participate in debates and in votes in which they have a deep financial interest, or in which their friends, relatives and spouses do. If it is wrong for local councillors to debate and vote on matters in which they have an interest, surely it is also wrong for Members of Parliament to do so.

Local councillors will risk not just a ticking off. As the Minister said, the penalty will be a fine at level 4 of the Home Office scale. Is the Minister prepared to recommend a similar penalty being imposed on right hon. and hon. Members? If not, why not? We want answers to those questions before we allow the Minister to slide his amendment through.

Mr. Haynes : When the Channel tunnel was debated, one hon. Member representing an outside organisation, and receiving £8,000 for doing so, did not declare his interest in the register. My right hon. and hon. Friends played merry hell about that, but the Government did nothing.

Mr. Soley : My hon. Friend is exactly right. If the Amendment Paper were not flooded with amendments, that matter is one that we could debate in detail. We could name one hon. Member after another who has participated in debates and in votes relating to matters in which he had a financial interest. I refer to everything from visits to overseas countries and companies affected by legislation, to the Channel tunnel and to changes that the Government are making to the ownership of certain nationalised industries. Apparently, there is nothing wrong with that--but do the same as a councillor and one could end up in court and, on summary conviction, be fined. What kind of justice is that?

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam) rose --

Mr. Soley : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who is trying to intervene can tell the House how he justifies different standards applying to Members of Parliament from those that apply to local councillors.

Mr. Patnick : In cowboy films it is said "White man speak with forked tongue." I will not say that of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) but he must surely accept that a councillor has far more power and could be a party to influencing decisions. There is no comparison between the interests-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) seems to be something of a comedian, but he laughs at his own jokes. I cannot see that there is a direct comparison between the powers of an hon. Member who speaks in a debate and those of a councillor who can vote something through.

Mr. Soley : I have seen the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) try to dance on the head of a pin before, but I did not think that he would get himself into such difficulties. The message is simple : in both the local authority chamber and this Chamber decisions are made which directly affect people's interests. A number of examples have already been given, such as the Channel

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tunnel and other issues of that type. There is no difference between gaining from legislation and changes that go through the House, and gaining from changes that are passed through local authority council chambers. The two are synonymous in terms of the behaviour within them.

The degree of power is greater here, particularly if one takes into account what happens when Members are taken overseas to influence policy that is decided here. We are talking about influencing people with money or attractive offers of one type or another. We must be fairly flexible about that, otherwise we may shut out many activities which are necessary if we want to be well informed. Local authorities and hon. Members should abide by rules which are essentially the same, although they need not be exactly the same in every dot and comma. If we do not, we merely demonstrate to the public that we are concerned about other people's standards, but perfectly prepared to allow ourselves totally different criteria by which to be judged.

Mr. Gummer : I am not unhappy about the kind of comments being made by the hon. Gentleman. However, I wonder if he will help me : after all, statutorily, the House of Commons can make its own decisions about how to discipline its Members. It is perfectly open to him to make his point about the way in which we all have to operate within the rules of this House. The difficulty is that local authorities do not have the power to discipline their members : it is not within their competence.

If we are to set standards in local authorities we must do it in this way. That does not preclude the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) or other hon. Members from ensuring that the House should insist on different rules. However, the hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House by suggesting that councils and Parliament are parallel. I am sure that he does not mean to do so but he appears to do so. It is not that the responsibilities are that different, or that his views are not perfectly reasonable, but local authorities cannot discipline themselves, whereas this House can. If it does not take the measures which he would like it to take, it is open to him to suggest them. Has the hon. Gentleman put his points to the Select Committee on Procedure which is able to carry out his suggested measures? If not, he is not in a position to make such comments.

Mr. Soley : I can deal easily with the Minister's last point. The Labour party made recommendations and, when it was in government, carried them through into law, which this Government changed. The Labour Government tightened up the regulations on Members' interests, but this Government watered them down. We set our own standards. I have two other answers for the Minister. First, if he believes that a disciplinary procedure is the best one, he could give local authorities the power to discipline themselves.

Mr. Patnick rose--

Mr. Soley : I shall not give way at this stage.

The Minister did not say that he would give them those powers. It was interesting that the Minister said that he had some sympathy with what I have said. Presumably, if he does, he must recognise that we are giving ourselves a more flexible approach to this matter than we are giving to local authorities. As the Minister knows, we do not discipline hon. Members on the same basis which we are

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laying down for councillors, which is that they will be fined. We do not discipline hon. Members for the same issues as those for which we intend to discipline councillors. Indeed, we intend to do more than discipline them ; we propose to haul them up before the courts, convict them and fine them. That is what we are doing and that is why the Minister is wrong.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : I have another parallel for the Minister to comment on. As the Minister is aware, the Government are giving power and substantial sums of taxpayers' money to sponsors of city technology colleges. One of the sponsors of the city technology college in Gateshead, Laine Northern, which is part of the John Laine group, sponsors the CTC to the tune of about £200,000. It has also been awarded the contract to develop the college to the tune of more than £8 million. When was the pecuniary interest announced in that case?

