Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not agree with me that these are really questions for the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and not for my noble friend the Leader of the House?

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Strathclyde: Forgive me, my Lords, if I say to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that I believe this must be a House matter. The noble Baroness is the Leader of the House and, therefore, she must have a view. I hope that she will tell us what that view is when she responds in a few minutes--

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I shall tell him now. I repeat exactly what I said in response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, when he put this to me during oral Questions last week. Of course it will be a matter for the House to decide what it wishes to do with the report of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and how it wishes to handle it.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am glad to hear that. However, when the noble Baroness replies, perhaps

10 May 2000 : Column 1706

she will also tell me whether the report will be presented to the House or to the Prime Minister. If it is to be presented to the House, can she tell us in what form it will be presented? Will it go to a committee of this House? Will it be given to the Chairman of Committees? Will it be given to the noble Baroness; will it be debated by the whole House? Will it go to the Procedure Committee or perhaps the Privileges Committee for consideration before it is submitted to the House?

I shall conclude my speech in about 30 seconds, but it strikes me that the noble Baroness must have put some thought into the matter. She has, perhaps, taken advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments. However, if she has not, perhaps she will do so and write to me, as well as putting a copy of the letter in the Library of the House. The noble Baroness should let us know what she thinks. I hope that she will not let tonight's debate pass without explaining in the clearest terms how she intends to handle these matters.

As our Leader, I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will uphold the authority and involve the opinions of this, I believe, still honourable House.

11.23 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, this has been a very instructive debate in every way. It has sometimes been erudite. I personally should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, for his uniquely authoritative overview. I hope that he and his other distinguished colleagues in public service, both those who serve with him and those like my noble friend Lady Warwick who have served with him before, have not been dismayed by the suggestions that were again made in the last concluding speech by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that they are politically influenced; that they are politically swayed; and, indeed, that they have not been dismayed by being described disparagingly as "the great and the good". That is rather a strange and singular criticism to come from your Lordships' House!

We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, a repetition of the old American political cliche that everything has been said but not everyone has said it. I feel very much in that position tonight. However, it is appropriate to mention the two key issues that have been discussed, my view on them and the view on which I have consulted with my Front Bench. The two legitimate issues that have been discussed tonight are: does the Committee on Standards in Public Life have the authority to hold an inquiry into the conduct of Members of this House? And, if so, should this House now seek to prevent such an inquiry taking place, or should it wait for the results, and then, if appropriate, act properly to regulate itself?

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked a stream of questions about business management. As I said in earlier replies to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, these issues are a matter for the usual channels, as every bit of organisation in your Lordships' House always is.

10 May 2000 : Column 1707

I turn to the first question: does the committee have the authority to hold an inquiry? We have heard a number of conflicting views tonight. I have been convinced by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen--as I was by his written explanation--with regard to the background of the committee of inquiry. I was grateful for the further explanation of that matter given by my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe.

There is little I can add but I think that it is relevant to quote briefly from a Hansard extract of the previous discussions. As has been said many times this evening, until the Griffiths sub-committee of this House was set up, it was widely assumed that the first inquiry of the Nolan committee, as it then was, would include your Lordships' House. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, explained, consideration of the issues involving this House was postponed. I emphasise that it was postponed, not cancelled.

I was not sure from the contribution of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--who gave a somewhat revisionist view of his role at that time--when the dates of his revisionism began or ended. However, I remind him of what he said during the debate on the report of the Griffiths sub-committee. I emphasise that this occurred after the internal committee of your Lordships' House had done its work. The noble Viscount said:

    "Of course, in due time it may be that the Committee on Standards in Public Life will wish to consider the arrangements which prevail in your Lordships' House, and it will be ... quite within its remit for it to do so".

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I have never for a moment denied that it was within its remit to do so. I said that when repeating the Statement on the establishment of the Committee on Standards in Public Life in October 1994 and I repeated that in the words that the noble Baroness has already quoted. However, that does not mean to say that because it was within its remit I thought it was desirable that this House should go along with it.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my non-legal brain is probably not sufficiently acute to follow that line of argument. However, as I understood the noble Viscount's contribution this evening he said that he had revised his view and his view was that the internal organisation committee--as expressed originally by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and perhaps replaced by a similar committee--at this present moment was the most satisfactory way to proceed.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I do not want to detain the House longer than is absolutely necessary. However, it seems to me that it is perfectly compatible to say that within the remit as given by my right honourable friend Mr John Major to the original committee came responsibility for your Lordships' House. But because that was given under the royal prerogative it did not necessarily mean to say--I have

10 May 2000 : Column 1708

emphasised this during the course of the debate--that it was necessarily right that your Lordships should accept that. It was for that reason that it seemed to me sensible to propose to your Lordships that the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, should pre-empt the matter in hand, which is indeed what happened.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I merely draw the attention of the House to the remarks I have quoted, which were made after the Griffiths report. The noble Viscount is right. There is no point in detaining the House with the history.

In my view, to say that the committee has the authority to hold an inquiry does nothing to undermine the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, as several speakers have emphasised. As the noble Lord, Lord Neill, has told your Lordships' House, it is an advisory committee. It does not attempt to take power away from Parliament; it has no power to compel witnesses or to force compliance with its recommendations. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, it will "comment" on procedures in its recommendations to this House.

