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The Earl of Onslow: When I read this report I thought to myself that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, is the most honest man I know. It does not cross my mind that he does anything other than selflessly, with integrity, with objectivity and accountability, so why do we have to say it? The
It has been said time and again that this is an honest House. I genuinely believe that to be the case. Only once in all the time that I have been here has anything to the contrary happened. Someone asked me to introduce a private Bill--which I did not do. He said to me, "Of course, you can have what expenses you like". If that was not a bribe, I do not know what was. Of course it was a bribe. I have never been so angry. I believe that I am here on my honour. That may be old-fashioned, but the proposal amounts to a barrack-room lawyer's charter.
To be possibly a little unkind, would the interests of Gaynor, then Mr Cook's girlfriend, have had to be registered before her existence could be publicised by Mr Alastair Campbell? If that had not happened, would Mr Cook have been hauled up in front of whomsoever one is hauled up in front of? I am sorry, but I do not believe that to be in the interests of anyone. On the matter of this "friend" caper, I do not, for example, know what shares my wife owns because I am too idle to ask her and I am not sufficiently interested. Should we need to write such matters down?
This proposal suggests that we are not honest. I find it deeply offensive to imply that there is any lack of integrity on the part of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn--I say that from the bottom of my heart. The same can be said of the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Shore. I shall leave aside my side, but certainly on the other side of the Chamber I do not believe that there is a scintilla of lack of integrity. So why do we have to proclaim it from the mountain top? That strikes me as saying that we do not have confidence in ourselves.
This is a great House. Yes, there was Lord Kagan; yes, there was the Duke of Norfolk who was executed for treason during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. But those were exceptions. We may want to execute someone--mostly on the Liberal Benches, I hasten to add, but that is another story. But surely we are grown up and honest. If anyone is "iffy", we know as much. This is a lovely, honest House. We do not have the dishonesty of France or Germany. We do not even have that lovely quality of Clive of India who, when accused of helping himself from Surajah Dowla's treasury, said,
Lord Archer of Sandwell: As we are discussing declarations of interest, perhaps like the noble Lord, Lord Wright, I should begin by declaring what might be thought to be two interests. The first is that I had the privilege of being a member of the working group
I have inflicted my views on the House more than once on this subject--the previous occasion being some 10 days ago. For that reason, I did not propose to intervene in this debate. However, it was strongly recommended to me this afternoon that silence on my part might be misconstrued as suggesting that there was some difference of view between my noble and learned friend and myself. If there is such a misconception, I can dispel it with a concise declaration: I agree unreservedly with the initial report, and I agree unreservedly with every word spoken by my noble and learned friend in opening the debate--that has not always been the case in the past, but it is the case today.
Perhaps if I were wise I should leave the matter there, but it is a pity to stand up in order to say so little. Therefore, perhaps I may add just one comment on some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said correctly that we reached a wide measure of agreement in the working group. I am bound to say that at the time I thought it to be rather wider than subsequently transpired; however, most of the differences aired this afternoon are, as the noble Lord said, differences of detail.
Certainly, on one vital question we were in total agreement. There has been no deterioration of standards in this House, and--subject to the few historical exceptions mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow--we have an unblemished record. The differences that have emerged relate to the corollaries that are to be drawn from that. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, says: in that case, why bother to change anything; why not just leave matters as they are?
The other possible way of looking at the subject is to say that, if there is nothing to conceal, why not make that transparently clear? There is nothing more calculated to give the impression--one that we know to be false--that there is something to hide, some skeleton in the cupboard, than to seem to be trying to conceal something. It was that which greatly troubled my noble and learned friend and some of us on the committee.
The differences that we are discussing are matters of detail, but they give rise to questions of style. If we give the impression that we embrace with enthusiasm the suggestion that there should be a code, that we accept obligations, that we are quite prepared to make these matters known, that gives one impression. If the idea is that we are doing so reluctantly and grudgingly and that on the whole we would rather not be compelled to declare matters, that gives another. If, as I believe, this House has nothing to conceal, I should have thought that our best course would be to draw aside the curtain and let the truth speak for itself.
Lord Ezra had given notice of his intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion in the name of the Lord Privy Seal: 1. In paragraph 12, line 3, leave out "shareholdings not amounting to a controlling interest;". 2. In paragraph 12, line 5, leave out "or friend".
The noble Lord said: I feel that it may be opportunist at this stage to refer to the amendments standing in my name. My reason for tabling them was to seek clarification of some of the issues raised in paragraph 12 of the proposed code, on which there has already been some debate. I shall take that into account in my remarks. I was led to table the amendments by a careful reading of the admirable report by the working group chaired by the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House.
On the question of shareholding, I was in some doubt as to what we should do about that. Clearly, if we hold a controlling interest, it must be declared. If we hold a substantial interest--the term has to be defined; the noble and learned Lord's idea was that a "substantial" interest is 1 per cent of BP, so no doubt that would have to be declared--what if it is a perfectly modest investment in, say, BP, which would bear no relationship to the total capital value of the company but which might benefit at some future date from a particular debate or legislation which we were discussing which could affect such an interest? Would we have to register that modest, say, few thousand pounds worth of shares in the anticipation that there might be a debate at some unknown date in the future that could raise the value of those shares by some indeterminate amount?
I should like to raise the distinction between the words "declaration" and "registration". In the case of modest shareholdings, which most of us hold, can I take it that if the situation were to arise where we became involved in a debate in which that modest shareholding could benefit, we would then declare our interest; but that we would not have to register our interest in advance just because such an eventuality might arise? Quite frankly, I should have found it much simpler if we had been told that we had to
The use of the word "friend" in the code has been discussed. If I had a friend--let us say, a school friend who, through dedication and hard work, ended up as a chairman of a very large manufacturing company--I must say that I would find it slightly distasteful if I had to declare that I had such a friend. It might be that I meet this person purely on social grounds. We need further clarification in that respect. It also raises the question of the invasion of privacy; not so much ours, but that of our friends. They may have no wish to be associated with a debate in which they took no part; and, indeed, upon which they might even disagree. I also put forward that point.
Finally, I turn to "hospitality" and "gifts", to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee referred. At certain times of the year, we are all subject to receiving many invitations--to receptions, lunches, dinners, and so on. As those are of a "modest" nature, I take it--and hope--that they certainly will not have to be declared. But at what stage do they have to be declared? I hope that the registrar will know the answer to that question. We also receive many gifts from companies of a small nature; for example, calendars, things to put on our desks, and so on. Similarly, I take it that they would not have to be returned; indeed, that would be an insult to the donor. I trust that we are really talking about major gifts, as outlined in the wording of my last amendment.
The whole point of my intervention is that I wish to obtain clarification. However, should the situation arise, it would not be my intention to move my amendments. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give me some of the answers for which I have asked.
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