Mr. Soley : I was not aware of that particular example. My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) has put his finger on an interesting point. As I said earlier, we could spend hours picking up examples in which hon. Members, particularly Conservatives, have been acting in a way which they regard as perfectly normal, but in which they will not allow local authorities to act.

New clause 35 to some extent spells out our philosophy. It requires a councillor to state whether he is a member of the freemasons, which we regard as an interest. The Minister will notice that we do not say that someone cannot stand if he is a member of the freemasons or that he will be hauled before the courts and fined, but simply that it is perfectly legitimate and proper for the electorate to be informed that a councillor is a member of the freemasons. That is because that group is known to have widespread interests. It is also perfectly proper if someone declares an interest and people elect him to be councillor and he carries out his role, no doubt in many cases, very well.

If the Minister is serious about interests he can, by all means, make it clear that local authority councillors must declare their interests. However, following discussions with local authorities about how far it should go, he should also work out a proper code. I recommend that there should not be an essential difference between that code and the rules which we impose on ourselves. Otherwise, we shall undermine people's confidence in our ability to make fair and reasoned judgments between the expectations which we place on others outside the House and those which we place on ourselves. If we are seen to favour ourselves we shall do ourselves and this House no service.

5.15 pm

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : Although I support the Labour party when it says that hon. Members should declare their interests, I also welcome the steps by the Government, limited though they are, towards greater declaration of interests within local government. The purpose of our amendments is to strengthen the principles which lie behind the Secretary of State's new

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clause in order that they might have some chance of producing the effect which he and his Ministers desire. Amendment (a) makes an "officer of principal officer grade or above"

subject to the same requirements as councillors to declare interests of any kind to their local authority. That is a valuable requirement at any time.

I suspect that hon. Members have experienced the sort of accusations about local authority officers acting wrongly pursuant to their own interests which circulate in local areas. The amendment would not only stop any abuses that may occur, but clarify the majority of cases in which officers are probably acting quite properly, but are the subject of innuendo and rumour at local level. At present, our case is made all the stronger by the new era of large scale tendering for a wide variety of local government contracts. In that circumstance it is surely vital that the interests of any officers with significant involvement in the process should be open to scrutiny by members of both the council and the public. When we debated the matter in Committee I drew Ministers' attention to the fact that local government officers had been directly involved, for example, in some of the opting-out and takeover of housing estates. Allegations of extremely dubious behaviour involving Westminster city council, among others, have already been made. Some council officers have set up businesses purely to profit from the tendering process. The public must have a right to know whether such people are involved in the administration of tendering, and I do not see why a council officer should be entitled to conceal a pecuniary interest from public view when a councillor cannot.

Amendment (b) proposes the inclusion of non-pecuniary interests in the declaration to be made by local authority members and senior officers. It refers to

"organisations such as the freemasons"

so that no one should be in any doubt about the influence that can be exerted by loyalty to such organisations, and so that the public may be free to decide whether personal interests are being put before theirs.

In 1986, it took a reporter from the Worthing Gazette and Herald to investigate why an obvious candidate for the position of mayor had been passed over. He revealed that the new mayor was the sixth of the past seven male Tory mayors who had been a mason. I think that the people of Worthing should have had the right to know that they were giving great authority to a series of people who all just happened to be members of the same secret society. Like the Labour party, I do not seek to ban such people from local government, but I do seek to ensure that such interests are made known to the public.

In May 1974 the Redcliffe-Maud report included a national code of local government conduct, which contains much that is pertinent to the amendments. The section on public duty and private interests states that, when councillors have a private or personal interest in any question that they must decide, they must not do anything to let that interest influence their decision. But how is anyone supposed to know whether a councillor or officer has been influenced by personal interests if those interests remain secret?

The section on disclosure of pecuniary and other interests makes precisely the point that we make in amendment (b). It states : "The law makes specific provision requiring you to disclose pecuniary interests, direct and indirect. But which are

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not pecuniary can be just as important. Kinship, friendship, membership of an association, society, or trade union, trusteeship and many other kinds of relationship can sometimes influence your judgment and give the impression that you might be acting for personal motives. A good test is to ask yourself whether others would think that the interest is of a kind to make this possible. If you think they would, or if you are in doubt, disclose the interest." Honest councillors or officers will clearly act honourably, but it is in their interest that we have tabled the amendments. If they are not merely acting honourably, but are seen to be doing so, they will be free from innuendo and rumour. Still more important, it is in their interests and those of the public and the House that people who might act dishonourably--or who might find that, unintentionally, they have allowed their interests to be swayed--make clear their interests or potential interests.

There are those who seek to abuse their position, and it is towards them that the Government aim their new clause. If they believe that it is important to make the changes that they propose, they should also accept our amendments to the new clause, which enhance it, ensure its effectiveness and extend it to many people in local government--that is, officers--and many interests--that is, non-pecuniary interests--which at present are not covered. I hope that the Minister will accept the importance of our proposals to the public interest.

