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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I hope he will address the point made by my noble friend Lord Alderdice that the concept of balance may be particularly inappropriate in the Bill. Do I understand the noble Lord to say that what is cultural identity is to be defined by the commission only and that the Government will give no more guidance than what appears on the face of the Bill?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, on the second point, I think it would be inappropriate for the Government to tell the commission how to act on this provision. We believe that it is for the commission to take this into account, bearing in mind that the powers of the commission are simply to give advice in this respect to the Secretary of State. The commission does not have any further powers than as envisaged in the Bill.

As regards the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, as to whether we are seeking too much balance, what we want is legislation that will be accepted by all the people in Northern Ireland. That is what we are aiming at. We want consent for the legislation. I believe that the attempt to achieve balance will help to get consent for the legislation. I hope that I can bring both noble Lords with me on this. I understand their concerns, but we believe that the effect of this provision will be to achieve balance and therefore the consent that is essential if the legislation is to have a fair run and if the commission is to be able to carry out its task.

Another key issue raised by a number of noble Lords is why we did not adopt the North proposals on what I might call a "package deal" covering a whole series of marches. Perhaps I may use that expression, inelegant as it sounds. That matter was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Alderdice, and a number of other noble Lords. It is clear that the package deal was a recommendation in the North Report. Indeed, it is one of the very few areas where our legislation does not implement the report in full.

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The commission will seek to facilitate local agreements over longer periods in the way that the report proposes. It will also have the power to express in advance its preliminary views on what the outcome for particular parades should be. We hope that that will go some way to achieving the assurance that the North Report was looking for.

However, we believe that there will be considerable practical and legal difficulties in giving the commission the binding powers suggested. The purpose of the package deal suggested would be to provide reassurance and certainty about the number of parades that will be permitted in any given area. But while in practice many parades are known about well in advance, others are organised at short notice. Overall rulings would not be able to take them into account. We are clear that the Parades Commission needs to make its decisions on the basis of all the facts surrounding an individual parade. If the commission had already made its decision in advance of knowing the full circumstances of the case, it would be vulnerable to the charge that it had fettered its own discretion.

The right to march is an important one and in the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights restrictions need to be justified on the grounds that they are necessary and proportionate to the circumstances of the case. The only way around that problem that we can see is either to give the commission an explicit power to set quotas for the number of parades which are acceptable in given areas, regardless of the circumstances, or to require parade organisers to give a much longer period of notice, perhaps six months or longer, to enable decisions to be taken in advance of the marching season. Both of those are radical suggestions and pose grave difficulties in ECHR terms.

We recognise the weight that some place on this particular recommendation of the North Report. While we see the difficulties we retain an open mind and will be happy to consider any suggestions put forward either in this House or in the other place. I hope that that will reassure those noble Lords who are unhappy about the specific point to which I have referred.

Perhaps I may deal very quickly with a number of outstanding issues that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, spoke about the Royal British Legion parades and his concern that there may be some problems about them. I share that concern. I believe that those parades are a tribute to the large number of people who gave their lives fighting for this country in both world wars, including many Irishmen, both Catholic and Protestant. They made a significant and valiant contribution, particularly to the 1939-45 war, alongside people from Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, Kenya, Jamaica and many other countries. We see those parades as paying tribute to all those people who died and who came from all those countries. It would be most inappropriate and wrong in principle if anyone thought that there was something wrong with those parades. They are a right and proper expression of respect for the many people who died.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked about the position of the Irish Government. The Parades Commission is independent. It is meant to be

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independent of this Government as it is of any other government. It is that very independence of the commission which is central to what we are seeking to do and why we believe that this proposal ought to achieve consent across the whole community--precisely because of the independence of the Parades Commission. The noble Lord also suggested that members of the commission should attend flashpoints. I am sure that they will. I believe that some of them did in the last marching season. No doubt they will have heard the noble Lord's suggestions and will take account of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said that we all carry baggage. I have learnt that that is certainly true in Northern Ireland. He also said that at the end of the day the RUC will have to deal with the difficulties. That is so if all else fails, but if the commission's role, as defined in the Bill, is successful we will not get to the point where the RUC will have to pick up all the pieces.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, spoke about hangers on at parades and about young children taking part and the difficulties that that will cause. Again, these are issues which I am sure that the Parades Commission will take into account when dealing with any particular parade.

