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5.22 pm

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham): I acknowledge that I was not here at the beginning of the debate, but I did hear the relevant points that were made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the anomalous position involving people who have been ordained in the Roman Catholic Church needs to be sorted out. Roman Catholics are discriminated against in a number of ways. For instance, Roman Catholic bishops cannot pick the title of their diocese, but that is slightly away from this debate. The anomalous position of two people, one of whom has been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest and one of whom has been ordained as an Anglican priest, should be on all fours. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ask someone to find a way in which the House can consider dealing with that anomaly. It is not the most important issue, but it is one of fairness.

There is an alternative way in which to deal with some of the positions in part III of schedule 1. Given that most of the people involved are appointed by Ministers, there

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is no reason why Ministers should not say that they will disappoint anyone who is successful in an election. That would solve some of the problems of people who would want to continue with their ordinary lives, if they are unsuccessful candidates. It can be done in a simple way. Where the appointment cannot be taken away, it may be possible to say that people will not be able to sit. There may be other administrative ways in which to deal with that.

Outside the Chamber, I was reminded by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that I had some form, if I may put it that way, over noticing that some of our colleagues have sat as temporary judges and assistant temporary judges--let us say as recorders. I cannot remember precisely what I might have said; I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will comment on that. If there are examples of people perhaps feeling that in some way they have not received justice because someone who has some prominence beneath his wig has sat either as a justice of the peace or as a judge, they should certainly be able to object in advance.

Whether people should be prohibited from sitting as judges or as recorders is not something on which I have strong views today, but I do believe that the answer to most of the questions put by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, the Opposition spokesman, is that it is not the highest priority in Government Departments to consider whether new or adapted jobs should join the list. It is one of those things where there is an occasional trawl. People cough up possible positions that might be held to be suitable for disqualification. At the margin, there will always be difficulties.

I am not sure that it is right to accept necessarily the criticism that doing it by amendment makes it less easy for the House to consider the matter than doing it by secondary legislation. By secondary legislation we do not have the opportunity of tabling amendments. At least with this procedure, we do.

It is not the most important issue because the House would, I suspect, overturn nearly all disqualifications, were that to be tested. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) repeatedly stood for the House of Commons, although he was disqualified under previous rules because he had inherited a place in the House of Lords. The House did then make changes to allow people not to take up peerages or to drop hereditary peerages.

I say in passing that some of the positions in part III would not disqualify a Member of the House of Lords from sitting there. I think that I am right in saying that a Member of the House of Lords can be chairman of a research council. The Earl of Selborne served in a distinguished way on the Agriculture Research Council. I do not argue for consistency. The position of holding an office of profit under the Crown is worth protecting. I do not make any adverse comment about prohibiting some people in the more senior ranks of the civil service from being actively involved in national politics, but I do not think that we want to screw things down so far that those who want to take part in local politics should be discouraged from doing so, if it is compatible with their role.

In general we get these things about right, but if we ever get to the stage where we are wanton or careless in the people we do not allow to stand for Parliament, we should be careful. It is far better to disqualify people after

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election, if necessary, than to stop them standing. We want to allow the widest range of people to stand, even though a fair number of them can be reasonably sure that they will not be elected in any particular election.

5.26 pm

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): I beg to move amendment (b), in paragraph 1, after "following entry" insert--

'Additional Entry

1A. The following entry shall be inserted at the appropriate place:--
"Recorder and Assistant Recorder".'.

I must join the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) in referring to previous debates. He did indeed speak on 12 April 1983, and he used these words:

Therefore, he did participate in that debate, when I moved virtually the same amendment as I have moved tonight.

I should also inform the House, to make this a comprehensive survey perhaps, as of now, that the other part of the hon. Gentleman's contribution related to what appeared to be an anomaly to some of us at that time: the appointment of a Member of the House, the former right hon. Robert Mellish, who had been the Opposition Chief Whip--he is now a noble Lord in another place. He was the deputy chairman of the London Docklands development corporation, which was a salaried office, but one for which he chose, understandably, not to receive remuneration.

There was an anomaly of an office of profit under the Crown, which I would have thought, in normal terms, that would have been. Some people--I should add that the then Robert Mellish's constituency was included in that region--naturally felt that he might have gained advantage as a Member by being vice-chairman and, at the same time, that he gained advantage as vice-chairman by being a Member, particularly as a Secretary of State of another party was involved. I make that point only because the anomaly has, happily, disappeared--although happily Lord Mellish has not.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) on his interesting opening speech. We obviously do not disagree on these matters along party lines. There is a case for a Act to consolidate the historic prohibitions and remove the anomalies. It would not matter if that caused repetition, because the later Act would displace the former.

