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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. In looking at this issue one of the areas that we are asking local authorities to consider is accessibility to shopping centres within towns by a variety of modes of transport. That involves looking at the parking provision--not just the number of spaces but the security of the parking provision. There is of course the other side of the coin in that the House of Commons Environment Select Committee recommended that the Government should tax car parking at out-of-town shopping centres. The question of the taxation of non-residential parking is one of the issues that many people raised in relation to the White Paper on integrated transport policy.
Lord St. John of Fawsley: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that while the Government's policy of siting shopping centres in town centres is satisfactory, the design of those centres frequently is not? Many of the cases coming before the Royal Fine Art Commission are of shopping centres which injure the urban environment, turn their backs on towns and cities in
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am sure that local authorities and others involved in considering planning applications would be well advised to look at the aesthetics of what is being proposed. That will in turn contribute to the viability of what is being proposed.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, since the Minister was able to accept the desirability of shopping centres and housing on brownfield sites, can she now give the House a commitment that the Government will review their objective for the number of houses they want built on brownfield sites, because that target has caused great concern? Can she now say that the Government will review that?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the target that caused great concern was the previous government's target, which we have not yet changed. As I said the other day, we are looking at what the target should be for the future. We shall be announcing the results of the review when it is concluded.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the position is unclear. In 1976 the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life reported that neither statute law nor common law relating to bribery applied to a Member of Parliament and therefore such acts were covered by rules of the relevant House and should be dealt with as a breach of privilege.
However, case law has since challenged that position. Lord Nolan, in his first report on standards in public life, recommended that the Government should clarify the law. That question is currently being discussed in a Joint Select Committee on parliamentary privilege.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I am really quite grateful for that Answer from the noble Lord. Does he agree that it is strange, even unacceptable, that a Member of Parliament should be put in jeopardy, and even disgraced, as a result of allegations, not made on oath and not subject to cross-examination, of accepting secretly improper payments of cash? Is it not even more strange that we should apparently lose sight of the question of whether or not it is wrong to offer such payments?
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be much fairer if people so accused could stand trial in open court where witnesses could be cross-examined and there would be no opportunity for prejudicial pre-trial publicity designed to whip up public feeling in advance of any result, with a view to influencing that result? Surely that is a very unfair procedure.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I believe that what the noble Baroness said was reflected in my earlier Answer. The Government believe that these offences should be plainly subject to criminal sanctions and penalties. If they were, then the criminal law would have its proper part to play.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, considering that the report of the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life by a committee under the late Lord Salmon had been before the previous government for 19 years, is it not shocking that they took no action on it?
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, in 18 years in another place, and rather to my chagrin, I was never offered a single improper penny. Does the noble Lord agree that, whatever the position regarding a criminal offence may be, to attempt to bribe a Member of Parliament is certainly an offence against common sense because the overwhelming majority of Members are manifestly incorruptible and those who are not cannot deliver value for money?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have no personal experience of offering or being offered a bribe, so I am unable to comment on the standards of behaviour in another place. The truth is that most people in public life are not corrupt. That is the cruel and insidious nature of bribery and corruption because it demeans the whole public spectrum.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, when will the committee complete its deliberations? When will the Home Secretary in another place come to a decision? When will a law be on the statute book or are we to expect more prevarication?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there will not be any prevarication from this Government. The Select Committee is expected to report next year. The Home Office put out, under the previous government, a consultation paper. We intend to bring forward legislation as soon as sensible. There is no doubt at all that this is a serious matter. It is being seriously considered by the Home Office. I believe that all parties want this vice rooted out of public life. There is no prevarication at all.
Lord Geddes: My Lords, during the Select Committee's deliberations, can the noble Lord confirm that there will be a definition of the word "bribe"? Does a box of chocolates constitute a bribe? Where does it start and where does it stop?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there is no difficulty at all about defining "bribe". I spent many happy years in South Wales prosecuting local government corruption. We never had the slightest difficulty in demonstrating to juries what it was. I suppose that a box of chocolates might be a bribe, depending on its size or value.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the supplementary question asked by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. He made the point that people making allegations are not at present cross-examined in any way and not subject to scrutiny in any great or embarrassing detail. The Minister's reply seemed to indicate future court proceedings. But is there any way in which people making allegations can be put through some sort of cross-examination system, possibly by the committee? Perhaps it is not within our power in this House to recommend that. Is there any way in which that aspect of the matter can be looked into sooner than the proposed law changes?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am most grateful because, as the noble Baroness implies, there is a distinction between the criminal law and proceedings in another place. With great respect, it seems to me that how the other place conducts itself is essentially a matter for that place. It seems to me common knowledge that certain questions have been asked and another place is reflecting on its procedures. Cross-examination, apart from being a great pleasure for the cross-examiner, has its virtues in bringing out the truth.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, in view of the fact that our standards of public life in the United Kingdom are probably higher than those in most other places in the world, will the noble Lord resist any attempt from the other side of the Channel to establish a level playing field in this area?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord is referring to the other side of the Bristol Channel. I am sure that standards in the west of England are just as high as those in south Wales.
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