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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. On the contrary, I suggested that I thought it was time to follow up on the Griffiths committee and that we should set up a committee to do just that.
Lord Grabiner: My Lords, I certainly gained the impression from the noble Lord's closing remarks that he took the view that the matter should be left entirely between his conscience and the views of other Members of the House.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will accept what I said. If he comes to read my speech, he will see that I was quite specific on the point. What I questioned was whether we should allow this outside committee to continue in the present way. I suggested that, indeed, there were strong reasons for reviewing the conclusions of the Griffiths committee and pointed to a personal example as to why they should be reviewed.
Lord Grabiner: My Lords, I shall read the observations with care tomorrow. I was commenting upon the closing remarks just before the noble Lord sat down. I believe that there is no point in irritation in these matters.
The real question, I suggest, is which committee, in the first instance, should examine the matter. My own view is that it should be the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Neill. That committee has developed a good understanding of the issues. It has also developed considerable expertise in what has become a rather complicated subject. I suggest that the House should make full use of those talents. Any proposals or recommendations would, in due course, be the subject of full debate and a decision by this House as to which, if any, of the suggestions the House will adopt.
I also believe that there is a real risk that, if we were to adopt the suggested resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, it would seem to the outside world that we were trying to sweep under the carpet something which is of considerable public importance and interest. I do not believe that we should run the risk of giving that impression. I suggest that the whole question should be dealt with in an open and, as I believe has already been said by a number of noble Lords this evening, transparent fashion.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I wonder whether I may ask the noble Lord if he would be kind enough to say what are the relevant constraints under which parish councillors are put but under which Members of your Lordships' House are not put? I declare an interest as the chairman of a parish council.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, I am sorry to intervene in this dialogue between the two noble Lords, but I wish to speak only briefly. I shall certainly not detain the House too long. I shall not follow the example of my distinguished predecessor, Chadderton, who was Master of Emmanuel and who preached for three hours from the pulpit, then hesitated and said, "I feel I should stop", whereupon the entire congregation said, "For God's sake, go on". I believe that perhaps it might be testing the tolerance of the House too far if I were to follow that particular precedent.
I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, on introducing this Motion and on what he said. I can assure your Lordships that this is much more than the normal formal courtesies which are used
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, for what he writes in The Times. I frequently do not know what to think before I have read what he has said. I sometimes feel that I regret my celibate status. I wish I had a wife to break it to me at breakfast before I took it neat, like a glass of whisky. One feels in a similar way when one reads his distinguished colleague, Dr Stuttaford. I do not know what is wrong with me until I read his articles.
So the noble Lord is more than a journalist; he is less than an intellectual. I should describe him as a sage and a sage who has used his sagacity to bring this Motion before us and to argue so eloquently for it. I wish that I could refer to him as the Sage of Printing House Square but that would be an anachronism. If I refer to him as the Sage of Canary Wharf, it would sound as though he were some sort of exotic inhabitant of an aviary. But the whole House is indebted to him for his actions.
The noble Lord does not stand alone. He speaks and writes in a great tradition; namely, the great Victorian line of literary prophets--Ruskin, Carlyle, both the Arnolds, the people we thought were totally extinct, with no successors. But, unlike them, he does not carp; nor does he nag.
However, what his speech and this debate have done this evening is to provide an antidote to the contemporary scourge of the soundbite, which is the enemy of scholarship and true debate. What can we think of a society which dismisses those who attempt to sit and make conclusions from the ideas and actions that are current in society as the "chattering classes", when in any other society, there would be gratitude to them for their efforts?
I shall not follow the noble Lord on his general grounds of principle nor on his legal use of precedent, save to say that I agree with him. It would be a dreadful state of affairs if anybody made it a matter of reproach to quote the jurist Blackstone either in this House or outside it.
But I want to look at the broader aspects of the Motion. Mr Disraeli, at the Crystal Palace--and, if your Lordships want to know what is wrong with the Dome, look at a picture of the Crystal Palace--said that the political duty was to preserve our institutions. Alas, we now have only three independent institutions--the Crown, the Church and your Lordships' House and all three are under attack. We shall only defend this institution if Members have confidence in themselves. To maintain that, we should discuss and order our own affairs. That is the significance of this Motion and that is the point of
We are suffering from a disease which I would call "commissionitis": take no responsibility for ourselves but shove it off on to some commission. That is dangerous for two reasons. First, not all commissioners are of the quality of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen. He was a Warden of All Souls and a former Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, but in that respect he is a comet without an appropriate tail. The path that we are following is one of a government of the appointed, appointed by the appointed, which is what "government by commission" means, and we are heading for the worst of all worlds. I reflect that at least the Prime Minister is elected. That is more than one can say of any of these commissions.
The people to investigate this House are the members of this House itself. Your Lordships understand what the House is about. The strengths and the weaknesses of the House are known by your Lordships in a way in which they are known by no one else. That is what Bagehot meant when he said that to be in Parliament was to have the advantage of knowing the characters directly involved and experiencing matters for oneself rather than reading about them or looking at plates and descriptions.