My noble friend Lord Desai spoke about the small number of parades that cause problems. I agree with that. He also said that not all expressions of cultural identity are in contention, and they are certainly not. He emphasised the importance of local accommodation. I agree fully with all of that. He also suggested that the Parades Commission should start its work now in anticipation of the next marching season. Again, I am sure that those words will have been heard by the members of the commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, spoke about threats of violence and said that they themselves might prejudice the holding of a parade. We have experienced threats of violence over the years in connection with parades and it is precisely to deal with that problem that we have a Parades Commission--in the hope that it will take all the issues into account and arrive at a balanced conclusion. I do not believe that the very existence of that commission will encourage more people to express grievances; at least I hope it will not. Indeed, we have had so many grievances expressed in Northern Ireland that I do not believe that one piece of legislation is likely to add to them, but one never knows for certain. But I do not believe that that will necessarily be the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, spoke about a number of situations where marches will be banned. But the essential point of the remit of the Parades Commission is that it will not ban marches but will deal with matters short of banning them such as affecting the route. If we get to the point of banning marches the commission will not have succeeded.

In conclusion, agreement on parades will transform the prospects for political progress. The difficulties are immense, as many noble Lords have indicated. But I believe that such agreement is achievable. Let us grasp this opportunity to set in place a vital building block on which we can base a secure and just settlement for

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Northern Ireland. I thank noble Lords for their very positive support for the Bill and ask them to give the Bill a second reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

The "Ministerial Code"

6.7 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are the reasons for the new components and features of the Ministerial Code which has replaced Questions of Procedure for Ministers and was made public on 31st July.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Ministerial Code about which I am enquiring was made public on 31st July, the first day of the Summer Recess. I applied for this debate on the following day, 1st August. This is the earliest opportunity for me to raise the subject. The code replaces a document entitled Questions of Procedure for Ministers which has been updated from time to time and which has provided guidance for Ministers in both Labour and Conservative Governments for at least 45 years and perhaps considerably longer, but certainly for 45 years to my knowledge.

I have good reason to know because 43 years ago I was responsible, among other things, for ensuring that, in its latest version, it was received personally by every Member of the Government. In that earlier incarnation I was a public servant in what was then known as the Foreign Service. I had been assigned by the Foreign Office to work with the then Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, as Private Secretary to the Secretary to the Cabinet who was then Sir Norman Brook.

The Prime Minister's staff was extremely small then compared with later times and with today. When I moved back to Foreign Affairs after Churchill had retired, I handed over to my successor, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, who much later became Secretary to the Cabinet himself at a time, coincidentally, when I was a member of the Cabinet in the early 1970s. That was one of my later incarnations.

In those days, the document Questions of Procedure for Ministers was confidential, but several years ago it was decided to make it public, so the last edition of 1992 was public property, with a new paragraph 1 being inserted in November 1996, expanding on the general principles governing the conduct of Ministers. That paragraph has been repeated in the new code, with minor changes of wording. In fact, although renamed, the new code restates the principles set out in the previous document, mostly in identical paragraphs which have simply been lifted from its predecessor. That is what makes one particular change very significant.

Although some 130 paragraphs repeat virtually word for word the previous rules and guidance concerning correct conduct, financial implications and conflicts of interest, an additional paragraph, No. 88, is an astonishing new directive about contacts with the media.

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All major interviews and broadcasting appearances are to be agreed beforehand with the Prime Minister's Office and records of all contacts by Ministers and officials with newspapers and broadcasters are to be made and kept. That raises questions. Will Ministers have to report on every chat over a meal or a drink with a journalist? Is the real object to reduce and restrict such contacts? I suggest that such centralisation must hamper the normal work of busy Ministers and their routine communication with the media. Must we assume that more is now to be done in briefing the press by the "spin doctors", an American term that I regard as an affront to the medical profession? They would better be described as "spidermen" as they spin yarns and weave deceptive webs.

How does that relate to recent reports that unattributable briefings are to be ended or radically changed? The misunderstandings and contradictions over EMU in the past few days have certainly illustrated shortcomings in the system which is now being used. When the new code appeared at the end of July a member of the Prime Minister's entourage was reported in the press as saying:

    "It is the strategic and message discipline we operated in Opposition as translated to Government".

Even after three months in office, the Labour Party had not understood the constitutional and other differences between being in opposition and in government.

Presentation of government policy does, of course, need to be co-ordinated. This new decree goes much further in attempting to control centrally every part of the normally continuous relationship between the media and Ministers. The departure since 1st May of the heads of information divisions in several government departments--now thought to be as many as eight--is part of the general unease in the Government Information Service. Here I should mention a very recent case. One senior government information officer resigned a few days ago from his position in the Department for Education and Employment. The episode was widely reported, so I shall briefly remind the House that a junior Minister had tried to include in a government press release derogatory comments on the previous government's attitude. Rightly, the Permanent Under-Secretary insisted that the passage be deleted. I understand that it then went to the Labour Party's Press Office for issue.

