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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask one question. Does the noble Lord accept that the question put by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer--as I understand it, the question was this: does the noble Lord agree that it is for this House to invite the committee to conduct its investigation into our affairs?--could, if the answer is "yes", be a contempt of this House: to investigate without our consent?
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, I do not want to equivocate on the matter of language. The word that I like is the word in the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, and in the letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, that this House "welcomes" the inquiry. I do not think that we should be in the position of being invited to do it because I believe we are an independent committee.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, noble Lords express surprise. They could not have been following the drift of my earlier argument because I stressed that part of the letter of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, in which he informed the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, that an inquiry was going to be conducted. It was not saying, "May we have leave to do so?" I think that it would be a completely false position for the committee, of which I currently have the honour to be chairman, to seek the permission of, or to request an invitation from, the proposing body.
Baroness Goudie: My Lords, I welcome the decision of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Neill, to hold an inquiry into the rules of conduct and disciplinary procedures. I have been most disappointed by the reactions of some of the Members of this House. Regarding the idea that this is a government plot, let me remind the House that the original terms of reference were set down by the right honourable John Major, Prime Minister in 1994, and covered Members of both Houses. The only reason the original Nolan committee did not look at this House was that the Committee of the Upper House, under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, was already looking at the issue. The Nolan, now the Neill, committee has shown its value, in particular on the difficult issue of party political funding. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill is to be dealt with by this House in Committee tomorrow and will give transparency to party political funding. The majority of the Bill is based on the report of the Nolan committee of 1995.
Let us remind ourselves of the seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. The Neill committee is the correct body to look at this House. The role of this House has changed. The majority of us are here by choice and have outside interests. None of us has anything to fear from transparency. I have submitted my views to the Committee. I believe that the register of Members' interests should be compulsory and should include income and all hospitality and gifts over £140, and should specify if one is a chair or president of a voluntary body.
Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I think it is important to emphasise that our debate today is about the mechanics of any inquiry, not the principles. Back in 1994 when the Committee on Standards in Public Life was first set up under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, your Lordships swiftly, and in my view rightly, moved to set up a Select Committee under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, to look into the questions being addressed by Lord Nolan. I believe that that was entirely right and I regret very much that we have not followed a similar course now. Indeed, I took the liberty several weeks ago of writing to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, the Leader of the House, suggesting that course. I am sorry that she does not agree. But let me emphasise again that I have no difficulty with the idea of an inquiry. Indeed, I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Neill, who now chairs the committee--he confirmed it again this evening--that I shall be asked to give evidence. I look forward to that. I am my Back
None the less, I very much agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, and my noble friend Lord Cranborne that it really would have been much better for this inquiry to have been conducted by a committee of the House rather than a wholly external body appointed for the purpose by the Prime Minister, although of course I recognise the independence of the body, which the noble Lord, Lord Neill, emphasised.
The noble Lord has said on several occasions that his committee is a purely advisory one and that it is open to the House to accept, modify or reject any proposals that he may make. But the plain fact is that, once the committee reports, given the eminence of its members and the high respect which it rightly enjoys, the House will find it difficult to do other than for the most part go along with the recommendations, whatever they may be. The noble Lord, Lord Neill, has been at pains to emphasise that his colleagues have as yet reached no conclusions on the answers to the various questions posed in the consultative paper. But I do have to say to the noble Lord that the fact that he has chosen to pose some questions at least, to which the answer to anyone with the slightest knowledge of your Lordships' House is perfectly obvious, had led some to fear that the noble Lord and his colleagues may have already formed some preliminary views on those matters. I, of course, accept that that is not so, but others who know the noble Lord less well may take a different view.
I want at this point to make it absolutely clear that I have the highest possible regard for the noble Lord, Lord Neill, himself. I would go further. I have reason to be personally most grateful to the noble Lord for assistance that he gave me on a past occasion. It is therefore with great personal regret that I find myself not wholly at one with the noble Lord on this matter. But our differences are ones of mechanics, not principle.
It was, of course, well known that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, had intended to conduct a further study into the affairs of your Lordships' House. He made this clear at the time when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, began his work five years ago. The noble and learned Lord felt that other matters were more pressing in the interim and it has therefore fallen to the noble Lord, Lord Neill, toward the end of his term of office, to conduct this inquiry. When the noble Lord leaves his post later this year, as I gather he intends to do, there will still be some tasks undone. For example, it would seem that the noble Lord will not have time in his term of office to inquire into the affairs of the Members of the European Parliament, nor for that matter the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly.
It is entirely necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Neill, well recognises, for him to come to his task from a completely apolitical standpoint and for his committee to be completely above reproach in that regard. There are, however, two points which I feel obliged to make. First, I must refer to the passage in his consultative paper which raises questions about the interests of Opposition spokesmen in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord has explained that these questions were inserted following one letter from a Labour Member of Parliament. I wonder how wise it was to include questions instigated by just one government Back-Bencher. The noble Lord has said that he anticipates that the evidence on this matter will be "all in one direction". I daresay it will.
My second point relates to composition of the committee. The noble Lord, Lord Neill, is a distinguished Cross-Bencher; the noble Lord, Lord Shore, is a distinguished member of the Labour Party; the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is a distinguished member of the Liberal Democrat Front Bench in your Lordships' House. But the other bodies in your Lordships' House are singularly absent. I refer not only to the Conservative Party, which is the largest single group: the noble and learned Lords are not represented; nor are the right reverend Prelates, the Bishops. Of course, I recognise that my right honourable friend John MacGregor is a member of the committee, and a very distinguished man he is too, but he is not a Member of your Lordships' House. Is it too late to ask the noble Lord, Lord Neill, to look again at the membership of his committee in this regard? He will no doubt say that this is a matter for the Prime Minister, as indeed it is.
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