Your Lordships should investigate what is needed because it is not good enough to say that this House exercises ultimate responsibility but can abandon interim responsibility altogether. To abandon interim responsibility is to abandon something that is just as important as power--namely, influence. That is the difference between the two noble Lords this evening. We should conduct the diagnosis as well as the cure and to do otherwise would be not a trahison des clercs, but, worse, a trahison des seigneurs.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in a most eloquent speech, seemed to be hypnotised by the current state of our society. He said that it was a society in which perceptions are regarded as important as realities. My reaction to that is not to bow down before that illusion, not to offer incense to idols, but to expose the falsity of that society. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, has done that in his Motion and speech. For that reason, he deserves our congratulations and our gratitude.
If he decides to divide the House, I shall be happy to follow him. I do not say that I would go on a tiger shoot with him because I would not go on a tiger shoot with anybody--I like tigers, although I would be rather nervous of them--but, if one is to be found in a minority division lobby, I would rather find myself with the noble Lord than with anyone else. If he chooses not to divide the House, I shall abide by that choice. However, I congratulate him on succeeding in launching a debate as well-informed and as responsible as any to which I have had the privilege of listening in this House.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I too acknowledge the debt that we owe to my noble friend Lord Rees-Mogg. It seems to me that his constitutional argument has been completely accepted now. The only difference is as to its application.
Perhaps I can deal with one or two constitutional points, with direct reference to the Motion before your Lordships. First, it is now clear that we did not devote anything like the attention that we should have to the constitutional implications of the Nolan committee in relation to the Houses of Parliament.
But that is now in the past. Unfortunately, a great deal has happened since then and we must take the situation as it is today with, as one noble Lord said, passions inflamed on this matter and stronger views taken than perhaps the differences can justify.
However, to begin with I should emphasise one point. I shall pick up the phrase used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. What we are concerned with here is the sphere of exclusive cognisance or exclusive jurisdiction. That is dealt with clearly in paragraph 13 of the Nicholls report:
I turn to the word "exclusive". Your Lordships will have to consider that word when we come to consider the actual terms of the amendment. The Nicholls committee, the Joint Select Committee, went on to make it clear in paragraph 113 that it regarded the Register of Members' Interests as falling within the scope of the exclusive jurisdiction. Indeed, in recommending that the various phrases in the Bill of Rights should be clarified, it went on to say that it should be made clear that the proceedings in relation to Members' interests are proceedings in Parliament. So we are at the very heart of the Bill of Rights, at the very heart of the rule of exclusivity, in this debate.
My noble friend Lord Rees-Mogg reviewed the authorities from Blackstone onwards, or at any rate the important ones. I wish to refer to only one other, a recent case in your Lordships' House taken against British Railways which was decided in 1974. I suppose I must declare that I was a member of the committee. It was of interest because it involved a difference between the Court of Appeal and your Lordships' Appellate Committee. It concerned the question of whether the courts could go into an issue which was raised; namely, that a private Bill in Parliament had been obtained by fraud. The late Lord Denning, in whose chambers I started my career at the Bar, and who was in everything a judicial activist, said that it could be gone into.
He went on to say, "Parliament will be grateful for our looking into the matter and recommending the issue." Of course, that was wildly wrong. Parliament would have been intensely resentful, as indeed your Lordships' Appellate Committee, headed by Lord Reid, a former Lord Advocate, said without question. The proposal of Lord Denning in the Court of Appeal had the further disadvantage in that that Bench might
That takes me to the actual terms of the Motion before us. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, proposes that we should welcome the inquiry. There are two reasons why that seems to me inadvisable. In the first place, it invites an outside interference with what is a matter of your Lordships' exclusive cognisance. Secondly, it tends to exacerbate the impression, which has been illustrated in various places in your Lordships' House, that if your Lordships do not accept that, it will lead to misunderstanding. There is no lack of unfriendly noises where your Lordships' House is concerned, and it is entirely true that we may put ourselves into a position where unfriendly noises may be made by what we are doing.
I return to the Motion of my noble friend Lord Rees-Mogg. It seems to me that that is unexceptionable constitutionally. On the other hand, after this debate, it seems to me that it would be mostly in the interests of your Lordships' House if both proposals were withdrawn. We had an invitation to go ahead independently by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. If we now wiped the slate clear, we would leave it open to the Procedure Committee--or, indeed, to the noble Baroness as Leader of the House--to request the help of the Neill committee, while still keeping exclusive cognisance of the matter so that the submissions of the Neill committee would be ostensibly, and not merely as a matter of form, a submission to the proper authority of your Lordships' House.
