Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Kingsland: I beg to move my amendment to the Motion moved by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. I understand that, if my amendment succeeds, the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, would fall away. I hope that that is also his understanding.

I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord for his conduct of the proceedings of the committee. With his (dare I say) characteristic blend of good humour and single-minded determination, not only were the proceedings of the committee brisk but the conclusions were reached very early. As chairman of the committee, the noble and learned Lord now finds himself reporting to himself. The Lord Privy Seal

2 Jul 2001 : Column 647

speaks to the Committee this afternoon both as chairman and Leader of the House. I am very relieved to discover that as Leader of the House he agrees with the conclusions of the chairman.

My initial instincts at the first sitting of the committee, which I believe were shared by my noble friend Lord Elton, were to stick with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, whose code has been a remarkable success story for your Lordships' House. Since it was initiated in 1995, to the best of my knowledge there has not been a single hint of any one of your Lordships having contravened any part of it.

That is a remarkable record if one compares it with events in another place. Were it not for events in another place, which are casting an ever darkening shadow on the possession of any outside interests at all, much to the detriment of its deliberations, and for what the noble Lord, Lord Neill, said in his report, my instinct would have been to stand before the Committee and stick with the code of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths. However, I do not think that that is any longer possible.

In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Neill, has changed the test which noble Lords have to meet in relation to outside interests. The test has now shifted from being essentially a subjective test--was an interest in noble Lords' opinion likely to affect their conduct in the Chamber?--to an objective test. That objective test was read out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and appears in paragraphs 8 and 9 of the multi-coloured text. I refer particularly to paragraph 9:

    "The test of relevant interest is therefore not whether a Member's actions in Parliament will be influenced by the interest, but whether the public might reasonably think that this might be the case".

That is the most significant contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, to the debate. I believe that it should change noble Lords' approach to the question of the relationship between your Lordships' political work in the Chamber and your Lordships' outside interests.

Having said that, and having accepted the principles set out by the noble and learned Lord this afternoon. I, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Elton will endorse this later on when he speaks, have some reservations about some of the details in the recommended code.

Why should the code in the Chamber be different from the code in another place? I believe that there are a number of quite obvious reasons why that should be so. First, so far your Lordships' House has an unblemished record under the previous code. Secondly, noble Lords' primary work in life is not in the Chamber, save for those who are Ministers, but outside. What noble Lords do in the Chamber is something that they do when not doing other things elsewhere; the main focus of your Lordships' lives are your outside interests. What noble Lords do in the Chamber is in addition to that. That is a quite different perspective from another place. That, in my judgment, should make a difference to the degree of intrusiveness that the code imposes on Members of the Committee.

2 Jul 2001 : Column 648

In my view, some of the detail in the code proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and the majority of the Committee is excessively intrusive. It is disproportionate to the objective it seeks to achieve.

Perhaps I may mention the main headings under which my noble friend Lord Elton and I have reached that conclusion. But, before I deal with the detail, I would like to repeat that we of course entirely endorse the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Neill, and the majority of the committee to the promotion of the code as a matter of principle.

As far as concerns the principal areas of difference, first, in relation to any advisory work for money that any noble Lords might do in relation to the affairs of the House, my noble friend, Lord Elton, and myself believe that it is unnecessary to require noble Lords to declare sums of money received from giving such advice. We reach that conclusion because noble Lords who give such advice are automatically prohibited from either speaking in the debate or voting on the matter. In other words, in relation to the matter upon which noble Lords give parliamentary advice, they have no political life in the Chamber. If noble Lords have no political life in the Chamber, what possible relevance can any money that is earned from giving advice have in relation to noble Lords' integrity? That is our first difference.

Our second difference is in relation to the question of "spouse or relative or friend". We accept entirely that "spouse" should be included, so that is not a matter of disagreement between us. As to "relative" and "friend" we have a number of reservations. The first difficulty is the question of definition; how distant or remote should the relative be in order to be disqualified? What kind of friend are we talking about; in what circumstance, and how long, should we have known that friend?

The second difficulty is one to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, has partly referred. That is the question of knowledge. We will not necessarily know what interests our friends or relatives have. Thirdly, even if we do know, our friends and relatives might not want us to say anything about them in public because they are confidential to them. If we seek to say something about them in public, we ourselves may be subject to judicial proceedings on the basis of breach of confidence.

Therefore, enormous complications flow from including relatives and friends for very small return.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Can the noble Lord explain why he accepts that a spouse should be included but a cohabitee who is not a spouse, whether or not the same sex, should not be included? What is the difference if the relationship is very close and if the interest in the facts of the case is relevant?

Lord Kingsland: I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, said that a cohabitee was not

2 Jul 2001 : Column 649

someone the noble and learned Lord had particularly in mind when the word "friend" was introduced into the debate.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is true, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is asking why should they be excluded.

Lord Kingsland: The nature of the relationship between a husband and wife in financial terms is very specifically laid down in law. That is not true of the relationship between two people who are cohabitees.

Lord Marsh: Perhaps I may ask a question of the noble Lord because the problem of lawyers in this area is that they try to block every conceivable outlay. At any given time a great many spouses--wives or husbands--are in the process of getting divorced or have parted. They are actually paying money to find out what the other one earns. A wife who loses her pass to the Palace cannot get a replacement because the husband has to go to get a new one. As one of the attendants said to me when he refused my wife a pass, "There are many Members of your Lordships' House who do not want their wives to have passes".

Lord Kingsland: On reflection, perhaps I should not have included spouses. It might have made life much simpler.

The third category is shareholdings. We have included no shareholdings in the mandatory category, whether of controlling or significant interests in companies. The relevance of shareholdings will depend entirely upon the circumstances of the particular debate in question. Where a particular holding might affect a large number of deliberations across the Chamber, there may be a case for entering that interest in a register. Otherwise, our recommendation in the context of a particular debate would be that if noble Lords feel that owning shares in a particular company might be perceived as having an influence on their conduct during that debate, we would advise declaring that interest, or, if noble Lords fail to declare the interest in the debate, then registering it within 24 hours of the debate having concluded.

The fourth area of difference concerns family trusts. It has already been the subject of an exchange between the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. The noble and learned Lord's understanding of the outcome of that exchange is exactly my understanding and so I do not intend to say anything further about that.

The suggestion in the amendment that, whatever the outcome of today's deliberations, the new regime should not come into force before 31st March 2002 and in any event not before a resolution is connected with the imminent retirement of the proposed registrar is suggested for entirely technical reasons and not for any other reasons.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I understood it to be a little more general; namely, that a certain amount of

2 Jul 2001 : Column 650

questioning will need to be done and a certain amount of advice will need to be taken. I took the point that some noble Lords might in any event want to rearrange their financial affairs. When the proposal came from both Benches that March was more reasonable and flexible than January, it seemed to be quite fair to accept it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page