Again, as has been said several times, the committee will produce a report at the end of its inquiry. Judging by past practice, that may well contain a number of conclusions and recommendations. The recommendations directed to your Lordships will be entirely for your Lordships' House to consider, and to accept or reject as your Lordships see fit. I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that that process of rejecting or accepting will be for the usual channels in the normal way.

Let me emphasise once again that the committee's inquiry will have no effect on the right of this House to regulate its own affairs. That is a separate matter, I agree, but it is a fundamental one. It is one that is not at issue here. It would be quite wrong to try to portray the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and his colleagues as enemies of the independence of this House. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, in reflecting with some concern on the disparaging remarks made about the credibility and integrity of the noble Lord's professional colleagues and Civil Service advisers.

So having established, at least to my satisfaction--and, indeed, on the learned advice that I was enjoined to take--that the committee has the authority to examine standards of conduct in your Lordships' House, the second question, the one which has taken some time today, is whether the committee merits our co-operation or our disdain. I believe--and it is the view of the Government Front Bench and the view of those colleagues on these Benches I have consulted--that we have nothing to fear from this inquiry. To co-operate with the inquiry does not imply that anyone believes that there are any specific concerns or allegations of misconduct to be investigated. Indeed, quite the reverse. Not to fear this inquiry signals our confidence that high standards of conduct are observed by noble Lords.

10 May 2000 : Column 1709

On the other hand--this, too, has been pointed out before; I simply re-emphasise it--the converse is true. If we seek to prevent the committee's inquiry, or to replace its scrutiny with an in-house committee, we will be thought to be trying to hide from the spotlight of open scrutiny. We would be judged--this may, as we have discussed, be a question of perception rather than reality; but, as we have also discussed, perception is formidable--to be extraordinarily arrogant in suggesting that what is right for MPs, civil servants and local councillors is somehow beneath this House and that we can only order our affairs by internal review. Distinguished though the Members of this House are, I do not believe that we would wish to suggest that only noble Lords themselves can have good ideas about ways of improving this aspect of the functioning of this House of Parliament.

Let us not forget that that is what this place is--a working House of Parliament, a matter we have spent the whole day discussing. As we identified in our earlier discussions, it is not a private club. We are parliamentarians; we have influence over matters of national and international importance. It is right that we should be open about those matters which might affect or, it is true, be thought to affect the way in which we conduct ourselves. "Transparency" was how my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell rightly described it.

That is why Ministers in this House and in this Government already declare their interests far beyond the current requirements of this House. That is why the evidence of the Labour Peers Group to the Griffiths inquiry called for compulsory registration. That is why I welcomed the inquiry when the noble Lord, Lord Neill, informed me of his committee's intention. I was glad to be joined in this welcome by the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank. But I repeat that while all the party leaders welcome the inquiry, we all acknowledge that it in no sense undermines the responsibility of the House to conduct its own affairs. The amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer to the original Motion puts that position succinctly and accurately and I entirely support it.

11.35 p.m.

Lord Rees-Mogg: My Lords, I should like first of all to thank all Members of the House who have taken part in this debate. It is quite right that it is somewhat unusual that this debate should have taken place on a Cross-Bench, Back-Bench Motion. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, had a point there. Of course, we are all Back-Benchers on the Cross Benches, just as we are all equal in this House. Perhaps it was no bad thing, even though the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, thought it odd that this Motion, on what is really a very important matter to this House, should have been raised by someone as humble as myself.

10 May 2000 : Column 1710

I should like to thank one or two noble Lords who have spoken, because it would be discourteous not to. First, and particularly, I should like to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. I thought that the way in which he moved the amendment, which was done with clarity and courtesy, was an example to all of us. I am most grateful for that. I am also grateful for his reference to the case of Lord Shaftesbury in 1677. I share with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the fact that members of our family came to a fatal end as a result of associating with Lord Shaftesbury. Nevertheless, he was the founder of the party which became the Liberal Democrat Party, so I am glad to have his case brought in on our side.

I should like to thank also the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. I found that I agreed with him, so naturally I should wish to thank him. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord St John of Fawsley, who spoke in flattering terms about myself at a quite inordinate length. I was most grateful for that. He made one point which I believe to be absolutely true: a self-confident institution believes in reforming itself, and an institution which has lost its self-confidence believes in going outside to get itself reformed. I think that this is one of the key arguments in favour of my side of the debate.

I have had my greatest difficulty with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I hope the whole House will remember that I am an innocent Cross-Bencher, not accustomed to these great political matters and who does not approach matters, certainly this evening, from a political point of view. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, gave the advice that, having considered various defects, as he saw them, of my version on the one hand, and of the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, on the other, the right procedure would be for both of us to withdraw our provisions. That advice has been given by some other Members of this House. But there is an almost mathematical difficulty here: I cannot understand the procedure. We always have difficulty in this House when there is a Motion with an amendment. The debate, as we all know, is supposed to take place on the amendment. The debate, as we all know, usually takes place on the Motion rather than the amendment, as, largely speaking, it did this evening. So most of us were out of order much of the time.

However, the amendment has the Floor. If at this stage I asked the leave of the House to withdraw my Motion, that would necessarily kill the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page