There are two separate issues before us. One is the prohibition on certain citizens standing as candidates--which is perhaps overdone, as the hon. Member for Eltham suggested--and sitting as Members. Some people should not be candidates--judges of the High Court, for example--but many more should be allowed to stand on the assumption that they would resign their office if they won. They could sign a document to that effect.

The other issue, which affects fewer people, is the prohibition on sitting Members being appointed to offices of profit. If sitting Members are allowed to act as

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recorders, as they are in England, they have an advantage. They are not allowed to act in a judicial capacity in Scotland and that is the anomaly. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) pointed out that there are requirements for political impartiality for members of the judiciary. If a Member is appointed to sit as a recorder or an assistant recorder, he will be politically partial unless he sits as an independent, which is unusual. That situation is constitutionally dubious, as I shall mention later, and should be tidied up.

I understand the objection that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr made about the procedure today. On the other hand, it has some advantages. We are not restricted to only an hour and a half's debate, as would be the case with a statutory instrument.

Mr. Rooker: We have only an hour and a half today.

Mr. Spearing: In that case, I must watch the length of my speech. The matter is being addressed by a motion of the House and we have been able to table amendments--an opportunity that I have taken.

We need better documentation. I am grateful for the explanatory note, but a White Paper with a House of Commons number would have been better. We do not know who published the explanatory note, because it does not say, and it is not signed by a Minister, or even on his behalf by a civil servant.

On 12 April 1983, no fewer than 15 Members were recorders or assistant recorders. Now there are only three, and I have informed the right hon. and hon. Members concerned of my amendment. I believe that their character, their knowledge of the House and their knowledge of the law make them capable of playing a different role when they put on a wig, even if they occupy a senior position in a political party or appear on television programmes on important civic matters. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, with your colleagues in the Chair, are an excellent example of the ability of right hon. and hon. Members to switch into different roles.

However, that ability is not immediately apparent to those who send us here. They find it difficult to accept the idea that someone can one day sit, fully bewigged and in a judicial capacity, alongside full-time judges--who stand apart from the rest of us in many ways, and properly so--and the next day be here dealing with the political hurly-burly. It is a constitutional anomaly. We are always told by constitutionalists that the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive each have their own functions. The Executive is created and destroyed by the legislature, and is accountable to it. The judiciary and the legislature are properly separated. Of course, there has to be a join somewhere, and in England and Wales it comes in the persons of the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor and the Solicitor-General. In Scotland, of course, the Law Officer of the Crown who fulfils the duties of the Solicitor-General is not a Member of Parliament. That underlines the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr made earlier about better practice in Scotland, which may be something to do with its Presbyterian heritage. Nobody could deny that the anomaly exists.

In the debate in 1983, Mark Carlisle--then the right hon. Member for Runcorn, now Lord Carlisle of Bucklow--made a distinguished speech, but the only argument that he advanced in favour of the status quo was

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that it was important to maintain a link between those who make the law, especially on police and criminal matters, and those who dispense it in a judicial capacity. Others have argued that it is important for those with judicial experience to bring their knowledge of the realities of the law to the House, but that does not mean that anyone has to fulfil both roles simultaneously. Hon. Members meet people from chambers of commerce, industrialists, transport workers and borough councillors, who tell us of the impact of our work on them and what they require from the legislature. The special pleading for those who act as recorders is not so strong, therefore, as it sounds on first hearing. There are many opportunities for people acquainted with judicial matters to bring their experience to bear here and in another place.

So the argument in favour of that arrangement is for the future. This is more of a discussion than a definitive occasion. Even if by chance the idea were accepted tonight, I would not suggest that the three or four right hon. and hon. Members concerned should summarily be dismissed from those offices of profit. The matter is more for the future than for an immediate decision today.

However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr said, the further we go, the more necessary it is for anomalies to be cleared up and the documentation improved. Above all, hon. Members and those who pay attention to us should be assured that we not only exercise democracy but are seen to do so. So long as there is the anomaly of hon. Members with paid judicial functions elsewhere, that will not be so.

Perhaps the Government will give me an assurance in response to my final question. Some years ago, the anomaly was so great that a Member was appointed recorder of a town in the area that he represented. Such a thing would not be tolerated today, but it happened then. I understand that the office is no longer a local government function, as it was historically, but became an office of profit under the Crown in the 1970s.

I hope that the Minister will assure us that if further appointments are made before any change in the law, despite the fact that arrangements are now made on an area basis, people will not be able to sit anywhere near the area that they represent, or an area with which they have close connections of any sort. Conflict of interests would thereby be avoided.

That hope and that suggestion fall somewhat short of my amendment. I moved the amendment, but I do not wish to press it heavily, other than for the purposes of discussion. I hope that the Minister will respond as constructively and thoughtfully as my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr did in his interesting speech.

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