I suggest--and I hope that it will appeal to the noble Baroness--that by far the best thing for this House would be to wipe the slate clear. Her position is not an easy one. She owes a double duty. That often arises in our constitution. It arises constantly with the Law Officers. However, the position of the noble Baroness
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment to the Motion moved by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer. I do so with some trepidation following the many erudite contributions of so many noble Lords, and particularly as I must confess some confusion at the sound and fury that has been generated by the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Neill.
I have to declare an interest because, until a few months ago, I was a member of the Neill committee; indeed, I was appointed to the committee when it was set up under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. As the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and other speakers made clear, the proposed inquiry was anticipated four years ago. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Neill, pointed this out in the letter that he sent to us with his committee's "Issues and Questions" pamphlet.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill, has given the background to the establishment of the committee, but it is rather easy to forget the atmosphere in which the Nolan Committee, as it then was, was established. Sleaze was at the top of the media agenda; politicians--all politicians--we were told, were held in the lowest regard. The then Prime Minister had what many regarded as the courage to set up a committee which would investigate and advise on ways in which confidence in Parliament, and in all holders of public office, could be reaffirmed. That is what the Nolan committee did and it is what the Neill committee is doing. It investigates and advises. It has no powers to compel or impose. But its seven principles of public life have clearly helped the House of Commons, and the other public bodies that the committee dealt with, to develop procedures that all commentators said have contributed to restoring public confidence, which was so badly dented at that time.
It seems to me to be entirely appropriate that the Neill committee should turn its attention again to the House of Lords. This House has gone through many changes and, as my noble and learned friend pointed out, the Griffiths arrangements have been in place for four years. The work carried out by the Neill committee in relation to the other place can surely help this House. It can help us to reassure ourselves that we have procedures that command public confidence.
I was rather startled at the inference which I drew from the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when, he described the other place--as I heard it; I may have been wrong--as feeble. I wondered whether he really meant that we should declare our superiority over that House. That seems a rather novel approach to our constitutional position. However, I am not a constitutional lawyer and I hesitate to comment on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill, and his committee are providing us with an opportunity to look at the arrangements, for example, for declaration of interests, for paid advocacy and for dealing with any breach of rules relating to conduct. As many noble Lords have said, they have established a considerable degree of expertise on these issues, not just here in the UK but also overseas. As I said at the start, they will investigate and advise. Are we really reluctant to say that their expertise will help us? Are we really unwilling to say that we ought to look at these issues? Are we really prepared to resist the help of a committee which has built up the respect to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, so rightly referred? I hope not.
If some of the fears expressed arise from changes that have been accepted in the other place, as I inferred from some contributions, it is quite clear from the issues and questions paper that the committee acknowledges the differences between the two Houses. It is clear that it will adopt a sophisticated approach that will take proper account of those differences. It is equally clear that it does not at all threaten self-regulation. It cannot impose any recommendations on your Lordships' House.
I should regret it if this debate in this House degenerates into a party battle. The great strength of the Nolan, and now the Neill committee, has been its ability to attract cross-party support in making recommendations which have produced openness and transparency in parliamentary procedures on conduct in another place. If we in this House are seen to resist an inquiry which could help us to ensure similar openness, I urge noble Lords to consider that that is bound to increase the cynicism into which the public can so easily slip as regards our ability to regulate ourselves. On that point I quote a respected commentator, the journalist Peter Riddell, in his evidence to the Neill committee,
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, one of the greatest privileges that one can have is to listen to the first two speakers in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, put his case clearly, impressively, in an understandable fashion, and with enormous erudition. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in moving his amendment could have made an aggressive speech. However, it was not at all aggressive; it was a gentle and enormously persuasive speech. It is wonderful to hear two people with totally different views on this subject put their cases in such a gentle and courteous manner.
I have great reservations about the Neill committee looking into the matters we are discussing. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said that we do not have to worry: the Neill committee will make its report and we can accept it, amend it or reject it. If the committee has sat for quite a while and made various suggestions, I do not feel that it will be an option for the House of Lords to say, "We will reject the whole lot. We do not agree with that". I do not think that that will happen. I think that we will be in a position of either accepting or possibly amending the report.
My real fear is that we will find that we have got a tiger by the tail and that we will be taken down alleyways we do not expect to go down. I find it difficult to understand why the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, "welcomes" the inquiry into standards and conduct in the House of Lords. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that, if we "welcome" it, that implies that we welcome outside interference.
We have always been responsible for our own measures and conduct in this House. That in itself is not a bad thing; it is not a derogatory thing; it is not something of which to be ashamed. Always in the past, noble Lords have declared their interests when they have spoken and, on the whole, that has been to the satisfaction of everyone. I do not think there has been a whisper of any kind that your Lordships have been underhand in any way.
One of the most pathetic sights we have seen recently is the establishment of the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It has been set up--almost as a headmistress--over and above the Members of another place to investigate whether they have been right or wrong; and, if it is found that they have been wrong, to impose a punishment. The House of Commons was always primus. It is terrible that we have come to that state. I ask whether that is what we want here. Your Lordships may say that we will not get that here, but I am not so sure.
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