Mr. Gummer : I would be the first to say that it is the proper activity of anyone who is elected to a position of responsibility, or who holds such a position, to make clear the context in which he is likely to be thought to have been swayed. I think that that may be one way of summing up what has been said by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor)

Whether that principle is best presented by means of statutory requirements or by means of a code of conduct--and we have agreed on a code of conduct as well--is a matter for decision. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that there is a difficulty here, which I do not underestimate. I have before me a document that Haringey council asked every councillor to fill in--indeed, at one stage it insisted. Councillors had to say whether they were members of the women's institute, but not, curiously enough, whether they were members of Probus, although the Lions and the Rotary were covered. Although the most extensive of its kind that I have encountered, the document is selective : it is bound to be.

Most people would probably consider such a proposal to be an intrusion on normal behaviour. It also suggests that people will inevitably be biased in accordance with the organisations to which they belong, whereas, if we view ourselves honestly, we must admit to other biases related to what appeals and what does not, sometimes as a result of upbringing. Whatever we do, we must constantly ask, "Am I biased, for this or that reason?". Much of what the hon. Member for Truro has said is covered by the way in which councillors properly approach their jobs, and the way in which a proper code of conduct would operate.

Like the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), the hon. Gentleman referred to the freemasons. I am not a member of that organisation ; I hold religious opinions that make such membership impossible. I hope, therefore, that I am reasonably unbiased. I think that there is some paranoia on the subject of freemasonry, which I do not consider the most likely area of bias. People are biased in

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all sorts of ways, and the idea of selecting that organisation as opposed to all the others is very peculiar : it stands out like a sore thumb in the amendments.

The electorate should be allowed to know about any organisation to which someone belongs and about which he feels strongly. I feel, for example, that abortion is wrong and is on no occasion justifiable, and I will fight against it in all circumstances. My electorate must know that that is an opinion that I hold with deep conviction. It is more important than membership of any secular organisation. It would be very odd for a declaration of that view not to be required of me, although it is clearly of great importance to the way in which council money is spent, while I would be required to say whether I was a member of the freemasons.

Perhaps the best way to decide on the difference between statutory requirements and what might reasonably be expected from a sensible interpretation of a code of conduct would be to say that the one specific, measurable and factual question is that of pecuniary interest.

Mr. Soley : I think that the Minister should take into account two aspects of the freemasonry issue. First, the freemasons are a secret society known to have extensive interests in a wide range of activities. Secondly, a member of the Cabinet--the Home Secretary--has advised police officers and others, rightly in my judgment, not to become freemasons, so that factor has been taken into account. The Government already make special arrangements relating to senior officers in certain jobs, and I think that that is very wise of them. Why does the Home Secretary not adopt the practice in this context?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman is referring to advice given by the Home Secretary ; what is proposed here is a statutory statement. I am merely saying that it is difficult to know where to draw the line. I suggest that it would be best to make statutory the requirement to reveal pecuniary interests. They can be much more clearly measured and their influence can be much more clearly pinpointed. In the code of practice that we hope to produce we shall point to the way in which most people ought to comport themselves. To select one kind of membership and not to mention all the others would be to suggest that there is something in the nature of the membership of freemasonry which even I--I am not a member and could not be a member--would find it impossible to accept.

5.30 pm

I do not intend to spend a lot of time discussing how secret is secret, but I can think of a lot of organisations whose operations are pretty secret and they would not be covered by the amendment. There are various party political organisations that are pretty secretive about the way in which they operate and they are pretty private about the nature of their links. I do not intend to discuss them because many of them have been the bane of the Labour party for many years. However, if they are not to be included, it means that something is being suggested about freemasons which I find very difficult to accept.

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I do not want to labour the point about freemasons, but a considerable body of information is available to us which suggests that influence is used by freemasons over the awarding of

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contracts and in many other areas of public life. That distinguishes freemasons from almost any other organisation that I can think of. The Minister should not confuse what freemasons do with the completely different activities of other organisations.

Mr. Gummer : I am not sure that I take the view that economic influence is the most important influence. I am not one of those who put economics above everything else. Therefore, I suggest that other influences can be just as insiduous, hidden and dangerous. To single out one of them in this way seems to me to be a little lopsided. I am not being extreme about it. It is very much better for everyone to know about the organisations to which one belongs. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been debating these matters have set a reasonable example ; everybody knows where they stand. Sometimes, therefore, we are the object of attack, but that is a much better way to go about it.

I was sorry when it was suggested that I do not know how things are done in Scotland. Things are done exactly in the same way in Scotland as elsewhere. Therefore, it would have been inexcusable if I had not known that the Lord Advocate would prosecute.

I am slightly puzzled about the demands that are being made. On the one hand it is suggested that the House of Commons should be much tougher on hon. Members. On the other hand it is suggested that it is wrong to be tough on members of local councils. That is not a very sensible argument. It is reasonable to ask for a proper declaration of pecuniary interests. If that leads the hon. Member for Truro to say that we are not being tough enough on hon. Members, the right step is not to object to the new clause but to seek to persuade the House to change its rules.

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