That incident involved also the role of civil servants. The paragraphs on civil servants in this code and in its predecessor are identical--paragraph 55 in the 1992 version and paragraph 56 in this new code. I suggest that what must have gone wrong was failure to observe the clear guidance in paragraph 56 of the code or failure to interpret it in practice.

I have put some questions about new paragraph 88 to the noble Lord who is to reply from the Government Front Bench. I look forward to his replies and his explanation of that extraordinary addition. I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, especially as he is usually allotted the most difficult subjects on which to answer for the Government and he does so as well as is possible in those situations.

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I move to paragraph 48 on "special advisers", a description that covers political advisers, spidermen and specialists in particular subjects. It expands upon the equivalent paragraph in the 1992 document, which was paragraph 54. Those advisers are not established civil servants and they hold temporary positions. One change in the new code is that each Cabinet Minister may appoint two special advisers. Can the noble Lord confirm the report that 53 political advisers have been appointed so far by the present Government, compared with 38 under the last government, and that the increase in the Prime Minister's Office has been from eight to 18?

The public were treated to a brief insight into the spinning methods of special advisers earlier this month when the Scottish Television film "We are the Treasury" was widely shown on television. In what was probably an unguarded moment, a spiderman admitted to acting in ways not consistent with a service to provide government information.

I turn to other changes. First, there is a foreword by the Prime Minister--an addition that was not in the equivalent 1992 document. In that short foreword we read the sentence:

    "I have decided to publish this document because openness is a vital ingredient of good, accountable Government".

No one can argue with that, but the document that this replaces was also published. Of course, this code would have had to be published. There would have been an almighty parliamentary row if it had not been published, like its predecessor. The decision to publish had little to do with openness. It followed previous practice. I am sure that that sentence was not a facile attempt to claim credit for what was not a new departure; namely, publishing the document. However, I must point out that that is what it looks like.

Another change is that there are three new paragraphs on accounting officers--paragraphs 57 to 59. I assume that the reason for this relates to the latest procedures for the Select Committee on Public Accounts and I shall not say any more about that because I am sure that it is acceptable.

A further change comes in the sections on not accepting fees for speeches, writing or broadcasts. There is a new injunction in paragraphs 96, 100 and 104 not to divert fees to charity, with no dispensation to do so if no particular charity is nominated. When I was a junior member of the Government in the early 1960s and a Cabinet Minister in the early 1970s, I was able to steer fees to disability charities. Is there any ethical or other reason why that should now be expressly forbidden? Charities need all the contributions that they can get nowadays owing to competition from the National Lottery.

On acceptance of gifts, the limit rises with inflation. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, will recall the incident many years ago when the late Mr. Tony Crosland, then a Cabinet Minister, was presented with a coffee pot after performing an opening ceremony in this country. It was later discovered to be an unusually valuable pot. As a result, a figure was promulgated to be the limit in future for the acceptable

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value for a token of gratitude or a souvenir which it might seem churlish for a Minister to decline. Thereafter, Private Secretaries reminded Ministers in successive governments of the "Crosland Coffee Pot" and tried to advise potential donors behind the scenes beforehand to avoid any embarrassment.

As I have the time, I shall mention an experience of my own since it demonstrates that unforeseen situations can arise. In June 1970, I was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland. Among the many devolved subjects administered by the Secretary of State, his Ministers and the Scottish Office is agriculture. I therefore immediately made arrangements to relinquish the supervision of my farming operations at my home in my constituency in Northern Scotland. For four years a neighbour, who also farmed, kindly directed my farming and forestry. That was correct as I was, among other things, to be taking decisions on government grants in Scotland separately from the Ministry of Agriculture in England.

The unexpected situation arose more than two years later. In June 1970 no one could have foreseen that oil would be discovered in the North Sea in commercial quantities. There was no Department of Energy before 1974. In 1973 certain Labour MPs raised the question on the Floor of the other place as to whether Scottish Office Ministers owned shares in oil companies as the Secretary of State for Scotland was so much involved in the development of the new offshore oil industry. To avoid any suspicion of impropriety I directed the stockbroker concerned with the modest share portfolios of both my wife and myself to sell the shares in companies involved in the North Sea, including construction, engineering and shipping. The stockbroker's response was that the House of Commons must be mad. I corrected him and pointed out that the other place was not requiring me to part with those investments. It was my own decision to do so. As a large majority of the present Ministers have not before been members of a government, I hope that this reminiscence may be helpful in showing that they must be ready for the unexpected.

I will summarise my main points on the passages concerning special advisers, civil servants and the media. Ministers should separate making policy from spinning; and serving a party machine in opposition is very different from presenting the policies of a government.

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